One last push for the blog to sum up India!
Seeing as how our trip, after spending three nights in Cherrapunjee, was really rushed, it’s only suiting that my blog account is just as rushed! I’m so behind on the blog, and about to start my Thailand trip “for real” soon, that I won’t have any more time to blog about India.
Tejas had suggested that since I was starting my India trip in the wettest place on earth, during the wettest part of the year, it would be fitting to finish in west India, which is desert! I loved the idea! But after looking at the distances, and factoring in how trains and buses run “on India time”, I realized I wouldn’t have time to go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, let alone all the way to west India. Also, I loathe the “Footprint” guide to India, as it’s so disorganized and hard to find information – I didn’t know that it would be a 12 hour journey to Varanasi from Kolkata, and then another 12 hours to Agra. Needless to say, I left the guide with Mike to use as reference material for his research.
So, from Cherrapunjee, we went to “Ri Kynjai,” a luxury holiday resort frequented by Bollywood stars (as well as the band “Scorpion”… yeah, I don’t know who they are either). On the tab of one of Mike’s assignments of course! What can I say – stunning views by the lake from our room. We took the opportunity to just luxuriate, order room service, and a beer or two, or three, or six?
Next, we passed through Guwahti in the state of Assam. Met the owners of a travel agency who Mike needed to chat with for his travel research. They took us to a private club of which they’re members, treated us to some drinks and snacks, and drove us in their luxury SUV to the train station for our overnight train to NJP (near Siliguri, in west Bengal).
I previously blogged about our experience in the hills of west Bengal near the border of Sikkam, so you can go back and read that if you wish… Though to describe the third night we spent at a Gorka guesthouse/homestay, Mike likened it to a “hippy commune”. All the food that was served to us was organically grown by the family (tea, chickens, orange blossom honey, etc.), and they were almost completely self sufficient and able to grow most of what they needed on their land. The family that owned the guesthouse was a huge family of 42 members (excluding the daughers who had already married and left the house), and eating there, I was reminded of eating with my own family. They kept putting food in my dish just as I was trying to finish up the last of what I had, despite being full! One of the young fellows, a twenty-something year old,(?) was a pretty cool guy. He leads rock climbing groups that visit, spoke excellent English, could play guitar and sing in several languages, and was our “guide” for the area, showing us around their estate. Pointed out the cow shed, where they produced manure for the bio-gas, as well as the various plants they grew there.
“This is a broom tree.” Mike: “You call it that because you make brooms out of its leaves?” “Yes.” Maybe you had to be there, but I thought it was pretty amusing!
There weren’t many tourists because the monsoon causes landslides, making travel difficult. As well, it obscures what would be some jaw-dropping vistas, makes trekking difficult, and rock climbing impossible. Which is why I have to return one day!
From NJP/Siliguri, we caught a night train to Kolkata. Only stopped to pick up Bel, who came in from Dhaka to join us on an all expenses paid trip the Sunderbans!
Now… I have to admit… I’m not a wildlife person. And boat rides either make me queasy or sleepy. I hoped we would spot a tiger – the group leaving when we were arriving had seen one the day before – but the chances we would see one were very slim. We saw more wildlife in the Sunderbans this trip than Mike did on his previous three trips (on the Bangladesh side), but still I wasn’t satisfied. Not even seeing two crocodiles in the wild was enough for me. But hey, now I know – if it’s not underwater, then I’m not so keep on it. We made three trips out to the watch tower over two days, where we saw a bunch of water monitors (lizards), deer, and a monkey. For me it was a bit boring, since I’m so impatient. On the boat, I’m like, “Wake me when you see a tiger.”
River cruising for a tiger
Of 3 days in the Sunderbans river cruising, the clear sky only lasted minutes during the monsoon
However, the camp we stayed at was amazing. Cottages had a grass roof, and were made of bamboo and mud. But the design of the exterior is what really looked great! Also, the food served there was amazing. Mike and I were always stuffing ourselves at every meal, and I kept resolving that I wouldn’t eat so much next meal around. Of course, it never happened. Our last lunch there, Mike’s like, “OK, this is the last chance!” (before Kolkata, where we’d be paying our own way again). Bel said, “You shouldn’t think like that. There’ll be other chances!” (so that Mike wouldn’t stuff himself yet again. Didn’t work though, haha!)
Village walk around the jungle camp
Rare moment – clear sky during the monsoon season
Then after the Sunderbans, we returned to Kolkata, to chill out for a few days. I really loved it there, though I totally wasn’t expecting to! I think having been in Bangladesh, a more difficult country to travel in, and reading “Shantaram”, and becoming attached to its characters, of whom you see a bit of in every Indian (and Bengali as well), really changed my view.
I’m not sure if I mentioned that Bengalis and Indians love having their photo taken, but I have a few hilarious stories about that. I’ll save the story for when I have the photos up, as it’ll make more sense then.
Note all the looky-loos and picture jumpers, ruining my attempts at taking photos of people
Notice the man waving – he flagged me down, asking me take a photo of his kids(?)
Get yer hand out of my photo!
More photo jumpers
Lots of willing subjects!
“Toothbrushes” for sale. The man was pleased at having his photo taken, wagging his head in delight. Onlookers looked on envious, wondering why he got singled out?
Street side barber
I chatted with the young clerk at Ashalayam, a store that sells handicrafts created by former streetchldren, who he himself also used to be on the street. It was quite heartening to know, from his own words, that he came from a life of hardship that I can’t even begin to imagine, to one where he feels optimistic and looks forward to his future! If you’re ever in Kolkata, be sure to check it out and support the centre.
I felt very safe walking around Kolkata, especially compared to Bangladesh. Not that I felt in particular danger in Bangladesh, but I always tried to keep my guard up, and was always preoccupied with the image I was giving off.
The man in the doorway shouts out the bus destination. If that’s where you want to go, just jog alongside, and he’ll help pull you onto the bus!
Pan vendor. Pan is a mixture of coconut, spices, and the addictive, cancerous betel nut, wrapped in the pan leaf.
We also did a walking tour in Kolkata, with a guy whose name escapes me. We had had dinner at Peter Cat (where we had amazing kebabs) with him the night before, and I was blown away by how cool he was. He looks like a Bollywood star, with light brown skin, striking features, athletic build, and western clothing. And his English was excellent, with a really sharp sense of humor – really a sign that you’re completely fluent in a language, when you’re able to be funny.
One thing I learnt was Kolkata has a rather sizeable Chinese community. I was forced to lookat my own preconceptions and beliefs when I was shocked to hear that there are Chinese in Kolkata who have been there a few generations – who only speak Hindi and/or English! And they speak NO CHINESE! So why am I so shocked when I myself speak mainly only English? Just so strange for me to think of, even though the situation is the same!