Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kolkata ...Bong Connection...















Delicacies of Kolkata 1 day Tour…

THE KNOWLEDGE STREET






A Walk through World’s Biggest Open Air Book Bazaar & Kolkata’s Intellectual Hub
Young college kids with empty pockets browsing for hours through expensive books at book shops without any intention or obligation to buy! The shopkeeper indulgently ignoring such serious pursuit of knowledge! Addas (Gossips) are in full gear at the adjoining coffee tables. You may hear many a passionate discussion about sub-altern history or Harry Potter, or an analysis of the strategies in the Iraq war which would have put a military commander to shame!
Welcome to College Street, city’s heritage education hub, nerve centre of Bengali intellectual exercises, centre of student politics, and world’s largest open air book market - always vibrant and always cerebral.
Start walking with Rupak Da (the Crazy Wanderer) from the city’s oldest sweet shop (inspiration always begins with good food) and wrap it up at Albert Hall Coffee House, the centre of city’s adda, as we call an informal creative interaction. In between he can lead you to the nooks and crannies of this boipara (book colony), which he had explored over the last 20 years from more than one angle; first as a student leader, and then as a professional of publishing industry, which this area claims to fame for.
Mode Walking, with a short tram ride

A DAY WITH DURGA

Durga Puja : Join The Largest Festivity in the World!
Nothing but a direct experience can conjure up the magic which sweeps over Kolkata for the four days during Durga puja. The city thrives with an effervescent energy with collective revelry of 50 million people. The greatest carnival in the world in terms of the number of participants, Durga puja in Kolkata is often compared to Mardi gras in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro’s annual fiesta.

Lights, colours, entertainment, art, food, fashion and love! It is the time to create new bonds and strengthen old ones. Irrespective of class, caste and creed, the whole population of the city participate in the festivity. It is truly a people’s festival embracing all, from every walk of life.

Durga, the ten-armed mother goddess and consort of Shiva symbolize the feminine life-energy. She is not only revered, but loved by the people of Bengal. According to local folk-lore, these four days of the puja mark the annual visit of the goddess to her parents home (which is Bengal) from her husband’s abode in Mount Kailash. This belief makes the occasion not merely a religious festival, but truly a celebration of a joyous occasion of homecoming of a beloved daughter.

The festivities start much before the actual four days of the puja. The whole city dresses up for the occasion. The markets become a dazzling showcase of lights and colours. Stocks are refurbished, new products and fashions are introduced, new roadside stalls come up. It’s a sight to see millions of people shopping as if it is the end of the world. People from all walks of life buy gifts for friends and families, taking full advantage of the Puja Sale. Bargaining goes on as if ones life depends on it. In the end, all are happy. The shoppers and the shopkeepers!

The celebration happens all over Bengal. But it is in Kolkata that the unleashed imagination of its citizens takes form. The whole city becomes like an open art gallery. Over a thousand temporary pavilions are erected all over the city to house the goddess. The skills of these pavilion makers are probably unparallel in the world. With make-shift materials like cloth and bamboo, they create structures like palaces. The inspirations are from far and varied. From historical ages and monuments to weird science fictions! If one pavilion is made to look like a Mayan temple, another would be like an imaginary space station in Mars. Sometimes it draws unwanted attention as well. In 20007, a pavilion made like the Hogwarts castle from Harry Potter books attracted a suit of Rs. 2 million on copyright violation charges from J.K.Rowling and Warner Brothers. Notwithstanding these small difficulties, Kolkata creativity goes unrestrained on this occasion. Pujas and pavilions are also created around themes which are often inspired by latest national and international events. It could be global warming, a flood in some part of India or a statement against terrorism. In one instance, the image of Mahishasur (the demon slayed by Durga) was tied up with a gas-cylinder symbolizing a suicide bomber. Dismissed by some as populist or clich├ęd, nevertheless this shows a certain degree of awareness and concern of these so-called uneducated craftsmen about current global issues, and also the adaptability of the artists and the general populace to embrace new and secular ideas and forms, and fuse it with religious iconography.

Evenings are like a gigantic light and sound show. Every pavilion has cultural programmes. One of the unique cultural components of Durga puja is Dhunuchi naach. Hugely popular and performed only during the puja in front of the idol, these dances could be performed by anybody with a sense of rhythm. Holding up incense bowls, the performers dance to the deep, rolling beats of drums which increases in tempo as the dance progresses and ends in a frenzied climax. The smoke from the incense bowls, the sound of cymbals and bells, the rhythmic patterns of the drums accompanied by spontaneous and unrestrained movement of the dancers create an other-worldly effect.

On the fourth evening, it is the time for immersion. The idols from each locality are taken out in a procession and immersed in river Ganges, offering a magnificent sight from a boat anchored in middle of the river. The celebration is over. Within a couple of days, all these magnificent pavilions are demolished, to be created afresh next year. The city gets back to its regular rhythm. No trace of the festivity remains and life goes on, reminding one of the age-old Hindu philosophy that everything in this world is nothing but transient.




HUNGRY Streets (Para)..

A walk & tram ride through the street foods &
the heritage eateries of Kolkata


For Bongs, eating is a serious business. You talk to anybody in Kolkata, and he would convince you that it is also (kind of) an aesthetic experience. He would assure you that having tender coconut sherbet at Paramount in summer or a Taalsaans sandesh at Nakur’s in winter makes you philosophical! Sometimes Sharma’s Lassi makes you feel fresh in the heat of the day. So does savoring Aadiruchi’s fried onion chop with muri while listening to the pitter-patter of falling rains!
Each season has its own food. And each food becomes very much ‘Kalkatian’ in the city of joy which has also seen the development of what is probably the first example of ‘Indo-Global food’ in the world. The tour introduces you to the Bengal/Sutanuti/ Gobindapur culture through its street foods and heritage eateries.
Accompanied by our specialist travel companion you would walk and ride a 100+ years old Kolkata famous tram to the specialized eating joints famous for certain recipes. The country famous Chinese food from the China Town completes your memorable evening .Along with this gastronomical adventure, we will fill you up with interesting facts from history, stories and anecdotes about the food culture of the city which will give you a completely different perspective of this multi-layered, multi-ethnic and multi-racial entity which we call “Kolkata”.


KOLKATA ANECDOTES

An overwhelming sea of humanity jostles by! Nonstop blowing of horns by different vehicles, shouts of street vendors and other city noises create a cacophony of sounds!
A protest march shouting slogans against the ruling political party or US hegemony goes by
! Amidst all this chaos, a man sleeps peacefully sprawled on a pavement! Tucked around a busy street corner, a small historic church exudes peace and quietness.
In heart of the city, lies the huge green expanse of Maidan (the field) having 100 years old rain trees and thick undergrowths, creating an illusion of a tropical forest from distance. Grand mansions of the British Raj era talk about the imperialist dream of a lost Kingdom! Modern high-rise buildings define the present skyline! Hawkers do a roaring business selling a variety of colorful local wares by the side of fancy shopping malls offering international brands! A Jewish Synagogue being kept spotlessly clean by its Muslim caretakers!

Sutanuti or Gobindapur (Kolkata) is a collage of images and moods. To truly appreciate Kolkata, one needs to feel the city. To an outsider, Kolkata might seem to be overwhelming and full of contradictions. But only to those with patience and insight, she reveals her true color and essence. To understand Kolkata, we need to understand her people. Friendly, philosophical, always ready to debate on any issue under the sun! Always ready to welcome a stranger as a friend!
Bengali Sweets: Bengal sweets, especially Rashogollas are world famous. Soft, spongy dumplings made of cottage cheese and dipped in sugar-syrup, a freshly made Rashogolla melts in your mouth leaving a yearning for more. Another famous Bengali sweet is Shandesh which is again primarily made out of cottage cheese, but in comes in a mind-boggling variety of shapes, sizes, consistency and taste. Kolkata has got an incredible range of sweets to offer, each distinctly different. Within the city limits, one can find at least 100 varieties of sweets of indigenous variety.
Global Kolkata: Kolkata has for long been a melting pot of Indian and International communities. The capital of British India from 1772 to 1911, Kolkata was the most important in Imperial Britain second only to London. This attracted people from all over the world in search of fortune. The first church was made in Kolkata by the Armenians. There was a sizable Greek community the last of whom migrated as late as in 1960’s. There were parsis, and the Jewish community of the city still runs a synagogue. The Chinese dominate the city’s landscape with their own China Town. Offsprings of association within and outside the bond of legal matrimony between the Europeans, specially the British, and the native Indians gave rise to a whole new community of Anglo-Indians with their distinctive synthesis culture.

This trend is continuing even today. People from all over India come to Kolkata for a living. The sizable Marwari community has made it their home for generations. Biharis, Tamils and people every part of India has come and settled here making Kolkata a truly cosmopolitan city.

4 comments:

  1. My sister and I travelled in the Sunderbarns in December 2010 with Rupak and the Crazy Wanderers. It was a fantastic trip - these guys are extremely passionate and conscientious guides and I felt we got a totally different experience with the Crazy Wanderers. The following weekend Rupak also took us on a tour of Kolkata which was amazing, and once again his hospitality and passion for travel, exploring and showing people around were amazing. I would highly recommend Crazy Wanderes to anyone wanting to see India.

    Bill Morris, New Zealand
    billmorrisnz@yahoo.co.nz

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  3. Hey Folks,
    anyone who visits Crazy Wanderers can try the tantrik massage and also the Bengal popular hot oil massage in Calcutta the cultural city, in Bengal, its an amazing experience to have a massage session in any village of Bengal conducted by them(a non profit volunteers agency)excellent services like homestays at Rupees 200 each day in an Indian home,massage sessions at Rupees 500 to Rupees 3000 depending upon the type of massage you would want, they provide full body massage and also Yoga and Meditation sessions for personal tours and single travelers in the beaches of Bengal and Sunderbans wildlife forest in the natural environment of mangroove forest,and if anyone in crazy enough to have some wild fun they can try that as well with them. mail them at crazywanderers1@gmail.com or travel@crazywanderers.com. we had some passionate tours anyone would love to specially single female travelers.

    Cheers
    Tina
    United Kingdom

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  4. My adventure with Crazy Wanderers started on Thursday morning when Rupak (the guide and one of the organization’s founders) called my hotel room and said “Good morning Lady, are you ready for discovering Kolkata?” Of course I’m ready” – I replied dryly thinking it will be just one of those sightseeing trips where you concentrate to remember dates and names of creators, making sure you look well when portraying yourself in front of most famous buildings - famous for their luxury, size, money which has been spent on crating them and their similarity to other buildings this type.
    I soon realized it was a different story this time. It started with rickshaw, people coming in and out, me feeling like on rollercoaster… Rupak says: “those drivers are all Formula 1 champions!” I say: “You guys don’t need funfairs in this country!”
    My Guide’s ambition was to take me for a ride with every transport available in Kolkata (not the one for tourists only). So, apart from the rickshaw, we travelled by bus, metro, yellow cab, horse-pulling cart, man-pulling rickshaw… Strong Indian man, happy he can earn money on his profession, was pulling the rickshaw bare feet. I asked Rupak: “Why doesn’t he wear any shoes?” “He does so many kilometers a day that he would need to change his shoes every two months” – replied Rupak with a smile on his face.
    That day I visited many places including the famous buildings too. We went to different temples, Muslim, Christian and finally the Birla temple which occurred to be the most luxury temple of Indian gods I have ever seen. I had to sit down on the ground in front of it as those beautiful reflections of gods and goddesses, smell of incense and oriental tones coming from the template made me feeling dizzy and emotional.
    After small break we went eating which was again a surprise - the restaurant was situated in the middle of shopping moll’s… underground parking. I couldn’t believe somebody could think of opening an eating place in such a location. But as the food was good many people were coming there to eat – another perfect example of substance triumphing over the form.
    We walked through the city centre passing modern and reach districts as well as streets of abject poverty where people live together will homeless dogs.
    Visit to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries and Charity Center was another moving moment of the day. Leaving the place I saw a big picture of Jesus portrayed in the way he was meant to appear to one of Polish saints from Krakow – this was when again I started thinking of the world being so small sometimes.
    At the end of the day I received many gifts from my Guide who was happy he could share souvenirs made in the city of Kolkata – reflecting the spirit of Indian culture and people – who he is so proud of.
    During the whole trip through Kolkata Rupak and me had conversations about culture, relations between people, emotions, purpose of living, experience… I remember when he said to me: “Experience is what you have when you don’t have what you want”. In this meaning, the trip I had that Thursday was not an “interesting experience” but amazing adventure in the real world.

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