Saturday, July 12, 2008

More Kolkata...

July 12- Old Kolkata Walking Tour

Today the head of the American Institute, an offshoot of the consular office here, took us on a walking/tram tour of the old part of Kolkata. I am becoming more adjusted to the number of people out everywhere but NOT the traffic. The air is so polluted that it feels like you are sucking on a tailpipe of a car all the time. I have a chest cold already, so not being able to breathe clean air is not really helping. The traffic is nothing like I have ever seen. I don’t really even have the words to describe it. There is literally one inch (or less probably) between things. Here in Kolkata they also have rickshaws pulled by people, barefoot people at that. I saw a girl talking on her cell phone and riding in a pedi-cab pulled by a barefoot man, how’s that for a juxtaposition!?!

I thought the traffic in Delhi was bad but here it is much worse! The population density is higher here than in Delhi so it feels even more congested. I know I keep talking about this, but really, when you go anywhere, crossing the street is extremely scary! Not to mention the noise! Everyone honks their horn constantly, and it is not to be rude, but there are people darting in an out of traffic on a variety of modes, even legs, so they have to honk. The backs of auto-rickshaws and busses actually have signs that say, “Please honk!” Remember also that sometimes there are cows right in the middle of the street too, just hanging out!

We walked through some really crowded markets and if you’ve ever had an image of what India looks like in your head, this is it! There are masses of people from all walks of life from dirty street people to businessmen in suits (though how they are not soaked completely through with sweat I do not understand) to school children in droves wearing uniforms. There is so much visual stimulation, one is not really quite sure where to look and if you show too much interest in something you are looking at then you will be bombarded with the sellers. If you think sales clerks in the US are pushy, you ain’t seen nothin’!

Three of us girls (there are seven girls and nine guys in our group) were wearing our Indian outfits and I literally had to peel mine off when we got back to the hotel because it was so sweaty and also I felt SO dirty from all the beggars touching my arms trying to get money. I hope I am not sounding mean about the beggar situation but truly it is filthy dirty here and it is a bit overwhelming to see this many street people and to see them picking through piles of trash on the street. We talk about poverty in the US but it is nothing like this. There are shanty villages right on the side of the road where thousands of people are living, but next to them there are also luxury apartment buildings being built. It is a very dichotomous society, even more so than ours. Although, I must admit, my views are somewhat skewed at home because I don’t live in a big urban area. But even in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, it is not like this.

I am definitely going to by some stuff but I just have to be brave about the haggling! The one outfit I did buy was from a fixed price store so I didn’t have to haggle over the price. Another girl here is pretty good at it so I need to watch her. It is hard because I don’t really know what a reasonable price for stuff even is!

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