My first weekend alone.
This weekend was my first time spent alone in Kolkata. With her endless racing beauty, I was slightly nervous for what the day entailed. My housemates had headed out on their bi-annual Visa run, and I promised myself that I would take advantage of this alone time to get more intimate with my new life here in Kolkata. I thought I would start out with something small, like visiting the Kalighat Hindu Temple, followed by checking out a Yoga studio and trying out Corner Courtyard, a recommended café/restaurant.When I arrived to the area of the Kalighat temple, the cab driver waved me to go further down the road to find the main entrance. As I walked down, the streets were filled with people selling decorative paintings, jewelry and shrines of the Hindu goddess, Kali, and people were pushing and shoving down the street so that they could make it inside the temple to give their offering. As I pushed through the crowd, a man invited me to go behind him to get in, I noticed that everyone was taking off their shoes, so as I started to take mine off the guard shouted no, and we were told that too many people were inside for us to enter. That’s when this older plain looking man asked me where I was from, and was telling me that he knew of another entrance. I was skeptical to follow, but I really had no other idea of where to go, and I figured that as long as I was in a public place that I should be fine. So as I started to follow him pushing through the crowds, a market vendor tapped me strongly on the shoulder and waved his index finger like a “No”. My heart started to race, I was already on edge from deciding to follow this man, but it made me feel worse after that vendor caught my attention, I couldn’t help but think if this was a set up for some people to rob me. So I followed him with caution, I had my backpack strapped on my chest, hugging it as if it was my child, just praying that me being at a temple would deter people from trying to take advantage of me. So as he starts to give me the tour, he tells me that he is a Brahmin Priest of the Temple (he showed me his I.D as proof), and that Saturday (the day I visited) is the day of worship for this goddess, and that January is her special month of worship, which happened to start on the day that I visited. Meaning that this Temple which normally has 2,000 visitors in a day, had over 7,000 visitors, and that there were people waiting in line for several hours. We weren’t able to go inside due to the wait, but he insisted on giving me a thorough tour of the outside of the Temple. I learned some amazing information about the Temple; first he took me to the shrine of Shiva, where people burn incense and make general offerings of flowers and money. Here he took some of the ash, placed it in between my eyebrows and said a Mantra to bring blessings into my life. As we continued, he showed me the special offering alter, where people were lined up offering their goats to the goddess, Kali, for her protection in their lives. On a given day about 20 goats are sacrificed, and Kali is the only Hindu Goddess that receives any type of sacrifice. Once sacrificed, they lay the goat heads one by one in a special corner to show what has been offered and then the bodies are taken to the Holy Kitchen, where it is prepared as food for all the poor that come to worship at the Temple. We then passed by a sacred Hindu tree where women would go to make offerings so that one day they will be married and have children. As we pushed through the crowds, he brought me to a giant opened side room that had a large pool in the middle with no more than 10 people in the entire area. My eyes raced around the room, looking for anyone or anything peculiar but nothing caught my attention, the man’s overall kindness and interest to share about his religion and the Temple allowed me to feel safer about my decision to follow him around. It was a natural pool that people would go to bathe themselves before heading into the Temple for worship. He also suggested taking a photo, as it is the only place where you can get a pristine picture of the top of the Temple without realizing that we were surrounded by nearly 7,000 people. At the end of our guide, he showed me the shrine of Shiva, said a mantra of “ Om and Shanti” as an invocation of Peace to my family and myself. He then asked for a financial donation to Shiva, which would be given to the poor. I made a small donation, he suggested more, but I didn’t have any more change for a donation, and with a smile he said no worries, and guided me out to the exit and thanked me for visiting. This was another opportunity where I felt so blessed to have been given such an amazing, detailed tour without any wrong intentions getting in the way. I felt bad for being so hesitant from that man tapping me on the shoulder because in the end I had an amazing tour and another great interaction with a local person on my own. As I was headed out to start my next adventure of finding the yoga studio, I spotted several stands of Mala beads, something that I have had my heart set on buying since I was in college at UCSB. Similar to a Rosary, a Mala necklace are prayer beads used in Hinduism that are made with 108 Rudraksha seeds plus one, called the bindu, which provides stability and a counting marker for a completion of saying 108 mantras. A Mantra is a repeated phrase intended as a prayer, blessing and/or intention. When I was back at UCSB, I tried so hard to find them but the only thing I found was over 20 dollars so I passed on buying them. But here I was able to get a necklace shy over one dollar. I was so happy to finally have my own Mala beads, which will be a good reminder of the generosity and kindness that I experienced at the temple. After the Kalighat temple, I found one of the two official yoga studios that Kolkata has to offer. When coming here to India, I was expecting to find yoga studios everywhere, turns out the concept of exercise/ good health is more of a Western idea, partaken only by the upper class, and that a lot of people view yoga as a religion. So I was very lucky to stumble upon a yoga studio that is based in Singapore, so it is very nice and has a lot of great classes to offer. I was able to get myself five free classes to see if I like the style, I have already tried one class and it was great. After finding the yoga studio, I walked around the area trying to find this recommended restaurant, Corner Courtyard, that was suppose to be a 15 minute walk away from the studio. After asking about five different people for directions and almost walking for an hour, I was starting to have doubts on whether it still existed. And then I saw its small quaint sign and turned down the corner and was astonished at its décor and vibe that made me feel like I was back in Buenos Aires. I sat down and spent about 10 minutes reading through the exquisite menu that included many Spanish words and dishes, which made me feel a bit homesick for life back in Paraguay. I ordered an amazing dried sea salt fig, arugula, celery, beet salad with Gouda on top, a spicy lamb sliders with bleu cheese dressing and a Cappuccino to finish it off. I was so relaxed here reading my book that I almost forgot that I was in the large populated city of Kolkata. The ambience reminded me of several cafes I saw in Buenos Aires. The next time I go, I’m determined to figure out the story of the owner and why there are so many Spanish words in their menu. Afterwards, I headed back to the safe haven of the mall for some weekly grocery shopping. The problem with having the grocery store in the mall is that you pass by so many shops, that treating your self is so hard to resist, especially when everything is 50% off. So now I have three new outfits that won’t fit into my small closet space but so worth it because the Indian style is something I have loved for many years and clothes can be so affordable here. Overall it was a very successful weekend, it was a much-needed relaxing break from our busy two week PACE visit and I was able to see some beautiful parts of the city. I am currently working on a large blog post about our PACE visit and the annual Cultural Programme, but in the mean time I hope this was a good update on the small things that have been going on here.