I left my friend Yoshika in Dhaka early in the morning and took a 35 minute flight to Kolkata, India! I’ll have just over a month in India so I was really hoping I would like the place. Kolkata was not going to make that easy for me. In Ho Chi Minh City, I bought a photocopied version of a Lonely Planet guidebook to India so I had some good reference points. Terrifyingly, all of the reviews of cheaper hostels and hotels were abysmal, citing bed bugs and thefts. I decided I would stay somewhere without bed bugs so I went to the “posh” district of town, Tollygunge.
My first day in Kolkata I decided I hated it. I vowed almost as soon as I arrived that I would book a train ticket out for the next day. I spent my first afternoon there doing something actually pretty cool. I visited the Kalighat Temple. This is a highly functioning Hindu temple where Kolkata supposedly gets its name from. It’s very important for some such reason and I enjoyed wandering through the streets as everyone knew that the white person must be looking for the only attraction in miles and directed me there.
When you arrive, you are greeted by a priest (or someone who says he’s a priest) and he tells you that you can’t take pictures and to take off your shoes. He whisked me through the temple as I watched people frantically worshipping. The first place he took me to was the goat sacrifice area. As if on cue, I saw a man carrying over a goat, ready to be sacrificed. The only way I can describe the sound the goat was making is that it was screaming. I chose to watch and before I even realized, the goat was beheaded. I was told that the temple sacrifices between 30 to 40 goats each day. Wow! He then showed me various other shrines and gave me a red string bracelet called a mauli to grant the blessings he gave me. Definitely a highlight of Kolkata.
I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around town. Part of the charm of the town is supposed to be the English colonial architecture in India, but most of that beautiful architecture has been left unpreserved and is decaying most ungracefully. It’s not only ugly, but depressing. There’s little beauty in this breakdown and I really struggled to find the joy in Kolkata. I was so disgusted by the constant mud, the loud loud traffic with their reliance on horns instead of blinkers, that I made my way to the train ticket office and booked a night train to Puri for the next evening. I filled my first day with visiting the depressingly contaminated Hooghly River and a few markets. I just spent the whole day walking around and determined that the next day I would hit up all of the sights I needed to see before I left.
The next day I had a big laundry list of places I wanted to visit. First stop, The Indian Museum. I figured it would be India’s version of The British Museum. It’s not. Just a few old statues and lots of fossils. Stop #2, The Marble Palace. I picked up an entry pass from the tourism office the day before and went to this extremely bizarre place. It’s a mansion still owned by some eccentric rich man who just crammed the place full of 18th centrury classical statues and portraits. Stop #3, the house of Nobel Laureate Tagore. His house inspired me to read some of his literature, but there’s nothing too interesting there if you are not a Tagore devoté. Stop #4, The Mother Teresa House. If you didn’t know (and I didn’t), Kolkata was where Mother Teresa got her start and did most of her work before expanding her schools and hospice centers for the poor worldwide. It was actually emotional seeing how humble she was in her small little room and I got a little emotional looking at her grave and hearing about her struggles with her faith and her purpose in life. It was some powerful stuff and I plan to read a little more about this amazing woman. Stop #5, Victoria Memorial. It’s a memorial to Queen Victoria. Need I say more?
I think I spent about 36 hours in Kolkata and it was too long at that. I’m glad I went, and it’s off the checklist, but I’m not interested in returning at all. And I wish I had a picture of the train station because it looked like a refugee camp. And there’s a road going through the middle of it. Through the middle of the building. Indoors. Maddening. But I hopped a train to the quiet beach town of Puri and never looked back.