Berhampur to Calcutta - Bangladesh + India x 2 - CycleBlaze

December 9, 2010 to December 11, 2010

Berhampur to Calcutta

a train ride

Last night the hotel guy said there's a train to Calcutta at 7:20 and it's six when I wake, so it seems as though this is a good time to get up and make a move. 

My nose is running. A cold has developed overnight and I dig out a large pack of tissues.

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The train station is who know's where, but thankfully it turns out to be merely a 10-minute ride away and once my bike is wheeled into the entrance it only takes a jiffy to get a ticket that costs 50 rupees. How cheap is that?

 The bike as piece of baggage costs just over 100, but still the grand total for the five-hour trip is less than the price of a pint of beer in an English boozer.

My Brodie gets wedged in the aisle near the toilet doors where two carriages connect because the station master says it'll be safer there. No one says a word about it. I never see a ticket collector. 

The train is quiet and not the crowded mayhem I'd half expected apart from the series of vendors that patrol up and down each offering in various voices stuff ranging from crisps, oranges, tea, plastic brushes, moth balls, bottles of water and whatever. Then a girl of maybe 10 dressed in grubby clothes sets a bongo drum on a nearby seat and gives it a few whacks. Just what I need. 

But this turns out not to be a just noisy musical interlude - rather it's an announcement of her forthcoming acrobatic display.

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A vulnerable-looking child behind a gossamer-thin veneer of an entertainer, she proceeds with cartwheels up and down the dusty aisle; threads herself through a steel hoop then bends herself backwards and does other contortions on the floor. There's a sadness about it that affects me far more than beggars here do - and there are quite a few of those who shuttle along the carriage asking for handouts. 

As with many workers I've seen, this girl's life is destined as sure as eggs are eggs for what I can't bear to imagine. There's definitely a limit as to how long she can cartwheel along moving trains to garner the coins that passengers toss into her small metal bowl. She looks a little taken aback at the sight of my 10-rupee note, which in all honesty is nothing at all.

My nose runs incessantly and the giant pack of tissue gets used as I sit back and look out at the flat countryside and across to the overcast sky and my mind reckons it's time for a change of scenery. Calcutta isn't going to be cycling territory: fact.

There's some time now to at last to browse my South India Lonely Planet that I've been lugging around and can consider the next stage of this trip - five weeks of cycling have just scratched the surface of this subcontinent. It's huge. I could have spent another month touring Bangladesh. 

Where next, then?

The Andaman islands look tempting. White beaches. Blue seas. Palms. There are both flights and sailings from Calcutta and I make a to-do list: check out the travel costs there... sort out my bloody laptop... get to an ATM... see about a Wi-fi dongle.... buy some pure silk cloth. That's about it.

The station is eerily empty and again my preconceived idea of Calcutta - Kolkata - is way off the mark. It actually feels like a Sunday afternoon in some provincial UK market town. it's so empty in fact that I stay seated on the train for about five minutes after it's stopped, thinking to myself it must be the wrong station.

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There're spots of rain falling as I pedal out and down the road leading to 'the centre' - thinking that it would be nice to have a map and a reference of some sort. A hotel name would do. 

My fingers are crossed, but the rain gets heavier and after maybe 30 minutes or more my jacket is on and I've inquired at a few seedy places. They all say they're full, but I reckon the truth is they don't accept foreigner guests - probably don't have the required license.

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People when asked point me to the district where the hotels for the likes of  me are and once there I get a room for 400-odd rupees and my bike gets carried up the tight stairs and rests against the wall as there's nowhere else for it. 

It'll be a cold-bucket shower again. 

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The street outside is small, like a side street, but there are lots of similar establishments on it - I'm in Hotel Diplomat on Sudder Street. Don't let the pompous name fool you. 

Sudder Street
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I pop to an adjacent Internet place and sit through the now familiar routine of passport and ID processing to get on a computer - this includes photocopies of the relevant documentation. Ridiculous. India loves paper. 

Then it's to a travel shop where the man quotes a huge price for a flight to the wonderful Andaman Islands. So, that's out and Bangalore looks the current option. Flights there are much cheaper.

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The café next door is full of foreign faces aged from the 20s up to 60s with all sorts of accents, but not one local, except for those serving behind the counter. Some radical haircuts on display at the tables - done especially for this trip I imagine. It's that herd mentality - I'm one of them. 

It's kind of cringingly embarrassing and such a contrast for the previous five weeks. (If you've been to Bangkok's main traveller's street - this is Calcutta's equivalent, but perhaps funkier.) 

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The upside is this neat place serves all sorts of tasty goodies - an unbelievable selection: chocolate lassi; croissant with cheese; cappuccino; lasagna; muffin, which I have one of each of as a belated combined breakfast-lunch. No wonder the travellers all come here.

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It's an unpleasant trek to the computer repair place and my Crocs and feet get dirty from the rainy and grimy streets. The computer store has a range of HP, Transcend, Dell and what have you and when I switch on my Asus it bloody works. A long trek for nothing.

I buy a mouse pad for 30 rupees for my cordless device as the police never got mine back and those inbuilt mouses are horrible to use. I also splash out on an 8GB CF card just in case I can't transfer the photos on my 16GB one to the external hard drive in the future with this faulty laptop of mine. It's a fact that these CF cards soon fill up when shooting RAW with a 25-mega-pixel camera.

However, getting a dongle and SIM is a pain in the neck. Unicor can't help, even though they share the same blue logo as Bangladesh's Grameenphone network. No doubt more Indian paranoia. 

It was quite a long walk here, but Vodaphone is the one they recommend and their nearby store has a massive queue and I'm not in the mood as my nose won't stop dribbling. 

It'll be best to take it easy for a day or two and just rest up here in Calcutta. 

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Breakfast is at the local café for a cappuccino followed by a lassi and bruschetta. 

My nose is much better, but I'm not ready for gallivanting around the city just yet.

During the afternoon I venture out and snap a few photos. There seems to be a cinema on each block around here, some still active, but with their aging Art Deco features in need of some TLC. 

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An elderly passerby chastises me for taking photos of a humble rice stall, incredulously accusing me of propagating India's - or Calcutta's - image as a poverty-hit place and I tell him to leave me alone.  It's just a rice stall.

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It feels clammy dressed in my long-sleeve wool jersey and I want to get out of this city. You know the hassle of flying with a bike, but it seems that's the best option to get south to Bangalore, so I check out flights on the internet and commit myself. 

Another night here in congested Kolkata will be enough; sightseeing isn't for me.

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Another cold bucket-shower, but at least it's stopped raining. 

After having a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant, what I need to do is stop procrastinating and get myself an air ticket down to Bangalore. That's today's goal.

Because Make My Trip dot com hasn't made my day period, I pop next door and buy a ticket from the owner of Raj's Café - one-way to Bangalore for over 6,000 rupees.

Today's ride: 8 km (5 miles)
Total: 1,664 km (1,033 miles)

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