KOLKATA, India — My interest piqued by signs nearly everywhere I looked, I often resorted to taking photographs in order to reflect on their meanings later.
It wasn’t just the street signs, such as the one for Shakespeare Sarani, that caught my eye.
“Roll Chow Sanks Bar — Handicapped” was a curious one amid a row of what may have been food carts. I think it might have been a snack bar of some sort.
“Momo Club” was anyone’s guess.
One of the city’s wily dogs stopped for a look, though I think she was more interested in scraps than in explaining.
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Tags: Calcutta, India, Kolkata, Travel
KOLKATA, India — In the cultural capital of the world’s largest democracy, the hammer-and-sickle flag of the Communist Party flies from street lamps and public parks as commonly as most Americans at home see the Stars and Stripes.
Although the finer points of the Marxist organization lie beyond the scope of this blog’s focus — as well as any expertise on my part — it was a bit of a surprise.
Add to that the remnants of British occupation in street names like Shakespeare Sarani, it made for a curious walk around Kolkata.
Filed under: India, Places, Travel | 1 Comment
Tags: Asia, Calcutta, India, Kolkata, politics, Travel
As he did with video tours from a fixed-gear bicycle perspective of Zanzibar, Malawi, Bali and, of course, Jakarta (during my all-too-brief visit), Josh combines his love of self-powered transport with his exceptional aesthetic sensibility.
Please have a look and feel free to share your reactions in the comments section.
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Tags: Addis Ababa, Africa, cycling, Ethiopia, Josh, Travel
The intro states, “Our official bike-wielding wanderer Josh Estey gets lost in the mystery and intrigue of Zanzibar, in the second installment of our three part Fixed-Gear Africa series. Join Josh as he peddles his way into the lives of witch doctors, spice traders, and former slave owners.”
Please feel free to share your opinions in the comments below.
Filed under: Places, Travel | 1 Comment
Tags: Africa, cycling, fixed-gear, People, Travel, Zanzibar
KOLKATA, India — The dizzying array of art and kitsch housed within the Marble Palace provided a foreboding sense of beauty amid chaos.
The description for the ramshackle mansion was no more than a line or two in my Lonely Planet guide, but a curious requirement involved first finding the local tourism office to register and make a free reservation for a visit. It was among the first evidence I saw of the country’s storied bureaucracy (along with a passport-verified Internet cafe sign-in).
Approaching the palatial residence, a wild and lively garden spread out past the iron gates to the steps leading to the building. Columns in a neoclassical style adorned the entrance, where several men stood idly. They were the guides, though they sported no discernable uniforms or name tags.
Walking along the marble floors and into the palace, one could see what appeared to be a museum warehouse’s worth of paintings, sculptures and other relics, as if gathered at estate sales for a couple of centuries. Statues of ivory, royal busts fashioned from onyx, Renaissance-style paintings, Bengali landscapes, Victorian-era furnishings and several catalogs’ worth of bric-a-brac filled each of the rooms and lined the walls.
Lacking the art history expertise to determine the priceless items from the worthless ones, I contented myself with having our guide read the captions off the brass plaques and painted picture frames. Works by Titian and Reubens, along with other masters, are said to live within these collections. It seemed plausible.
The guide led our small party from room to room, up the ancient wooden stairs and along an interior courtyard with chicken wire as a ceiling, keeping in the various uncaged birds fluttering about.
No photography was allowed, so I had decided I would quickly make a mental inventory of what I saw, but my memory was quickly overwhelmed and each objets d’art blurred into the next.
Maybe 10 minutes later, we were back at the entrance. The Western tourists before us had thanked their guides and doled out tips. I found my shoes and looked around for a suggested donation amount, since the guides were technically volunteers and subsisted solely on gratuities, as far as I could tell.
I handed over my several remaining rupees — I don’t recall how many — along with a hearty “thank you,” to which the guide responded with a few muttered words to his colleagues I didn’t understand. His face blank, I again thanked him and he walked off. As I walked out past the iron gates at the entrance, the volunteer stationed there just laughed.
Was I a clueless tourist? It appeared so.
Filed under: India, Places, Things, Travel | 3 Comments
Tags: Asia, Calcutta, India, Kolkata, Marble House, Southeast Asia, tipping, tourism, Travel
Already familiar was the nonstop cacophony of Ambassador taxicabs, overloaded scooters, hulking Tata buses and waves of locals on the sidewalk.
Yet amid the chaos, I came across four sleeping dogs, positioned like jigsaw-puzzle pieces on the pavement. The sight provided an inexplicable sense of calm. I sensed everything would be all right. And so I proceeded to seek out the first stop on my haphazard list of destinations: The Marble Palace.
Filed under: India, Places, Things, Travel | 2 Comments
Tags: Asia, Calcutta, dogs, India, Kolkata, Places, Southeast Asia, tourism, Travel
KOLKATA, India — A split-second after swallowing a mouthful of water in the shower, the words that flashed through my mind were almost blinding in their intensity: “Don’t drink the water.”
Maybe it was the jet-lag. Perhaps it was a brief case of temporary insanity.
Either way, it was too late.
The moment reminded me of a scene in the “Sex and the City” movie where Charlotte absentmindedly drinks the water while bathing at a Mexican seaside resort the characters visit. Never having experienced such misfortune myself, I had been south of the border enough to know what that could mean.
Bacteria, parasites or viruses — oh, my.
My original concern was avoiding the dreaded “Delhi belly” I’d heard about. That was also the reason I had decided to play it safe my first night in India, at least in my gastronomical choices, if not my unintended wanderings.
Now, I had Kolkata municipal water in my tummy. I was, suffice it to say, a little worried.
Happy to have booked a couple of nights at the lovely, charming Fairlawn Hotel, I had been almost ecstatic to have my own bath, with running water, which could be considered spacious by New York apartment standards.
Although I prided myself on having a strong stomach, I knew that status (imagined or not) would be no match for certain pathogens not unfamiliar in the developing world.
Would my trip be cut short? Would I need to use my travel insurance at the very start of my Indian excursion? Was my life in danger?
It’s true that I could’ve contacted the excellent hotel staff and either inquired about the water’s filtration system or asked about an antidote for any waterborne illnesses I might encounter in the very near future.
Instead, I decided to venture into the city streets and hope for the best.
Filed under: India, Places, Things, Travel | 6 Comments
Tags: Asia, Calcutta, disease, Fairlawn Hotel, India, Kolkata, tourism, Travel, water
KOLKATA, India — Tucked away from the hustle of Sudder Street, the colonial-era Fairlawn Hotel offers a glimpse into an elegant, bygone era and the chance to rub elbows with the proprietor, an elegant grand dame.
I had made my first reservations (via Skype from a Starbucks at the Kuala Lumpur airport) and settled on the Fairlawn because it was the first hotel that answered its phone. After a short flight and a taxi ride that provided a blaring introduction to India’s cultural capital, I arrived at the faded majesty of the Fairlawn Hotel, ensconced behind iron gates.
In the daylight of the following morning, the hotel’s storied history began to emerge.
The walls were lined with letters from celebrities, visitors, friends. Among the framed missives were ones from the likes of Patrick Swayze, who stayed there while filming the movie based on the 1985 Dominique Lapierre novel, “City of Joy.”
For a stately structure that has been around since 1783, it seemed perfectly reasonable that more than a few bold names had made their way here. A garden in front leads to a small, semi-covered patio area where visitors can enjoy a smoke or a Kingfisher beer within a few steps of the emerald-green lobby.
A comprehensive collection of tchotchkes and a mixture of furnishings from various periods suggest a wide range of stories about the owners, its guests and its place in local history.
Photographs of Ted and Violet Smith, who owned the hotel since 1962, also adorned the walls. (Previously, the Fairlawn was owned by Violet’s mother, Rosie Sarkies, beginning in 1936, according to the hotel’s website.)
On my second and final morning, I spotted Violet seated at her usual table in the dining room, finishing her breakfast. Coiffed and dressed as if she were attending a formal dinner, Violet looked perfectly at home amid the elegant surroundings. There was a regal air about her, as a member of the hotel staff cleared the plates.
Not wanting to disturb her too much, as I imagined guests did all the time, I approached cautiously and told her how much I had enjoyed visiting the landmark hotel.
Graciously, she thanked me and spoke briefly about how she had come to make a home in Kolkata and loved it.
“I couldn’t live anywhere else,” she said. “I’m a warm person. I was born here.”
Filed under: India, People, Places, Things, Travel | 6 Comments
Tags: Calcutta, Fairlawn Hotel, hotel, India, Kolkata, People, Sudder Street, tourism, Travel, Violet Smith
Along with the video he sent me, Josh wrote:
Malawi is a Southern African nation with a warm heart, a friendly smile and teetering on the brink of an economic catastrophe. So hop on your velocipede and join Josh Estey as he meets the people of Malawi. — MataHati Productions
And for all you gear-geeks who inevitably ask me, here is the technical stuff: Surly SteamRoller, Nitto Albatross bars, Brooks, fixed 47×17, no brakes, no trick photography, straight editing, music recorded off Malawi FM radio (so I don’t know artist), Bogen C-clamp with ball head for mounting on bike, a tripod, Canon 5-D Mark II, 16mm, 24mm, 50mm, 135mm, 17-35mm, 70-200mm, edited on MacBook Pro with Final Cut Pro, shot over the course of three afternoons.
Filed under: People, Places, Travel | 2 Comments
Tags: Addis Ababa, Africa, bicycling, cycling, Ethiopia, Malawi, Tanzania, tourism, Travel
Within the past two years Jakarta has seen an explosion from fewer than a dozen fixed gear bicycles to over four thousand. Bali has also caught the bike bug with fixies, junkers, cross, MTB’s and foldables all taking to the streets in slow moving packs of trendy yet bewildered cyclist.
If anything I find great hope in this movement as it shows there is more to cycling than lycra, and that through the acquisition of expensive imported parts one can define their unique identity. But more than anything it gets people off their exhaust belching motorbikes and out of their air-conditioned cars to experience their beautiful island home with a form of silent transport.
Although it has been a while since I left Indonesia, the country made an indelible impression on me. Watching the video of Josh bike across the lush, tropical landscape of Bali, I felt as if it were somehow my home, as if there were a deeper connection than my all-too-brief visit there.
I can hardly wait to return.
Filed under: Bali, Indonesia, People, Places, Things, Travel | 6 Comments
Tags: Asia, Bali, cycling, Indonesia, Jakarta, Josh, Places, Southeast Asia, tourism, traffic, Travel, video