Ray B Cool
Trip Start Mar 11, 2006
45Trip End Aug 01, 2006
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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
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
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
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
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?