The never ending trip from Darjeeling to Kolkata

October 22, 2010

In India trains have names. Mine, number 2344, is called “Darjeeling Mail“. How cute is that?

I left yesterday at 10am from Darjeeling, on the Toy Train. Three hours of the slowest travel I’ve ever done, a bit boring I must say. The train was incredibly slow. I could run faster. Probably because it passes through people walking on the street, or because it is supposed to be a train that you take to enjoy the view. But it only made me sleepy without allowing me to actually sleep because it was whistling all the time.

Darjeeling Mail

Once in Kursong, I had two samosa for lunch, fried onions and two more sweet things. Then jeep to Siliguri and rikshaw to JNP. I arrived in JNP at 3pm, my train was at 8pm. So while waiting I had another chai with a sweet, I tried to go to the toilet (urinal = a hole in the floor that drives your pee outside, on the back of the restaurant, where they keep the vegetables), but it was too sleepery, I wasn’t able to stand while taking off my trousers.

There was a guy fixing shoes outside of the station, so I took advantage of the extra time I had to try to fix my boots. For the third time. Apparently they need more than just glue.

While my boots were busy with the guy, I patched my socks, that had two holes on one side (when there’s a hole on the big toe I use the sock on the other foot so it doesn’t bother, until another hole comes, always at the big toe, and so I decide to patch them).

I’m writing from a caf? in Kolkata. An amazing iced coffee has arrived for me. It’s unfortunate that there is no internet connection, I could stay here for hours, with this nice air-con. I will need to go to an internet point to copy this post onto the blog (back in 2010 wifi connection wasn’t so widespread as it is today).

Back to JNP… While I was working on my socks a curious crowd gathered around me. It was hot but not too much because it was raining, and I was under a platform roof with a nice breeze, very pleasant, and that group of people staring at me didn’t bother me at all, on the contrary, they made me laugh and I was in a good mood; it’s nice when people take an interest in you.

While I was waiting I kept reading “Filth”. I am starting to like it. It still makes my stomach hurt, but I’m curious to see how it ends.

I had some curry rice at the fast food by the platform, and like most times I wasn’t able to finish it. Two boys that were looking from outside the restaurant came in and finished the rice in two bites. It’s so sad to see these hungry children that eat our leftovers. There were many in the station, they even got on the train before it left. India is not that poor, why can’t they do anything to help them?

My neighbours on the train bought a snack of puffed rice, parseley, onion and something else I didn’t recognize. Maybe dried fruit. Before we went to bed a drag queen passed by giving blessing, at the price of 0.20?. My neighbours asked to be blessed. In the morning the same lady came again, followed by other women. But the trip was almost over, and few people asked for the blessing this time.

Arriving in Kolkata

6.40am and you can already see children playing cricket out of the window.

We arrived at 7am in Kolkata, only one hour late. It’s not too bad, if you consider that the Australian girl arrived in Darjeeling on a train from Varanasi that was 17 hours late! Before the train stopped some guys jumped off the train and walked on the empy rails. It’s something I’m not used to, but apparently it is commonplace here.

Out of the station I immediately fell in love with the town. There are these yellow taxi that make me feel like I was in a movie from the 40s. And the decadent buildings increase the vintage feeling. I love it.

Kolkata yellow taxi

It wasn’t easy to find the hotel, because the metro wasn’t working, but I did. I have a room with loads of windows, a bathroom that is not smelly and with running water, a terrace where I can wash my clothes. I couldn’t ask for more. A girl told me there are bed bugs, but I will live with them, never mind.

So the first thing I did was washing underpants and a t-shirt (I didn’t wash everything because I didn’t want to spend all day washing) and I went out. My hotel is in Sudder St, where all the cheap accomodations are. I walked North, I passed by the BBD Bagh, a lake surrounded by beautiful colonial buildings, palm trees and families that live under a plastic bag.

I walked a little bit further North, with various stops to take in breath and sugars. I stopped in a restaurant where a gentleman wearing a hat opened my door and the coffee cost me 0.70?, a fortune here! but it had air conditioning, and I was the only customer, with three waiters only for me, that stared at me for the 30 minutes that I was there. In another restaurant a couple of hours later there were 5 waiters for me, only customer again. I am expecting diarrhea at any time, because I keep having ice drinks, that I should avoid, but it’s too hot and I’m constantly thirsty and these smoothies are too good. I had a crepe for lunch. Not that good.

Further North, I walked past a district specialized in straw statues covered in mud with the shape of a woman with her tongue out, a necklace made with men heads and a man under her feet. I found out a bit later walking by a small temple that she’s a goddess. I think it’s Kali. I read somewhere that she is a widower and very angry.

People stop me to ask to take pictures of them. Or of their shops or their friends. Only once it was me who asked to take a picture, of an old man who was ironing on the street (it was probably his job), with an iron that he was heating next to him. He gifted me a beautiful shy smile.

I like the people. They seem nice and only one man was rude so far, he licked his lips while walking past me.

And I love the city a lot. Some buildings would be amazing if they weren’t falling down. People still live inside. According to the Lonely Planet the owners don’t care about renovating them because tenants only pay R1 (= ?0.16) per month. And the contrast with the other colonial palaces that have been renovated is quite striking, and the people sleeping on the street. People eating on the street. Bathing on the street. Pooping on the street.

I found out with my malaria pills that it’s Friday today. I thought it was Thursday. When you travel days are all the same and you get confused sometimes.

It’s 10pm and sidewalks are full of naked children, women and boys sleeping on the pavement. In the afternoon I walked by a luxurious hotel and from the window I saw some well fed (too fed) Indian men relaxing in the lobby. Isn’t there a way to distribute a little better the riches of the country?