The Most Delirious Trip to Calcutta

by - May 31, 2017

While I was coming to Calcutta, on the flight, I was thinking about the heat. The damp, sticky heat, which stays trapped between the skin and clothes, tangled in the hair, determined not to leave. One may think that, well, it is August, it is normal. But it's not like that. It is not a tropical heat either.

To get to the city, I take a taxi in the airport taxi booth. As soon as I get into the taxi, the first thing I see is that, of course, there is no air conditioning. The windows are always open. As the taxi driver drives to the city, stumbling and zigzagging, I try to distract myself and enjoy the scenery. But the car is going too fast, and with the stops and jumps of the road bumps, I am afraid that the camera will fly out the window.

Finally, the car stops. There is a traffic jam. Now I can take the photos I want, because I do not know how long you will be standing there. Occasionally the driver starts the car. A tune seems to come from speakers installed at the traffic light. It is a sweet and repetitive music.

I do not understand the words but a mystical and reassuring feeling comes to me. Suddenly, the taxi driver, a pot bellied man with a mustache wearing a gray uniform with patches, begins to play the mystical song from the radio. Curious, I ask him what he plays. He answers something that sounds like rabindrasangeet.

Kumartuli images

After keeping my backpack in a cheap lodge, I decided to change course and went north. After a tea with biscuits (which are half salty, medium spicy, and combine beautifully with the sweetness of the tea), we got on a bus among the crowd, to the north. We stop at Bagbazar in Shyambazar.

We walked across an alley full of temples embedded in the basement of the buildings, the train tracks, and we reached the ferry dock. North Calcutta is fascinating. It is the old part of the city, and the original nucleus. It has the most beautiful buildings, and it is a convenient area for any housewife, since there are small shops and markets everywhere.

Although first we were following the main streets, and the avenues, at the first hint of traffic jam, we escaped to a goli, one of those streets that in northern Calcutta acquires its purest essence. The houses, so close together, have a colonial touch, and like all the city, they are in ruins. But they are so narrow that I cannot see the buildings well, because there is no place to have perspective on the details of the facades.

On the walls of houses, there are usually advertisements for films or posters with political slogans. In a very narrow goli, I found a house with temple in which outside there was a fresco of Vivekananda. There are the flowers on sale in the street near the temple.

A woman performed rituals and offerings with incense, sounding a huge seashell. The smell of the incense, the noise of the conch shell, and the sound of a bell that the devotees made sound to call the attention of the god to their prayers, filled the street.

Something that does not appear in the photos and that is impossible to explain is the aroma of the city. In the north there are plenty of street food stalls (ok, all over the city, but in the north, there are three times), with their delicious and unhealthy snacks. The smell of singara filled my lungs and attracted my stomach. Sometimes there was a smell of cooking with vinegar, or a pungent smell.

I do not know exactly, which made me feel as if I had bitten a chilli pepper. I walk down the street and discover the street food stalls. There is the phuchka, with its spicy water whose smell spreads. The stalls of sweet tropical fruits ooze their sugar to the heat that arouses them. The spicy cookies that despite being tucked in glass jars, soften in the sun. There are the sweets bathed in syrup of roses. You can taste everything just by breathing.

Leaving the goli, we got into a main street. Although it was afternoon, the traffic was still very congested. Between cars, taxis and buses, the roads were full of trucks carrying goods. But not everything is transported in trucks. They are also transported in bicycle-carts.

Kumartuli

Soon we reach Kumartuli. It is a place that appears in the Kolkata travel guide as a picturesque and mysterious place that no tourist should stop visiting. Normally I do not trust the guides, and when they say that a particular place really cool, the reality is usually very different. Although it is also true that if there are many tourists who visit a place, guided by the same travel guide, the charm is transformed into a kind of fair or open-air museum.

But today by coincidence of life, I ended up in Kumartuli. The sculptors are busy making statues of the goddess Durga for the Durga puja that is about to arrive. And the experience has been different, not just hiding behind my camera, but entering the stores. Also, there were no tourists. Only when we left saw a group of four hippies who were flipping around the place.

As there was too much traffic, we decided to flee as soon as possible and ended up in other goli, here and there, and to our surprise, we reached the river. The ghats of northern Calcutta are very different from those of the south, of Princep Ghat or Babu Ghat. There are wooden benches of beige, black and gold, next to trash bins that mimic animals, like monkeys or dolphins with open mouths.

The vendors of tea shout chai chai. There is also stalls selling chop and muri near the docks of the ferries that lead to Howrah, or near the crematoria, or near the suburban train stations. There is hardly any light. People sit and chat noisily around the tea shops.

After all the hustle and bustle, I come up with the idea of ​​going to Howrah, on the other side of the Ganges, by ferry. With the heat, the idea of ​​approaching the water, sounded wonderful, although here there is no beach and if there was one, I would not bathe either.

After a while the boat came. We climbed, and we put ourselves in the prow, in front, where all the wind hit us in the face. It was wonderful to hear the ferry cutting the waves, the foam jumping, and the wind whistling in our ears. At the turn of the bend, the Howrah bridge appeared, dressed in yellow and violet lights, as if it were Christmas, Diwali, Kali Puja or Durga Puja.

We cross under the bridge and finally we dock. Only about 15 minutes of travel, but it was fantastic. To come back, we decided to do it walking on the bridge. But we did not count that at that time the flow of people going to the train station was so intense. It was another river, but of people. One cannot imagine the flood of people. It is as impossible to count as how many drops of water the Ganges has.

Jamai Sasthi images

We wait for half an hour in the middle of the bridge, observing the two cities, enjoying the fluvial breeze. As we approached Mullickbazar, the flower market, it smelled like damp flowers. Today is the day of the Jamai Sasthi, when the married daughter comes to her native home with her husband. The mother-in-law cooks for the son-in-law the best delicacies that include seasonal fruits, fish, rice, curry, and sweets.

We turned around and left to get to the area where wholesalers sell to small distributors, which supply the entire city. We head to the Burrabazar market. Men wearing only lungi and a red cloth on the head that has multiple uses, unloaded the trucks. They pass the sacks of things to cars made with thin trunks of wood, which function like a seesaw.

Others carried their products in bicycle-carts. With a metal hook, the men hook the sacks and throw them as they can to the car. On the street, in addition to this movement of trucks, men and bags, there were merchants who were already auctioning their products. A curious thing about trucks is their decoration. All are painted.

Most have also painted information about their driver's license (Bengal, All India, Bengal and Bihar) and their phone number, in case anyone required their services. But they also carry slogans (Jai Mata Di, for example), and of course, some include images of the gods.

Coffee Houser Sei Addata Aaj Aar Nei

I then head to College Street, where the reputed universities and colleges are. There is the famous Indian Coffee House, in an old building like any other, with the highest ceilings I have ever seen. It is overflowing with people, and it is more difficult to find a free table than a needle in a haystack.

Here meets writers, artists, thinkers, to chat in an endless adda and that's why it is impossible to find a table. After around 15 mins, we found a mini table. Unfortunately I do not have any decent photo of the place. I'll have to go back to get a good one.

We order coffee and onion pakora. Despite the problem of the tables, and waiters who ignore us and take a thousand years to bring a coffee, it is a place that I love. We lost the last tram to Esplanade, by pure bad luck. So we got back on a bus.

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