Tag Archives: india
December 8, 2011

Stories from the road: Kolkata Diaries.Part 1

 

 

 

 

Hey folks- greetings from Kolkata, India !

 

I’m in Kolkata for the next 2 weeks , taking some time out (trying to!) but in between will be writing a few posts about my time here and the things I love the most about my hometown.

Yes, there will be a lot of talk about food since that is my/the  favourite pastime of people here so prepare for a few gastro-orgasms

So…I present to you my first instalment of the Kolkata Diaries. Enjoy!

 

I am still jet lagged after 2 days in Kolkata.

My body is still adjusting to the different cycle of life here.

I fall asleep late at night to the bedlam of stray dogs on the street fighting their territory and wake at 5am to the sound of crows bawling from the rooftops.

I left Edinburgh on the first day of winter snowfall 2 days ago.

It was 4c.

I’ve arrived in Kolkata which is around 27C.

The winters are mild here.

Despite having lived here for 9 years, everytime I visit Kolkata…it takes my breath away – I call this city my ‘parallel universe.’

Beneath the chaos and confusion there are plenty of stories happening in front of my eyes.

The tailor

 

 

For instance, I visit our family tailor on Rashbehari Avenue.

I hop on a tuk tuk or auto rickshaw. The fare from my house is a measly Rs 10.

My old pair of jeans needs loosening at the waist a wee bit ( I’ve gone from 30 to 33W in 3 years) -for the adjustment, he charges a paltry Rs 50.

I am also getting a tailor made shirt done for Rs 160 ( $3 )

 

Great Expectations

 

While he notes down the measurements I observe outside a stream of cackling mothers gathering in hordes, waiting expectantly for their children to finish school.

Exams are on.

Finally, I see a few children emerging pale faced, worn out with their test paper in hands.

Mums grab the paper from their hands.

The kids are virtually made to resit the paper then and there, mumbling all the answers standing on the street.

In a city of 30 million people where good jobs are at a premium, a good education is the ticket to a better life.

The rat race begins at an early age and the weight of expectations are high.

 

One person who has survived the Kolkata rat race and built a successful career is my very own father.

At 70, he is still quite an active guy and works as an ENT consultant, part-time.

 

 

 

He still has the biggest smile and enjoys life as if he was 20.

He is my hero and my greatest inspiration in life.

I arrived in Kolkata on the day of his 70th birthday.

 

The ultimate in Bengali Home Cuisine- Alu Posto and Kolai er Dal

 

 

We celebrate with a delicious homecooked lunch that my Mum has prepared.

The meal consists of traditional Bengali classics- Alu Potol Posto, Chana Alu Tarkari with rice and  Kalai Er Dal [dal made of split white (skin removed_ Urid dahl ]

This is the ultimate in traditional Bengali cooking for me – as I eat, I feel a tear of happiness coming into the corner of my eye. There are so many happy memories associated with the food you love and know so well.

The years melt away…

After a nice wee siesta in the evening we go for a nice cup of coffee at Cafe Coffee Day at the local shopping mall -Southcity.

Coffee here is great. Standard cup of cappuccino is Rs 30 ( $0.75)

 

Birthday cake for Dad is the black forest gateau.

Its sensational and highly recommended [ Rs 70 $1.20 ] If you’re feeling peckish they also serve a nice range of grilled sandwiches at around the Rs 70 mark.

Shame that they don’t have free wifi

It’s a strange feeling to be in a city where there is a sparsity of free wifi points.

I guess there are some benefits of not being connected when you’re on holiday.

In that sense, Kolkata is a great place to come on holiday if you’re looking to switch off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

November 30, 2011

Seeing the Taj Mahal, without hurting your Wallet

 

 

 

 

 

Every month, I’ll be inviting a few intrepid ‘Budget Travellers’ to share their experiences on the blog and this week I’m very excited to introduce you to Sarah Kloke, travel blogger at the very cool wheremytoothbrush.com

Taj Mahal is something that most travellers might visit at some point of their life so this guest post is incredibly handy guide to making the most of your time at the ultimate shrine dedicated to love. Enjoy. Take it away Sarah…..

 

 

Taj Mahal

 

 

With cheap accommodation, even cheaper eats, and some of the most rewarding cultural experiences on the planet (ya, I said it), India is a practical yet challenging paradise for the budget conscious traveller.

 

It is undeniable that the cost of travel in India will only put a minimum dent on your wallet, especially if you respond to those “foreigner” prices with some playful (and hopefully successful) bartering.

But sometimes the price tags in India can’t be altered.

Like for instance, the Taj Mahal’s entrance fee (leave your bartering skills back at the guest house for this one).

With a foreigner admission price of 750 rupees, this attraction could very well end up being the bulk of your daily budget.

But it’s the Taj Mahal…and you’re in India. So even with a steep (by India standards) price tag, the Taj Mahal almost always ends up being a must on everybody’s India To-Do List. But there still are a couple ways to pay the Taj Mahal’s entrance fee, see one of the greatest wonders in the world, and still keep that wallet dent to a minimum. You see, it’s all about the before, after, and in-betweens of that beauty of a palace.

 

 

 

The Before….

Walk into the grounds

With harmful CO2/ gas emissions of vehicles and the generally high index of pollution in India, the Taj Mahal has recently seen a lot of environmental wear-and-tear. Reactively, the city of Agra has outlawed all vehicles within a 500 m radius of the Taj Mahal. Now you can opt to travel in using one of the millions of tuk-tuks eagerly waiting for you, but it’ll cost you. Alternatively, it’s not such a bad walk into the actual grounds. And it doesn’t cost you a single rupee.

 

The In-Between

Make a day of it (It IS the Taj Mahal after all…)

Depending on lines, time of the day, and your wavering patience, you could probably spend about 2 hours within the Taj Mahal itself. But why rush it? The three outlying red-stoned buildings of the Taj ( in picture above) are pretty gorgeous in their own right and the grounds itself provide a nice (and green!) escape to some of the typical chaos that may exist in Agra. Take your time enjoying one of the greatest wonders of the world. And just think, the more time you spend INSIDE the Taj Mahal, the less money you spend OUTSIDE the Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal, from the Gardens

 

See a new angle

From the front, the Taj Mahal has been photographed like, a gazillion times. But ever wonder what the back of the Taj Mahal looks like? Well, go see for yourself and cross the river to the historic Mehtab Bang Gardens. For a not-so-frightening admission fee of 100 rupees, you enter a much less crowded tourist attraction and are rewarded with a much more unique (and probably less photographed) view of the Taj Mahal.

 

The After

Avoid the souvenirs

 

If buying a plastic replica or better yet, a glass snow globe of the Taj Mahal is your thing, it’s best to avoid any of the souvenir stalls located both within and directly outside the gates of the grounds. Sellers are usually more reluctant to bargain with you here and you will definitely be paying a serious rupee for anything bought in this area. Your best bet is to make your way into (or out of) Agra and find your little keepsake there- most likely for 1/16th the price.

Even with these tips, it’s best to keep in mind that the price of entrance to the Taj Mahal is outside the norm for the rest of the country…which is practically angelic harp music to a budget-conscious traveller’s ears.

India manages to find a pretty harmonious balance between lowering the cost of travel and heightening the experience of travel.

And you know, it’s got that lil’ thing called the Taj Mahal.

 

 

About the author

 

Sarah personifies the travels of her toothbrush on her travel site, http://wheresmytoothbrush.com/

Between a slight obsession with dental hygiene, travel, and natural crunchy peanut butter, Sarah has been making various parts of Asia her home for the last two years.

Often heard bragging about the time she was stranded on a train in India for 31 hours, she’ll probably continue to do the same routine (travel. write. brush teeth. repeat.) until she runs out of stories. Or countries. Whichever comes first, really.


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