We left our 5 star luxury accommodation in Kolkata at about 8.30, but only after a few ‘alarums and excursions’. First of all our toilet ballcock got stuck and so water flowed continuously into the bowl. This made it unusable since one could not flush. We called down for help, but it was so slow in coming, we decided to shower else we’d be late for breakfast. While I was thus engaged the technician arrived so lChristine asked him to return in 10 minutes. In the interim the toilet magically righted itself, so ‘Mario’ returned we had to tell him he had had a wasted journey.
Breakfast was also a little fraught as they ran out of cereal bowls and it took a long t8me for any to appear. Butter was provided in such small quantities that we barely showed it the toast and it was gone. Furthermore no one offered us tea or coffee until we had almost finished eating. As I was sorting out luggage, I actually never got any – not a good way to start the day.
However the hotel has kindly agreed to look after our Bhutan luggage and hand it over to our Indus rep. on the 19th when we return to a different hotel nearer the airport for our flight home. Prayers would be welcomed that the arrangement is achieved in all its complexity!
It took us quite a while to get to the airport due to road closures. Once there we were immediately offered upgrades to first class for £30 each. Christine and I thought it wasn’t worth it for a 50 minute flight, but 6 in our party went for it. The 4 of us plebs that we’re left were herded with cattle prods into the truck that passes for economy and levered into our seats by fiercesome harpies wearing military uniform. Actually it was perfectly comfortable for the less than 40 minutes we were in the air during which the overworked, and I suspect underpaid, trolley dollies served us a snack meal and bottles of water. The wealthy in first class got a warm towel, napkins and a chicken dinner with drinks and a wider seat – not worth £30 in my book!
Anyway at Guwahati, we were met by some very comfortable cars which whisked us to the outskirts of the city and then snailed us through the chaos that is the city itself. It took over an hour to arrive at our hotel. The journey though provided us with fine views of the Brahmaputra and the usual entertainment of life on the street in India.
Our hotel is fairly basic but very welcoming and we were given iced tea, a red and white shawl and a bindi with rice grains on arrival. Our room has a slight smell of smoke, but we can live with it fir one night. After a brief break we headed off in cars to the Kamakhya Temple about 8 km north-West of the city centre. The drive took forever of course as we sped along some bits and ground to a halt in others.
At the temple we climbed up flights of steps passed shops selling all sorts of brightly coloured cloths and threads. Goats laid out on the steps and there seemed to be an inordinate number of pigeons. At the top we had to remove our shoes before entering the temple grounds. More goats and pigeons awaited inside, some of them strangely dyed a rather glorious pink ( we later learnt it was actually vermillion that tended to wear off). Our guide explained that this temple dated originally from the C 5th (the bit shaped like a beehive) while the rest was from the C17th. According to legend a furious and grieving Shiva carried the body of his wife, Sati or Parvati around the world. As he did so parts of her dismembered body fell to earth. All these sites have been sanctified by major temples. Kamakhya is believed to be where her vagina fell and is therefore said to have special powers associated with energy and creation. The vermillion dye used symbolises menstruation and it us plastered all over the statues and the an8mals brought for sacrifice: hence the pink pigeon and goat.
We went into the main courtyard where many Indians wanted selfies with various members of our group. A whole family posed in their festive gear for us to photograph them. Then we entered the sacrificial hall and saw where the goats and buffalo are sacrificed. We crossed into the main temple and saw another shrine covered in red and gold cloth with vermillion dye scattered around. Pilgrims were lined up to enter the holy of holies where a shiva linga is located underground.
We left the temple and climbed some steep steps to get an overview of the comlex. As we left some pre-adolescent girls wanted to be photographed with David. Our guide explained that they were from Nepal but lived nearby. As they were pre-adolescent they were regarded as holy. Once they started menstruating they would have to leave, but until then they would be prayed for. Their parents believed that their time here would make them more fertile.
On the way back down to the cars we asked a wandering guru for his photo. He got h8mself into a suitable position and then allowed us to take pictures. David gave him some money which would help him buy food as these holy men have no possessions.
Our journey back was muc( the same as the journey there. However our meal tonight was excellent and the service was efficient and very pleasant. We thought the staff at the Great Eastern could take a leaf out of their book. We drive north t9morrow to join our boat on the Brahmaputra.
Few pictures I’m afraid as the internet here is very poor. It may be impossible to post for the next few days as we will be on a ship with very limited internet.