A Passage to Calcutta

We’ve successfully navigated travel halfway around the globe and survived the onslaught of a determined Mama Ji but we have yet to be confronted by the vagaries of domestic India air travel. But we are well fed and rested and looking forward to passage to Calcutta as another day of our adventure. We check out of our hole in the wall hotel and make our way back to the New Delhi airport to begin our next leg – the flight to Calcutta.

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The Delhi airport is spacious and efficient and I really like the elephant sculpture. Here’s Bob in the foreground after we’ve checked our bags. Since Bob knows how quickly changes occur with domestic Indian travel we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to deal with changes. Thus we had lots of time to find the correct lines, locations, gates etc. And I assure you it is all quite confusing as there were several times that Bob and I had discussions as to what signs and tote boards meant but in almost every instance of confusion Bob employed his specific super power of locating an official that knows the particular information we need and asking him the questions pertinent to our needs. It was also a little muddled as the flights to Calcutta were oddly handled from the international terminal areas. But we handled it all with calm efficiency. There was a small misunderstanding at baggage check in. We didn’t check our bottle of Gin with the normal baggage. We picked up the bottle Gin when we landed at the airport and thus had it with our carry on bags – that’s ok as long as the bottle was procured inside the security perimeter of the flight. But when bringing the bottle from outside the flight perimeter, the bottle (above the tiny carry on volume restriction) must be with the checked in baggage. I also had my tiny (~1″ swiss army) penknife on its silver chain to prevent it’s stupid owner from misplacing it on my person. I forgot about the flight restrictions when I dressed. So as we were being screened for entrance to the flight area it became obvious that the bottle of Gin wasn’t allowed and neither was my giant edged weapon. Thinking fast – Bob took one of our three carry on bags and suggested that we could put it into the check on bags. We got odd looks but mostly that its possible to do. So the Gin and my tiny knife were retrieved and put into our third carry on bag and Bob when against the flow back to baggage check in. Bob brilliantly circumvented the check in line by catching the eye of the check in agent and employing his vaunted “confused – sincere and well meaning American” look got the deed done. It worked splendidly and he had only to endure a slight  reprimand from the agent by way of scolding him for not paying close enough attention.  I remained safely in the flight security zone with our carry on bags. So in short order all was right with the world – our Gin and my small pen knife were safely ensconced in our check in baggage. We could now relax and watch the big board for gate changes, delays etc. as well as supply ourselves with food etc. I also got to stroll around the airport and soak it in. My favorite sign was one showing a direct equivalence of harmful vices.

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Now we have time to take care of some loose ends. Bob decides to get an Indian SIM card for his phone to facilitate the convenience of local calls and we need to get something to eat. The SIM card is installed at a small Kiosk and Bob’s phone doesn’t seem to be digesting the new addition and we decide to see what an Indian McDonalds is like. Well there was no beef on the menu at all and several tofu or vegetable burgers were the substituted items. YUM LOL I shuddered. I had a fish sandwich, fries and a coke and Bob had the same but with a chicken sandwich. It was different but not bad.

As with all travel – time seems to disappear. Especially when you’re on a flight to the east! we were soon on our flight to Calcutta.

It was dark when we winged near Calcutta and the air quality was head and shoulders above Delhi’s. I was approaching Calcutta with a bit of trepidation as it is a city notorious for filth, heat, congestion, poverty, epidemic disease, and pollution. There is also a notorious Calcutta urban legend of a large Caucasian man running rife throughout the city accosting rickshaw pullers and then absconding with their rickshaws never to be seen again! The urban legend goes that the man has a head that wouldn’t fit in a bucket and he laughs riotously sweating  profusely as he ploddingly absconds with his illicitly acquired rickshaw. At other times he is reported to be singing! “Confutatus Maledictus, confutatuuuuuus……” No one has of yet discovered his alleged motivations – but there are some theories. One of the theories is that Tata heavy industry has hired him to cripple the individual decentralized system of mass transportation….. Another more widely held theory is that he is just bat-shit crazy! I am in the second camp. So the plane swings around and comes into this giant of a city, an intimidating city, a city of joy and life.

We land without fanfare or mishap and smoothly collect our bags and acquire our prepaid taxi fare chit to go to the Kempton Hotel.

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Almost all of the taxis are Ambassadors. A design deemed out dated when it was put on the road during Indira Gandhi’s time in power. But look closely at the picture this is not a photo from the 50’s it was just a few short weeks ago! The design is considered to be one of the worlds great taxis! It also won the taxi race a while back between the worlds greatest taxis on Top Gear!!! Heady completion indeed. We procure our anachronistic taxi and head into the heart of the beast. As our driver is loading our bags into the boot of the Ambassador I admonish him to under no circumstances stop if a large Caucasian rickshaw puller stops in front of us – always maintain enough room to turn away from the phantasm.

It was a short drive into the city but a long drive to the center of the city. Passing thousands of congested byways populated by millions of entrepreneurs single-mindedly hustling and bustling to make a living for themselves and their families. After about 15 minutes of congested driving in slow going tight conditions we merge into a matrix of narrow narrow alley ways – that taxi turning this way and that going over curbs, clipping bicyclists, pushing cows out of the way, disturbing feral dogs snoozing on the curb, avoiding small tie ups and difficulties — could it be that the notorious Caucasian rickshaw puller was sighted???? My imagination was pushing me near panic. When ever I visit New York City – I go through this. I know that there is a high probability that I will have a devastating agoraphobic episode and there is no way in god’s hell that I could escape such a giant entity in time to avert my impending death. So that is what I am feeling as the small taxi bumps into the night squeezing into byway after alley to gap between falling buildings ducking under power wires with my anxiety mounting with the realization that the taxi driver most certainly has no idea where the Kempton Hotel is and that he will summarily dump us in front of a rat infested hole between condemned structures. The taxis slows my worst fears about to be realized……. he sounds his horn and an iron gate slides aside and the taxi drives onto a small courtyard paved with marble next to a beautiful modern glass, brass and marble Hotel….. yes the HOTEL KEMPTON! My car-door is opened by a smiling gentleman in uniform. I’m beckoned to the hotel door by a footman who is busying himself with our bags and the uniformed doorman opens the door for us.

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The Hotel desk man cordially says that we’ve been expecting you, and calls us by name and a liveried waiter with a silver tray presents us with crystal stem ware glasses filled with chilled guava nectar. We should have paid someone to film our arrival so we could relive feeling like celebrities every day. Wow did my anxiety levels drop!!!! The only way they could have dropped more is if the stemware was filled with a nice single malt scotch! The Kempton is a sumptuous and well appointed hotel with 5 star service but it seemed like heaven to me when presented against the backdrop of an imagined hell.

We jointed our luggage in our comfortable rooms and unwound for a few minutes – then went down to the hotel restaurant for supper. We were one of two tables being served and the wait staff treated us like honored uncles. When Bob requested the tandoori prawns he was apologetically informed that they didn’t have any at this time. He asked if they were perhaps out of season….. and the waiter said that that didn’t matter, we will have them tomorrow if you would like them at that time. (And what’s more is that they did!)

After we dined we decided to leave our sanctuary and take a walk around Calcutta. Bob was  concerned about the preliminary symptoms of cold or flu. We were on a little quest to locate some highly touted anticold Vicks product with Asian rhino horn, ground snake penis and the yellow scat of musk melon eating pangolins. The doses that Bob bought to bring on the trip were still sitting on an end table back in western New York. I hope one of their dogs doesn’t get into it…… Needless to say we didn’t find it but we did navigate the night streets of Calcutta. Bob moving with naïve confidence and me with waning anxiety.

So our time in the City of Joy was beginning – I was as yet a bit anxious.

I leave you with a picture of the door to our rooms – it is 3.5″ of solid fucking teak! 3.5″ Inches of TEAK! This bank vault door like piece of wood could stop the Terminator and look beautiful doing it!!! This reminded me of how Pizzaro had horse shoes made of silver put on his horses in south America.

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Such decadent and profligate use of wonderful material!

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One thought on “A Passage to Calcutta

  1. Ah, Jack, you’ve done it again – squeezed every interesting and imagined thing out of a day in India. I love the images of agoraphobia-inducing collapsing buildings and other things closing in on you in a trap, and the one of the mad rickshaw driver (who perhaps will respond to this blog entry). I had a big grin on my face throughout the entry. And now I can’t wait to hear how my illness and collapse will be laid out for the world to see and be amused by.

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