Saturday, January 31, 2009

Relaxing Beaches

We had been travelling alot. Moving from place to place and we were tired.

Our next stop would fix this. We were going to be relaxing on the beaches of Goa.
And what lovely beaches they were.

We had been moving around so much, it was nice to just lay besides the beach and sleep.
Goa has developed a reputation for its resort like atmosphere.
It's a deserved reputation.
As we watched the sun set slowly into the Arabian Sea, all the while drinking our "refreshing drinks", I couldn't help but again be amazed at the contrasts of India. Less than a day ago, I had been standing in the crowded streets of Calcutta. Now, I was relaxing on the perfect Goan beaches. I was slowly learning to accept this country for all of its extremes.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Bizarre and Terrifying

Moving around Calcutta, you are constantly confronted by strange scenes.

The abandoned old houses for one....

We also discovered whilst moving through the city that Calcutta has a surprisingly useful metro system. There's only one line, but it moves up the length of the city, taking commuters to all the important centres and attractions.
Crowded but cheap!

Eventually, we made our way over to the Marble House.

This home was constructed by one of the Rajas and it continues to be lived in by his decendents to this day. The inside is bizarre to say the least. Full of run down opulence. Inside are enormous halls filled with precious works of art and furniture. However, there is a deathly feel to the place. Everything is slowly falling apart through lack of care and concern. Lian was convinced that this is the house that would have belonged to Ms Havisham from Great Expectations.

After walking through the grounds (which contained a zoo!) I was inclined to agree with Lian.

Even the area that the house was in seemed to feel neglected, years away from its former glory.

As the sun slowly began to set, we headed off towards the last place on our list of things to see in Calcutta (it was a short list since time was also short).

The Temple of Kali!

Kali is the Hindu Goddess associated with death and destruction.

She is also known as the Blood Goddess.
Walking into the temple was confronting. The first thing that I saw was the "barren tree" .... covered in blood .... the thing is that in the Temple of Kali, live sacrifices still take place to satisfy the blood demands of Kali. Entering into the central area, the crush of people seeking blessings was intense. People pushing and shoving, trying to move close to the priests.

I left feeling short of breath and a little bit overwhelmed by it all.

And of course, India being the land of contrasts that it is .... next door to the Temple of Kali was Mother Teresa's mission.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Exploing Calcutta

The wedding couldn't go on forever. So we were left with a few days to properly explore Calcutta/Kolkata.

It's definite a city of contrasts.

For one thing, the rickshaw is still in common use.
In fact, I found out that the rickshaw plays a critical role in the public transport system of the city. The rickshaw is at times the only vehicle able to move around the city due floods preventing other vehicles without the high wheels from moving.
So combined with the architecture and the old looking taxis, this is a city that at times looks like it's in a time warp.

But in another way, this made the place beautiful.

We decided to go to the Victoria Memorial as our first stop.

Built for Queen Victoria, this enormous structure didn't feel like it belonged in Calcutta.
But again, it was beautiful.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Indian Wedding Experience

I've been told that attending an Indian wedding is one the most amazing experiences you can have in your life.

I have to agree.

Being here with my friends Sudi and Lian added to this great experience as well.
Divya had also changed into her new clothes and looked amazing draped in gold.
The noise and colour of the wedding were almost overwhelming. I almost burst out laughing in amazement when Divya and Sunny were both hoisted into the air as they were finally "introduced" to one another.
And finally, after all of the ceremony and events, the bride and groom were married.
The wedding had been one of the most eye opening and intense experiences I had ever gone through (and I wasn't even the one getting married!) Had I come to India for just the wedding, I still would have thought it was a worthwhile decision.

Later, as I was congratulating Sunny and Divya, I was able to see Divya's arms close up. She was completely covered in intricate henna designs and lots and lots of gold!
Even her feet were covered in henna!

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Wedding Starts

Being Sunny's friends meant that we were allowed to stay with him in the groom's private room before he had to go down for the start of the wedding ceremony.

Soon enough, after a few cups of chai, it was time to go down for the start of the wedding.
Sunny even had his hat.
Seated underneath a small structure made completely out of fresh flowers, the formalities began.
There would be LOTS to come!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Costume Change

The wedding was still going.

We were feeling a bit tired though, so we decided to go for a refreshing drink.

Delicious chai.

The streets of Kolkata are lined with little tea stores.
And the way in which the tea itself is drunk is also quite unique. Rather than using cups that need cleaning or plastic cups that don't degrade, in Kolkata they use little earthenware cups that are merely thrown out after use.
There's something about drinking the chai in this way that makes the chai seem to taste better. You can hold the cup of boiling hot chai without burning your hands and once you're finished, you drop the cup to shatter on the floor.

After enjoying the drink, we all went back to our guest houses to get changed. Our original clothes may have been suitable for the events of the morning, but we needed something flashier for the upcoming proceedings.

Sudi and I moved from cotton to our new silk clothes!

After getting changed, we headed straight back to the tea shop to get more chai, looking far more distinguished. We drank our chai quickly and then rushed back towards the wedding.

At the wedding, even Sunny had gotten changed. He was wearing a new top made of silk and gold thread. He even wore a traditional dhotti!
Lian had disappeard for a few hours and joined the bride and her party.

She returned to us wearing a sari with her hair done up traditionally with jasmine garlands.
So now we were all dressed and ready!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lots of colour!!!

It was still morning, but so much had been happening already.

Sunny and Divya had both received their blessings and the wedding was well under way.

Sudi and I were also dressed up appropriately, wearing kurtas!

They're surprisingly comfortable. I think I'll be wearing mine once I get home.

After Divya left, Sunny returned and we all had a nice lunch together.

The three of us all had our distinct tops on like everyone else at the wedding, this just added to the intensity of the colours we took in.

And to think .... the wedding was only just starting!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Bride Arrives

After Sunny had received his blessings, he had to make a hurried exit.

Divya was about to arrive and the bride and groom weren't allowed to see each other until later.
So for the second time that day, we got to see the ceremony where the mother gives her blessings.
A happy occasion just as the first time was.
As part of the ceremony, family members approach and smear turmeric all over their face.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Arriving at the wedding

We were in Kolkata for Sunny's wedding.

There's lots to see in the city, but THIS was the real reason we were here.

Nice and early, we all arrived at the wedding ready for an experience.
The morning sees everything still being prepared and the blessings taking place.
Sunny looked in good spirits as he received his blessings from his parents.
It was starting very slowly, but even from this point it was clear that this wedding was going to be an amazing experience.

Monday, January 19, 2009


OK, so it isn't called "Calcutta" anymore (Kolkata is what it goes by now).

But we were here. We were in this city with the famous name.

Kerala had been lots of fun. It is an amazing place with beautiful things to see. I was actually quite sad to leave it. But leave it we did. We made our way back across the sea by ferry to Ernakulam and hopped on our overnight train to return to Chennai.

In Chennai, we were greeted by the familiar face of Manu who once again made sure we were well looked after.

Our time in Chennai seemed to disappear quickly and soon, Lian, Sudi and I were on our flight to Kolkata.

Our entry into the city would be a bit dramatic.

Taxi drivers in India have a habit of being a bit reckless. But we found a driver who put the others to shame in terms of insanity. For about an hour, he decided that he would take us on a rollercoaster ride through the streets of Kolkata. He was nearly involved in two crashes (actual near misses as opposed to the usual dangerous driving you see in India) and by the time we got out of the car, our hearts were in our throats.

After he drove off, we discovered he had dropped us off in the wrong place....

Thankfully, another taxi ride (with a better driver) later and a with a little help from Sunny, we found ourselves in the right place.

Kolkata is a crazy city. It is intense and busy like Chennai, but it has a completely different feel. The climate (being winter) was far cooler up North and there was a beauty to the streets created by the colonial architecture and the lights.

We were here for Sunny's wedding though. After all, this was the key reason for the entire trip.

As it was the night before the wedding, Sunny looked excited. He insisted on taking us all out for a fantastic Bengali dinner though.
And what better way to finish off a meal than with some delicious paan.
Tasty, tasty paan.....

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Fort Kochi

Once again, we were surprised when we got to Fort Cochin (or Fort Kochi ... the constantly changing names were starting to confuse me).

India hadn't ceased shocking and exasperating us. I could no longer count the number of times one of us had muttered "TII" or "This is India" under our breaths.

Fort Kochi shocked us for a different reason though.

Here, there was such an enormous crush of different cultures, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, Jewish ....

One of the iconic images of Fort Kochi is the Chinese fishing nets.
In the setting sun, they looked beautiful. However, pictures do not capture the incredibly strong smell of rotting fish that accompanied them.

Not far from the nets are the large churches that were put up by the Portuguese.

Even the old buildings in the areas (many of which are still in use as residences or businesses) captured a flavour of somewhere not India.
We began wandering over to "Jew Town". Here was the home of the Malabar Jews, one of the oldest Jewish populations in the world.
And being in India, of course we managed to find a spice market.
The smell was again intense.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

On the move again

It was time to head off.

We were staying in Kerala, but heading further up towards Fort Cochin (or Fort Kochi .... whatever it's called these days ....)

Trains would be moving us to our location again.
After buying our tickets, there was just enough time for us to hop over to have a look at the beach.

It was the first time I had ever seen the Arabian Sea (let alone the Indian Ocean).
Being the cheap travellers that we are, we had bought the cheapest available tickets.
It was a short trip to our next stop, but not the most comfortable.

Again, I'll mark it down as one of those experiences.