We were warned to allow 3-4 hours to get from Darjeeling to the airport at Bagdogra and so we were picked up by a big old Jeep and driver that didn't speak any English at 9 am on the dot and off we set for another amazing ride down the mountainside this time passing through acres and acres of tea plants all over the hills. At times there were pickers in the fields and we passed through the accommodation villages the plantations had set up for the workers.
Other times we experienced the aftermath of the rock falls that had damaged the track and suspended the long journey from NJP to Darjeeling by the toy train with room for only one vehicle at a time to pass through the cleared spaces. Nearer the airport we passed through heavily fortified areas and the barracks and billets of Indian army regiments of all categories. We made the airport in plenty of time and the plane left 5 minutes late but made that and an extra 10 minutes time up, depositing us in Kolkata safe and sound 15 minutes early. In the airport we found a police controlled prepaid taxi service who for 230 Rupee took us to our hotel.
The booking I had made the night before had been cancelled by Booking.com as they had not been able to contact me to confirm it ! The manager and I came to an understanding and I booked three nights at a preferential rate.
After a light meal in the hotel restaurant followed by a stretch on the internet to book Denise her flight back to Delhi on Saturday for her onward flight to the USA it was time to hit the hay and schedule an early start to a sightseeing day tomorrow.
My good old Uncle Les used to say when I was a boy " Man appoints and the Lord disappoints" which I now know means you make plans to do something it ain't always gonna happen and so instead of an early start "Kolkata belly" kept me in the room until I felt brave enough to venture out later in the morning around 10 am. We made our way to the railway quota office as the Internet said I had an 87% chance of getting a first class A/C 1 sleeper to Chennai on Saturday but by the time I had sat in the endless queue of morons in front of me that had either not filled their forms in correctly or didn't have the ones they needed, lunch break had arrived and half the staff disappeared which meant by the time I eventually got seen, you know what I'm gonna say don't you, All the seats were gone. I politely told the assistants to stick the second class A/C tickets where the sun doesn't shine and stormed off determined to fly to Chennai. And so to sightseeing and the most famous landmark (probably) is the Victoria Memorial Gardens and Library + Monument come library which is 10 Rupee to get in the gardens and. 200 Rupee for foreigners to go inside but for our good old Queen Vicky I thought it worth the money and made a beeline straight there
When we came out we were subjected to the normal requests for selfies but eventually made it to the cab stand where a street artist had made a good attempt at a Christian chalk drawing which deserved a contribution and we were off to Newmarket ?
No we didn't know what it was either but a friendly Indian Lady who befriended Denise in the railway quota office recommended it and why wasn't I surprised when it turned out to be a clothing and jewellery market that went on and on for kilometers.
A piece of luck and we found a bar that we sneaked into and I had a Kingfisher strong and Denise a Rum and Coke and don't laugh it was almost like being in Spain, just over 3€ for both with snacks thrown in. We resumed market patrol and while Denise haggled over yet more jewellery I had fun joining the stall holders and trying to sell their clothing which took me back to my Saturday job many years ago. Too much fun can't be good for you so we caught a cab back to the hotel but he didn't know it so we got dropped at Mohammed Ali Park which unfortunately was closed and walked back to the hotel but not finished for the day Denise managed to find a hairdresser at 7 pm who agreed to do a wash and blow dry for her.
I sat watching and flirting with the staff until she appeared refreshed and ready for our evening meal at the hotel.
The next morning, our last in Kolkata we were determined to fit as much as we could in and so as soon as breakfast was over we hit the streets with our cameras and First was a walk through a really dilapidated area on to to HOWARTH BRIDGE and through a flower market to the area beneath the bridge which was a bit like Varanasi but without the dead bodies - Grim !!
From the bridge we just walked taking snaps of street life starting with a beautiful Hindu temple sandwiched between two dilapidated tenement blocks passing a street market a movie theatre a street fruit seller who asked us to take his picture, Indian Guys taking their baths in the street, food vendors and Calcutta traders. Keep an eye out for the warning sign that Jay Walking is a punishable offence outside the police station with all the guys dodging the traffic in the street ( you have to love India). An engraver on marble was plying his trade sitting on the pavement right next to the Great Eastern Firearms company that was stacked full of rifles ( no security) and open to the street.
By now we had covered a fair bit of the area but suddenly we hit pay-dirt we were at The Writers Building another famous building by Eden Gardens which led to the famous Old Post Office Building which used to be the site of Fort William one of the first British Forts in Calcutta. Although the outside of the building had been preserved and a small corner still used as a post office inside where we sneaked in has been left to rack and ruin which is usual in India.
After a short stop to see the outside of St Johns church we made our way homewards until we reached a place we had seen the previous day which had caught our attention. The Bengal Lounge is a leftover from the days of the Raj, built in 1928 and it still has an operated cage lift to the third floor that houses the restaurant and bar so we felt obliged to provide it with custom and ordered two double dark rum and cokes which Denise picked up the 300 Rupee tab. On the way out we even got an English speaking waiter to take our picture after which he showed us around the non public parts where all the old photos were - excellent.
As I knew the way back to the hotel and knew it would pass my heroes park we walked and first thing we saw Denise found Ironic - A clean city rubbish disposer and about 10 yards in front the pavement littered with rubbish ?????
A shepherd with a flock of sheep being herded along a main city road at rush hour is not something you see everyday so I have posted a picture for you to be amazed.
Finally finding ourselves at The Mohamed Ali Park we walked in to find football, cricket and badminton all being played in the same space all at the same time but they were having fun. The younger children were all clambering for their photos to be taken so I thought I would finish the Kolkata blog with the pictures of the kids in the park.