07
Dec 17

Exploring Kolkata India

Resident. Kolkata, India. 2017

Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, was exotic and unique in a whole new way. Even from the air, as we arrived by plane, I could see a tree growing out of the top of an abandoned brick smoke stack. There seemed to be a tension between human habitation and pressure from the encroaching natural world. This tension was palpable in a way I had not felt since staying in Yarkand in the Taklamakan Desert of western China.There, the ancient city was awash in sand as it was being consumed by the desert. In Kolkata as we drove and walked the streets of the old city was being consumed by vegetation, plants and trees. Once grand temples and theaters, homes and palaces were dissolving into beautiful faded ruins.

Devi. Kolkata, India. 2017

This city was once the British capital of India, a wealthy thriving port city centered on trade. Kolkata sits on the Ganger River and after some distance, this flows out to the Bay of Bengal. According to our local guide, the city began to fall onto hard times when the British moved their capital from Calcutta to Delhi. And yet people continued to come to this city which had a reputation among the educated and learned and it’s intellectual community thrived. So too it’s spiritual community and we visited very beautiful shires dedicated to the mothers Kali Maa and Durga. I found I had a special connection to Durga while Christy reaffrimed her deep connection to Kali Maa.

Kolkata Women. Kolkata, India. 2017

The British have left their mark on Kolkata and the Victorian section of the city contained wide Boulevards and large buildings, many still in pristine condition, but here too many have been shuttered and fallen to nature.The Queen Victoria Memorial was a highlight to be sure and we visited it close to sunset. The orange orb of the sun hung low over the building and the sky also radiated a deep orange glow. It was gorgeous.

Victoria Memorial. Kolkata, India. 2017

Kolkata is the city of the goddesses Kali Maa and Durga and we visited many shrines dedicated to them both. We were fortunate to receive a blessing at the main temple to Kali Maa which was built in the early 19th century. Inside the main shrine resides the tow of the goddess which was said to have fallen to earth in ancient times and is so sacred that not even the main priest is allowed to view.

The remaining sacred sites we intended to visit were down river so we boarded a riverboat and pushed off into Mother Ganges. The Ganges is a very rapidly flowing river at this point whose depth changes several feet from low to high tide. We were traveling as the tide was rushing in. Along the banks we could see small barges and boats, hulls pressed into the mud, waiting for the rising water to refloat them. Also along the banks were the many “Ghats” or “Gates”, entrances from the towns and cities for people to freely walk, each with steps which led down to the water and each with a white temple of Shiva.

Smoking. Kolkata, India. 2017

As we journeyed down river we passed under a cantilever bridge built by the British during WWII and it remained in outstanding condition, continuing to see heavy use. We arrived by boat at the Bellur Math, the monestary for Rama Krishna Paramhansa and had a walk around this very spiritual place. Then getting in a car and driving across the Ganges we came to the Durga temple where Christy would walk downtime Ghat and plunge herself into the river. She had been wanting to immerse herself in the Ganges for quite some time and this was the perfect location. Changing into a sari she went down the steps just as a rope was strung across to close it off. High tide was coming and the water was rapidly rising. She had to be quick and with the help of a local she sat and plunged five times under the water, an auspicious number. A visit to the Durga shrine finished our time in Kolkata and we were off to the airport.

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29
Nov 17

Exploring Prague, Czech Republic

We had one full day in Prague both to explore the city and have fun. When I planned the European portion of our adventure I made sure that all our lodgings were within walking distance of the most important sights. In older European cities most of the activity swirls around the city center where there’s usually a public square, a church or cathedral, and a castle. In Prague the historic district straddles the Vitava River with a hilltop castle on one side and the vibrant city center with it’s town square, shops and neighborhoods on the other. The two sides were connected by a series of bridges, the most important being the 14th century Charles Bridge named after it’s builder, Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.

Vitava River. Prague, Czech Republic. 2017

We were staying on the castle side of the river and since we had spent our time in Budapest in the old hilltop castle district of Buda, we decided in Prague we would focus our attention on long walks through the city center. Setting out we wound our way through cobble stone streets and found ourselves in a beautiful neighborhood riverside park. Yellow fall leaves remained and added a splash of color to the lush palette of greens. As we walked a path along the Vitava we could see gothic spires in the distance and the many stone bridges fording the river.  We crossed over and found ourselves in the bustling city center with wide modern streets criss crossed by cobblestoned ones. (Cobblestones are hard on the feet so wear good walking shoes if you are not accustomed to them.)

The city center was large and would take several hours to explore. The first area we walked through was fairly modern with electric trolleys, large stores, smaller shops, back alleys, and bistros. Christy wanted to find the local camera pro shop, we had directions and a map but the maze of streets were still confusing. While studying the map, a man walked up to us and in perfect english said “are those Leicas?” No they’re not, we’re using Fuji’s  and a big Nikon DLSR. I showed him my little Xpro-2 and Christy her XT-2.

He introduced himself as Misha and we began talking. He had lived in the US for 40 years but returned to his native Prague because he objected to his tax dollars being used for US wars in the middle east. We talked some more and he insisted the camera store we were looking for was in an opposite direction than we had been told. He even asked us to walk with him over to another street and around the corner and pointed down an alley. Christy and I looked at each other. Then Misha smiled, said he had to catch a trolley, kissed our hands and hurried away.

Cyclist. Prague, Czech Republic. 2016

We did explore the alley, just a little, then walked into a shop and asked questions. There was no camera shop in that neighborhood. Returning to the map we went back to way we had been headed and after several minutes found the correct shop. Unfortunately they didn’t have what we were looking for but I did see some great books including several by and about Josef Koudelka who had witnessed and photographed the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968.

We continued to criss cross and explore the city center and worked our way over to a little Italian restaurant that had been recommended to us for lunch. It was cold so I ordered Minestrone soup and a salad. Christy had ravioli. The soup was light, warm and wonderful, just what was needed. We took the opportunity to rest our feet for a few minutes and I pulled out my journal to write for a bit. Happy and warm we ventured back outside. There was a torture museum nearby with a mannequin in a torture device in the window. Christy wanted to go in, I refused. I had made the mistake of going through a torture museum in London several years ago and I will never do it again. Man’s inhumanity to man has been horrific and grotesque, I wanted no part of it.

Christmas Market. Prague, Czech Republic. 2017

Have I mentioned that cobblestones are hard on the feet? They are. We walked and walked and some more. They city was beautiful and soot covered bits of ancient gothic architecture would poke out at various locations reminding me of its long history. As we headed back toward the river we found the town square and the Christmas market had begun. Food stands selling local treats, meats and hot wine were thronging with people. The hot wine looked and smelled so good! Christmas Markets are one of my favorite things about Europe this time of year.

Charles Bridge. Prague, Czech Republic. 2017

We crossed back over the Vtiava, this time on the Charles Bridge. The Charles was a beautiful gothic stone bridge, probably the most beautiful I’ve seen. There were several religious statues lining the bridge, one in particular with panels rubbed smooth by centuries of devotees.

It wasn’t far back to our lodgings and we found ourselves doubling back through the pretty little park we had passed through in the morning. It hadn’t lost any of it’s charm.

John Lennon Wall. Prague, Czech Republic. 2017

I think Prague may have become my favorite new European city, excluding Venice which is a world unto itself.

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