Back in Kolkata. Flew in from Varanasi via a plane change in Guwahati. We traveled northeast from Varanasi, basically following the border with Nepal. The Himalayas and Mt. Everest were in the horizon. Beautiful sight at 35K feet. Guwahati is in Assam state, north of Bangladesh. On our leg from Guwahati to Kolkata, we flew over Bangladesh and the Ganges River Delta flowing into the Bay of Bengal.
We had dinner at Peter Cat earlier in the week and decided to return this New Year’s Eve. I NEVER photograph restaurant meals because who cares. The issue here is value and ambience. First the ambience.
Now for the value. We ordered a side of 6 Tandori prawns (440 rupees), a side of 6 pieces of Tandori chicken (290 rupees), and a side of vegetable fried rice (210 rupees) for a total of 940 rupees. Since we got 70 rupees per dollar, our dinner tab (excluding wine) was $13.49 USD.
In bed now at 8:30 PM. New Year’s Eve? Not for us! Need to be up at 3am to leave at 5am for airport and flight #8 for Port Blair in Andaman & Nicobar Islands. I’m sure the Taj Exotica Resort on Havelock Island will get $75.00 USD for that same Peter Cat $13.49 meal.
There are four holiest of locations to visit on pilgrimage for Buddhists. One is in Nepal ( [A] his birth place) and three are in India ( [B] his place of death, [C] where he meditated under the bodhi tree and [D] where he first preached). 10 miles out of Varanasi is Sarnath, where Buddha preached giving his first sermon, established his Dharma and four principles and chose his first apostles.
Though Nepal and India are not Buddhist countries, Buddhists world wide flock there to visit these four sites. We saw groups of Buddhist monks and nuns visiting from both Nepal and Mongolia.
The following photos show the archeological digs at Sarnath. The on site museum houses a wealth of statuary and artifacts unearthed here.
The high lite is the massive grand stupa. Buddhists always walk in a clock wise direction around a religious site while praying or chanting.
There are over 3 miles of ghats on the banks of the Ganges river in Varanasi. A ghat is a large building with terraces in the back and steps down to the river bank from the terraces.
Hindus believe that bathing in the Ganges will absolve one of all their sins. Some who live in Varanasi are absolved daily. The Ganges is one huge bathtub.
Hindus also believe that if one is cremated on the banks of the Ganges and their ashes sprinkled into the water they will obtain nirvana and the cycle of rebirth will end. There are 2 ghats which are cremation ghats. Combined they burn 2-300 corpses a day. Photos are not allowed here. We watched up close as corpses covered in elaborate silk drapes are carried past us down the ghat steps on stretchers to the river where river water is poured over the corpse to saturate it. The corpse is carried back up the steps and laid on the ground next to a steel framed bin filled with sandalwood logs. The silk drapes were removed exposing the corpse wrapped in white linen but with face exposed. 4 men lifted the corpse off the ground and set it on top of the wood filled bin. Family members laid pieces of sandalwood on top of the corpse and fire was started under the bin. It takes three hours for everything to burn to ash. The following photo it of one cremation ghat from a distance.
We spent four hours on our own walking the 3 miles of ghats and back again. Another amazing cultural experience.
Tomorrow we have flights #6&7 to get back to Kolkata. We will overnight there for a raucous New Years Eve again on Park Street at The Park Hotel. The following morning we fly to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Island chain for beach time at the new Taj Exotica Resort.
Our 1st day in Varanasi was really cut short. The original flight from Kolkata was to get us into Varanasi at 0945. This was canceled. New flight got us in at 1600. Day lost.
At 1800 we left for the evening religious ceremony on the banks of the Ganges called the Aarti. The entire city comes to a standstill and the sound of chimes and songs reverberate in each street. This is sensory overload.
The best way to observe all that activity day or night are from small boats on the Ganges. Yesterday they went out on strike.
Enjoy our sights and sounds. Finally found the cows again. Never saw a cow in Kolkata.
The guy in the sage green coat (above photo) is our guide. Many interesting people along the way.
The Aarti ceremony was loud and smokey, filled with burning incense.
Our city tour,with our guide Aditi and driver Gopal, began at Mother Teresa’s House. Now Saint Teresa, her order of nuns which she founded is world wide. Mother Teresa is buried at her Mother House. Photos were allowed only at her grave site but not in the small museum or the rest of the convent. We saw nuns washing their saree habits with scrub brushes on concrete slabs.
When Mother Teresa started her mission, people were dying in the streets. Today that is no longer the case. Unfortunately, in the Western world that stereotype of India still exists. India, like China, is developing rapidly. Hospitals are everywhere. There still are homeless but not overwhelmingly so. Areas look like homeless encampments in Oakland or San Francisco. The Sisters of Charity now focus more on orphanages.
Our day continued to College Street, adjacent to the University of Calcutta. (Calcutta is the English name for the city, Kolkata is the proper Bengali name). College Street and adjacent alleyways are lined with booksellers. Hundreds of stalls selling used books up to current new student text books. I treated Aditi, Gopal and Celeste to a cup of coffee at the famous College Street Coffee House, a cavernous two floor space filled mainly with laptop toting students. We all had espresso “Infusion”, which set me back 90 rupees ($1.25).
Our journey continued to a part of the city where craftsmen fashion statuary from straw and then cover the straw with mud. When the mud is dry, they carve the most life like figures. People buy these statues and float them down the river during Hindu religious festivals.
The traffic is chaotic. Two lanes of traffic are really four. Every driver is jockeying for position. They come within 2-3 inches of each other but never touch. Horns blare constantly but as is the case in all Asian countries, tempers never flare. Everyone stays calm but stands their ground.
In a few hours we leave Kolkata with fond memories. We embark on flight #5 of our 15 flight holiday. We are off to Varanasi. Stay tuned.
Mullick Ghat (steps down to the river) is in the center of Kolkata’s Flower Market. Along the banks of the Hooghly River ( tributary of the Ganges River),
hundreds of merchants, in their stalls, fashion floral arrangements for resale or they sell loose flowers. Many of the workers live in makeshift shacks with their family, bathing in the river. The market is a riot of sound and color. This was the highlight of our trip to Kolkata. Enjoy the following still shots.
Crazy how the Indians love Christmas. All about Santa Claus and presents. Our hotel is in the Central Dist. which is ground zero for the millions (literally) of residents who crowd this area for the Christmas Festival celebration. With so many streets closed for crowd control, we had to walk for 3 block, pulling our suitcases, to get to our hotel, since the roads were closed. Chaotic scene
The morning after at 7 AM. The clean up has begun. The quiet calm is refreshing compared to last night!!!