Saturday, October 24, 2009

The one where 'We almost missed the train to New Jalpaiguri'

1st October 2009. An uneventful day spent in Kolkata. Tried silver shopping but the skies had opened up and the shops were shut. Gave up and went back home. Meeting T at Park Street before we head out to Howrah Station. Met, had a cuppa, visited Flurry's which is like this 100 year old chocolate institution in Kolkata. We bought some dark chocolate here (couple of bars) which lasted us till North Sikkim finished. Realised lateness of time and caught a taxi for Howrah.

Hyperventilating slightly as it was 4.30 pm and our train was at 5.30 pm. M, the other friend who was with us was like, 'Why don't you take the ferry? It would be faster'. Luckily decided against it and reached actually very much in time. The train, Kamrup Express - everyone had dissed it talking about it like it was some third-class train. Kamrup was fine (it had been bombed a couple of years back but well these things kinda happen) and the vendors...

Well the vendors were also another highlight...25 atleast with each one carrying a different item. You could potentially start your journey with an empty bag and fill it up as the train chugged along with everything from pyjama cords to desserts. But our favourite guy with a tagline of 'Ta-Ta-Ta Time, Pa-Pa-Pass'. He was howlarious selling shengdana and the like. For more on him, you've to meet me or T to get a real-time imitation! There is no other way unfortunately....

Reached NJP at 6ish next morning...

The one where 'A friend gets drunk and disappears for a hour at Someplace Else'

30th September 2009. Kolkata's hot stickiness is almost over. I board the Kamrup Express this evening for Darjeeling. I like the city - the buildings at Dalhousie Square, the friendliness of the people and the fact that I can bargain at the markets with a smile :) But I ABHOR the humidity - its worse than Bombay and that is saying something...

I have had a very pleasant day. Went shopping - a fact that gives my heart succour. Went to 'Old' New Market which is actually called a fancy English name!

Shooped for silver to my heart's content. Recommend Chumbalama - a Tibetan shop here. Decently priced silver. I went slightly beserk and even bought myself a 'lizard' pendant! And that cost me like 300 bucks!!

Shopping finished, I wandered around Dalhousie Square and there were enough architecturally significant monuments there to keep my trigger happy fingers..well happy :)

Headed back homewards to give myself a little rest before a night out drinking at 'Someplace Else'. At the Park, this place is legendary. I had heard so many tales about the place - it was a must do on my list. But before that, we went to a place called 'Beyond the Blue' opposite New Market. Ambience top class as it affords a view of the city's nightlights but that is it. Nothing more to say really. They screwed everything in terms of the order that they could possibly screw!

'Someplace Else' lived upto its expectations and more. It totally rocked. Drinks were reasonable except the place as big as my living room. But I wouldn't crib about that too much. Now comes the highlight for the day. Friend with us got drunk and sort of disappeared. No other way to put it really. We looked everywhere for him. We went even to the hotel's reception and like in the movies asked, 'Can you use your cameras to check where he is?' Hhhahhahaahhaa...We finally found him - thank the Lord! He had gone and dozed off in the far corner inside the pub of all the places!

Dispersing, I found myself in a taxi speeding homewards at 12.30 pm. I didn't get the unsafe feeling that I normally get when I would leave the hotel at Delhi at 5 pm. Knocked myself out for the night and fell asleep almost immediately...

Monday, October 19, 2009

The one where 'I had an uneventful day in Kolkata doing touristy things'

29th September 2009. A day spent fruitfully. Victoria Memorial. Mocambo's. St.Paul's Cathedral. Bengali saris. Like dil se khush ho gaye hum. Walked the streets of Kolkata in the dirty sweaty heat. Victoria Memorial - gorgeous in the light and standing utterly majestic against the array of blue-gray clouds.

But on the inside, it was an entirely different story - the Museum was awash with a sea of humanity who had absolutely no clue about why they were here - one more tourist spot to take off the list.

Thomas and Willam Daniell painted watercolours of an age gone by - to see India through their eyes - eyes belonging to the 1700's - 1800's - reminds me of a glorious past. A past which was well exploited by the romance of watercolours. The paintings are beautiful and the little details make them really interesting.

Old photos of Kolkata were also on display. I love the sepia-tinted nostalgia evident in photos like this. Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Queen Elizabeth, Nehru, Jinnah - all real people - standing, waving and smiling through a black and white window.

Really really wanted to see more but the sea of people were starting to drown me and I was literally scrambling for air at some point.

The sea of people coming out after the rains

I literally ran my way out and ended up waiting at the steps as the rain came down on us. Five minutes and the sun shone with clear blue skies.

Headed towards Mocambo's at Park Street for grub. Food was decent but the ambience was brilliant. After a nice lunch spent in the company of T, went in search of St.Paul's Cathedral. Wandered around and got lost - ended up at some Tamil church in the bylanes of Kolkata.

A call to a friend in Kolkata made my life easier and lo behold stood St.Paul's. Old tablets inside spoke of young Englishment dying in cemeteries very far from their own homelands.

Then came the bestest part of the evening - sari shopping. Had been recommended 'Adi Dhakineshwari Bastralaya', near Kalighat Metro and I had such a happy time spending much monies on something that brings my Mom loads of happiness :) Dinner at a friend's place with some yummy methi chicken thrown in totally made my day.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The one where "I think I espied a tiger foot print"

28th September 2009. Sunderbans- the beautiful forests and beautiful it is. Especially at 5 am in the morning. We got up to catch the sun's rays and the water turned silver before our very eyes. Seeing things like this can change life perspective.

Ready by 6 am to go catch the second watch tower (Sajnekhali) which was a garish white and green - I mean if the watch tower needs to blend into the landscape, what is the point of painting it in such stark colours that every eye - human and animal can see for miles around!

Caught a deer and that was it - my only sight of jungle life around there. On our way back, we asked the boatman how deep the water was and he said no one had ever measured! However his anchor went down a hundred feet deep atleast. It gives you a very precarious feeling - sitting in a launch with twenty other people and the still waters around you - anything could topple it over and its not like we had life jackets or anything...

Then started the four hour ride to Netidopani - mangroves and water nonstop around us. Slept for a bit and got up in time to see the approach to Netidopani. This place was scary - lonely as hell and pure jungle. It had started raining by the time we began the trudge to the watch tower.

We walked upto the watch tower - twenty laughing and talking loudly people and expected to see a tiger which of course didn't happen! We joked hell of a lot about the tiger sighting but alas it was not to be. We did see a noticeboard which spoke of tiger sightings - two-three atleast had been sighted as late as 4 days ago and when we got there not even one! We kind of expected it if thought about it for a little bit.

People started drifting away eventually leaving about four - five of us hanging around. An eerie silence descended on us. We listened to the sounds of the forest. I realised how utterly lonely and desolate this place is - I didn't envy the Forest Guard on duty there at all. I felt like going back to civilization immediately.

Which we did after four hours of traversing through endless mangroves and swathes of water.

Another two hour bus journey and the smell of garbage told us we were in Kolkata. Dinner happened after a two hour wait at 'Peter Cat' - one of the oldest restaurants in Kolkata. I had 'Chello Kebab' - their signature dish. Mutton seekh kebab, chicken kebab, an egg and buttered rice - makes me salivate thinking about it now! I was too hungry to even take a photo of the food, attacking it almost immediately.

Got home with the idea to explore Kolkata tomorrow..

The one where 'we wait for 3 hours for Chitralekha to show up'

27th September 2009. A 6.00 am alarm gets me up and ready to shower and leave for the Sunderbans. Tigers are roaming about in my head - I am aware that there are extremely slim chances of anything happening but I can't resist the idea of seeing a true blue Royal Bengal tiger. I have seen so much footage of the place and well anything can happen.

T joined me at this stage. For those who came in late, T is my travelling companion for this trip. We have a comfort zone and I am not fazed by the fact that I am traveling with this boy alone. During the course of the trip, people get fazed which was super fun to see...people are sooo curious...anyways that is a story for much later.

We left the Tourism Centre on time and our guide spoke only in Bengali on the bus. We asked around for translations and thus met a very nice family from Hyderabad - all Microsoft :) It took us little more than 1.5 hours to get to the pier where we had to board our boat...

Then began the long interminable wait. 3 HOURS! :o Hot sun, let me correct myself, hot, sweaty sun and it didn't really matter how many liquids we drank honestly! The sweat poured off us even in the shade...highly aggravating and our guide - all he had to say, 'Medem, the boat is coming'. Bloddy it had been coming for the last three hours man!

Well I gotta say the three hours gave me these shots so I won't crib too much :) The boat showed up - Chitralekha in all her glory.

Our journey began into the Sunderbans - beautiful, lonely and serene. It fills you with peace and makes you marvel at nature.

We witnessed the after effects of Hurricane 'Aila' where sandbags had been placed to rebuild embankments. We got people waving at us ...yaay.. :"D Great evening and a lovely sunset full of forked lightning, dal chawal and riotous pink colours against a dark blue sky....

The one where 'I set foot in Kolkata and sat in an auto and a rickshaw'

26th of September 2009. Another trip. A time to go to East India. Planned itinerary reads like this- Kolkata-Sunderbans-Darjeeling-Sikkim. Having planned for so long, it has now come to fruition. A 9.10 am flight brought me to Kolkata - Bong land. The humidity hit me the moment I stepped out of the airplane. It sucked the living air from my lungs and the sweat- sigh..the less said the better.

I am staying at R's house and I had a very nice time. She fed me well, looked after me like my Mom would (which is saying a lot) and I actually relaxed for the first time in almost two-three weeks. Pujo is here and she has decided to take me around to see the 'pandals' starting from the one behind her house.

The crowds were crazy - like a virtual sea of people. R had some fancy pass which enabled us a quick entry and exit. The goddess was bootiful and all dressed up.

I ate 'phuchkas' which were quite ordinary. I didn't manage to ever try better ones in all the time I spent in Kolkata. Decided against going to another 'pandal' because of the insane crowds.

People were decked up to the nines in high heels and wandering around from pandal to pandal. Ended the day with a visit to the local crematorium where stood a 600 year old temple of Kali crumbling to pieces. Dinner was late - almost 11 and a good night's sleep got me ready for my Sunderbans trip starting early on Sunday.

The highlight of this day was sitting in both an auto and a rickshaw. Oh and in the auto (which is normal Bumbai wala auto), there are seats on either side of the driver. I sat on one and held onto dear life as sped along the road :D

The rickshaw was a different experience - you are elevated to a certain height and look almost regal. Well not so regal with the traffic fumes blowing in your face but you get the point.....we went along the bylanes of Garia in South Kolkata which reminded me of Vasant Kunj in Kolkata - the small narrow bylanes and the row houses...


Life in the East of India

Once upon a time I decided I would go to the East of India. Since I decided I thought it best to go especially since I booked them tickets and what not. So I went. I almost died. I had a blast. Two weeks and it was pure bliss. There were places I went to in North Sikkim where I had no network. I spent the time with a friend and realised traveling companions can be annoying. I am annoying to traveling companions...

The friend was talking about writing the blog posts like Friends episodes and having got confirmation that I can steal his idea, will be doing exactly that. Before I start, let me leave you with this...

This is on the way to Darjeeling. Seeing the Himalayas is life are shocked and awed..