Travels in Tea, India: Part 3
In Kolkata I ended up staying in a very cheap, barebones, locals-only hotel, in a neighborhood where I was the only westerner for miles; because it was the closest hotel to the convention center, only 3 km away. I could walk to the convention. All other hotels (re: higher rated and more expensive) were all 6-10 km away from the convention center.
The moral here is never trust the pictures you see on internet travel sites. I certainly got a chance to see “authentic” Kolkata, not just the touristy parts, although I saw some of that too.
The most annoying thing about clichés is that they are often true.
Kolkata, a teaming mass of humanity …
Lots of people, noisy crowded streets, mullahs chanting, music constantly being played over public loudspeakers, public ablutions, the poorest poor-the richest rich, friendly/helpful people-lots of stares ‘what’s he doing here.’
Smells: spices-people-industry-motor fumes-trash and litter.
Hot-dusty-dry, mosquitoes, livestock all over the roads (not just cows), dirt roads, CRAZY drivers, push carts, stalls with all manner of goods, lively, thriving, throbbing, pulsing … Kolkata – City of Joy.
For the record, this was not the roughest hotel room I have ever stayed in – that would have been in Guthrie Center, Iowa.
Fruit and vegetable stands were all over India, this was a larger one. These are in lieu of what we call traditional grocery stores-the product looked great and was very fresh-think of our farmer’s markets.
It took a long time, but I finally found some tea in Kolkata. I hadn’t even seen a chaiwallah. The Cha Bar was located inside Oxford Books, the best book store in Kolkata, of course in the touristy section of town.
It actually was a pretty neat layout. A pretty good selection of 50 or 60 teas.
And they offered food, not a full blown restaurant, but sort of like a café or diner.
I was going to order some Indian food, but then I noticed this which unfortunately really reminded me of something back in the States.
This, along with a pretty good Assam black tea from the Khobong Tea Garden (of course with the assumption that sugar will be used), actually wasn’t bad.
Later on I did run across a real McDonalds, but they don’t serve hamburgers (this is India after all; cows are wandering around the streets-not residing between two pieces of bread). Why are the most ubiquitous American exports those things that we are kind of embarrassed about?
Kolkata is very cool, a little unsettling, and definitely can make you feel like a stranger in a strange land.
Up next, the hills of Darjeeling.