04.04.2010 - 11.04.2010 41 °C
Calcutta is the hottest place I've ever been too. A place where even your forearms sweat, which is something I've never noticed happening even after a good session on the treadmill. We found a bargain room at the Hotel Aafreen where the rooms are clean with ensuite and TV (more Star Movies then) for a mere 4 pounds each. No air con though and so this was to be another 'Engine Room' of Mumbai with loud fan circulating hot air. I'm used to it now though thankfully and seem to sleep through the heat. In the boiling heat locals wear jeans and long sleeved shirts and don't break into a sweat. That has to be admired I think.
Hotel Aafreen can be found in the back packer district of Calcutta. The life style of the Indians here is fascinating. Men sleep in rows on the pavements outside guarding their shops and small businesses. There are congregations of men of different ages: the teenagers all looking very western with jeans and the latest mobile phones whilst their older counter parts don sarongs and vests. The smells vary from lovely food cooking in the small stalls that line the road to the rancid smell of The Meat Shop where goats are slaughtered throughout the day and the left over fat bubbles in a big saucepan out on the street. There are trams, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, bicycles, disabled bicycles, sweet shops, food stalls, travel agents, restaurants, tailors ironing shirts on the side of the pavenment, 1970 style bars where 15 members of staff serve 3 customers, markets like giant versions of Poundstretcher, whole families living on mats at the side of the road, sari shops and dilapodated buildings that still act as schools and offices. It's all very busy until around midnight where people bed down and rest in the cooler night air.
Calcutta has a big British influence and so the sights can resemble what we have back home. We visited The (Queen) Victoria Memorial which looks like St Pauls Cathedral and The Bank of England mixed together. The Indian Museum is a similar looking building and we spent and afternoon looking at pickled animal feotuses and stuffed 'tigers' or, in reality, a lioness they had clearly, CLEARLY, drawn stripes on. How funny. Unfortunately I had to leave my camera at reception so I can't post a photo.
On a more humbling note, Calcutta is also the home of Mother Teresa. The Mission, that she developed extensively over 50 years in aid of the poor from the surrounding slums, was most interesting to me and is now full of nuns continuing her work: they happily talked to us and showed us the way to Mother Teresa's Tomb that now sits in a communal hall. I didn't realise quite how much M.T's done and the title of Saint is truely justified. We saw where she slept, her desk and the crown of thorns she kept on her wall with a personal message to Jesus underneath.
On a less humble note, we managed to see some of Calcutta's night life as we met some uni friends who now live in this part of the world. So we managed to get a few beers and go to one of Calcutta's live music venues where we listened to traditional renditions or Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi by an Indian version of Dick Van Dyke. Mark and I also managed to sneak into Pete and Sally's 5* hotel pool one afternoon which was a great way to spend the day.
This was to be our last destination in India. I've traveled hundereds of miles and feel quite lucky to have seen more of India than many Indians themselves. It has been, at times, very tiring and has had its complications but despite this the country will stay in my memory as a place of lively colours, a wonderful mass of different cultures with customs and food unique to them, of imense heat, of diverse life style from the super rich of Mumbai to the super poor of Calcutta and, most of all, the home of the immeasurable rickshaw driver.