Kolkata was one of the cities that I found most aesthetically interesting. They use very warm colours, there is a 1950’s feel about the place, and the walls are at their peak in character. Accordingly, this post is light on writing, heavy on photos.
We arrived around mid-day, and seeing as I had not had a haircut since August, I took advantage of being in a big city to arrange for a cut at the local Tony & Guy salon. Yup, pretty fancy but the price was crazy cheap–I got the fancy cut and a proper beard trim for all of $15 CDN. I took the shot below on my walk back, love the old-looking yellow cabs in the city:
The following morning, I had to do some shopping for a few clothing essentials, but I had time to explore a bit of the city with John, Del, Brom, and Miriam. We started off at the immense Victoria Memorial, which as the name suggests was built to commemorate Queen Victoria on the occasion of her 1901 diamond jubilee, though the building was not completed until 20 years after her death. If you go, be sure to climb the inside stairs to the balcony around the dome; it’s the only way to appreciate the intricate patterns on the floor.
Right across the street from the Victoria Memorial is St. Paul’s Cathedral, built between 1839 and 1847:
After that we traveled south a fair distance to go to the Kalighat Temple which is a temple dedicated to the Goddess Kali and is also the holiest spot in the city for Hindus. We were there during Diwali, so it was nice and busy around the temple.
Now, the story of Kali is my favourite story in the Hindu religion, and here it goes. For some inexplicable reason, another god created demons who were terrorizing the world, killing people all over the place. To make matters worse, if the demons were attacked and any of their blood touched the ground, more demons would rise from the spilled blood. To make things EVEN worse, the god who created them decreed that no man could kill the demons. Enter Kali.
Kali came forward and suggested that since she was a woman, she should be able to kill the demons. And to deal with the pesky spilled blood problem, she would drink the blood of the demons after decapitating them. She went down to earth and took care of the demons without much resistance, but she got a taste for the killing (and literally for the blood). She then started killing people indiscriminately. At this point her husband, another god, came forward and he laid in front of her path so that she would step on him. In Hindu culture stepping on someone is such an egregious act of disrespect that Kali snapped out of it and stopped killing people. Funny how stepping on her husband was horrifying, decapitating people, not so much …
Kali (yup that’s a necklace made of human heads):
We were not allowed to take photos inside the temple, but I took plenty of pictures of the surrounding neighbourhood instead:
We ended up a shopping centre where we loaded up on essentials that you can only find in a big city. I deliberately picked that particular shopping mall because it has a Tapas restaurant from the same company that operates the great tapas restaurant in Chennai–only the lunch deal in the Kolkata restaurant was even better. For approximately $14 CDN all in, you got one beer, appetizers, a main dish and desert. The key being the plural “appetizers.” In the Kolkata branch you can try as many appetizers as you want and they pretty much forced us to try all of them.
Later on that night, we went to a nearby lounge for some dinner and drinks. A shot of Del and John at the lounge:
A shot from the walk home:
The following morning a bunch of us got up early to go on a photography tour (calcuttaphototours.com). The fellow who runs the tour is very friendly, incredibly knowledgeable, and as you can see from the pictures below, he took us to a lot of interesting neighbourhoods. He also got us some tasty deserts, tea, and great little snacks along the way. The tour was amazing, and lasted over three hours. However, it was a little bit overpriced at $40 CDN a head. He has recently been featured on a number of international TV shows which is probably why his prices have gone up a bit in the last couple of years.
Some photos from the tour:
A Buddhist monastery in the city:
A communal blackboard for neighbourhood announcements:
Self-explanatory first picture, the truck below is the funeral truck. What is interesting is that the funeral truck has windows along the back to allow for an unobstructed view of the body:
One of the funny things about travelling with older western people is that they can sometimes assume that people in developing countries are too dumb or unsophisticated to figure out basic things like recycling. On more than one occasion I heard some in my group lamenting about how people in India should really learn to recycle. Each time I assured them that recycling takes place at comparable if not higher levels than in western countries but it happens in a different way. This is self-evident for two intertwined reasons–sheer necessity and corresponding cheap labour costs make it highly unlikely that anything recyclable will no be collected by a needy person along the way.
Recyclers at work:
Fellow making us tea. Note the little clay cups. These are one-use clay pots that you are supposed to break after using them. They’re a shop’s way of guaranteeing that you’re getting a fresh/clean cup.
The goat pictured below had just been slaughtered minutes earlier. The meat was so fresh that if you went close to it, you could see that it as still twitching. I took a video of the twitching which I’ll upload when I have a decent connection. For now, you’ll have to make due with a picture from afar:
The head office of the city’s one daily Chinese-language newspaper:
A fellow making a crude rope on the sidewalk:
I’ll leave you with two pictures of a massive synagogue in the heart of the old city. The synagogue looks like a bit of a church because it was designed by a British architect who was known for building churches. Amazingly, the construction of the entire synagogue was funded by one man alone.
One of the cool things about the tour was that our was able to get the synagogue opened just for us, so we had the place to ourselves: