Raichak - West Bengal

Trip Start Apr 07, 2007
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Trip End Sep 20, 2007


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Thursday, April 19, 2007

WEST BENGAL -
RAICHAK 19th - 26th April 2007

We left Bang(a)lore on 19th to fly up to West Bengal with Spicejet (more Ryanair than Kingfisher) via refuel stop in Hyderabad (Heat: 24 degrees) to stay in amazing Fort Raichak for a week. It is 47miles from Kolkata airport so had to get a 2 hour taxi but got an interesting tour of Calcutta (Heat: 36 degrees & sunny sunny sunny) which for all it's bad press you would know was once the capital city, looks interesting. (Delhi did not become capital until 1912).

The hotel in West Bengal really is in a converted fort (built 18th century (1783) and later headed up by the rather austere looking General Watson) and the grounds are really fantastic (but there's no internet access as the lines are broken!), Thurs and Fri we had the place and pool all to ourselves with bored staff only too eager to wait on us hand and foot (they turn down the bed of an evening) which is a bit disconcerting but if you get them chatting it's ok and you see they have nothing else to do and they are happy enough. One of the guys 'Ashok/Philip' was raised in Mother Teresa's orphanage and nearly got us to go to Sunday mass until we found out it was at 7am and 25km away, heathens (us). The spa here is amazing and is in such an interesting building - shaped like a deep sea divers helmet and also reminds me of the Guggenheim in N.Y. I had a choclate wrap - nearly had a heart attack as first there was a surprise exfoliating scrub and I thought I might lose a layer of skin and therefore tan! But it's ok I am still brown (well red really), C. had a luxuriating bath with all sorts herbs and blossoms, he felt (and looked) like the Queen of Sheeba - with a french-cut beard.

Friday night saw the arrival of 250 Indian office workers on a junket/conference, so we were ONLY whites in town but they passed no heed on us really and let their babies talk to us. Speaking of being the only whites in town we went on cycle rickshaw spin (like on a wooden platform attached to the back of a bike) up the road a few km through a few villages and I am not joking EVERYONE came out to look at us. As C. says "we went out to look at the neighbourhood and the neighbourhood came out to look at us". We found waving (not in a Queen-mother-kind-of-way) eased the embarrassment some. Saw some absolutely beautiful looking people and some really mean dogs maiming a pup the screeches from whom were not good. Country side is amazing, like a jungle version of Keadue Co. Roscommon circa 1975 (where my Dad is from) and also with loads of high nelly bikes. We are right on the Hooghly river which I am told is 3865km long (rises in Himalayas and is in Ganges delta area). Went on a little pleasant cruise on Sunday and decided to walk back in 11.30am-Midday sun, oh my God you should have seen the red faced sweat ridden cut of us by the time we got back. Our co-tourists on the cruise were some Kolcatan architects who insisted on singing hindu songs which in the women's case only remind me of my granny singing in that annoying bird voice old ladies have, the guys are not much better, but Indian-idol and Bollywood are so big here I think they all think they are fab. singers, you should see the coverage in all last weeks papers about 2 Bollywood stars wedding (as bad as uk/us celeb mania) with extra gravitas as the groom is the son of 2 Bollywood stars too, the couple are referred to "AbhiAsh" in the "Bennifer" name style.

Are having lovely nosh (indian buffet is doing no good for my diet, even C. has put on non-guinness-related weight) and saw a fantastic sheet lightening storm during dinner on Sat night. and are having great chats with Phurba the sherpa barman every evening (who says Indian guests do not interact with the staff) - the villages do not have any kind of hosteleries for tourists. All the staff are lovely but we are now Sir and Ma'am (which is better than Mrs. Conor as they did in Goa).

Ok it's 2 days later and the mossies have finally have discovered me so am now obsessed with showering - had 5 yest. got up at 3.30am to see meteor shower on Mon morn. but there was none and we got bored quickly.But by now we have now ventured out into the real world and got the local bus to nearest big town Sharisa (which will always be the town where we saw the cow on the bike to us), which looks exactly like the small villages of huts only bigger and with shops you'd be a bit scared to go into - mind you makes a nice change from Goa with everyone hassaling you to buy. We have been jiggling our itinerary again and have decided to go a bit north (500km) to Darjeeling so we needed to change our flight back down south to a week later and as we booked online we can only change it online but there's no internet connection out here in Raichak. They told us they lost the lines 2 weeks ago and don't expect it to come back for 2 months - from what we have read even utility services seem to work on a bribe basis so I guess someone doesn't want to stump up their 'baksheesh'.

Sharisa is 11km away and the bus cost 5rupees (or .08 euro cents - also everything cheaper up here) it's funny as there's no numbers or destination (in english which I mention as there is english signs on most everything else) and you have 1 second to get on, it's like as if the bus doesn't have time to stop to pick up people but yet the bus, as far as I can tell, is always jammed. So there's a guy hanging off the door who shephards you (all women 1st) and than later the bus conductor amazingly squeezes through the standers (men and women) and does the fares and the bus bombs along at top speed horn ablazing - we think the driver gets paid according to the number of runs he does in day (take note Dublin bus). All driving here involves blowing horns alot and the driving test takes 5 mins just to see you know how to operate the vehicle (I should be applying here). So anyway Sharisa is basically a town built on a giant crossroads and we were looking for internet shop 'Magic muse' for which we saw a sign on a tree for but no arrow and as we were told it was in the way into town and we hadn't seen it on our side, we thought it must be Kolkata side, so I said "Magic mouse?" to some poor Bengali woman with no english and she pointed towards Kolkata, so off we go, after 2km and having asked some more people who also pointed that way there was still no sign of it, very hot walk even though it was after 17:30, so we head back and at 19:00 we find it down the road behind the tree with the original sign about a 100 yards and then discover they have no Internet connection either!

So this time we get a motorised rickshaw/trailer back for 100rs (1.75c which I know we were being 'done' based on the laughing of the other rickshaw guys, but what the hey!) After dinner at the ffort we gate crashed (or rather voyeuristically roof crashed) a clothing company party in the hotel as there was a really amazing session band playing hindu, punjabi and bengali music to a bunch of 'tamil nadu-dutes' - 4 piece with 2 female singers one of which was amazing. Watching all the pissed indian guys (no girls) dancing together was great craic and they even waved up at us. Later I waved at another guy who turns out to the the general manager of the hotel group and he didn't wave back and looked really sternly at me but our bags were not left packed outside the door whhen we got back to our room so I don't think we are in too much trouble for 'roof-crashing'.

So next morning we went to next biggest town Diamond Harbour on the Bay of Bengal (was port for Calcutta in Raj days) - not what I thought it would look like at all just a bigger version of Sharisa but with a fish market and some naval and port authority buildings and train terminal. We took a taxi as we were told this was the only way and 'Palasha' our driver was an excellent guide and over 4 hours brought us to bits we couldn't have possibly found alone. There's a ruined portugese fort which is very picturesque, nice river side walk (Hooghly again as it spills out into Bay of Bengal here and this all is north west of the wonderous Sunderbans tiger reserve which is currenlty drowning due to global warming - 20% already gone - but we coudn't go to as you need a permit from Kolkata city 51km away where we won't be til 26th-29th, d'oh), a grave yard picnic spot (not just the Danes into that then) and we had a tour of an Ashram of the "The Bharat Sevashram Sangha" brotherhood which is a school/temple/mission all rolled into one and educates underpriviledged children and helps the poor and needy and does huge amount of medical services (founder was an incarnation of the lord Shiva) and we even interrupted (not by choice) a staff meeting to have a chat with the head master about the place, who was a lovely guy even if he likes Bono. Oh yeah we actually found an atm AND an internet cafe 'Creative' and changed our flights but could do no more as there was only room for one of us in there and I had an audience, meanwhile C. was holed up in a nextdoor shack being entertained by 8 year old magicians who were impressively good and with great english. Passed through villages called Kapat Hat, Hospital (lots of places have names as in Ireland like this, Elgin, Dublin, Camac, Connaught and I know we don't have this but Ballygunge is in Calcutta but come on that could be in Dublin), Parulia, Chandnagar, Kalagachia. It was a bit overcast (and 90% humidity) in the afternoon so I played my first ever (due to deprived childhood) game of table tennis with C. - after I beat him at air hockey of course!

Am doing hand washing (there are buckets in every bathroom) as we didn't bring much clothes and to date I have managed to run dye into 4 of my own tops, a sarong and 1 bikini ( well that one was hair dye) all C's stuff is perfecto - what is wrong with me! Finished the stay with steam room/plunge pool/jacuzzi and luxoriating calming melissa bath....

So far am loving West Bengal.
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