Calcutta India
Up Guwahati India
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More curious kids... posing for money... and more money...


Kolkata India: Curious girls watching me take photos. I later gave her 5 Rupees for being my model.


Kolkata India: Curious girls watching me take photos. The younger one saw me give the older one the coin and followed me around muttering something that included "camera" and "Rupee." I gave her a Rupee coin.


Kolkata India: Rickshaw and cabs across the street from my main cyber cafe.


KOLKATA: A group of men taking a bath on the street.


Kolkata: Rickshaws are used to transport both people and cargo of every description.


Kolkata India: Curious boys watching me take photos.


KOLKATA: These old style weighing scales are in wide use here.


KOLKATA: This shows how busy is the main road from the airport, many truck, buses, taxis, trishaws, rickshaws, TukTuks and people; lots of people.


KOLKATA: On the main street from the airport.


KOLKATA: These guys kept trying to sell me a ride on their tricycles.


KOLKATA: This is a feed store as best I could determine. I assume the bundles of hay were for cattle.


KOLKATA: A flower display in the Five Star Oberoi Grand Hotel: $200/night.


KOLKATA: The main lobby in the Five Star Oberoi Grand Hotel: $200/night.


KOLKATA: Public water pump seen all over Calcutta residential areas, here obscured by a couple businessmen going to lunch.


KOLKATA: The elegant bathroom sink in my room at the five star Park Hotel.


KOLKATA: This is Chandra, owner of an upscale small antique store near the Grand Oberoi Hotel. We spoke for a half hour about the beggars working the block in front of his store. Sorry about the poor focusing.


KOLKATA: Another shot of the sewer line work that makes walking any sidewalk difficult.


KOLKATA: Almost every block has sidewalks torn up like this one.


KOLKATA: A group of men taking a bath on the street.


KOLKATA: A group of men taking a bath on the street.


KOLKATA: A group of men taking a bath on the street.


KOLKATA: Hand powered public water pump. I assume the water table is shallow with the river so close.


KOLKATA: Typical ambulance waiting for a call.


KOLKATA: Typical ambulance waiting for a call.


KOLKATA: Two old guys watching the world go by.


KOLKATA: Vegetable stand.

 


KOLKATA: Craftsmen congregate along this block waiting for someone to hire them. The bags containing their tools tell of their skills.


KOLKATA: Rickshaws are used for deliveries as well as for transporting people.


KOLKATA: One of the army of small food venders seen on streets all over Calcutta.


CALCUTTA: Statue in the middle of an intersection near the Park Hotel.


CALCUTTA: Traffic near the Park Hotel.


CALCUTTA: Street barber at work. My telephone trick didn't seem to fool the guy looking at the camera and grinning.


CALCUTTA: Sign at the Bangladesh Embassy.


CALCUTTA: Sign at the Bangladesh Embassy.


CALCUTTA: Typical sidewalk scene: groups of men standing around chatting. These guys look like they belong to the leisure class.


CALCUTTA: Clutter in the Thursday street market.


CALCUTTA: Typical scene at the Thursday street market.


CALCUTTA: Buyers and sellers haggle over price at the Thursday street market.


CALCUTTA: Brisk commerce at the Thursday street market.


KOLKATA: An interesting monument near the gate to the Airport Hotel where I stopped on my way to Patna.


KOLKATA: A street vendor. His expression caught my attention.


KOLKATA: Finally, I caught one of the guys peeing in public. He just stopped his bike and aimed his expulsion toward a handy drainage ditch.


CALCUTTA: Home is where the heart rests... even on a busy sidewalk.


KOLKATA: Ticket office for the 10 hour bus to Dhaka Bangladesh.

 

 

3-10 January 2004 

Hello from the "City of Joy."

The big news here is the peace initiative being promoted between Pakistan and India. People here in Kolkata are jubilant. CNN and local TV stations are devoting major parts of their broadcasts to details of the recent agreements reached in Islamabad a couple days ago. I am amazed how often fate has put me in places where peace is breaking out!  

My last brief visit to Calcutta/Kolkata more than ten years ago left me feeling the characterization of the city as the "cesspool of India" better described the place than "City of Joy," popularized by the movie of that name. This time, some of the filth has been cleaned up and many construction and repair projects are seen around the city. Still, Kolkata remains one of the most crowded, dirty and chaotic large cities I have ever visited. Gone are the deliberately deformed beggars, pervasive putrid odors and sidewalks completely obstructed by families "camping out" at night. With a little patience and determination one can find many pockets of modern civilization, often well hidden among the squallier, which still predominates. The Indian Government likes to promote Kolkata as the "City of Hospitality," clearly an exaggeration in parts of this sprawling metropolis.  

I arrived Saturday morning and immediately dashed out of the terminal to start my "escape" from the vulnerable airport area. Dressed for the warm weather in Bangkok, I quickly rushed back into the airport arrival lounge and found a remote corner to hastily pull on another layer of warmth. One guy sat in the arrival lounge blowing his nose into a handkerchief made from a miniature American flag, no doubt a political statement. Outside, the touts converged as usual insisting I must use a taxi to get into town. A couple of ten year old boys dogged me for a block out of the terminal chanting "give me money," but eventually gave up and returned to harass other arriving foreign tourists. The "Airport Bus" about which I'd read remained hidden. The city buses were old, dirty and crowded. While still within a few kilometers of the airport Rickshaws, TukTuks and taxi drivers constantly approached offering their services. As is my habit I chose to walk.  

All drivers in Calcutta think they can make better time by screaming at other vehicles and pedestrians to get out of the way with their horns, leading to a cacophony of noise above which hardly any one horn is discernible. Through all the noise an anemic emergency vehicle "siren" sounded to draw attention to an ambulance creeping along in the unyielding traffic. This would not be a good place to have a heart attack.

The walk to the city allowed me to closely study a continuous stream of street vendors and service providers. Barbers, cobblers, open air restaurants, cattle feed sellers, vegetable vendors as well as small manufacturing entrepreneurs, health care providers, to name a few. This part of India has experienced unseasonably cold weather, so one sees many small clusters of people worming their hands around little "campfires" along the sidewalks. A dozen men along the route relieved themselves against walls or into drainage channels oblivious to my incredulous stairs. One woman unselfconsciously squatted over a sewer grate for the same purpose. City center should not have been more than twelve kilometers to the south-west, but three hours later exhausted, thirsty, hungry and tired of breathing choking dust and noxious fumes I learned that 12km only got me to the city limits... good enough as two college boys led me to the northern terminus of the Metro.

A few minutes on the Metro did get me into the center of the city, but unluckily not the best part. After wandering around for an hour looking for anything that might pass for a suitable hotel, I found the Great Eastern, the "best" hotel in the area according to several people. At $45 per night it turned out to be one of the nationalized businesses currently in the middle of a labor dispute between the government, which wants to close it down and the employees who refuse to leave their jobs. After checking in and resting for a few minutes, I ventured out looking for a city map and possibly something safe to eat: I found a map ($1).  

During an 18 hour stay in the hotel my obsequious 79 year old "house boy" created numerous occasions to demonstrate his interest in making my life more complicated: a bent door key only responded to his learned manipulation, the touchy master electrical interlock switch for the room likewise needed his expert finesse to work, and minor little room maintenance tasks always needed to be accomplished only in my presence, after which he would hover around waiting... for what, a tip? I never got in or out of my room without encountering this holdover from the old British colonial days, always coming to attention with a smart British military style salute as I approached. When I informed him I would be cutting short my stay in his hotel he looked crestfallen, hurt, then angry.  

The next morning early out hotel shopping, new city map in hand led me to the Grand Oberoi which had rooms for a mere $200 per night. Finally, a few blocks away behind some nondescript store fronts, I found the Park Hotel  

After visiting the government tourist office, I finally learned the locations of several modern shopping complexes. From the outside of the Metro Shopping Center it is difficult to imagine the affluence that awaits shoppers inside. Several floors of boutique shops, luxury goods, tailors, food stalls and entertainment facilities located in a tastefully appointed four story structure seemed to meet the needs of well dressed Indian shoppers. I found the selections quite limited by Western standards, though the prices for quality goods seemed low.  

During one of my other shopping sprees a particularly obnoxious and persistent young female beggar, infant in her arms refused to "take no for an answer." Exasperated, I ducked into an upscale antique store owned by Chandra. Chandra is about sixty, a bit overweight and dresses like most well to do Indians. To his greeting, "how are you" I replied, "harassed!" At first mystified, he then saw the girl in rags standing in front of his store and smiled knowingly. "Don't ever give them money, he cautioned. As we talked he noted that this particular woman had been working the block in front of his store for ten years. "Many rich foreign tourists stay in the Oberoi Hotel next door," he added. "One of my neighbors followed her one day and discovered she owns two houses outside of the city! She does not always have the same baby. Sometimes she 'rents' babies to make her pleading more effective. I wish all tourists knew the facts and would not give them money. It just encourages them to keep begging and that is not good." After answering a few more of my cultural questions he insisted I return to his shop should I have other questions or problems during my stay.

My new tiny, tiny camera is working exceptionally well. I have now learned to hold it up to my ear like a phone just before positioning it for a picture. The maneuver still attracts attention, but when one young man asked, "Does it work well? It is so small" and I answered, "It takes excellent snapshot quality pictures, four hundred of them." he looked puzzled and followed up, "What kind of a phone is it?" That's when I knew the maneuver did indeed fool some people. As a result I am now getting some pretty good close-up candid pictures, as you will see when you visit my Calcutta photo album.  

As I continue to remain interested in Greenlines, I hope to spend some time in Bangladesh. It is a predominantly Muslim country, surrounded by Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian populations, so green lines abound. Originally called East Pakistan when the British left sixty years ago, tourists today are warned of "Political Islam, widely considered responsible for most of the terrorist activity both here and elsewhere around the world. If ever there were an ideal place to study the clash of civilizations, it is here in this unique geopolitical region where competing religious-political agendas have such deep roots.

Political Islam is an excellent example of what can happen when people choose to reject the American founding fathers' wisdom of separating church and state. Today some Christians fear the increasingly godless nature of our secular society has resulted in a decline in traditional moral values. In predominantly Christian America there is no comparable movement to discourage "Political Christianity!" I wonder if some of us non-Christians may be in eminent danger of loosing the freedom to believe as we choose. The challenge in my view is to bolster non-religious sources of moral authority... starting with better legal controls of corrupt politicians and business executives... not to mention religious leaders!  

Peace,
Fred L Bellomy


KOLKATA: Sign outside the airport on the way to the city.


KOLKATA: These guys are part of the construction crew re-surfacing the main road from the airport. Part of it has been completed, but most has not.


KOLKATA: Passing behind the pedestrian is either a coroner's wagon or an ambulance. It had a tinny siren that seemed totally ineffective.


KOLKATA: The interior garden at the Five Star Oberoi Grand Hotel: $200/night.


KOLKATA: The interior garden at the Five Star Oberoi Grand Hotel: $200/night.


KOLKATA: The interior garden at the Five Star Oberoi Grand Hotel: $200/night.


KOLKATA: Uniformed doormen at the Five Star Oberoi Grand Hotel: $200/night.


KOLKATA: One time use terracotta cups used to serve a milky tea on the street.


KOLKATA: Public water pump seen all over Calcutta residential areas.


KOLKATA: A group of men taking a bath on the street.


KOLKATA: Barber at work on the street. Might be the boy's first haircut. He looked anxious.


KOLKATA: Craftsmen congregate along this block waiting for someone to hire them. The bags containing their tools tell of their skills.


KOLKATA: Rickshaws are used for deliveries as well as for transporting people.


KOLKATA: Another food seller. He is not really offering me something. I just happened to snap the picture when he got curious about my peculiar "cell phone" behavior.


KOLKATA: Bored rickshaw runner waiting for a fare. While they tend to congregate around the popular tourist attractions, they are used like taxis by local people all over the city.


KOLKATA: Delivery truck with peddle power. These tri-shaws are used for all sorts of people and cargo transport, sometimes so overloaded the poor guy can hardly move it.


CALCUTTA: "Overfly" under construction near the Bangladesh Embassy.


CALCUTTA: Typical city bus: old dilapidated, crowded. See why I chose to walk?


CALCUTTA: Typical city bus: old dilapidated, crowded. See why I chose to walk?


CALCUTTA: Street cobbler at work.


CALCUTTA: Home is where the heart rests... even on a busy sidewalk. Ah... the simple life.


CALCUTTA: Rest break for construction workers.


CALCUTTA: Vegetables in the Thursday street market.


CALCUTTA: Snacks offered at the Thursday street market.


KOLKATA: This it the Airport Hotel I used for my one night stop over on the way to Patna near Bodhgaya and the Bodhi Tree.


CALCUTTA: Shoppers wander the Thursday street market.


CALCUTTA: Natural, fresh coconut milk for sale, straw included.


CALCUTTA: Crowd gathers around a fish seller at the Thursday street market.

 

End

 

 

 


CALCUTTA: "When is mom going to be done shopping?" Two girls do not look all that happy being stuck watching the family's belongings.


Kolkata India: Sign over the best cyber hole-in-the-wall I found in the city: 15 Rupees per hour, about 35 cents per hour and lots of bandwidth.


Kolkata India: Entrance to the Park Hotel on Park Street.


Kolkata India: Entrance to the Park Hotel on Park Street.


KOLKATA: This is the desk area in my luxury room at the Park Hotel.


KOLKATA: This is the desk area in my luxury room at the Park Hotel.


KOLKATA: This is the big TV screen in my luxury room at the Park Hotel.


KOLKATA: This is the fancy and very comfortable bed in my luxury room at the Park Hotel.


KOLKATA: This newspaper was delivered to my luxury room at the Park Hotel everyday.


Kolkata India: Opposite side of the street from the Park Hotel on Park Street.


Kolkata India: One sees many water hand pumps like this on the streets of Kolkata.


Kolkata India: Several boys getting their bath on the street. They seemed to be having a great time splashing one another with water and suds.


Kolkata India: Near the entry to one of the cyber cafes I used.


Kolkata India: This old guy seemed to be nearly blind... he kept bumping into things as he walked the sidewalk in front of the cyber cafe.


CALCUTTA: Typical back ally scene near the "New Market."


Kolkata India: Passed this open air market on my long walk from the airport to the city.


KOLKATA: Street venders on the road from the airport.


KOLKATA: Medical treatment along the road from the airport. As I snapped the picture the doctor became suspicious and questioned my intentions.


KOLKATA: Looking down one of the side streets off the main road from the airport.


KOLKATA: Talk about crowded. Here people are waiting for a bus as others try to squeeze by.


KOLKATA: These guys kept trying to sell me a ride on their tricycles.


KOLKATA: This is a feed store as best I could determine. I assume the bundles of hay were for cattle.


KOLKATA: The interior garden at the Five Star Oberoi Grand Hotel: $200/night.


KOLKATA: The interior garden at the Five Star Oberoi Grand Hotel: $200/night.


KOLKATA: Entrance to the Five Star Oberoi Grand Hotel: $200/night.


KOLKATA: The elegant bathroom sink in my room at the five star Park Hotel.


KOLKATA: The shower and toilet area in my room at the five star Park Hotel.


KOLKATA: A sign warning people not to steal power. Must be a major problem.


KOLKATA: The block is having the sewer line restored, something commonly seen throughout downtown Calcutta.


KOLKATA: This is Indra, the owner of an art store who helped me find a tube of glue with which to repair the heels of my worn shoes.


KOLKATA: Every block has one or more of these "fast food" shops.


KOLKATA: A popular rickshaw pickup point near the New Market frequented by foreign tourists.


KOLKATA: Down the ally we find many little, cheap guest houses, this one the "Super" Guest House.


KOLKATA: Barber at work on the street.


KOLKATA: An orange juice seller's cart. People make a living anyway they can.


KOLKATA: The wood worker sharpening one of his cutting tools.


KOLKATA: Sugarcane juice vendor.


CALCUTTA: View looking northwest from my room in the Park Hotel.


CALCUTTA: View looking west from my room in the Park Hotel.


KOLKATA: This is the enormous flat panel television display in my luxury room at the Park Hotel, unusual in 2003.


KOLKATA: This is the desk area in my luxury room at the Park Hotel.


CALCUTTA: View looking southwest from my room in the Park Hotel.


CALCUTTA: Natural refreshment; available at every corner.

 


CALCUTTA: Typical back ally scene near the "New Market."


CALCUTTA: Use once and throw-away bowls made from broad leaves pressed into a mold and dried... here thrown away.


CALCUTTA: Fish in the Thursday street market. Note the peculiar vertically mounted knife commonly used by fish mongers throughout the city.


 
Need to regroup photos.

 

 

Reference photo: author
 August 2002
 

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