Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Vanga to Magadha: Part II – Kolkata, In the Capital of East

Our search for a budget hotel finally took as to Bhimsen Hotel located next to the station. From outside, this building looked more like an abandoned one from the sixties, which owners forget to paint or do any kind of maintenance. However, a new coat of fresh white paint made the reception area different. There was nothing much to negotiate – 600 INR for a double room. One hotel boy took our bags to the room and got a tip from Ankit. By the way there wasn’t any other option available for Ankit. Rooms with very high ceilings were more suitable for shooting old Hindi movies. After taking bath we left the room for seeing Calcutta. 

Bus stand is located very much close to the hotel (close to the station as well). We boarded an old bus going to Belur Math. In addition to being a member of old age fleet, a major portion of it was built using woods. Whenever bus made some sudden breaks – it was travelling so slow that there were hardly any chance for sudden breaks – I felt like some portions of it would fall apart.

After crossing jungles of old buildings – I would rather say abandoned old buildings, not because it is deserted but due to the absence of any kind of maintenance or painting – we finally got down at Belur Math.

Belur Math

View of Belur Math from Hoogly River
Founded by Vivekananda, math - headquarters of Ramakrishana Mission - is located on the west bank of Hoogly River. Here you can see temples dedicated to Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda (where their relics are enshrined). After going slowly through different temples we finally went to the jetty to catch a boat to the other side of the river – towards Dakshnineshwar Kali Temple.

Going to the temple

Dakshineshwar Kali Temple

Ankit was very much scared to travel in boat. Travelling through the waters of Hoogley for quite some time was really good. We had to pass under the twin bridges before reaching the temple. Boat was good enough to carry 10-15 people; there was an equipment – painted in yellow colour - fitted at one side of the boat, which was used by one worker for pumping the water out. I still don’t know from where the water came in. It’s better to say nothing about the water flowing through the river – very much dirty and brown in colour.

Dakshineshwar Temple

We went inside and looked at the beautiful pillars and other structures. Even at that time, there were a lot of people standing in the queue for going inside. After a while, we walked towards an end and sat there – watching the red and yellow coloured buildings in front of us.

Built by Rani Rahmoni this famous temple was constructed in 1855; Ramakrishna was a priest in this temple from 1856 onwards. Opposite to the main temple, on the side of the river there were 5 more small temples. We took the gap in between those temples, to reach the ghat. Close to hundred devotees were there chanting mantras and taking baths. After spending close to thirty minutes there, we walked outside and started searching for a hotel.

As we didn’t have anything from the morning call of hunger was very much loud. Me, Ankit and Antony were about to enter a hotel; suddenly a group (flash mob!!!) formed from somewhere and about to pounce on us. In fact they were inviting us to their hotels to have breakfast. We ran towards another hotel for breakfast - poori, rasagullas and gulab jamuns.

Marble Palace

Our next destination was marble palace, located somewhere near to …? From yesterday onwards Ankit was confidently stating that, everything is very cheap in Kolkata. So we thought of going in a taxi to the palace; walked towards taxi stand and checked with multiple drivers about fare. After hearing those numbers Ankit hardly repeated his statement. Finally we got a bus which moving so fast that, walked might have proved better. 

After going in one direction for a long time, we got rid of that bus and walked towards the nearest metro station. My first journey in Kolkata metro. ‘Camera not allowed’ – was posted there also. Majority of stations in Kolkata metro – which drank public money like water – are underground ones. One can access the station from road side; ticket (5, 10, 15 INR) counter facility is available in every station. Thankfully RFID or NFC enabled tickets replaced the paper ones. Using this ticket you can open a small metallic gate to reach platform. In the same way, you can drop the same ticket to open another small metallic gates at the destination to go outside. As more of the metro lines are passing under the ground, journey was not an interesting one.

After coming back to earth, and checking with multiple people, we took a small road to reach the Marble Palace. One of the most disappointing moment in Kolkata journey – Marble palace will be closed on Monday’s and Thursday’s. ASI maintained building can have a holiday on Monday, but why on earth they want to close the building on Thursday as well? Did they know that we are coming? Security guard standing there didn’t allow us to go inside, but he did allow a car to go inside. Officials? I don’t know. Here, also photography is not allowed. I don’t know who created that rule. That building is already standing there for a long time, sweating under bright sun rays suffering all climate changes, rain and pollution. What difference a photo will do to that building? Rules from 16th centuries…

This is ridiculous, and I am tired of seeing this notice – don’t take photos - every now and then. What strategic importance Kolkata metro have to Indian security? If someone really want to do some surveillance, then they can easily travel numerous times through metro button camera and other equipment’s to map it. Can a number of pictures, taken by individual passengers will bring down the metro? In think we Indians have to come out of this narrow mind set about security. Here everything is prohibited, taking a picture from Howrah Bridge, metro station, marble palace everything. What more, once a security guard stopped me from taking a photo of Bangalore’s Mayo Hall. Other than its British inherited structure, and the price of real estate it stand, I don’t think that building have any other value. However people are behaving like, taking a photo is the biggest security threat country can face. By the way, in many places no one have any problems with taking pictures mobile camera.

After having some coconut juice we continued our journey towards Armenian Church, built by Armenians in 1707 AD this not only a monument but a cultural symbol as well.


One vehicle, looking more like a big soap box was coming towards us. These relics of history are popularly known as trams.  I don’t know any Indian city other than Kolkata, still using this loss making machines; by the way tram companies own huge land banks in this metro, which make them a prime attraction for real estate developers. Trams have designated paths to move, if some vehicle came in opposite direction creating a traffic jam, then it will prove a bigger headache for traffic police. In those crowded areas, we were walking faster than tram J

Armenian Church

We continued our expedition through that jungle of humans, where people are flowing through the road in both directions like rivers in monsoon. Every inch of road side is occupied by vendors selling various items – for a while you can see stores selling cloths, then colours, then bags, then sandals so on and so forth. It was so crowded that, if one of us walked fast it won’t be easy to find him again. One disappointment there was, we walked right in front of Nakhoda mosque and missed it. I came to know this mistake only at the night, when I reviewed our paths.

Armenian Chruch
Finally, we reached Armenian Church. It looked more like an oasis in the desert (full of people). Church’s entrance was hardly recognizable in that crowded colour market. In fact we missed the entrance once and a walked a bit further. Near to the get a white marble tablet proclaims that the church was constructed in 1707AD – “Armenian Church, Erected at 1707 AD”.

By the time we arrived at the gates, church was closed. Still they allowed us to enter the premises after hearing that we came all the way from Bangalore to see the church. In the middle of that chaos, this place offers peace.

Its architecture is a bit different, and probably the tablets (letters engraved in the tablets are probably in Armenian language) buried around the courtyard indicates the presence of a cemetery.

After hearing names like Armenian Church, Armenian street etc, I got an idea that the place might have a lot of eateries. Hence, I suggested Ankit and Antony - who were very hungry – to have food from there. However, there weren’t any traces of hotel. We searched and failed in finding a single hotel for next one hour. 

You may say, we searched at wrong place or missed some hotel. But let me tell you that, we enquired with locals on every 100m. Everyone pointed in some directions, which we faithfully followed without any results.

Antony and Ankit

Finally we reached Howrah Bridge and started walking through its sides. Bridge was vibrating with the passage of every vehicle. We took some photos as well; when we covered almost 70% of the length a traffic police man appeared from somewhere and told us not to take photos!!! He walked along with us till we reach the other end – probably to make sure – that we were not taking any more photos. After having a lime soda from a street vendor at the end of the bridge, we walked back to the hotel room. Fortunately there was a good hotel nearby.

Howrah Bridge

Towards Patna

Danapur Expres came on time and we got in. I thought, I could take a deep sleep in this journey. However, future had something else in mind. Passengers warned us that, around 4 ‘0’ clock in the morning train will reach a station where the possibility of losing your luggage to thieves are very high. What to do now, which is more important – one night’s sleep or luggage? Around 2.30 or 3am, two guys woke up and started speaking and moving here and there. For a while, I thought it was an organized attack by thieves!!! What really happed was, those guys became paranoid after missing their station.


River Banks

Crossing the twin bridges

Hoogly River

Boats standing near to the Ghat

From a Ghat near to Dakshineshwar Kali Temple

Me in front of Howrah Bridge

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