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Kolkata

INDIA | Monday, 17 March 2014 | Views [217]

Me in front of Victoria memorial

Me in front of Victoria memorial

Saturday

The train arrived in Kolkata early morning.

After the parade of people to get on the train in a damn hurry at Puri, there was surprisingly little fanfare about disembarking. I was sure they would all rush off in a mad dash, but they were so lax, I almost wasn't sure we had arrived.

The family sitting around me just kind of hung around. I guess they were waiting until they could be the last to disembark from the car because they had so many bags.

Kolkata train station, or Howrah, to be precise, since there are more than one, was quite calm. No touts heckling me. I found a place to rest and organize what I should do next and then got a prepaid taxi to the hotel.

The taxis are much cheaper here than in the other two places I've been to.
The hotel wasn't all that hard to find, thankfully. I got a room with my own bathroom - western style, with A/C, on the third floor. The clerk smirked at the manager as he brought with him a roll of toilet paper for my room. Why is this funny, I have to ask? Western toilets require toilet paper, don't they?

The room was not cleaned, which left me wondering if this was actually a decent place, but they sent a cleaner and she made it liveable. Again, a YHA that was not really inline with the standard.
I was exhausted. I hardly slept on the train. And I had this feeling that the bed had bedbugs. But it was fine, just my imagination. And there were no mosquitos to be worried about because the room was air conditioned.
But I guess from being exhausted, my anxiety got me pretty bad.

The ride from the train station revealed that Kolkata is a much more developed and established city than Chennai, but that only served to completely overwhelm me. I stayed in my room and cried for awhile. Maybe an hour. Crying is my normal reaction to exhaustion, but it happens so rarely I usually don't recognize it as that. I just thought I was having a breakdown from being overwhelmed by India. 

Finally, I got myself together, changed my clothes (I was still in the clothes I'd slept in on the train) and went down to ask where I could find an electrical adapter because my phone only had 3% power left. I hadn't needed the adapter before because the two previous places had outlets that accepted my British/Singapore adapter.
The clerk, who had previously smirked about the tp, didn't really do English, so he referred me to the manager, a very nice and friendly man. The manager described an electrical store down the road in a circular market that he was sure I could find. I was not so sure. India is not the sort of place where anything is obvious or easy to find.

But he was right. I trotted down the road and found a circular building, which I walked all the way around, completely missing the front entrance, until I finally found an entrance at the side. And it was a little mall inside with tiny shops selling a variety of stuff. Kind of a neat little place.

I found a shop with the name electrical in it, and I showed the guy the plug and asked for an adapter. After a few moments he understood and produced the item from a small box. This seemed miraculous because the small shop was literally overflowing with piles of little boxes of this and that and I hardly know how he found anything. We tested it and it worked- voila! In business. Only 30 rupees. That's about 50 cents, I think.
My success was short lived. It was already noon and I hadn't eaten since the day before around 5. I had a veg thali at the restaurant attached to the guesthouse. It was okay, nothing to write about. The flavors were a bit different but I wouldn't say that made them great.

A thali is a plate with little bowls of different things. Kind of an Indian version of a square meal, except it's served on a round plate and you usually get about 6 small dishes , a 1/4 to a 1/2 cup in size, and some chapati, which is kind of like a wheat tortilla.
Back to my room, and the food fueled my anxiety even more and I hit real highs. I couldn't sleep, and I couldn't get over my anxiety to go out and do something, so I stayed in my room and made more reservations for things and settled accounts, but nothing I did would relieve the problem that I didn't have a confirmed ticket on the train for the following night.

This level of uncertainty threw me into crying jag after jag. I just couldn't stop. That's how tired I was. Finally, I realized I could just fly out the following morning if I didn't get the train ticket. Duh! It would cost more but they would definitely have a seat.
And then it was late enough with the time difference and I was able to call Victor, my lifeline, and he talked me down from the ledge. Thankfully! So grateful I have him to ground me. He reminded me that I get into crying jags like that when I'm really tired. Oh, right. No wonder.

In the evening, I finally heard back from the tour guide about a walking tour I wanted to go on and he saved my Sunday by telling me the walking tour was on for 8 am tomorrow, if I could make it. But he said it was holi, which I had no idea what it meant. So I said I'd be there.
All in all it was emotionally a rough day. I don't recommend getting tired while you're traveling. I'm convinced it is enemy number one for ruining what could otherwise be a very nice time.

 

Sunday
Sunday was the complete opposite of Saturday.
I didn't sleep amazingly well, but I got eight hours maybe. I was up at 6 having a cold shower - no hot water. This is no surprise to me anymore. But it was hot enough that it didn't matter.
At 6:40, I went down to ask the desk about getting me a taxi, and found that I was l locked inside the building. So much for fire safety. But at seven I went down again and the manager was there and he explained to me that there wouldn't be anything going on because it's holi.

Holi is a national holiday where they throw colored powders on each other, supposedly in celebration of the budding of spring flowers. They used to make the colors from the flowers, but now they're mass produced. The manager helped me get a cab to the meeting point for the walking tour, a beautiful old hotel that has been modernized.
There were two other girls on the tour, Anu and Shreya, both Indians, and the guide Ifte. What a wonderful time we had. The girls knew Ifte, so it was like hanging out with old friends. And they felt free to really speak their mind about things and they had so many passionate discussions about the state of their country and their culture and what was important in life and how money works and the different approaches that people in their country had to life, money vs passion, etc.

And of course we also learned a lot about Indian history by walking about this old square, Dalhousie Square, and seeing the buildings of yesteryear. It was just a really wonderful amazing morning. And this business district, which would normally be so busy, was really quiet because of holi. Just no traffic at all. I think on a normal day, I wouldn't have even been able to hear the guide it would be so loud.

Periodically, throughout the day we saw a lot of people still wearing their colors and some late in the evening who had tried to wash it off, but a residue of color was still left. Pinks, blues, greens, greys.
In the middle of the tour, we were approached by an old guy with his son and 1 year old granddaughter to say the baby wanted to have her picture taken with the white lady. I'm such a novelty here. They take photos of me the way I take photos of the Japanese tourists. I guess that's karma.

Anyway, it was darling. Though I'm not sure it was true about the kid. I did get to hold the baby, but she was pretty scared of me. That's being the friendly tourist. Maybe I should start charging.
The girls on the tour were so nice. We ate lunch together at a bakery after the tour, and the one girl from Bangalore, Anu offered to host me and gave me her number so I could call to get info about staying in Hampi later in my tour. What a sweet girl. Both of them really. Just so fascinating and friendly.

The whole morning just turned my perspective completely around. Kolkata certainly fulfilled its reputation as the intellectual center of India. These three were expounding the whole time. It was an incredible amount of fun. I don't think I will ever forget that. It was so energizing and inspiring.
After lunch, I went to visit the Victoria Memorial. It was beautiful, and as the guidebook promised it was White House meets Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, the inside was closed because of holi. It was also hot, so I had to stop in the shade a lot. And there were plenty of families and lovers there also enjoying the park.

I also tried to visit the nearby church and planetarium but they were also closed for holi.
Back at the hotel, I learned that my train ticket to Siliguri was confirmed. What a relief! 

 On the next stop.

 

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