Thursday, 15 January 2015

Kolkata - It's a black hole Jim but not as we know it

We arrived in Kolkata late on New Year's Eve, tired after a 13 hour drive from Varanasi after the good old fog led to the cancellation of our flights yet again.

New Year's Day and we set off to explore Kolkata on foot.  Kolkata is unique as the only Indian city to have working trams still in operation.  However, spares and replacement parts are not generally available and the trams in use are rickety, battered and busy - but despite being more than 60 year's old are still working

We head to St John's Church.  The memorial to the victims of the infamous Black Hole of Calcutta was moved here in 1940.

The original site of the Black Hole no longer remains - and the following sign is not pointing to John

Just around the corner is Metcalfe Hall - an old colonnaded building which houses the Asiatic Society's library on the ground floor.  We're not here for the library - we are more interested in the first floor.  Although it is mainly empty, one small gallery has about a dozen dusty, glass topped display cabinets that house the content of the Brick Gallery.  

After our 5 minute visit, the three members of staff ask John to sign the visitor's book.  The previous entry was dated April 2014 and the staff seem pleased with our comments - '"One of the best brick galleries we've visited"

The Howrah Bridge is an icon of Kolkata.  It spans the Hugli river and is claimed to be one of the busiest bridges in the world with more than 3.5 million foot passengers, many with improbable loads perched on their heads, crossing every day. It's more than 700m from end to end and on a hot day can expand by more than 1 metre. 

In the shadow of the bridge is the Mullik Ghat flower market.  Many of the workers live on the Ghat and wash in the waters of the Hugli using fibrous twigs bought for the purpose, to brush their teeth.

Competition is fierce in the flower market.  This is a wholesale market with many of the sellers bringing their produce in overnight by train and across the Howrah Bridge.  The buyers are fussy, and prices are keen.

The cost of the flowers is ridiculously low to us - with brilliant bunches of flowers for as little as 10 rupees, and 20 exquisitely made garlands available for 100 rupees (£1).  It had rained during the night but people still make their flowers look the best in the muddy area

Garlands are made ready to be taken to the temples

Some sell just the flower heads by the kilo for people to make garlands that they can sell-on at the many temples in Kolkata - a kilo for 40 rupees.

The leaves of plants and flowers are prepared to go into the many displays for the weddings and funerals that take place daily, and at the time of religious festivals flower prices rise. Sacred vegetables are added to the displays as food for the after life

After the flower market we visit the Kumartuli where the clay from the Hugli is used to make the many displays required for processions and Puja festivals

The models are built on structures made from wood and straw before being covered in the clay

The tight lanes and alleys contain hundreds of separate work stations all co-operating to deliver the completed sculptures.  People make the frames, whilst others do the 'body work',

This specialists are the head and hand makers who turn out beautifully crafted features to complete the sculptures

And afterwards, the sculptures are transferred to the 'paint shop' and are dressed in the accessories that are also made here.

Once complete, the finished articles are carried to the river where they rapidly revert to their constituent parts - and the cycle continues.

We visited one of the Jain temples which was incredibly ornate

The temple is covered in glass and mosaics

and nestles nicely between the buildings of every day life

The peacock mosaic is stunning

The Victoria Memorial Hall is extremely popular with the Indians who pay a fraction of what we pay to visit its brilliant gardens.  I use this as justification for some shameless queue jumping!

Built more than 20 year's after the death of Queen Victoria, the marble hall is part Taj Mahal, part Washington DC

Many of the tourist that visit are Indian, and being the first day of a New Year many of the women are dressed in brightly coloured dresses and saris

Part of the memorial is an interesting bronze frieze

We also visited the Mother's Home - where Mother Teresa lived and died.  The absolute simplicity of her living is humbling and a couple of displays show the significant impact of her work on the poor of Calcutta and some of her meagre possessions.  A scarf that she wore, and a cardigan are next to her Nobel Peace prize certificate.  The visit is very moving

Sites in Kolkata: the best Laundry in town if the queue is any thing to go by...

Amongst some of the superb colonial building including the GPO building, street food vendors cater for the hundreds of office workers and keep up a rapid trade at lunchtime.

Much of the architecture of Kolkata still shows the influence of the British rule

Finally, this is Jai - an amazing chap who guided us on our tour and who stepped in to sort out all our problems with on going travel when, not for the first time an airline let us down with a late change of schedule that required a swift and significant change of plan.  Without his help and reassurance, John's blood pressure would have hit the roof!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you John and Lucy for taking the time to post all the pictures of the wonderful places you have visited.Think this last lot have been amazing,the comments so informative, feel as though I have been on holiday with you.
    Looking forward to seeing you both soon love mum..x