journal excerpt of trip to India

6 December 1989 to 13 January 1990
please click on small photos to see enlargements


"I told you not to take her to the Paragon Hotel!"
- P.B.H. (said by T's brother after our return)


photo Victoria Memorial Calcutta ©TPH89


Thursday 7 December 1989 9:00 am - Sudder Street, Calcutta

on the way into Calcutta:

- Shanties
- People peeing into the river
- Cattle wandering everywhere
- Goats
- Pigs
- Magpies and Dogs
- Hot and humid -they say 15C but surely it is 25C
- Beggars and people trying to sell us rooms and who knows what else?

smoky smell; gold light; dusty station

At last we have arrived. The airplane almost landed and then took off again and circled. We passed over neighbourhoods completely surrounded by palm trees. The taxi ride was hair raising. The driver never stopped but only honked at the countless rickshaws, buses, pedestrians, poverty stricken children playing. It's overwhelming.

We're sitting in a hotel lobby on Sudder Street hoping to get a room here. The place in which we thought we would stay costs $50 a night (including food which we probably wouldn't eat) Everywhere is booked or really seedy. It is all so decayed. Maybe after a bath and change of clothes, things will improve? (if we get a room) We are drinking tea and T bought one cigarette from a boy. Who knows where it came from? It still doesn't feel real but then we've only been here ½ an hour.

Friday 8 December 1989 10:00 am - Paragon Hotel(!)
It's photo Paragon Hotel (!) Calcutta ©TPH89 hard to admit but things are better in spite of having only cold running water - shower is very bracing and a non squat toilet (no seat; just the bowl bolted to the floor with one bolt) and hard pillows with bad mattresses. We both actually slept. The fan was so noisy that we had to turn it off in the middle of the night.

Amazingly, this noisy city is completely quiet by midnight. Then at 5:00 or so, people started waking up and coughing, spitting and snorting. Far in the background was chanting from a mosque. I went back to sleep and woke up a little later to the sound of traffic noise. Then after a while, I heard a piper outside and T said it was either someone selling the instruments or a snake charmer. I went out to the balcony and looked down and sure enough, there was a man with three cobras with their hoods out. They must be defanged becuase one was lunging at the man and he didn't seem to care at all.

Yesterday we went to buy a clothesline and fabric for Indian clothes. We had to go to New Market and were acccosted constantly by men carrying large baskets (to carry our many purchases - they hope.) Anything we looked at would be immediately followed by two or three of these guys yelling to follow him to where the best cotton; clothesline; sari; pens; whatever we'd pointed at.... AUGH! One fellow "led" the way to the money changers (that T knew was there) and would not leave us. The only thankful thing is that they never follow anyone into a shop. People kept asking T if he wanted his shoes shined. (He is wearing flipflops!) "Hello! Hello! What you want? Hello Sir! Hello Madam! How can I help?" yelled from every shop.

We went to see a man we met on the plane. It took ages to find as our taxi driver asked and asked. We finally got out knowing we were in the general vicinity. The houses are not numbered sequentially but most haphazardly going from 22 to 89 to 33 to 4B (?!?) We finally found the house only to find the poor man laid up with a terrible fever that he had caught in Canada (his wife had not travelled because of having the same flu) I found it most ironic as I had expected to be sick already from some Asian plague. I have still not succumbed but feel sure it will come.

We wandered through the market in his neighbourhood and were pleased and surprised to not be bothered constantly by beggars and/or basket men. photo Paragon Hotel (!) Calcutta ©TPH89 I bought shalwar kamis (pants and long shirtdress) - pale yellow with white embroidery which I wore to dinner and felt a bit foolish (it's VERY comfortable and feels like pajamas) with everyone staring but T assured me that I didn't look silly at all; they were staring because we were foreigners wearing native dress.

Also at the market, we bought a lungi for T and looked at some shawls. photo Ice Cream Vendor near Victoria Memorial Calcutta ©TPH89 At the shawl store, they insisted that we take their picture. (even though we didn't buy a shawl) We ate some sort of Calcutta sweet delicacy made from boiled milk. It was like soft cheese cake and quite delicious. We then taxied to the Victoria Memorial where we saw a man selling ice cream to be put into vivid parakeet green coloured cones. photo rickshaw driver on Howra Bridge Calcutta ©TPH89 Further down the road, there was a poor sad bear that could allegedly disco dance but we felt too sorry for the brute to make him get up.

Saturday 9 December 1989 9:30 am - on the train from Calcutta to Benares
We were awakened this morning by the sound of a man washing clothes. He was beating them against a large brick, then squeezing, then beating. It was very loud, especially because it was 6:00 am. By 6:30, he had finished but we were thoroughly awake by then and had to get up anyway to go to the trainstation. We took a rickshaw - both of us loaded down with bags, across the famous Howra bridge to the train station to take a train to Benares.

photo Howra Station - Calcutta ©TPH89  

To Train From Calcutta To Benares

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