Having met our tour group the night before and shared a curry, we met in the lobby by 9:30 as the Gadventures (www.gadventures.com) CEO (Binu) instructed. Expect no guide. We patiently and quietly waited, all strangers in a stranger country, in a strange lobby. Until Mike phoned his room and spoke to a very sleepy Binu who insisted yes we were meeting at 9:30am. He must of put the phone down, looked at the time and thought shit- as he was downstairs within minutes!
No bother, we set off as a group following our guide. Through the busy Kolkata streets, we walked purposely through markets, cricket games and cattle and arrived at the Victoria Memorial. We were all taking pictures of the practice military parade going on and failed to notice the stunning early 20th century building behind us; built to remember Queen Victoria by George Curzon. It stood imposing amongst kept lawns and gardens, a juxtaposition against the dirt and rubbish in streets that surrounded it.
Upon leaving we were subjected to yet more selfies and posing from locals eager to take their photos with a foreigner in front of a national monument.
Here we took several taxis and arrived at the city ferry terminal to cruise across the Ganges river. I was expecting a river cruise but settled for a ferry trip back and forth. Stunning views of the Howrah bridge were on offer amongst the ferry’s and local boats. Included was a ‘bump’ between our ferry and another, planned I’m sure!!
We retired to our side of the river and taxied back to the hotel, where we promptly went for lunch. A recommendation from our guide suggested a vegetarian traditional restaurant. We entered and were sat and greeted with a platter of 10 empty dishes, which were filled up with soups, curries and who else knows what by attentive waiters. Rice, naans and popadoms where aplenty as we devoured the food in anticipation for our night aboard the sleeper train (more later). A delicious lunch, I’m not quite sure what I ate but tasty all the same.
We met the group back at the hotel and taxied to the train station for our over night train journey to New Jalpaiguri.
A chaotic railway station greeted us, full of locals and a myriad of signs and announcements in Hindi. Without our guide finding our train would of been extremely difficult. We were due to catch the over night train – the 15959 from platform 8. Hundreds of people were already gathered on the platform waiting in anticipation, looking at the electronic signs for what cartridge would be where. Suddenly signs changed and flashed as the train pulled into the station- one of the longest I’ve ever seen about 16 (possibly more) carriages by my reckoning. We were in B1 which was a 10 minute walk down the platform. Luckily we had assigned seats (or rather beds) as many didn’t who were in the lower class carriages; who immediately scrabbled for a seat.
We were in for an interesting night.