Disembarking in Kolkata, the train was even more chaotic than when we joined it some 20 hours earlier. Porters appeared out of nowhere - on the train itself - fighting to take our bags. On their heads. No problem there with their posture - or their 'core'!
A long walk down the platform and we tumbled onto the assembled battalions of Classic Ambassador taxis outside. I mean, hundreds of them. A sea of yellow in the early morning (polluted) haze of the city. I was in India 27 years ago and the Ambassador (perhaps not a classic at the time?) was looking distinctly dated.
It took less than an hour to reach Sudder Street and the dilapidated exterior of the Fairlawn Hotel, a 1783 Raj relic that conceals its treasures for those that dare to go inside. It is run by a nonagenarian called Violet (you don't mess with her!). And it has the most remarkable set of photographs on the wall - including Mother Teresa herself with a personal note to Violet.
We checked in early and took a very welcome shower before breakfast. After that it was a 'free day'. I took the opportunity to update the blog and catch up with my NGO where I'll be volunteering for the next few weeks.
Later in the afternoon I took a stroll outside the hotel.
Surreal. Sensory overload. How can you see so much in such a short time?
The busy outdoor bar of the hotel - couples and larger groups in animated conversation. Outside: a glamorous young woman floats by in a beautifully gold embroidered sari. Beside her on the pavement, a bedraggled young mother offers her emaciated breast to an even more emaciated young baby. A few yards on, a turn appears to a bustling side street with teeming crowds and endless shops plying their wares. A little further an old rickshaw driver (perhaps he's 40?) lies outstretched, asleep, exhausted from his labours. Further on an Indian policeman completes a duplicate form (with carbon paper - remember that?) to record a crash. Locals huddle around to catch the action.
It goes on. And on. And on.
This is an enormous bustling city - full of people, full of striving, full of poverty. Already I feel somewhat overwhelmed.
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