Then I headed to the internet as I’m still dealing with trying to ‘recover’ my email address. The young man had told me he opened at 7:00, but he was still sleeping on the floor along with another person when at 7:30 I knocked and woke them up. I tried some more to recover my email as I had planned to send out a mailing on the 18th but that wasn’t possible. Now I have tried “too many times” to recover it so have to wait 24 hours before trying again. The second person on the floor remained under his blanket while I used the internet.
Later I went for a long walk among the government buildings. Kolkata was the capital of the country of India, formed by the British. They moved the capital to Delhi in about 1914. That leaves quite a few fancy buildings for their state government now.
First I saw the Raj Bhavan where the West Bengal governor lives. I also checked out the Town Hall and the West Bengal Assembly Building. The most fun was seeing the High Court with lawyers running hither and thither in special ‘uniforms’—black jacket with formal white shirt and then a black robe. I had a nice chat with three interns who were wearing black jackets and white shirts, but no robe—not as formal as ‘real’ lawyers.
I thought that the Burmese Pagoda, tucked away in some beautiful gardens would be fun to find. Well, it was totally a wreck and under reconstruction, which was kind of interesting anyway. And there were certainly gorgeous dahlias in the gardens, along with some strange birds—maybe cranes?
Tuesday the taxi came at 5:00 AM to take me to the Howrah Train Station. Wow! Even at that early hour it was swarming with people, many who were sleeping. I found my platform without too much trouble, waited for the train and then wondered how to find my ‘bogey.’ There was no such thing as a conductor anywhere, but I found a man who was pasting bogey numbers and lists of passengers on the sides of the cars. I asked him for my bogey number, DE2, and he gestured well down the line. I stuck with him as he pasted on about six more papers on bogeys and then entered the bogey that he indicated. It was pitch dark. I asked, “Number 24?” a few times (my seat number) and eventually someone with a flashlight gestured up ahead. I went into the next car and found 24, and sat down. I kind of wondered if somebody would chase me out, but nobody did, although I’m pretty sure I was in the wrong car.
At first the train was not crowded but as we made several stops it filled to the brim. Nobody ever came and took tickets. This whole thing was through the looking glass into the past. There were many food and chai hawkers, of course. Pretty soon a little boy and girl started doing an act. She was a contortionist (pushed her whole body through a tiny metal ring, etc) and he did backward flips. Talk about “Slumdog Millionnaire.” Later about four pretty and beautifully dressed women got on with lots of jewelry. They would loudly clap their hands and collect money. They had all the bills folded between their fingers. Then they left. Later another four got on and I realized that they were transgender? Transsexuals? I asked the young man sitting next to me and he said that they were ‘neither man nor woman.’ I remembered something about a long tradition in India of these people forming a group who always helped celebrate at family weddings, etc. They demand respect and watch out for each other. They are called “hijda.”
It was very cold in the train with wind coming in all over. Eventually it warmed up enough for me to open the shutters on a very dirty window. I even opened the window briefly to take a picture of the bucolic farming scene.
When I arrived Bhubaneswar I went right to a restaurant near the train station and had a very good linner. I also had a nice talk with a couple that live near here. (She supplied the word, ‘hijda.’) They invited me to stay at their house when they come back from Mumbai on Jan. 29th, but I probably won’t be here then. We’ll see—I’m always flexible!
Got checked into the Shatabdi Hotel—a small not-so-spiffy hotel. There was a really good one that I wanted but it was full. However, this one is kind of charming—the next morning there was a knock on the door at 6:45 AM (I’m always awake by then) and I was presented with a hot cup of chai. How nice! Then to the shower—I called downstairs to see when the hot water would come on (they had said ‘morning’ when I asked if there was hot water 24 hours/day) and he said in 10 minutes. I waited and then tried the shower again—no, no hot water. Just then there was another knock on the door and there was a man with a bucket of hot water. OK, a bucket shower—not difficult, I’ve done it many times before.
I went to an extremely slow internet to work some more on my locked email. This reminds me of 25 years ago when it took two or three minutes for each screen to come up. I had just gotten the message that they had verified my account (hooray!) but before I could act on this, the power went off. Back to the hotel—I’ll try it another day! The next day I went to a four-star hotel to use their business center (which they weren’t crazy about my doing even though I would pay) and finally recovered my email. When I get home, I must update my info (phone number, etc) and keep track of my password for an alternate email so that if/when this ever happens again, I’m prepared. Then it’s only a matter of a few minutes to verify your account. This happened once before in Estonia.
On the way to the hotel, I stopped for a shoeshine. Goodness, he had me take off my shoes, took the laces out, showed me where my shoe was coming apart, superglued my shoe back together and shined them up beautifully! What a deal!
I also bought some tangerines, which are soooo good here. What isn’t good here is the traffic. I thought it was bad in Kolkata,
and it was, but here, it’s bumper to bumper with no traffic lights. Crossing the busy roads is really scary. Earlier today I hailed a autorickshaw rather than try to cross this mess.
One day I hired an autorickshaw for two hours and had him take me to eight temples (out of the 50 still existing, which are out of thousands that were built here in Orissan medieval times, roughly between 600 and 1200 AD. Several are still in use.
The grandest complex
is the Lingaraj Mandir, which had many pilgrims entering and leaving. The tallest part of the structure is about 160 feet tall. Unlike in many other parts of India, this temple
forbids entrance to non-Hindus. However, they had constructed a viewing platform from which one could get a good idea of the complex. The entrance to this temple was a busy and gaudy place!
The other temples did allow admittance but I only went into one, as by the time I removed my shoes to go into the sacred courtyard, stepped gingerly over the hot, rough stones and around the dog and cow crap, I discovered that the interior was not all that interesting! In fact that one was full of junk!
The detail on the exteriors of the temples is amazing. Scenes from everyday life as well as religious scenes are carved in excruciating detail. One had a red-painted Ganesha as a focal point on an exterior wall; another had somewhat erotic carvings to keep people’s attention!
After I had located and looked at all of the major temples, I had the autorickshaw man drop me at a restaurant where I had eaten another day. I enjoyed my paneer masala (like solid cottage cheese with a wonderful gravy) and was ready for a nap.
I had been having trouble with my new iPhone, in that I was unable to text, get my email, or the weather on it. When I was getting change at the bank I asked a young man there if he could help. He did—checked it out thoroughly, called somebody else for advice and concluded that the problem was that the signal was so slow/weak here in Bhubaneswar that it wouldn’t work. That’s probably right as it had been working fine, but I then discovered that the time when it quit working was the day I took the train here. And judging by the internet speed, I think that’s right. Shades of yesteryear, as I said!
Friday morning I decided to change hotels since I think I’ll be here for several days more. How nice to have wifi here—only in the lobby but that works. Breakfast is also included, which I had the morning I moved in. They served very good chai and then I had iddli with sambar and raita—a favorite of mine.
And now we’re coming up on a National Holiday at which there is supposed to be singing and dancing by the nearby tribal people—the Adivasi people. They have ancient cultures that are expressed in music, dancing and arts. Originally animists, they also are at odds with Christian missionaries and Hindu Naxalites (an ultra-leftist political movement), all of which they feel have taken advantage of them. There is also great excitement about President Obama’s upcoming visit. Stay tuned—-Carol