The day before I left Kolkata, I booked a walking tour with Let’s Meet Up, a locally run company who run a variety of tours lead by native Kolkatans. The company support a number of income generating programs for poor women and children, particularly in the slums of Kolkata – this was what attracted me to the company in the first place. Indu was my guide and we had a good discussion on the philanthropic work her company does with many similarities to the issues facing Bangladesh’s poor.
I hopped a Metro to Shobhabazaar station and met with Indu, and a trainee guide all in one piece. The trainee guide (whose name escapes me) is a single mother who needs some extra income to support her kids and she was accompanying us on our walking tour in preparation for her exam the following day. Clearly Let’s Meet Up take the training of their guides seriously.
North Kolkata is a very old part of the city, yet still has a vibrant population with much of the traditional ways still in use in their day to day lives. It’s filled with narrow streets and old buildings with both English and French influences, owned by the rich Bengali who traded with the British. Train and tram tracks crisscross the streets and the usual hand-pulled rickshaws are everywhere, but mostly people just walk.
North Kolkata is also home to the Durga Puja – an annual Hindu festival that worships the Goddess Durga. The festival marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura, essentially a festival that marks the victory of good over evil. It was not on while I visited the area given it takes place in the Fall, I only mention it as I saw in the area, the many sculptures used on the final day of the festival, being prepared by local artisans. These sculptures are made with clay taken from where the brothels are located along the Ganga (it’s a finer clay it seems than other locations along the Ganga). The clay is mixed with straw and the sculptures are then painted to denote the various gods and goddesses. You’ll see in the photos below, pretty impressive stuff. This enclave of artisans also include fine embroiderers and potters.
Leaving the artisan area, we headed towards the Ganga, where there was a burning ghat. I guess they are everywhere – my initial impression was that there was just one like in Kathmandu, but upon reflection, it makes sense to have many. A father had passed away and there was a mother with 3 young kids with her, at the burning ghat. The eldest boy was probably 14 years old, dressed in white for his 13 days of mourning and soon, headed off to the barber to get his head and face completely shaved. Meanwhile, what looked like an older uncle, was making an offering of food to the Ganga in the deceased’s honour. To be honest I felt uncomfortable witnessing such grief and sadness as just a bystander, so did not stay long at the burning ghat. In any event, I was diverted to the sounds of an oncoming train, doors and windows open to catch whatever breeze it could for it’s passengers, none on the roof this time!
I really enjoyed the walk and got to see a slice of another part of Kolkata which I was happy about. Some photos to follow. Afraid my unsecure wifi connection here in Varanasi will not allow me to post any images! Pity, because the photos tell a thousand stories.