Saturday, July 12, 2008

Arrival in Kolkata (Calcutta)

Full contact shopping…

Today we flew from Delhi to Kolkata and as we were flying, we could see the tops of the Himalayas from the window of the plane. It was absolutely amazing to look below the plane and see green, lush areas and look off in the distance and see the tops of mountain peaks from an airplane! I think we saw Mt. Everest because there was one peak that was taller than all of the others but who can tell from an airplane window.

Kolkata, which had the spelling changed from Calcutta in 2001, the British spelling, is completely different from Delhi. Kolkata was the capital of British India and so many of the buildings look like they were built during the Victorian era and, in fact, they probably were. You know when you see Cuba on TV how everything looks really shabby but you can tell it used to be beautiful. Well, Kolkata looks like that except for the fact that it is MUCH dirtier and there a lot more people.

There are people EVERYWHERE!!!! The population density seems much higher here than the places we went in Delhi. I am sure it really isn’t much different but the difference is probably that our hotel in Delhi was out of the downtown area and here, we are right in the thick of things!  Going outside the hotel is incredibly stressful because there are constantly people trying to sell you something, people with no teeth begging, and barefoot children with their hands out begging for rupees. But, remember, at the same time, if you are trying to walk in a particular direction, you are still having to weave your way through the crowds on the sidewalk at the same time.

Last night we went to the “New Market” which is near our hotel and walked around there to see what there was. There were items of every imaginable type and lots of saris and salwar kameez (the tunic, pants, scarf combo) but I couldn’t really stop to look at things because if you show any interest, people trying to show you different things bombard you. It makes you feel like an asshole that you don’t stop and buy something from each of these people because you know that they are making their livelihood but what can you do? I also saw a small child (probably about three) holding a naked baby in the street, just hanging out there. It was heart breaking and at the same time, you cannot stop and give them anything because you will be swarmed. P.S. You are also sweating your butt off this whole time because it is so hot and humid.

I had to hold hands with Lisa, a teacher from California, on the street because we were so stressed about being carried away by the river of people. I have been to New York City and I have been to crowded places in Europe, but NEVER seen crowds like this. It actually reminds me of how crowded the halls are after school or like leaving a football game but there everyone is going the same direction and there are no cars, rickshaws, or motorcycles driving through.

Coming back into the hotel is like walking into heaven because it is cool, quiet, and last night it was set up for a 600 person Indian wedding. We stood in the lobby and watched people come in their elegant, sparkly saris and it was amazing. The flowers for the wedding were like nothing I have ever seen because they had made like beaded doors out of jasmine flowers so the whole lobby of the hotel smelled like jasmine.

The hotel where we are staying here actually used to be the home of some British mucky-muck during colonial times and it is extremely beautiful and lucky for us, has a pool in the center courtyard. After the craziness of the street, it was nice to relax in the pool and decompress, how’s that for incongruent? You feel like a jerk for staying in this fancy hotel when there are people out there on the street, but again, what can I do? This is where Fulbright chose to put me and I am not going to go sleep on the sidewalk! 

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