We jumped out of the Ambassador for an early check-in at the Floatel, Kolkata’s only floating Hotel on the Hooghly River; we took breakfast then fell asleep on the bed. By the time we got out to investigate our local it was around midday, very hot, noisy and busy. We walked away from the river, and passed the High Court and many law chambers, it was odd to see men in legal gowns walking the busy streets to use the many vendors for shoe repairs, food and drinks. As well as legal chambers there were many bank headquarters, maybe they are a natural fit? As we approached the gates to Raj Bhawan, a large group of protestors approached us coming the opposite way up Parliament Road. Raj Bhawan is the residence of the Governor of West Bengal, built in 1803 as a copy of Curzon’s family mansion of the Kedleston Hall of Derbyshire. When Calcutta was the colonial capital of India Raj Bhawan was the home of the Viceroy of India. The group went to the gates, waved placards, had a media event and talked amicably to the security guards before dispersing. Apparently it was election time, another of the Indian contrasts, balancing armed military guards at all public buildings contrasting with total acceptance of a mob of protestors.
A little further on is the magnificent St John’s Church, but before we got there we witnessed a clash between a bus and a tram, they were locked together, with both drivers getting lots of free advice from passengers and onlookers, the situation was soon sorted with the ripping of metal and both vehicles continued to their destinations. Our trip back to the Flotel took us past the enormous Post Office, lost letter office and Foreign Post Office. That was quite enough for our first day, we went to our room and enjoyed the sunset across the Hooghly River.
On day 2 we took a cab to the Indian Museum; again entry was via armed security guards, sand bags and X-ray machine. The building is very grand, and has vast numbers of highly important exhibits. However they are by and large badly displayed. I suspect a specialist in the field would have problems navigating through what was on display. This is such a shame as India has such a rich and long history, but I left knowing no more than when I went in about this history. The place was full of immaculately turned out school children, who were probably as bemused as us, but they seemed to be having a good time of it. At one point a weasel of a man approached me purporting to have relics for sale. He disappeared very quickly when I went towards a guard, I suspect reporting him would have been to no avail, he was so brazen I can assume he had paid the right people to ply his trade.
The Museum is near Chowringhee Road, described by the guidebooks as a tourist mecca of shops and entertainment. Yes there were some western brand shops, but they were behind the millions of stallholders on the footpath, selling cheap cloths and shoes. At one point a Rolls Royce approached the Oberoi Hotel, the guards had to help the stallholders move their wares so the gates could be opened to allow them entry; an inauspicious event for a new arrival to Kolkata paying $250+ per night. Our return was via the area we touched on yesterday, with more time to appreciate the magnificent Writer’s Building and have a spell in Dalhousie Square, which centers around a square lake called Lal Dihi. It truly is an oasis in the hot dirty city.
We dropped in on Millennium Park, which tells a cautionary tale. If you are going to build a park to celebrate something you must also provide for its upkeep. The poor Millennium Park had broken rides, water features with no water and dead grass.
Our last full day in India saw us visiting the Victoria Memorial. The Maiden is a huge open area of grass, containing sports grounds, a golf course and of course the central cricket, which is testament to another of India’s religions. The Victoria Memorial lies at the southwestern end of the Maiden and has all the bling we had come to expect, including lavishly decorated horse drawn carriages for the tourists to use. Some have likened the Victoria Memorial to the Taj, where they got that idea I simply cannot understand, they both have domes, and that is where the likeness ends. Again any exhibits were haphazardly displayed, a shame as it could have been so much better.
As I said earlier the flight from Kolkata to Myanmar was reminiscent of a bad comedy. With relief we landed in Yangon International Airport, the plane mysteriously in one piece to the announcement: ‘Welcome to Yangon where the local time is 6:00pm, temperature 38 degrees and humidity 94%!