Today I FINALLY got out to experience Kolkata. My rescuers once again came to my guesthouse and took me to the Victoria Memorial, which is a gorgeous colonial palace where Queen Victoria used to stay.
As we approach the window to buy tickets, the admission sign jumps out at me: 10 rupees for Indian nationals and 150 rupees for foreign nationals. Wow. I knew foreigners were overcharged for things like cabs and shopping, but 15x more for a museum? It was so blatant I had to laugh. Granted, 150 rupees is only $2.50, so I happily paid for three tickets and we were on our way.
I enjoy most museums, but I like to move through them pretty quickly. It makes me crazy when people read every single placard (No, Jo, this not directed to you. Ok, maybe a little). At this particular museum, the highlight was the air conditioned section because it was so ridiculously hot! I preferred the grounds where the shade provided some relief from the heat. Couples sat around the lake; it was quite peaceful. At such a tourist destination, I was surprised to see only four non-Indians the entire day. Well, I should actually say four “Westerners”, or four people who looked to be not from these here parts.
After the museum we went to the river walk along the Ganges, which was fantastic. There were small tour boats for hire, along with other large ships and people bathing on the ghats. I got a pineapple ice cream cone (my first non-Indian food since I landed) and a delightful cup of real chai from one of the river vendors. At five rupees per cup (less than a dime), I could’ve had 10! It was rich, creamy and delicious. I’ve made chai at home on my stove several times and it was nowhere close to this. I must drink it whenever possible.
My one request today was to go to an outdoor market. In my mind that meant a food market because I always think about food, but the one we went to was mostly goods. That actually wasn’t so bad because after food, I think of shopping. We went when it was dark so it wouldn’t be as crowded. OH MY GOD. As we started walking down one of the rows, I nearly passed out. People were on top of each other, sweaty arms pushing sweaty arms. It was AWFUL. I was told it was more crowded than usual because people were out shopping for the upcoming Durga Puja, the largest festival in West Bengal. I think I’ll return post-festival, thank you very much. I don’t consider myself to be terribly high maintenance, but I pleaded with my rescuers, “Can you please get me out of here?” They smirked and said, “Too many people?” YES. So we managed to squeeze ourselves through to a restaurant in the market.
It was a casual joint that served Islamic food, which had most of the same Indian dishes I’ve been eating plus some kebabs. I put in a strong request for kebabs because it was something slightly different than what I’d been eating, and they asked if I liked mutton. Well, I’ve never had mutton, so why not? It was actually delicious! Probably the closest thing they have here to beef. They also ordered mutton curry because an Indian meal isn’t complete without a dish that has “gravy”. So far, not a bad meal has been had. I sure did end up in the right place as West Bengal is known for their food. Why don’t more people travel here? Oh, and I spent about $30 for the day, which included three taxi rides, three museum entries (including my outrageously over-priced ticket), three ice cream cones, two chai teas and mutton dinner for the three of us. Pretty amazing considering we were at least 20 minutes away from my guesthouse. I’m now exhausted and praying I’ll actually sleep tonight. Damn jetlag!