Posts Tagged With: India

The only way to visit the Taj Mahal…Indian Style

The Taj is always worth a visit. We had met many people in India who either had bad experiences at the Taj Mahal or knew someone who had a bad experience and said it wasn’t worth it. So, expectations were set low for us and maybe that’s why it was so great-or maybe it’s so great because it’s so beautiful.

We arrived in Agra, the town where the Taj Mahal is located, on a Friday. The Taj Mahal is closed on Friday, but, thankfully, we did research ahead of time and knew this. Because we arrived Friday, we had time to plan which entrance to arrive at and what time we should arrive. We did this so we could be first in line and potentially get the best shots of the Taj without people in it. We had our plan all sorted out.

So, we woke up early Saturday morning, which was right about 5:30 am. We got some chai and cookies on our way to the entrance for our breakfast. We arrived at the entrance around 6 am where there was one group of French guys and a Chinese family. The French guys recommended that one of us wait in the Taj Mahal entrance line while the other waits in the entrance ticket line. Yes, they are at different spots and you can’t be in both at the same time if you’re one person. So, Dave got in the ticket line while I waited at the entrance.

Chai and cookies

Chai and cookies

The ticket booth opens at 6:30 am and the entrance doors open at 7 am. So we had 30 minutes for Dave to get back before the doors opened. And, surprisingly, it worked. Dave got the entrance tickets and came back to the entrance line, where I was waiting, and essentially cut everyone. It was perfect because the line was huge by 6:45 am.

Dave getting back into line after getting our entrance tickets.

Dave getting back into line after getting our entrance tickets.

The very long line at 6:45 am.

The very long line at 6:45 am.

Then, slowly they added more railings to keep the lines in check and each time they added more people inched closer and closer to the door. I was in the ladies line, which was shorter than the gents line. So Dave and I decided that I wouldn’t wait for him and I would just go to try and get the best shots. At some point, not sure if it was 7 am or not, they told the people to go ahead.

I was the first woman through the security and started walking briskly towards the Taj along with the French guys who were also briskly walking toward the Taj. At some point shortly after starting to walk briskly-like .2 seconds after- I decided “what the hell, I’m in India” and started a full out run. I sprinted ahead of the French guys yelling “Indian Style!” (Side note-for reasons unknown to us sometimes Indians run or sprint to everything.) With my lead, the French guys started running also. The both of us got there about the same time, but it did give us a couple of minutes before everyone else arrived.

Worth it.

Worth it.

The fruits of my labor.

The fruits of my labor.

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We decided to stay a couple of hours and see how the light changes on the Taj and then we had our fill and say our goodbyes. The place is very beautiful and ALWAYS worth a visit. We didn’t have any bad experience with touts at all-which might have been the only place in India where we didn’t have tout problems.

I would recommend to anyone to stay the night before, get up early and enjoy it for 30-60 seconds before anyone else. Completely worth it.

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Categories: Architecture, India | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

Tigers, nah, they’re only in zoos.

I was really feeling homesick. We had spent thanksgiving on an overnight bus and eating pad thai in Thailand, so I really wanted to experience Christmas and feel some Christmas spirit. There are Christians in India in the south who celebrate Christmas so we wanted to head down there. Due to the Varanasi train ticket fiasco, we couldn’t make it to the south to celebrate Christmas in time, so we opted for a Christmas celebration in the wild.

Kanha National park is one of the largest national parks in India and has over 200 Bengal tigers along with hundreds of other animal types. We decided to go here so we’d have the chance to see a tiger.

The park at dawn.

The park at dawn.

We had met an Italian couple on the bus ride to the village near the park entrance and had decided to share a jeep with them to reduce the cost. An older couple was staying at the same resort we were and decided to join us since you can take up to six people in one jeep. The manager of the hotel was very friendly and willing to help us fill out the appropriate paperwork to get a jeep and ticket into the park.

The Indian government restricts the number of jeeps going into the park to protect the land and animals that live there. I don’t disagree with this, I think it’s a great way to protect the park. But, there is an online system now where people can pre-book the jeeps and so all of them were sold out months ago. There is an emergency quota, similar to the train system, for people arriving the day before. But, the process to get this ticket was just baffling.

We had our paperwork filled out and completed for 2:30pm the day prior to going on the safari. The manager of the hotel said he somehow got us to the second position in the stack of paperwork of people trying to get in. This was good for us since they only give out 2 or 3 sometimes. All of these papers are then stapled together and additional ones can be added and stapled to the bottom of the pile. The office where the papers are kept and where the tickets are given is open from 2:30pm to 6pm and then re-opens at 6 am the following day. At 6 am they release the emergency tickets and whoever is first in the stack of papers gets the first ticket and so on until they run out. Simple right?

Wrong. The stack of papers remain outside the locked office all night and apparently people come in the middle of the night or early in the morning and remove papers so their group is towards the top. To avoid this, we were told you have to guard the stack of papers. HA! The manager of our hotel said that he will watch the stack and make sure we stay at our current place until midnight when he goes to bed. After that, he wanted us, the three couples, to check on the stack starting at 3 am (I guess people don’t come from midnight – 3am).  There were multiple times when we or the others in our group asked why they didn’t lock up the papers at 6pm when the office closed. We were told then people would come multiple days in advance and book the safaris and it just wouldn’t work and many other reason that we just couldn’t understand. We decided that, being foreigners, we couldn’t change the system and agreed to do the babysitting in shifts starting at a later time than suggested. The Italian couple was the first at 4:00 am, the older couple at 4:30 am, Dave at 5:00 am and Dave and I at 5:30 to 6 am when the office would open.

Well, the Italian couple got there at 4 am and our sheet was missing completely, so they added our second copy (which the manager knew we should have filled out in advance). The people who were there put our sheet at the bottom and the Italians tried to explain that we were on top, but couldn’t do it with the limited English they had. When the older couple showed up at 4:30 with our sheet on the bottom, they were very upset and adamant about getting back to the top. They did whatever they had to, which I think included yelling, to get our paper back on top. We were not there, but were told it got a little hostile. So when Dave arrived they decided to all stay together as a group until the office opened at 6 am. The babysitting worked and we got a ticket into the park. Woo.

At 6:30 am we were off into tiger country. The sun was just rising and it was chilly in our open topped jeep, but there were many animals waking up and roaming the park. The goal of the safari is always to see a tiger, both the guide and driver know that, so many of the animals we saw were in passing for our tiger search. We saw many different varieties of deer, water buffalo, many birds, peacocks, and jackals. It was amazing how beautiful the park was with all of the wildlife, forests, and meadows.

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All of the jeeps lined up to get into the park and see the tigers first.

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All dressed up for the chilly morning and ready for the tigers!

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The park is beautiful in the morning.

But, of course, it’s mostly about the tigers. The jeep driver and guides know where the tiger territories are and stop at various spots. They also communicate with the other jeep drivers and guides to see if they’ve seen one and where it was. We had driven up behind a jeep that said they saw a tiger cross the road a couple of minutes before. Bummer, we just missed it. The jeeps usually hang out for 10 or so minutes in the same area with the engines off just in case the tiger decides to come back out. So we sat for a while all just hoping we’d get to see one. While waiting we hear this really loud yip noise all of a sudden and some rustling in the woods right next to the jeep. The rustling noise started to move away from the jeep and sounded like there was something running through the under brush. No one knew what it actually was but the jeep driver started the jeep and sped forward to stay with it. All of a sudden a baby deer jumps into the road in front of the jeep. Bummer! It was a just a deer.

A few second after the startled deer ran and stopped in the road a giant tiger came and chomped down on the deer, looked at us, and then ran off. HOLY COW! We just saw a tiger. HOLY FREAKIN COW! We just saw a tiger kill a baby deer.  It was awesome. Well, not for the deer.

All of us were high on adrenaline and we couldn’t keep the giant smiles off our faces when other jeeps came and asked if we saw a tiger or not. The whole debacle with the babysitting of our paper was well worth our tiger siting. Unfortunately, with all the excitement of the tiger siting we didn’t get our camera open and functioning to get a picture. But, the older couple has some awesome shots they are going to share with us (thank you so much!). We’re currently waiting for them and will update once we have them.

It was a perfect Christmas present, since we couldn’t be home with family.

Cute little owl hiding in his tree hole.

Cute little owl hiding in his tree hole.

Jackel

Jackal

Langure Monkeys

Langur Monkeys

Yellow pigeons.

Yellow pigeons.

Kingfisher (the bird the Indian beer is named after)

Kingfisher (the bird the Indian beer is named after)

Deer

Deer

Peacocks!

Peacocks!

Searching for bugs

Searching for bugs

Waiting for an opportunity to steal our food.

Waiting for an opportunity to steal our food.

Yellow legged bird, I forget the real name.

Yellow legged bird, I forget the real name.

Good morning.

Good morning.

Our jeep

Our jeep

One spot where a female tiger and her cubs frequent.

One spot where a female tiger and her cubs frequent.

Dave and a water buffalo

Dave and a water buffalo

water buffalo

water buffalo

River in the park.

River in the park.

Another kingfisher bird.

Another kingfisher bird.

Spotted deer.

Spotted deer.

Sunrise.

Sunrise.

Categories: India, Nature, Outdoors, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Brrrrr…cold Darjeeling

While we were in Kolkata we asked a few Indians where their favorite place to visit in India was and two of them said Darjeeling. So we were off. Darjeeling is an old hill station in the mountains with amazing views of the Himalayas.  And at over 6,500 ft it was COLD in December. For some reason we didn’t think it was going to be as cold as it was, I don’t know what we were thinking.

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Let me clarify my definition of cold. During the day in the sun it was enjoyable, my guess would be about  low to mid 50’s. Once that sun disappeared though, it went from enjoyable to I don’t want to stop moving or I’ll get frostbite. Which, I guess would translate to right around freezing. The most unexpected part, again, we should have expected this, was there was no heat. It is still so surprising that a location pretty far north of the equator and above 6,000ft does not have central heat during the winter months. There were some people that had portable heaters, but the fuel for them cost a lot so they were not used.

This might be the reason the fuel is so expensive.

This might be the reason the fuel is so expensive.

The first night we were there, we put on all of our layers (undershirt, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, wool sweater, soft shell jacket, gortex jacket, long underwear, pants, hat and gloves) just to walk around at night. We were not sure if we would be warm enough with the clothes we had and the three blankets they gave us for sleeping. But we did get a surprise right before bed–a hot water bottle. What they do to stay warm at night in Darjeeling (and apparently other cold climates near by) is boil a bunch of water and put them in rubber bags. Each bed gets a rubber bag to put into your bed prior to getting in yourself. This pre-heats your bed and keeps you warm throughout the night. Let me tell you, it works! We were able to sleep in only a couple of layers. Both of us thought this would be a great addition to the cold nights in Maine.

Sitting inside with all my clothes on.

Sitting inside with all my clothes on.

Drinking lots of hot tea to stay warm.

Drinking lots of hot tea to stay warm.

Our heat for the night!

Our heat for the night!

Eating ice cream indoors with all of our winter gear on.

Eating ice cream indoors with all of our winter gear on.

While in Darjeeling we decided to visit a tea plantation. We were told multiple times that the best tea in India comes from here. We got a tour of the highest tea plantation in India and it also happened to be organic. It was called Happy Valley. December is not the picking season so the equipment was not up and running, but we did get a good explanation of what it would be doing when it was running. We both learned a lot of new things about the different types of tea and the tea making process that we didn’t know before. We left with some tea as a souvenir.

The chalk board where they listed which ladies were picking in which locations.

The chalk board where they listed which ladies were picking in which locations.

The beds where the tea leaves are partially air dried.

The beds where the tea leaves are partially air dried.

The fans that move the air into the bottom of the beds.

The fans that move the air into the bottom of the beds.

Location where they roll the tea leaves.

Location where they roll the tea leaves.

Ovens for further drying.

Ovens for further drying.

Sorting room for different types of tea.

Sorting room for different types of tea.

Us with the tour guide.

Us with the tour guide.

View of the tea plants.

View of the tea plants.

View of a portion of the tea plantation.

View of a portion of the tea plantation.

We visited the Zoo as well based on recommendations from other fellow travelers. The zoo did have some cool animals, mostly large cats, and an interesting museum on Himalayan Trekking and Treks to Mt. Everest.

Zoo

Zoo

The bear was sticking his tongue out at us.

The bear was sticking his tongue out at us.

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The bear didn't have a cage and was really close to us, there was a trench that stops the bear from escaping though.

The bear didn’t have a cage and was really close to us, there was a trench that stops the bear from escaping though.

Mountain goat.

Mountain goat.

Water Buffalo

Water Buffalo

Himalayan Museum

Himalayan Museum

Leopard

Leopard

Panther

Panther

Snow leopard

Snow leopard

Tiger!

Tiger!

This wolf wants to eat you.

This wolf wants to eat you.

Sly fox.

Sly fox.

Sleeping Red Panda

Sleeping Red Panda

Red Panda

Red Panda

Because Darjeeling is a hill station, they have a train system that go up the mountain side. They call these hill station trains toy trains. The toy trains are smaller trains than the regular trains they have in India. They only have a 2ft wide rail width and the cars are about 5ft wide versus a 4-5ft rail width and a 9-10ft car width. We took a toy train joy ride to a lower city and back. The joy rides specifically use a steam engine to power the cars like they did when these were originally built and used.

Toy Train

Toy Train

Steam Engine

Steam Engine

Inside the train.

Inside the train.

We saw this while we were on the train. They were lifting concrete to the top of the wall there. Good team work.

We saw this while we were on the train. They were lifting concrete to the top of the wall there. Good team work.

Adding fuel to the fire.

Adding fuel to the fire.

Removing the ashes.

Removing the ashes.

Someone sorting through the just removed ashes for unused coal.

Someone sorting through the just removed ashes for unused coal.

One of the cooler things we saw in Darjeeling wasn’t a tourist attraction at all. They were repaving some of the streets and we got to see the whole process up close and personal. The roads were not just regular black top either. They get a lot of rain in the monsoon season so they put stones in the black top, we believe these help with tire grip. Almost the whole process is done by hand or man power, even laying and tapping each one of the stones. It was an interesting process we’ve never seen before and will probably never see again. (Link to YouTube video)

That tar (?) chunk gets thrown into that machine which melts and mixes.

That tar (?) chunk gets thrown into that machine which melts and mixes.

Sealing the edges together.

Sealing the edges together.

Placing and banging in the stones.

Placing and banging in the stones.

Laying the black top with wood trowels.

Laying the black top with wood trowels.

Darjeeling was also our first true experience with obtaining railway tickets. We actually ended up getting stuck in Darjeeling because of it. Our first experience in Kolkata was at a Foreign Tourist Office and we were able to get a ticket the same day. Darjeeling is smaller and doesn’t have a special office for tourist so we tried the regular window. With the regular window comes the regular tickets. We found out that the tourist office only gives out tourist quota tickets and a certain amount of tickets are set aside for tourist only. Because there are over a billion people in India, they have different quotas set aside for different ticket types. They have the general, tourist, emergency (Tatkal), women, and more I don’t even know about.

So, if you are trying to purchase regular, non tourist quota, tickets for the day prior to when you want to leave, which we were, you are shit out of luck. Those tickets are sold out days, weeks, and even months in advance. For this reason, they have an emergency quota, or stash of tickets, that can be purchased only the day before at exactly 10 am. Our first attempt at getting general tickets didn’t work because they were all sold out, but we were told about the Tatkal emergency tickets so we decided to try that. It was already past 10 am so we had to return the following day. Which would put us leaving a day after we wanted to.

The Tatkal experience: we arrived at 9 am and didn’t see too many people around. We thought we were smart for coming early and getting in line. Well there is no line. There was a scrap piece of paper that you write your name on to hold your place in line. People were there at 8 am when the train station opened to write their name on the scrap paper. We were number 13 and were thinking we were in good shape. A couple of minutes before 10am, everyone comes back and queues up with their papers. Also, I forgot to mention before that you need to fill out a piece of paper with the train number, name, time, in order to get a ticket and in Kolkata someone was able to help us with that. The paper we had with us was partially filled out, as it was in Kolkata, because we didn’t know the number or name of the train. Well, 10 am comes around, the tellers are working as fast as they can to purchase tickets and move through the line. By the time we got there, got yelled at for not having the train number, and figured out which train number we wanted, there were no tickets left for us. Attempt number two failed.

The tatkal chaos

The tatkal chaos

Later that day, we were told that the general ticket window can purchase tickets from the tourist quota, but you need to specifically ask for that. So, we went back for a third time and tried to get tickets that way. The tickets that were available were two days out and had a connection in the middle. We took it. After two days, three visits, many conversations with the tellers, and lots of frustration, we finally got tickets. We ended up leaving three days after we originally wanted to and, we didn’t know this at the time, it was only the start to our wonderful train ticket purchase experiences. More to come later.

Getting stuck in Darjeeling was not so bad after all. It was quieter and more peaceful than Kolkata, we met many other interesting travelers, and there were some great places to eat western breakfasts, like omelets and pancakes. Also, on the last day, the clouds left long enough for us to see the beautiful, huge mountains that were close by. If we didn’t get stuck, we would have never seen them. Thank you crazy Indian train system.

The mountains that we got to see on the last day!

The mountains that we got to see on the last day!

Glenary's bake shop. They have very yummy desserts.

Glenary’s bake shop. They have very yummy desserts.

Old church at the top of the mountain.

Old church at the top of the mountain.

Dave got this excited about the Indian desserts every time.

Dave got this excited about the Indian desserts every time.

Categories: Architecture, Cities, India, Nature, Outdoors, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

India!

We’ve finally made our way to India. It’s been on our list of places to visit for quite a while, and now we’re here. We arrived on December 8th in Kolkata (Calcutta) after traveling for a few weeks in Thailand. There was no specific reason for choosing Kolkata as our starting point, other than the fact that Air Asia flies from Bangkok, Thailand to either Kolkata or Chennai. After some quick online research, Kolkata won. So, this posting is all about Kolkata.

One of the Hindu statues at the India Museum in Kolkata.

Hindu statue on display at the India Museum in Kolkata.

The experience of India actually started before we even arrived, and even before we left Thailand. The flight from Thailand to India included mostly Indians on the flight, which is to be expected. And with them came a bit of the Indian culture. As is commonly known, India has a large population, about 1.2 billion people. And in many places the population density is very high. According to the 2011 census, the population density of Kolkata was around 69,000 people per square mile. For comparison, in 2011, New York City had a population density of around 27,000 people per square mile and Boston was around 12,750 people per square mile. We’ve come to realize that this density can create competition for space.

This competition for space appeared on our fight to Kolkata. As soon as it was announced that boarding of the plane would begin, people dashed to the doorway leading to the buses that were to take us to the airplane parked elsewhere. Now, out of fairness, this happens at airports in the U.S. and other places we’ve traveled, though, to a lesser degree. People were jockeying for position, cutting the line, and there was a general sense of panic and anxiety in the air. It was clear that the folks at Air Asia on this particular flight were used to this and sent people away from the front of the line. At which point they cut in other sections of the line.

Passports and Visas had to be checked, so the line moved at a little slower than the boarding of most flights, but still a totally acceptable pace. As we waited in line, a couple of men directly behind us were outwardly troubled by the slow pace of the line. They were moving side to side trying to catch a glimpse of the front of the line, maybe trying to figure out what was taking so long. They sighed anxiously every 15 seconds or so, while bumping into my and Sarah’s backpacks almost constantly. Other travelers we met before India warned us that line cutting was common place in India and that you had to hold your ground in order not to lose your place in line. So Sarah and I gave gentle, yet obvious nudges backwards to make them aware of their encroachment.

Throughout the ordeal we couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Once I had reached the front of the line one of the two men made a last ditch effort to make it to the front of a second line parallel to ours. He was quickly rejected and sent back to his place in the other line. I finally asked the men what they were worried about and commented that the plane wasn’t going to leave without us and the 40 other people still waiting in line behind us. One of the men chuckled because he knew it to be true, yet, their anxiety persisted.

After our visas and passports were checked we boarded the buses that would transport us to the airplane. The frantic atmosphere was present there as well. People refused to give up their positions closest to the door, making it hard for others to enter the bus and make their way to empty space. Once the bus reached the airplane, everyone hurried to the side of the bus that was closest to the stairs leading to the entrance of the plane. The doors opened and people squeezed their way through and  then wedged themselves in front of others at the bottom of the stairs. There was still more jockeying for position on the stairs. Sarah and I got a little joy out of creating a human barrier, blocking anyone from passing us.

Once we were on the plane it became apparent why there was so much competition for line placement. Many of the passengers had purchased duty free items and wanted to ensure they had a place in the overhead storage compartments. There was a small group of men that had far more bags than was allowed and took up more overhead compartment space than you’re supposed to. Even without the fight for luggage space, many people had a hurried pace for no apparent reason. All the while, the flight attendants were clearly frustrated, and at times appeared to take their frustrations out by aggressively jamming luggage into the overhead compartments. Luckily, we found space for our bags near our seats, though, not above our seats where they’re supposed to go.

And that was our introduction to India.

After arriving at the Kolkata airport, we had to take a taxi to a hotel we picked out of the guidebook. We were told by a security guard that there were metered taxis outside. So we tracked down a taxi driver who claimed he had a meter. I was skeptical from the get go and once arriving at his car refused to enter until he showed me the meter. He pointed to a very old analogue gauge of some sort, clearly not resembling any kind of meter for tracking the cost of fare. So I said to him, “that’s not a meter”, to which we agreed and then quoted us a ridiculously high fare, 850 Rupees ($16). I’d read on a recent trip adviser posting that the fare should run around 220 Rupees ($4). So we walked away from his cab as he tried to negotiate price, all the while refusing his still too high quotes. The same trip adviser posting mentioned that there was a prepaid taxi. So we walked, carrying our large and small backpacks, surrounded by 5-8 taxi drivers all vying for our business until we found the prepaid taxi booth. We paid the 250 Rupee rate and finally got a taxi to the hotel.

The hotel we stayed at appeared to be a building from the British colonial era. It had an old style lift and a nice classic feel to it. There were bell boys on every floor, always trying to find a way to serve you. We’d read about this ahead of time and always politely told them “no thanks”. They were eager to serve solely in an attempt to receive a tip. We’re budget travelers, so tipping is something we avoid when at all possible. The room we stayed in cost enough, so paying for a service we didn’t want was not going to happen.

The old style lift in the hotel.

The old style lift in the hotel.

It's become a custom to have a beer our first night in a new place.

It’s become a custom to have a beer our first night in a new place.

The room at Hotel Broadway we stayed in.

The room at Hotel Broadway we stayed in.

Our first official meal in India. We started off with Pakora (deep fried veggies). Yum!

Our first official meal in India. We started off with Pakora (deep fried veggies). Yum!

We soon found out that bell boys weren’t the only people wanting money. We were either asked for money directly, or given a service we didn’t want and then asked for money, somewhere in the range of 40-50 times during our three days in Kolkata. Some of these were vendors that approached us in the street asking us to visit their “shop”. The conversation always starts with “where are you from?”. Unfortunately, we’ve had to resort to outwardly saying to people after hearing this question, “we don’t want anything”. So far, this only seems to be a problem in areas that tourists frequent.

Our first night out we walked from our hotel to the tourist area near Sudder St and Park St. We threw ourselves head first into the sea of people and the madness of the street traffic. Crossing the streets in Kolkata was the most challenging and scariest we’ve experienced so far. The best tactic is to join others in a critical mass until you can block the flow of traffic.

This sort of captures how congested the roads are.

This sort of captures how congested the roads are.

An easier way to navigate the city was to take the train. The train line runs past most of the areas we wanted to see during our visit so we took it often. A train ride usually cost us around 4 rs ($0.08) per person per ride. Not bad. As can be imagined, the train got pretty packed at times. On especially crowded rides we had to join the other riders in jamming ourselves into the already packed train cars. The crowd becomes a huge moving mass of people.

Kolkata city train

Kolkata city train

The first night out we discovered Kathi rolls. Think buttered burrito tortilla filled with Indian food. They became a staple food for us because of their low price, around 15 – 45 rs ($0.30 – $0.85) per roll. One roll was sufficient for a meal. The fillings that we tried were paneer (cheese with the consistency of tofu), chicken, vegetables, egg, and combinations of any of those, all with Indian spices. They were a little on the greasy side but very delicious.

Our first Kathi rolls. One chicken and one paneer, both with veggies and spices.

Our first Kathi rolls. One chicken and one paneer, both with veggies and spices.

The master Kathi chefs. The youngest guy on the left rolled the dough into flat circles Then the guy in the back fried the dough and also cooked the fillings on the huge concave frying pan. Next the guy in red filled the fried wraps. The fella in the foreground took orders  and money, and then passed out the goods. Very efficient operation.

The master Kathi chefs. The youngest guy on the left rolled the dough into flat circles Then the guy in the back fried the dough and also cooked the fillings on the huge concave frying pan. Next the guy in red filled the fried wraps. The fella in the foreground took orders and money, and then passed out the goods. Very efficient operation.

Not surprisingly, one of the reasons we were excited to visit India was because of the food. There was plenty to try in Kolkata.

Breakfast a Radhuni. Lentils and vegetable curry with Chapati bread.

Breakfast a Radhuni. Lentils and vegetable curry with Chapati bread.

Breakfast a Radhuni. Lentils and vegetable curry with Chapati bread.

Breakfast a Radhuni. Lentils and vegetable curry with Chapati bread.

Vegetable dosa (pancake with veggies)

Vegetable dosa (pancake with veggies)

Momos from a food cart.

Momos from a food cart.

Paying the bill at the momo cart. Five momos and a small bowl of soup cost 15 rupees ($0.30).

Paying the bill at the momo cart. Five momos and a small bowl of soup cost 15 rupees ($0.30).

We didn't try any of this fruit, but the sidewalks were filled with guys like this selling all kinds of Indian foods.

We didn’t try any of this fruit, but the sidewalks were filled with guys like this selling all kinds of Indian foods.

Chai stands were ubiquitous.

Chai stands were ubiquitous.

Some of the chai stands used disposable clay cups instead of plastic. This is good because there was lots of plastic litter everywhere. Some food carts also used bowls made of dry leaves.

Some of the chai stands used disposable clay cups instead of plastic. This is good because there was lots of plastic litter everywhere. Some food carts also used bowls made of dry leaves.

Close up of the clay cup filled with chai.

Close up of the clay cup filled with chai.

And of course we found McDonald's soft serve ice cream.

And of course we found McDonald’s soft serve ice cream.

Kolkata was the British era capital and is full of architecture and some monuments from that era. One of the most impressive monuments is the Victoria Monument, built in honor of Queen Victoria.

Police car parked outside of the monument. Kolkata was full of this exact car, used as taxis, private cars and police cars.

Police car parked outside of the monument. Kolkata was full of this exact car, used as taxis, private cars and police cars.

Back of Victoria Monument.

Back of Victoria Monument.

Back of Victoria Monument.

Families use the grounds around the monument as a picnic area and to the escape the hectic city.

Statue of Edward the VII.

Statue of Edward the VII.

Entrance to Victoria Monument.

Entrance to Victoria Monument.

The crowd of people entering and exiting the monument. There were so many people that a tour of the monument meant walking in a fast moving crowd/line through the monument from start to finish.

The crowd of people entering and exiting the monument. There were so many people that a tour of the monument meant walking in a fast moving crowd/line through the monument from start to finish.

While trying to buy train tickets to our next destination we walked through what used to be the business district of British era Kolkata. The buildings have held up pretty well and seem to be heavily used to this day.

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This guy is sharpening knives on a peddle powered sharpening wheel.

This guy is sharpening knives on a peddle powered sharpening wheel.

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Trolley system still running in parts of the city.

Trolley system still running in parts of the city.

Central A/C.

Central A/C.

Would you buy insurance from these guys?

Would you buy insurance from these guys?

Small lake in the old business district.

Small lake in the old business district.

You figure it out.

You figure it out.

The Indian Museum was founded in 1814 and is a huge old building housing some amazing artifacts, ranging from fossils to ancient Hindu stone carvings. We spent the better part of a day exploring the museum and waiting for some of the exhibits to open. Aside from the artifacts, the building and old display cabinets were reason enough to visit the museum. It felt like we’d traveled back in time.

A couple hours after opening the museum really started to fill up.

A couple hours after opening the museum really started to fill up.

175th Anniversary plaque.

175th Anniversary plaque.

Queen Victoria statue.

Queen Victoria statue.

Museum hallway.

Museum hallway.

Museum courtyard.

Museum courtyard.

Giant deer.

Giant deer.

One of the exhibit halls.

One of the exhibit halls.

Beautiful old display cabinets.

Beautiful old display cabinets.

It looked like many of the exhibits had been locked up for decades. Many artifacts were covered in a thick layer of dust.

It looked like many of the exhibits had been locked up for decades. Many artifacts were covered in a thick layer of dust.

Some of the exhibits were unfortunately closed.

Some of the exhibits were unfortunately closed.

Human fetus.

Human fetus.

Eight legged lamb.

Eight legged lamb.

Hippo and Asian Elephant skeletons.

Hippo and Asian Elephant skeletons.

After finding the foreign ticket office and bringing the correct documentation, we bought our tickets and made are way to Darjeeling by train. This was our first experience with the train system in India. According to our guide book, the Indian rail system is the largest employer in the world with roughly 1.5 million workers, and transports around 20 million people everyday. Wow!

Being our first experience with the train in India we didn’t know what to expect. The station in Kolkata is huge and was filled with hundreds, maybe thousands of people. Similar to our experience on the flight to India, the train station was a frenetic place with people running back and forth every few minutes or so as platform numbers were announced. Each platform was full of people, luggage, and tons of cargo. As is common in densely populated areas in India, the smell of urine and feces was in the air. There were dogs everyone, food venders, and men moving cargo bag and forth from platform to platform. While waiting for our train we got to experience many more of the curious stares from Indians we’ve come to accept. Suffice to say, it was an exciting, slightly overwhelming experience.

The train ride itself went off without a hitch and we arrived in Darjeeling the next day. There were a few more surprises though. Many beggars, people giving blessings and asking for merit/payment in return, and what I can only describe as rude gypsies clapping loudly in your face and then expecting some money in return passed through the train several times. This gave us more practice at saying “No” in an even more convincing manner. All in all an interesting experience to say the least.

One of the many farms we saw during our ride to Darjeeling.

One of the many farms we saw during our ride to Darjeeling.

There was no need to buy the more expensive A/C train tickets since the temperature was plenty cold.

There was no need to buy the more expensive A/C train tickets since the temperature was plenty cold.

The sleeper car we stayed in. The Foreign ticket office worker reserved us the two bunks on the right, as opposed to the six grouped together on the left, stacked three high.

The sleeper car we stayed in. The Foreign ticket office worker reserved us the two bunks on the right, as opposed to the six grouped together on the left, stacked three high.

The train platform in Kolkata. Of course, people were eager to enter the train to get to their ASSIGNED SEATS!

The train platform in Kolkata. Of course, people were eager to enter the train to get to their ASSIGNED SEATS!

This young guy came through our train car to sing and drum in an effort to earn a little money. It worked.

This young guy came through our train car to sing and drum in an effort to earn a little money. It worked.

Kolkata was a great introduction to India. It gave us a taste of some of the many characteristics of the country. That said, I’m sure there’s much more to experience.

Categories: Architecture, Cities, South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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