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    All These Colors Tour: India Part 18

    Monday, October 1, 2012
    Kolkata, India

    An incredibly textured, multi-dimensional wall in Kumartuli, Kolkata, India.

    Some peeled flyer madness in Kumartuli, Kolkata, India.

    I got going a little bit earlier than usual today, so I slathered on some sunblock and headed out into the harsh heat and suffocating humidity of an early Kolkata afternoon. I packed my body into that huge Spam cannister known as the subway and got launched all the way up to the Northern side of the city. My goal was to trawl the back alleys of a neighborhood called Kumartuli, where sculptors fashion huge bamboo creatures for a Hindu festival called Durga Puja. I figured since I’m going to miss the event, because it doesn’t start until October 21, I’d at least try to snap a few photos of the works in progress. Well, I walked and walked, and couldn’t find any of the shops. I thought I was going to come up empty-handed, except for a few photos of the endless breathgiving colors and textures that completely cover every surface of everything in this city.

    A colorblocked wall in Kumartuli, Kolkata, India.

    In one particularly crowded, bustling alley, I noticed a bunch of women wearing saris and a lot of makeup standing around in doorways. It finally dawned on me that they were prostitutes. But, they looked really elegant, not haggard like you might expect. The odd part was that it was in the middle of the day in an area where all different kinds of people were milling around. In another back lane a half mile South, I shot a photo of a crazy looking temple with two pink domes containing small shrines with weird black figurines inside. In front of it was a vendor with some intense gold paint smeared all over his forehead and nose. I wanted to ask him if I could take a photo of him, but there were a bunch of dudes hanging around, so I thought I’d try again later.

    Purple wall all in my eyes. Kumartuli, Kolkata, India.

    After walking back up to the Kumartuli area again, I finally found a huge bamboo structure covered with tarps. I saw a guy peeking inside it through holes, so I did, too. Inside were a bunch of giant, colorful dragons under construction. I snuck a couple of way zoomed-in photos through a small hole, then tried to see if there were any better vantage points. I found one, but a couple of other young dudes asked me why I took photos at the last one. I just told them because I would be gone soon and miss the event. I waited around for a few minutes to see if they would leave, but no dice, so I did. I walked back by the pink dome temple to ask the gold face guy if I could shoot a photo of him. I even offered him money, but he shut me down. Doh! That was kind of awkward.

    Huge dragons for the Hindu Durga Puja festival in Kumartuli, Kolkata, India.

    Since the sun was getting low in the sky, I started walking East over toward the Jain temples. Although they were only a mile away, it seemed much further, and my feet and lower legs were really starting to get tired. As I proceeded North on Chandra Road, I passed by a bunch of tiny, odd shops that sold long, cylindrical and rectangular metal bars. Each place had at least one or two automated hacksaws all greased up and going to town, slowly cutting through the thick metal slabs. Then I saw a small truck / hearse carrying a deceased person, who was fully visible through a bunch of windows in the back. As it made a left turn onto a side street, there was some commotion as a huge crowd of locals massed around it. I wanted to take a photo really bad, but I know they would have turned hostile. You’re not allowed to photograph stuff like that in India.

    A dragon for the Hindu Durga Puja festival in Kumartuli, Kolkata, India.

    Luckily, I found my way to the Jain temples with little trouble. The only problem was that dusk had already arrived and the place was not lit up very well, so my photos and videos of it suffered. The whole place was seriously pretty, though, and almost rivaled some of Thailand’s smaller Buddhist temples in terms of bristling displays of ornate intricacy. I was too tired to take off my shoes and walk around inside, so I just moseyed over to Chandra Road to head back up to the subway stop, a half mile North. On the way, I desperately jumped on a random packed bus and got a lift most of the way there.

    Part of the Jains temple complex at night in Kolkata, India.

    The fare collector told me to get off near an insanely chaotic multi-street intersection full of big stores in every direction all lit up like Christmas. I walked around the whole giant traffic circle looking for the subway stop, then finally gave up and asked a policeman, who sent me packing in the right direction. But, I still had to squeeze around and through a phalanx of pedestrians, rickshaws, auto rickshaws, motorcycles, cars, trucks, and buses before I was allowed to descend into the bowels of this demanding city and head back “home.” On the way, I got some seriously long stares from a few of my fellow commuters. Maybe they’re never seen a white person before.

    Shops all aglow at Shyam Bazaar in Kolkata, India.

    Roll over photos for captions.
    Words and photos ©2012 Arcane Candy.

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