Wednesday, March 18, 2009


The end of the fifth term at Staff College brought about our final term break. My friend Alex (UK) and I decided to head north to the city of Calcutta, or Kolkata as it's now called. Calcutta is a city of around 15 million and the third-largest city in India (behind Mumbai and Delhi). Calcutta also has a storied history as the one-time capital of India during the British Raj-era. Calcutta is polluted, dirty, over-crowded and full of poverty. But it's also a vital part of India with a vibrant culture, loads of colonial architecture and intense spirituality. After settling in at our hotel (the Oberoi Grand, which I now highly recommend), we took a quick walk around the old British administrative part of town.

The Writer's Building, now an Indian government office building.

The General Post Office, built over the site of old Fort William and the Black Hole of Calcutta incident.

L: Posing in front of the memorial for the victims of the Black Hole.
R: In the cemetery at St. John's Church...lots of memorials for British colonials who died of exotic diseases
View of a small boat crossing the Hooghly River at sunset.

The next day we hired a car and driver and took a half-day guided tour of the city. First stop was the Motherhouse, the house where Mother Teresa lived and still the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa's living quarters are still maintained as when she was alive...a very simple, small room with just a cot and a desk.

L: Mother Teresa's tomb
R: Grotto in the Motherhouse

Door to the Motherhouse.

Next we visited the Pareshnath Jain Temple. Jains are an offshoot of Hinduism that stress the sancitity of all living things. The whole temple was decorated with mirrors and semi-precious stones, and to be honest, gave off a bit of a garish Velvet Elvis vibe.

L: Front of the temple, R: Posing with a statue of the temple's builder

An easter-egg colored museum attached to the temple.

We also stopped at the Victoria Memorial, a huge classical stone building filled with statues of famous British figures from India's colonial past. Alex felt right at home.

Calcutta's vibrant culture can best be seen in the cities markets. College Street is right near Calcutta University and is full of stall after stall of used book sellers.

The flower market is located underneath the Howrah Bridge along the banks of the Hooghly River. This market is filled with vendors making and selling flowers for religious rituals.

After checking out the markets, we moved to the south side of town to visit the Kalighat Temple. This temple is dedicated to the goddess Kali, and is responsible for the city's name. Like most Hindu temples, Kalighat was packed with worshippers straining to see the goddess idol. Kali is a goddess of death and destruction. There was an altar behind the temple where worshippers could pay to sacrifice goats to the goddess. Interesting. Unfortunately, photos weren't allowed inside the temple.

The streets around Kalighat with the temple in the background.

Right next to Kalighat is Mother Teresa's Home for the Sick and Dying.

Overall, the chaos of Calcutta seems uniquely Indian and is worth the trip if you can deal with the filth and masses of humanity. Some final scenes of chaotic Calcutta streets...

Streetcar traffic jam...the tram is coming towards the camera, but no one's in any of those cars...

Busy intersection, count the different types of taxis...regular cab, auto-rickshaw, bike rickshaw and foot rickshaw.

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