Monday, 13 February 2012

Monday 13th - Ornithology, Model Railways & Haute Couture

Central Kolkata is not quite as noisy by night as it is by day but there is still a general cacophony, including dogs barking, cockerels crowing, jackdaws just making a general racket and, of course, horns blowing. Previously we have stayed 3 or 4 floors up and missed most of this. On the first floor it sounds like it is happening on your window sill.The street full of traders immediately below us kicks in seriously at about 6a.m. so it is yet another earlyish start. First job is to sort things out with the dhobi-wallah who staggers off with a week's worth of washing.

Today is another treats day so after breakfast we head off to the Botanic Gardens for some bird watching. We batter the taxi hustlers down to Rs 250 for our 20 minute ride down the Maidan and across the Hooghly River. We get stung for the bridge toll but our man makes up for this by heading to the nil queue VIP lane. Unlike last year's uber-expensive hire car this driver knows where we need to go and ignoring everybody who tries to stop him drives straight through the main gates and deposits us outside the ticket office. Here a man in a uniform escorts us to the window, watches us buy tickets and put them in D's wallet and then asks to see the tickets so he can put a tear in one edge.

We walked 50 yards and saw our first kingfisher, a flash of iridescent blue as it swooped over a pond and then headed back to its perch on an overhanging tree. The birds then came fast and furious, usually too quickly to photograph but we saw golden orioles, red kites, green bee-eaters, two more kinds of kingfisher, egrets, coucals and a magnificently coloured woodpecker.

In all we andered for about three hours, getting slightly lost in the process. We also saw another mongoose peering round a tree at us.

Before leaving home we had sought advice on travel to and from the Botanic Gardens. We were told that the bus back into town was very easy , but avoid the 55 as it takes a longer slower route. The only buses we could find were 55's so we took the chance. It was slow, bumpy, had cramped seats with no legroom and would have won a dirty windows contest hands down any where except Kolkata. Eventually we crossed the Howrah Bridge and were deposited at the main bus terminal. A very expensive Rs6/- ride - give me the trams anyday.

We strolled back to the Fairlawn for a snack lunch and to meet Paul Nilanjan of Paul Industrial Co who make 16mm Railway models in brass. He arrived with an employee by motorbike. R was relieved to lrearn that we would be travelling to their workshop by taxi. The workshop had been set up in 1942 to manufacture electrical parts for Indian railways. Most of the machinery looked to be original and the workforce are clearly highly skilled. part way through our visit we were offered tea, served in small enamel mugs on saucers and with biscuits. Clever old D forgot his camera so no piccies for the train buffs but he did order an East Indian Railways 2'6" gauge coach which will be delivered to our Delhi Hotel next week.

To make up for this lapse here is another bird photo. Back at the Fairlawn we went shopping at R's favourite shalwar kamise shop where she was remembered. After some discussion and a veto of one outfit by the tailor a suitable garment was tried on and agreed. The tailor added sleeves and the outfit was delivered to our hotel before the first Kingfisher had been quaffed. back in our room we realised that we were immediately above the SK shop. Back to the New Cathay for supper and the chance to watch a slightly better England performance at the cricket.

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