Calcutta, I’m happy to say, is immeasurably better to spend time in than Delhi. Crumbling old colonial buildings, palm trees and a much more relaxed and less irritating contingent of touts means that despite being almost as hot, I have no desire to lock myself in the hotel and watch TV all day. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its irritants. After agreeing a (still slightly exorbitant) fee with the taxi driver at the station when I arrived, for example, he went off to walk around the station looking for people to occupy the other three seats before he left (not standard practice in India, honest!). Fifteen minutes later I was bored, overheating and being hassled relentlessly by beggars, and decided to get the nearby ferry over the Hooghly instead. It actually worked out a whole lot cheaper.
I’ve been surprised by the strength of communist influences here. There are Marxist posters and hammer and sickles plastered to almost every wall around central Calcutta. Bengal is the state where the Maoist uprising is taking place out to the West of Calcutta, and I’ve been reliably ensured that it won’t extend here, but the strength and consistency of the imagery is slightly worrying. I’ve spotted ‘Red Road’ and ‘Lenin Sarani’ streets so far, and the guidebook warns that the city grinds to a halt pretty much every time there’s a government decision, as the local communist party call a protest.
After checking in (to a room with an odd little ‘dressing room’ section tucked away at the back next to the bathroom, 3 pounds a night) and recovering from the long train journey I decided to head to the Indian Museum, mainly as it’s right next to the backpacker district. Despite the usually selection of endless rocks (why do museums insist on that? Dull as anything!), it was quite an impressive exhibition. There’s a turtle fossil the size of a small car, a room full of huge skeletons of mammals, whales and elephants and an interesting section on the different traditional regional dress styles of people in India. There was even a small scale model of the device a certain religion uses to leave out their corpses at the top of a tower to be eaten naturally by birds, and a graphic explanation of how it worked.
There seems to be a much more Asian backpacker population here. It’s hot season, so the hostels along Sudder Street are not very full, and most of the people who are around seem to be Japanese or Korean. I walked up to ‘New Market’ in the evening, which is another difficult to enjoy shopping centre where dozens of locals ‘play nice’, making conversation for ages before letting on that they only want you to visit their shop.
I’m pretty unsure where I’m going with the whole trip at the moment. I miss Helena a lot (it’s only been a couple of days, but I’ve always found travelling makes the days seem longer…), and I’m finding it really hard to imagine being away for a full two months, though I also think that heading to Ireland in less than six weeks might actually be counterproductive, as that’s when Helena’s first thesis draft is due. I’m considering a shorter route, or perhaps just going round the one I’ve planned very quickly so I arrive at the other end and fly back a bit earlier. I guess I’ll just take it as it comes, though I’m finding it hard right now.
Two full days in Calcutta to come before an overnight train to Siliguri, a stepping off point for the mountains, on Monday!