Hey folks —
I still have a post to finish from varanasi – with pictures but since I cannot find wifi anywhere in Kolkata, I am stuck without the pictures and not able to post yet.
Instead, I will tell you about Kolkata!
I was a little nervous about taking the train – as it was my first first experience with it — but when I got to the station, I had a seat and waited – I accidentally got there several hours too early – so I had some time to people watch. Or should I say – I gave people time to watch me?
When I sat down on my pack, I noticed I had a group of about 15 women (little girls, their moms, and their moms!) watching me. And by watching – I mean STARING! I tried smiling, but they just kept staring. It was slightly uncomfortable, but I just kept giving a little smile and then looking away until finally I got eye contact with one of the little girls. I gave her a little wave, she gave me a little wave and they all started to giggle. After exchanging some smiles and waves – they waved me over. I pulled my bags over and they formed a half circle around me – just staring! Then they started to speak to me – in Hindi. Which I obviously did not understand… I smiled, told them I did not understand, which made them respond to me, again, in Hindi.
Finally – a boy sitting near by translated for me – they wanted to know if I was traveling alone. I told them I was – which shocked them. By this point, the boy who was translating for me – part of a group of art students who were at at the train station drawing – was sitting with me talking to me – as well as about 4 or 5 other guys. I had a crowd of about 20! Every time I spoke – they just stared. wait, i didn’t even have to speak — they just stared. We spent a lot of the time smiling and laughing… Finally, it was time for them to go – at which point all the women wanted to shake my hand!
I was not able to get 3AC or 2 AC for my train down (which is a nice compartment) – so I was in sleeper — which is very open and dusty and loud. My ride was suppose to be about 10 hours but was closer to 12 or so… I won’t go into details – but did i mention that it was very dusty and loud? not a whole lot of sleep happens there… and it was overnight, so I also did not sleep all that much!
I have spent the last couple of days exploring K9lkata = here are some highlights:
- Victoria Memorial – big stately building with beautiful groups and an interesting historical museum inside
- walking the street markets – where everything possible is sold
- walking through the flower vendors – where they make the marigold garlands and all sorts of other flower arrangements (and this is evidently a place a lot of tourists do not go, as evidenced by the surprised looks I got)
- walking the very cosmopolitan streets = past the apple store and the mcdonalds and the Bose and Reebok store.
- sitting in a coffee shop and have a gaggle of beautiful school girls come in in their beautiful salwar kameezes but having them giggle and gossip and talk drama – just like an other 10th grade girl!
- seeing the poverty of kids and women and women sleeping on the streets and begging
- the Ambassador taxis (probably one of my favorite things!)
- the sweet shops = Bengalis are known for their sweets
- the street food — the kati roll – which is like a hot wrap – i had one with paneer and egg for lunch. very good!
- the buildings — you can definitely see the English influence in so many of the old buildings. And it is a diverse city – everything from churches to temples to mosques.
I leave tomorrow afternoon and take a 26 hour train ride down to Chennai — I will spend a little time visiting Chennai, Pondicherry, and Mamallpuram before I take another train to the other coast, to Kochi, but I won’t be doing that until later in the month. It will be good to get to smaller cities. I like Kolkata – but it is definitely a large city!
Hope everyone is well! take care — love – aurora