Back on the Mainland…

At the Chai StandSo I’ve left India…I’m sitting in an Internet Cafe in Ubud, Bali. Obviously as you can tell from all my previous blogs, not surprisingly, life is great as usual. However I do miss India. Left a small piece of my heart there as I guess you should if you spend more than three months in a country. I am going to try and recall some stories from Kolkata and Varanasi, but mostly I’ll let the pictures do all the work. First I have to send a special thanks to my friends Dex and Mor who provided all the photos for this blog, because my camera broke in the Andamans. Jackass that I am I allowed sand to get into the lens and the little engine that could just died…

Where to begin, caught a flight to Kolkota with my friends Liraz, Shai and Ricki. Found a Taxi and headed to the part of town where all the guest houses are located. My plan was to spend one night in the city, trying to get my camera fixed, satisfying all my cravings for western food, catching up on emails and just relaxing as usual. But plans just don’t seem to work Making Friends...for me! So I waited on line at the railway reservation window in the airport and was disappointed when the attendant closed the window for lunch just as the person two people in front of me got to the window. At that time I was planning on buying a ticket to Varanasi for the following night. In retrospect it was fortunate that I wasn’t able to buy the ticket. So Shai, Ricki and I headed out into the streets of Kolkota in search of a meal and to my surprise we bumped into Mor. Which put a huge smile on my face. So since I had yet to find a place to stay we decided to share a room. Dropped my bags, took a nap and made plans with Shai and Ricki to meet up to head for…drum roll please…PIZZA HUT!!! Funny thing is while we were standing on the street chatting who rolls up…Dex. And since he didn’t have a room either, we switched into a triple and let the good times roll. Remember what I was saying about plans? Well, I had been told that Kolkota was a typical dirty Indian city. Well that couldn’t be further from Hanging Out In Kolkatathe truth. Ok, maybe it is dirty but it turned out to be the nicest large city I visited in India. Spent the next day walking around and killing most of the day sitting at the chai stands around the corner from our hotel just watching life happen in front of my eyes. If you ever go to India make sure to spend countless hours sitting at the chai stands. For one chai is great! It costs about five US cents for a cup and the interaction you get to have with the locals is priceless. We arrived back at our hotel on our second night in Kolkata to find a note on the door. The security guy had mentioned to me that an Israeli had stopped by and left us a note, I of course assumed it was Shai trying to arrange a time to meet but to my big surprise my buddy Yoav, through shear coincidence checked into the exact same hotel as us and was staying in the room next door to the three of us. Let the partying begin!!! With a crew assembled, mind you without any prior arrangements on our parts, just by luck, the Me, Mor and The Victoria Memorialfour of us ended up staying in Kolkota for five nights and then catching a train together to Varanasi for another five great nights. But first let me tell you about my favorite parts of Kolkota…

The street food in the city is fantastic. I was eating Idly (steamed rice dough) covered with chana Masala (Chick Pea curry), I ate the best masala dosa (Crepe style pancake filled with potato, onion, spices, beets, chilli’s and more) served with coconut chutney and a variety of curries. One morning we had the best Puri (small flaky fried dough) served with chana masala and too many more types of food to list here. Basically you can eat well in Kolkota for about a dollar a day, plus chai. The funny thing about eating street food are the looks western tourists on holiday give you when they pass by you on the street. Many people on holiday are too afraid to eat from the street vendors and you can see the look of terror written all over their faces when they see you eating. I can’t describe the look that well, but it’s close to shock and horror, while they stare at you The Victoria Memorialthinking too themselves about the hours you’ll spend on the toilet. But in reality not once during my time in India did I get sick from street food. All the times I found myself suffering from a case of “Delhi Belly” was from eating in a restaurant. It’s amazing but the level of cleanliness is better on the street than it is in the fancy restaurants. Other than eating, most of my time was filled walking around the city, which has a very British feel to it. All the buildings remind me of London. The streets are busy. There are large western brand name stores all over the place and the entire city gives off a great vibe.

Well I intended for this blog to be short, but my long winded style has taken over and I haven’t even gotten to stories about Varanasi. So on with the show…

We arrived in the holiest Hindu city in the world at about midday, after a fifteen hour train ride. Found a place to stay in a small family guesthouse, between the four of us we were paying less than three dollars a night for two rooms. What can I say about Varanasi other than it is the essence of India. It sits on the banks on the Ganges, the Holiest river to Hindus. It’s in your face 24/7 and that’s the exact reason I fell in love with it. Our days were filled walking the Ghats along the river, where you can watch Sadhus smoke Chillums directly next to the funeral pyres where they burn dead people. And if you walk twenty meters in either direction you can watch all the locals bathe in the same water, which also happens to be the color of raw sewage. Another fun pastime during or time in town was walking the back alleys of the old city and most importantly drinking the best chai in India. It was a running joke that our groups nickname should be ‘Team Chai’. About a hundred meters from our place was hands down the best chai shop in all of India. For two rupees you got a taste of what can easily be described as heaven in a glass!!! I must have been drinking more than ten chais a day, mind you they are quite small when compared to a normal American cup of coffee, but Mor and I at the Chai StandI was wired all day long. If you are ever in Varanasi head to Assi Ghat and look for the Bengali Chai shop, if you get there early enough in the day the guy will also have Bengali curd which is the best yogurt I’ve had in my entire life. Funny thing is, when you tell the Chai guy that this is the best chai you’ve ever had he humbly says “I know! Everybody keeps telling me that. And each time I hear it it gives me more power!” What a great guy. He even gave us a chai on the house when we told him we were leaving that evening. Man do I miss chai! Here in Bali I’ve taken to drinking coffee again.

Well all good things must come to an end so after five nights in Varanasi we separated and Mor headed to Nepal while Yoav, Dex and I caught a night train to Delhi in route to the…Himalayas! I have to say the minute Mor stepped into the Rickshaw and went to the bus station I started to miss her. Hopefully one day I’ll be in Israel or she’ll be in NYC and we can Poor People of Kolkatagrab a cup of coffee or chai (hehehe) Our friendship started on the beach and ended on the banks of the Ganges. I got an email from her yesterday and it put a smile on my face from ear to ear!

Stay tuned…next blog on my time in the mountains of western India in a few days.

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