Tag Archives: Kolkata

Trek to Sandakphu – Part 1 – It’s Kolkata again

They say history repeats itself. Yes, in my case it almost did. Last time I was in Kolkata for my best friend’s wedding, hope you have read my blog post on the same. But, this time, it’s on our way to Youth Hostel Association of India trek to Sandakphu.

First, let me start with the story of “How It All Began”. About 8 months back we a set of friends had an awesome trip to Coorg and Goa, which I never wrote about. The same gang decided to go for yet an another trip and we ended up with this. Fortunately, a few got added and unfortunately a few couldn’t make it. As some of us are from Chennai and some of us are from Bengaluru, we decided to meet up at Kolkatta and continue our journey from there.

On 22-04-2016 (Day -2) We Chennai guys, i.e, Me, Jai (Buddy), Sudhakaran (Puppy) and Thiyagarajan (Daddy/Thagappa) had our early morning flight to Kolkata by 2.20 am. We boarded our Jet Konnect and the best thing about that flight is, they gave me something good to eat even as early as 3.00 am while I was half sleep. We touched down around 4.30 am and headed straight to our hotel after a tea. The hotel was in a century-old building on a rustic narrow crowded bazaar lane and that was a huge shock for us. But, the rooms were neat, clean and modern as if they got no connection or relevance with the locality. Sincere thanks to OYO Rooms and our friend who booked it. Prem yet another from Chennai and our Bengaluru guys Nigilan (Padhala Dhadha), Sakthiyagiri (Giri), Lavanya and Lakshmi joined us later that morning.

While others were resting, I had a critical mission to complete. To meet my friend Srijani’s mom and deliver her the thing which my mom got for her. Luckily Jai and Nigilan voluntarily accepted to give me company. I think it was a wrong decision to take a bus to her home as the weather was hot and humid as much as Chennai. My friend Srijani’s mom is so sweet and lovely person. Last time she gave my mom a beautiful Bengali cotton saree, this time, she gave my sis and my friend Shaul’s wife a beautiful Salwar suit. She also fed us with yummy authentic Bengali food. The Potol, Prawns and Fish curry were super yummy and Rasgullas are something to die for. She must have made food with so much love, It filled our stomach as well as our soul. Couldn’t thank her enough for it. From there we took a cab back to our hotel.

On reaching hotel we realized that we are already running late for the wedding that we had to attend. Yaaay, yet another Bengali wedding. Knowing that our stay at Kolkata coincides with her wedding, Nigilan’s friend Madhura Banerjee has graciously invited all of us to be present at the auspicious occasion. As the wedding is in Bandel, a suburb of Kolkata, we decided to take a train from Howrah to reach there. As it’s peak hour and that too on a weekday, the trains were heavily packed. We somehow managed to board a loaded compartment and ended up standing for rest of the journey, which is around an hour. We had a warm welcome at the wedding. After wishing the couples who were busy with the wedding rituals, we enjoyed our favorite part of the wedding, FOOD. After having a sumptuous wedding dinner, we boarded the train back to Howrah, but this time, it was lot emptier. It was already around 11 pm while we reached there and the taxis demanded an atrocious fare to drop us back. So, we decided to take a walk as the hotel was just 2 km away and as it would aid a bit in digestion. We walked over the famous Howrah Bridge. The full moon, the strong breeze from the Hooghly and my favorite track in my ears made the moment memorable. I was dead tired when we reached our rooms and my body refused to do anything other than sleeping, and that’s how the day ended for me.

Next day 23-04-2016 (Day -1) started with something funny, our friend Nigilan went to the nearby shop and this happened.
Nigilan: Bhaiya, Ek plate Vada (Bro, 1 plate Vada)
Shopkeeper: Thambi neenga tamil ah? (Bro, Are you a tamil?)
Though Nigilan used his best Hindi, sad that he couldn’t conceal his original identity.

Then, we started to Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission which is one of the significant institutions in Kolkata and was founded by Swami Vivekananda himself. But, one doesn’t get lucky always, the Math got closed for lunch the time we got in there. After finishing off our lunch at a nearby shop, we all headed to the famous Victoria Memorial. As I wrote enough about this place in my last Kolkata post (Sun TV, Top 10 movie style) let me better introduce the ones who joined us there. It’s none other than Geethakala (G2/Puli) from Bengaluru and Monica (Micky/Eli) from Chennai. From there we hopped to Babughat to experience the ferry ride to Howrah. From Howrah, we hoped to go to Kalighat, but we had to drop that plan due to the insufficiency of time. We went back to our rooms, got freshened up, checked out and started to Sealdah railway station. What else, It was dinner time, we finished our lunch at the railway canteen and boarded Padatik Express to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) around 11 PM. This city has been very kind to me, Wish I could have met a few more beloved ones there. But the situations are such that I couldn’t, my apologies, hopefully, will meet when I am there next.

Isn’t the pattern Kolkata, Bengali Wedding, Rasgullas, Aunty’s Gift, Victoria Memorial and ferry ride to Howrah sounds familiar? Definitely, it won’t unless you read my previous Kolkata post. That’s how History Repeats Itself.

To Be Continued…

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Trip To Remember – Kolkata Diaries – Best Friend’s Bengali Wedding

I am aware that I have few other posts pending on my blog. Post on a couple of previous trips and a Liebster Award post. But, I can’t wait to write this one, cos I feel indebted to post this. I am writing this post after an awesome trip from Kolkata. If you are wondering what made me travel all the way from Chennai, it’s my best friend Srijani’s wedding with Apurba. A wedding I can’t miss. This is probably the longest post I ever wrote. Also, bare with my extraordinary photographic skill and image quality of the pics.

The city of Kolkata:
I was very excited to travel to Kolkata. This old, rustic ex-capital of British India (until 1911) doesn’t need much introduction, as the city is well known for arts, literature and food. It’s been home to many great souls like Swami Vivekananda, Subhas Chandra Bose, Satyendra Nath Bose, Sri Aurobindo, Satyajit Ray etc. Notable Nobel laureates like Rabindranath Tagore, Sir C. V. Raman, Mother Teresa and Amartya Sen are very closely associated with this city, that’s 4/5 total Nobel laureates of India. People of this place, Bengalis are said to be very patriotic. No wonder it’s the birthplace of India’s national anthem “Jana Gana Mana” and national song “Vande Mataram”.

The Long Train Journey:
With all that excitement, I boarded Howrah Mail on the midnight of 19th Jan 2016 with my friend Shaul Hameed and his wife Humaira Thasneem Hameed. I am still wondering why 15-day train journey felt so short and this 29 hours journey felt dragging. Most time was spent on reading a book and watching sitcom episodes. Fast forward, we reached Howrah station on the early morning of 21st Jan.

The Bengali Wedding:

Day 1:
Though was tired, we reached the marriage hall by the morning. Many rituals were carried out by the bride’s side in parallel while we were whiling up the time clueless. You wouldn’t expect people to literally stuff yummy rasgullas into your mouth, that’s what my friend’s sweet sister did. She doesn’t stop with that, she also made sure to apply a mix of sandal and turmeric on my face after the haldi function. I made sure that she doesn’t miss my friend Shaul. Believe me; it’s tough to outrun her. For breakfast, we were served Luchi and Alur Dum, Bengali version of poori and potato masala. Followed by an awesome lunch, the menu is a reflection of Bengali’s love towards fish. Post lunch we decided to take a break, go back to our room, freshen up and be back for the main marriage event by the eve.

As planned, I and Shaul went to the wedding in traditional attire, we draped Vetti a.k.a dhoti in south Indian style and wore a dark colour shirt. We stood out in the crowd, just think of two guys wearing Vetti Sattai in a traditional Bengali wedding, how funny does that sound. I never felt this involved in any of my friend’s marriage. It’s common to be treated as a guest in friend’s marriages, but my friend Srijani’s family went a step ahead. They treated me as one in their family. I was really moved when I was given the honour of welcome the groom when he arrived and to escort him to the wedding altar. That’s like the greatest honour a friend can get at his friend’s wedding, cos here it’s usually done by the bride’s brother. Then, there is a ritual where the bride is made to sit on a low wooden stool, lifted and taken around the groom seven times. The lifting is usually done by the bride’s brothers, but they included me also in lifting and that was one awesome experience. The main marriage got concluded as the groom applied vermilion on the bride’s forehead. The day ended with an awesome dinner which includes aromatic Kolkata style mutton biryani, fish tikka, mutton curry, rasgullas and kulfi. It was already midnight when we reached our room, what a day it was.

Day 2:
As I am an early bird I woke up early as usual, but the love birds with whom I came along, didn’t. I tried watching a couple of sitcoms episode but got bored soon. So, I walked 8 Kms on the busy roads of Kolkata, It was fun. On the way back to my room, I had tea from a roadside shop and was shocked by the serving size. The cup reminded of measurement cup in tonic bottles, probably one-third of what they serve in Chennai. It was already noon when the couples woke up and got ready and we headed back to the marriage hall. As all the main marriage events got concluded yesterday itself, It’s just the supplementary events today. The bride and the groom are made to play small ritualistic games; probably it’s kinda warm up before the big game ahead. Again, yet another awesome lunch with 4 fish dishes, can’t ask for more. With some time left, we thought to roam around.

It was already noon when the couples woke up and got ready and we headed back to the marriage hall. As all the main marriage events got concluded yesterday itself, It’s just the supplementary events today. The bride and the groom are made to play small ritualistic games; probably it’s kinda warm up before the big game ahead. Again, yet another awesome lunch with 4 fish dishes, can’t ask for more. With some time left, we thought to roam around.

Finding Nani Lal Gosh:
When asked for good places nearby to get rasgullas, my friend’s brother suggested “Nani Lal Gosh”. Though we were heavy after a sumptuous lunch, we decided to try this place before going anywhere else. After enquiring directions and couple of misdirection, we finally reached there. We had yummy Nolen Gur (date palm jaggery) rasgulla which can be got only in the winters and Rabdi too. My friends also tasted the famous Mishti Doi (sweet yogurt) and they loved it. Believe me; this small place is worth the long walk.

The Victoria
Not secret, but the memorial. We reached a bit late, thanks to narrow streets and heavy traffic. As the result, we couldn’t get the museum passes and could avail only the garden passes. We spent some time clicking pics walking around the memorial. As we couldn’t make it to the museum today, we unanimously decided to visit back this place first thing in the morning tomorrow.

The Howrah and The Ghats of the Ganges
After missing to meet Queen Victoria, we decided to go to BabuGhat so that we could experience the ferry ride to Howrah. To my surprise, the ticket cost is just Rs.5 per person. We enjoyed the ride as the Howrah Bridge looked strong and beautiful at night. Once done with the ride, we also decided to walk across the bridge. The bridge was too crowded, still we managed to walk and click some pics. That’s all for the day, we returned back to our room by midnight.

Visiting Victoria Again
Victoria MemorialFirst thing in the morning, we took a taxi to Victoria memorial. It’s a huge white marble museum built to commemorate 25 years reign of Queen Victoria in India. As all of us were hungry, we had Luchi-Alur Dum and Chow Mein for breakfast, what a contrast. This time, we were lucky to get museum passes. While my enthusiasm to visit the museum is boiling up, the couples were busy with nature photography around the memorial. Luckily they finished before I reached my threshold of waiting for them. We were allowed into the museum after security check and were asked to switch off our electronic devices as photography is prohibited in there. The main museum housed many artefacts related to British rule in India, mainly weapons that were used at that point in time. One mustn’t miss the paintings in the royal gallery which illustrates the life history of Queen Victoria. If you are interested in the history of Kolkata, then don’t miss the Calcutta gallery in there. A visit to Kolkata wouldn’t be a complete without this place.

Princep Ghat
This monument along the banks of the Ganges was built in the memory of James Princep who was an eminent Anglo-Indian scholar. His works were so great that this was built by crowd funding people of Calcutta, which was 12,000 Rs in 1841. Later this place was renovated and maintained by Public Works Department of Kolkata. It’s one of the most happening tourist spots in Kolkata, especially for couples. You could see couples all around clicking pics and taking a boat ride on the Ganges. I can’t forget the chillness of the Ganges, the chillness that touched my spine when my bare foot touched the water. Wish I had an extra pair of clothes to take a dip. Then I remembered that I haven’t got anything for my family. So, it’s time for some shopping.

The Esplanade Shopping
It’s a short travel from Princep Ghat. All I wanted to get was a Bengali Cotton Saree for my mom and a Salwar for my sis, for which I needed the help of Shaul’s wife. But, the couples were busy with their own shopping, so I decided to part apart and try my luck.

The Couples Dilution
If you are single, especially guys, it’s better to avoid planning a trip with couples unless it’s inevitable like this one. No offence couples, this benefits both. The problem is the difference of preference. They might prefer places while you prefer experiences. They might be less flexible, comfort seeking and do things in leisure. More than all, it’s constant guilt of invading their privacy.

The Tram Ride
It’s something Shaul & Co. shouldn’t have missed. Visiting Kolkata and not experiencing a tram ride is similar to visiting Chennai and not going to marina beach. After parting from the couples, I searched for shops for Bengali Cotton Saree, but that too failed as most shops there sold trendy stuff. Then, I decided to at least experience the tram ride. Somehow I enquired and found the nearby college road tram line. I was excited to see the tram approaching and boarded it when it stopped. Again the ticket is flat Rs. 5, which is very cheap. I enjoyed the ride; it felt like a bus moving a bit slower over the rails. The funnier part was people staring at me wired, I presume my excitement and me clicking pics must be the reasons.

The Crafts Shop
I came back to Esplanade empty handed to join Shaul, A small guilt of not getting anything for mom and sis still stuck to me. I found interesting things on display while I crossed the shop and decided to check on the same. I got myself a small terracotta Rabindranath Tagore statue, which will be my official souvenir of this trip. I got sis an artistic box with a glass painting and mom a Sholapith Durga wall hanging. When I went to the billing counter to pay for my items, I saw an old man sitting at the counter, he must be around 70. Hearing my worst Hindi, he enquired where I am from. I saw his calm wrinkled face glowing and turned smiling when I replied “Chennai”. I was completely flabbergasted when he asked me “eppadi irukenga”, that’s “how are you” in Tamil, my mother tongue. While I was still standing speechless, he continued, that he used to work in madras (former name of Chennai) and Coimbatore 40 years back and still got friends there. He also added that he like the people there. That’s something really sweet to hear. I left the place after thanking him for those kind words.

Small Tagore - The official souvenir of this trip

Small Tagore – The official souvenir of this trip

The Metro Ride
Did I tell you that we were personally invited by the groom for yet another function at his home? It’s a kinda reception where close relations from the bride side visits the groom’s house and they were treated there. To reach the groom’s home, we must join with my friend’s family first. We were advised to take a metro and then an auto to reach there. So, we took a metro from Esplanade to Shobhabazar. The fare is only Rs. 5 and the maximum fare is Rs. 25 which is very cheap comparing to Rs. 40 in Chennai. Transportation in Kolkata is really cheap compared to other cities. As usual, I could notice people eying us wired, probably cos of the strange language we were talking and wouldn’t have seen people taking selfies in the metro. They might have no idea that we go in metro only to take selfies. Trivia: Kolkata metro is the first underground railway system in India.

The Sweet Surprise
Somehow we managed to reach my friend’s house. As we arrived we were served with rasgullas and samosas. Wait, rasgulla is not the sweet surprise anymore, they serve it at every other meal here, and there is one more much sweeter. SJ’s mom gifted me and Shaul awesome shirt and trouser fabric. She also gave Shaul’s wife a traditional Bengali cotton Saree. That time, I kinda felt bad that I couldn’t get one for my mom. So, I told the same to aunty expecting her that she would point me to a better place where I would get one. But, she patiently listened to all these and left the place just replying “ok”. First I thought that she is busy with the arrangements and resumed eating rasgullas. After a while, she stepped in with a couple of sarees in her hand and asked me which one I would like to take for my mom. I was dumbstruck for a while and that’s the sweet surprise guys, sweeter than those rasgullas itself. Out of the two, I chose the one which suits my mom, a beautiful yellow colour one. I couldn’t thank her enough for that much love; it might be one which she bought for herself to wear on a special occasion. I was delighted and beaming with smile and joy. One must have seen me dancing out of joy when she left the room, Shaul and his wife witnessed that insanity.

Beautiful traditional Bengal Cotton Saree - SJ's mom gift to my mom

Beautiful traditional Bengal Cotton Saree – SJ’s mom gift to my mom

The Reception
After more than an hour of drive, we reached the groom’s home. There we were introduced to the groom’s family and relatives. We were really happy and felt privileged to be there. It felt like family more than friends. What can make the evening more pleasant than a sumptuous Bengali dinner? . It’s already late by the time we finished our dinner and we have an early morning flight back to Chennai. So, we started back to the hotel after a photo session. I was happy to be there for my best friend, to be there while she takes a leap in her life.

The Early Morning Flight
Our flight was scheduled at 8.20 am and we were advised to start early due to extensive republic day security checks. Waking up at 4.30 am is something usual for me, but for my friend Shaul, it’s like waking up at midnight that too after sleeping late at night. Luckily we all woke up and got ready on time. It seems we reached the airport bit early and a long wait followed until we boarded the flight. It’s a 2hrs 10mins flight to Chennai and it’s generous of Shaul to sacrifice his seat by the shade for me. It’s my 1st, morning flight and I enjoyed gazing at those clouds while we flew above them. They looked nothing less than suspended white colour candy floss. That was one smooth flight except a couple of air turbulence, which I experienced for the first time. It was around 10.45 when we landed at Chennai.

The Lucky Arrival
I was waiting to collect my baggage from the baggage conveyor and was lucky to spot some celebrities nearby. I am happy to meet some of my favourite singers SPB Sir, Srinivas and Karthik. They were all returning back from Rahman’s Coimbatore concert. They were all gracious to exchange few words with this unknown fan and accept my request to take a selfie with them.

I loved writing this post. Even recollecting each and every moment gave me a warm feeling. I still feel words aren’t enough to express my experience there. I couldn’t thank enough Srijani and her families for their love, hospitality and making this trip more memorable. I dedicate this blog post to them. Wish the couples an awesome married life.