calcutta – wow

Wow – back in India and shaping up to be quite a day. First of all, AirAsia didn’t like the way my bike was prepared for flight – pedals off, handlebar rotated 90 degrees to line up with the front wheel. I was sent off to one of several plastic wrapping machines and waited for half an hour in front of the ‘Back in ten minutes’ sign. In the distance, I heard the telltale sound of plastic ripping and found an attended machine. But the bike was too big to wrap, they said, and sent me off to the post office. Which had nothing large enough but offered to figure something out for 500 baht. Running short of time, I agreed. What a mess – two large sheets of cardboard on each side of the bike, lots of tape, three vertical and three horizontal plastic bands which did nothing except rip the cardboard. Well, it was wrapped, sort of.

I didn’t have the 500 in cash and my visa card was promptly refused. I presumed this impromptu wrapping job was a spontaneous unofficial perk of the job and not going to be recorded in any till. I had about half the money in cash and some coins so it was a bit of a standoff until they realised that was all they were going to get.

So, eventually, my bike made it on to the plane and, also, arrived in it’s dishevelled cardboard wrapping on the luggage carousel in Calcutta. It definitely looked out of place amongst all the new boxes containing large flat panel TV’s that Indians returning from Bangkok had brought with them.

It took a fair amount of wheeling and dealing to get a taxi driver that would take the bike but I finally agreed a price to get the bike and me to the Esplanade bus station. Where I hoped to get a comfortable air-conditioned bus for an overnight ride to the plains below Darjeeling.

India seemed very familiar from the taxi – although there were many more private cars than there had been twenty years ago. Lots of taxis and auto-rickshaws. Cycle-rickshaws and foot-powered rickshaws, too. Crowded, everything squeezing by on the road with inches to spare. Like Bangkok, only more so: more crowded, noisier, dirtier and, yes, scarier too. At the bus station, I found out that the AC (air-conditioned) bus was sold out. This information, of course, came from the stall selling tickets for the non-AC bus. I’ve heard this before, many a time, but with my baggage and bike, I wasn’t in the best state to go exploring and check more thoroughly. So I settled on a sleeper seat – whatever that is. Four hours to wait for the bus and the bus station is pretty ugly. Garbage everywhere. Filthy. Men pissing against the wall instead of paying the one rupee charge to use the official facilities. I used them and survived but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. A bus rolled into the station with a smashed front and windshield, still with passengers aboard.

Well, I’m back. This is what I signed up for. Better suck it up and get on with it.

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