My time in Dhaka was coming to an end and I was feeling sad about the people I would not see and happy to hopefully find some good food and English speaking adults. Friday morning I decided to make my last pilgrimage to old Dhaka. I prefer not to go alone, first the language is a big problem; then I would get beggars or kids following me en masse so I convinced Hannan, the field supervisor who traveled with me for 12 days for the NGO to go with me. Its a big deal going downtown Dhaka but today was Friday, the Muslim holy day so the traffic was manageable,and the car horns were slient. This time I was completely turned off by the smells, the garbage, the heat and the crowds. We found a CNG bumper car and headed to central Dhaka to the new market. After a few minutes of dragging my feet through the crowds, we decided to just go and have lunch.. I had told Hannan about my favorite Indian restaurant in Dhaka so he was thrilled when I said we were going there..
. Buchara is located on the 18th floor of the Igbol tower in Banani. By this time I was tired of the place but Hannan loved it. How many mullignatawny soups can one eat. I was ready to leave but with I was going to leave with great memories and a feeling I had done some useful work. I spent Friday evening with Sattar, the head of BPKS,in his office drinking beer(alcohol is not sold legally in Bangladesh). I never drink beer but i didnt want to disappoint him.. We had lots of Bangla food, the dal, chapati and samosas were always a safe bet for me. Back at the guest house, Sumon told me he was sad I was leaving..I was his confidant involving his desire to find a foreign wife and leave Bangladesh.
Off to the airport at 11 am for my 12:30pm flight. The plane took off almost on time. The flight was 35 minutes to Calcutta. Within 10 minutes,the pilot announced there were some technical problems (the landing gear was not retracting ) so back to Dhaka. I buddied up with a New Zealand grandmother named Lois and an Bengali girl who was born in New Zealand but had been to India every year since her birth.. She had just gotten married to another Bengal guy who had been born in Germany. We waited almost eight hours for a flight. Finally at 7 pm, they combined two flights and we soared toward Calcutta.
My first night in Calcutta was not good.. First the person selling the taxi tickets tried to short change me. Again very few people spoke English but here in Calcutta,this was a problem. Everyone tries to cheat you in one way or another. My taxi had a driver and his friend. I told them I wanted to go to Sutter st and the Hotel Lytton.. We drove for forty minutes through crowded streets, crazy traffic and poverty. Where are we I kept asking. They didnt understand and they didnt care.. Finally the man not driving said they were taking me to the Hotel Majestic International. The name sounded good and the lobby was decent and it was 10 pm in one of the poorest cities in the world. I was desperate and without lots of choices. The only positive thing about the hotel was the price,$30. I think I was the only woman in the hotel. Fat Indian men were playing cards in their underware with their room door open. Activity in the halls and elevator was constant throughout the night. This was a brothel, complete with cockroaches,windowless rooms and strange noises. In the morning I packed up and was on the street looking for a cab at 8:30am.
When I stepped outside, it was obvious I was in a rough area of the city . Great for photos but not for sleeping. People had put up tents on the sidewalk and were living in them.. There were large water faucets with pumps on the streets with men washing themselves with colorful sarongs wrapped around their waist. I checked in at the Hotel Lytton. It was $80 a night but but I wasnt ready for the real India yet .First impressions do not give enough information Within a few hours on the streets,in and out of taxis, I thought I hated this place. It is impossible to walk down the street without beggars following you with sad eyes and outstreched hands,bazaar merchants trying to get you into their shops and cars attacking you from every direction. Taxi drivers live up to their reputation in Kolkota and constantly overcharge. Ironically there are showrooms displaying Bose speakers and fancy espresso bars a block away from street sellers, barefoot children and crippled beggars. The sky is usually gray from pollution and the car horns never stop. I met a bland American couple from Indianapolis who were traveling around the world, celebrating their 40th anniversary and their retirement.I convinced them to try a flashy restaurant on Park street with crystal chandeliers and marble floors. The food did not match up to the decor. Dinner conversation was polite and extremely dull. They held onto their midwest attitudes and observations so when I said farewell, I wondered how they would retell their travels back in the States. . . Tomorrow I fly out of Calcutta to Chennai in the south of India. More from the south of India.