Come swim in the sea of humanity
Trip Start Aug 21, 2004
50Trip End Mar 03, 2005
Show trip route
Where I stayed
Upon arrival to the airport, I buy a ticket from the prepaid taxi booth to reach Sudder St., the Backpacker's hub. The ticket clearly states, "pay no more". As soon as I walk out of the airport, a guy grabs my ticket and walks me over to a line of taxis. Here's what happened next.
Tout 1 "Hello Mister, I'll take you to the Princess Hotel, good value".
Ari"Oh, No. I have to meet my girlfriend at Hotel Maria. She's waiting for me."
Tout 1"Oh, your girlfriend! Is she a real beauty?"
Ari"Yes, she's gorgeous, and she'll kill me if I'm late!"
Taxi Driver"Ok. Hotel Maria, but it'll cost 50 rupees extra because of the traffic jams"
So we drove for over 45 minutes, and I'm thinking,
"I'm not gonna pay him a single extra rupee. I know he's trying to rip me off." After almost an hour, I started thinking,
"This sure is taking forever. How would a few extra rupees hurt me?" No, but it's a matter of principle! If I let him get away with it, everyone will!" So this debate went on in my head for a while. When we actually got to the hotel, I simply walked out of the cab and said thank you. That was a lot easier then I thought it would be!
An initial impression of Kolkata (and India) is hard to give. Since I arrived just after sunset, the city was covered with a thick haze of pollution. Buildings everywhere were crumbling, and the streets were just packed with traffic. Gone are the S.E. Asia ways of the motorbike; here the automobile reigns. Most of the taxis are Ambassador Classics, and since I know nothing about cars, my guess would be that a lot of them are at least 50 years old. Kolkata does have a metro system, but I didn't have a chance to use it. At night, the city was dark and full of shadows, much like how I'd imagine San Francisco in the 1940's or London at the turn of the 20th century. (I guess that analogy in my head will do you no good) By day, Kolkata is a much different organism.
After several cups of Chai and a hearty Bengali breakfast, I headed to the railway tourist booking office. There are tourist quotas on all trains in India, and in Kolkata the quota is 6 foreigners per train
I slept like a rock the first night here; all this weight I had held in my head floated away and I rested like I hadn't for weeks. I met Gwil & Natasha at the railway office and then again on Sudder St. Since the three of us had the same agenda for the day, we walked up Chowringee Road towards the Hooley river. We spent the afternoon wandering along the different ghats. A Ghat is basically a set of stairs that leads to the water. All the bathing, washing of clothes, food and animals, and general bathroom activities take place at the various ghats. The first ghat we approached had a strong smell of human feces and it was pretty amazing to see people scavenging through the piles of refuse and crap looking for anything of value. Somewhere near the burning ghat (where the bodies are cremated) we took pictures of these kids who just flipped out when we showed them the images on the LCD of our cameras. A large number of "grown-ups" gathered further up the steps to see what all the commotion was about, but didn't really say anything. We were all curious about the burning Ghat, and as we walked by, a gentleman started to explain what was going on and told us we could come in. Unfortunately, some rather crazed guy wouldn't shut up as this man was trying to explain things to me, and a crowd started to gather, and we thought it would be best to leave since we were in the presence of grieving families and dead bodies. Yes, I did see my first dead body ever, an elderly woman, who looked to be resting quite peacefully. She was on a small platform of sorts, decorated with thousands of marigolds and other flowers and surrounded by her family. It was only a glimpse that I caught, and I didn't dare try to snap any pics. I will definitely find the burning ghats when I get to Varanasi. After a day wandering the streets of Kolkata, we had a sumptuous meal near Sudder St. and I retired to bed early (again). I've spent the early part of today looking for some warmer clothes, and just absorbing the images, sounds and smells of the city. Tonight I'll board a sleeper train for Varanasi, India's holy city.