What a fantastic afternoon! Although exhausted we met our guide Depak at 2.00 and asked if we could avoid the usual sites and head for the Howrah bridge. We also asked for a walk as we are very tired of sitting down! He came up trumps.
We began with a visit to St John’s church next to the sit3 of the infamous ‘black hole’. This was built in 1787 and is muc( associated with Warren Hastings and 5he East India Company. It is very similar to St George’s in Chennai. There is a large portrait of the Last Supper with a female lean8ng on Christ’s shoulder and only 11 apostles. Reputedly their faces are those of local dignitaries of the time. In the graveyard is a memorial to the ‘Black Hole’. When the Nawab of Bengal captured the British fort in 1756 he imprisonedover 100 British inhabitants in a small airless cell and 123 died only 23 being found alive in the morning. This was a favourite horror story of the Raj. We also visited an epitaph to a remarkable woman. It is worth a read if you click on it and get it full screen. Look carefully at the dates!
From there Depak took us to the Howrah bridge which is quite a structure. Built in 1943 it was for a long time the only bridge over the Hooghly (Ganges). At times it could take over 3 hours to cross it! Now there are 4 bridges, but it remains very busy.
There are 15 million inhabitants in Calcutta and about 4 million commute in and out each day. Many come by train which is in Howrah the other side of the bridge. We walked down to the Ganges and then through the flower market. People come here to buy flowers fo4 the shrines and temples in the morning and evening, so it is very busy. The flowers are stunning and we watched them making garlands which sell for about 300 rupees each (£3.00) – some for even less. Then we looked at the edge of the spice market before climbing up the steps onto the bridge.
We walked across (photos not permitted for some reason) then down the other side towards the 23 platform main station. We walked down the side of a very busy road and then joined the queue for the ferry. This took us under the bridge and up river some way. It was wonderful and we watched a young boy jumping off the boat and then travelling down its side before grabbing a rubber fender and hauling himself back on board. Unbelievably dangerous, but he was having a great time.
When we docked on the other side, Depak took us over the railway line and into a district of small factories. Cloth and clothing figured highly to start with and then we moved into an area that made statues of mud and straw for festivals. They were stunning and the skill was quite incredible, at all stages of the process. The statues end up in the river at the end of the festivities and the whole process starts again.
Our last stop was a Jain temple, which was beautiful and inspiring. The gardens were very attractive, but the temple itself was covered in beautiful mosaics and pieces of mirror glass. No photos allowed inside, but it was breath taking. Our guide said that Jainism arose out of a need for greater equality that Hinduism with its caste system did not offer.
From there we battled through the traffic to our hotel. Calcutta is a beautiful, fascinating and very green city. I think we have both fallen in love with it. It is not really on the tourist map and we have only seen one other white person all day. LHowever we have had a brilliant start to our holiday and we are looking forward to coming back here after Bhutan. Tonight an early meal and an early night is called for, as we have to be away from here by 5.30 a.m.!