Are we ready?
Trip Start Jan 08, 2005
135Trip End Ongoing
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On arrival it took me a while and a bit of banging my head against a brick wall to find it, but eventually we were on the shuttle bus to the domestic terminal.
Mumbai domestic terminal is a hell of a lot nicer than the international one. Mind-numbingly boring but more modern than the other and there was a cheap eating hole right outside. Seven hours dragged by. Our flight was delayed and we had to fight Indian grannies with bony elbows to find a seat on the plane. Don't be fooled by the grey hair, flowing saris and the bent postures, they're rough when there's a seat involved!! At least I had pre-organised our accommodation so when we finally arrived (approx 1am, only an hour and a half late) all we had to do was fend off the pre-paid cab man and his request for baggage baksheesh (hello and welcome back to India!). That's why it's called pre-paid mate. All inclusive.
Kolkata is bloody hot. I mean really hot. The moment I stepped outside I wanted to be under a cold shower again! Our mission for our first morning was to get our Bangers visas organised. But as we were filling in our forms the windows closed (2 minutes early according to my watch!) and no amount of pleading could budge them! Bugger. We'd have to come out again! Unsatisfied we decided to wander the streets. I had expected to see poverty and filth on every corner and to be terribly affected by it but to my surprise, I actually found the streets to be quite clean. Not so many dogs, rubbish or cows and not too many beggars. Different to what I thought it would be like, but then we hadn't walked around much yet. We went back to the hotel as we were both drained, jet lagged and boiling. I was done for the day.
Up earlier we made our way out to the Bangladeshi High Commission for the second time and attempted to get our applications seen to. There was a bit of faffing about and David lost it (the guy behind me translated for the attendant behind the desk - he called you a dishonourable idiot! Oops!) but we ended up being told to come back two days later for an interview! Me with a receipt and David, worryingly, without. Double bugger! We were hoping to get them in a day and get over to Dhaka for a bit of sight-seeing before the cricket started. The Lonely Planet Forum had failed us. The reply we'd received said 1 day. We'd be lucky to make the start of the first test at this rate!! Oh, and the arrival of our mate Andrew! (sorry Faulks!)
We'd have to make do with sight-seeing in Kolkata. One of the most awesome buildings to see here is the Victoria Memorial. Finished up in 1924 as a memorial to Queen Victoria and made completely of white marble it houses relics of the past including paintings, busts, guns and even a piano that Queeny used to play on! It's a great place to wander around. The gardens surrounding it are nice too. Whilst taking a rest from the heat we looked up to see two people staring at us. It was Laurent the Frenchie and his Yorkshire bred half Kashmiri girlfriend Freeda. They'd been our drinking partners on Christmas day in Kathmandu. Couldn't believe we'd run into them again, and of all places, India!! We sat for ages and chatted in the relative coolness of the Vic Memorial and decided to meet up later that night for more travel laughs. They've got some great tales! Freeda has the huge advantage of being able to speak fluent Hindi and looks like she's from the sub-continent so can get away with people thinking she's Indian or Kashmiri so when the Indians give her hassle she curses them in Hindi, and tells them they're from Bangladesh! Indians do not like being called Bangladeshi!! It's hilarious!
We all wanted to see some knife action so headed over Kalighat where they slaughter goats every morning to satisfy the bloodlust of Shiva's consort, Kali. I'd never seen an animal beheaded before so this would test my strength. Would I spew, faint, laugh hysterically or cheer and run circles around the slaughter pen?
The temple has always been an important pilgrimage site because either Shiva's wife's finger fell here when she was being cut up after her death or another version is that one of her charred toes fell here when Shiva was carrying her burnt remains somewhere. Supposedly the present temple was rebuilt in 1809. Either way, they decapitate goats here every single day and that's what we were going to see.
When we all got there they were already slicing up an earlier victim and skinning it. These guys are quick! They make a couple of small slits and stick their hand inside between the skin and the body. A few quick shoves and pulls and it's off!! One new floor rug, thank you very much and enough meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner for at least two months!! It's amazing how much is squashed inside a little body. Intestines, liver, kidneys, the heart and loads of stuff I just couldn't name! There was a bit of shuffling going on round the slaughter pen so we slid over to get a good possie. First they poured water over these two smallish goats, then put necklaces of hibiscus on them, which they both immediately started to munch on. Not realising, of course, that it was their last supper!! Then came out the Bagpiper whiskey (? not sure what religious significance this has!) which they poured over them. One was lead over to the stock and it's head locked into place with a metal bar. No sooner had it opened it's mouth to bleat for 'help' when the machete sliced clean through it's neck with one swift downward action!!! The head went one way and the body the other. Freeda and I held on to each other with eyes as wide as saucers! It was completely mesmerising. Both head and body kept on moving as though they hadn't been separated! The legs were thrashing wildly whilst blood spurted from the jugular! It was so unreal. The blood looked like paint! Not your usual deep red wine colour but bright, vibrant red, like a child's water colour, and so much of it! The bodiless head was continually gasping for air, screaming silently for help with eyes blinking unbelievingly. We just couldn't stop staring! The mother and daughter who'd brought the goats in bent down and smeared fresh, warm blood on their foreheads and moved back for the second sacrifice which went much like the first although the poor bastard must have caught a glimpse of his very short future because he put up a bit more resistance! As soon as the blood had stopped pouring out, the bodies were hung, skinned and the pieces piled up for the ladies to take home. The forgotten heads were still noiselessly crying out in the slaughter pen to their dear departed bodies. The bodies were still actually moving too, even after being chopped into little pieces! I spotted a joint still twitching!!! Won't forget that experience in a hurry!
Carrying on with our tour of death we went almost next door to visit one of the many homes of Mother Theresa where helpless people come for their last stop before heading off into heaven/hell/paradise or no where depending on your beliefs. It was awful. We walked straight into a huge hall filled with green campbeds where little skinny people were lying, seemingly clinging to the last threads of life. It's difficult to describe, but moved horrifically is one way. I wondered if these people had relatives that came to visit them or how they had gotten there. Did their relos drop them off once they became bed ridden or did they just crawl there? It was a very depressing place. I don't think I would have the strength to work in such a place. There were quite a few westie volunteers though. They all eyed us suspiciously. I can understand to a certain degree but then how else do you find out about these places and if it's something you'd like to help with? We left quite quickly. I felt so sad for them all. At least the goats deaths had been quick and they hadn't known about it.
We left Freeda and Laurent there as we had some errands to run and headed back towards Sudder Street via the Metro. It's a great way to get around Kolkata and cheap too. It's also highly amusing. It's the only time I've seen Indians run to queue!! They have to pass through gates, much like the London Underground or some train stations in Sydney. People were crowding round the doorways way before the train stopped and then pushing and shoving to get off so they could get out first. Hilarity underground!!
We presented ourselves nice and early for our interview with the Bangladeshi High Commissioner hoping he would not ask too many questions and just grant us our visa then and there. He was so excited to see us. He asked why we wanted to visit Bangers as it was so hot, if we were married, what we did for jobs, if we had kids and why we wanted to visit Bangers because it was so hot (if you think I'm repeating myself, it wasn't me, it was him). In hind sight we should have said only a few years of marriage (we said 10) because then he went on and on and on about having children and how bad it was that we didn't have any and we should have at least one, blah, blah, blah, blah. How many times have I heard that from Hindus and Muslims this trip? All well and good that they think having kids is important but don't I get a say in this? He said he would pray every day to Allah for us and we must let him know if I fall preggers. We thanked him for his blessing and shook hands a lot and bobbed our heads a lot and he told us again how he thought we were gentle people and kind people and he was excited that we were going to Bangers, but why did we want to go (all together....) because it was so hot now!!! He didn't like us enough to grant our visas in one day so we had a date with the window at 5pm the next afternoon.
Off we trudged thankful that we would at least make it to Dhaka in time for the beginning of the first test on Sunday. I wanted to continue my collection of St Paul's churches so we went off to have a look. It's very impressive from the outside. A huge white churchy building with typical pointy churchy bits and a not so high steeple. The original was finished in 1847 but the steeple fell during an earthquake in 1897 and again in 1934 so was rebuilt again. It was big inside, fittingly quiet and church-like with beautiful stained glass windows. There are lots of memorials inside for ex-pats who lost their lives early in Kolkata's history. Some were sad, loss of lives due to cyclones and battles, a lot from diseases. Some of the wording was quite funny though with the use of 'native' springing up here and there. I suppose all those hundreds of years ago the Indians must have appeared as natives. Not such a popular word these days. India must have been a very harsh place back then with no modern-ities at all and no insect repellent! It would be interesting to see how people lived and how they were treated by the 'natives' compared to these days.
We had been in a certain mindset after receiving and accepting the job offer back in London for David. I had to rethink what I wanted to do and it would mean then end of our travels for perhaps another 12 months. But on the upside, it would be a wise career decision for the old boy and we could possibly save enough money to pay off our mortgage back home. So I had accepted this and was moving towards living back in westernisation within the next month-ish. So when David read me the latest email from BT our new plans were thrown out of a very high skyscraper window. AAAAAAAhhhhhhhhhh!!! They'd reneged on the rate and dropped it considerably per day. I was astounded. I'm accustomed to a certain kind of lifestyle. There was no way I could survive on that happily! No, no, no!!
Of course, he declined and we then were back to the travel drawing-board. The biggie. Where would we go next? No need to say that it didn't take us too long before we were comfortable with our new non-plans. It felt great. I was ready to travel again!
We went out for a quick look at a Jain temple but then had to get back for our appointment with the Bangers High Commission visa window. When we arrived there was the usual crowds hanging around outside and a whole load of chaos. How unusual for India and for a High Commission - not! We waited and waited and waited and got pushed and shoved and sweated on. Finally at 5.45pm I had had enough. If they didn't open the window soon, we wouldn't be getting our passports, which means we wouldn't be there when Andrew arrives all on his own in Dhaka and we wouldn't make the start of the first test!!!! I decided to take things into my own hands and stormed down to the only open window and demanded our passports. The woman told me to get my 'husband' and bring him back. Apparently the High Commissioner had been waiting for us all along and had wanted to hand them over personally because he thought we were such kind and gentle people (?) and of course he was excited that we were visiting his country. Now there's one for the books!!
Passports in hand we raced down to the Observatory to meet up with Freeda and Laurent for our night sky tour thingy. It was rubbish really. We just sat in reclined seats and tried hard not to fall asleep whilst this Indian woman with an incredibly thick accent spoke about star formations and other such exciting things in the night sky over Kolkata. The room was dark and there were twinkly things projected onto the ceiling so it was actually a bit of a yawn session and I found myself nodding off once or twice (ok, maybe more)!! It was disappointing but thankfully it was only 20 rupees.
That was it basically. Our time in India was up. Freeda and Laurent were leaving Kolkata as well but still had some time in India whilst Davo and I would be on a bus in the early hours of tomorrow morning heading for Bangers and my first international cricket series!! He was feeling fine and ready to sit back and watch the ball hit the willow! Whoooo hoooooo hold on to your hats!!
India is a huge place. I will be kind of sad to leave. God knows how they'll get Delhi organised for the Commonwealth Games in 2010! Good on them for winning it. I loved Delhi and hope they stir up a storm! I've never spent so much time in one country for continuous travel. We did have many, many, many, many trying moments but the sites and experiences (ok, NOT the Hep E one) were worth it. I felt I could continue to travel in India which was great because when I'd flown out three weeks ago I felt happy to never return. There isn't another country like it that I've experienced so far. It has everything, from six-fingered men to five legged cows. It's colourful and full of life but in the same breath, sometimes I hated it. I do want to return. I haven't done any shopping!!!!!