## PART I
(Kolkata & Santiniketan)
I.I “Woohoo! Kolkata, India, here I come!”
“For me, traveling recharges my spirit. Taking a trip can also heal what ails my heart and makes me tired.”
I’m not exaggerating here. Give it a try and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
On days when you feel like dying, like your spirit’s gone and you don’t feel like doing anything, taking a trip somewhere to see the wide world can restore your sanity. It’s like adding recharging your mental battery. I’ve found that I really like one kind of feeling: The one that awakens every cell in my body and makes my spirits soar. The things that can give you that kind of feeling are love and traveling
And what place could be better than India? The variety, lifestyles, beliefs and livelihoods…. Let’s just say you’re sure to see things you never expected. I’d like to go to the Holi festival, go and throw paint at some real live Indian people. I’d like to touch the waters of the Ganges River. I want to pat the heads of cows sleeping on the ground. I want to go and be among the Indians. I want to experience the cradle of Buddhism. I want to know how wide the India I watched on the Discovery Channel as a kid will open my eyes and introduce me to new feelings.
You could say this is my debut trip. Once I got to India, my tourism attitude changed. I wanted to know more about how people live and their culture. I wanted to know about the world, where everything is, and I wanted to learn more about people’s habits rather than just their smiles.
To sum it up, after this trip, I can give you the abbreviated version now about how it was exciting, challenging, scary, undeveloped, breath-taking and warm-hearted all at once. Those of you who haven’t got the courage to go in person can follow me in my letters as I take you on a tour of India myself. We’re off!
And so it begins…
“Three of us went there,” and, “We didn’t know each other.”
When this all started, I was already planning a trip to India with my friends at the advertisement agency. We planned to go in time for the Holi festival. But then our gang fell apart, and the trip was canceled. I couldn’t do anything but lie down, stare at the ceiling and think to myself,
“I’m really not going?”
“(Sighs) They really cut our budget after I’ve been dreaming about this for half a year?”
It was even worse than a movie with a twist in the plot when the prince stumbles on a sidewalk and dies as he’s running to kiss the princess…It was absolutely ridiculous.
“No. I’m not going to accept such a pathetic ending.”
“I could go. I can go alone. I’ve been on trips by myself before. But this time, I’m taking it to the next level.”
So I turned on my computer. As I searched, I found headlines like “Foreigner Murdered and Raped on a Bus in India”. That’s when I said “Nope. No, I’m not going alone. I’ve gotta find someone to go with me. I’ve got to call a friend; some friends. And it should be easy to find someone to go to India with me. It’ll be like going to Singapore. They’ll come along…” (sarcastically)
Me: “Hey, I’m calling to see if you’d like to take a trip to throw some color powders. It’s a country where you’ll have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The budget shouldn’t be more than 400$.”
Friend: “Where is it, Por? Sounds interesting.”
Friend: “Nah, you can go alone…”
What? What’s wrong with India? Why do you only like to look at the surface of things? It’s not as scary as you think (Yeah?). No matter who I called, the answer was the same. Some of them even brought up scary topics to shoot me down.
And I thought, if someone is gonna make it to India, S/he’s really got to want it. People who wish to go to India are the one that already have the determination not just a persuasion like this. There’s gotta be somebody in today’s world who already wants to go. Since was already in front of the computer, I posted to the online community. I figured I’d keep posting until I found someone. Please, please, let me find someone who really wants to go.
One night went by…then there was a message to me. That was the beginning of our acquaintance to this day. Thank you for everything that helped us get to know each other that day.
In the end, I had two other people on the trip. One was named Pae. He had just graduated from Thammasat. The other was Pop, an exchange student in India. Pae met Pop by IG Hashtag and I met Pae on the online community. So, we had never known each other before, never seen each other and never met before. I only knew that it was okay to trust them because I asked our mutual friends. They looked like good enough people. Then we got to the two-week mark. We needed to get ready!!
We flew on a jet and landed in Kolkata. Just being on the plane gave me a complete feeling of India. I’d never had to be among so many Indian people like this. The smell was beyond description, very fragrant! They like to press the button and call the air hostesses for this and that all the time. Whoever that sitting near an Indian who liked to push the button would have to put up with it. Just say, “One more for me, please,” if they’re asking for something you already want like water or Coke. It was good not to have to call the air hostess myself. Thanks, hehe.
After three hours on the plane, we found ourselves waiting for the bags for over an hour. I was asleep for half the trip. Indians like to bring stuff from Thailand like clothes and electrical appliances. Then they open the bags to check the items right on the spot. Things were scattered everywhere. So you’ll have to wait and think about it as an ice-breaking activity with Indians.
The cars here are classics. I like that.
Taxis don’t need to have windows because you wouldn’t get to use them, even if they were there. The taxis usually don’t have air conditioning. So, we had to open the windows to let the air in. But don’t stick your head out because they drive very closely together in India. They drive like they’re playing a game.
I noticed the taxis usually don’t have side mirrors. I don’t know if it’s because they probably wouldn’t use them even if they had them or if they took them off for convenience when they drive only two centimeters apart. It was an entirely new experience. I challenge people who are risk takers and want to spend their life insurance quickly to sit on a car here and tell them “as fast as you can”. I guarantee the experience (and a percentage of using the life insurance).
Our first feeling when the taxi drove out of the airport and we see the reality that we have to face is being very satisfied with our lives so that I had to risk my life by sticking my head outside the car and shouted out loud to the city:
Once we had left the airport, it was like we had warped to another planet. We had a real culture shock. It was like, ‘This is what I wanted!’
“You wanted to see this? You were afraid of coming? Well, here you are!” That feeling of complete difference and new feelings with a new culture was totally awesome!!!
Not As Scary As I Thought
I looked at both sides of the road, kept noticing that people here seem to like tourists. Almost every one of them said, “Hello” to us. Okay, this isn’t as scary as I thought it would be.
Please blow a horn
The first thing that will remind you of India when you get back is “the horns”,
For the easily annoyed, be careful of becoming psychotic, lol. They use their horns here like there is a Loudest honk award! It would be strange for someone from here to not use a horn. If anything happens, you’d be cursed with the words, “Why didn’t you blow your horn?” The horns are the God of Traffic. You don’t have to know the traffic rules much. If you can blow a horn, you can drive (just kidding).
Another thing I did on the trip is taking snap shots of people urinating or defecating at the street-side (seems kind of low to take those pictures, lol). Don’t forget to look at the scenery on both sides of the road to see how people live. If you go and you don’t see people urinating or defecating, you’re not there yet. Like I said before, India is a country where:
“Anything can happen at the roadside like crapping, peeing, selling stuff, hanging laundry, slaughtering chickens or even dying…”
A Brief Summary of Indians
Indians are nice. They’re very Indy and extremely independent.
Everything is on their heads
Let’s go on and get to know Kali.
“Dakshineswar Kali Temple”
If it’s not dark when you get off your plane, head straight for the Dakshineswar Kali Temple. It won’t take long. The temple is near the airport on the banks of the Hooghly River. It is a reddish cream-colored temple, because that is Kali’s favorite color. The temple roof has nine spires. It’s striking!
PS Be careful you don’t go to the wrong place because they have two temples to Kali here. The other temple is far from the airport and not next to a river. If you go to the wrong temple, you’ll find it scary. They slaughter cattle and sheep as sacrifices to Kali. The atmosphere’s really ominous. We went to the wrong place and got a shock. If you want to go through what we did, you’re welcome to go there (be careful of the wide assortment of criminals).
The temple is surrounded by twelve temples for worshiping Shiva, Lakshmi and Vishnu. Don’t forget to buy offerings for Kali at the kiosk outside and ring the small bells to ask for a blessing from Shiva.
They don’t let you wear shoes inside. So take off your shoes in the shoe kiosk. Don’t just leave the shoes around. They will go missing. If you go before 5:30 p.m., you’ll have enough light. After that, the light isn’t good for taking pictures.
We went when the light was just about gone, because we had a cab driver who wouldn’t take the highway when we asked him to. And once we got there, the guard was picky about our shoes, so the light was gone and we laughed with tears in our eyes T^T. But we were satisfied overall-maybe even more than we were by all the tranquility of the entire city.
Let’s go for a walk.
“Sudder Street & Park Street.”
Anyone who forgets to exchange money beforehand can do so here. (for a better rate too)
There are TONS of homeless people here, even more than in San Francisco. If you don’t have change, don’t make eye contact. Just walk quietly. Coming here gave us a lot to think about. I felt a lot more subdued. You’d have to come to see and feel it for yourself to know what I’m talking about.
L I F E
Stores are small shops, like vendor stalls.
If it’s a building, it will usually be drilled into a rectangular block that isn’t much different from a booth.
They have only one floor and one front entrance. They don’t have doors connecting to other rooms.
If you want to go to the bathroom, you will have to cross where they sell things.
Some buildings have multiple floors but they do this by drilling a square hole in the ceiling and climbing up and down with rope ladders. They’re space-saving experts.
Use your hand, baby!
Some of the places where they eat by the road are like this.
Their spoons are slightly smaller than ours. And in some places, they use their hands–not just the person eating but the person who serves the food, too! They use their hands to give out rice, meat in curry and food.
Who says Indian cuisine isn’t good? I’ll back this up. It’s excellent. You just have to eat from the right menu and restaurant (that’s the hard part).
- Don’t forget to pick a restaurant that doesn’t look squalid. I recommend this place. It’s called “Blue Sky.”
The food you won’t forget!
For food menus, we like this one a lot. It’s called
“Chicken Butter” or **“Chicken Burtar” **in some restaurants. It looks and tastes is almost not the same in each restaurant.
You eat them with “Nans” (similar to Rotis, but they’re softer and thicker), and you can eat them instead of rice. It’s excellent. You’ve got to give it a try. They’ve Butter Nans, Cheese Nans, Garlic Nans
“Chicken butter masala” (masala is the spice powder) is also great.
Indian “Chicken Biryani”.
We’re at a place called Arsalan. This restaurant is famous and has received numerous awards. It’s on Sudder Street. They don’t have just one branch. They have several branches. The rice here is long and thin. They don’t stick together. They’re very enjoyable and tasty to eat.
- Sorry the photos do not look very appetizing. Haha. But they taste really good. You’ve got to try it out.
They dared me to try it. I tried it out. I wasn’t afraid (really?) (Actually, I didn’t know what was. But it tasted like congee, and the way they made it when they dished it up and sprinkled it with something, it looked very much like congee). I don’t know how they cut the meat into my bowl, but I saw the person tearing meat into the next person’s bowl with his hands… Hmm, it’s probably good that I only tasted from the tip of the spoon…
It’s very similar to dumplings. I don’t know if they’re the same kind. In Thailand and China that the dumplings are moist, and you will have soup when you bite into them. The dumplings here are dry and only have the fillings. They’re sold everywhere. As far as I’m concerned, Thai and Chinese dumplings are better.
Get ready to play Holi.
This is the day after playing Holi in Kolkata.
See? You can’t wash it off. It’ll be another week before they come off. I can tell you that his face looks a lot like how he felt. Ha!
Westerners who come to play Holi here.
- Remember, Kolkata is usually not like other places when it comes to festival days. Check about the day they stop playing before you come.
The smile of Indian.
P.S.– Before using any services, make an explicit agreement about the price before hurting feelings arise later. I can’t say enough about this because they like to charge extra or won’t charge the same price they told you in the beginning. It’s like this wherever you go. The hearts, generosity, and selfishness change based on their living conditions. When they have to survive in difficult living conditions, it’s not so surprising that they want more in every way than people who have good living conditions. We just have to understand and keep tabs on the situation 🙂
You can take a car to the Victoria Memorial nearby. It’s a British victory monument. I recommend going before five and taking a picture from the back where there’s a pool. It looks exquisite when you take the picture where you can see the reflection, too. Unfortunately, the light was gone when we arrived, so our photo isn’t very good.
Mother Teresa’s Tomb
Next, let’s move on to Mother Teresa’s Tomb.
A woman who was accepted and admired as a citizen of the country in an era when India had no acceptance for women, Mother Teresa helped many Indians escape suffering by leading them to God. Anyone who’s not into this doesn’t have to come. However, whoever is into this kind of thing and comes here will feel good about what Mother Teresa did and about the power of giving. Really 🙂
“Santiniketan – A Place for Education Under the Trees”
Santiniketan means a city of peace.
Personally, I didn’t think there wasn’t much to this town (or maybe I wasn’t able to reach this place. I didn’t feel “in” with it T-T).
Anyone who knows and admires Robindronath Thakur, the epic poet was known as “the Bard of Bengal” who built this “Visva Bharati” college and was the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, would love this place.
Personally, I’m not a very artistic person, so I thought this might not be my kind of place. But since my friends wanted to come, it was good to try it out once. At first, we were going to stay for one night, but we changed our plans into a one-day trip (one day is more than enough). We went on the local train because we hadn’t made any reservations.
The Local Train
We’re here! We’re going to try the local train. It’s pretty exciting. Haha.
At this station, the Top Nose has a slight chicken feces odor, the Middle Nose is mixed with a hint of Indian and the Base Nose is an ultra strong scent of urea. It was a good thing I brought my menthol inhalant. I should have brought it to block my nose T-T. We didn’t book tickets before we came, so we bought tickets from the counter at 70 rupees (~1$). We would’ve mostly ended up in a very crowded wagon with people standing. But luck was with us, and we got a cart with seats just like on buses.
On the Local Train
Keep your change ready. Every kind of beggar you’ve ever seen in all corners of the world will walk by you…at least three of them at each station. Just give them ten or twenty rupees. It would be too Thai to pretend to sleep. lol.
Indian lady boys
They’ve got more of them than every other type of beggar. Even the poorest beggars don’t earn half what they do. Why? It’s because they will whine and curse you if you ignore them. All the other Indians were downright afraid of them. All they have to do is walk by, and they pull out their money fast enough! They get ten bills from every row in the front to the back of the train; I tell you! Pretending to sleep may not help you escape their curse. Sometimes they even wake you up to curse at you. lol. It’s not just on trains. They will walk up to you and ask you for money even at crossroads. If you give them money, they will give you a blessing and touch your forehead with the money. It felt strangely mystical…Get those small bills ready, people (only bills. Be prepared to be cursed at if you give coins. It’s so difficult to please these beautiful ladies. haha).
The Indian Bean
Indians and beans go together (I don’t know what they call them. I do know that they mix them with honey and stir them. Great!). Indians like their beans. For us, we just look at them and go “Oooh!” We’re not brave enough. Haha.
Welcome to Santiniketan
It was pleasantly quiet without any horns. Oh, it’s just not like India without the horns…
We don’t understand why there are tours here that charge high-end prices!
If you don’t think about giving up everything, don’t bother coming here, please.
I tried out almost every food here. But “tried out” really meant I just tasted the spoon tip.
Because I didn’t get vaccinations before I came.
That’s why I have to be a little careful if I’m thinking about eating anything.
(This tasted like regular sweetened powdered milk.)
It Started Under The Tree
Teaching under trees is a unique feature of this place in remembrance of Robindronath Thakur because “Visva Bharati” was created when Robindronath Thakur began teaching five students under a large tree. Since then, a great place of learning was established in this city of peace.
A college without signs or uniforms.
In this Indy town, they ride original fix gears, raise goats as pets and eat them once they’re fat.
They eat yogurt out of earthenware cups and listen to very moving Indian songs.
They are already as Artist as they can be without trying to grow cactus, listening to Desktop Error or reading Kinfolk.
I asked him for a ride. The old geezer (senior) who rode it here didn’t trust me and ran after me. He clapped his hands for me once I showed him, hehe.
Time to say Goodbye!
Let’s go back.
The local train…please let this be the last time in my life. My life felt like everything was a hardship. It wasn’t so bad on the way here. I got to sit then. I barely got to sit on the way back, and I found a cockroach. I barely escaped from it. I screamed and ran from the cockroach until all the Indians in the bogey wondered what was going on. They had a good laugh.
This Indian made everyone laugh because of his adorable hard sale. We don’t know what he said but we knew it was so funny that we wanted to know. 555.
P.S. – He still could make 15% of what that lady boy beggar made. I swear it!
That’s it for the Santiniketan trip. A grueling 3-hour ride just to go there for two hours and get back…what for…but it cost only 5$ to go there and back, so let’s stop complaining. Haha.
You should go on the weekend because they’ll have field fairs selling some cool handicrafts you can buy as souvenirs. Really cute. We didn’t see any of it because we didn’t go there on the weekend.
*We don’t recommend anyone without a specific purpose to come here.
*However, someone who is impressed by the ways and educational energy of Robindronath should come and stay here for a few days to take it all in and talk with the students here.
*Whoever wants to feel “in” with this place should read a lot about his background. He is not an ordinary person; I assure you.
Anyone who is “in” with the feeling should be happy here. It felt very calm, peaceful and warm 🙂
The “Kamasutra” is on the shelves of almost every bookshop in Kolkata, even the small ones on the road! If you dare to ask for it, they dare to pick it out for you. They’re serious about it in this country! A recommended souvenir for your friends with a sense of humor! Excellent!
And now we move on to more usual souvenirs for regular people.
Regular souvenirs that sell well here are Indians shirts and pants.
Shops that sell knickknacks will also sell rings and wristbands. It’s cute if you make the right choices.
Next Station Bodh Gaya
That’s it for Kolkata. Bye.
Next stop, Bodh Gaya. We will go on a pilgrimage.
Now. Okay. Tonight, we’re getting ready to go to Bodh Gaya, the city where Buddha was enlightened.
We have to board a train at about 10:30 p.m.
The train station is beyond description. Imagine Hua Lamphong in the past when everyone was lazing around all over the floor. There’s dust outside and inside the station. First class rooms mean waiting for trains here with nearly no air to breath. It’s really stale.
People were lying around all over the place. It’s pure and unadulterated India. Foul and depressing. We thought we wouldn’t be there very long, but the train was late. We had to sit and wait for hours, and we were sleepy. If you ask if we dared to sleep there, I’ll tell you that…we did and a very deep one. (took excellent care of ourselves, did we?). Well, at least, we didn’t all sleep at the same time. We took turns to keep watch.
Finally, We Board the Train
The way up actually had chains, whips, handcuffs and candle for sale (Just kidding. Only keys and chains) so you can lock and chain your bags to prevent them from going missing while you sleep. I looked around and noticed some of the passengers had their own locks and chains. If the locals have it, we’d be challenging the host too much. Haha.
We looked for our bogeys. Pop had the same bogey as Pae because they booked it at the same time. I booked mine later, so I had a different Bogey. But Pop went to sleep in the other bogey instead and said I’m a woman, and I should not sleep alone T-T. It was touching. Very cute. Thanks. Okay, I’m going to sleep. I’m exhausted. See you later in Bodh Gaya.
Please continue reading part2 @http://mithuna27.com/bodh-gaya/