#6 India, Feb. 20, 2015

What a special Valentine’s Day! My old friend and colleague, Jim Rice, was in Kolkata giving a speech, so he and I spent the next day together. We started by my coming to his DSC08598spiffy hotel in New Town (a half hour by taxi from my old town) to have breakfast at 7:30 AM. Then we taxied back into old town where we got on the metro and got off at Kalighat, the stop by the Kali Temple. We walked about eight blocks to the temple, passing hawkers selling garlands of hibiscus and marigolds, incense burners, (Jim DSC08608bought two) and lots of food. The temple was swarming with people—perhaps because it was a Saturday? Anyway, we got there in time (10:00) to see three goats sacrificed to Kali, the Destroyer Goddess. They immobilized the goat in a rack and DSC08602then a man with a huge semitar chopped off its head. Just like that! Fortunately for you, no photos were permitted! DSC08605

From there we went to see Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying. There were lots of empty cots—mostly empty, in fact. Does that mean they aren’t carrying on her work as much? Or are there fewer dying destitute people?

-Back on the metro to Maidan station where we could walk to see the Victoria Memorial. This was built in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in about 1904. I wonder how the Indians liked that? Maybe it provided lots of jobs. I hope DSC07342so.

From there we took a taxi to Mother Teresa’s motherhouse, but the taxi driver couldn’t DSC08612find it and wouldn’t follow my directions, so we paid him and got another taxi. How did we pick the only two taxis in Kolkata who don’t know where this place is? In spite of the religious display on the dashboard? Well, with help from a third cab, we finally found it.

Then back to ‘my area’ and a walk in really DSC08615old Kolkata. We stopped at my old restaurant for chai, but it was too late and they were out. (It’s a morning drink) From here we each took a person-pulled rickshaw back to near my hotel. Since there wasn’t quite as much traffic, it wasn’t as scary as it usually is. DSC08618Here we did get some chai and then went on to the Indian Museum.

Along the way we encountered a street concert with singing, cymbals and tabla.

The Museum was spectacular with its many 10th and 12th C. statues. DSC08624

Now we went to linner at my favorite restaurant, Teej. I think Jim liked it a lot, too. We each had the vegetarian thali with accompanying onions, peppers, and pickle. Then Jim got a taxi to go back to his world, the Novotel in New Town, and I walked back to my hotel. What a lovely DSC08635day!

-The next day the taxi came DSC08641at 5:15 AM to take me to SanTragachi Station (a regional train station) to go to Bishnupur. The ride to the station was spooky and so was the station. It was also foggy/misty and that added to the ambiance. But I managed to find my platform and board the train among many mosquitoes. Since I was in ‘Chaircar’ class, I thought there would be food, but there wasn’t. The 3 1/2 hour ride was uneventful, and soon I was in Bishnupur. I walked across the overpass and DSC08642got a bicycle rickshaw to take me to a hotel. I got my hotel room (not so clean but I couldn’t get into the one I wanted) and went to look for an internet. Since this was Sunday, most were closed, but I finally found one. Of course my account was locked again, since I was logging on from a different city in India. Could you hear me screaming? I would deal with this the next day. So I found an off/on sale liquor place and bought a bottle of strong beer to take back to my hotel room, which had a nice balcony on which to DSC08645drink my beer. I followed that up with linner in my hotel. There was no choice of what to order—everybody got the same thing—rice, curried fish, eggplant, and dal. It was fine. In this part of the country everybody eats with their right hand.

I changed hotels the next morning and got the best hotel that I’ve had on the whole trip! I also got my email unlocked so things were looking up. I hired a bicycle rickshaw DSC08769to take me around to see the old Hindu temples that were built between 1643 and 1758 by the Malla kings. We saw about DSC08652eight of them plus some tumble-down ones that haven’t DSC08664DSC08693been taken care of. They are wonderful with terra cotta tiles covering them depicting scenes of daily life, as well as scenes from the Ramayana, a religious text. Inside one temple a holy man was singing a religious service. At DSC08695one point he blew the conch shell, rang bells, and then it was over. I was the only observer.DSC08675 Bishnupur is quite rural and small DSC08714(pop. 62,000) but not poor. The streets are chaotic with many animals wandering about, has terrible traffic, but is vibrant and colorful, too. As often DSC08765happens on the trip, people ask to have their photo taken with me. There was a large group DSC08646of college students at one of the temples, and many ipad pictures had to be taken of me with various combos of students. I think it’s mostly that I’m from the USA—it’s their first question, typically. DSC08775

The next day at 6:00 AM I heard some music and singing, so I threw on some clothes and followed the sound to the front of the hotel. Outside there were four musicians playing music, chanting and processing in a circle. What a nice start to the morning! I went for a long walk, looking for some fruit to buy. These red toes of a mother and child caught my attention. Later I went to the local museum, which was very DSC08782DSC08798pleasant. There were many statues, musical instruments, and folk art. In the folk art there was an 8-inch Nataraj, much like the one I have in my living room. I really enjoyed Bishnupur.

I got a bus (no train) from Bishnupur to Shantiniketan and what a bus! Probably the most DSC08808rickety one I’ve ever ridden on. Actually it was two buses as I had to transfer in Durgapur. This town of Shantiniketan is really rural—herds of cattle coming down main street! I went to a bank to get change—nobody ever has change. When I asked for hundreds, fiftys, twentys, and tens, the bank teller said they only had hundreds and tens. OK, so I got 100 tens and five hundreds. That works! The hotel only gave me a bit of toilet paper; luckily I had some along with me. When that ran out I tried to buy some at 10 to 12 shops downtown, but nobody had any. They don’t use it in this part of the country (and many other parts, too) but use water and their left hand. Luckily I still have packets of Kleenex.

I hired a bicycle-rickshaw to take me to the sights on the campus of Visva-Bharati DSC08817University, a school that India’s most beloved poet, mystic, and artist, Rabindranath Tagore, started. The outing was kind of a bust for a number of reasons, mostly relating to a bad choice of rickshaw driver. I didn’t expect it to be stellar anyway, but the museum was closed that day along with most other sights. This town is not nearly s charming as DSC08827Bishnupur. I did have a nice dinner at a restaurant called Green Chiles. I had a thali and it was good.

The next day I again took two overloaded buses to go to Berhampore, the transportation hub for nearby Murshidabad, where I shall go sight seeing tomorrow. These buses work, but just barely. A bicycle rickshaw got me to the Hotel Samrat, which the LP had effused DSC08828about. I was put off by the long ways to get there over really bumpy roads. However, it was worth it! This really is a lovely hotel. It’s all in the people. It’s very clean and they explain what you need to know when they take you to your room. They even have lobby wifi, which is amazing, as even the Kolkata hotels didn’t have that! And the bus, today, went through miles of rice fields in a very rural area. Most of the villages that we went through DSC08830had mainly thatched roof houses.

An odd thing—on the bus I noticed that many of the men wore many jeweled rings with semi-precious stones. I hadn’t seen this before. I shall go sight seeing tomorrow—stay tuned.

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