I can not name a specific site as being “the best” today. Maybe it was that I got better sleep last night or maybe it is that we are in our second day and we’ve lost some of the jitters. What ever the reason, today started with an amazing walk through a wholesale flower market near the Harowh bridge over the Ganges and ended with a wonderful dinner with Dianne at our hotel.
The flower market was packed with people and flowers of way too many varieties to count or describe. People everywhere carrying large packages of materials or long threads of flowers used for garlands and decoration. We had been warned that we’d be “tight” at times but we didn’t feel pressed uncomfortably at any time. We ebbed and flowed with the traffic, smiled, said namaste and took a bunch of photos. At one point a small boy ran up and handed Dianne a lovely yellow rose and then gave me one as well. I figured he’d want some cash for his kindness but he simply smiled and walked away. “Welcome to India” says Shyamal. Dianne did not appear to be a center for focus of every man’s eyes as much as yesterday. She’s adapting to the role of minority with a lot of grace and humility. We could pay for our trip if we could charge by the second for the stares she gets. Me… they look at my camera (or so it seems).
We moved on and went to visit some extraordinary sites. W visited a Muslim mosque that can hold 3000 people. Very simple and sparse structure compared to the opulence of other religion’s houses of worship. We also toured a Jain temple which is just the opposite end of the spectrum. Amazing tile and gem work. Very clean and shiny with a lot of glass and crystal. Tucked in the midst of all the poor homes and businesses this temple was just another instance of the stark contrast we see all around us.
We toured the Marble Palace which is a HUGE private home and museum that contains more art then I’ve seen in most museums. OK.. I have not been to too many museums but this place was amazing. Chinese pottery, hundreds of paintings, framed mirrors that had to be 20 feet tall, marble floors throughout and varying with the room. Cages of exotic birds that all looked happy and well cared for. An original Rubin painting occupies an entire wall. And it goes on. A truly amazing place in which no photography was allowed. Can you spell “bummer”?
We went to an upscale mall for lunch. This could be anywhere America including the young boys and girls trolling the mall with texting cell phones in hand. It was an interesting place but not something we came this distance to see.
We wandered through a large area where statues are being made for a celebration. Clay and straw in abundance. Hundreds of people doing specific tasks to make the 40,000 figures that will be thrown into the Ganges in about 1.5 months. We saw some commissioned work where the master craftsman created a clay likeness from a photo. Beautiful detail.
We took a short ferry ride on the Ganges because Shovendo (our guide) knew that we’d get a different view of the city at sunset from the river. Again, lots of people using the ferry and bridge to commute from Howrah to Kolkata. Little kids hamming it up for the camera and smiling magnificent smiles at us.
We drank chai. We laughed and stood in amazement many times. The dynamics of the people and their flow through each day is hard to describe… perhaps impossible. Being here we see what looks like so much chaos that it couldn’t work…but it does. It’s like a moving jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces line up to make it work but you don’t know until the last second if it will or not. Shovendo told us the when driving in India the last 1-2 seconds are really important. As bikes, cars, motorcycles, buses and trucks all flow into an intersection from multiple directions you know he is totally correct.
We shopped at a small heritage mall as our last stop and Dianne now has a beautiful tunic and we are beginning to collect our gifts for family and friends back home. What fun it is to learn to bargain for an article that is already priced at a crazy low price.
Tomorrow we shift gears entirely and get on a boat to cruise to the Sunderbans area at the mouth of the Ganges and the Brahmaputra Rivers. The world’s largest estuary and largest mangrove system. We have a chance to see a swimming Bengal tiger, crocs and over 300 species of birds. We’ll be in a grass hut when we bed down instead of this urban hotel we occupy tonight. I don’t believe I’ll miss the horns outside and hope that the sunsets and sunrises of the next few days are just another outrageously new thing for us to marvel at. I’m not sure when the next posting will be but it may be several days. I’ll try to get a set of photos prepped for inclusion then.
We are close to being over the jet lag and are enjoying each moment. We are being taken care of and led around by world class guides and drivers. I’ll give our driver a special shout since he seems to just know when to veer or slow to avoid what I think is an accident at any moment. The guy is amazing. Trust me on this one.
Be well all.