28th April – Kolkata

Song of the day: In The Ghetto by Elvis Presley

Ayup.
We woke again just before the crack of dawn. It’s been muggier today and as I write we’re sort of half hoping to witness a thunderstorm – the monsoons aren’t due until the end of May and a bit of a downpour might do everyone some good. We went out onto the street and decided we’d have a tea straight away to blow away the cobwebs. We sat at a Chai stand that was being supervised by a lithe, twenty-something lad with an intelligent face. He started chatting to us in excellent English about our trip. We told him that we were flying to Darjeeling tomorrow and he got quite excited, telling us that it was beautiful and much, much cooler, which was nice to hear with it being six in the morning and the temperature already in the mid-thirties. When we asked how he’d learned English he said “From the street”. I don’t know how the street had taught him such perfect grammar and elocution because most other “street” english speakers are difficult to decipher. After we left his stand though, we both agreed that it was bizarre and kind of sad that this guy was obviously highly intelligent and entrepeneurial, but because of the situation he was born into he would probably never make the waves that he’d be capable of making if he was born into a more priveleged background.

DCIM101GOPRO

 

We walked for about half an hour past whole families stirring from their slumbers on battered old mats. Past a muslim bloke who was praying to an altar that he’d hastily assembled in a shop doorway. Past all kinds of mongrel dogs who regardless of their pedigree resembled greyhounds because of their scrawniness. We came upon our first destination of the day – Old Chinatown. The first street we walked through was referred to in the Lonely Planet guidebook as “Rubbish Street” – on either side of the road the destitute had crafted family homes out of the garbage that other people had thrown out. Ramshackle collections of pallets, bin liners and wooden offcuts had been lashed together to form makeshift shelters. I say makeshift, but in all probability people have been living here for years and will still be doing so for years to come. When I was a kid my Dad helped me build a den in the back garden, and thinking back I think it would have provided better shelter than some of the desperate bivouacs that we saw here. I had expected for us to be approached by beggars here and to be made to feel very uncomfortable. In fact the only discomfort was self-inflicted – the guilt of knowing that we will never have to struggle like this to survive. The people here went about their daily ablutions, washing themselves and their clothes at public waterpumps without batting an eyelid at our presence. It felt invasive but somehow compulsive to take photos, and I filmed our walk through the ghetto with my gopro down at my waist.

DCIM101GOPRO

 

After walking through “Rubbish Street” itself, we turned the corner onto a street which contained a huge sea of rubbish, perhaps about four foot deep. Half a dozen ladies in saries were combing through the filth with rusty rod-like instruments – presumably looking for recyclable items that they could sell for a few rupees. Whilst beggars have approached us asking for money on a few occasions during our stay in Kolkata, a lot of poor people seem more interested in having our empty plastic water bottles. Whether they recycle them or fill them with water to try and sell to tourists is unclear.
Humbling is the word for places like this. It’s like anything which you know to exist but don’t see on a day-to-day basis. Out of sight, out of mind is the way that the world seems to function – perhaps this is why the Kolkatans who are fortunate enough to have wealth have moved away from these poverty-stricken areas. We passed a street corner where a kind of market was in progress, even at this early hour. A lady gutted fish on a rusty machete-like blade that was attached to a wooden board – the aroma was foul. On the other side of the street a man was dealing with the entrails of some nameless beast, and an eyeball liberated from it’s housing stared up at us from the towel that it was placed upon. I guess the poorer you are, the poorer cuts of meat you can afford. The streets narrowed and we found ourselves wandering the winding lanes of the old chinatown. But for a few old signs and bits of crumbling architecture, there was little sign of the Chinese community that must have thrived here at one time or another. A lot of Muslims seem to live in this area, alongside the Hindus that make up the largest portion of India’s religious demographic. A recently violent past exists between these two religions, but you wouldn’t know it walking through these narrow streets.

DCIM101GOPRO

Gradually the squalor and desperation receded and we entered further into what is known as the BBD Bagh area. The area was formally known as Dalhousie Square after William Dalhousie – governor of British India between 1847 and 1856. There’s an interesting story behind this renaming. The BBD stands for Benoy, Badal and Dinesh – the forenames of three Indian independence fighters who carried out an assassination on Colonel N.S. Simpson – the Inspector General of the Police and a man known for his cruelty against the prisoners of Kolkata. All three of them met a sticky end themselves and so after independence in 1947 the square was named after these three heroes of the struggle for freedom. The whole area stands tall with impressive buildings from the colonial era. Unlike the rest of Kolkata these buildings have been maintained and look just as impressive now as they must have done when independence was handed over. We headed back to the hostel via the bus station, which we wanted to walk through again just because of the general scenes of chaos.
We came back and ate some street food from a stand on the corner of Sudder street. Hygiene is not something that’s given an official rating in India, so the only way you can make a judgement is to see if a place is popular. The store we selected was thronging with people so we decided it’d be safe to take the plunge. We had a chickpea curry with paratha breads that were cooked in a clay pot, washed down with a spiced coffee. It was possibly the best meal we’ve eaten so far and certainly the cheapest – the whole thing cost less than a quid for the both of us. We were stared at constantly while we ate – western eating habits are a source of curiosity in India and although it makes you a bit self-concious, the same people who are staring intently at you seem to be happy to smile and chat with you if you engage them in conversation. After another period of recuperation (remember the temperatures!) we decided to make a final trip out to the Indian Museum in Kolkata, mainly because it was just around the corner from our hostel. As we approached a smartly-dressed chap with one of those immaculately-groomed moustaches that are all the rage here engaged me in conversation. “Where are you from sir? Thankyou for coming to our city?” etc. He was pleasant but a bit creepy, and as we bought tickets for the museum I was glad to see the back of him. But as we went through the door he said “I would like very much to see you again sir, perhaps later outside this museum entrance!” I nodded politely and buggered off as quickly as possible.
As interesting as Hindu and Buddhist sculpture, fossilised remains and ancient weapons are, it was too bloody hot. We managed an hour and a half of gruelling culture-soaking before we couldn’t take it any more. We spent more time in the ancient Egyptian room than anywhere else – partly because they had the body of a mummy which is always a curious sight, but mainly because it was the only air-conditioned room in the museum. An hour and a half later we walked back down the marble steps and who should be stood there in exactly the same spot? The same bloke from earlier. As he shouted “Hello sir! How nice to see you again!” I couldn’t help cracking up at his persistence and the fact that he’d clearly waited an hour and a half on the scorching pavement to see us come out. I temporarily lost the power of speech because I found the whole thing so funny, so he turned his attentions to Luke and finally got to the heart of the matter – he had a shop that he wanted us to come and look at. Luke attempted to extracate himself by looking interested in a wooden toy from a street shop, but our assailant became more and more insistent.
MAN: “How much would you pay at the maximum for this?”
LUKE: “I don’t want it.”
MAN: “But how much would you pay?”
LUKE: “But I don’t want it…”
MAN: “But how much you pay? I will do it cheaper…”
REPEAT SIXTEEN TIMES
LUKE: “I don’t want it mate. I’m going back to our hostel…”
He didn’t follow us, but you have to give credit to him for his never say die attitude.
We rounded off our last night in Kolkata with a meal at the Blue Sky cafe, which we ate in the other day but I neglected to mention the name. The owner was friendly, the food cheap and the air-con efficient. Luke had a sumptuous paneer tikka kebab, daal and rotis. I went with the Mushroom Paneer Taj, pakoras and garlic nan – superb.

DCIM101GOPRO

Tomorrow we leave for Darjeeling, catching a flight to Bagdogra then a taxi up to the hill station famed for it’s scenery and tea production. Kolkata has blown Luke and I away in so many ways. It’s not been nearly as stressful as I thought it would be, although the heat has been far more intense than anything I’ve known. Having spent a few months in India before Luke reckons that Kolkata might just be his favourite city, owing to the lack of hassle and the general good nature of everyone we have met. The poverty is unparalleled and although it’s harrowing, we’re both glad that we’ve had the experience of seeing it. You have to look for the silver lining in every cloud and I think the resourcefulness and general demeanour of the people of Kolkata is heartening, even if their predicament is not.
I’ll sign off there for tonight – hope ya’all have a good day.
Tommy and Lukey

Advertisements

27th April – KOLKATA

Song of the day – The Hindu Times by Oasis (as chosen by Luke)
Hello.

I’m getting behind already – I started writing this blog yesterday evening but found myself falling asleep on the keyboard, so apologies for the delay.
We got up at half five in the morning – it seems a bit extreme but with the heat being as intense as it is we thought that we could get as much sightseeing in as we could before the sun put paid to our plans. We began walking from Sudder Street and found ourselves in the midst of Kolkata’s main bus terminal. A heaving, disorientating mass of people flocked around chai and food stands, whilst battered buses devoid of any glass in the windows shunted about a large terminal, beeping aggressively at each other and pausing to pick up swarms of passengers. We proceeded past the Ranji Stadium – a huge structure dedicated to the mass worship of local cricketing heroes. Home to the Kolkata Knightriders – the city’s IPL team, the stadium is so large and imposing that it could easily pass for an English premier league football ground.
The river Hooghly runs through the centre of Kolkata. It’s banks are piled high with deposits of clay, and the locals use this to their advantage in the crafting of millions of tiny plant pot-like recepticles that are used to serve tea. On every street corner a Chai stand offers a steaming pot of Kolkata’s local interpretation of the national drink. It’s a very milky, slightly spiced affair which is served in a fairly tiny portion for the princely sum of five rupees ( or five pence). We stopped off at Babughat, where we elected to sample the local produce for the first time. Though the portion is little more in volume than that of a shot of alcohol in England, the nectar inside is extremely refreshing. And for 5p a pop we couldn’t resist a second cup. The idea with the clay pots that the tea is served in is that Kolkatans can just throw them on the floor after they’ve been used, and eventually the shards will wash back down to the river. There are mllions of these pots smashed up on every kerbside, but we decided to keep ours as a souvenir. It struck me as a peculiarity that in a place of such poverty the local people discard these pots without a second thought, whereas we rich tourists attached such a value to them that we decided to keep them as souvenirs.

image

After the necessary refreshment of the tea we walked past abandoned and condemned old British colonial buildings – a huge old wharf covered in creepers was the highlight. As we approached Howrah Bridge the density of people on the pavement steadily increased. In the shadow of this huge bridge, Mullik Ghat Flower Market is situated. A huge, pulsating mass of people amble along in every direction, bartering for flowers that spill out of huge sacks. For all of the dirt and decay of Kolkata, there is an opposite end of the spectrum. Never before have I seen a place in which incredible beauty and appalling ugliness can be found in such close proximity.

image

 

The flowers are every colour of the rainbow and then some. Some craftsmen create elaborate patterns and images, presumably to be used as wreaths. Other stalls sell chains of flowers to be worn around the neck, but for me the prettiest sight is to see a huge sack, the size of one of those builder’s sandbags that you get in Britain, just full to the brim of flowers. The temptation to take a running jump into them is almost overwhelming, and in the overall chaos of the market it’s hard to imagine anyone batting an eyelid. At one point the flora was so dense that we found ourselves treading on a carpet of mulched flowers – who knows how deep. After getting under everyone’s feet for an hour or so, we climbed up onto the Howrah Bridge for a better vantage point over the whole market. From here the diversity of colour is even more striking, and you can see moving blobs of colour as traders carry impossibly large bundles of flowers on their heads. Two very dodgy types began to hover arouns us and ask us question in Hindi which we obviously couldn’t interpret, so we reluctantly decided to move on from our vantage point.

image

We walked across the Howrah Bridge – an impressive structure spanning the east and west banks of the Hooghly. As we got over to the other side we experienced the most intense case of “Worship the white guy” that we’d had so far. Two Indian men who looked as if they might be holidaying from elsewhere in the country asked politely if they could take our picture. The next thing we knew this chap was putting our arms over his shoulder, posing with his thumbs up and generally waving our arms around like two string puppets. Though they were both keen to have their picture with us, one of them was particularly excitable and as we walked away and dusted ourselves down, he chased after us to have one last shake of our pasty white hands. I have a renewed sympathy with the plight of the celebrity – no amount of fame and fortune could be worth this attention on a daily basis. I have to point out that although we’ve been stared at, sniffed and sometimes touched, the Kolkatans have been unerringly kind, friendly and polite. Having been to India before Luke says that Kolkata is very different to other cities, and I must admit I’d mentally prepared myself to recieve a lot more negative hassle than we have done thus far. Whilst we’re on the subject of the general “vibe” of Kolkata though, I must mention the poverty, which is far worse than anything that I’ve seen before. Hundreds of people sleep on the street – some in makeshift shelters, some on roll-out mats, and some on the hot, hard pavement. Many children make up this street-dwelling population and it’s a hard sight to process. What’s heartening is how jolly they all seem to be – running around in gaggles and playing with whatever street debris they can get their hands on. As you pass by they will stare, smile and maybe even venture a very chirpy hello. In some way their warmth and innocence towards strangers makes it all the more difficult to see them in this plight. The lack of equality is astounding in Kolkata and The Lonely Planet guide warns travellers of this. Whilst soldiers patrol the fenced off colonial villa belonging to the governor, scrawny, aging men pull handcarts around as taxis, carrying human cargo around the city. I have to say, I can’t imagine having the gall to pay another man a pittance to wheel me around in a cart when I have two perfectly good legs myself, but this is India and it seems that anything goes. For a country that still recieves foriegn aid but launched it’s first rocket into space last year, it’s hard to see how things are going to change for the better any time soon.

image

We walked to Howrah Station, not far from the bridge before getting a taxi back to the hotel – it wasn’t even ten and we’d been out and about for nearly four hours. We rested up for a while and ate some late breakfast at a place reccomended by our hoteliers called Blue Sky cafe. Luke had daal and rotis and I had a delicious little number called paneer mushroom taj – a mild, saucy curry.

Before we came away I was doing a bit of research on Kolkata and stumbled upon an online article on the India Times website, describing a “Tea Festival” which was being held at Jadavpur University. The article waxed lyrical about the flavours available for sample and the expert “mixologists” on hand to keep you informed and entertained. The university campus is situated about four miles away from our accomodation and the sun was at it’s highest. We decided to take a taxi and let the cool breeze from the open windows regulate our rising body temperatures. We clambered into the back of the cab and instantly knew what it was to be a potato baking away in an oven. The exposed metal interior of the taxi was a conducter for the sun, and the battered leather seats were themselves heated up to the temperature of thr average household radiator. “No matter!” we thought “The breeze will cool us off once we hit the road”. For some reason, the traffic of Kolkata had come to a near standstill. We sat on the back seat passing our litre of water back and forth and wiping the sweat of our brows. Luke and I both agree that it’s the hottest that we’ve ever been, and the weather report we looked at later that it had been 42 degrees at around the same time that we’d made the taxi. Each dash of a hundred yards between traffic jams was a blessed relief, and by the time we arrived at our destination we were thouroughly knackered and ready for the kind of revitalisation that a British subject can only gain from the glory of a cup of tea.
The students of Kolkata seem to be a political bunch. The walls of every building in this huge campus are plastered with posters proclaiming all kinds of political slogans. We asked a couple of students about the location of the festival, but no-one seemed to have a clue what we were on about. Our energy and hydration levels were dwindling and the sun was unrelenting. After about twenty minutes of needless wandering about we heard the rumbling of a PA in the distance and followed the source of the noise. A shouty rock band were playing a gig to an audience of about ten people in a large concrete stadium. Where were the stalls? The mixologists and students mingling together, united in the common cause of the cuppa? After walking back out of the stadium we found the “festival”. It was one small but admittedly very smart looking tent, occupied by bored looking students who seemed to have been designated the task of manning the stand against their will. We approached the counter and asked to see the menu. “We have three teas to try sir, but we are not opening until 2pm.” It was half one, and an extra half hour in this heat would have done us. We resisted the tempation to throw a tantrum and took shelter in the cold interior of one of the lecture buildings. I read about this festival in the country’s NATIONAL NEWSPAPER. Needless to say, they will get a strongly-worded e-mail in which I will imply that we flew all the way from England just to attend the festival. We made our way back off campus and sat down at a roadside stall, where we drank two cups each of the delightful local brew – who needs their poncey exotic flavours anyway!? After downing a litre of water between us we caught a taxi back to Sudder street and mercifully the roads had cleared enough to allow for a swift journey.

image

After shower number two of the day, we took turns to wash our clothes the hard way. Inspired by the matronly Indian ladies washing their children’s clothes by the river (or perhaps by the lack of a washing machine), we scrubbed at each garment with a bar of detergent and soaked them in a bucket of water. We then wrung them out, slapping them against the wall a few times and placing them on a travel washing line which we fixed between two chairs. We were quite pleased with our return to old school methods and rewarded ourselves with a spot of tea in a restaurant called Oasis a few streets away. The food was good and for the first time since we got here we felt that we were hydrated enough to have a couple of beers. Kingfisher Strong was the beer of choice – a good lager that for some reason is unavailable outside of India. Maybe it’s something to do with the fact that they can’t decide on the strength – the label proclaims that the beer contains “Less than 8% alcohol”. 7.9% then? who knows. We returned to the hostel and I tried to write this blog, but I only managed a couple of paragraphs before the beer and the half five wake-up caught up with us.
Have a nice day, whatever your endeavour…
Tommy and Luke

25th – 26th April – London to Mumbai to Kolkata to Sudder Street

We got up at five and tubed it to Heathrow, then flew with Jet Air to Mumbai. The flight was good – we were well supplied with Indian meals and we had a little tablet in the back of the seat in front of us, so we could pick what we wanted to watch. Luke watched The Martian and listened to music whilst I worked my way through Andy Cole and Thierry Henry’s greatest goals. After we’d eaten our lunch Luke said “I think we’re over hungry”. To which I replied “Yeah, we’ve had two meals already and I’m still starving.” To which Luke then said “No, I think we are flying over the country Hungary.” Oh how we laughed, as I reached for the crisps. The flight was uneventful as they usually are, but it was interesting passing over the Middle East and seeing the rocky desert landscape, devoid of settlement for as far as the eye could see.

image.jpeg
I’ve never really been to an airport which reflects the level of poverty in the country in which it’s based. Mumbai is no different, competing with Heathrow on scale, decadence and all-round poshness. We went through immigration and got ourselves officially stamped into the country before hanging about for three hours for our plane. Ever the culinary adventurers, we both bought a paneer cheese burger from Burger King. I think there’s a reason that curry and burgers are kept seperate, and I don’t think this particular east/west fusion burger will be making our top ten memorable meals when this trip is over.
Our second flight took us in to Kolkata at half four on Tuesday morning. As we came down through the cloud cover the dawn light was only just beginning to break out on the horizon, but even at this early hour the temperature was 29 degrees. The baggage collection was swift, although we did note with amusement the heavily duct-taped cardboard boxes with “Fragile” written on them that clunked their way up from the bowels of the airport and roly-polied onto the conveyor belt. Indian soldiers are everywhere around the airport, swinging their AK-47s on their shoulders and discussing with each other how best to groom their immaculate moustaches.

image.jpeg
We pre-paid 240 rupees (about 100 rupees to the pound) and presented the driver of one of Kolkata’s legion yellow cabs with our ticket. The cabs around here are called Ambassadors – they have a vintage look about them, made all the more authentic by the multitude of dints, scratches and duct-tape applied to their bumpers. Luke sat in the back whilst I squeezed into the front seat. An image of Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu God of Fortune smiled up at me from the dashboard – an appropriate deity to have looking down on you as a driver in this city. Our driver revved off round the corner and spotted a bloke walking along with a carrier case, looking lost. He screeched to a halt in front of him and gestured at me to get in the back so he could accomodate this extra fare. Pretty soon we were bollocking along a ramshackle carriageway, weaving our way around huge trucks and buses crammed to well above capacity. Our driver was in cordial and enthusiatic conversation with our new passenger when he suddenly turned round and addressed us…
“British?”
“Yes mate.”

“London?”

“No mate, Derby.”
“See over there on the left?” (He points right) “Big watch. Big watch from London!”
Out the window to our right we are passing a scale model of Big Ben, about twenty foot high.
“Oh yeah, Big Ben! Clock, that’s a clock mate.”
“Yes yes! Big Watch. British. You see that building over there? Old British. That tram? British.” (He laughs hysterically and keeps his eyes fixed on us, whilst the car careers forward at 30mph.) He continues in this vein for some time, whilst Luke and I are praying to Ganesh that this mad bastard could just keep his eyes on the road.

image

We passed all kinds of spectacles, the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Crumbling colonial houses, half collapsed in and enveloped in vegetation. Mangey dogs picking at piles of rubbish left at the side of the road. Live chickens squawking for dear life as they hang suspended by their feet from a hand cart being pulled by a man who had the physique and texture of a twiglet. At one point the horn blared out and we almost had an old man on the bonnet. I peeked in the rear view mirror as he shrugged this near-death experience off and continued his journey across the road. We pulled up at some traffic lights to ask for directions to the other passenger’s hotel. Out the window to our left three generations of a family were flat out on the pavement, sleeping in the morning sun. Two children lay next to each other, one of them barely old enough to be a toddler. We revved off again and screeched to a halt opposite a narrow looking street where a bloke was having a wee against some shutters. Our fellow passenger hopped out, examined the accomodation that he had pre-booked to stay in and shook his head. “I am not staying in this area” he said, and I can’t say I blamed him. We continued on to two further hotels which he turned his nose up at before finally accepting a room in some side street guesthouse. Five minutes later we rocked up at our own accomodation – the Diplomat guesthouse. It was half six in the morning and the entire front of the building was encased in rusty shutters – it looked like it had been condemned for years. Beggars were lurking in the street and we began to get an uneasy feeling about the legitimacy of our reservation, but our taxi driver was unperturbed. He banged on the shutters until a lithe youth came out and granted us access. After demanding his tip our driver scuttled off and we found ourselves alone with this young lad at the front desk of the hotel – or so we thought, until a short, balding bloke in his fifties popped up from underneath the desk, put his shirt and trousers back on and wiped the sleep from his eyes before making himself scarce. I’m assuming he’d been struggling for a place to sleep and the night porter had let him bed down behind the desk. Our room is grubby and contains about ten electric switches that appear to have no function whatsoever. It’s a comedown from some of the places that I stayed in with Hollie in South-East Asia, but I’m reliably informed by Luke that this place is good for the money. Besides, it has air-con which we couldn’t do without, and it’s only setting us back £7:50 a night each. Having been up for 24 hours we decided to take a powernap before commencing our exploration. We slept for about four hours and I woke up freezing cold – no better reccomendation for an air-conditioning unit.

imageIn the afternoon we headed out to the Madan Park, where we walked past a couple of cricket matches. We were given directions to the park by a curious fellow who introduced himself by saying: “I don’t want any money, I help you.” He appeared to have honest intentions and gave us clear instructions on how to reach the park, but then went off on a bit of a tangent about “Self-help”. “People need to help themselves you see sir – self-reliance. Not all the time I mean, but some of the time. I mean I show you the park and you get there on your own. But if you fall in a pond and can’t get out, I help you not drown. Self-help, you see?” As we strolled past the cricket matches and young courting couples, our stride was broken by a herd of about fifty goats and sheep who were legging it towards a pool of muddy water, waved on by a goat-herder. Whether it’s normal for a goat-herder to live in a park in the centre of a large city in India, I don’t know. But already I feel like there’s nothing in this country that would surprise me.

We walked to the Victoria Memorial Hall – an impressive imperial monument built by the British to honour the passing of Queen Victoria. I say built by the British, but what I probably mean is designed by the British, and built by Indians who had little choice in the matter. Outside the hall in a pretty ornamental garden is a large jet statue of Queen Vic herself. As we wandered over to the statue we were detained by a group of five Indian lads, who wanted their picture taken with us. Why? Well our only guess is that they don’t see white people very often. We posed for several selfies before another lad shyly asked if he could have his photo taken with us, which we obliged. I have to say, I felt that I was coming in for particular attention from the Indian public, but this is not me blowing my own trumpet – I am at the best of times a pasty shade of beige, whereas Luke has a much more Mediterranean complexion. Throughout the day as we walked along, Indians (always in their twenties) would greet us and ask us how we are before staring at us as we went past. Although it’s a bit disconcerting at first, their fascination seems to be friendly and harmless, rather than piss-taking. The Memorial Hall itself resembled Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and housed collections of old weapons, trinkets and paintings from the days of the Mughals and the British Empire.
At this point the sun was at it’s hottest and we paid a comparatively extortionate amount (about a fiver each) to sit in a buffet curry restaurant. The street food in Kolkata looks delicious and you can feed yourself comfortably for under a quid, but we would happily had paid a fiver just to cool off in the heavily air-conditioned restaurant.

image

After this we took a taxi to Kali Ghat temple – the holiest Hindu site in Kolkata. In the morning goats are ritually sacrificed here, and all day long swarms of pilgrims jostle to throw hibiscus flowers at an altar. We hung around soaking up the atmosphere and ignoring the attentions of a man who wanted ten rupees to look after our shoes whilst we go into the temple. The place was rammed and it didn’t really feel right us going into the temple itself to get involved in a ritual we had no knowledge of, so after a bit we walked off and wandered the ramshackle streets surrounding the temple.

image

We visited Shanagar Burning Ghat – a ceremonial area overlooking a stream where traditional cremations and funeral procedures are performed. When we visited it wasn’t in use, but about a hundred-odd kids were playing in the putrid waters of the stream that it backs on to, whilst a rickety wooden boat ferried people from one bank to the other – all the time being splashed by the kids in the water.

image

After this we were driven back to our hostel in Sudder Street. The relief of a cold shower (not that warm would be available anyway) is fantastic after a day in such heat. We headed out for tea and ended up perched on some stools in a little street cafe, where we had a paneer wrap each, vegetable biryani and Momos – a kind of Tibetan dumpling. It cost 250 rupees for the lot and it was sensational – ten times as good as the earlier buffet.
I’m going to leave it there for today – there are so many more things that we’ve seen and done, but it’s getting late and I’m jetlagged. As I write this we’ve been in India for less than 24 hours and have already experienced 101 sights, sounds, smells and tastes that we’ve never known before. Some good, some outrageously bad, but I think that you have to take the rough with the smooth out here.
Have a nice day,
Tommy and Luke