I arrived in Kolkata (Calcutta) today. It's filthy and poverty-stricken and crowded and loud... and I love it! There are so many beautiful colors and textures, so many wonderful people, so many things to do... Yes, there is bureaucracy. The lines are long and the traffic is terrible. There are people who will harass you on the street. There is trash and muck all around. A lot of people are completely destitute. It's hot and muggy. However, the rewards are worth the bureaucracy and the waiting. The harassment is typically in the form of asking you to buy something (many of the things they are offering are things I want--bottled water, hand-made clothing) or begging for food (which is simple enough to provide if you hand out your leftovers from the enormous meals they serve in all the restaurants). As for the poverty... it's hard to see, but tourism is a major industry here and it benefits the local populus. I can only hope that I can help. And as for the weather, well, it's probably worse in NYC right now! I thought it would be much worse than it is. It's really not that bad! I would never want to live in Kolkata, but I intend to visit again as soon as I can!
I'd also like to take a moment to talk about (of course!) the tea. The masala chai (hot, spiced black tea with milk and sugar, called "chai" in the US) is the absolute best I've ever had. It's sweet and creamy. The tea is dust (low-grade), but the spices are very fresh. The ginger is what makes it--I don't think I can go back to dried ginger in my masala chai after this! Indian masala chai varies by region. Here, the main flavors are sugar, ginger, and cardamom, with a bit of clove. Some areas use fennel, cinnamon, more clove, and other spices. In the US, it's usually heavy on the cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom. I'm looking forward to trying Darjeeling's masala chai to compare with the other kinds I've had. I'm even more excited about visiting Darjeeling's tea estates, though! I can hardly wait...
I'm having a great time so far. More soon!
PS--If you're reading this on Vee Tea, the post order may be funny. Try my Vee Tea Blogger page instead.