We’ve spent four days at sea Ben and I, sailing from Kolkata (of which, more later) to Port Blair in the Andaman Islands for a dose of tropical paradise.
On Day 2 I discovered that I suffer from sea sickness. Terrible, green-gilled, head swimming sea sickness. This came as quite a blow to me, not just because I had another two days of roiling seas and unpalatable food to look forward to, but because I’ve always considered myself something of a water baby. I love water, I love swimming, I love boats and the sea (Mother of us all) and why? Why Lord would it make me sick when I love it so much?
Anyway, a chance encounter with a kind French couple (there are many of them in subcontinent, no?) brought some motion sickness tablets my way, and all of a sudden I was fixed! I was freed from the lurching, sweaty nausea that had grasped me for two days.
Ben and I are carrying a veritable pharmacopeia of drugs with us these days. Having rid myself of one daily Pill by getting the implant, I’ve replaced it with a daily regimen of malaria tablets (which really don’t help with the queasiness). We’ve got spare antibiotics, antihistamines for my bites, cold medication, ibuprofen, water purification, imodium, valium for long journeys and now, motion sickness tablets. It just makes sense to be prepared, and here you can walk up to any pharmacy and buy prescription drugs over the counter. One side of my brain says it’s nuts, and the other half says it’s damned handy to be able to just patch yourself up when you’re constantly on the move. And a clutch of motion sickness tablets is a much cheaper alternative to my boat problems than forking out for a flight back to the mainland!
So here we are in Port Blair! It’s not too paradise-y just yet, though it’s pretty tropical. We’ve just watched a fierce storm sluice down outside the net café, but it’s still easily 30C. I was a little disappointed when we arrived yesterday (tired, sweaty and jaded from 4 days of being the walking entertainment and curiosity of locals on the boat), but Port Blair is pretty cool. Last night we met my French saviours for a drink, and the guy (a drummer) told Ben that in Varanasi there are instrument makers who will make any instrument you can dream and draw. Naturally Ben is dying to go to Varanasi now…
This morning I bought our ferry tickets to Havelock Island, which is seemingly where the actual paradise bit kicks in. Thatched beach huts, white sands and clear teal waters. I will report back and let you know if the hype is deserved. We’re thinking that we’ll probably spend Christmas and New Year there, so for today we need to get on the snorkel and beach ball buying. However, I don’t think there’s much internets there, so this may be my last missive for a while. With that in mind, let me tell you about Kolkata!
Now Ben told me yesterday that my blog reads a little negative, so let me start by saying: I really liked Kolkata! I wasn’t expecting to, having had the culture shock of my life in Delhi and feeling a little sad to be ripped so soon from Darjeeling (we hurried to Kolkata to secure our boat tickets, which have to be bought in person at the Shipping Corporation). But Kolkata had a few things that recommended it to me, and in a way they are like a checklist of what makes a good city for me:
Pavements – weird I know, but it’s funny how quickly you come to miss pavements when you have to walk in the road and every single driver on the road is a madman who will only serenade you with his horn (ahem) if your life is in danger. Not, you know, brake or anything. Once we reached Kolkata I realised that pavements were the element sorely lacking in my enjoyment of Kathmandu.
Taxis – Every city has taxis obviously (Kathmandu has tiny suzukis and Darjeeling jeeps because it’s a rugged road up there) and in India they are huge retro Ambassadors, which is cool enough. But in Kolkata the taxis are bright yellow, making the whole city look suspiciously like Manhattan. And it seems right, because Kolkata is definitely an urbane, bustling metropolis, more so than anywhere I’ve been it felt like a European city. If New York had an Indian cousin, it would be Kolkata. It even has it’s own version of Central Park, the Maidan. Which leads me on to…
Parks – man you just don’t know how much you rely on green spaces until you’ve been staring at concrete buildings for three days. Kolkata has a huge park running through it, with wide open spaces like Hyde Park, dotted with manicured gardens such as you’d find in Regent’s park or something. We hired a pedalo to tour the lake in the aptly named Eden Gardens, and strolled around the Victoria Memorial’s crisp clean lawns and pools admiring the European dome and eastern minarets.
Architecture – We met some Germans in Darjeeling who weren’t so into Kolkata. They said “oh you know it’s okay, but you can see buildings like this anywhere in Europe, it’s not so special.” Me, I love a pretty building, and Kolkata is full of the colonial architecture of its past.
Trams – Don’t ask me why I’m nuts about trams, there’s no logic to affection, but I’ve always had a soft spot for them. They’re little trains that go on the road! Melbourne has trams, Lisbon has trams, Brighton has trams and I love these cities. San Francisco has trams, and it’s a city I aspire to visit (not just for the trams, I’m not some kind of tram-spotting nut). In my book, trams are the mark of a city worthy of esteem. So it’s fortunate for me that London, city of my heart, has a tram tucked away in some corner somewhere and saves me from being a hypocrite.
Anyway yes, Kolkata has trams, and one that sailed along the road right outside our hotel, so one night after dinner we caught it home (for 4 rupees each! That’s like 10p!) Ben read his book whilst I sat up straight in my wooden seat and bumped along excitedly, watching Kolkata jostle and honk and near-collide outside my window.
Cafes – My god they were expensive, we forked out a fiver for a couple of cups of tea, but it was worth it to take break from the world for a bit and sit in air conditioned comfort playing board games for a couple of hours
Museums and art galleries also score highly on my rating card, and I did have a wander round the Academy of Fine Art (some very fine contemporary stuff, and then a couple of things that had obviously been done in MS Paint, which threw me a bit). So, culture, cafes, parks, buildings, good public transport. Kolkata gets my cosmopolitan seal of approval!