Kolkata

Monday February 11, 2008 Kolkata, India

Since the last time I wrote, Malachi and I have traveled by an overly airconditioned night train to Chiang Mai, by public bus to Pai, moped around the lush valley of Pai, spent a night and a day with food poisoning, wandered up and down Khao San road one last time, and hopped a plane to Kolkata, India.  It’s been quite the last 2 weeks.

On January 29th-30th we took the night train to Chiang Mai; it was long and cold but very enjoyable. You would think that in a hot country that you could never go wrong with air conditioning, but I froze during the night. The sleeper train was very comfortable and surprisingly clean.  Most of the people in our car were Dutch.  For being a small country, they sure have a lot of people who travel abroad.  Not so many Americans.  I’ve only met a few.  Lots of Canadians and lots of Japanese.  I think it is wonderful how much people of other countries travel.  I wish it were the same for Americans.
About an hour outside Chiang Mai our train had to replace its engine.  We spent an extra 5 hours on an 13 hour trip.  Perfect time for reading books, catching up on journals, and listening to iPods.
Once we made it to Chiang Mai, we found a nice quiet guest house with big spacious rooms with wooden floors for very cheap.  We wandered around Chiang Mai and found the most amazing art gallery.  From the outside it looked as if a garden full of vines and trees had overrun the little shop.  Postcards and small paintings with optimistic sayings drew us inside.  Once inside it felt as though we had entered into the heart of a tree.  Almost like the where the Lost Boys from Peter Pan lived.  We were surrounded by beautiful bright acrylic paintings on simple canvas stacked on every available surface. The artist’s name was Johnny Gallery and he had Johnny Cash “A Boy Named Sue” playing throughout the catacomb of paintings.  It was a very surreal place.  Uplifting and beautiful words painted on gorgeous back drops done by a Thai man who wears a white t-shirt and white head band painted with his sunsets and words.  The most friendly and unassuming person you can imagine. An artist through and through.  We fell in love with a painting of a sunrise outside of Chiang Mai with the saying “Do not worry if you missed the sunrise this morning, for tomorrow shall make you another” written on the bottom.  What a great thing to wake up to in the morning, especially knowing that neither one of us are very good at waking up early…..
The next day on a whim we decided to take a bus to Pai.  We didn’t have the time to go to Luang Prabang, so instead we decided to head to the eclectic small city of Pai.  We rode a very old, very orange public bus 4 hours up into the mountains.  It started to rain on our way and only enhanced the spectacular green of the hillsides.  We could have been traveling through the North Western US except of course for the palm trees and native Thai speakers.  The forest was dense and oozing fertility.  I’m very grateful that there are still places like this in the world. Places where the air I breathe is manufactured and recycled.  The canopies that are created by vines scaling the mature trees, looked like the perfect home for fairies.  Of course they probably house all sorts of creatures I’ve never seen or heard about before.
Pai is situated in an amazingly green valley full of rice paddies and rivers. It reminded me of home, the valley part, that’s about where the resemblance stops.  We spent the next week exploring the many delicious restaurants, the countryside, and the shops about Pai.  The people of Pai are a mix of very hippy Thais and expats from all over the world.  There are many long term residents who have opened restaurants catering to French, Italian, Greek, coffee connoisseurs, vegetarians, and organic conscious people.  Our favorite was The Sanctuary.  An organic restaurant with fabulous juices and pastries. We rented mopeds for a couple of days and rode around the country side.  I felt like I should be saying “ciao” like Eddie Izzard. On our last night we ran into a Dutch couple from Amsterdam who Malachi went fishing with on Ko Chang.  They were very friendly and we spent a few hours listening to live music and chatting with them.  That was the same night I spent the entirety puking my guts out.  We were suppose to leave Pai on Feb 7th to catch our train back to Bangkok on the 8th.  However, it would have been impossible to ride a bus down the windy hilly road back to Chiang Mai. I really felt for the Spaniard from Ko Chang anytime I thought of getting on a bus that day.  Instead we both felt horrible (food poisoning) and watched movies on Malachi’s iPod.  Thank goodness for technology.
We spent the next day (feeling hundreds of times better) traveling to Chiang Mai and from Chiang Mai to Bangkok.  We spent our last day in Bangkok at a computer super center looking at mini laptops (guess who for…) and at the zoo.  Animals behind cages is always so depressing.  They were the only monkeys we saw in Thailand.  When we picked up our laundry that night, the launderer told Malachi I was a catch and he was very lucky. How am I suppose to leave a country that tells my boyfriend he’s lucky to have me? Thailand has been wonderful. All very beautiful and we only saw so few places.  Three and one half weeks was not nearly enough.  I will come back to the land of horribly smelling dried squid on a stick again.  The people were wonderful and the food delicious.  There is so much more I want to see.  We didn’t make it to the tiger temple.  I didn’t get eaten Mom.  I will see them in India instead. 🙂
Yesterday we flew from Bangkok to Kolkata.  We woke up early to make it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.  We have learned so much in the last few weeks.  The price we paid for the taxi to the airport was 1/3 of what we paid the first time when we left the airport. It is amazing how seasoned you become with regards to haggling.
When we got to the airport, we found our ticket counter.  The one with only 3 counters for about 150 people.  Mostly Indians.  Standing in line I experienced my first taste of the staring to come. I guess the little bit I’ve tanned in Thailand has not given me enough cammoflage.  On the plane Malachi sat next to a man from Jaipur and he was incredibly friendly.  We haven’t been able to really connect with any Thai people, mainly because we don’t speak Thai, but already I feel so much more welcome here in India.  Everyone on the plane was more social and outgoing.  We met a guy from Northern California/Oregon and a girl from Montreal who we split a taxi with from the airport.  They’re incredibly nice and we’ve talked quite a bit.
I can’t believe I’m actually here.  We’ve been planning this for so long that it seems a little surreal to actually be here now.The taxi from the airport couldn’t have been more different from our one in Bangkok.  Here in Kolkata, all of the taxis are yellow or white Ambassador Classics that are dinosaurs of the Raj age.  The infrastructure is nothing like Thailand.  The roads are old and well beyond their expiration dates. People everywhere. Women in beautiful saris and men holding hands (a sign of friendship). The taxi drivers are liberal with their horns.  Malachi described it perfectly: “they drive using echolocation.” The streets are noisy and noxious.  The pollution makes your eyes water and your lungs scream in protest. But there is no animosity. The friendliness is palpable.  I was instantly smitten.  I feel much more welcome here than I did in Thailand.
We experienced our first Indian meal and it was everything I hoped it to be. Delicious. The chai is hot and sweet and spicy and perfect, served in a small clay disposable cup. A much better idea than paper cups.  The dosas are finger-licking good (literally).  The smells of the street vendors are alluring and many. We walked through the park near the Victorian Monument and I couldn’t take my eyes off the women dressed in gorgeous saris relaxing and having picnics in groups with husbands and family. What boring clothing we wear in the West.  Today we went on an adventure to find a music shop where Malachi could price sitars and decide where we want to go from here. Everyone wanted to help us find where we were going and not even asking for money, just genuinely wanting to help. Every time we pulled out a map we attracted an entire crowd of helpful smiling head bobbing Indians. I’ve already fallen in love with this country.  The poverty and filth is also extreme. For every extreme there is an instance of the exact polar opposite. It’s a woven quilt of opposition that encompasses everyone and everything.  Maybe that’s why it feels so welcoming.  India welcomes all aspects of life. The good and the bad, the brutality and the kindness, and manages to make all of it Indian.
We’ll be heading South to Puri in the state of Orissa tomorrow night.  It’s great not having an itinerary.

Love to all of you and I’ll write soon again about the land of color and spice,
Kenni and Malachi

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