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Posts Tagged ‘Kolkata’

I’m In Heaven

In India on May 22, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Heaven = airconditioning, TV, soft bed, and clean bathroom

After the grossness of Hotel Maria in Kolkata and getting Delhi Belly there and having to spend way too much time in that disgusting place, I am now in the most beautiful place on earth.  And it’s pretty swank by western standards as well, all this for $15/night.

I totally princessed out for this part of the journey, flying from Kolkata to Jaipur in 2 hours instead of a train ride of about 32.  My hotel, the Hotel Pearl Palace, was listed under budget, still costs more than anywhere else I’ve stayed but what a difference it makes to a traveler’s psyche, especially one who lay in state for most of yesterday because she dared to eat the chow mein at the street stand.  I knew as soon as I did it that my illness-free run was over and the runs were beginning.  It’s always a weight-loss opportunity though, so no complaints.

The chow mein cart. It looked so very, very tasty and wonderful. It was evil. Kolkata

The heavenly bathroom in my high-end hotel room at the Maria Hostel. This is where the chow mein forced me to hang out for about 9 hours. Kolkata

Suffering the consequences of the street cart chow mein. It looked awesome, it felt awful.

Still love Kolkata and found even more things to like about it.  There’s no way I can accurately describe the feeling of the city, but for all the people and traffic and beggars and size, it’s remarkably laid-back and easy going.  The people seem happier there – maybe I’m just imagining that – but it might have something to do with all the wonderful green space.

The highlight had to have been my sunset walk over the Howrah Bridge, the largest cantilever bridge in the world.  Packed packed packed with pedestrians on either side sandwiching in about 8 lanes of solid traffic.  As I walked over the river, I noticed ferries running back and forth between the banks, so I made my way down to a stand and got a ticket to who knows where.  It happened to be close enough to the giant park again, so I was able to stroll leisurely back to my dungeon.

Looking down on the flower sellers from the Howrah Bridge, Kolkata

Approaching the Howrah Bridge from the feeder streets. Kolkata

A view of a ghat from the bridge deck. Kolkata

A beautiful colonial building in the middle of the bustling Indian streets. Kolkata

The ferries cross the river all day. A lovely way to commute. Kolkata

Looking back at the Howrah Bridge from the river ferry. Kolkata

James and I found a great Swiss patisserie, “Flurys”, and had the most amazing almond macaroon and rumball.  Top notch bakery and still cheap by anybody’s standards.  But I ended up eating most of my meals at the Blue Sky cafe where the waiter flirted with everybody and gave great service.  That is until I tried the street stand and then there was to be no more eating for about 36 hours afterwards.

The difference between outside the airport and inside was night and day.  I grabbed a cab to the airport and asked my cabbie tons of questions on the drive over.  He rents his cab, has no home, sleeps in the backseat when no one else is parked in there.  All the cabbies in the neighbourhood I was in were like this, poor, skinny, and rotten teeth from chewing paan all day.  Then I get to the airport where the middle class people are.  They queue up, they have nice clothes and all their teeth, and a large percentage of them are overweight.  The airport was one of the more efficient ones I’ve been in, but maybe it was just the sheer luxury of it all.  And the best part, I didn’t have to wrestle anyone for my seat.

Tomorrow the luxury ends when I have to take a local bus to Bikaner, a 7 1/2 hour ride without a/c in the desert.  Speaking of desert, a sand storm has swept in tonight and during the ride back from the Monkey Temple (yes that’s monkey temple #2, 2000 monkeys milling about waiting for peanuts to be thrown at them) a brown haze descended on the city.  Reminds me of when I was living in Damascus and I’m glad I don’t have to clean up after it.

The golden monkey. Monkey Temple, Jaipur

Monkeys everywhere. Monkey temple, Jaipur

That’s it from Jaipur and probably it til I get back to Delhi for my last day there.  Bring on the rats…

The rooftop restaurant at my luxurious hotel. Hotel Pearl Palace, Jaipur

The hallway outside my room. Hotel Pearl Palace, Jaipur

THIS is a proper toilet. Hotel Pearl Palace, Jaipur

Happy,healthy, and a little bit sweaty again inside my beautiful, wonderful room. Hotel Pearl Palace, Jaipur

Poverty

In India on May 20, 2009 at 9:33 am

You can’t really write about India without writing about the poverty.  I haven’t written anything so far, not because I don’t see it, but because I’m trying to process it all.

In the Paharganj in Delhi where I first stayed, it’s so visible it’s painful.  I call a lot of the kids ‘spiders’ because of the way they move around on their misshapen limbs, or what’s left of them.  Everywhere you go there little kids accost you with hands outstretched asking for food.  “Please madam, one rupee”.  In Varanasi there were many as well but I don’t think I noticed them as much, possibly because when I was out I was usually in a rickshaw or down on the ghats.  Barely any in Darjeeling, except for one man I noticed on more than one occasion.  He was probably somewhere in his forties, bent and crooked legs, missing his left arm.  He was fairly quiet as far as the begging goes, but I noticed him especially because of his turqoise eyes, the exact same colour as Lake Louise in the Rockies.  I must have passed him two times up on the ridge towards the zoo and back, but the last day I was shoveling some Dairy Milk into my mouth when I passed him again with his hand outstretched.  It felt absolutely cruel to walk by someone in need while I have more than he could ever want, so I walked back and gave him the rest of my chocolate to be rewarded with the most beautiful smile.  You wish you could do more, but what?

Down here in Kolkata it’s bad once again.  Yesterday I passed a boy who might have had polio, his legs twisted out at weird angles behind him while he scooted past on his arms.  Another young woman lying in the gutter dragging her useless legs behind her.  Then in the evening I saw a man who had no legs below his knees.  We passed him on the way to the book store as he shuffled along on his arms, trying to keep his scarf from falling down and getting in his way.  Later on we passed him again, sitting with his back to a bank building, and when he saw me he reached out both hands pleading for money or food while his stumps wagged in the air.  That one was the worst, and again, what can you do?

Then there are the ones that make me chuckle for the sheer weirdness of it all.  Just around the corner from the hotel there is a woman who I don’t think can walk at all.  She’s missing most of the teeth on the right side of her mouth and the ones on the left are huge and fit poorly in her mouth.  She reminds me of those mechanical witches at halloween or santas at Christmas, the ones that stand there and wave back and forth.  She’s the same, she lies on her left side and with her right hand joins her fingers lightly together at the tips and bring them towards her mouth and then back about 6 inches before doing it all over again, again and again in rhythm.  The one time I didn’t see her doing that was when it looked like her hand had stalled in front of her mouth while her left hand tapped her begging dish, almost like her system had shorted out.

It’s hard to see this and I understand why people don’t want to know about it.  At least in Vancouver most of the worst of the worse is contained in the East Side so if you don’t want to see it you just avoid the neighbourhood.  But here it’s everywhere and it doesn’t take long to start blocking it out in one way or another.  Once in awhile it breaks through again and you’re overcome with a feeling of total hopelessness.  A bunch of us were discussing it one night, we can’t fix what the country’s government won’t fix.  I guess the best you can do is behave responsibly in your own country and try to right the wrongs there.  It’s frustrating and it’s sad.  How on earth could you ever repair something like this?