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.
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.
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.
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.
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.