Saturday, 26 January 2013

Saturday 26th - Carry On up the Hooghly

The Midnight Cowboy builders knock off around 2 a.m. this morning (so R says), leaving the vacuum to be filled by fighting dogs. The alarm goes at 6 a.m. just as the dawn is starting and we wonder whether we really want to do this. However the ticket is booked (in one direction) and we drag ourselves down to the front gate where the ever cheerful porter magics up a taxi for us. The driver turns out to be a total headbanger who drives without stopping for anything via a back street chicken market to Sealdah station. We have had a couple of hair raising rides in India but that was the most exciting yet.

We are booked in Chair Car on the Maa Tara Express (Train 13187). Our train is not yet showing on the indicator but when it does appear we are swept along with a seething mass of humanity onto a nearby platform. We ask the man posting the charts where the Chair Car will be and he points to the far end of the platform. We fight our way through the crowd and as we get to the pointed end of the platform just as the chair car glides past, clearly destined for somewhere near our starting point.

Once onboard we get to watch a major pantomime as a very extended Indian family of about 20 board. They have been allocated seats all over the coach and all of the adult males in the group think that they are in charge of the party. Things are not helped by other people who seem to have ignored the seat numbers on their tickets. All seems to be sorted just as the train gets under way but then the foil containers of various items appear and have to be passed up and down the coach. At the first stop the vendors appear, mainly food and drink, but there is one evil type selling really noisy children's toys. The small boy in front of us is bought a ray gun that flashes and emits an endless barrage of whining noises. R strangled the child and hid his body under the seats while his parents were not looking.

Luckily it is soon our stop, Bandel, where we switch to a Howrah bound local for a three stop ride to Chandan Nagar - more about spelling later. There is no queue at the Unreserved counter, just as there are no working platform indicators or departure boards. We hear an announcement that mentions Howrah and Platform 4 so head there but that train is very definitely heading in the wrong direction. A train pulls up on the adjacent platform and D asks the driver if it goes to Chandan Nagar. Given an affirmative we just have time to hop into the first compartment which is standing room only. At the next stop two chaps throw on two enormous banana baskets which take up the space of about twenty people. Every body squeezes up and we make it intact to our destination.

We stroll down the main street of what seems like a quiet little town. Few of the shops are open and there is little traffic. After a while we find ourselves in a market area where there are furniture makers, some of whom seem to specialise in bed-heads. To be honest we were a bit lost. A local lady gives us directions - we just hope that she knows where we want to go because we don't.
A couple of minutes walk takes us to the Strand, a rather imposing promenade on the waterfront. Until Independence this town was a French Colony and there is still a lot of evidence of the French presence including elderly men on bicycles wearing berets. Maybe the French influence has caused the spelling confusion. Indian Railways use Chandan Nagar, the Police headquarters uses both Chandannagar and Chandernagore - the French spelling.

We were standing opposite the Police Station when we were hailed by a very important looking uniformed officer whose badges described him as an Inspector. "Come here now!" he ordered. They must have found the body on the train. It turned out that a translation of a memorial plaque on the front of the building was required.  D stumbled his way through, dragging O-level French up from way back. Nearly finished, he noticed R being escorted into the Police Station by the Inspector

Inside the cop shop D found her seated in the Chief Inspector's office surrounded by very important looking coppers. She was being made to write something. "Don't sign. They will use it against you!"  The reality was that the Chief Inspector wanted a written translation of the plaque. This done chai was produced and the chat turned to football and "Why can't Microsoft spell English words properly?"
We were able to escape before anybody had a close look at the translation that we had provided.

We had thought of visiting the French Museum but that was closed for the Republic Day holiday and the Sacred Heart church was also locked up. There was some thing happening on the playing fields and , peering over a wall to see what was what we were spotted by yet another policeman who firmly ushered us to two seats in the front row of the VIP enclosure, just behind the table with all the prizes. The entertainment was an energetic display of acrobatic stilt walking.

We thoroughly enjoyed our rather off-beat visit to Chandannagar where we met some very nice people in unusual circumstances. R has a standing invitation to drop in at the Police Station whenever she is passing. By the standards of the day the Unreserved journey home was a little uneventful. We even got seats. A minor error by D meant that we caught the wrong ferry from Howrah and nearly ended up back at Chandannagar but we got back to Sudder Street in the end and were able to watch some of the street cricket.

1 comment:

  1. Hello R & D. My name is Peter from Australia and my wife Michelle and I leave for India in 2 weeks. We stumbled across your blog whilst researching and have spent the most entertaining 2 hours reading it and picking up some great tips especially the beer spots!! Your writing style had us both laughing out loud constantly. Keep up the posts and safe travels.