I came back to Kolkata from Puri on the morning of September 24th. It was Shashti – the first day of the five-day festival called Durga Puja. May be it was the high fever I got at that time (was worried that I might have got H1N1) or the stress of doing some last minute arrangements before Tom and Sandy arrive, but I wasn’t feeling quite excited. But the festive vibe in the air and the ambient beating of dhak (drums) was slowly getting me in the groove. The drive from Howrah Station to my aunt’s house was very hectic and I could see things getting worse in the next four days. They block the streets to make these temporary temples (called Pandals) and it creates a traffic nightmare. Last time I saw Durga Puja was before I left India and the number of cars have increased ten times since then and also the size of the pandals. Only thing that has not increased is the width of the streets. Sure they have made fly-overs all over the city, but it’s not enough to handle the traffic.
I took some Cetzine (something like Tylenol, only stronger) and got back on my feet by the evening. I had to go see some old friends. The initial part of the journey (getting out of the suburbs) wasn’t so bad, but once I got near EM Bypass and Ruby, the road towards Gariahat (a busy area near South Calcutta) had a traffic dead-lock. Thanks to the expert advice from my friend Titir, the taxi driver was able to steer me away from the nightmare through the back alleys.
From left: Titir, me, Abin, Ambarish, Adrija, Sudeshna
Tom and Sandy arrived the following day (Shaptami) in the evening. My uncle and I went to receive them at the airport. The drive from the airport wasn’t so bad. In the evening we rented an auto-rickshaw and went to see a few pandals in the sub-urbs. Here are a few pictures from the evening.
The next day (Ashtami) my cousin and I took Tom and Sandy to see some of the well-known Pujas in Kolkata. But they weren’t enjoying it as much as I thought they would. I guess you have to be a Bengali to truly enjoy a Bengali festival. Also, they flew in Calcutta from the exotic beaches of Goa and the level of congestion and pollution is much higher in Calcutta. That might have put them off. It is totally understandable. This is the point where I realized that I should have planned things in such a way that I was left alone with my family during the Puja days. It would have been ideal if Tom and Sandy arrived in Kolkata the day before we left for Darjeeling. But what’s done is done. When you go on a month-long vacation, not everything will go as envisioned. The point is we enjoyed most of what we did and bulk of it was seamless. And I really liked Sandy’s curiosity in the paintings that depicted the Bengali Culture … hence the special mention.
On Navami I took Tom and Sandy to Mayapur – the mecca of the Hare Krishna (ISKCON) guys. The scenery was fabulous, but the roads were the worst I have seen in India… GIANT POT HOLES throughout the journey! Unless you’re really into the Hare Krishna culture, don’t torture yourself to go to Mayapur – it’s not worth it.
Here are some of the pictures.
Our Delhi-Agra-Jaipur trip in an air-conditioned Toyota Innova for three days and guides was Rs. 8,500 (hotels not included).
Our trip to Mayapur from Kolkata and back was Rs, 7,500 (310 Kms X Rs. 25/Km)
Always ask for the rate and never go to an unknown place on a rate based on kilometers. The sweet and innocent taxi driver will not leave any road unvisited to maximize the number of Kilometers.
That evening it rained cats and dogs and was the only time I could meet up with my friends. Oh did I say that it started raining right after I left the house? I stood for more than an hour under a wee shade to get a taxi and finally reached destination almost two hours late. We went to this mall in south Calcutta called South City Mall and it was by far the glossiest mall I have seen in India … comparable to Eaton Center and Yorkdale Mall in Toronto. But the prices are marked up so high that most people just go there for window shopping or watching movies and dining.
Will upload more pictures from this mall later … Windows Mobile doesn’t like talking to my Mac.
Dashami (Sept 28)
On Dashami afternoon, Tom, Sandy, Arnab (my cousin) and I went to Park Street in the downtown area of Calcutta. The term “downtown” is probably misleading. It’s an area where most of the office buildings are. We went to a bar/restaurant and afterwards did a little bit of walking. Tom and Sandy seemed to really like the architecture of the area and Tom was comparing things with Glasgow. They also found a statue of Mother Teressa.
This day marks the end of the Durga Puja. The idols that were made with so much effort over a period of several months are immersed in the Ganges. Quite a thing to watch. So we took a taxi from Park Street and went to Outram Ghat to see the immersions. It was appalling to see how they have not maintained the area at all and left it to decay over time. That place could easily be a tourist hot-spot or at least a place where the people of the city could go for a nice relaxing walk. But the way it is now, one would feel unsafe even during the day. Here are some of the immersion pictures.
Later that night we took the Darjeeling Mail (name of the train) to New Jalpaiguri for the last stretch of our journey in India – the hills of North Bengal.