Trip Start Oct 18, 2009
132Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
I could hear Rach rummaging about and packing up but decided to keep on sleeping a little longer. Calcutta was the last stop and we would have plenty of time to get off the train even if we were still sleeping when we arrived. It was around 5 and our other two companions had got off even earlier. I eventually decided to come to and peered out the window. We were still on the outskirts of Calcutta, India's third or second largest city depending on who you talk to, at 14 million (officially) and already there were plenty of people about doing the usual things like taking a shit on the train tracks. I’ll say this though, Indians may spend a lot of time not doing much but they obviously start not doing much pretty early in the day
Howrah train station was almost as manic as had been described in our guidebook but we still managed to get some coffee and some bread without too much hassle. There was even a pre-paid taxi rank outside. Of course the taxi you were allocated was half way down the 4 taxi wide taxi scrum which meant it was chaos to even get out the rank. Please refer to Rule 2 from yesterday’s blog.
Eventually we moved from the chaos of the taxi rank to the chaos of Calcutta traffic and then the Chaos of Howrah bridge, a massive iron bridge that is still one of the busiest in the world. Apart from food hawkers burning small charcoal buckets, people pushing heavily laden bikes, beggars, amputees, people getting a shave or haircut, people doing the toilet, crossing Howrah bridge with the many yellow 'Ambassador’ taxis looked a lot like Brooklyn Bridge, New York. With the added omission of any sort of road markings or structure.
Our taxi driver was pretty friendly, though not very good at driving or finding where you want to go, and all in all this was a really enjoyable start to Calcutta. Eventually he found the guest house we had e-mailed a couple of days before though hadn’t had a reply and we headed in to check it out
Our first problem was that we made the mistake of going to the old elevator in the middle of the large foyer. This makes it sound pretty grand and in its day the building probably was. But now it was dilapidated and dirty with an electrical power box grid that could have won the (insert the name of that controversial annual art prize if you know it) prize for installation art. Our problem was that the lift required a person to operate it, or more accurately a handle to operate it. We had found a person, an old guy who had been sleeping in his pile of torn and wrecked possessions just outside the lift but he wandered about looking under his mattress and various other places and could not find the handle for the lift. Of course, the search went on for some time and eventually someone else appeared with the handle.
The guest house out on a rooftop terrace (again we’re talking old and dirty) was slightly nicer than the building which was a good sign and after waiting around 30 minutes we were able to find out that they did actually have a room. Not that cheap, but it was fairly clean and big and we opted for A/C this time to make the heat a little more bearable.
After relaxing for a bit we headed out around lunchtime to find Sadder Rd where we should be able to get food and possibly organize a tour of the city
There’s no doubt about it, Calcutta is a lot more mental than any of the other places so far including Bombay. It’s also like stepping back in time. As well as all the normal masses of people, beggars, homelessness, extreme poverty and deformed and limbless people things just seem to be from a bygone era. For example, when was the last time you saw a human being running along puling a chariot with people in it. And most of these guys who pull these ‘tana’ rickshaws are as old as the ‘’Victorian era’ machines they pull. Add in large old brass hand water pumps in the street for supplying water to business and all the street people for washing, cooking, cleaning, brushing teeth etc and you have a scene straight out of a Dickens novel. Not that I’ve ever been feeling suicidal enough to have the misfortune to read his work!
The roads are also by far the worst on our travels so far. Saigon roads were faster and more chaotic but did not have the same bizarreness. Not to mention the fact that the one way systems in Calcutta change direction half way through the day
As it was pretty hot we didn’t do any specific sightseeing but just continued wandering about neighbourhood. We found a small supermarket and couldn’t resist buying some muesli, milk and fruit juice. We sat in front of our TV watching ‘2 and a half men’ and eating normal food with the air-con on full blast.