I can’t express how excited I was to be finally going to India. This is a place I’ve romanticized in my mind, ever since I was a child, but it always seemed so far away.
From Bangkok, I flew on the exciting-sounding Spice Jet to Kolkata. Don’t call it Calcutta 🙂
Anyway, I was 100%, in all seriousness, not joking, the only non-Indian person on the plane. It was a big plane, too–the kind with like 40 rows and 3 seats on each side of the aisle. When we landed, I had a VERY short line for “foreigners with e-visa.” In fact, someone must have told the passport control agents for this side of the line that there were only Indians on the plane, because someone had to go interrupt a guy’s break to get him to stop eating and come check my passport. Hilarious.
We laughed and joked about the ridiculousness of me being the only foreigner on this plane, he stamped my passport, and I was in India: country #85!
The funniest thing about the gardens, and what I’m loving about India, is that the price chart clearly lists different prices for Indians vs foreigners. Walk through the gardens only, without going inside the museum: free for Indians, 50 rupees for foreigners ($1=67 rupees). Go in the museum: 10 rupees vs 200 for foreigners. Hilarious.
From walking through the gardens, I’d seen this steeple, so I went over to check out St. Paul’s Cathedral across the way, which is the head Catholic church of the area.
From here, I wanted to walk to an old military fort and then the famous cricket grounds, so I needed to pass the Victoria gardens again. I hid from a brief rain and noticed all of these jerks with horse-drawn carriage rides for hire. This is one of the things I hate the most in the world. Poor horses.
It turns out that the ancient fort lies behind a current military post, so there was no access to be had for me. Bummer.
While walking to the cricket stadium, I almost fell down laughing at this sign. The ancient, completely-unacceptable-in-modern-times name of this sporting club is laughable. “Mohammedan” was the ancient English name for Islam. It would be like calling Judaism “Mosesism,” and they’d respond that they don’t worship Moses but God. Same thing here. I wonder why it’s still being used here. Crazy.
This was as close as I got to Eden Gardens, the biggest and most famous cricket stadium in India. I know nothing about cricket, except that it’s kind of similar to baseball and that Indians love it. I didn’t hear one single cricket chirping, though.
While walking across this field, the sky OPENED UP like something out of a movie, and I was soaked in less than 2 seconds. Notice how close things are to hide under from the rain…
By the time I had run to a covering of trees, I realized it was pointless to try to avoid the rain, since I was drenched. I started just walking back to where I wanted to go, in the rain, and people peered out at me like some kind of freak show.
When the rain started easing a bit, and I found a main street with a bunch of taxis, I squeezed some water out of my clothes and tried to hail a taxi. I took comfort in the “no refusal allowed” signs plastered on all of them, since my clothes were all wet.
No one wanted to take me out to where my hotel was. I got kicked out of 3 different taxis. I finally found a policeman and asked him what’s going on. I told him where my hotel is, what was going on with the taxis, and he pulled over an empty taxi and ordered the guy to give me a ride. One of the few times the police have ever done anything worthwhile.
While stuck in traffic, I took this picture of a nicely-decorated tuktuk sitting next to us.
The taxi dropped me off next to the cafe (if you can really call it that) where I’d had breakfast, so I had 2 samosas before going to the hotel. Quick and cheap.
Back at the hotel, I checked in, hung up my wet clothes, and took a shower before watching some TV in my room (they made sure to tell me it has LOTS of channels while checking in). I’d almost forgotten what TV was. Crazy.
I took a brief nap before heading out after sundown. I wanted to see what else was in the area around my hotel, and the answer was “not much.” It’s mostly a residential area and has a bunch of construction going on. I can tell you what there was to see in the area that was super interesting, though: me.
Indians couldn’t help but stare, open-mouthed, and tap their friends on the shoulder to say, “Look at that guy!” I started waving and smiling at them, because I didn’t know how else to respond. I think I scared some people, amused others, and confused most. The kids loved me, though.
After traipsing around for a bit, I had some kachori (a yellow sauce with potatoes, peas, and seasoning, served with fried bread to eat it with), in order to change up my order. Delicious! It’s served in a bowl made from found leaves pressed together into a bowl shape, which is economical and environment-friendly.
From here, I walked over to the supermarket, just to look around at what India has to offer. I came away with a Thumbs Up (local soda), bananas, and some vegan donuts for $1.35. Incredible.
The morning of day 2, I started with samosas for breakfast and then caught a taxi to Mother House, which is where Mother Teresa lived and worked, and where her body now rests.
After going here, I actually found out that Mother Teresa became a saint, right after I visited. This is a complete tragedy. Mother Teresa, while famous for being awesome, is anything but awesome. She’s quite a horrible person, and I only went for the sake of “it’s one of the things you just have to do while in Kolkata.” I should’ve spit on her grave.
Mother Teresa actively fought against things that would alleviate poverty, like education, health reforms, women’s rights, etc. She wanted people to stay poor, so they’d come seek her help, and she could tell them about Jesus. She admitted it. She also said that the reason the world doesn’t have peace is because women are out seeking jobs and not staying home being baby factories. That gem was in her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. She’s a self-serving narcissist, and the fact this scam artist has become a saint just confirms my views of religion.
From here, I walked through the center of town and kept my eyes out for a travel agency. I’d been told that trains and buses for Agra (where the Taj Mahal is) will sell out, but buying them online is impossible without an Indian cell phone to create an account and without an Indian-based debit card to purchase.
I had the most Indian of experiences at the tour agency I stopped at: it was tea time, so we drank tea while looking up ticket information. I love it. I came away with tickets from Delhi to Vrindavan, Vrindavan to Agra, and Agra back to Delhi for a total of $7.52, and that’s with the travel agency’s markup on the tickets. Just incredible.
Continuing my walk, I noticed that Google Maps had a Jain temple, so I thought I’d check it out. To say it was small & lackluster would be an understatement. It was so small that I couldn’t even get far enough away to take a picture of the whole room.
From here, I wanted to walk to the Hare Krishna temple and eat lunch at the vegetarian restaurant there. I got a good laugh out of this sign on the way.
I wasn’t sure what to order, so the waiter recommended the masala dosa. This is what I received. How cool is this?! It’s a giant flat bread, rolled up, with a mash of potatoes and vegetables and spices and who knows what else. You can eat it like an oversized burrito or break off pieces of the bread and scoop out the filling with that. I did the latter.
From here, I took a tuktuk to the Kalighat Kali temple, which is a famous hindu temple in the center of the city.
There were no pictures allowed inside, but I got a guide and went through some Hindu rituals, including a blessing where he promised me success and promised that nearly every female I know is going to be pregnant within the next month. I also had the option to dedicate myself to one of the main gods, so I chose Shiva, of course—the destroyer. This bracelet was part of the ritual, and this flower petal is supposed to bring me good luck, if I keep it in my pocket. I definitely lost it within 24 hours. Oops. Good thing this stuff is all just made up.
From the outside, I found out that the temple is next to the hospital of Mother Teresa, so I snapped a picture for posterity’s sake. Make sure you don’t expect any painkillers here. They won’t give you any, since suffering is a part of God’s plan, you know.
From here, I walked through the market area and out to the main street. I also encountered a Greek Orthodox church and a mosque, which I’m pretty sure gives me a BINGO on my Religious Bingo card.
After getting turned down by 2 taxis, I developed a new strategy for getting back to my hotel: I only told the next guy something that was at the corner for where we’d turn from this main street to the next main street. Once we got close, I just gave him a “go left, my hotel is down this street.” After a bit, I informed him how far it was. Tricky, but it worked.
I arrived back in time for dinner at my favorite corner spot, and the manager had someone translate for me: “You eat here a lot. You like my food?”
“I love it.”
I hadn’t originally planned to see Kolkata while visiting India, but the cheapest flight was to enter this way. I had a good 48 hours in Kolkata, and it was a great start to my India visit. That night, my stomach wasn’t very happy with me about all of the fried food I’d eaten in the past 2 days, at every meal, and I was having serious heartburn. I ate the last of my bananas to try to make a compromise with my stomach, went to bed, and set my alarm for “way too early” to get a taxi to the airport in the morning.
Thanks for an AMAZING start to India, Kolkata.
Next stop: Varanasi.