The city of joy is how the locals repeatedly referred to their hometown as I was chatted up by friendly Kolkatans. Some refer to it as the city of firsts, for pioneering a number of achievements in India, or a city of palaces, for its wealth of architectural beauty. Kipling described it as a “city of dreadful night”, “magnificent”, “the many sided”. I can’t remember visiting a city with so much characterization attached to its name. Kolkata is probably all those things to different people.
During the day, its streets are filled with constant hustle and bustle, smells and car roars continuously compete for attention – often against the backdrop of architectural awe, creating a scene rarely replicated elsewhere. Buildings too, compete for attention. While some are nursed to withstand the perils of the city’s humid climate, others – full of history and culture – stand crumbling, waiting for better days. Some streets provide a moment’s rest before spitting you back out. Amidst chaos and the high-paced environment people always found ways to gracefully slow down, eager to strike a conversation – tell a story about a neighbourhood, their job, a cultural event, and of course, no conversation is complete without a mention of cricket. If couple of days is anything to judge by, Kolkata is all those things they call it.
I used to listen to Freakonomics podcasts in grad school and a segment from the show came up to mind the other day, about how people change their behaviour depending on their surroundings. It got me thinking about how our surroundings affect our daily lives, rhythm, lifestyle and the lessons we take from it all. Then I thought about one of the motorcycle trips I took years ago in northern British Columbia. Certainly feels like a world away today. What I now think I learnt from it is quite different from what I thought at the time. As silly as it may sound, one of the most recurring thoughts during the trip was about packing the bike as it affected the ride and is something I had to do every day, sometimes several times. I mean look at it, that mountain in the back of the bike looks pretty unwieldy. I felt quite pleased that the situation has been slowly improving day by day.
One of the things I now think I got out of the trip is a marginal lesson on how to enjoy myself. Let me explain 🙂 Such trips in northern Canada can get bumpy. It’s nothing to complain or write home about, but on some days with hands frozen to the handlebars, a numb face and sore body parts it’s easy to start to wonder “why am I doing this?”. Unlike the packing situation these thoughts have surfaced only once in a while. One day in particular comes to mind, a few days before I took this photo. Almost in Yukon the weather was woeful with a temperature around 0, rain and wind. At a much needed pit stop an RV driver came up and stated that my friend and I must be either very brave or very stupid. It’s probably a bit of both but my frozen face could only summon a smile in return. I didn’t really think much of his question as my mind had been fixed on a hot soup I was about to get. It’s quite fun to get surprised by a ready convenience at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. The attendant’s demeanour added to the whole atmosphere as she nervously and frantically rushed to serve the only 4 customers like she was serving a full house in lower manhattan 1000s of kms south. Maybe she wanted to hurry us out of the place to get back to peace and quite until the next pack of customers, whenever they might pass by.
What I’m trying to say is that it takes a certain mindset to smile and disregard every inch of your body screaming “get me out of here”. Then you stop wondering “why am I here?” and start thinking “isn’t this something!”
I spent a fair chunk of my time in one of the markets in Merida. I love wandering around these sort of places, get away from the sights into the hustle and bustle of daily life. The market was fairly big so I kept getting lost many times over. It wasn’t quite like the markets in many parts of China for example, but you could still find tons of things, from gambling sites to jewelry to thousands of knockoffs and more.
I feel like by now I have a good sense of when’s a good time to have my camera out in sight and when to keep it hidden. Sometimes though when I get interested in a certain way I just forget about the camera in my backpack. Here are photos from the few moments I did have it out.
Gambling seemed to be in demand in many markets around the Yucatan peninsula. Merida being a bigger city had more machines than usual. The guy outside kept eagerly looking at me across the street. I felt it was alright to take my cam out and snap the scene. He didn’t seem to mind.
My last trip to Tofino was like a trip down memory lane. This is my most favourite section of the road, with a bunch of deep curves which are an absolute joy on a motorcycle. This time, even in a truck they gave me a funny feeling in my stomach. I stop at this particular spot nearly every time I pass by. Once, I even managed to camp not far from the spot I snapped this photo. Not a bad view to wake up to. There are always lots of cool places to hang if you get off the road and walk a bit. As usual click on the photo to enlarge.
Despite having spent months in Mexico I haven’t really spent all that much time in bigger cities. Merida is one of the few where I did stay for a little while. It’s in some ways my favourite place I’ve seen in Mexico. As I’ve mentioned in my previous Merida post it makes me feel like parts of the city are stuck in the past. This street is a good example of the impression Merida has left on me. It’s close to the market area, a fairly narrow street full of run down beautiful colonial buildings. Many of them are falling apart and there are a lot of similar buildings around the city. Their condition does give it a certain character and appeal like it’s not trying to impress you, it’s just is what it is. This particular photo has also been my wallpaper for several months now.
This is in Kashgar, one of my most favourite places I’ve been to. It’s a place of incredible contrasts, it’s technically part of China but culturally and geographically it is closer to Baghdad than it is to Beijing. It is where new China is slowly creeping in to the very old Uyghur parts. It’s been a while since my visit and I wonder how many of the old mud houses have been replaced by the architecture. It was a completely foreign place to me but yet very familiar in a very odd sense.
I like the photo of this man with his dirty clothes and a helmet put comfortably aside as a passenger. I chuckled a bit too when I noticed his fly was open. At first I wasn’t sure if the man was wearing a smile or a frown. Probably neither and just squinting from the wind.