Thursday, December 23, 2004

Last words

We are sitting in the airport in Thailand - a looooong stopover here. It's a good chance to write my last entry on this particular blog and pull in the final threads of our trip.

Down the hill from Darj on Tues morning, it was great to share a vehicle with the Nichols-Roy family - us inside, luggage on the rooftop, and songs to sing. A slow trip downhill - mostly doing between 20-30 k/hr (petrol costs about the same as NZ we discovered) and with a shortcut through a tea garden that involved some unsealed road in perilous hairpins curving down at sharp intervals. In spite of shutting my eyes several times, our driver seemed in perfect control, and we comforted ourselves with the thought that it isn't often that you actually see vehicles that have come off the side of these roads, even though at times the wheels feel very close to the edge!

Just out of Bagdogra airport we met up with several Hermonites - Anil and Kailash along with several others not from our particular class. Enjoyed their hospitality and Jagjit's new restaurant, before catching our respective flights. The N-Roys went back to Shillong for Christmas, while we returned to Calcutta for one night.

Wandered down Park Street, dinner in a dim flash restaurant with excessively instant service, another go at New Market the next day, and more successful shopping at a Cottage Industries Emporium. Eating our final Indian sweets at an open restaurant along Chowringhee, we were interrupted by a rat being discovered in the shop. All exits were being covered by workers armed with sticks etc. while Roxanne and I raced to finish our sweets before the rat was flushed out!

Lunch on Wed with Indu, her fourteen year old daughter and her parents was a nice time to catch up on the years since we were in Bible Class at Lower Circular Rd Church together. Mr and Mrs Herman were baptised the same day as I was there - and we still use Mrs Herman's famous recipe for tomato chutney and remember her biryani very fondly!

And a final visit to Annie and Kerry's, pizza for tea and a quick dash to see the Freeset ladies and enjoy sitting helping cut out some bags, before it was time to catch a taxi out to the airport to come home. Full suitcases as well as flights, we are happy to be on our way home, but sad that our 2004 Asian adventure is over. However, we'll definitely be back...

Thank you to all those who entertained us in so many different ways, who told us their stories, and who made us feel at home. And also to those of you who are still actually reading these ramblings - it is nice to have an audience!

Accommodation in Darj

In Darjeeling we had been recommended to stay in two places and both are worth describing.

We spent most of the week at Andy's Guest House, very clean and just up from Chowrasta. Be warned - basic hotels/guest houses in India expect you to BYO towels and toilet paper! Once we'd got over this hurdle, we thoroughly enjoyed Mr Gurung's hospitality, if not totally appreicating his taste in music - Jim Reeve's singing Christmas carols. He took us up on the roof the two mornings that the mountains were very clear. Up several flights of concrete stairs lined with plants in red painted pots and then a narrow wooden staircase up to Mr Gurungs 'glasshouse' and up an iron ladder contraption to preside grandly over the town with a 320 degree view, that included Tiger Hill behind us and Kanchenjunga herself spread out in front. The Gurungs, Genesis and Mathilda, are Nepali and Mr Gurung actually built Stewart Building at Mt Hermon School. Andy is their son who lives in Australia. We never met Mrs Gurung, but enjoyed watching her Christmas surprise present from her husband materialise over the days we were there - the front of the building spruced up and parts of it clad in stone, and the piece de resistance - black marble background with Andy's Guest House on it in stainless steel letters.

The Elgin Hotel was at the opposite end of the price spectrum - totally indulgent to be able to spend a couple of nights there. A hangover from the Raj, the decor is very Victorian. Lots of comfy sitting areas, with individual fireplaces that seemed to be constantly coal lit and kept the hotel sumptuously warm. Lovely to sit in front of the fire (our four reunion families were all there over the weekend) and drink Darjeeling tea and reminisce, while hearing the kids playing cards and Pictionary in one of the rooms above us. Hot water bottles were put in our beds at dusk - mind you, filled from the tap they were quite cool by the time we actually got to bed! Soft mattresses and super comfy pillows made it a very luxurious stay. Roxanne moved in with Kuruvin's girls, and Kuruvin and I shared a room and stayed up talking late until one of us fell asleep! Douglas prints of Nepali/Tibetan people on the wall shared space with the Christmas decorations - big folded stars and greenery stuffed with cottonwool to resemble snow.

One of Darjeeling's perennial problems has always been the water supply, and we were lucky to have hotels that both had hot water available as showers. Unfortunately at Andy's, it was unpredictable whether the water would actually be hot at a particular time, while at the Elgin, you could get one decent shower at a time - anyone else using the bathroom after you would be well advised to wait for another hour to give it a chance to heat up again. All of this was found out by trial and error, of course!

Turning lyrical

Kolkata Kind

crows carp
horns hoot
buses bulge
rickshaws ring
trams trundle
vendors vibrate
streets stress

quiet shade respites

Signs seen on Darjeeling roads

If married,
Divorce speed.

Better to be late Mr Motorist
Than the late Mr Motorist.

Hurry Burry
Spoils the Curry!

Haiku (reviving our MH email group's tradition!)

Wintry mists cling wrap
Darjeeling promise of peaks
Occasionally glimpsed

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Food, glorious food!

This blog would not be complete without some input into the wonderful Indian cuisine that is no doubt responsible for some of our weight gain while here. Fortunately, we did lots of walking (up and downhill) while in Darjeeling, so we are hoping that that will offset some of it.

We have drunk tea in all sorts of guises; tiny glasses of hot char from the street vendor, or sweet and stewed in clay cups, which get thrown away after use, and in classy joints the heavy silver service with pale orange pekoe, no tea cosy, but a handle cosy, strainer in silver as well, with hot milk and chunky sugar to add as you please. Other liquid refreshment has been sweet lassi (yoghurt drink), a myriad of coloured fizzy varieties, bottled mineral water and the odd coffee. And (to appease Shaggy) we made a special point of ordering jal jeera (a spicy concoction that is indescribable really) and decided that his homemade drink in Thailand was definitely up to a posh hotel version!

Dahl comes in a huge variety of styles, including black lentils (Nepali speciality) and it is eaten with chappatis, puris, paratha and different naans, as well as rices. Uma (Pawan's wife) showed us how she cooks the flat bread on a tali and then holds the chappatis for a few seconds in the naked gas flame where they puff up perfectly. The trick is in the rolling, which Roxanne found was not quite as easy as it looks. Uma also insisted that we try various digestive aids, including fennel and some pungent little balls - we're not sure that they worked!! Biryani is always delicious, and we liked the Bengali creamy fish curry flavoured with mustard as well as a host of yummy vegetarian concoctions. Airlines offer 'veg' or 'non-veg', and restaurants advertise outside which they are. Aloo paratha, like chapatis but with mashed potato and spices inside the pastry, which is then fried, we specially enjoyed at Jagjit Singh's new restaurant just outside Bagdogra.

In Agartala, we had several meals cooked for us that were just very plain rice, dhal and boiled vegetables, but most food has a huge range of spices added, some of which we were able to identify, but others that eluded us in translation. One of the most interesting we came across is called black salt (not really black in colour, sort of dark pink). It is added to various dishes to lift the flavour, and we tried it with freshly squeezed orange juice. The result to us seemed very similar to hydrogen sulphide - most bizarre in the context of juice!

Darjeeling has a lot of Tibetan food and momos were one of the dishes that all Hermonites (bar one or two) remember fondly from our leave days. Momos are similar to won ton, but with slightly different ingredients - can be eaten fried or steamed, with or without soup and always with tomoto salsa to spice them up. Thukpa is a Tibetan soup - again delicious, and we sampled several versions of it in Darj.

Bengalis are famous for their sweets, and we avoided the ones that are commonly available in NZ - gulab jamun, ladhu and jilebi (even though the latter were still piping hot from just being cooked). Instead we tried out various kinds of sandesh, pera made from jaggery, homemade ladhu using gum as an ingredient, rosgulla and rosmalai from spongy curd soaked in sugar and water/cream and flavoured with rosewater - the last two being my special favourites. All very very sweet (goes with the tea) and available at tiny shops along the street, piled high in pyramids, or neatly arranged on trays. Roxanne on our last day finally discovered the perfect barfi she had been looking for for a fortnight. Takeaway sweets come in brown paper, or if you get more in tiny cardboard boxes. If you eat them on the spot, they are usually dished up on a saucer made of dried leaves with a wooden spoon - handy for all the juicy ones. Piyash is the original rice pudding - creamy, cardomom and cinnamon delicious and eaten in tiny bowls. We had an interesting version made from vermicelli rather than rice, topped with almonds and pistachio nuts that was very yummy.

We didn't become game enough to eat the snacks that smell gorgous from vendors along the street, although we did like the egg roll from the tiny stall on the main road in Calcutta. And we did have several samosas that had just come out of the oil - and were hot in more ways than one!

Thailand provided us with the fruits that we miss from Brunei - mangosteen, rambutan, mango, papaya and pomelo. Even the transit lounge in the airport had a stall selling fruit freshly cut and available to be made into drinks or to eat whole. Annie in Cal insisted that we try pomegranate for the first time.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Mount Hermon School

Mount Hermon School provided a large chunk of my school education (1969 - 1975) and I learnt a lot more there than just Maths or French. Highlights for me were the close friendships that we made and also the music that was such an integral part of the school. Both of these were highlighted on our visit this time.

Motivation for going to India in the first place for me was that almost 20 students from my year have been in fairly regular email contact over the past eighteen months, and this time last year the idea of having a mini-reunion was mooted. Six months emailed discussion about details such as where and when (October or December) followed, and in the end it was only four of us who met up over the 17 - 21st Dec, coming from USA, UK, Thailand and myself from NZ. All of us took our kids, whose ages ranged from 11 - 17, and once the ice was broken, they seemed to get on reasonably well. For us, it was great to meet up with friends who we hadn't met in person for, in some cases, almost thirty years. This length of time seemed to melt as soon as we got together, into a chance to tell our individual stories, to reminisce about school misadventures, and I haven't laughed as much in a long time, as I did over the weekend. Of course, we met up with LOTS of other Hermonites in Darjeeling itself, Gangtok and in Siliguri/Bagdogra, and it is always fascinating to see how much people have changed, and how much their children resemble them!

Dubs has described the trip to Darj/MH from the plains very graphically and I have to agree with his comments about Darj township, the dogs in the middle of the night and the abundance of new buildings, many of which seem geared towards the tourist industry. Also see his comments on the school itself. Thanks, Dubs. Not that I'm lazy or anything, but this gives you someone else's perspective, and reflects accurately in so many ways our own experience. Unfortunately, being December meant that Mount Hermon was empty of children (on holiday from Nov - Jan) which makes for a slightly flat feeling! On the day that we visted the school, we weren't actually able to go above the ground floor of the main building as it was all locked up.

Going back to the school however is always a chance to be steeped in the memories of the place and our time there - from hockey on Top Flat down to the times we froze in the swimming pool, the field where Ku and I attempted 200m and the school buildings proper - the study hall, the chapel, our dormitories, classrooms in Stewart Building and the tuckshop (home to the unusual delicacy of bun stuffed with singhara!) Raj Kumar Subba (from our time) has been the maintenance person there for the last few years and is making a difference to the condition of buildings etc. Old walls still felt very much friendly walls.

We ended up having two reunion dinners. The first was in the Mayfair Resort, just down from Chowrasta - a delicious dinner and a chance to catch up with all sorts of people, including Sherap and Roslyn Namgyal and three of their kids, Walsa and Matthew (Matthai) plus their spouses and kids (all visiting from Australia), as well as other individual students who live in, or were currently visiting Darj. The next night a very similar group adjourned to the Apsara Hotel, run by Anup Chachan, where we were treated to another wonderful meal (I ate my fair share of sandesh for dessert as did some others whose names I will refrain from mentioning!!). Anup had us in two rooms - the younger generation disappeared quite happily into one, while the Hermonites chatted, told stories from school days and then did some singing in a second room (interested in some of those words to school songs that we couldn't remember?), while their long suffering spouses watched patiently and tried to figure out who exactly was related to who! The appearance of some old Hermonite magazines generated lots of discussion and recollections, particularly while poring over old class/sports photos, and we were each given a copy of the 2004 Hermonite to take home.

As Pratap Rai (our senior by a few years and long serving ex-secretary of the Hermonite Association) said at one point, he doesn't mind calling himself a 'sentimental fool'. Any other sentimental fools out there may be interested in the Hermonite website and especially in thinking about coming to the reunion in Canberra Easter 2005. Would love to see you there if you too studied at Mount Hermon School!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

An insight from Roxi...

the internet cafe im in at the mo is a very up market one with 6 computers 2 arent working... welcome to indian technology and in this place called GLENARYS! (very british!) they sell puddings pastries and pies and downstairs is a resto bar called "the buzz" and upstairs is a posh resturaunt and the internet area is called digital doughnuts cute a !

i am now in darjeeling, a little town set up by the british as a hill station! it is situated on the side of the foothills of kanchenzonga (kanchenjunga in english but zonga sounds cool!) the 3rd highest in the himilaya range and the world!

we arrived here on monday evening to find our tiny hotel down several dodgey side streets and alleys and that 6.30pm was a bit late for anything to be operating! we however found a tiny place called sonams kitchen which served real coffee which is a BIG thingg here lol and we had a warming bowl of noodle + vege soup! (trust me to remember food details!)

The next morning we were awakened with a knock on our door at about 8am by Mr Guring the owner to tell us that the mountains were clear, a rare thing! so we climbed several flights of stairs and the mountains were just amazing! a full panaramic veiw of them with the sun shining of the snow its uinexplainable but just beautiful! since then we havent sen them due to the mist!
this morning even you couldnt see over the bank from our hotel which was only about 20m down!

we spent tuesday shopping shopping and drinking the most delectable hot chocolates from this cute little balcony resturaunt for 20 rupees about 50c! where the main waiter guy is this short little tibetian mas with a too tight buttoned waistcoat and the most darling smile that says yes please every time he serves you ! hes really gorguz!!!

most of the people living in darjeeling are tibetian or nepalese and have to be the worlds friendlyist pple! they have wide smiles and beautiful faces and are so nice and like ull b walking down the street and they just call out hello how are you! which dosent really happen anywhere else in india unless they are trying to sell u something!
but yeh there arent many indian indians here! its really sad though cos most of the tibetians are refugees forced out of tibet when the chinese invated most of them have never returned to tibet and many of the children have never been there.

yesterday we walked for about an hour downhill to the tibetian refugee center where we saw the most darling old women making carpets to sell. we then walked around to northpoint and past tensings rock named after the guy who climbed everest wiv hillary (for all u ignorant pple!!! lol) then walked up hill for about 2hours like this is steep steep uphill and then caught a taxi back to darj which was another 3 km up hill !

what you have to understand about darj is... cos its built on a hill if you go down you have to come back up which i spose is true everywhere but nowhere here is flat and its all steep! AND most of the roads have limited or in most cases NO vechile access which is nice because where there is vechile acces you spend the whole time trying not to get hit. but it means you walk EVERYWHERE! which I ofcourse have no problem with!!!

also another funni thing is that when all vechiles (motorbikes jeeps and van taxi type things)(they dont have cars here) go downhill they all cut their engines and just coast downhill ! which is pretty hilareous!

on tuesday night for dinner we visited one of the guys mum knew from school and we had dinner there! they were hindu and so they ate all veges but his wife showed me how to cook chapatis???(like circle bread things) and tht was so much fun you roll out the dough then stick it straight into a gas flame and whatch it burn! great for4 piromaniacs!
we also had lessons on hindu weddings which were really interestings with the whole arranged marriage thing ! cos its still much more popular than what they call "a love marriage" because they belive love marraiges break up and arranged dont how tht works i dunno but it all sounded really horrible imagine meeting your partner at the altar!!!!!!

also she was teling us about the dowry systemn that they abide by and this is where the brides family have to give at the least a million rupees and on average about 7 million (im bad at maths about 30 rupees to the NZ dolla u do the conversion...) which is alot of money but yeh hows its a must in every hindu family! another intresting thing about the whole dowry thing is because its the girls parents who have to do it india is mostly male ! and there were signs all over calcutta saying female feoticide(or something like that) is a crime because girls are not wanted! also when we went to the mother theresa orphanage there were 90 girls and 30 boys another sign of how much they are unwanted and this is mainly because of the dowry thing also cos of business and family heritage etc. but yeh interesting...

well thats all for now folks and if i encounter the yeti i will let you know!
love roxanne

Chungi on Chowrasta

Chowrasta is a large flat area in the upper part of Darjeeling town. At 6 am it is full of people getting their morning constitutional! For the kids, this seems to mean games of badminton or chungi, while the adults stroll along the roads that meet on Chowrasta, some taking the exercise bit more vigorously than others, swinging arms and walking quickly, while a few men were even doing sit ups on the benches available to sit on to admire the view. As I sat on the edge of Chowrasta and watched (trying to blend in!) a young guy came up and gave me a tiny glass of hot sweet tea, much to the delight of his group of friends watching from a distance - I wondered if he had been dared to do it!

The shops on Chowrasta and on Nehru street leading down from the Mall consist of mainly clothes shops (lots of warm knitted jumpers and Kashmiri shawls) or photo shops (endless vistas of Kanchenjunga in different guises) or restaurants for the tourist trade or curio shops. The latter are full of all sorts of Tibetan wares, Kashmiri crafts, jewellery of all sorts - and I mean full. When you walk into the dim interior of a shop, the shopkeeper quickly turns on the lights (presumably having them off saves power?) and the clutter on the walls can be examined at one's leisure. No pushy salestalk on the whole which we really appreciated. Roxanne bought a delightful pair of frog earrings and the shopkeeper joked that in six months they would turn into handsome princes! Most things are fixed price which takes the bargaining pressure off, to our relief.

The people here are delightful on the whole - lots of smiles and friendly chat or helpful directions. The weather has been less cold than we feared - and we have invested in lovely warm shawls to help out our polythermals. Hot water in the hotel helps!

We took a substantial walk yesterday down to the Tibetan Refugee Centre (founded in 1959), where you can watch the women spinning wool on their bicycle looms, and then upstairs see the wool being woven on hand looms into thick carpets with intricate and colourful Tibetan patterns of flowers or dragons. We sat and watched fascinated, while four women worked at the same loom on one large rug, threading the wool through with lots of individual colours and then tooling it down tight, and cutting off the threads to form a thick weave. Products made in the centre are sold in the outlet shop.

Then we walked back along the road which leads to the racecourse at Lebong, past Tenzing's Rock which is used for mountaineering/climbing practice and which we used to clamber ourselves when we were kids (on the safe side - although I remember my mother watching with concern) . The ropeway just along the road has been closed after a fatal incident early this year, but should open again in a few weeks. It skims over the tea bushes down to the Teesta valley hundreds of feet below - and right past Mount Hermon School. A taxi back to Darj from North Point (at Rs 6 per head) saved our exhausted feet, although we still had to climb back up to Chowrasta, from the Lower Bazaar.

Breakfast at Keventer's gives a view across the mountains, Shangrila still sells Chinese food, New Dish offers this as well as momos, penangs is still renowned for cheap Tibetan food, including momos and thukpa, while Glenary's has a coffee bar downstairs along with the cakes (and Digital Doughnuts, an internet cafe, at which I am writing this blog) as well as the restaurant upstairs, which seems less posh and much cheaper than I remember from school days when we would feel very grand having afternoon tea there! Of course there are lots of new restaurants and also a number of shops specialising in South Indian or Bengali food, and snack stalls along Ladenla Rd offering huge ranges of Indian sweets and hot fresh samosas. I can see us carrying a few extra kilos home on our persons...

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

About Darjeeling

Mark Twain said of Darjeeling


There's lots of things to doin Darj. Being a British hill station it has lots of history.

For more info (and another lovely photo) go to The Queen of the Himalayas. The mountains are often shrouded in cloud, and unlucky visitors may not ever get a glimpse of Kanchenjunga in all her glory. The morning (and often very early morning) is the best time to see them, as later in the day the cloud closes in. We arrived in Darjeeling at night, and the next morning at 6 am all that was visible was the very tips of the highest peaks. However, at about 8.30, there was a knock on our door. Our host, Mr Gurung, was very excited and ushered us up to the roof where the Himalayas spread in their vastness before us. I remembered back to the trip that Mark and I made here in March 1985 when all we saw was a very early morning appearance for about half an hour on one day.

Occasionally I think I might even agree with Mark Twain!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Getting to Darjeeling

Travelling by air in India is very civilised, once you get used to two things.

1) the planes seem to run a standard halfhour to hour late, although sometimes it may be much more than this. The standard reason is morning fog - India must have a lot of it!

2) security checks before you get on the plane are severe and often by the end of them you feel like you must have committed some crime, or hidden something somewhere! Several xray checks are backed up by usually two or three friskings (women get to go behind curtains and are strictly checked by women) and a thorough bag check at least twice! Your baggage tag is stamped each time, boarding pass checked umpteen dozen times and eventually you flop into your chair on the plane exhausted just by the act of getting there. On one trip we had a set of four loose batteries taken off us (could they have contained explosives, perhaps?), carefully tied up with baggage tags, labelled and returned to us on our arrival at Calcutta. Wonderful Indian efficiency! Perhaps it helped that the security officer who took them off us was a cricket fan and knew about the NZ team - NB. we didn't!!

The service on the planes is excellent, the food not bad at all, and the lace of rivers glinting in the sun below us as we circled Bagdogra more than made up for any hassles along the way. At the airport (foreign tourists show passports a la immigration) we quickly hired ourselves a taxi to drive us up the 'hill' to Darjeeling. This is normally less than a three hour trip, but unfortunately the main road was closed for repairs, and our driver decided to attempt the Punkabhari road. This is even quicker, but steeper. Unfortunately when we got to the main entrance to this road, it too was closed, supposedly just for certain hours, but the policeman guarding it said it wouldn't open again that day. So it was off to Mirik, where I had never been - over towards the border of Nepal and India. Only an extra 28 kms according to our friendly local driver, but it added just under an hour to the trip. Vicious hairpin bends, a lot of tooting on totally blind corners, narrow squeaks past descending vehicles and, feeling somewhat shaken, we finally arrived in Darjeeling around 6, and hunted down Andy's Guest House, near Chowrasta.

Ventured out for dinner to Sonam's Kitchen - a tiny restaurant just down the road, where we were dished up all they had on offer that evening - delicious noodle vegetable soup and fried potatoes. The proprietress encouraged me to have 'real coffee' and later we found Sonam's Kitchen on a tourist map, with 'real coffee' written next to it - obviously its point of difference!

Darjeeling smells, feels and sounds the same...

Sunday, December 12, 2004

More on Calcutta

The exigencies of Indian Internet cafes. We have experienced disconnections, unavailable hotmail, sticky mice, keys that don't work properly AND (I guess it was inevitable) a long posting to the blog all about our time in Calcutta, which wouldn't then publish, so I lost the whole thing. Now I copy before I try to publish... However at between Rs 15 and Rs 30 (around NZ$1) per hour, we aren't complaining! And the phone booths and internet cafes (usually two or three computers in tiny booths) are certainly ubiquitous.

We stayed in the BMS guesthouse in AJC Bose Rd. Patsy and Steven who run it, came out to the airport to meet us (Patsy when we arrived from Bangkok and Steven when we returned from Tripura), which was lovely to have someone greet us and usher us through the mess outside the airport exit, especially when it was quite late at night. We shared a dormitory with several different guests, only one of whom (a large and very lovely Indian evangelist) snored EXTREMELY loudly! There was an American girl who had been doing her med internship out of Delhi and who loved Calcutta, and a Mizo girl who was going to England to do voluntary work in a church there for a year. The gong for breakfast rang at 7.30 and we chatted to all sorts of interesting people over meals as well - fascinating stories some of them had, and very much a family feel. One morning we joined all the staff for devotions at nine am - lasted an hour or so and everything was either in English or Bengali, switching from one to another depending on who was talking/leading.

On Sunday we went to the morning service at Circular Rd Baptist Chapel - exactly the same feel as when we worshipped there as a family. Over a cup of tea after the service we met up with Mr and Mrs Herman, who were baptised there on the same day as I was, and their daughter Indu, who is my age and still looks about seventeen! We will visit them when we return to Cal on our way home. In the evening we went to the special Carols by candlelight service, which I remember from our time there as well. The choir of around twenty led very well, and sang a number of items, there were carols for us all to sing and Christmas readings (sorry, lessons!) And at the end of the service we all filed up the aisle with our little candles and stood in a big circle round the pillars outside (think Baptist Tab!) and sang Joy to the World.

That afternoon we visited Swabhumi on the recommendation of Annie. We were the only Westerners at this cultural centre some distance out of town at Salt Lake, and wandered round the place enjoying the general ambience of a clean area, fixed prices in lots of little stalls selling craft from round India and the general feel of middle class Bengalis out for a relaxing Sunday afternoon.

No visit to Calcutta is complete without a visit to New Market, and the porters were as agressive as ever! The huge undercover area consists of scores of tiny shops, with the shopkeepers all clamouring for your attention and business. I was delighted that I could still remember where all the various areas were and we wandered around for an hour or so. The centre still sports Christmas decorations, and the shopping hours were extended leading up to Christmas. This is NOT a Christian country, but evidently it is commercially lucrative to observe any and all celebrations. Roxanne bought herself a sari (ball dress material?) and we both bought a salwar kameez.

We were grateful that Sarah, my niece, visited India last Jan and had given us all sorts of helpful tips, as well as lending us some salwar kameez which made us feel much more the part ont he street. On her advice we located internet cafe, excellent book shop, nice coffee place and the best eggrolls in Calcutta!

After several days, Calcutta has begun to appeal a lot more and we definitely feel more at home leaping into taxis, giving directions with an Indian accent and bits of Bengali and arguing with taxi drivers - actually only one tried to rip us off! We did have an abortive attempt at catching a tram. We knew which number we wanted and every tram except that particular one went past, so that in the end we gave up!

21F Gorachand Rd, where we used to live, looks much the same except that the street outside has been cleaned up substantially - from the heap of rubbish that I remember. However, there is still the sign on the outside wall saying 'Commit no nuesance' (sic). So we didn't!! Nor did we gather up enough courage to go and knock on the door and say 'I used to live here x years ago'. Instead we amused ourselves with the wedding procession on the main road outside - a band with amazing headgear, guys dancing vigorously and a flowerdecked car containing family members and the groom in more wonderful headgear. We considered going to the Russian circus, several huge Big Tops erected in the Park Circus Maidan, but the times weren't really appropriate.

Calcutta is a rich place to visit - we'll be back!

What's in a name? Kolkata

I'm still struggling to remember not to call it Calcutta. And what happens to Cal? Does it become Kol? And why the name change anyway? History and general facts about Kolkata

Whatever you call it, Calcutta is difficult to describe. One website calls it
"A city of love and warmth, sorrow and despair, dreams and hopes, poverty and squalor, grandeur and glory, Calcutta is compelling, effervescent, teeming with life and traditions a medley of moods, styles, cultures, politics, industry and commerce."


Ambassador taxis

Victoria Memorial