Travel through north India VII.
13th day (Wednesday 18th February 2009)
Late breakfast today: Tibet bread and tea with lemon gives me a lot of energy. We got up later, as we had our alarm-clock at six o´clock a.m. every morning during our recent trek. We do not have energy enough to do anything but we visit botanic garden finally. The entrance is free of charge, and we have good luck, nobody is here for the time being. All buildings and glasshouses were constructed in British colonial time period, you can immediately recognize the age, but local people do their best in order to keep it in good stage.
Later, till noon, we enjoy total relax. Anyway, in a moment when I finish my favour chow-mein eating, a foreign woman is sitting at the neigbouring table. My friend says „Hello“ in Czech and her reply is also in Czech! Czech-woman, what surprise! We have a chat immediately. The girl arrived in India couple of days ago, she is ready to stay here for six weeks, and has the intention to travel to Sikkim (it is mountaneous part of India in east direction from Darjeeling). After this very pleasant meeting, we take our full loaded ruck-sacks on our backs and go to jeep-cars station. We need to go to Siliguri, and from here to continue ahead by night bus just to Calcutta. And the drivers are very interested to take us with. We start our journey, our pieces of luggage are put on the deck, the price is settled as well (INR 80,- per one person). The driver goes through the town, in order to get other passengers, so that the carriage could be full. He cries: „Going to Siliguri, Siliguri, Siliguri!“ We try to help him, so we cry too, the driver is surprised at first, but later he is laughing at our cooperation. So, we are complete, finally. Eleven passengers altogether form the crew. We continue our drive and suddenly we start to descend quite violently, so that we feel quite unpleasant pression in our ears. In one village, 25 kms before our target point, the driver decided to have a stop for taking a lunch, so all passengers had to wait until the driver terminated his refreshment. We feel great hot during waiting pause, the sun is shining very hard. We got unaccustomed to standard Indian climate during our trek in mountains. We arrived to Siliguri finally, and continue on foot to bus terminal. Here, we get the following information: ticket for standard line bus to Calcutta costs INR 330,- approx. You can also choose climatized and more comfortable bus, but the ticket costs INR 700-800,- per one person. The departure is stipulated per 19,00 h, so, we have couple of hours available. We have to buy some drinks and change our dresses into lighter ones. We do it, here on bus terminal, at general interest of all persons, staying nearby. However, sweated clothes allured many mosquitos, so we have to be in motion and take repelents against insects. Half an hour before departure, we load our pieces of luggage and take our seats in a bus. I have the intention to sleep in bus during drive. However, immediately we leave the town, the incredible bumping way starts, no wonder, that bus-wheels were not teared off, when the respective dampers did not exist at all. We are sitting back, so we cannot see (good luck) some risky manoeuvres of drivers, going in opposite way. As a consequence of all of this, I am wakeful all the night.
14th day (Thursday 19th February 2009)
It was very good idea when we put on our bodies repelents against mosquitos, as these intriguers tried to attack us even in night in a bus. I succeed to asleep for one-two hours in the morning. We arrive finally to great, multicultural and dusty town of Calcutta. It is one of four greatest towns´ centres of India. The roots of this town are connected with Europeans´ expansion, especially Britishers, of 17th century. You can see everywhere white and yellow Ambassador cars (most known car of Indian production, manufactured since 1958). Our first steps are directed to Indian Museum, situated in Park Street: Here, there is to be found the greatest concentration of hotels for tourists. We check approx. five hotels, and choose one cosy room with warm water (cost INR 500,-). From the very beginning, we go to see St.John Church, 2 kms distant from Park Street. This church was built in 1787. You find inside, except quiet from outside traffic, also memorable plates of British inhabitants of the town, and Mr.Middleton, first Calcutta Bishop. The church is nearly empty, we do not meet any „white faces“, despite the fact that most whites and Europeans we met just in Calcutta. Entrance fee: INR 10,-. We cross the river along known Howrah Bridge. In Calcutta, there are two other bridges available – the bridges present imaginary border between Bengal and Calcutta quarters. Just today, there is taken place here election agitation. One of speakers is crying on a crowd of people, and they totally block the traffic on the bridge, so the jam is staring to be more intensive also in neighbouring streets.
By the way, we wish to reserve bus line to Puri for tomorrow, our target at sea-side. We make acquaintance again with local „travel-maffia“ which has under control all buses (our attempts to buy directly the respective tickets on local railway station have absolutely no positive results, we give up all our tests, after queues, walking, looking for and arguing). Two persons confirm us that tomorrow there is no standard bus available, we are recommended to go by air-conditioned and so more luxurious bus only (standard bus costs INR 300,- approx., whereas for air-conditioned and so „luxurious“ bus you have to pay INR 700-800,- approx). We try to contact ten various bus-drivers at least, however, the result is always the same. We are completely disgusted with such behaviour to „white faces“. In a moment when we are nearly decided to resign, I am persuaded to try our last attempt: to visit local small travel agency. Young boy welcomes us: „Can I help you, gentlemen? What can I do for you?“ He recommends us to go to Puri by train as by bus, we save time as well as money. We are very surprised to get such positive attitude and endeavour to help us, after all efforts to obtain more money and negative replies. So, we order classical 2nd class, including folding deck-chair. The boy presses the tickets, makes an explanation what each title and time indication mean (moreover, he shows us also the certificate in English that he is entitled to sell the tickets in such way!). The price is to be understood INR 350,- per one person. The departure from Howrad railway station is stipulated at 20,55 h, arrival in Puri at 5,50 a.m. Moreover, we can use the line, which was not mentioned at railway station at all. After a lunch, connected with dinner at the same time, effected at 4 o´clock p.m., I have to go to exchange the money. I receive for INR 4800,- for an amount of USD 100,- in the exchange office. Later, we buy a beer (Kingfisher strong – costs INR 50,-). The beer in India is normally wrapped into piece of paper. Frankly speaking, this drink is consumed in India very seldom. Today, Olda has his name-day, he has whisky available, so we buy a bottle of Coca-Cola, and after copnsumation of all these drinks, we go to sleep.
Text/photo: Jakub Štantejský, Infoglobe redactor
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