An overnight train took us from Varanasi to Calcutta, the last place in the Northern India trip. It was also one of the girls in my group, Laura's birthday. Our leader had got us party hats to wear and a cake for her to enjoy on the train. It was absolutely quality. The whole of our carriage when they realised there was a cake gathered round to sing her Happy Birthday and also to take her picture. It was a warm and happy environment.
Entering Calcutta was like entering a sophisticated paradise. The train station was clean, there was a proper waiting area, notice boards, places to buy food that looked healthy and clean and just generally a sense of order that had been quite lacking so far. Proper taxi cabs were waiting for us and there were road markings that drivers actually followed and lanes that they stayed in. No mad tuk tuk drive for us here.
The influence of the English is apparent everywhere. It felt like being in Colonial Britain. Buildings matched our sense of architecture, green spaces and parks. Bliss.
We only had a day in a Calcutta before flying on to Chennai. This was the last night for some of the group who were not flying on to do Southern India and we were also leaving our group leader to meet up with a new one in Chennai. So there was limited time to see the sights before meeting for our goodbye dinner. Some people needed to go to the Post Office and as there was the famous Black Hole of Calcutta there I decided to go with them.
One wise soul has said that we English gave the Indians bureaucracy and they perfected it. This is nowhere more apparent than in an Indian post office! First we went to one desk clerk who weighed the package and told us how much it would be. We were then sent to another to find an envelope. They did not have one so they sent us to another desk. It finally turned out the post office does not provide them!
Out on the street we discovered an astute businessman selling stationery. Envelope in hand, we went back into the Post Office to start the whole procedure again, back to the first desk to get it weighed and stamped. Off to the next desk to buy the stamps, next desk to be given the stamp and finally to the post box to actually post it. There were 20 odd post slots, with only one being for international mail. All in all we went to about 5 desks, all with disinterested staff just to post a postcard and letter. Whatever happened to going to one desk that included everything?
Pleased with our eventual succes we went in hunt of the Black Hole. Here dozens of members of the colonial aristocracy were imprisoned in a cramped room. By morning around 40 of them were dead. The British press it seems greatly exaggerated this, and the legend of the Black Hole was born. Expecting to see the room and imagine how many people were crammed in, we went in search only to find that the Black Hole does not exist. Well it might do, but you ain't going to see it!
Hysterical at the madness of India, we headed back to say goodbye to those who would not be joining us. A lovely meal and nightclub (ironically called the Underground) ended our trip in the north and we now had the beauty of the south to come.