Gods, trains and marriage

Well I’ve been pissing out my arse (excuse me!) for the last few days here in Amritsar. I’ve felt like doing, and therefore done, not much except reading, sleeping and of course sitting, lots of sitting. But i’m feeling a bit churpier today, so after constaint howlings and beatings from Simon ;-) I’ve been ‘inspired’ to fill you in on some of the more rememerable adventures we’ve had on our way here.

Kolkata
Simon is in the process on writing a song about India that at one point jingles “Fifteen people nearly died in my Sudder Street taxi ride”. Barely an exaggeration, it tells of the need for speed and sheer joy in overtaking our taxi driver had whilst excorting us from the airport to the main tourist strip in Kolkata. What an introduction to the country – and you thought Bangkok tuk tuks were bad!

Hardly the hot, hassel filled hell hole it was made out to be, we actually found this sprawling town of 4 million quite managable and were quickly befriended by 3 young Indian men, one of which (named Hasim) invited to show us around town to which we gleefully (and perhaps naively) accepted.

The Victorian Monument – notable less for it’s elaborate Victorian architechure and more for the snogging couples hidden away in it’s gardens the Victorian Monument is definitely the place to go to make out Hasim told us. As dating, let alone kissing is generally frowned upon in India (or simply not allowed) young pre-weds get creative and take to the bush with their partners for a bit of kissing, fondling and even some handy work apparently – we were quite shocked (read delighted). So instead of admiring the British self-flattery monument we took to couple spotting – a most humourous pasttime.

Kalighat – said by some to be where Kolkata got it’s name, this temple for the goddess Kali, the destructive side of the consort of Shiva’s (one of the three Hindu head honchos) is famous for it’s dayly goat sacrifices and scams. The later we partaked in. I was asked to come inside a small open-aired temple to throw flowers over a statue of a diety. Each flower was a request for good luck to my family, then friends etc. I then received the red bit of cotton (rakhi) around my wrist which is often given in Hindu worship – to take to the Ganga river is meant to be pretty damn good for ya. For this I was asked to pay 1200 rupees for rice for the pilgrims that frequent there (scam!). Luckily I only had about a hundred in my pocket so gave them that. Simon was next and went through the same ritual after which he was presured to give the same amount – they even told him that I had pay the full amount. Simon got off with with paying them 300, but we were distgusted later on when we exchanged notes and found out about the trickery. We wont be going there again in a hurry.

Mother Teresa’s home for the terminaly ill – had a much better vibe about it and has many foreigners doing volunteering work there. There was a real sense of peace about the place even though there were people in agony there. Simon gave a donation and I vowed to myself to do some volunteering work sometime.

The big bodhi tree – situated in the botanical gardens is a tree with the largest conopy in the world (i think that’s right). It was HUGE! Must have been around 200 metres wide. “But how it that possible?” I hear you ask. Well the bodhi tree has the ability to grow verticle branches into the ground from it’s horizontal ones, which form roots giving the illusion of there being multiple trees. But no, apparently there’s just one. Wicked.

Marriage – during our travels Hasim filled us in on the marriage situation here as well. Hasim, being from a poor family has to wait (along with his older brother) for his sister to get married before he can. Perhaps because of this his sister is now about to be married at the tender age of sixteen. She has only meet her fiance once, and even then the two have not spoken. For the wedding to occur Hasim’s family must give a huge dowery to the groom’s wealthier family, this is their expression of how much their daughter means to them. Things that they would never buy for themselves in their lifetime such a big colour TVs, a large english-style bed, jewellery, whiteware and even vehicles must be given. This will certainly be their family’s biggest ever expense. I only hope they get something decent back when Hasim and his brother are married. But perhaps they will, perhaps that’s the way it all works out.

The bag men – This kindly father and son duo (view photo here) made us waterproof lockable sacks to keep our bags in when on train or in dodgy doormitaries. The old guy also makes tents for his other son’s adventures in the Himilaya.

Howrah train station – don’t ask me why, but Indian’s always arrive very early for their train rides and huge numbers of them are often to be found lying around waiting on the station floor (view photo here). I imagine it’s because they’re not able to afford accommodation at their transit points, but when I find out I’ll let you know.

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