Wednesday, March 23, 2016

North East India Trip - Kolkata

Finally our trip to North East India was upon us.   This was our fourth trip and was planned to include more high altitude species and visits to some special places like Sikkim as well as names synonymous with tea such as the State of Assam and the City of Darjeeling.

To get there though required a train to London and an overnight hotel at Heathrow before our flight to Mumbai with onward connection to Kolkata (formally Calcutta), all of which went smoothly.

We had booked two nights in a top-notch hotel in the city to recover from the flight, albeit we were arriving around 5am on the morning of the first night.

During the day, after some catch-up sleep, preparations for a wedding were underway.   In this picture you can see the car that the groom was transported in as well as the truck for the DJ and in front of that his generator:

The sound system was absolutely pumping when it started up and was joined by a band of drummers who kept beat and added to the noise, seen here drumming in front of the bridal party:

The bride and her group danced in front of the groom in his car, at various distances:

And thus they described a slow path around the grounds of the hotel.   When they'd finished they proceeded into the wedding area in the hotel, seen here:

All of those displays on the lower right are made-up of individual flowers.  The group then went into the restaurant for dinner.   We'd seen our first Indian wedding and got a few snaps without intruding on their big day.

I'm fortunate to have worked in three companies with Indian business units and have kept in contact with friends who were former colleagues.

Kolkata is the home of my friend Jayanta and his wife Sravasti.  They had kindly offered us the use of their apartment close to the airport, which we gratefully accepted.

They collected us on Sunday morning and we all headed to the Botanic Gardens in the city:

The gardens host an enormous and historic Banyan tree, which is a huge organism, the main trunk is long gone, but it's a vast single entity as you can see here:

There are numerous ponds in the Gardens and they were often frequented by Bronze-winged Jacanas:

In the park a number of monkeys live and with their mixed experiences with humans can be a bit temperamental:

I snapped this picture of our hosts together with another guest of theirs from Holland (Mariette), while we walked around the park:

That evening after a lovely late lunch in the city centre we were dropped at the apartment.   Given two sets of guests and Mariette's shorter stay Jayanta and Sravasti kindly provided us with both their driver and an interpreter guide (Paramita) for the following day.

From the apartment the pace and scale of growth is apparent, this is one of many such buildings, going up all over the city, and being built almost entirely by hand: 

On Monday we were collected by Paramita and the driver and headed for a Bird Sanctuary in the city:

It was a real oasis from the bustle and noise of the city and we saw a number of good species including Black-hooded Oriole:

Large-billed Crow:

Coppersmith Barbet:

Green Bee-eaters:

and the Himalayan sub-species of the Red-vented Bulbul:

Rufous Treepie:

Streak-throated Woodpecker:

I have no idea what species of butterfly this is but it is beautiful:

After the Sanctuary we had a fantastic dosa lunch and then stopped outside a Jain Temple, though it was closed for decorating:

Apparently the temple is principally for tourists and is mostly about making money, so we were told anyway.

From there we headed to the Victoria memorial.  We were reminded that although the huge building and grounds were built to honour Victoria after she declared herself Empress of India, she never once visited the country!

A few Asian Pied Starlings were mooching around the grounds:

The Victoria memorial was also the location for my first ever sexual assault.  It's quite common in India for people to ask to have their photos taken with us, mostly because of the colour of Helen's hair and indeed skin.  On this occasion however just as Mita was using the chap's phone to take a picture of us, he grabbed a handful of my arse.  I was so shocked I didn't know how to respond,  As were walking away I told the ladies Mita in particular could not stop laughing.  I was properly shocked, I guess being male you just don't think about something that ladies are probably much more conscious of day-to-day.  Food for thought.

Anyway we left there and headed back the apartment for an early night ahead of our early morning start to the airport and on to our birding tour.


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