It was past midnight and I was still buzzed so imagine when one gets woken up like that!
I saw this guy speaking in a strong European accent and asking us loud if we wanted to join him for beer. He looked happy, he was high,he had this big smile and he was ready to rock and that’s the spirit of most backpackers. You make friends, some become your travel companions, some become your drink buddies but that night, not just me, the other guys gave a thumbs up sign to him saying next time.
I woke up early morning and the advantage of waking up in a dorm with guys? No one moves before 8 am! There was complete silence in the hostel. So I sat by the portico and observed Calcutta as it was waking up.
Park Street was beautiful. Serene at that time, Old Colonial buildings with trees all around, and those iconic Yellow taxis parked by the curb. I saw a man facing the sun in front of his taxi, praying and starting his day.
What do I do today? Granted that my friends gave me a long list of things to visit, must see, must do and must eat but I wanted to take it slow. It really didn’t matter if I couldn’t do certain things, I would visit Calcutta again.
The first thing I did was to eat at Flurys. Flurys first opened in 1927 and was known for its pastries cakes and breakfasts,it was an iconic place. It was finally taken over by The Park Hotels group. This was my most expensive indulgence in the city.
I enjoyed Eggs Benedict(my favourite of all) with Coffee and sat with a book for hours at Flurys. It was a perfect start to my day. Deepti- the awesome gal whom I rode with to Guwahati messaged. She and Varsha were in the city and they would be visiting Victoria Memorial, would I like to join them?
I promptly made my way to Victoria. It was lovely meeting the girls again! They had another friend Saahil- a photographer who was in the city on work. We strolled around the park and chatted along.
Deepti and Varsha had met during Kashmir Great Lakes organised by Youth Hostels. Saahil, a professional photographer was Varsha’s friend. They spoke about their adventures in Kashmir, the divide between people that supported India and people that supported Pakistan and another set that wanted a separate country. Deepti mentioned encountering locals that had an animosity towards anything Indian.
What I loved about Deepti was that she travelled and backpacked 8-10 months every year and she was doing that for 10 years. Yet there was no fuss, no showing off about her.
As she simply put it,she felt blessed to do what she did. I remember in Meghalaya when we asked each other as to what we did back home, the prompt reply was NOTHING to each other. We laughed about it and It rang true.
After years of running around,I was finally at peace,in a tranquil space and doing nothing for the past 5 months since my cafe got sold off.
I wanted to trek and backpack across India. It was very clear to me,this is it for the rest of my life. How would I go about doing it, I had no plan for that either and I still don’t. When your lifestyle becomes very basic, the baggage that you carry becomes much lighter and my goal was to empty that baggage as much as possible.
Later we went to Peter Cat at Park Street for Beer and their famous Chelo Kebabs and Sizzlers. Since Deepti was a vegetarian and she didn’t have too many options we went to the same Rolls place near my hostel.
I remember how much we both craved for Paneer and Rolls driving to Guwahati that night so when she finally got to eat it I could see the twinkle in her eyes and there is a pic too, take a look 😁
The girls were going to Sunderbans next day and asked if I wanted to join them. This trip was about being in the city and I knew I would come here often and make that trip to Shanti Niketan,Sunderbans and explore even rural Bengal, there was no hurry. Bidding them a warm goodbye I went to the hostel to relax for a bit.
Sunil, our Sandakphu trekmate was in Calcutta with his wife and kids visiting his in laws and he wanted to meet up. Since they were closer towards Salt Lake city where Priyanka stayed, it made more sense to go there. Kinshuk -our other trek mate was supposed to join us too but he was caught up in the post wedding rituals of his cousin.
As I stepped into Coffee Day, I was met with a hug from Sunil and his wife Tanya. She warmed up instantly and it didn’t feel like we were meeting her for the first time. Sunil and Tanya seemed made for each other. They spoke about their busy lives, their kids and this was their date without kids,they got few moments like this together.
What touched me was inspite of having a flight back to Melbourne that same night, Sunil made time to meet us. He was a gentleman alright. Beneath that tough exterior was a nice guy with a good heart and was a complete family man. Priyanka made a video call to Darshan and we had a nice chat and laughs about the trek.Sunil was particularly missing Kinshuk as he had told so much about him to Tanya.
It was time for Sunil and Tanya to leave and as we saw them leaving hand in hand, I remember Priyanka and I went Aawwwww! They were still like a young couple in love, God bless them!
Priyanka and I sat on the steps of the mall, took in the fresh breeze and continued our chat.I had a long way to go, to the other side of the city, so we strolled for a bit, had Puchkas -which became a daily habit for me btw. This was it. In a couple of days, I would go back to what I called home and here was Priyanka.Just two weeks ago, who knew our lives would collide with each other and there would be a strong bond.She was a friend for life.
After reaching towards my side of the city, I didn’t feel like going back to the hostel so I strolled around Park Street to Russell street, taking in the atmosphere around me.Vibrant, crowded and so alive.
The Red bright lights of Moulin Rouge to Trincas to other establishments. Imagining how this must have been during the 50’s,60’s and 70’s.
Calcutta was still hanging onto her past,holding tight while the other cities had metamorphosed. Maybe that’s why I started falling for her. The way she hung onto her colonial past as well as her culture and history. Tomorrow I would see a world of contrasts.
To be a Continued..