Making the move towards Calcutta

Trip Start Sep 28, 2008
Trip End Oct 12, 2008

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Flag of India  , West Bengal,
Friday, October 10, 2008

Got up at 3 a.m. to take a car to Tiger Hill to see the sunrise of one of the largest mountains... with just a bit of Mount Everest to be seen as well... breathtakingly beautiful. Took about 45 minutes to get there on, as is the norm, a very bumpy mountainous road ( road is somewhat of an exaggeration). Pretty cold. I'd had sense enough to wear shoes not sandals but should have thought to wear Gabe's jacket in addition to my sweater. Well over 200 people were also there and as I have found to be the norm, to keep one's space requires some solid footing b/c one slight shift of a foot will allow someone to move into your space. Wish I had the name of the mountain but will put it in when I download my pics. Gabe didn't join me as he was wanting to conserve energy for our trip back to Calcutta.
My driver was nice and took me to a beautiful monastery.... huge statues of Buddha and holy water. I put some holy water on my forehead as I didn't make it to the Ganges to dapple in it ( was NOT going to get in it as they do....don't have any sins worth washing away in a cesspool - they send cremated bodies down this river and it is literally full of raw sewage). However, I'd figured a dot of it on my forehead wouldn't kill me.
Arrived back at the hotel about 8 a.m., took a quick nap. We made the mistaken assumption that it would be easy to find a taxi or jeep to get us back to Siliguri to catch our train at 7 pm that night..  Wrong assumption. Everyone else was also trying to get back and there were no taxis/buses/jeeps to be found. We ended up going back to the hotel in hopes they could help us.... the problem was that if we missed the train, then I'd miss my flight which would be a major headache and $$ to fix.
They find us a driver but by this point I'd resigned myself to the fact that I was going to miss my flight and would just deal with it.
The driver shows up and we are sharing a jeep..... we end up with 4 people in the front, 4 people in the middle, 4 people in the back open space, and 2 people hanging on to the outside. Yes, 14 people in or attached to this one vehicle... thank God for motion sickness pills which unfortunately Gabe didn't take and found himself paying for it later. I'll spare you the details but it was not a pretty sight. This driver drove like a MADMAN.... no exaggeration. Passing on blind curves, the back tires spinning as we are going so fast, and here's these 2 guys hanging on to the back of the jeep! How they stayed on is beyond me! We passed every single car and not a soul passed us. They guy was going to get an extra 100 rupees if he got us to the train station on time and he was determined to do so. However, I wanted to be alive by the time we reached it! What should have been a 3 1/2 hour trip was cut down to a little over 2 hours but we couldn't get to the station b/c of so much traffic.
Sooo.... now we jump in a auto rickshaw which is very handy for near death experiences as you weave in and out of traffic. You are literally so close to other vehicles that you could touch them without the slightest effort. This is when you just have to trust that they know what they're doing and you're not going to get killed. So with the usual blaring horns and close calls, we arrive at the station and of course, our train has left.
The train station is full of people: people sleeping, begging, the usual chaos. We end up finding a woman who tells us they have 2 berths on a "new" train and of course, this comes at a premium price. We lost the money already spent on the previous train that had already left but, all things considered, we had to get back to Calcutta for my flight and by comparison, it was going to cost a lot less for this "new" train than to re-do my flight.
"New" must have different meaning in India but I was glad it was only one roach that I brushed off my bag. Gabe said it was nicer than most with more cushioning on the bed. I took the top berth (forced agility to get into it), with Gabe below me and curtains to close. There was 1 Western toilet, the rest were the squat toilets which are utterly disgusting to me. BTW, I read where 7% of India's population does their 'business' outside... think of how many people this is considering the size of India. They served us dinner in these little metal containers, one on top of the other, with a handle holding it all together.... rice, some strange, spicy veggies, bread of some sort, and yogurt. I ate the rice and that was it as I'd not gotten sick and sure didn't want to on a train.
Between the excitement of our crazed driver and my early morning awakening, I was asleep within minutes and awoke to the heat and filth of Calcutta. We got a taxi and headed back to our previous hotel, the Lytton, where Gabe had left some things. He was more confident than I was that his stuff would still be there, but it was. I got him a room for the night, and we went to the Blue Sky Cafe for some food. This was our main place to eat while in Calcutta as they served many Westerners and we hadn't gotten sick from their food.
Our room was so nice..... they had a raised 'wall' to keep the shower water in place as opposed to everywhere else where it just goes everywhere, making the entire bathroom floor wet. Big bed, nice ceiling fan, A/C on high... we were happy campers. Gabe was asleep in no time.
Got a taxi to take me to the airport ( Dum Dum) at 4 p.m. What is typical is that when you're bargaining with a driver, everyone comes to listen to the 'deal.' My driver was Muslim and one thing I noticed is that you always know peoples faith. He had a Koran hanging from his mirror. We talked about where I was from and he said he is from a poor country and was a poor man. He said how "America is rich."
My drive to the airport was one of poignant awareness as we passed person after person sleeping on the streets, chickens in the market, stalls selling items, cows wandering about, the mass chaos and noise of everyday life. And tomorrow, these same people will still be sleeping on the streets, some begging, some trying to eek out a living.
I was so very aware of how different my life would be in the next few days.
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