DAY5/6:CALCUTTA/KOLKATA

16 February 2019

DAY5/6 Rest Day

Day 5 and 6 were an opportunity for the team to get a bit of rest – the whole trip so far had been pretty relentless since the cancelled flights had caused some to have a 36 hour day, followed by three intense days at Udayan then visits to Titagarh, the ABC and ICOD.

The day was to begin with a tour of Calcutta at the relatively late start time of 9am. Our guide for the day was Debu who was really knowledgeable of the city and its people but also culture, spiritually, physics, and mountaineering. He had scaled Everest twice and intrigued Miss St Ledger with details of his recent Geography trip he led for Swiss A-Level students in the Himalayas (for less money than the recent Iceland trip including flights and for twice the duration!). Potential A-Level geographers, look out for the A-Level Himalaya trip!

Debu kept us a little more local today. Our first stop was the Mullick Ghat Flower Market in the North of the city. Enroute we passed the Eden Gardens cricket ground which many Indians will tell you is the largest in the world (but the Aussies would disagree). Debu sided with the Aussies but could confirm that the Calcutta floodlights are definitely taller! The Flower market was a sensory onslaught: colour, smell and touch were in overload in this busy and cramped area. Flowers are so important because they are used in every moment of life from the cradle to the grave. Not only as part of the Hindu celebrations and rites, but also in medicinal ways which promote health and well-being. As the flower market sits on the banks of the River Ganges, it was an opportunity to hear about its many uses. We learned that whilst we might see many people sleeping on the streets, for many, this is not because of poverty but more enterprise. People from outside the city come in to work; accommodation would be an unnecessary expense. It’s certainly not a lifestyle of luxury, but the warm nights, a community of like-minded entrepreneurs and the river mean it can help many provide a simple but comfortable lifestyle in a country with land and a pukka (Bengali=concrete/solid) home for families. The river is the heart of daily life and we were shown the ‘locker rooms’. Men hand their clothing to and collect a short stick from attendants who sit in little cubicles. The men then practically and spiritually clean themselves in the river despite its dirty waters – it’s hard to think about washing in the water where bodies are burnt! The miswak sticks are used to brush their teeth. Biting the stick releases medicinal sap and the bark frays into soft bristles perfect for brushing. The men then return to the locker rooms to collect a comb and mirror before paying the attendant and visiting the shrine to pray before a day of work. These communities also have barbers, food vendors, tea sellers and pretty much everything one needs to live the street life.

We then went to Jain temple which was so beautiful. The walls were amazing and there were mirrors everywhere. Outside the temple there was a little shop where we all bought some souvenirs afterwhich we went to the Marble Palace. The house was built in 1835 by Raja Rajendra Mullick, a wealthy Bengali merchant with a passion for collecting works of art. The house continues to be a residence for his descendants. There were lots of statues and paintings… yep. We then came back to the hotel for lunch and then went to the Mother House of the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s house where she is now entombed. We met her sisters and Dcn. Liam got to serve Mass with the priest before blessing the sisters with the Class 1 Relics of Mother Teresa. We then went out for dinner to a pizza restaurant, a well needed ‘western’ and some team bonding and reminiscing.

Today we rested and got a well needed lie-in. We got our sarees fitted which all looked fabulous. We lost a few members of the group to upset stomachs (I guess the pizzas were just too bland for out acclimatised stomachs). We went to the market and bought a few bit and bobs at great prices thanks to Chris’s bargaining. We then enjoyed our final Western meal as we prepared to return to Udayan tomorrow after Sunday Mass with the sisters again.

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