Ambassador Taxi, Bengal Hills, Colaba, darjeeling, Flury's, Gregory David Roberts, Hotel Sea Lord, Howrah Station, India, Kolkata, Leopold's Cafe, Mumbai, Park Street, Shantaram, Siliguri, Tea plantation, The Forum Shopping Center, The Maiden, The Taj Palace, Toy Train, Victoria Memorial
19 December 2008
We spent two more days in Darjeeling visiting tea shops, walking around town, going to the local post office to send some of our excess stuff back home and going for a ride around the mountain on the Toy Train. Then on the morning of the 19th, the jeep took us from our hotel in the West Bengal Hills all the way down the three hour winding route back to the Siliguri train station This time around, we were able to see the green hillsides covered with row upon row of tea plantations as we made our way down around each bend. We left the cool mountain air of Darjeeling behind us as our train pulled away to take us to our next stop, Kolkata.
20 December 2008
We arrived in Kolkata at 07h00 at Howrah Station but had to wait an hour until our driver came to pick us up in the ubiquitous Hindustan Ambassador cars that roam the streets in the former capital of British India. The place we stayed at was a little further down Park Street, one of Kolkata’s busiest commercial avenues. We put our bags down in our somewhat small, dark and poorly ventilated room. I was already feeling the onslaught of a cold so I was keen to get out into the open air and walk up towards the commercial area of Park Street where all the eateries and shops were. In India’s second largest city with a population of just over 15 million people, I quickly found out fresh air was not to be found outside and that crossing the streets were no easy task. What started off as a leisurely morning walk to shake off my slight cold turned out to be anything but leisurely. Here is a place where pedestrians do not necessarily have the right of way. And after standing on the sidelines for what seemed an eternity, futilely waiting for the right moment to cross, we eventually came up with a system – ignore the cars, pick a local, stay close and cross with him – and it worked.
We arrived at the center of Park Street in one piece and it closely resembled Piccadilly Circus. There was a definite British feel about it. Along the street were air-conditioned coffee shops, bookstores, clothing stores and it was clearly the place where the more affluent residents of Kolkata spent their time and money. After having brunch at the famous Flury’s on Park, we hailed a taxi and took a tour around the Victoria Memorial in The Maiden.
21 December 2008
By the next morning, my cold was hitting me hard so we decided to take it easy and have breakfast in the room and watched the South Africa vs Australia cricket match until 12h30 (a little piece of home). By then, I was already in a daze and the entire day was a blur but there was no time for moaning so off we went again into town. All I can remember from that day was the crossing of roads, seeing people, cars, cars hooting, more people, people on bicycles, bells ringing, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, smoke, exhaust fumes, hooting, more fumes, coughing, pushing and shoving, dodging a dead rat by a drain, gasping out loud, getting scolded for gasping out loud, getting irritated and finally stepping into the cool air of The Forum Shopping Center, sitting down and having much needed ice cold drink.
22 December 2008
The next morning, we left for the airport at 06h00 and arrived in Mumbai 5 hours later, at the Hotel Sea Lord, a small establishment just off the main tourist district of Colaba. We had lunch at Leopold’s Cafe, the famed restaurant from Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram and despite the recent terror attacks that took place here just over a month ago, the place was teeming with both trendy locals and foreigners. At the time, the area around the Taj Palace was still cordoned off and we were unable to look inside unless we were guests at the hotel and at a rate of $300 per night for the cheapest room there and still a month to budget for our time in India, we were clearly not able to afford the luxury to take a peek. In a city of over 22 million people, Mumbai is definitely a place where the super wealthy and the poor live side by side. Some of the restaurants in and around the area displayed menus with prices that closely resembled upmarket establishments in New York and London. It is very much India’s Big Apple.