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An Indian Conclusion from Kolkatta

sunny 26 °C

Disembarking from our mammoth journey across internal India we arrived in Kolkatta and were struck by the fact that this was not only our last longhaul trip on the Indian railways but also our last destination before we depart Indian shores for South East Asia. Kolkatta has hit the headlines in its history for all the wrong reasons, the poverty, the illness, the famines and the good reasons via the help of Mother Theresa (some may disagree that it was all good help - including Annie). However, we were both pleasantly surprised by what we found in the Old Capital of British India and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the new city.

New development stands next to the crumbling remnants of colonial residencies, left to wither due to poor rent control policies. The infrastructure is impressive by Indian standards and Andy was highly impressed by the sheer number of public transport choices, tram to underground, rickshaw to taxi. Now we had become used to seeing, sympathising and occasionally using cycle rickshaws, more out of a desire to help the poor bugger who waits for hours at a time to get a fare and then has to cycle around the chubby Westerners and equally chubby rich Indians from their hotels to shops and restaurants and back again. It is back breaking work. However, we were not expecting to see the hand pulled rickshaws still operating in modern Kolkatta that we had seen in the books and pictures of 19th century Kolkatta, it conjures up that famous Banksy painting with the fat Americans being pulled by a 5 year old Indian boy! Now that gives a whole new meaning to back breaking work! Despite Andy’s pleas to have a quick go, I did not want to actually damage the blokes back after all our curry feasts after the last three months! Actually I (Andy) wanted to have a go by myself to give the poor guys more business, but Annie looked unimpressed.

Kolkatta sites are spread across the city and we sampled a few including the Victoria monument. Needless to say, we had a look to see if the Victoria statue genital display was international (Liverpool and Manchester chaps will understand…). It is international. To experience this yourself, find any statue of Queen Victoria (you can generally find one in every British town or city). Walk around the said statue 360 degrees leaving approximately 5 meters between yourself and the statue. Keep your eyes fixed on the crotch of the monument as you walk in a circle around it. When you reach the angle where the staff she is always holding is pointed down from the crotch area… wallah! You have Queen Victoria with what appears to be a willy. It is massively immature, but equally as hilarious each time!

However, the strange highlight of our trip was when we wandered towards the ‘Mother House’. When in Kolkatta you feel as though you should have a trip to see what is left of Mother Theresa’s legacy. Now we were not expecting when approaching her house for it to be a convent (I know, it seems obvious now). Andy was also not expecting when we walked through the open door to be faced with who he thought was Mother Theresa herself back from the dead. He quickly remembered that all nuns wear the same outfit and therefore it was only another nun! We were quietly asked in shushed tones whether it was our first visit, to which we replied yes, and were quietly shepherded from the busy Kolkatta street, through the convent until we were in a room with Mother Theresa’s tomb and people worshipping her. In a matter of seconds our surroundings had unexpectedly and massively altered and we were at a bit of a loss. We followed the crowds, sat quietly on wooden benches until it seemed we had looked serious enough to leave. However, before departing we had a quick stop over in Mother Theresa’s bedroom which had been preserved from when she left it and then we were back amongst the beeping horns and crowds in the street wondering exactly what had happened in the last half an hour! All in all a very strange way to spend an afternoon!

A visit to the Kolkata museum in the Victoria Monument building summed up Kolkata for us very well. “Kolkata perhaps gained the most of any city in India from the British residence in it, but with partition it paid for its privileges with as many scars”. It was actually in 1919 when the British left Kolkata, due to pressure from the Indians and a tired British force when King George V announced a new capital city in New Delhi. Kolkata gained infrastructure, architectural gems and an intellectual community who went through many of the educational institutions established in the city. But it also suffered with the withdrawal of the British as the buildings and infrastructure were left to dilapidate under pressure of thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing the bloody partition and famine in Bangladesh. The city has come through this with a positive atmosphere and is all together a pleasant and friendly place to visit despite its hardships. I was thrilled to witness a little girl who nemasteyed us in the street with both hands, and it is this image that stays with us from Kolkata.

Our final destination got us a’thinking about what we had seen and experienced and we spent some time reflecting on our time. As such our final Indian blog could have ended up being reflexive and dull. So we decided to take a different approach which is almost entirely accurate…. Andy and Annie Present…. 1ND14 BY NUMB3R5

Important Indicators
Time Spent in India: 91 days
Distance Travelled By Land: 10,006 km

Sleeping Statistics
Aeroplanes Slept On: 1
Deserts Slept In: 1
Trains Slept On: 6
Night Busses Slept On: 7
Beds Slept in: 32

Measurement of Things Mislaid
1 x 2 of Clubs Playing Card
1 x Jaipur Section of Lonely Planet Guide Book
1 x Pair of Diesel Sunglasses
1 x Multifunctional Piece of Leather Cord
1 x Victorinox Card Style Penknife
2 x Shoelaces

Animal Accounts
Big Cats (Wild): 2
Rats: 4
Snakes: 5
Elephants: 23
Camels: 17,321
Cows: 3 million +

Vehicle Values
Auto Rickshaws travelled on: 78
Boats travelled on: 14
Cycle Rickshaws travelled on: 9
Scooters travelled on: 6
Number of Breakdowns: 1 (Flat tyre)

Miscellaneous Measurements
Bad Hair Cuts: 1
Attacks of Delhi Belly: 6
Minor Allergy Attacks: 1
Curries Eaten: 276
Mosquito Bites: 421
Photographs Taken By Us: 6200
Photographs Taken Of Us by Random Indians: 3,250,004,221
Incidents of Police Brutality Witnessed: 7
Number of Helpful Policemen Witnessed: 12

Conclusions on India

Andy’s Conclusion: I have to say that our time in India was amazing. I was a little apprehensive prior to our journey starting due to the differences in culture and seeing the poverty. The poverty was horrific as expected, but Annie and myself felt at home in a number of places and we would certainly be back to do it again – possible to other places, and some of the same. My favourite places were Manali, Kochi, Goa and Jaisalmer, and my least favourite places were Hyderabad and Bangalore. I also believe that there is something for everybody in India, be it a honeymoon, family holiday, luxury retreat and of course a backpacker extravaganza. All in all, a unique blend of everything you can imagine.

Annie’s Wittering: What can’t be put down in numbers is the images that will be left with us from our time in India. Whenever I think of India I think it will be what remained my favourite time of day for the whole time we were there, the Indian sunset where the sun starts to sink in the sky and you clearly see what it is, a burning ball of fire lighting up the whole landscape as if you are literally looking through rose tinted glasses. The heat begins to retreat and the cows on the road begin to make their way home for their dinner as the road becomes congested with otherwise feral cattle who by day roam the streets. For a precious few minutes all the noise of the day seems to quieten as incense fills the air as sunset puja prayers are performed in temples and houses all around you and fresh marigolds replace those hung outside the houses which have withered before in the heat of the day. As soon as the sun sets the moment is gone and the hustle and bustle, horns and sirens, shouts and traffic all returns to the putrid smell as people burn the rubbish of the day on the road side… this is India after all! But it is that contrast that makes those few minutes each day so peaceful and fantastic. We will miss the spectacle that is India but we are happy that as one country comes to an end for us, we are now free to explore further afield.

Peace and Love Andy and Annie xx

Posted by Annie Thornton 05:58 Archived in India Tagged india rickshaw calcutta kolkatta

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