Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kolkata by day

The value for money in India is astonishing. You can buy cups of tea or potato samosas for only 5 cents! Instead of just quaffing pints of chai and scoffing samosas, I set out from my hotel in order to see a few sights.

Victoria Memorial - At the bargain rate of 4 rupees, I am able to wander freely through the elaborate gardens that surround this beautiful monument. The building itself lies on the banks of the Hooghly river, which provides a refreshing breeze amidst the hot and humid Bengali climate. It is also one of the few places in Kolkata where there are rubbish bins, and each is a different cartoonish design. They range from sailors with bow-ties to dolphins in coitus, and are eye-catching if a little strange. Upon leaving the site, there are open paddocks with free roaming cattle and pony-wallahs selling their wares. Horse rides go for 100 rupees per hour, after hard bargaining.

My next stop is to The New Market, famous in Kolkata. I arrive by rickshaw, spotting people bathing in stagnant puddles of mud and slush out front of the complex. To wander through the maze of shops and outlets is an experience in itself. Everything you could possibly imagine is available, but the self-appointed guides who badger tourists at the front gate are best avoided. They will take you on a trip to see the stalls that give them the best commission, and nothing else. They are very hard to shake off, persisting even when ignored and a real nuisance.

I believe the heat and humidity to be worse in Singapore or Malaysia, but the lack of air-conditioning and abundance of crowded people in Kolkata makes it overbearing at times. Seeking relief, I do what the locals do and wear Indian style clothes. I visit a tailor's shop, buying a olive green Punjabi style shirt which is customized before my very eyes. For less than $5, it's not just comfortable but affordable for all budgets. The material breathes and the sense of relief is overpowering. This shirt will come with me on any subsequent trips to the tropics. 

For under $15, I am able to buy; a pair of shorts, two t-shirts and two books. Decent novels too, one by Paulo Coelho and another by Charles Dickens - what a bargain! The crowds are intense though, and after much pushing and shoving - I've had enough. I can believe that India has a population over 1 billion, but I can't believe they're all here in this marketplace!

I've been in India for over 24 hours, and I'm still yet to get the food poisoning everyone warned I would get (Go Veg!). On this preliminary judgment, and nothing else, I decide to chance it and eat some street food - whatever smells best.

I make my way to Chittarangan Avenue, which although even more crowded than other areas of the city, suffers less beggars and litter. I find the aptly named 'Bon Appetit,' which is a small stall specializing in Mughali snacks, alongside Chinese food and Kolkata staples. A 'veg roll,' which is like a pancake stuffed with potato curry is good value at 10 rupees. It's also delicious. My initial impression of Chittarangan having less beggars goes down in flames as two street children, no more than three or four years old, approach me and implore me for money. They are dressed in rags, covered in dust but ask for help with impeccable manners. How could I say no?  I don't like to give cash, so instead I buy them both a meal. The combined total for both our meals is less than 50 cents. Even I can afford to be generous here =P

No comments:

Post a Comment