I thought the British loved a queue but in India queues are king. The immigration queue at the airport snaked all the way back to the plane practicall. We were greeted after a fashion by a diminutive floorwalker. He was supposed to sort us into groups. Who was a diplomat? Who had come in from West Africa and might be a bit loose in the bowel department? Who was a westerner with an e-tourist visa? The latter meant you joining a separate queue but not before you’d spent an hour queueing fruitlessly in a non-specific queue). Then there was a lot of jostling from the Indian fraternity who kept shouting at the floorwalker but he was reluctant to engage as he had his hands full with the two Middle Eastern gentlemen with the folded tea towels on their head, one of whom had dropped a cup of tea down his pristine white jellabah on the plane and was now sporting a rather suspicious looking stain in the genital department. I don’t know if this was impeding his entry into the country but who knows? This is India where there’s a rule for everything.
Needless to say I made it through immigration without a hitch and headed for the prepaid taxi kiosk in the arrivals hall where I got stuck in another queue behind a man who had a lot of phlegm. I’ve never heard hawking like it. But I’m not going to be too hard on the guy. He helped me in my communications with the dim witted man behind the counter who couldn’t understand where I wanted to go. I showed him the name in my guide book and even where it was on the map. But it was only when my phlegmatic friend took a break from his gobbing to repeat the hotel name and address in an Indian accent that I got my taxi ordered. The taxi driver also had problems understanding where I was going but I don’t think he could read English so I just shouted the name in my best Indian accent every time he looked lost and it seemed to work.
Hightlight of the taxi journey was seeing a long line of men having a wee by the side of the road; up a wall, against a dog, in a bucket. Al fresco weeing is all the rage here. of course, in Mumbai, they like an early morning poo by the side of the railway track but I feel Kolkata is a little more refined, and I’m grateful for it.
66/2b was clean but basic and very brown tonally. The shower sort of worked but the head needed a ruddy good clean and the water was lukewarm but the mattress was firm and mercifully there was an overhead fan – for it’s currently a sweaty 27 degrees here. After a short nap, I went for a wander to find the Kalighat temple. Funny this but I haven’t seen a single white person since the airport. Maybe it’s because I’m in South Kolkata and most tourists seem to go to the Sudder Street area. And everyone stares. Now I’m used to being stared at but I’ve never stopped traffic. And when I went to the Banana Leaf restaurant, I had four waiters standing by my table watching me eat. There was one hairy moment when I couldn’t remember which hand was my bottom wiping hand and which hand was safe to eat my naan with but I just copied the family opposite me.
Like all pioneers before me, I decided to walk to the Kalighat temple instead of taking the advice of the hotel owner who looked at me like I was demented. En route, I had to avoid dead dogs, sleeping people, and a variety of street hawkers selling garlands of marigolds, chai, plastic crap and coconuts. And don’t get me started on crossing the road. The yellow taxis, rickshaws and buses come from all directions, peeping, papping and swerving this way and that, never once slowing down. And everywhere you look there are old colonial buildings, dirty, dilapidated and rather sad looking. A glitzy gloria sari shop sits cheek by jowl with a bare chested man in a hole in the wall grinding knives while a grizzled old woman in a sari with a shorn head and bandaged feet limps by. A brahmin showed me around the temple then prayed for my family dead and alive at a shrine to Shiva then tried to fleece me for 2,000 rupees. He informed me that they sacrificed a goat every morning to the goddess Kali and once a year they did the same to a buffalo. He also told me, apropros of nothing, that he had no pants on. Bit of an overshare but there you go.