Saturday, 12 March 2016

Kolkata (Calcutta)

Kolkata is India's second largest city, with a  population of over 16 million. Immediately on arrival at the huge station of Howrah, one realises that it is one stage poorer than other large cities. Bodies wrapped in old blankets litter the passenger areas. There are no safety nets in India! As well as yellow Morris Oxford taxis three wheeled motor rickshaws and cycle rickshaws, there are also tuli rickshaws (pulled), with scrawny men pulling the shafts of the machine. Exhausting work in thick traffic pollution.

"Company rule in India" refers the the British East India Company, establishing itself here in 1757, after the Battle of Plessey. The British governors here privatized what had been government business, tax collection, etc. BEC ruled India until 1857, when they had to be bailed out by Britain, having gone bust (so we have had earlier bailouts funded by taxpayers) owing to a famine. The debt was now on the British taxpayers. They were the original corporate raiders. At one time time they had an army of 260,00 men, larger that Britain.! They ruled the country longer that Britain, which granted independence in 1947. (see William Dalrymple "The East India Company: The original corporate raiders" (via google).

However, very many fine building were constructed over the period. Magnificent, solid, mostly in a state of disrepair, elegant, showing how opulent life must have been here over the 200-year period, Grasses and trees growing out of walls, faded and grimy. Wide streets, with light blue and cream iron railings line the finer boulevards, grand old gentleman's clubs, a racecourse and of course cricket grounds. Surprisingly the largest and best kept building is the massive Queen Victoria Memorial.

There is not the usual two prices system that operates in most of India. Touts are not pestering continually, so it is great to just wander, using Google Maps to retrace steps and discover places and things. The Metro allows you to get to areas quickly and cheaply. People are more relaxed and happy here. Seats on buses and metro are offered to older people! Respect for the old! Here one does not feel invisible, as in England. Much more to see and explore than any other city, by far. I was genuinely sad to leave. "Airbnb" booked the home stay, where there were five other travellers, A great deal of conversation over breakfast and evenings, thus getting ideas of what and where. $6.00 a day including a free breakfast!

Food was magnificent, not just cheap, but much more fruity and gently spiced, often using jaggery (palm sugar). Recycling creates work. Cups of chai are served in small earthenware pots, which are broken after usage. The cups are hand made from river mud. Meals are often served on pressed leaf plates, also creating work, as well as being green. Frequently I used the tuli rickshaws to push money towards the poorest.

Queen Victoria Memorial

Dilapadating building

The making of statues on the roadside

Continually I was bowled to see colourful flower displays een in the seediest of places. India = colour. The flower markets in full colour took place too early and too far for me to be able to get too, unfortunately

One of the regularly repainted items in Kolkata, dating from imperial days, the iron railings lining the streets in the central area of the city

Just one of the many fine buildings in the city which appear all over and unexpectedly

Tuli rickshaw wallahs at rest

Street food

A ferry on the Hoogly river

On board a larger ferry, which I used to use when visiting temples on the other side of the river

The peeling paint and dirt covering of walls reminded of pictures of old french farmhouses

One of many temples passed while on a ferry. The atmosphere was polluted and smoky.

Tuli rickshaw wallah

                                     The Marble Temple, of which pictures were forbidden

                                                                      Old building

Kolkata still has battered old trams operating. I nearly came a cropper on one of the tramlines while riding as pillion on a motorcycle in busy traffic

The bicycle is probably the main means of transport in the city. Heavily laden and very strenuous work

A fruit display on a street corner

                                                         My personal rickshaw wallah

A 25p meal served on pressed leaves, freshly cooked, with second helpings. One of my tastiest meals in three months

My return to Delhi was by 1st class a/c on the Rajdhdani Express from Howrah Station, Kolkata. 20 carriages long. "RAJDHANI EXPRESS - FULL JOURNEY IN FIRST AC". £31.  1,447km. Three meals, served by a waiter wearing white gloves and a very comfortable sleep. The gauge is wider than in the UK and thus more steady.