India Revisited - Calcutta to Bangkok PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Smith   
Monday, 20 April 2009 10:38
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Day 52: Sunday 12th November - Calcutta to Bangkok

The sombre atmosphere carried on into the morning. For the first time in forty years I couldn't wait to board a plane just to get out of this country and yet it was very upsetting to leave JaenPol after so many good nights shared drinking beers and stories. Even in Iran we shared Islamic non alcoholic drinks and pretended they were the best Belgium beers and in a strange way it helped to get through this period of the journey. Anne, on the other hand, actually liked them saying they tasted like English shandy.

The sign in the car park, as we drove in, said Calcutta International Airport and this conjures up Heathrow or Manchester with bars and duty free etc. Not the case here in Mother India. At this point we were innocent of the fact that this is probably the only alcohol free airport outside the Muslim world and this constitutes a major dilemma for people like Jim and myself who fear flying. Jim started his flight preparation as he played cricket with the lads and a young Indian boy by swigging out of a plastic Fanta bottle laced with half a bottle of Vodka. When we discovered that the only restaurant and presumably bar was situated upstairs in the departure lounge area and we were about to leave this part of the complex through Immigration and Customs he informed the Jet Airways Flight Manager 'no bar no flight'. We were only allowed to spend our two hour wait in the restaurant because Jim refused point blank to go through Immigration. It was at this point on our way to the restaurant bar that we were informed that Calcutta International Airport is a no alcohol zone. Drinking booze is illegal!

Desperate measures demand simple solutions. While helping to clean the bus two days ago I had noticed two unopened whiskey bottles rolling round the overhead luggage wracks. Furthermore, the bus was still in the car park and JaenPol was aboard and therefore all we had to do was get out, find the booze and then get back in.

Getting past the armed airport guards, both out and back in, was not the most difficult part of the exercise and neither was buying a bottle of orange to go with my half of the whiskey and a Coke for Jim's. The difficulty came as we tried to sit and drink the stuff in the restaurant like ordinary passengers and not desperate men drinking fals courage. As we poured and quickly consumed our first very large shot the restaurant' manager came over and pointed to the menu in the middle of the table. Jim quickly responded suggesting we were still deciding. At this point we decided to mix whole of the whiskey between the orange, coke and my water container. Unfortunately this coincided with the second appearance of the manager. This time he came to tell us about the law and how we were putting his job and freedom at risk. We apologised, retreated and implemented plan B; drinking the rest of the whiskey care of the Coke Cola Co and my water flask upstairs having smuggled it through customs. The woman at customs told me pointing to the orange that it must be consumed before boarding. I assured her with complete honesty it would be.

By the time we boarded I had consumed half a bottle of whiskey and a few mouthfuls of the vodka and orange Jim had brought into the airport. By the time we were airborne I was dozing and Jim was laying out across three seats covered with a thick blanket. He admitted to me later, as we compared headaches, he always hides under a blanket. I had to confess not being able to understand how a blanket can protect you from a 40,000 foot drop.

By the time we were descending into Bangkok two and half hours later Jim, now able to join me on a seat of our own at the back of the plane, counted out loudly the last 30 seconds of the flight to perfection. I was amazed how the wheels touched the tarmac as he shouted one in triumph. Once on the ground I was so drunk I left my bum bag and camera while waiting for our luggage to arrive. As I went running back to retrieve them a voice over the airport communications system said one leather money bag and camera found. Phew lucky me! From what I remember the airport was modern (designed by Foster or Rodgers), very efficient, friendly and staffed by young attractive women. In practical terms only two and half hours flight away from Calcutta but in reality a world apart. In short very impressive.

After a longish drive from the airport and through some unbelievable congestion we arrived at our home for the next three nights: the New World Lodge Hotel. The hotel was modern, clean, well run and friendly and was surrounded by a vibrant area of outside food stalls selling everything from enormous prawns, squid, fried cockroaches, various types of noodles, fruit, sweets and beer etc.

A big notice in the hotel entrance announced a local religious festival was into its second day and the management apologised for any noise and inconvenience to guests. As we stood on our balcony a lion dance began to the loudest amplified drumming I've ever heard. Without the amplification the noise was audible in Calcutta. With it the walls shook.

Set on a square communal piece of land on the corner of two main food ways was a bamboo tower with a flat platform some thirty feet off the ground. After the lion had danced around the structure the performers made their way up to the platform and began by building a human tower five or six people high. On top were hoisted two young children who stood upright and waved to the crowd, some fifty to sixty feet below, who found it hard to even muster up a clap let alone a cheer. Once this combination had been played with for ten to fifteen minutes a large flag type post some thirty feet high was raised and erected on the platform. Then two men climbed to the top, now some seventy feet from the ground and were joined by two children again who stood upright and after being tied to the men by ropes were flung into the waiting arms of the crew below bungee fashion only to be pulled back at the last minute. This game was played three or four times before the children were released and lowered. Once again these dare devil antics took place to less applause than a traffic warden gets in England when handing out a parking ticket. The finally came with one of the men putting on the long flowing lion head again and dancing and swaying dangerously about at the top of the pole. All of this took place to the frantic head-splitting noise of the drummers. This performance took an hour and half in total and although none of the audience left very few clapped or applauded the life threatening antics of the group.

As I said earlier, this spare piece of ground stood at the confluence of two small roads consisting of food stalls. At one end I had six very large clams barbecued on skewers in a sweet honey sauce for 30 bahts or 40 pence. A little later we came across a street stall with a couple of tables where I had six enormous prawns for less than 100 bahts. As I broke the tail from the head and began to eat it I was reprimanded by the elderly, over weight female, cook for discarding what she considered to be the best ¬†part. She immediately tore the head in two and shoving one of the inner parts into my mouth made sucking noises. She then poured herself a large whiskey and ice, lit a fag and sat by my side to watch me suck the contents of the other five heads. I have to say the prawns were the largest, best and cheapest I've ever had. Next to the stall was a general store that sold everything from beer and spirits to ice cream and ping pong balls. We ended our first night in Thailand in the pleasant company of this little, dumpy, whiskey drinking, chain smoking, grinning lady who derived such pleasure from a foreigner sucking prawn’ heads.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 May 2010 10:51