After departing Darjeeling, I headed down to Calcutta for what I had hoped to be a couple of days of culinary experimentation. I had heard that the city is famous for its food – “the Paris of India” was how one friend put it.
In a strange confluence of bad luck or rotten timing, however, my days in Calcutta weren’t spent in sampling foods…
As I had done a couple of times previously, I took an overnight train, this one from Siliguri, the nearest train station to Darjeeling. I was only able to book “sleeper class” rather than the 2AC or 3AC which I had become accustomed to. I didn’t think there would be a great difference since they are all configured similarly, with foldout beds.
I soon learned, however, that sleeper class doesn’t inlclude bedsheets and a blanket and, try as you might, the windows don’t fully close, so I felt a draft all night.
(As a side note, here’s a breakdown on what these classes actually mean:
2AC – 4 total beds to a car. One upper and one lower. There is a curtain that closes this section off from the walkway where people make their way to the bathroom and where chai and coffee sellers regularly make their way through. Sheets, a blanket and pillow are provided. Windows are shut and in theory there is AC during the summer.
3AC – Same as above except there are 3 bunks on either side for a total of 6 passengers to a car.
Sleeper – Same config as 3AC but no sheets, pillow or blanket. No curtains for privacy. Windows can be opened which means they don’t ever completely shut, providing AC even in the winter
Coupled with the cough I had acquired after breathing in the spewing backend pollution from so many cars during Darjeeling’s political rally, I arrived in Calcutta sick.
To add insult to injury, my little digital camera had crapped out on me. I either had to get it fixed (which would have been cost prohibitive in the U.S.) or had to buy a new one.
I set out first thing upon arrival to find a new battery to see if that was the issue. Camera shop after camera shop sent me to the “next” shop down the road until I finally found a replacement battery – but that didn’t work. Continuing my walk around the electronics area of the city, I found a “Camera Hospital” (I kid you not) and after a day’s worth of tinkering from the doctor (and about $30 U.S.), the camera was fixed (though I fear my first set of photos have been lost).
I did spend my 2nd day in Calcutta at least seeing the sights. The most amazing of which was the flower market near the Howrah Bridge. Teeming with life, I watched from overhead as thousands of people bought, sold and gathered up strands of marigolds to be taken to other parts of the city for sale.
I meandered around (and took a pee) at the Oberoi Grand Hotel, one of the city’s nicest accommodations, before heading back to my $15/night guest house on Sudder Street (the backpacker hangout). While I’m generally not a huge fan of these areas, it did give me a chance to easily find a travel company that booked my flight to Kerala, in the south, and it’s where I took care of my sinus problems by eating cornflakes and other comfort foods.
Off to the tropical region of the south, where palm trees sway and life is far more laid back!
You can also read about my India travels on my blog at the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
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