I think I am settling into Kolkata nicely. At the very least I can say that I enjoyed my day. I slept in as long as I wanted. On waking, I set about organising my room and preparing the documents I need for an insurance claim to get back some of the money I spent in Yangon to treat my knee infection. My plan was to find a café or other place with WIFI where I could submit my claim. I had learned last night that the place to find WIFI is Park Street, so that is where I headed. McDonalds was the first place I came across that had WIFI and but the time I arrived it was 10.50am and I hadn’t eaten. I waited for the 11am lunch menu to open and then discovered that to use the WIFI you need an active mobile number. I was feeling sick with hunger so decided to fill my stomach anyway, enjoying a veggie burger. A further search for WIFI led me in circles until an old man came to my rescue. He was sitting on the sidewalk and started a conversation with me in excellent English. He led me down the street to a corner, from which he pointed out an internet café tucked down a lane. On the way he gestured towards a bridge and said that was where he slept. It became apparent he lived on the streets and as I left he asked for some money so he could buy himself and his friend chai. I said I would come back from the internet café and get us all some tea to share. He wasn’t too happy with this response.

At the internet café I sent the obligatory email to my family to say I’d arrived safely, then started researching about Bangladesh, getting an Indian SIM (not worth the effort) and tipping customs. I couldn’t complete my insurance claim as I stupidly only had the documents on an SD card, which I wasn’t able to access. I returned to the streets and wandered around a little. I looked for the old man where he was sitting before, but there was no sign of him. When I got hungry again I enjoyed a 25r meal at a street stall. It was egg and rice with curried vegetables. I then headed back to my hotel with a plan to set up my bike. On the way back a guy started chatting to me and I let him lead me to a shop where he works, selling shawls and trinkets. There, I had an interesting chat with the owner, who has lived in Japan for the last 20 years with his Japanese wife and two kids. He is in India to tend to his business interests, which includes a building he bought with the intention of opening a guesthouse. Only trouble was the people he bought it from did a dodgy deal and a family has the right to live within the building. He is trying to get the family evicted and was soon going to have a meeting with underlings of a government minister. If a ‘proper’ process doesn’t get them out, he would have to commence some ‘under the table’ dealings. The final solution, he suggested, would be a violent one. The owner left for his meeting and I continued to chat to the guy who had led me to the store. I let him deliver his sales pitch (the real reason he’s invited me) before explaining politely that I wasn’t interested in buying anything. He kept trying to sell me things and in the end put on a show of being upset with me. I left empty-handed but met him twice again on the street. We chatted each time and I learned that he scouts potential buyers among passing foreign tourists. The shop is off the street and down a little passageway, so only the most intrepid traveller would happen upon it by themselves. I felt bad for them. It was a nice little shop, but the owner had told me it wasn’t doing very well. I particularly liked some old-looking compasses that would suit an old-time pirate.

I couldn’t be bothered preparing my bike, so I prepared a USB and returned to the internet café. It took me two and a half hours to complete the insurance claim. On the way to the café, another Indian guy started chatting to me. He told me he was from Goa and was in Kolkata to visit friends. He gave me some helpful advice. The first was that if I wanted to buy something that I should offer 25% of the asking price and only give 10-20r above this amount at most. He also said it was must safer hygiene-wise to eat hot meals on the street rather than meals at most restaurants. He works in a restaurant in Goa and explained that most of the food they serve has sat in a freezer for a long time, being thawed and refrozen countless times. On the street, the food is fresher and the turnover is quick, so there is less chance for it to become contaminated.

I returned home, enjoying another street meal on the way (veg chow mein for 20r). On arriving in my room, the thought occurred to me that ‘I think I am settling into Kolkata nicely‘, so I picked up my diary and started writing. Granted, I still haven’t really seen much of Kolkata yet, but I’m feeling good about being here nonetheless. I have already been confronted with the classic images of India I had in my mind: public (as in completely visible) toilets; naked toddlers sleeping on pieces of cardboard with apparently no family members in sight; families washing themselves on the street; disabled and deformed beggars.

It’s now 8.40pm. I will have a shower then relax in bed listening to an Indian music channel on the TV. I will avoid the Indian soap operas that are far too annoying to watch. There is only so many times a camera should show a close-up of a character’s face in shock. This is once, not 20 times in the space of a minute. You’ll understand if you’ve ever watched Indian TV!

Day 548 (pic)

Kolkata!

Accommodation $ Hotel
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 14,339km