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  • Shelley Dark

7. Howrah and Hooghly

We're now in Goa. When we first arrived, we did a little shopping in the CBD. I'll tell you about that, and then I'll tell you about Kolkata's Hooghly flower market where I took this photo and the Howrah Bridge.

We decide to replace John’s hat which is lost. The funny bee-keeperesque hat which has been my lighthouse beacon in far-flung places. And I need something at a pharmacy.

We find a chemist shop. It's a tiny space with floor to ceiling drugs lining the three walls. The pharmacist sits in the middle behind a desk, and a female assistant stands at the counter which runs right across the shopfront. Customers stand on the street. She puts her hand immediately on what I want, and I hand her a currency note. There is not enough change in the till for me. This must happen often, because as quick as a flash she picks up a long line of co-joined bandaid plasters, uses scissors to cut off five or so, and hands them to me in lieu. Whether I want them or not. I love it.

We try to avoid being run over by the swarms of motor scooters buzzing like bees. The footpath runs out on this side so we cross over. As soon as we do, it stops on our side and begins again on the other. Goa does not do Greg Chappell style cotton hats, which John has favoured since they were in fashion in the 70's. Or panamas. It does leather with lacing, cowboy straw made to last 5 mins, women’s white nylon open weave with lavender bands, or pork-pie with almost no brim at all. We walk from shop to shop, emporium to department store. John continually says let’s not worry. Let’s go back to the hotel. Until finally we happen upon the Sunny Sporting Boutique. Cricket bats, sports clothing, and yes, you guessed it, pure cotton wide-brimmed hats. For children. $4 each. We try hat after hat. After hat. No. Too small. We must have something for tomorrow. It’s going to be really hot. In the end, out of desperation, I buy a black number which fits my small head, so that John can, if he has to, wear my taupe sunhat with tortoise-shell band, which we know fits him because he wore it at the flower market in Kolkata. Oo la la.

Back to Kolkata. The Hooghly flower market runs along a narrow band between the railway line and the Hooghly River, near the Howrah bridge. Floral chaos.

It’s mostly under cover and nearly as noisy and boisterous as the fish market.

Flowers of every description, in bunches, in garlands, pulled apart as petals, arrangements, puja offerings. Ferns, greenery, roses, tuberoses, hibiscus, chrysanthemum, celosia, the flower especially for Shiva, blue flowers for another god, marigolds and orange and yellow, dahlias in all colours, lotus, gladioli, baby’s breath, asters, sunflowers.

Walkways go through to the river and the Howrah Bridge. An engineering feat in itself.

The river is wide and crossed by a cantilever or suspension bridge in one span from bank to bank without any pylons into the river bed. It’s made of steel, and no nuts or bolts were used in its construction. Rivets only. Its by far the busiest bridge of its type in the world, carrying about 100 lak vehicles and upwards of 150 lak pedestrians a day. What on earth am I talking about? Lak, in Hindi, means hundred thousand. See how Indian I am becoming?

The early morning light combines with the usual heavy smog to bathe the river scene in beautiful soft light. People are bathing in the water, dunking themselves totally, shampooing their hair, washing clothes. Workers from the flower market are washing foliage. Big bags of floral produce are lying on the riverside while they wash. Wise men are giving counsel to people who sit before them, listening intently. People pray at little shrines, covering their gods in orange paint. Men clean their teeth. Women carry water away.

Pigeons feast on seed which has been put out for them, and rise in a flock when disturbed.

Many are eating their breakfast. Don't you love the recyclable moulded leaf plate?

Some pictures just make themselves

It's thirsty work

Not everyone is joyful.

The chai vendor in the market does a great trade. Nothing could induce me to drink it.

There is such grandeur to this river panorama of epic proportions. I can understand why Indians feel the Ganga is a life force, a mother.

On our way home, a flock of sheep walk quietly along the main road. Not all is chaos.

In my next post I'll tell you about Goa.

Yetha buddies. Konkani is the local Goan language, and that means we'll meet again!

shelley dark, writer 

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