Ten things you can do in under $1 in Calcutta.

When I first came to Calcutta, I was told how “cheap (read inexpensive)” this place was. People were beaming at mention of shopping and it’s many markets. In the first few months I felt nothing so. Everybody seemed out to fleece me. The taxi cab would charge Rs 200 ( 4 times the rate) to get me home, in-spite of the “no refusal” printed boldly on the side of the car. Maybe they meant that the commuters can’t refuse the fare, else you won’t be driven? The app cabs and app food came to my rescue. Gradually I found my way around and located the bargain spots.

Here I have compiled a list of things you can certainly do in under $1 (or Rs 50) in Calcutta. Hope you enjoy them too!

Walk in Victoria memorial lawns ( Rs. 10)

A morning walk or evening walk in the lawns of Victoria Memorial. Victoria memorial is a lovely quiet place with a few gardens and built up ponds. If you don’t mind the few couples that are snuggling around, I am told you can have a good walk in the morning hours. You might even bump into some movers and shakers of the fading economic industry of Calcutta.

Sharma ji ki chai ( Rs. 10)

Once you finish your walk, the next stop is the lane of tea vendors in the nearby Princep Ghat. Once an alighting point for river vessels, now the riverfront has a neat promenade to walk and you can see howrah bridge in the distance. To curate, I have selected sharma ji tea vendor, known for his piping hot ginger tea served in quaint mud vessals.

Enjoy Jhal muri ( Rs. 10)

After Bombay, I would say that Jhal muri is a close second to the famed bhelpuri. It’s a mix of puffed rice, garnish and spices. Ten rupees can get you a small packet to enjoy while you take in the river view.

See Victoria Memorial from inside ( Rs. 20)

Once you are done with the breakfast, its a good time to see Victoria memorial from the inside. No photography is allowed inside and any morning, but of a holiday, is a good day to visit. I have visited that place thrice with visitors, but you can’t be in for too long, its very restricting and the airflow is not the best. Fifteen minutes is the maximum time you need here, unless of course you want to see the statues and paintings in detail, early oil paintings.

Watch 3D science on a sphere show in science city (Rs. 15)

The last time we visited science city, this was the only show that had tickets available during holiday time. After a wait of over 45 minutes int he queue we were told that everything else, time machine (Rs. 20) the most popular, the cable car ride (Rs. 20) were sold out. I had quietly asked the overworked boy at the counter whether they had online system of reservation.

Understanding my anxiety, the boy answered pointing at the crowds around,”If we raise the tickets to say 40 or 50 rupees, all these people wouldn’t be here. But we can’t.”

Entry to Science city ( Rs. 50)

I almost forgot to mention, that to enjoy the above treat the entry fee to this very kid friendly science based park is Rs. 50.

Take a walk in Agro horticultural society ( Rs. 20)

There is another place to relax and also enjoy peace and calm. It’s the agro horticultural society established in the late 1800s. For Rs. 20, you can get an entry of an hour for a walk or jog in its small compound. Pick also saplings from its nursery or enquire about its gardening classes from its quaint office.

Visit Alipore Zoo ( Rs. 20)

I hear the Asiatic lion roaring each night. The alipore zoo, also established in the 1800s, has the royal bengal tiger, a white tiger and an asiatic lion as its inhabitants. The state of the other animals is rather sad, but if you do want to look around, the ticket is a pocket friendly Rs. 20. Avoid visiting between 24 dec to 24 jan.

Eat a sweet sandesh (Rs. 15)

Bengal is also known for its sweetmeats. A rich sweet made of palm jaggery ( called nolen gur) and loads of creamy milk is called a sandesh (pronounced shondesh) . You can try some at any local sweet shop.

Eat a Rossogulla (Rs. 10)

Ending with the sweetest thing to eat in Bengal, its the Rossogulla. Bengalis have taken this humble dish to an art form. It is available plain or in many forms, some of which are jaggeried, flavoured with strawberry, baked, and even dipped in vodka!

 

 

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A tourist in my own country?

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Her sari was bright, like a few jumbled prints.He sister’s sari was brighter with stripes of printed juxtaposition. The child’s clothes were not left, they were equally demanding in visual attention.

They stood like a monument at side of the dusty Odisha village road, attempting to cross their road overtaken by the city traffic moving outwards at the beginning of the Christmas weekend.

“Perhaps this is what tourists think about when they think about India.” I thought.

This bold combination worn by simple village ladies is actually called “Kitsch” and has fattened the wallets of many Indian and foreign designers. It is remarkable how the scenary changes every few kilometers in India. 100 kms back, I was in Calcutta and the colours were muted and the skins were darker.

Then we moved west and the bright saris and bright homes dotted all alongside the periphery. Its a big indicator of the community of the towns and villages of India. While modern cities mainly look like cousins or replicas of each other, its the small town which preserves the communal heritage, language, script and customs.

And we city people, are but tourists in our own country!

 

The Goddess and her temporary shelter

Goddess Durga is worshiped in Calcutta. Just like Ganpati is said to descend during its Festival in Maharastha, Goddess Durga is said to descend onto Earth during this time. Months of preparation goes into  conceptualizing these temporary shelters for the Goddess, known as the pandal. A pandal “hopping” in early hours of morning helped me get these pictures above. These structures are a fascinating treat to the eyes.

A more critical analysis is given on my other blog, Pursuit of Imagination, as the post titled ” Five lessons in Installation Art 101 with Puja Pandal Hopping

Spiritual Tech

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If you were to roam around Bull Temple Road area early morning in Bangalore, you would perhaps see more flower and fruit sellers than other places. Women in swishing silk saris and the smell of filter coffee and freshly made Mangalore bun in the cafe across jostle for space with McDonald’s. An electric car which still looks in beta stage is parked outside the idli joint facing the temple.

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Cubbon park on a Sunday morning appears no different from central park, till of course you get into the interiors. It is there another world exists which is non-tech-ed, non-gizmo-ed and unrelated, strangely though part of the same whole.

Living on an island city

While each day I hope this will not be my last monsoon here and pray somehow that changes, it may be inevitable in the near future. Mumbai, is not a place you can comfortably afford to rent a house, leave aside buy one. The ones where you really may love to stay would have been already occupied by some crumbling construction, unyielding tenants or forbidding prices, unheard of sometimes. Recently at a seminar, one prominent chairman of a real estate company remarked that inequality is rising. I wondered what part of the balance I am on, maybe the one that is tilting down. Definitely not the one where the subzee ( veggies) are bought by the army of the the cook, maid and the driver of the least preferred car (generally a sedan) of the family.

Talking of grocery, south Mumbai is having a crisis of a type. The daily needs shops are disappearing. My favourite icecream shop shut and was soon after replaced with baskn robbns (Intentional typo). Then one monsoon, Akbarallys, one of the oldest shops in fort had an umbrella sale. I picked two but didn’t pick the other one I really liked. Next time thought I. That next time was not to come. Today they have metamorphosed the once crowded departmental store into a men’s store. This for one thing completely restricts even my entry into the shop. Gloomily, I made my way to the next nearest departmental store for groceries today. Disappointed at not even finding basics stocked, I hastily retreated along with another couple going through the door.

“It looks like it is about to shut down.” remarked the gentleman. We exited into the street, they towards the interior of the colony and me crossing Indian Merchant’s Chambers gate to complete my walk on marine drive.

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Years ago, Marine drive was known as “queen’s necklace”. The warm glow of yellow light would hazily gleam as though beads strung together. Till around 6 months back. Then some D@#$ decided to save on the power bill, changing the look to some cheap white plastic beads.

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“The look of Kala Ghoda is changing” I mentioned to a designer who said that she had been involved in the project.

She gleamed. I expressed my unhappiness as if my playground had been tampered with.

“The new plan for that area, I know the people who are working on it. They will take care of the look” She reassured.

Somehow I am still not convinced. But movement is inevitable. When cities die, you need to move on too.