Thursday, 24 January 2013

Thursday 24th Tombs & Trams

The downside of our room adjacent to the dining room becomes very apparent at 6 a.m. Why are crockery and cutlery made so noisy?  But these are minor tribulations and we shall rise above them.  There have been a couple of innovations at the Fairlawn since our last stay. The bird - poo proof shelter over the beer garden is a plus but we are not so sure about the "Full English Breakfast" featuring baked beans and cold chips.

We are recognised by the day boss who offers (without being asked) an upstairs room. We take him up on the offer and move to a very nice double on the front corner, well away from the madding crowd. This takes up an hour or so which allows the sun to burn off any morning chill. Our regular Sim card dealer is not open for business so we try another chap, round the corner on Chowringee Lane. In theory it has got much more difficult for visitors to India to get a Sim card. Judging by today's experience it has merely got a little bit more expensive.

Today is R's turn to choose the fun so we head for the Park Street Cemetery via the Oxford Bookshop. Here we are very tempted by Salim Ali's Book of Indian Birds but it is a hardback and weighs a ton. We already have a decent bird book and reluctantly pass, purely on grounds of weight.

Park Street Cemetery is the last resting place of many East India Company employees as well as their wives and infant children. Actively maintained and restored by the Association for the Preservation of Historical Cemeteries in India, the walled burial ground is a collection of monuments, tombstones and faux Greek temples that starkly illustrates the frailty of existence for Europeans in Bengal in the late 17 and early 18 hundreds.

As we left the cemetery the attendants noticed that we had listed our address as being in Scotland and they asked us if we were interested in seeing the Scottish Cemetery. It was quite close and we were given very good directions. The contrasty was quite remarkable as the Scottish Cemetery has suffered some severe vandalism and is virtually ruined although there is now some security in place and some limited restoration work is under way.

Slightly subdued by what we had seen we hopped on a tram back to Esplanade. There have been several changes in Kolkata since we last visited. Repairing the cable trenches on the pavements on Chowringee is a big plus. A 50% increase in tram fares is not. It now costs a whopping 6 rupees to spend an hour not going anywhere fast. D will not be voting for Trinamool either.

Our next mission was to find a card reader that could cope with the gadget out of R's camera. The posh shops couldn't help although one did suggest that we try Chandni Chowk. We strolled up to this busy shopping area and got lucky almost straight away. Problem fixed for £3. D even picked up a charger for his ancient mobile phone for 90 rupees. Sated with success we headed back to base for a short siesta.

As dusk started to fall we headed out for a twilight tram trip. The plan was to get the first tram we saw that was going anywhere that we had heard of. We dropped lucky as one of the new(er) trams was sitting empty waiting to go to Park Circus. These trams have previously evaded us. They are cleaner, have more seats and more legroom but still have opening windows.

The Park Circus route is highly entertaining as the tram travels in one direction while the street is one-way in the opposite direction for all other traffic. The result is chaos. as the oncoming tide of traffic refuses to make way for the tram. A West Bengal version of a Mexican standoff is frequent. The highlight (?) of our trip was a five minute power outage where the darkened tram was stranded in the middle of a busy street. Eventually we were shooed off the tram which was going home to the depot and we had an exciting few minutes trying to negotiate 4 lanes of racing traffic in order to have a chance to leap aboard a moving tram. We had to do this twice as the first tram was going to the wrong place.

A quick stroll down bustling Chowringee brought us home where we had a splendid supper and an early night.

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