Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Indian Train System – Once you tasted Air-conditioning …..

Train system in India goes from AC-1 Air-con first class to AC-3 Air-con Third Class before going to the sleeper class (Non A.C ) and general admission (Free for all). So far I have been only on the sleeper class …. But yesterday was the first journey in an air-conditioned train.

I have to say the price was double the sleeper class but then the service was way beyond what I was used to. India was turning me into a dirty ragged scuffled backpacker which is barely surviving the heat.

Arrived at Visakhapatnam

Sleeper class was a blue bed, so thin that of you sit on the wrong spot you get poke by nails from the underside that is used to secure the fake leather, holding the bed together. AC-3 class was double the thickness and none of the danger of being poke in the ass while you turn in your sleep.

Sleeper class had no air-con …. AC3 had wonderfully perfectly working Air-con

Sleeper class had no sheets …. AC-3 they gave freshly packed and washed sheets, blankets and even pillows …. I have to admit having clean sheets in India is something worth paying for … even hotels don’t give you sheets as clean as this … I got two ….. secretly I packed one into my bag for future emergencies …. I never understand why people say bring a set of sheets for beds when backpacking …. All the hostels provides them anyway ….. *India* ….

There was also none of the beggar’s hassle that you see in sleeper class …. Every few minutes someone will walk past with a chant or palm open, with a kid or with a stick … they practised their puppy eyes to perfection and if you are asleep they poke you to wake you …. AC-3 had none of these …

Sleeper had Ladyboys that will come round asking for money …. So bad luck the ladyboys are considered that they normally get much more money than a severely disabled person. If you don’t give them money then the clap curse will decent upon you (Ladyboys will clap their hand in a curse like manner while mumbling something and staring a burning hole into your eyes), plus if you are lucky or unlucky depending on how you view it, these ladyboys usually roams in group so a group clapping curse dance will be free for viewing ….

  … thankfully my Indian trained ‘I could care less look’ works so far and they spare me the clap curse and move on when I stare with knitted eyebrows.

Sleeper had all the micro business entrepreneurs hopping on and off every train stop yelling whatever they were selling. *Chai ….. Chai ……. Briyani …… Briyani …… Chicken ….. Banana …… Bangles …. Bangles …… Nuts ….. and much more but usually in the native language. 

AC 3 class had only the official Meals on Wheels personnel that mouth the item he is selling as softly as possible …

Comfort …. You don’t know how much you miss it till you tasted it.

I now think even at double the price it is worth taking a night train in AC-3 class since one really get a good sleep …. Plus it was only Rs 1000 ….. same price I seem to be paying for hotels now ….
Note : Travel Date : Aug 2015

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Immersing in Kolkata

Day 5 Aug 17 was the day we really worked Kolkata. The morning started slow as always but eventually it was time to get exploring. For Ktan it  was a bitter sweet type of journey, since he was excited to show me Kolkata yet terrified of where he has to go to show me the real Kolkata.

The heart of Kolkata uptown …. Near the old bridge Howrah and where all the shops clutters together with mass amount of people that for once, the people rule the roads and not the busses. We stopped by the stock exchange … once upon a time Kolkata had a stock exchange and it was this building but due to its numerous and uncontrollable corruption and swindling it was closed down. I learned that Kolkata is where India’s Old money is …. Old money as in old power and old wealth …. They may not be the riches anymore but they are still very influencial.
The Stock exchange was an interesting place for lunch. You see, the upper or middle class of India that has good stable office jobs in their nice suits and pants coming down to this one dingy street standing and eating street food for lunch. I mean nothing wrong with it but it was still a sight to be seen.

My stomach was put to the test again as Ktan hops from one food stall to another.
 The first was Chilla …. A sort of pancake but made out of dhal …. It was delicious and good but I decided not to waste precious space stuffing it on Chilla and went on to the next dish which was a Dahikachori
End Product OF Chilla
Dahikachori….. a curd base dish but looks like one of their round biscuits being crush then layered with chilli souce, onion, curd, more chilli sauce and who knows what, till it was all slimy and sticky ….not a big fan but not too bad for the small portion I had …
Street Stalls at the Stock Exchange - Kolkata

Chole Tikya
Next was Chole Tikya …. Chole which means chick peas was normal to me now although this one was spicy as hell … tikya …. Some sort of bread
Precious space used up and I was full … lunch was done … but Ktan and his friend urged that I must at lease try the toast.
Authentic Indian Toast - TAKE MY MONEY
Makkan Toast …. Which was the true India style toast … a toasted bread over charcoal spread with homemade butter … sprinkled with a generous amount of sugar …. Bites of Unhealthy goodness …
Makkan Toast

This was followed by another toast with cheese and I surrendered, bloated by the little street food for lunch.
Makkan Toast with Cheese

Ktan and I left after lunch for the beginning of the hell sightseeing … his friend bid us good luck and farewell. First stop was the General Post Office. A large building and with a locals that knows the language we found the stamp room and I had my heart’s content picking out stamps … India stamp collection mission completed.
General Post Office - Kolkata

Then starts the long 5 hours walk immersing in Kolkata
We walk into this street which was the heart of Kolkata. A specialized street that sells all the hardware tools you could possibly imagine …. Stalls after stalls and parts after parts …. If you can’t find what you want here you won’t find it anywhere … then again if you don’t know what you are looking for this is the best place to go looking as long as you can bear the heat ….
Rows and Rows of Shops in Tiny Streets of Kolkata

Onwards a right turn and the streets turn into another specialized street …. Electrics, party items, balloons, jewellery, household and even medicine street there were all there …. At the medicine street Ktan paused and showed me a shop selling Condoms …. A specialized shop selling only condoms …. they had good business too ….
The shops of Kolkata sells Anything and Everything

Porters Hard at Work - Kolkata
We then walk along the Ganga river … upstream visited the temple near there but this time smart enough not to go in but appreciate it from the outside by ignoring all the beggars on our feet. More walks and I was dizzy …. Seeing porters of people doing hard honest work carrying anything and everything on their heads … some work alone strong muscle showing and moved faster than any of the buyers who was zombie walking in the heat. Some in groups pushing small carts filled with sacks of spices or food …
Porters was the fastest way to move goods in this congested parts of Kolkata … I admired them with their ruthless movement and willpower to get the job done ... it was brute labour … Good Honest Work I told Ktan and he agreed …. Looking at them strengthen my will of not sympathizing with the beggars of India ..
Temple Along the Ganga River - Kolkata

Among all the maze we were finally out and Ktan was finding this one special place that was called Kumartuli.

Kumartuli was a place where sculptures of Gods and Goddess were made year round for all the festivals in India … Large and small sculptures made out of straw and mud clay. The skill are passed from one generation to another and together they make all the sculptures for the immersion ritual during certain events throughout the year …. They would display, parade and finally immerse the clay sculpture into the river …. Or better yet the Ganga River. These guys makes these sculpture.
Ktan - The Joy of finding Kumartuli
As we got closer to the place Ktan became more and more paranoid in asking for direction …. Finally he told me that just nearby is the red light district of Kolkata …. Don’t want to wander into it accidentally he said ….

Kumartuli was amazing …. My most enjoyable trip in Kolkata and it was not a tourist place …. Tiny shops but filled with rows of sculpture being made in their raw form and some with paint being put on for the final touches …. All these works for a festival and it is destroyed in a matter of weeks … the generation of sculpture has endless work ahead of them.
Kumartuli - Sculptures of Gods and Goddess

Kumartuli - Final Painting Touches on the God

Kumartuli - Ganesha in the Making

Kumartuli - Carvings from Soft Plastic ... I think
Wikitravel does not mention this place and it was not even on the Tripadvisor list … Lonely planet for once won the contest with a small paragraph of it …. Yet it was not easily found …. Even Ktan a local Kolkata boy was looked upon like a tourist let alone me ….
Exhausted we took a cab back to the pub near home and head back once we manage to cool down and wash away our exhaustion.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

My Indian Belly in Kolkata

We celebrated surviving Kali temple by heading back and picking up Purvi to head out for dinner. Street food was the goal this time

Papri Chat

The first one was Papri Chat …. Something meshed together …. All snack bite and I thought it tasted like sushi ….. only it was pure veg …. Interesting but the spice was slowly setting in
West Bengal Puchka
Second was West Bengal Puchka …. Apparently you can get Puchka everywhere in India but they are all different. An industrial pack round ball potato chip I think which is hollow and they crack it and put a filling that is different everywhere in India. ….. the one I had was some sort of potato spiced and marinated then with the stuffing the whole thing was dipped into a watery concoction and one has to eat it while it was dripping water though the fast melting round chip.

It was a snack bite that had to be consume as soon as the food vendor pass it to you …. In fact a plate is not required …. He mixed the potato and prepare it with his bare hand, crack the chip dunk and pass you by hand and you just eat it …. Such romance …. No plastic gloves involved …
The third was Aludon … this was potato in curry sauce … or at least that was what I thought it was ….  It’s not that spicy I told them … quite nice …. After the second bite the delay effect spice kicks in and I felt like if I open my mouth a waterfall of sliver will flow down endlessly while I still wright in pain …

Dunking in a bottle of Cold water we headed to another shop …. The sweet shop …
Kheerkadan ……. I had a bad feeling …. I knew the sweets that my workers force feed me when they come back from a long vacation. Just one Purvi and Ktan said …. First bite and I would rather be burn by Aludon again. Sweet is not the word that should be used to describe the sweet. Never could I thought that the overdose of sweet pleasure can be so painful.

With that done … I surrendered … my stomach was also grumbling from the sweet …. No more experiments for tonight.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A Local Guide in Kolkata – Kali Ghat Temple

The train ride to Kolkata was late …. Not surprising …. 3 hours late and I had to bear the heat since I was only on sleeper class …. I bid the Taiwan boys farewell as the train arrive and they board the AC3 and I the sleeper …. This time I was fully prepared to kick whoever was in my seat out to get some sleep on the long 9 hours journey.

Fortunately I did not have to kick anyone …. Got my seat and slept the time away till Kolkata.
Ktan was waiting for me at the platform as I exit the train ….

Long time  no see …. I was in good hands now … a local guest of Ktan and family.
Without Ktan I would have never step foot into the Kali Ghat Temple or seen things in Kolkata on my own. A local guide change a lot of things that you see and observe instead of touring the popular places. Locals playing carom and chess under a bridge every day, pubs or watering hole they call em, downtown luxury pub with a skyline of Kolkata, best local Mughlai cuisine … it is always a privilege and honour to be a guest in another’s humble abode

The Kali Ghat Temple – Kolkata
Kali Ghat Temple - Kolkata
One evening we headed to the famous Kali Ghat temple where rumour has it the finger of Kali the goddess was kept there.  This was a place where pilgrims all over India comes to have a worship, a revered temple …. We got there at 5pm, found a place to check in our shoes or slippers for a fee and got into the long snaking queue. 1 hour 30 minutes in the queue later and they closed the gate into the temple for an evening Puja.

Stuck for another 1 hour 30 minute before the temple reopen the gate and we were shoved into the centre of the temple where everyone was shoving and pushing their way to see this one black statue of Kali. The finger is nowhere to be seen …. Kept somewhere in the temple ground. 3 hours of queuing and you are shove in and out in two minutes.

The experience of the Kali Ghat temple showed me a small glimpse of how extreme both side of Indian people can be. In a holy ground such as a temple people ply the place for blessing or for giving offering but the more famous the temple, the more it attracts the black hearts whom prey upon the kind soul.

The amount of devotees and level of admiration that was shown was beyond believe. Dirty smelly drainage sewage water in the gutters that was the remains of water used to wash the goddess was being dipped as holy water and placed on the forehead like a bindu. In every praying alter there was someone sitting there performing the head poke for the public and money is asked. As if praying without giving money is a sin.

Inside the scared centre of Kali temple a small place barely a meter wide and 3 meters length, people was shoved pass the goddess statue in seconds, shouts and chants are mixed up together with water and dye splashed everywhere. It was the dirtiest temple I have ever seen. Everything was wet … a single incense was burning and dye or as they call it vermilion, was splattered everywhere with so much flower garland thrown and together with it anything that the locals can get their hand on and if it makes sense throw it …. Money of course is the most common.…. If I did not know it was a temple I would have mistaken it as a garbage bin.
A single Hindu was on the floor with his head bowed hands open, devoted and determined to pay his respect and hoping his prayers will be answered …. Around him, people step over him, push him, accidentally kick him as the crowd was shoved pass the goddess … he lasted 10 seconds before being shove away by the waves of the crowd.

Getting out …. Phew … that was one of a kind experience ….
This was the second time Ktan been here … the first was with his grandfather when he was a very small boy and had no will of his own ….
Once is enough for a lifetime Ktan told me
Yep … once is enough …. I agree …

Reaching home, his parent asked with wide eyes … you manage to get into the centre shrine ?? They normally dun allow tourist into the inner circle !!