Out the door at 6.15am with Ifte who owns Calcutta Walks. Decided yesterday to go on his ‘Convergence of Cultures’ walking tour. I love getting out early in the morning in India to experience the city waking up. Ifte is great. Fantastic sense of humor and a genuine passion for sharing his city. I am going to suggest to him that he renames it “Ifte’s extended breakfast tour” because it is abundantly clear that he loves to snack his way through some really interesting parts of old Calcutta. Started with chai (tea) from the street corner, then hot puri (I think), then fresh coconut juice from the nut (good for my stomach I believe), then a cold yoghurt lassie (also good for my stomach) and then deep fried something (cant remember) eaten with chilli and green mango. All of it was excellent. Interspersed with this was the opportunity to go through some of the early English areas where I found out about ‘sleeping dictionaries’, a Christian area, Armenian church, a synagogue and the Chinese area. Ifte introduced me to a number of locals including Stella who is the last in her family to run a small Chinese shop started by her grandfather 76 years ago. Outside her shop a morning market was in full swing. Amongst the fruit and vegetables were the fresh (semi-live) fish on the pavement, where once bought (individually) were de-finned and beheaded with a wooden mallet and a curved upright blade.
Met up with Malini my main guide just before lunch and headed out again. Walked from the hotel down Park Street to the Park Street South Cemetery, which was full and closed in 1890. Amazing place. Huge monuments all built by the British when they were here, all trying to outdo each other in design and size. I couldn’t help but think that is really a collective monument to the vanity of Englishmen. I found out that when the English lived here they arrived from England and naturally wore the same clothing as they did in England (with the notable exception of ‘Hindu’ Stuart). Combined with the food, sanitation and heat this resulted in their collective early demise. I was amazed to see that most of the women buried there all died in their 20’s, including one 20 year old Rose Aylmer who over-ate herself to death with pineapple.
On the metro and travelled to Kalighat, the main Hindu temple in Kolkata. Went around the outer internal ring of the temple but not into the central part because apparently it is a major hassle where as a foreigner you are “strongly encouraged” to donate an idiotic amount of money “for the poor”. You can stay and watch the very regular (many times a day) ritual beheading of black goats, should that be of interest. Should you miss that opportunity you can of course wander through the trail of blood as it’s taken to one side to be further butchered.
By this time it was 2pm and the heat had beaten me. It was well over 40C (108F) degrees plus very high humidity. I made a bedraggled retreat back to the hotel and promptly consumed two jugs of lime soda, without having to take pee which warned me that dehydration is something that happens easily if you are not used to this climate.