Friday, May 2, 2014

India part II

All the airports I've transited (changed planes) have had provisions for keeping passengers  on the "air side" of the airport (inside security check), but not so in Kunming.  All passengers are sent through immigration and the officer expected me to have a Chinese visa.  After considerable discussion that I was just changing planes I got sent to the officer who obviously was the boss.  He thumbed through my passport and examined my printed itinerary and finally stamped my passport with "temporary entry" good for that day only.  Seems like a weird practice.  I could have easily walked out the front doors of the airport and been an illegal alien.

On from Kunming to Kolkata, a 2 hour flight.

My $26 room was on the top floor of this pink building, the Sunflower Guest House.  A pretty comfortable place with a very old style elevator that needed an operator to control.
On the 6th floor where my room was, there was also a rooftop patio with a decent view out over the city, but actually not much to see since the view was mostly tops of buildings.

My first impression of Kolkata was the indiscriminate use of car horns.  This place is loud.  Also I found people actually living on the street, cooking and bathing right on the sidewalks.  There were water hand pumps spaced at about 50 meter intervals where men stood soaping up their naked bodies (except for underwear) and pouring buckets of water over themselves.  I never found out when the women bathed.  The city seemed to be to be a man's world.  Not many women out on the streets and not in businesses on the street.

Sidewalk etiquette was a surprise to me too.  People didn't move aside when passing on the sidewalk.  They appeared to not pay attention, then at the last minute swerve just slightly and graze your shoulder.  If you carry a bag, it gets hit often and becomes an annoyance.  Even though everyone is very friendly and willing to give directions and advice, this sidewalk habit was difficult for me to get over.  Driving was somewhat the same except cars did not sideswipe each other.  They drove with apparent inattention either in the middle of the road or even in the wrong lane, then swerve aside at the last second.

Getting a SIM card for my cell phone was a 2-day process that involved filling out a lengthy application form needing a passport photo.  After the application is turned in to the main telecommunications office (Voda Phone in this case) I had to call a number and provide many details confirming what was on my application for proof of identification.  I can only assume this process is to discourage some kind of cell phone scamming.

In the three days spent in Kolkata I visited several restaurants, the National Museum, and did a lot of walking just exploring around. I found the food I encountered not to be very interesting.  Most was just bland combination of meat and vegetables but maybe this is what West Bengal food is normally like.

The National Museum was quite a large place with an interesting division of statuary, different ancient artifacts as well as a natural history section of preserved animals, and animal skeletons. Immediately noticeable was that mothballs were scattered in every display causing a very disagreeable odor which forced me to "move along".  Mothballs are a neurotoxin - especially those made of 1,4-dichlorobenzene which is a carcinogen.  I later found mothballs also used in the Darjeeling Museum of Natural History where displays were in very poor condition.

Kolkata would not end up on my list of favorite cities, but neither would it qualify as the worst.  The heat of April, exhaust fumes, and noise make it just another big city where one seeks to find little hideaways and quiet spots among the din.

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