Kolkata Memoirs - Part 1

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February 25th 2014
Published: February 25th 2014
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Welcome to the City of Joy

I was up bright and early on my first official day in Kolkata.. City of joy.. I went to jump in the shower and was rudely awakened by the face I had no hot water... I almost gave up on hot water until I had a last minute lightbulb moment that it was India and therefore I should expect the unexpected... I turned the hot water tap off and a minute later low and behold, the hot water ran... Of course hot means cold and cold means hot!

I then went to find Taylor who was staying in a nearby room. She had shared a room with an extremely interesting character from Israel. A 25yo hippie called Leron. Lovely girl but completely crazy! The three of us headed off to find some breakfast and ended up at the popular tourist cafe, Blue Sky Cafe... Free wifi (thank god!) and great Chai and food. We then tried to arrange Taylor's train ticket to Darjeeling through an agent before heading off to see Victoria memorial. This is a large memorial building, built to honor Queen Victoria when she died. It is said that, had this been built for an Indian dignitary that it would've a much more sacred place. The building was beautiful and inside it was turned into a museum containing relics of the past and a small Art Gallery.

After the Victoria Memorial, we walked around trying to find somewhere decent but cheap to eat. I had been telling the girls about a famous "street food" called Kati Roll... Which is an Indian version of our yiros/kebabs. It's basically a meat or paneer or veg rolled up in a naan bread ... We eventually stumbled on a hole in the wall cheap Kati Roll shop. It looked clean so we ordered Tandoori Chicken Kati Rolls! Wow! Sooooo good and only 35rp ($1AUD = 52rp). I was still starving, as usual, so I ordered some Momos to finish off (Momos are a Tibetan dumpling!). It was 50rp for 6! Exhausted from walking around all day we headed back to the hotel to do some Internet. The hotel charged 30rp for two hours. At one point I wanted to change from using my iPhone to my iPad. I was gobsmacked when they insisted I pay another 30rp to use a different device! I thought I bought two hours.. Pretty sure that means two hours of Internet regardless of what I'm using! Leron then left for Varanasi and I moved into the room... The room Taylor had was 1000rp a night and was much smaller and had a crappy bathroom, but hey we are backpacking so I figured I could handle it for 2 nights!

That night, we had a planned walking tour with an Aussie expat, David. He runs a tour agency in Kolkata called Kali Travel Home with another Aussie, Martyn. I had originally found the company when I was travelling solo and thought it would be a great way to get out of the hotel, especially at night. Taylor was keen to join me as she too, had been feeling somewhat apprehensive about India at night for women. We met up with David and then walked to meet another couple who were joining us. Joan and Allan were from the UK and an extremely interesting couple. For the next 3 hours we walked around the back alleys and streets of Kolkata. We went through a Muslim community, a Hindu community, a small red light district and then through the largest Vegetable Market in India... And we had seen nothing like it... It was so huge.. There was literally a whole room of just onions! And the men were working hard... We ducked and weaves our way through under men carrying huge sacks of vegetables on the heads of 3-4 men.

David told us each sack could weigh 300kgs! It didn't take long for the men to be distracted by us and we were shaking hands with them or taking photos of them and their friends! Once we got outside, we found ourselves in a craft frenetic area of where the men were offloading these sacks from the trucks..it would take a dozen men to ease the large sacks off the trucks onto the heads of the 4 men that would then carry them all the way through the slippery floors of the market! Again, it didn't take long for the men to become distracted by us. At first they all just stopped work and stood staring at us and saying hello... Then one guy started taking charge. I'm not sure what he was saying yet you could tell he was showing off and then they started working again, getting the large sacks down but this time with much more energy and flair, yelling and laughing and showing off to us! It was extremely funny.

At 9pm we finished the walk completely spent. My feet and lower back were killing! It's extremely tiring walking the streets of Kolkata. Not only are you walking, but you are concentrating hard on watching where you are stepping, avoiding people, dogs, cats, cows, goats, urine and faeces, as well as trying to avoid being hit by a speeding yellow cab, man pulled rickshaw, rickshaw or motorbike! The assault on your senses with the different smells and the insistent honking of horns really takes it out of you. As full on as it all is, the city is GREAT and both Taylor and I fell in love with it.

David dropped Taylor and I at a small restaurant that serves authentic West Bengali (the State we are currently in) food. I was called "The Bhoj Company" .. The menu was written in Indian so we told the waiter to recommend dishes. We were served Doi Begun (eggplant and Curd curry), Kachu Pata Chingri Bhapa (spinach and small shrimp) and Vetki Paturi (boneless fish fillet with a curry sauce). We had a side serve of Naan and rice athen finished off with dessert - Kulfi - officially the best thing you have EVER tasted... It is a hard ice cream made from milk, sugar, pistachios and I don't know want else... I'm thinking ginger and cardamom but I need to research! I ordered a second serve and am now obsessed with it!

The whole meal came to 500rp! Ridiculous - that's $5 each including our drinks! Lol We then walked back to the guesthouse exhausted but happy that we had tackled Kolkata head on in our first day and came out on top. It's funny because when I reached Kuala Lumpur I had received a teary message from Taylor saying she was overwhelmed (she arrived the Friday morning) and thought we should get the hell out of there! When I saw her, she said she had literally been in tears that day... But after our first day, we were both positive and ready! Kolkata was awesome!

Life, Death and Everything in Between..

The next morning saw us both leap out of bed at 7.30am when the alarm went off excited to start a new day! We had another walking tour planned, this time with Martyn from the same tour company. We headed off to find one breakfast. We decided to go to Au Bon Pain, which is apparently a "chain" bakery. As we were crossing the road, I saw a man standing near the bakery with a monkey on a chain. As soon as he saw us, he focused on us, yelling out and pointing to the monkey. I had a sudden look of complete terror on my face... I hate monkeys, they are all evil! I bolted across the road, took a wide berth around the guy, giving him a death stare the whole time. Breakfast was crap and we couldn't use their free wifi without an Indian mobile number so we quickly ate then headed off to meet Martyn out the front of the Oberoi Hotel.

On the way there a really old man attached him self to me chatting away about cricket.when we almost reached our destination he asked us of course to check out his shop. As we had plenty of time, I decided to go along with his game much to Taylor's amusement DVD before you could blink we were seated in his little shop in front of a jewellery cabinet. I was tempted to buy a piece as it was beautiful stuff but he started trying to sell me a scarf! I ended up buying a scarf for 250rp which I completely didn't even bargain him down on.. It would have been worth 100rp max! Before he could try sell anymore u shook his hand and we left... Taylor shaking her head at me!

We met with Martyn and another guy, Johann and started our walk. Another couple who were meant to come had slept in so arrangements peers made for them to meet us at a coffee shop an hour later. We started our walk through the food section of the New Market. First stop, the meat section. Now I've seen a lot of meat markets in my time, and I've never seen anything so gross! There were a huge amount of cross in the open shed swooping down to eat all the scraps, you had to almost dodge them! It was quite terrifying. I kept thinking of my friend Casey back home who is terrified of birds lol India would be her worst nightmare! The huge black crows are everywhere in Kolkata eating all the! So gross!

After the market, we did coffee at the famous India coffee house. Lonely Planet best describes its significance "The cheap coffee can hardly be recommended but it's perversely fascinating to look inside this unpretentious high ceilinged place that was once the meeting place of freedom fighters, bohemians and revolutionaries". We then walked through Muslim and Hindu communities. Again we were always the centre of attention. We tried a little street food along the way which I was very wary of considering the community was extremely poor but you only live once! We wound our way down to the river and got the attention of one intoxicated male. He was taking my photo and dancing around and making quite a scene! We quickly moved on and found ourselves at a burning ghat.

In Hindu culture, when one passes, they get cremated very quickly. They are taken to the burning ghats by the river and depending on their wealth either use the big electric furnace or a basic "open camp fire". As we were standing nearby a procession went by, there was a deceased on a stretcher all wrapped in white with the face showing with flowers all around, being carried on the shoulders of some men. Having had some experience this area, it was obvious to me that the person had died very recently, which gave me insight into how quickly these cremations take place!

We were invited in to watch the cremation.. And so we did. Extremely sobering to walk into a room and see 2 deceased laying on the ground awaiting their turn in the furnace. We watched as a large group of men (assuming relatives) took the body to the furnace putting it onto a set of railings that led to the furnace. They were then all ushered back and one man opened up the curtains and pushed the body inside. As he opened up the curtain it was bright red and extremely hot, even from 3 metres away.. I had to turn away quickly as I couldn't watch the last part of the body in the furnace, but Taylor saw the whole thing including the body start to burn. India is in your face. Very sobering.

We left and then went down towards the river. Again there was a large open camp fire and two bodies waiting... We didn't stick around to watch this time. We then caught a rickshaw and the metro back to the Sudder St area. Exhausted, barely able to walk another step we collapsed into the comfort of Blue Sky cafe and ordered up a huge meal of curry and naan bread. I ordered the blue sky special naan which came out with coriander, peanuts, cheese and other things all over it (seriously don't know what it all was). I almost died when I later saw the bill. Taylor's plain naan was 25rp and mine was 180rp lol never again!

We crawled back to the hotel and collapsed for some Internet time and relaxing. I finally got the Internet to work fast enough to download some photos to Facebook. As we had a late lunch we weren't really hungry and so had a quiet night in. I started to feel quite nauseous and wasn't sure if I was getting a touch of Delhi belly. I decided to play it safe and took some "Zedd's" before falling asleep with my fingers crossed!

Our hotel was definitely a little strange.. Apart from the complete lack of customer service, we had an Indian guy sleeping directly outside our bedroom door. He had a bad habit of either playing his Indian music on his phone or talking on it let at night and early in the morning! Extremely annoying! I will cut the blog here... and continue Part 2... Don't want anyone drifting off midway!

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25th February 2014

Great stuff
Hi Reet, Great to hear you are enjoying your trip. Loving the blog as usual. Stay safe & have fun.
25th February 2014

I miss the Chai in India........the best EVER! Enjoy X
27th February 2014

Love the blog can't wait for the next one Keep safe Love you xxxx

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