After spending about 8 days in Mumbai, which is on the west, central Indian coast, we traveled across the country by plane to the state of West Bengal and its capital of Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta). Kolkata was one of my favorite stops on the trip last year and I was very excited to be back. After our flight to Kolkata, we loaded up the bus to first go to IIT-Kharagpur, which is the first Indian Institute of Technology and the alma matar of Dr. Ganguly.
The drive took about five hours, so we stopped a few times along the way for food and restrooms. For the first one, we stopped at a small rest stop along the highway, and it immediately began to rain. It was nice at first to see some rain (first rain of the trip), but it quickly began to rain very hard. There were only about 5-10 of us who had gotten off the bus and we had to run through giant puddles just to get to the bathroom. Before we could get back on the bus, the winds picked up and we heard the sound of glass shattering in the kitchen. People were yelling and outside the restaurant (which did not have any walls, just a tin roof) we could see tree branches and leaves blowing wildly in the rain. Roof tiles were blowing off and something broke part of the tin roof. It was so scary to not know how long this was going to go on and if the roof over our heads would hold out much longer. Luckily, the winds died down and we were able to safely get back on the bus. Dr. Ganguly told us that this is what the monsoons are like (this was a pre-monsoon storm) and they can last for months – really crazy!
After drying off a bit in the bus, we took another stop along the way to drink some tea on the side of the road in rural India. We got to walk around a bit and see how much different rural areas are from the cities. Plus the tea was delicious (and only 6 rupees apiece – our entire group drank tea for less than two US dollars!).
We made it to IIT Kharagpur, where we were staying in a guest house (like a dorm). Our first full day there was filled with a few lectures on monsoons, climate modeling, and the intersection of social science, climate science, and architecture, as well as a tour of the campus. The campus was a detention camp during the early 20th century and there is a memorial for the freedom fighters detained there on the campus as well. After the tour, we went to a small tea farm and then drove deeper into rural India to visit a river. At the riverbank we met a nice Indian family with 9-month old twin babies, who immediately placed the babies in our arms. I love babies, so I loved this interaction with a local family!
After Kharagpur, we took a short trip to the coast for a beach day at Mandarmoni Beach. Just before we got there, there was some commotion over the size of our bus and whether or not it would be able to maneuver through the narrow roads and shrimp farms to get to the hotel. We stopped for a short break so our guide could figure out what to do. While stopped we drank some coconuts and had our picture taken by some local man, who then tried to sell us the picture for 20 rupees. Tavish enjoyed the whole experience so much that he bought the picture of the two of us from the man, who printed it out for us right before we got back on the bus. After some precarious twists and turns, we made it to the hotel and we immediately struck by the design of it all.
We were staying at what looked to be a rundown amusement park. The rooms were shaped in a number of ways including conch shells, crab holes, and sail boats. We were staying in the conch shells, which were surrounded by a moat that was completely dry, exposing a horse and chariot fountain that had no water coming out of it. There were broken down kids rides, a dirty water park, a creepy joker in a cage, and some very odd statues. Nothing really felt like it was in its place and it felt very empty and abandoned. We later found out that there is a major problem with hotels in this area as none of them, including our own, have a license to operate, causing many problems for the local economy as well as for the environment. Since they are not sanctioned by the government, the hotels are very difficult to get to and thus, are failing due to lack of visitors. There was not power supplied to the hotels by the government, so everything was run on generators, which meant we had no power from 5-6 AM and 5-6 PM every day. We were right on the beach and the water was warm, but I think we were all pleased when we loaded the bus back up the next day to leave and finally reach the city we had been looking forward to – Kolkata.