7 days into the trip and I haven't walked a mile on a dirt trail! I
left Washington DC on the 16th for London Heathrow where I had a 6
hour layover, not the 20 hours I originally thought. For some reason
the bulleted lines on my itinerary fell randomly across departures,
takeoffs and connecting flights. Really glad I caught that one! I did
have time to blow $40 on a train ride into the city and a quick snack
of my favorite UK "delicacy". A big pot of Onkin Peach Bio Pot
yogurt. It was worth the $12 train ticket for that alone. Walked the
Thames and gawked at house boats and fancy homes around the
Hammersmith Station. Got the feeling that I was being watched... a
lot! Poor London, the CCTV is really over the top. It's like a big
brother Sci Fi flick except it's real.
Arrived in New Delhi on the 18th at 5:30 am and made my way into town
in a shared taxi with a woman from Portland, OR who owns the Sari
export business, sarisafari.com. We shared stories of living in India
and she filled me in on the Delhi metro, as I was full of questions.
We opted for a taxi as the EATS bus, which costs a fraction of the
price, would have required a 3 hour wait!
Once in Paharganj, the tourist hood of New Delhi I checked into the
Hotel Navrang. At Rs.100 a night it's a dump but it's my favorite
dump in New Delhi, just around the corner from my favorite super cheap
14 rupee restaurant, the name of which I have no idea.
In the first couple of hours I got lost exploring the back alleys of
Pahargan and then made my way to the tourist ticket counter at the New
Delhi railway station where I bought a ticket to Kolkata aka Kalka
for the incredibly low price of Rs. 95!!! Thats a 20 hour journey for
about $2.25. After that I was off to ride the entire New Delhi metro
I have an odd personal goal of riding all of the Metro systems I come
across, from end to end, every line, through every station. First was
New York, then Washington DC, bits of the San Franciso system and eventually a pathetic stab at
finishing the London Underground in 2000. Riding the Metro from
Connaught Circus to Dwaraka 9, the eastern end of the Blue Line and
back took at least two hours and transported me from the dense urban
setting at the center of Delhi to the exploding suburbs of massive
concrete housing developments. Seven stories tall and the size of city
blocks these buildings are huge and just as ugly. A truly soulless new
New Delhi is emerging.
Shortly after this jet lag caught up with me and I headed
back to my hotel to sleep it off around 2pm. I awoke the next morning
at 4am, packed my bag and walked back to the train station to catch my
5:50am train. As we pulled out of the station I was surprised that we
were headed west but thought we must be heading for a junction or
something. The rising sun did little to allay my fears that I was
traveling in the wrong direction but I thought, hey I've never taken
this route so what do I know.
Two hours later the train filled up and the berth designed for 8 was
was somehow comfortably holding 19 people. When I finally asked the girls sitting across from
me where they were going they said Chandigarh! about half way to Simla and in completely the wrong direction. So I caught a commuter train back to Delhi, bought my next two connecting tickets to Kolkata (not
Kalka!) and Darjeeling before checking back into my hotel. In the end
the train ticket I thought I got such a bargain on cost me 2040
Arrived in Calcutta now Kolkata on the 21st and walked into town from Howra
station. It has been such a refreshing change from Delhi. The city
is beautiful and the people far more friendly than I have encountered
anywhere in Norther India. Air pollution is one major down side. Like all Indian cities the air quality along the major roads is dangerous. I checked into the Salvation Army Guest
House and scored a bed in the dormitory at 70 rupees a night. Lots of
deranged looking travelers staying here. I don't understand the need to become such a cliche'd hippie just because you are traveling in ndia? People the 60's are over, showers are back in vogue.
Having broken the bank on my train ride to Kolkata I have decided to
stick mostly to street food while in India. My technique for staying healthy
on such cheap food is to only eat at busy places that use banana leaf
plates and clay cups, neither of which get "washed" in potentially
tainted water between uses. Once finished you simply destroy your fired but
unglazed cups after you're done. If you were to refill these cups too
many times they would simply melt into your tea. The proper restaurants are at least 8 times as expensive as the street vendors but I had a dish of panier matar that transcended this world.
Everything I read about Kolkata said that it was a gastronomic
wonderland, and they were right, so wonderfully right! Everything
tastes better here, even the simplest breads are lighter and more
delicious, with a totally different quality that you find in Delhi or
Uttar Pradesh. Same ingredients, same cooking utensils, differen
results, it's amazing.
I have managed to keep up the same odd sleeping habits, passing out at
8pm and waking up at 3 or 4am. Days 2 and 3 in Kolkata have been spent
walking around soaking up the atmosphere and of course riding the
entire subway and a bunch of the trollys. I have been walking around a lot to break in my new shoes but it's obvious that they are the ones breaking me in. By the end of Tuesday I had two huge blisters that needed lancing.
Just finished reading A Walk Across America, a story of a young man who walks from NY State to New Orleans in a year and a half, living and working along the way. This and the last book I finished on a Brit's walk across western Nepal in 1983 have set the tone for this trip, I'm only going to read books about long walks that are more difficult than mine! That will keep me in check when I want to complainer about blisters...
The buildings here in Kolkata are a combination of decaying Victorian houses and
office buildings and modern but stylish almost "modernist" cement
structures. I have to say this is rapidly becoming my favorite big
city in India! One thig about getting up at 5am is that nothing official or professional in this city opens until 10am. Must have to do with all of India being in the same time zone. It makes sense in Delhi but Kolkata has ended up with an odd late start to the day.
Tomorrow I have a 10pm train to New Jalpaniguri the connecting point
for travel to Darjeeling and Sikkim. My eyes haven't had their fill of this city but my lungs are about to quit on me. More when I get to the Himalayas.