Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Trip to Bengal - Consolidated

The destination of my last pleasurable trip before I walk in through the doors of IIM Hel(L) turned out to be Kolkata.

Kolkata, not for its sights, but simply because it houses a substantial chunk of my relatives on earth (the numbers are quite substantial too!) and my parents wanted badly to visit the place with me one final time. Their assumption of this being the last 'go together' trip is not entirely absurd; the next two years will be almost completely devoid of movement for me and nobody really knows what life holds in store after that. And so, I acceded.

It started on the 21st of May in the afternoon. The flight from Ahmedabad to Kolkata takes close to two and a half hours. And it was thoroughly enjoyable while it lasted. I'd heard tales about the quality of the service on Kingfisher Airlines, and I was not disappointed. Fantastic seats, personal audio/video channels (some excellent music), good food and yes, beautiful hostesses too. Dr. Vijay Malya's reputation for having an eye for err... details, is certainly not the result of mere psychophancy.

Ahmedabad is terribly hot. Kolkata is unbearably humid. The temperatures never rise to Ahmedabad-ian heights, but that hardly matters. Sweat flows faster than The Ganga.
But there wasn't much we could do; it was the worst time to be visiting the city and we had selected it of our own accord. First stop at a paternal aunt's in Dumdum. The place is quite close to the airport. The taxi drivers are a crooked lot, though. 200 Rs., one of them tells us. In my dad, born and brought up in Kolkata and a seasoned campaigner, they are up against a formidable adversary. After some haggling, the fellow comes down to 150 Rs., making it sound as if it was a bigger favour than if Arjun Singh decided to shut his mouth and drop his ideas. But his adversary, us, turned out to be a trifle more knowledgeable than he'd estimated. In the end, he lost the customers. Another taxi wallah agreed to charge as per the 'meter'. The ride cost us 35 Rs.
That evening and the day after were largely uneventful. Spent most of our time visiting the near and the dear. Boarded the train to Puri on the second night.

The trip to Puri happened in the company of the maternal side of my relations. Puri is undoubtedly one of the best seasides in the country. It might not match up to the beauty, in and out of the sea, of the beaches in Goa, but it has a charm that is its very own. The waves are higher and frothier than anywhere else and the beach is one of the best kept. The facilities are largely well maintained too. In short, its a pleasure to be spending time by the sea in that part of the world. The weather was as difficult as in Kolkata, but the scenery more than made up.
Puri also houses the famous Jagannath temple. For the uninitiated, Jagannath is an arm-less deity. Why people should worship someone with no arms and therefore, quite incapable of any favourable activity, remains a mystery. In any case, there's the mandatory myth that surrounds this physical incapacity. Apparently, the sculptor who built the idol, did so behind closed doors. And before he set out to do so, he warned people not to disturb him. If someone did barge in while he worked, he'd stop wherever he was at that point of time. Now this fellow, took longer than palatable, to complete the statue. In sheer desperation, people peeked in to se what he was doing. And in accordance to his warning, he stopped sculpting. He'd sculpted everything except for the arms. And that, is the cause of Jagannath's predicament.Built over a sizeable expanse of land, the temple is well planned and nicely architectured. The beauty ends there. The Pandits, purohits and pandas within, are anything but. Disgusting in their physical appearance and detestable in their mental schemes. If you come out of the place without significant damage to your pockets, you've done commendably well. Me and my Dad skillfully dodged the robber-istic aspirations of the men and so did most other males in our group. The female species weren't as half good though. They offered the 'Pujo' and more importantly, offered the Pandas enough dough to last them a week. In return, they returned with the holy 'Prasad'. The God's blessings can't be valued in money, they informed us.
We spent two days in Puri. And then, were back in Kolkata. Spent another day in the city visiting more nears and dears and pushed off for Behrampur.

Behrampur lies in about 200 kms north of Kolkata. Its a place of some historical imprtance, being a critical city in the kingdom of Siraj-ud-dualah. Plassey is a stone's throw away. Spent the first day and the ensuing night with another paternal aunt. Next day, set out for Farakka, aunt and her family in tow. Farakka, commands its importance for two reasons.1. It houses a mammoth NTPC plant2. The famous dam over the Ganges and the bridge over it, has been built here.We put up at the NTPC guest house for the night (incidentally my aun'ts husband happens to be one of the many legal/tax consultants of NTPC). Its a magnificent place. Surrounded by unrelenting greenery on every side, the guest house is as good an example of 'Prakriti ke goud me' as any. The summer seems to belong to another planet, to another time. The dam itself, is a gigantic structure. The bridge which takes you over it and on the other side is as fascinating to see, as it is to travel on. I've found most of nature's geniuses difficult to express in words, or in photogrpahs for that matter, and this is no different. You just need to be here to understand.Next stop, Siliguri.

North east West Bengal is one place you just have to experience once in your life. Its a travesty that the WB government has been unsuccessful, and indeed unheedful, of its charm and tourism value.The gentle slopes of the Himalayas, the tea gardens, the moist earth smell round the year...its intoxicating to the senses.Some distance from Siliguri, on the foothills of the Himalayas, is a place called Sevoke. The journey for those who wish to climb higher, starts here. We had no such intentions though. Our destination was a place only a half hour drive up the road. Must say, even that duration is enough to give you the chills. Heart stoppping roads, those! The river Teesta reaches the plains at Sevoke. And that is where we reached. Its a smallish river in terms of its length, but having just made its way downhill, its a terrifying sight. The current is unbelievable and any juvenile ventures into anywhere close to the middle can end only one way. Even on the banks, the force of the water is positively threatening. All you can hope to do is dab one foot into the ice cold water while the other holds you to dear solid land. The scenery is hauntingly beautiful and in my mind, unparalleled.We took an alternate route on our way back. One that passes over the famous Coronation bridge. Sometime ago, this was the only connection between the north eastern regions of the country and the rest of it. My aunt informed me that some serious scuffle took place for possession of this bridge between the Indian and Chinese army during the war of the 60s.Our day ended at my eldest paternal aunt's place in Jalpaiguri, some 40 kms from Siliguri.

In case you're getting fidgety about the number of paternal aunts turning up at every nook and corner, I'd like to tell you that my father had 12 other siblings, six male, six female. The eldest Aunt; she's called Didi by all her younger siblings; at 76, is an astonishing woman. The grace could easily compete with the best of those with royal blood. Flowing jet black hair (never dyed), the flaming red sindoor in the hair parting, majestic white saris with red 'paars', she's just awesome. You cannot help but bow down at her feet and submit to her all conquering charisma. Her speech too, is as royal as her appearance. She could probably hold an audience of hundreds with her sheer class if she wished to.From Jalpaiguri, we made a weary way back to Kolkata. The constant travel for almost a week had had its toll. But time wasn't to be found in abundance, and a lengthy rest was out of the question.

Another two days of hectic friend/relation visiting followed. In the midst, had the time to have lunch at Sourav's Pavilion on Park Street. Aestheticallly, its extremely rich and soothing to the eyes and senses. Classic music plays continually in the background, adding to the effect. Some portions of the walls are adorned by elegant black and white portraits of Sourav. The food is delightful too. The prices, of course, are a tad high.

That was that. Took the plane back to Ahmedabad on the morning of the 2nd of June. Kingfisher again. The hostesses were slightly disappointing this time, though.

No comments: