|So, once again, we entrusted our lives to the Tata motor corporation and a driver stoked up with vast quantities of sweet chai and pan. After a 6 hour bus trip back to NJP we jumped on an overnight train to Kolkata.
Remarkably the train left on time (first time since we arrived in India). We were also excited that we got berths together (a top & lower bunk), which makes it easier to keep an eye on your luggage. Since it was an overnight train we had planned to sleep most of the way and, from past experience, knew that the condition and disposition of your berth-mates was crucial for getting a good night's sleep. Naturally, we were very pleased to be sharing with, what appeared to be, a cute, seemingly quiet old couple. However, it was not long into the 15 hour trip, actually just after sun-set, when the true demons emerged. Without going into too much detail let us just tell you that we think they took it in shifts to produce an ongoing cacophony of noise related to eating a number of meals that all seemed to be wrapped in paper that had to be scrunched into tiny balls and then wrapped in individual plastic bags and stored in rattly old tin cans. Eating continued at various times through the night usually just after we had fallen asleep. Following the eating was a series of belches, flatulence, throat clearing and spitting. When not involved in these activities they were calling or receiving calls from their son every hour who was picking them up at the station when the train got in at 6am. Both of them obviously had hearing loss, so not only was the Bollywood ring tone set at maximum, but it was necessary to yell into the phone at a level that could probably be heard in Kolkata without the use of the phone.
Additionally, they also seemed to lose everything they owned every few minutes since they had to turn the 1000watt light on, positioned 2 inches from John's head, to search through the compartment for whatever they had lost. Christy, sleeping on the bottom bunk, attempted several times to turn over from her nap and give them the evil eye every time they woke her up, but was slightly terrified that every time she rolled over to look at them they were sitting on their bed staring, unblinkingly and in silence at her.
Anyway, applying what we had learned from our Buddhist retreat we took this as an opportunity to grow as individuals and to never trust cute old people.
Now, onto Kolkata (Calcutta)...
We weren't sure what to expect from this city of 15 million. Images of extreme poverty (this is where Mother Theresa was based) are pervasive, but in addition to this reality, the city is a very vibrant, progressive and interesting place. On one of our days here, we took a Bengali cooking class in a woman's home. Very interesting experience. Not only was the food delicious (we were given a recipe book so hope to re-create some dishes when we return home), but it was fascinating to cook in an Indian kitchen and to get perspective on everything from politics to education to religion in India.
On another day, we went on a four hour, guided walking tour through the Northern part of the city. Visiting vibrant markets, old palaces, a Jain temple and meandering through different neighborhoods was really worthwhile. We also enjoyed some excellent street food and some of the best lassis we've had (a fourth generation street stall used saffron water as a secret ingredient).
One happy discovery has been the modern metro. While (outdoor) India tends to be very dirty, the metro here is spotless. Much cleaner and cooler than NY, we can't quite understand why people don't litter, loiter or spit underground? It's a marvel!
On our last day, we visited the Victoria Monument. Built for the dead English queen (she died before it was completed), it's a massive, marble monument that looks like the US capital building. It boggles the mind how so many resources could have been spent on this, of all things? Still, it contained a very good museum on the history of Calcutta.
Took another night train, though this time it was comfortable and sparkling clean with very quiet berth-mates!