West Bengal

Two days back I bought a sleeper train ticket from Calcutta to Chennai for just seven quid for the 31st March – which means that I’ll be travelling those 1700 K, plus the two early-bought megabus rides from London to Manchester & Manchester to Edinburgh, & get back to Edinburgh for less than a tenner. That’s happening through April, but first I’ve got March to get through. I bought the ticket in the bizarrely named ‘English Bazar,’ or Malda as the Indians call it. We left there this morning on a slow, seven hour local train ride, full of blind beggars, stoned babas & occasionally bursting at the seams. A bit of confusion over stations meant we actually slung past our destination – Siliguri – & ended up in a quiet village. There, while waiting for a bus, a local taxi driver befriended us & as he was driving this posh advoacte guy to Siliguri, gave us a free ride. Siliguri itself is astonishingly European, with wide-ish boulevards full of large westeern shops & dripping in neon-bling. Tho still perched on the seemingly endless, & frankly quite dull flatness of the Gangeatic plain, it is the gateway to the Himalaya’s – where we’ll be heading to in the morning.

Our journey here began last week, when we left delightful Chandipur. We’d stayed theer a coupel of days, a charming spot with a vast tidal beach. After taking off ones flip flips one can walk for ages, the water just ticklling the tops of the toes. Around you is nothing but sand & an increasinngly narrowing land as one gets further out to sea. A few birds flutter about checking out the cockles & jellyfish, plus the teams of fishermen going out to the static nets that are about two miles out to sea. Chandipur itself is just a few hotels & a couple of places to eat. It is made interesting, however, by the nearby fishing village, with a proper harbour, lovely wooden boats & the smell of fresh fish.

So we left Orissa & hit Calcutta last Tuesday, staying for a few days. I was checking out the place & scouting out scenes & distances for my future poem. Highlights were hanging around with these two twenty-something intellectual German birds, wandering the streets & drinking cheap beer at their ‘Modern Lodge’ – a great bohemian hang-out. I also watched the 33rd nation sub-junior (U-16) interstate football championships on a primitive football stadium on the grassy Maidan. Mizoram beat th ereigning champions Jharkand 2-1, & I watched it with this local boys club whose coaches tried to get me to buy them some footballs. I might arrange a charity match when I get home. It was weird, actually, & one can see which game has prefernce in India, for towering above the footy ground are the marvelous Eden Gradens, the greatest cricket stadium in the world. Ironically, it recently lost the right to stage the world cup that this cricket crazy nation has just began to host – through politics, bakshish & a lateness in preparing the ground. In fact, the India -England game was meant to b e played here, which is testified to a number of English guys in Calcutta who’d bought flights ages ago, but came to India anyway

I actually saw the game on TV quite randomlyat the crappy little town of Rampurhat. Me & Charl;ie had just set of north at times that suited us, aiming eventually for the Himalayas. It was a reyt thriller, swing one way then the other, watching it with a group of Inidans at the hotel. At first India’s total of 338 seemed massive, but England struck back & seemed to be coasting, only for the Indians to strike back themslves & leave England needing about 24 off the last two overs. Then a few sixes later the last ball came along – England needed two to win & eceryone was on their feet – England just got one, however, tyin the matchj & everybody broke out into hugs, handshakes & friendshuip. Im glad really, if we’d have won I dont think we’d have made it out alive.

From Rampurhat we bussed it through Murshidibad – the city I went to immediately after my bus crash nine years ago in agony & a very concussed state. We lingered about twenty minutes before catching another bus north. This swept us over the Ganges itself, which at this point seemed like a slightly larger Firth of Forth, with infinite flatness on every side. Then we hit Malda for a couple of days, broken by a trip to the beautiful ruins of the Adina mosque, 15k away. There was also a riot in the arly hours of our first morning there, when three hundred guys stormed the police station to free their mates – we weren’t there, but reminded me of how crazy this country can get.

Siliguri
2/3/11

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