Thursday, October 27, 2011

Jennifer is now in India (with Pierrre)


No longer in Panama as you know, but after many months of planning we are finally in Incredible India. What a country. During the flight here we wondered  if our contact would actually meet us at 3 am in Kolkata (Calcutta) but there he was. And since then everything has just fallen into place, despite the fact that we never met the person who set this up. The miracle of modern technology!!
In Kokata we were at Heaven, literally....the name of our budget hotel right next to Mother Teresa's mission. We were able to see the novitiates pray several times a day, and hear their singing, through the open window in our room. It was truly celestial. Much of Kolkata is as we have read about, with many people actually living in the streets, babies sleeping on sidewalks while their mothers cook, talk to other women living near them, and of course beg. We were able to walk around and feel very safe.  The sights and smells of the market were a new and interesting experience, as are the open air toilet stalls scattered throughout the streets. They always seem to take us by surprise, the only warning being the strong stench that emanated from them. Kolkata is a beautiful colonial city that is fascinating even as parts of it appear to be falling into decrepitude.
A long train ride (8hours) took us to Puri. This provided me with my first experience of using an Indian toilet. Unfortunately I could not lock the door. As I was doing my business in a very undignified position (required by the Indian toilet) the door opened and then closed quickly. All the person would have see was a large white bottom, but it was a humiliating experience. As we were the only caucasians onthe train there was not problem knowing whose derriere it was.
Puri is a tourist destination for Hindus. Cape Cod it is not! The beach is lovely but crowded with holiday goers, camels and elephants giving rides to children, sacred cows and dogs everywhere and many vendors selling everything from pearls and jewelry to great Indian spicy tidbits of food. The mood was very festive and whole famiiles were playing in the waves, women in their saris splashing about having a wonderful time. As we strolled along the road beside the beech we heard a drum being beaten and noticed a procession of men all dressed in similar clothes, carrying a stretcher. As they passed us we saw that there was a corpse on the stretcher (actually a wooden funeral pire), bedecked with flowers, being taken to the funeral ritual.
Our guest house was run by a seemingly grouchy but eventually friendly guy who forbid the use of the hot water because he paid for the gas, was reluctant to give us a roll of toilet paper because we are expected to provide our own, and insisted we check out at 8am on the dot, rather than 8:30 despite the fact that the place is virtually abandoned.However, we were away from the frenzy of the beach and enjoyed the walk back and forth to get there. Firecrackers woke us during the night while there inintially sounding like gun shots right outside our window. But it was only kids preparing to celebrate Diwali, and their firecrackers lack the subtility of the international firework competition of La Ronde.

Men at the market, cooking candies for Diwali in 40+ degree heat due to huge stove.

 A castle taken over by other walls and homes around it, typical of the formerly beautiful dwellings in Kolkata.
The beach at Puri
To be continued.....

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