|After some minor confusions at Varanasi train station where the train arrived at a different platform to the once shown on the signal boards I was soon on my way to Kolkatta (Calcutta) and after a thankfully uneventful overnight journey I arrived into that large city.
I decided to try and save some money and try to get a ferry across the river but after some confusions as to which ferry to get I eventually gave up and just got a taxi back from the train station. The taxi driver overcharged me and then had the cheek to get another two people into the car as well! It was not enough money to really worry about anyway and when I got to the main backpacker/cheap guesthouse district I set about trying to find a room.
From my experience I knew how sealed up a room must be before it is cockroach free and I walked around about 10 guesthouses trying to find a room that could not be invaded in the night. It was really hot and I was sweating buckets again before I ended up taking a tiny, terrible but sealed up room for just 100 rupees a night (about one pound 25p). This was definitely the cheapest I have ever paid for a room but it was not worth much more money as it smelt quite strongly of damp and the tiny window in the corner did not let in any light. The benefits though were no holes in the floor or walls or ceiling and the window closed properly.
I escaped from my cell as quickly as possible and found a nice, upmarket, air conditioned restaurant where I had some excellent curry for what still only amounted to a few pounds. I was already perferring Kolkatta to Varanasi, mind you that would not be too hard though! After the meal I went for a wander and found a couple of western style shops, sitting incongrously in the middle of the relatively standard Indian street. In my excitement I bought a pair of jeans at one place and then found a small western style supermarket a bit further down the road and wandered round the air conditioned aisles of food in a state of what almost amounted to amazement. I bought loads of snacks, especially seeing as how everything was so cheap. I remember one small bar of chocolate costing just 8p!
I headed back to my small room and chilled out there for a while. At 8pm however the tiny fan on the ceiling that was straining to circulate the damp air turned off, along with the lights when there was a powercut. This budget guesthouse clearly had no backup generator (It was such a budget place the manager slept on a piece of cardboard near to the entranceway) and the room became stiflingly hot and damp within a couple of minutes. I tried to stay still and deal with it but soon I was pouring with sweat and had to escape. I found the manager and asked him long did he think the powercut would be, but he did not understand me and just gave me a candle stub for some light. I put some clothes on and then went down to the cafe downstairs. After about 40 minutes the power returned and I gingerly returned to my sweatbox, where I managed to get a surprisingly large amount of sleep.
The manager seemed surprised in the morning when I woke him up from his bed of cardboard and I gave him the money for another two nights. (After all despite being hot I had not seen a single cockroach! Hooray!) I had some brekky at a local restaurant and then got into a taxi and headed to the first sight on my list of things to see - St Johns Church. It took a little while to get there though as the taxi driver had no idea where it was, despite my showing him repeatadly on a map. He ended up stopping the car and asking four sets of people before we finally arrived. Then there was then a big disagreement over the fare where he wanted twice as much money as was shown on the meter.
The church proved to be quite interesting and from there I went for a wander past some formal gardens before deciding that it was too far to walk in the heat and then getting overcharged again by another taxi driver. I asked this one to put the meter on but he just laughed at me. Anyway soon I was at the Victoria Memoral, a large square marble covered building that is in memorial to Queen Victoria. A statue of the old Queen still sits imposingly near to the entranceway and inside there is some elaborate decoration which displayed the wealth and power of Britian back in the colonial days. Today the building is a museum and most of it was very interesting. There were pictures of various ancient sights around India, a history of Kolkatta, old paintings and a description of the life of the city and its various citizens in times past. There was one letter which described how four people who lived together in a big house and between them had 120 servants!! There was also a reconstuction of how a 19th century street in Kolkatta would have looked and I could not help but think that it reminded me of some of the places I had been in the past couple of weeks!
After the Victoria building I headed off to the Indian Museum, which is apparently quite famous. It was quite good but very dry with many of the exhibits being displayed in 1960s style cases in rows, for example there was a large room of rocks and fossils, another of plant types, another of coins ect. The eyes quickly glazed over in these rooms. The cultural sections were much more interesing and there were many amazing old statues. Then there were the rooms filled with stuffed animals and fish, many of whom had clearly been there for some time and now stared at you through their glass eyes with raggedly mournful expressions...
I had spent most of the day sightseeing by this point and had seen pretty much everything that I wanted to see so I headed back to the backpacker district, had some food and faffed about on the internet for a while. On my way back to my room I met a group of 3 English people who had been volunteering close to Kolkatta. After chatting to them I found out that cockroaches are not so prevenent in Kolkatta as they are in other parts of India so I could have lived in a better room after all! Such is life...
I was leaving India on a 6.30am flight and so had to get up at 2.30am. I had previously arranged everything with the manager and a taxi driver but I wanted to give myself a little extra time in case of delays or problems. Thankfully everything went smoothly. I easily woke the manager off his cardboard bed, he opened the gate, I woke up the taxi driver who was alseep in the car and soon was at the airport.
It was only 4am and I was still really early. In order to try and combat the tiredness of only having a couple of hours sleep and then sitting around a lot I had had two red bulls and so was quite wired. A local Indian guy came over and started chatting. It turned out that he was one of the nice ones, who just genuinely wanted a chat and to be friendly and so we chatted for about an hour. He had a part time job at the airport but he was working there 12 hours a day for 5 days a week and studying for accountancy exams at the same time. He seemed very cheerful about everything and it was nice that the last local person who I met before getting on a plane was one of the nice ones.
The past two weeks in India had been totally crazy. I read somewhere once that India is the best of places but also the worst of places at the same time. I can totally agree with that statement. Parts of India I totally hated, such as the open sewers, the staring, the grabbing of women, the dirt, the bugs and the constant scams and hassling. However there were parts that I loved, such as the amazing old buildings, the genuine openess and friendlyness of many people, the safety of the country despite the poverty and the curious crazy tapestry that makes the whole country work and stick together.
Still though I had enough hardships for the time being and so was relieved to be headed for Thailand. Luckily I also happened to meet a group of three Scottish and one Irish people at Kolkata airport and I was destined to travel and party with them for the next three weeks.