Calcutta: Day 2


I got a cab from the five star Sheraton to the tourist office-it consisted of a bunch of men sitting around a few beaten up computers in a dimly lit room.  One of them gave me a map (of little use it would later turn out) and I decided to walk around the town.

I started on Dalhousie Square, the centre of the old government.  What did I see?  People washing in the pond in the square, open latrines and tonnes of street kids.  The pollution was so bad you couldn’t really take a photo of anything beyond a few hundred feet away.

After walking around the square I headed down to the river.  I felt like I was passing back in time.  There were hand pumps in the street to provide access to water.  Cobblers were on every corner, as were open-air barbers (I saw quite a few shaves).  People were washing in every second street (see photo above) and outside the court house clerks were working ancient typewriters.

The river was a pleasant surprise as I stumbled upon a massive market of cut and woven flowers.  I assume it was for some sort of religious significance as there were people bathing in the (filthy) river next door.  I crossed the river on their massive metal bridge (no photography allowed on the bridge) and then came right back.

After that, I walked around the river and then cut back up a canal after a fruitless attempt to see a temple.  I saw traffic get stopped by cows in the street; there were also a fair number of goats and the odd pig.

I have no idea how anything gets done in this town.  There are people everywhere and if anything interesting is about to happen a crowd forms in an instant.  There’s a furious energy for a place where nothing appears to be happening (lots of people just hanging around).  While nothing’s happening, the people are incredibly friendly.  Everywhere I went, people asked me to take their photo.

Now the weird part.  I met my fellow IFLAers today and we went to a dinner for India Infocomm at the Royal Calcutta Golf Club (although not until we got lost and ended up watching a procession celebrating some god with drums and firecrackers).  This place couldn’t have been fancier.  Dinner, drinks, speeches (with a few jokes that would get you fired in North America) and even a bit of hired entertainment.  It was like I’d gone from a Bronx slum to a Central Park penthouse.  This city is almost too much (and I’ve a headache from the diesel fumes so I think I’ll stop now...)

Update: I blew my nose and my snot was black!  Sorry for being gross, but I thought that’s the best example of how bad the pollution is.

Here are photos of all the people who wanted me to take their photo:


Tuesday, December 5, 2006

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