Ray B Cool

Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2006

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Where I stayed
Paragon Hotel

Flag of India  ,
Saturday, May 6, 2006

1AM: We made it to India!
1:30AM: So did our bags!
1:40AM: Damn, it's gonna be a long night.
We made friends with the guard by the baggage claim, who gave us two precious things: a Hindi phrase book from the Lost and Found ... and advice to not leave the airport until morning because otherwise we were likely to get shanked. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, we spent that night in an airport internet cafe and then on some posturepedically hard benches.
Round about 8AM, we caught a cab for Sudder Street, kinda like Khao San Road in Bangkok but not nearly as bad, there were actually Indians there as well. The actual travel part of travelling seems to be the most tiring, so we settled in Hotel Paragon (one of a handful just like it) and while Ryan had a nap I got a chance to do some wandering recon, got my first genuine Indian Chicken Tikka Masala (though I learned later that there's nothing genuine about it, it is a hybrid concoction kinda like the Double Decker Chalupa is to Mexican food) which sadly still didn't match up to Naan 'n' Curry's take, and hung out with some other backpackers including one who taught me some blues basics. A but later, Rajat from Couchsurfing came to meet us. We walked around, talked, and learned that he worked in a call center and had actually spent some time in good ol' Texas for training. One helluva cool and very generous guy, he kept at us to try new foods we'd pass and mostly would refuse to let us pay. We made plans to meet again the next day and, the tiredness finally hitting me, went back to the room to have a nap before going out again that turned out to be nine hours long while Ryan finished The daVinci Code (read after Angels and Demons, it was the most disappointing book ever) and the three guys next door loudly chased the dragon.
As I've been prone to do on this trip (but never at home when I need to!), I awoke super early and this time decided to wander again for a bit. I love seeing a place before it puts on its makeup, and I thought Kolkata was even more interesting and beautiful au natural. Even at 5AM, there were as many people on the street as there would be at 8 or 9 in Berkeley, though most of them were setting up for the day or out to buy the freshest grocery they could for their families and restaurants. As I wandered the poor, dirty, colorful city, I found some people to be extremely nice as I sipped chai and spoke with them (I must've had about 30 small cups of chai that morning, the stuff is so cheap and good!) while just a few others could be downright mean. I'd had a seat that an old man had gestured open for me, and accepted chai from the man who ran the joint, and had started smiles all around and tried to talk with several of them, having the most luck with the teenage son: the kids always seemed to know more English from school. But when I gestured for more chai, the owner abruptly and coldly yelled, "Get out!" Not sure I'd understood correctly, he then said it again, wouldn't even let me pay the 2 rupees for my tea, and I confusedly left. Rajat (Ray for short) told me that some people think Americans (and I was defo the only one out that early morning) will try to come and take the Indian kids home with them to the States, which I then understood as I've been told that I resemble Angelina Jolie in a certain light.
I stood for a while while another man sat there with a huge basket of chickens and would reach in for one, put its head underfoot with the four or five others already there, slit its throat, take out one that had already bled out while its brothers gasped alongside, and hand it to the next guy as the chicken expired to pluck it bare. The mess of chicken blood and red matted feathers on the floor all around me (as this was one of many stations in the meat section of the bazaar in which I stood), was a bit hard to stomach at first but I'm trying to become a more conscientious carnivore, as in I loves me my meat but at least want to be real about how it gets to my plate.
Nevertheless, I was glad to be out on the street again with a new earthen cup of chai steaming in my hand; the common clay cups are tossed or dramatically smashed along the side of the street when empty. On my way back I stopped in a small enclosed park where some kids were planing cricket. It was a whole lotta fun hanging out with them and even learning what that big bat was for. Back at the hotel, I woke up Ryan to meet Rajat, who had just pulled his usual night shift at the call center to line up with North America time, and hadn't slept at all (he says he can pull it off for about 3 days before he crashes), and he continued his guided culinary/cultural tour of his city. Though we had lots of things to sample that I can't recall or pronounce, the few things that absolutely stand out were the sweets that Kolkata is famous for made of curdled milk balls in syrup with the consistency of cotton and a sickly-milky sweet taste to them, and also spicy everything else. I do love spice on nearly all my food and every meal I eat, but this set a whole new bar, with spice applied liberally to everything from curry (absolutely fine and expected) to lemonade and even ice cream! I could handle the amount of it but with it popping up in so many places it really oughtn't at some point you've just got to ask yourself, why am I eating this chili popsicle?
We had a stop at Mother Teresa's house, a perpetually unfinished temple that gets am addition every year to ensure luck for its benefactor, saw a cool Mars movie at the science museum, and saw the Victoria Memorial (from outside, where no payment is required and it gets just as equally check-listed). We also cruised by St. Paul's Cathedral where, in response to my observation that the barbed wire atop the fence was pointing the direction to keep people in rather than out, Ryan quipped, "They must teach Sunday school." I had a quick game of soccer in the park with some fellas (where I probably lost my second Citibank card of the trip, I think the only reason I've not lost it more often is that it's been too lost already for me to lose it most of the time), then we three amigos went to the film institute to indulge, for a dollar, in a luxury we'd been without for several months: a movie in the theaters! The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was actually very good :)
Rajat met us again the next day to help arrange our transport out. We wouldn't have minded a few more days there, but we shifted some plans around when we learned that my good friend Elliot Cohen from Cal, who we had been planning to visit at Mt. Everest Base Camp, would be wrapping up research and coming down soon. Hoping to catch him in Nepal, we arranged a train ticket out of India for that afternoon with Ray's help. Luckily I'd brought my travel guitar along as I had certainly not brought my passport, and they only acquiesced to sell me a foreigner ticket once I'd spun a tune for the guard and ticket man. The instrument actually comes in handy quite a lot as we never have to wait to get really searched at the airports because it's a fact that every airport security guard in the world can play and always want to while they casually wave us through. We'd only left to buy me some new pants (the ones I'd ruined biking in Vietnam demanded a replacement before a real trek and my others were on their last legs- get it?- with safety pins holding together the major rip from camel-riding in Mongolia) before Rajat escorted us to the train station, catching an overnight with 4 minutes to spare!
Our double decker train was lovely as usual, with a lecture from Biplob and conversation with Manish to keep it interesting. Biplob did get worried when I got off at the midway stop in search of some train-platform curry and, before going off to look and find me just outside the door, told Ryan that if the train did start to leave to pull the emergency alarm and leave dealing with the authorities to Biplob. Fortunately no Biplob intervention was necessary and we chugged merrily along to the border through the night.

Moral of the Story: Spicy ice cream?! Honestly, who does that?
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