INDIA - Day 2
Wow what a day! Our alarms went off at 4.30am and we had to get up, pack, eat and climb into our bus which took us to Kolkata Train Station. As the sun was rising, life on the streets was slowly picking up pace. The locals were rugged up against the cool morning. Empty bicycle carts slowly proceeded to collect their wares for delivery, and briquette fires were stoked on the sidewalks to heat huge kettles of chai or coffee.
The Hazadauri Express, a really, really long old train with horizontal bars across its windows, was waiting for everyone to board. There were no lights inside the carriage but fortunately someone had a torch and we were able to work out which seats we were meant to be sitting in. Fans and heaters lined the ceiling. We'd been warned not to use the toilets because they could be unspeakably dirty. Nelia decided to check them out before the train got moving and inadvertently got locked inside. Fortunately the cleanliness wasn't an issue, but for a few moments she was worried she might be spending the four hour trip in there!
As the train wound its way through rice paddies with ducks swimming in them, hay stacks with goats climbing on them, banana palms shading women pumping water into silver pots or doing their washing, and brick factories billowing black smoke, inside the train a theatrical production of mass proportions was taking place. Merchants selling tea towels, tea and coffee, toys, sweet and savoury snacks, handkerchiefs, fruit, and tablecloths (to name just a few) constantly paraded up and down the aisles. The orange juice man selling special plastic attachments had us cheering and buying his wares in multiples. All of this was punctuated with screeching train whistles, the train starting and stopping, and people get off and on the train.
We had created quite a bit of interest because we were having so much fun, and we were the only non-Indians in the carriage. Towards the end of the trip Meena struck up a conversation with a passionate cricket fan, who also informed us that we needed to get off at the next stop - Berhampore.
We were transported to our lodgings for the next few nights. After being shown to our sublime (by comparison to the two previous nights) rooms, we packed into a large 4WD and Colin drove us to the new Freeset weaving factory in a small Murshidabad village an hour's drive North. There was plenty to see - threshed rice lying on hessian on the roads, flower leis, a huge range of fruit, vegetables, and bangles being sold at stalls along the way, cow dung decorating buildings, people planting rice, bicycles and motorbikes weaving their way through the traffic, ducks crossing the incredibly rough road, stacks of hay, piles of firewood, goats, cows and school kids playing in their school yards.
The Freeset ladies working in a space that was formerly a cinema were intensely focused as they created beautiful hand woven scarves. They are relatively new to the skills they display, but they have thoroughly impressed professional artisans with how much they have learnt. They currently make scarves from cotton and wool, and soon will start to work with silk. Angel made a huge impression with the girls and they delighted in viewing Angel's wedding photos. There was a genuine bond of warmth and love between them as we said farewell so we could head to Valkundhi to view the piece of land that was recently purchased by Freeset. Eventually a huge loom factory will be built to replace the venue currently being used.
Once back at the hotel, but not yet totally exhausted, we headed out again before tea, this time in tuktuks, to explore the shopping. We finished the day meeting in Karen's room to discuss the high points and low points of the day. Sharon beautifully summed up our feelings of helplessness to make any meaningful long term difference to the many beggars in our low points. The adventures in the train and at the loom factory unanimously won the most high points.