Love at First Sight with Maidan of Calcutta
I had opted for a hotel a little more chic, just to sleep well before the return that will not be easy. I took a taxi from Howrah Station via the official service at a prepaid counter in the middle of the driveway. The taxi knows the way to my hotel. In addition to its comfort, I chose it for its proximity to the Victoria Memorial Hall which was my main visit to do that day, both by staying as close to the Maidan neighborhood and do some shopping.
Originally created to leave the open range to the canons of the East India Company, today maidan is a gigantic green space, home to all kinds of clubs, and relaxation areas reserved for the Indian elite.
After my breakfast at the Haldiram restaurant located at the corner of Jawaharlal Nehru Road, with my GPS I go to the Sikkim house! Not far is the Indian Tourism office whereI go and ask for the entrance fee to the Marble Palace that I want to see tomorrow. There they give me a nice kolkata map with another metro map.
It was not love at first sight nor an attraction but not a repulsion like some people had warned. The first contact with Calcutta was brutal. Then I stand back, observe, and no longer let myself be invaded, do not judge, do not try to compare with what I know. I let myself be carried away, impregnated, even seduced if this term can be applied to a city like Calcutta.
I'm not far from Maidan Park so I go there. This is where all the major events of Kolkata take place. It is the lung of the city where the children play cricket, or fly kite. And here, I discover the kindness that radiates on the faces. I feel welcomed, and accepted.
I see herds of goats, football players and cricketers, gym classes, a group of young students in uniform, in a row, aligned like soldiers who jump rhythmically. Another group under a neem tree, sings with hands joined and then ends with a sign of the cross while street vendors wait for their customers.
At the end of Maidan, it is the huge race course that extends with its grandstands. I see players practicing polo. I go to the St Paul's Cathedral, one of the largest cathedral in India. It is quite impressive. Fans suspended on 10m of cable give a surprising appearance to all.
Then as everything is touching (in the end walking a lot) I finished my story of the day and go to see the Victoria Memorial which is also in the maidan. It is a huge white marble building, a little pretentious built in honor of Queen Victoria. I quickly discover that the park around Victoria Memorial Hall is the landmark of lovers.
I continue the tour of the Birla Planetarium, the statue of Indira Gandhi and the of Arabindo House, which is very close. I did well to come because on the side is held a photo exhibition of a university. I walk a little in the park then. I go out and the atmosphere changes. I take the subway to go to the Kalighat Kali Temple.
The metro is very clean, modern, controlled, and at this time of the day not crowded. It is impressive to see the fervor of the devotees who come inside to see the sacred sculpture. On arriving a priest made me buy offerings and I was able to visit the interior.
I see everything, from the goat sacrificed, the pots to prepare food for the poor, the holy sculpture and the statue of Shiva. It is a little fast but impressive. To go to the temple I walk 15 minutes in a quiet neighborhood. It looks like a village in Kolkata. While returning, I pass the Oxford Book store. I went to KIFF, the Kolkata International Film Festival, where I see a Tunisian film.
It's 3 pm when I get back to the hotel. After a hot shower, I wash everything I have on me. I take a nap. Around 6, I grew bolder and went out to eat. I walk to the New Market area, which at night is very lively. It's simply like the souks of Maghreb or worse those from Turkey.
I choose the restaurant but there is nobody. I come back to my Bihari canteen where the food is again extraordinary where I find locals and backpackers and it is very good and clean. I have more or less decided not to eat on the street and for the moment I feel good. I have tandoori chicken, and rice.
I go back. It's been dark for a while but it's still very busy, with the shops are open and there are people. I feel comfortable here. Next to my hostel I can admire the practical side of the locals where the bar has installed in the street a rope that burns permanently. That way smokers no longer need to spend their time looking for a lighter!