Welcome back to India!
We arrived by flight to Calcutta from Kathmandu. We are excited to be starting a new leg of our journey - although we did have a wonderful time in the Himalayan region and would recommend it highly to everyone!
Now, after 4 weeks of "roughing it" the Webb's decided we needed a bit of recuperation time and checked into the Oberoi Grand Hotel in the middle of Calcutta. It is a beautiful old hotel that harkens back to the bygone days when Britain ruled the seas.... needless to say we have run up a big bill and will be back home in 3 weeks time!! Not quite, but we have thoroughly enjoyed a little splash of luxury.
For those that know him, a friend of mine from Georgetown, Shep Rogers, and his family were in Calcutta for a wedding and we have been visiting with them and sight seeing. It is good to catch up with some familiar faces after being so long away from our friends - not that we are sick of each other - YET.
Calcutta (or Kolkata as it has been called since 2000) is a city of contrasts. After reading a bit and hearing a bit we both expected it to be the most awful dire city that we would ever visit. Actually - we liked it much more than Dehli. It was cleaner (and no, not just at the Oberoi) and there was a general sense of order that we didn't experience in Dehli. That's not to say it isn't poor - because it is desperately poor. The day that we pulled into our hotel for the first time, out on the sidewalk was a little boy who was lying on the ground - he was the skinniest person I have ever seen and he was clearly starving. I have his face burned into my memory and these contrasts between the haves and have not's have really struck us here.
We have seen many touristy areas as well - we went to the Victoria Memorial, built by the British and looking similar to the Taj Mahal - which was a beautiful building with a great museum inside. We also saw the Maidan - which is the "Hyde Park" of Kolkata with Eden Gardens, their famous cricket grounds at the one end.
We also went to the Kalighat - or the Kali Temple. This is where real Calcutta hangs out and you can buy anything for 2 rupees - or $US 4 cents. Kali is the patron saint of Calcutta. She has an insatiable desire for blood - and they sacrafice a goat to her every day at this temple. For those of you who have seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - Kali is the goddess that the crazy priest is worshipping and ripping out peoples hearts to appease. If you have a chance to read her story - highly interesting if bloody reading!
Our final touristy destination was to the Missionaries of Charity - which is the charity Mother Teresa set up and ran for many years. It also runs the hospital for the destitute and dying as well as other hospitals but we did not visit these. At the main house is where Mother's tomb is - which we were able to see. The nuns were all very kind and after having walked around the area you can see that the woman was truly a Saint.
The taxi drivers are constantly trying to rip you off - doubling the agreed price on arrival. Also, the pollution here is atrocious - many people here must have respiratory problems. It is so thick, at night you feel like you are swimming through dry ice!! I think a final impression is that EVERYONE wants to help you, talk to you, ask you for money, want you to buy something... just going for a walk around the block becomes quite tiring after a while because you are ALWAYS being hassled... but, they need to make a buck too, and plus, it makes good travel stories!
Finally, as we depart Kolkata - we are taking a train to Varanasi - our arrival at Howrah Station was pretty uneventful. This station is famous, sadly, for all of the children that live in the tracks. They are orphans and make money by cleaning out the trains as they come into the station or by begging. Luckily for us, we saw very few of these children and we found our train quite easily.
Next stop, the holy city and the River Ganges.