Near the Black Hole

Kolkata Travel Blog

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One of the tribal belles.

Yes Virginia,  there really is a black hole of Calcutta!!!  We went in search of it today and found a marker of where it once stood or sank I guess is more to the point.  The hole isn't so black anymore and it really isn't much of a hole either. It is now a plaque and a brass line on the steps of the Central Post Office here in Calcutta (Kolkata).  And,  No,  we did not fall into a black hole here in India.  The recent lack of Blog updates is in part due to an earth quake somewhere in the Pacific that snapped a lot of the under sea lines and screwed up the internet, or so we've been told.  Anyway, since our last update we've rounded the tip of India and have pretty well covered the east coast.

Tribal nuclear family
  We left Kovalam and headed for Cape Comorin which is the most southern tip of India.  This is a particularly auspicious spot for Hindu's because the Arabian Sea, the the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean all meet at this spot.  There was much shaving of heads, dawning of black clothing, and selling of tacky crap going on there.  It's a bit like Cooney Island on acid without the amusement rides.  There was a very good Gandhi museum (we were soon to discover that the building of Gandhi monuments is a bit of an growth industry in the East coast) we were given the extra special grand tour by the resident "Tsunami Guard". Apparently he was on the case during the Tsunami.  About 24 people were killed in Cape Comorin when the Tsunami hit.
Our favorite mode of transportation in the background of the dancers.
  The Tsunami guard was a nice old fellow, who besides being a strong swimmer and a good talker had a terrible time supporting his massive extended family on the meager wages of a lowly Tsunami guard.  He related this to us while soliciting a tip after his unsolicited extra special grand tour for his new found Canadian friends.  Such is India.  Much better informed about Mahatma Gandhi and a few rupees lighter we moved on to Maduria.  Maduria is not surprising also a major pilgrimage site for Hindu's.  The temples here were massive about 200-300 feet high and once again there was much shaving of heads, wearing of black and selling of tacky tourist (pilgrim) crap.  Constance was once again blessed by a elephant.
market in small town Orissa state, India.
  Apparently, she is in much need of blessing for some reason???  Of course all elephant blessings come at a price. 

The temple was fascinating with special shrines for women looking for husbands, (probably one for women seeking to lose their husbands also although we didn't see that one), fertility shrines, curing shrines, sort of the Walmart of shrines if you will. 

Maduria is also known for its inconsistent supply of electricity.  After supper one night I went to have my hair cut and get trimmed around the edges.  The barber shop was about 8 x10 feet, about the size and shape of a storage locker in Canada, it even had its own overhead door, anyway, he just brings out the straight razor, yes the kind that the cowboys use to use on Gun Smoke, and  the barber is carefully and skillfully and quickly shave the back of my neck, and .

"Who is that guy with the camera". village children
.. wait for it... yes the power goes out, the barber cries, "Oh my God"  (I think for Constance's sake, as she is sitting watching the performance) but never say the Indians are not a resourceful lot, his friend hands him a match, he lights a candle, and continues to shave my neck by candle light.  No blood was drawn and no ear parts are missing Mum. 

From Maduria we moved on to Pondicherry, this was an amazing little place on the coast that was once a French colony.  You can still see the French influence and yes the food there was excellent.  One good thing about the French when they left a colony at least they had the decency to leave some good restaurants behind.

Doug reaches the summit of Breakfast Island, Lake Chilka, Orissa, India.
  God bless them.  Don't get me wrong, I like spicy food, but parts of my body appear to take great exception to continual doses of lip blistering and tongue numbing blasts of spice.  Unfortunately,  we only spent the afternoon here, just enough time to visit the Gandhi memorial, the man looks good in a stick and loin cloth.    The next stop was a place called Mahabalipuram, a place the guide book says and I quote " you will have no problem finding a hotel room".  Guess what?? We couldn't find a hotel room.  Actually, we did find one rat infested room (the black hole of Calcutta special) luckily we were saved at the last minute and Nick (former captain of the Edmund Fitzgerald) found us an excellent room in the best hotel in Mahabali-whats its name.  Okay, this isn't saying much, but it is all relative and at this point in the trip I'm inclined to think that with a decent hotel room and a supply cold beer you could start a whole new religion in this country. We spent the 25th on the beach and had an excellent meal in an open air restaurant over looking the Bay of Bengal.  All things considered it was pretty darn nice, Merry Christmas.  

Madras (Chennai) on the other hand was how do we put this...Madras is a typical large Indian City.  Large Indian cities are in many ways what it might have been like if the movie Mad Max had been set in say a large city ...say in India.  If Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe and Steven King had ever teamed up and written a book about life in a futuristic 21st century Indian city, it could easily have been set in present day Madras.  It's the sort of a place where even the rats are thinking about moving out.  Anyway,  enough about the faded glory of Indian cities.

From Chennai we headed north into the state of Orissa.  Orissa is like the Arkansas of India.  The big draw here is the hill tribes.  We first went to a place called Jaypur, a staging place for trips to see the hill tribes.  The country around here is really beautiful with rolling hills and small mountains.  The Hill tribes live much like they have for thosands of years except of course for the recent arrival of western tourist.  It's one of those classic catch 22's where visiting them helps to inject much needed money into the local economy but inevitably changes the culture of the tribes.  Aside from the moral dilemma of this kind of tourism the time we spent in this area was one of the high-lights of the trip so far.  We had some fantastic treks in the hills including a nerve racking scramble back to camp down a 30 degree slope covered with marble shaped and sized stones in the pitch dark when our guide miss-calculated how long it would take to trek back to the camp.  In India ten minutes can mean anything from 10 minutes to 2 hours, its sort of the equivalent to the Canadian "whenever".  A good story in retrospect but pretty terrifying at the time.  The hill tribes are still very primitive and apparently still engage in the odd man hunt (with poison arrows when disagreements get out of hand).  Needless to say we treated them with great respect. 

We spent New Year's Eve in Jaypur as well,  these people know how to party.  Sort of, well they go out of their homes at Mid night, which is appropiate enough, and start shaking hands and dancing, and driving around on their motorbikes like crazy people.  This is all done almost exclusively by the men folk.  The women are at home drinking.  We went out and joined in the street dancing, but one tires of this, we know what the celebrities go through now, everyone wanting to shake your hand, have their picture taken with you, wishing you all the best, Brad and Angela, eat your heart out!!!  New years morning found two of our fellow truck passengers with a little fire in their room as they were unsure what would happen to a towel if placed over a light bulb and then someone turns the light on. The hotel did not burn to the ground, despite their best efforts.  

Tomorrow morning we leave Calcutta, the City of Joy and head north to Darjeeling and tea country and then to the Himalayas. 

FYI to any Canadians looking at this:   They had to close the schools in New Delhi last week as the temperature dropped to minus 1 celcius.  Scary, but we did bring our long johns. Till next time.  TTFN                

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One of the tribal belles.
One of the tribal belles.
Tribal nuclear family
Tribal nuclear family
Our favorite mode of transportatio…
Our favorite mode of transportati…
market in small town Orissa state,…
market in small town Orissa state…
Who is that guy with the camera.…
"Who is that guy with the camera"…
Doug reaches the summit of Breakfa…
Doug reaches the summit of Breakf…
photo by: sky69