Well, I’m just a couple of days back from my latest adventure. As I write these blogs I sometimes think people must be wondering if I am ever actually doing any work here in India. I can assure you, that between the occasional long weekend, I am absolutely flat-out trying to open a hotel!
So last week we decided to have our first Puja in the hotel. Puja’s occur for many reasons, from daily ceremonies in the house, to larger celebrations. Basically, a Puja is a Hindu ceremony used to signify auspiciousness, often at the commencement of a new venture. With a new wave of employees recently starting and also being in the middle of festival season, we thought it would be a good time to inaugurate our office level in the hotel. The hotel owner and I were both participating in our first Puja and had the humbling experience of completing the Puja ceremony with the Hindu Priest. Words and offerings are made to the various Hindu God’s, tikka’s are marked on foreheads and food is enjoyed. It was a great cultural experience and something that we will continue to do to bring positivity into our new hotel!
Friday morning and I was off to the Airport to catch a flight to Kolkata (Calcutta) via Delhi for a long weekend. I was meeting my very good friend Siddhartha, who was visiting from Australia. Sidd and I worked together at InterContinental Perth and he was visiting Nepal, his home country, so we decided to rendezvous in Kolkata. Sidd actually worked in Kolkata for a few years back in the early 2000′s and so it was great for me to have someone who knew the place so well. We started Friday night by going to this great little pub called “Someplace Else” and listened to an awesome local band, Hip Pocket, who were absolutely nailing everything from Floyd to the Doors and the local crowd was lapping it up! So good to hear some live music as the scene is somewhat non-existent in Amritsar.
The next day we headed off for a walk around the local area and some of the markets. Kolkata is the most heavily populated city in India (land mass wise) and I definitely felt the difference to little old Amritsar. It was cool though and the temperatures were very comfortable at mid to late 20′s. We drank some fresh coconut milk (great for a hangover) and then made our way to the Queen Victoria memorial. This was quite incredible and the history of the place fascinating. Kolkata was the second capital of India, after Agra when the Moghuls ruled, and was the home of the British Raj. Everywhere you look in the city there are remnants of old colonial buildings and other traces of the British (trams etc.). Some of the artwork and statues in the Memorial building were unbelievable, very interesting to learn more about the city’s history. The say the majority of art, literature and culture of the country originated from the West Bengal region.
We then headed to the ITC Hotel where Sidd used to work. Sidd worked in a Restaurant called “Peshawri”, a place that does incredible kebabs and meats cooked in the tandoor. We ordered a half platter, but his old friends still running the kitchen, showered us with at least 5 different types of meat, daal and breads. You know you’re in for a serious feed when the give you a bib to wear! After Peshawri we went to Salt Lake, where Sidd used to live to meet with one of his old friends, Tanmoy. We had coffee and then went to the movies to see Skyfall! Pretty good flick, fairly typical Bond, but definitely well enjoyed. We had enjoyed the band at “Some Place Else” so much the night before that we decided to head back to see one of Sidd’s favourites, Crosswinds. They played fairly similar music and while I thought the band the previous night had been better we still enjoyed it. The evening was finished by heading to Tanmoy’s club, Afra, to enjoy a few G&T’s and some pasta over-looking Kolkata to the wee hours of the morning.
After a fairly late rise on Sunday we headed for some Kathi rolls (chicken and egg), India’s answer to amazing hangover food and then made for the Howrah train station. Sidd was really keen to show me the real Kolkata and how people got around every day. Howrah is one of the largest train stations in Asia and it was mind-blowing! It is also right next to the Ganges River; Mother Ganga! I was so happy to finally lay my eyes on this famous River and we took a ferry over the water to continue our day.
Next on the itinerary was to visit the house of Mother Teresa. Obviously I knew of Mother Teresa, but was a bit sketchy on the details of the work she had done. It was a really humbling experience to see her tomb, the room in which she lived for 50 years and to read about the amazing things she achieved with the Missionary in all her years in India. She passed in 1997 and was beatified (given the title of the “Blessed”), by the Pope in 2003. You could just tell by speaking with the Sister’s that worked in the Missionary, what Mother Teresa meant to them and to the poor of India. One of those great experiences that I will never forget; funny, there seems to be a lot of humbling experiences in India. Some of the buildings around this part of Kolkata, and the city in general were just incredible. I couldn’t help but take hundreds of pictures and the photos in greyscale just seemed to capture the feel of the place so well.
Sunday night we went bar-hopping a little, both to see some of the best hotels in Kolkata, we are all Hoteliers so this is exciting for us, and to get the evening off to a good start. We ended up back at the ITC as Sidd had been talking about Dum Pukht, a Restaurant that would blow me away and showcase some of West Bengal’s most famous cuisines. We meet with a couple of Sidd’s old friends, enjoyed a couple of single malt whiskey’s and then began the meal which I can only explain as a gastronomic journey, the likes of which I haven’t experienced often in my life. The food was exquisite, the French wine a perfect accompaniment but the star of the night was the biryani. A lamb biryani (slow cooked rice dish), cooked “dum style” with the cooking pot sealed with dough and gently heated over a 20 hour period. Together with a garlic and chilli raita, it was indescribable!
What an incredible weekend we had. I have been so lucky that all my travels in India to date have been with someone who knows the area well. This makes it so much more interesting as you can get off the beaten track and connect with what each place really has to offer. Monday morning came along and we made our way to the airport. As I checked in I was told my flight was cancelled! I hadn’t been informed and thought I was about to experience exactly what I had heard about Air India. The attendant returned 20 mins later and said “Don’t worry sir, we have organised an alternative flight for you. You can choose your own seat as you will be the only passenger on the flight…” I though the guy was taking the piss, but as I sat lonely on the transfer bus, walked up the stairs onto the plane solo, I realised this was for real. What an experience! I bet nobody can say they’ve ever been the only passenger on a flight before!! It was bloody fantastic and a surreal way to end an epic weekend!