Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Calcutta to Kerala

Calcutta pretty much sucked all around. Fortunately, we are very upbeat and resilient people.

The Fairlawn Hotel was awesome though. The highlight. Real funky, like a 1940s old lady's house in England...lots of knicknacks, draperies. Claw footed tub. Garden restaurant.Unfortunately the dinner was a fixed menu, vegetarian chowmein that was so spicy I couldn't eat more than a bite.

We arrived with our tour group on an overnight train in the morning and checked into a few rooms at the Hotel Victerrace to change.

It was forever before all 12 of us were ready to go. We took cabs to the Kalighat temple, which was insanely crowded because it was Sunday morning and people needed to get in there to worship Kali. They were sacrificing a goat. I barely saw the hind legs of the animal, and didn't hear anything, but i guess others could hear the screaming, so what I saw was them covering their ears and saying "oh my god. oh my god." Sheesh. Vegetarians are so sensitive.

Then we were supposed to ride on the tram, but the others in our group wanted to go buy Indian cotton, and we were told, "oh there was an accident on the tram..." So we decided to go back to Victerrace, get our stuff, check into the Fairlawn, maybe drop off some laundry and then do our thing.

Our tour leader put us in a foot rickshaw and was supposed to tell the guy to take us to Victerrace and wait while we got our bags, then to the Fairlawn. However, the driver (I mean walker) did not know how to get there. We had the phone number for the place but no address. People kept thinking we were saying Hotel "Victoria"... we called the hotel from a "phone booth" and it took several tries to get them to tell the walker where they were. He decided he couldn't take us, so he put us in a cab. Who ALSO couldn't find it. 1/2 hour later, we got out of that cab (the guy was surprised we didn't pay him. followed us a few blocks shouting at us) and walked, stopping every few minutes to ask a cabbie or dude on the street where the hotel was...and by now we had a street name and a landmark, but still, people had no idea.

As we were walking in the terrible heat (we learned later that it was a record hot day in Calcutta. One degree hotter and they would have declared a "heat wave") ... a bird shit on my head.

Fortunately I was wearing a hat.

Finally we asked at a jewerly store, and the guy knew exactly where the hotel was and it was 2 blocks away. When i asked how far, he said, "not a 1/2 hour" and I wanted to die. But yeah, 5 minutes is not a 1/2 hour, so he wasn't lying.

Kerala

The tour over, it took us longer than planned to get to Kerala, because the second leg of our flight from Calcutta was canceled. Allegedly they emailed me to tell me this, but I received no such message. We got a flight the next morning to Cochin, not Trivandrum as planned, where we hoped to visit a Kalari Payattu (Indian martial art) training center. Poor Robbie. We stayed overnight in Chennai, which was like Beverly Hills compared to Calcutta.

But let me cut to the good stuff. The houseboat tour (Thanks, Matt and Kelly!). Floating for 20 hours through the backwaters of Kerala. Nice breeze, boat and two-person crew all to ourselves.

We had a great time on the Footsteps of Buddha tour, but this was the first time we had to just unwind and relax, watching life go by. We didn't have any place to be, and didn't have to worry about the next leg of our trip, because we arranged for a taxi to take us back to Cochin. We took a local bus to the boats in Alleppey, saved a bit of money, but decided to splurge on the way back.

Some of the backwaters were big lakes, other portions were narrow canals that ran through neighborhoods where the only mode of transport is a boat. Our boat was thatched and spacious, with an air-conditioned room to protect us from the thick layer of bugs that swarmed the ceiling on the deck as soon as night fell. I actually was too cold during the night, from the a/c. I wasn't as gaga about lunch and dinner as Rob was, but it was fun being served on a banana leaf, and dishes enameled with little flowers. Breakfast was exciting though. Kerala pancakes with coconut and cardamom, omelette, masala tea and toast. This is why, despite not being able to eat most of the Indian food I'm served, I am not losing weight.

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