Sunday, May 17, 2015

Kolkata, Digha, North Odisha

A colleague's wedding recently presented an opportunity to pack myself East to Bengal and Odisha. I say such, because I was always holding myself back in visiting Kolkata - I dislike crowded cities and find comfort in the smaller ones. I once was at Kharagpur for a week, and didn't visit Kolkata! Only recently I braved myself to Mumbai, and loved it.

The very moment I stepped out into the Kolkatan air, I could feel the humidity, on my palm, very much like Chennai. Airport is far away from the heart of the city, but the city has expanded well to touch and consume the airport into its arms. A long ride from the airport to Bhawanipore gave a glimpse of the city I had been shunning myself away from all these years. First, the long VIP road, which I think is the road that you can recognize from the sky as you descend to land - a long, wide road, with tall light masts, taking very few turns along its way as it drives you to the city. I noticed there were very few two-wheelers on these roads, which is quite different from Nagpur, where everybody drives approximately 1.3 two-wheelers on the road. We bade goodbye to the VIP and snaked our way towards Bhawanipore, probably touching Park Street on our way through. If I trace the same route, I can buy anything and everything I need to furnish my house, find schools and colleges for kids, places to work, shop, dine and bank the rest.

A friend of mine helped me with lodging, and met us when we arrived. We then dined at Jai Hind Dhaba, which started as a tea stall for truck drivers and is now a three-level restaurant at Bhawanipore, and has branches elsewhere. We helped ourselves to this and that, and more of that. I never thought alu-do-pyaaza could taste exotic. My friend confirmed we had space to spare in our tummy, and took us to Balwant Singh's for a dessert - doodh cola. Yes, cola milk. You never know how two things get together well. There is a lesson on Po - the art of fusing two ideas together and deriving answers, in Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono. I am sure this is what he intended to mean. Ohh, we also saw Netaji Bhawan, the residence of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, from where he escaped home arrest.

We woke up early next day to make our way to the railway station. I did know it was summer, and Kolkata is to the East, but I did not expect day break at 4.30 am! The time was 5.00, the roads were empty, the early morning light gave a clear, open look at another side of Kolkata - between the lawns, besides the Victoria Memorial, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Eden Gardens, Howrah Bridge and eventually, the loud and bustling, Howrah Railway Terminus.

The short journey to Digha ran alongside a very beautiful scenery by its sides. Once it was out of the city, it ran through vast greenery. I wanted to make up for the short sleep overnight, with some on the train. So, after I read Neville Cardus describing the most ideal match he ever saw, where Sir Don Bradman and his Australians overcame a hiccup to decimate the English, I fell asleep, dreaming that I am happily bashed to the boundary ropes by the Don as if it was an honour to be bowling to him. That lasted for only that short while as my very loud neighbour wanted to talk to his family seated behind him every 30 second, so loud that the most punk motorbike would be put to shame. Barely hearing my own thoughts clearly, I carried myself to Digha, and in all the excitement, forgot the book on the train. That train is now richer by a beautiful volume of Ramachandra Guha's Picador Book of Cricket.

Digha. Less humid than Kolkata, More windy than Kolkata. The sea breeze lured you to the seashore. We had to put aside our baggage before we did so. Digha has two beaches - the New and the Old, named so. New Digha is to the South of the railway station. It is sandy, longer area to play on the beach, and looks cleaner as you have to work very hard to mess up a very large area. The Old Digha beach is to the North of the railway station, near the heart of the city. It isn't a sandy beach, and has rock-cut steps leading into the waters. So, the waves hitting the rocks are more dramatic than at Old Digha, where the enjoyment is more in letting the waves hit you on the sea bed. The city is mainly lined with trinklet shops, and sea-food.
New Digha

Old Digha
Local transport looks very interesting, probably unique. The cycle rickshaws look like horse carts. There are autorickshaw vans. And, the most unique ones are the motor driven carts which look no more than vegetable carts, but carry people instead of vegetables, who tug a metal bar running through the middle of the cart while sitting around it, to prevent falling off it.

We made two trips to Odisha from Digha over the next couple of days. The density of greenery is beautiful. The one time I went to Bengal earlier, through what was then Orissa, I had seen the greenery alongside the tracks and made me wonder what the land was like inside. I had time to see. And this time, during wedding festivities. Unlike Baroda, where a Baraat would be a nuisance, in the village here, it was a festival for everyone. People enjoyed as the carriage went past their place, even thought it was touching midnight. It brought light to their places, which is at some places rare.

The light of the Baraat
Back to Kolkata on our way back, we had half a day to spare before we rode through traffic to the airport again. We visited Kalighat Mandir before it got crowded. It is a pity how commercial temples have become, the temple staff make it such that the darshan is so chaotic, you don't want to try a second time. You can't seek peace in such temples. Gods listen to prayers wherever you are.

With time to spare before a mini-tweetup, we ticked off Victoria Memorial, only the lawns. The architecture is so beautiful, everyone will find something to appreciate. It also seemed to match sculptures of others too, like the minarets. The humid heat was all forgotten in the neat beauty of the lawns and the majestic monument itself.
The Victoria Memorial

My friend then helped me start what I had been eagerly waiting to all trip long - eat sweets. I lost track of all the sweets I tried at Balram Mullick's. The Sondesh were so good, you wanted more of the same, but had to balance that with trying all other flavours. The dahi bora was filling and excellent! The rosagullas tasty! (duh!!) Mishti doi smooth! The thing that took the cake - kheer kadam. It has the ecstasy of rosagullas (or something equally woof!) and condensed milk rolled into one. Literally. Our breakfast, was at Sharma's, where we had a delicious serving of kachoris with alu ki sabji, the kachoris being as soft as a puri, but well flavoured. That was flushed down with a clay cup filled with chai, with saffron. Now, that is a rich tea!

This building is just at the mouth of Park Street - Old, with a Domino's.
A visit to the Park Street reminded me of South Bombay. The buildings were old, and looked like it had a splash of the new, with modern retail shops, eateries and libraries all lined side by side. It was spacious, unlike Bombay. It helped that people adhered to traffic rules, very well. Also, what I noticed right there at Park Street was a lady, a beggar, with a child who was tied to a railing. A stark reminder of the other side of the city, that I didn't see on this short visit.

Park Street

Also, Park Street
We went to Netaji Bhawan to see the house that is now converted as a museum, to display some photographs and belongings of the Netaji and his brother, Sarat Chandra Bose. I packed some lunch and also sweets from Balram Mullick's for the trip back.

Netaji Bhawan
It was a beautiful trip! I am left wondering if I should have planned a longer stay there, cover more of the city. For now, I will just flush my insides with the essence of the rosagullas, enjoying the Kolkata I could.

No comments:

Post a Comment