After travelling for 13 months, I was able to visit different places in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and China' I can truly say that it was a life changing experience. Travelling help me see what's really important in life and it broadens my mind in many aspects.
On the second year of being on the road, the initial plan was to go back to China. But due to some issues between the Philippines and China lately, we immediately change the plan. Instead of China we decided to go to India since it's also a very diverse country. While in Phnom Penh, we applied for a 6-month visa and luckily the Indian embassy in Cambodia approved it. From Bangkok, we flew to Kolkata as a first stop of the India leg.
Kolkata was an interesting choice for our first stop in India. Being the capital of West Bengal State, It is one of the largest cities in India. In fact, it was the capital city of the country until 1911, when it was under the British colony. At that time, Calcutta was the official name of the city. The official language here is Bengali, however, majority of the local also speak Hindi and English as well. According to some locals I've met, Kolkata is considered as the culture capital of India. Everyday, there are cultural happenings across the city and most are advertised in the local news paper and posters across the city.
After staying in this city for two weeks, I noticed that it has an identity and character of its own. One of the first things I observed is the poverty. I saw people picking through garbage heaps along with the animals and some naked children with bloated bellies. These sights are difficult to bear and I considered it as one of the biggest negative drawbacks to visit this city. Poverty in the Philippines is also one of the major problems and I've also encountered poverty on the places I've been in Southeast Asia, but the mixture of poor and rich and the situation in Kolkata is something I never imagined. Regardless, my experienced here is still great and it's still an amazing place to visit while in India. You can even volunteer to a number of poverty organizations across the city like Mother Theresa's Mother House.
While it continues to be a developing city, the city still clings onto its past. One can still take a ride on hand-pulled rickshaws throughout the cities narrow alleyways, Taxis from the 1950's and trams still jam the streets.
Kolkata is the birthplace of many prominent personalities. Many locals and travellers come here to visit the ancestral houses of Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda and more. This is aside from the monuments, palaces and temples that bear historical and architectural significance. If you want to tour the city, you can either commute by yourself, avail of cheap car rentals??or sign up to any travel agencies for ??a tour to avoid the hustle and bustle of every streets in Kolkata.
Some of these are the following:
Victoria memorial is one of the most prominent attractions in Kolkata. It is a massive British architecture which is also called as taj mahal of Kolkata. From the way I see it, it has a modern looks considering that it's an old structure. The main building is a museum showcasing the history of Kolkata. Around the main building are some great sculptures scattered in wide and serene gardens.
St. Paul Cathedral
St. Paul Cathedral is one of the oldest and famous catholic churches in Kolkata. When we visited the church, I wasn't able to take pictures inside the cathedral because it's not allowed. The main cathedral hall is decorated with floral designs on the walls, stained glass window, exquisite mural paintings and the wooden chairs were beautifully carved. The ambience inside the church is very soothing and tranquil. One can also learn the life and work of St. Paul as it's vividly described in pictures.
Malik Ghat (Flower Market)
The Flower Market or locally known as 'Malik Ghat' is one of the oldest and biggest flower markets in the world. I went here at around 6 a.m. and there are hundreds of stalls and people sitting on the ground selling different flowers. People are also running through the narrow lanes of the flower market with big loads of flower on their heads. The most common flower I've seen was Marigold in bright yellow and orange which is commonly used in decorating the gods, festivals and more.
Belur Math and Dakshineswar Kali Temple
Belur Math and Dakshineswar Kali Temple are one of the most important temples in Kolkata, India. The first serves as a headquarters for the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission that were founded by Swami Vivekenanda. These twin organization is a spiritual movement whose teachings and principles are based on karma yoga. They are known to offer free healthcare, disaster relief, rural management and education to those who can't afford it.The Dakshineswar Kali Temple is situated on the easrtern bank of the Hooghly River. This temple is also associated with Ramakrishna. This temple like Belur Math is very busy. Expect long queues before you can view the statue of goddess Kali.
When we arrived here, we spent some time in the garden along the river banks because the atmosphere is so tranquil and peaceful. Photography is not allowed inside the complex of both temples.
According to some local I've chatted with, Howrah bridge has been one of the oldest and sacred bridge in India. It's an engineering marvel of the last phase of British Era in India. In fact, the bridge is the symbolic icon for Kolkata and West Bengal. It was features in numerous photographs, movies and paintings. This bridge spans over the Hooghly River, serving as a transportation lifeline between Howrah and Kolkata.
These are just few of the many long lasting cultural and historical sites that have helped me to love India. I know that few countries in the world have such an ancient and diverse culture as India and I'm really excited to experience the rest of the cities and remote areas that we will be visiting in India.