I flew SpiceJet airlines today, from Bengaluru (Bangalore) to Kolkata (Calcutta). A reasonable flight, though perhaps because it was Sunday there were many children and screaming babies. A driver met me at the airport and drove me to Kharagpur, where I am to visit IIT Kharagpur [location].
I didn’t realize it was so far! Three hours, 122km through the outskirts of Kolkata and then out the National Highway #6. It’s impressive to see an overhead highway sign tell you that it is 2,049km to Mumbai, and to imagine that this road crosses the entire Indian subcontinent. Once out of the city, the landscape was rural. We passed through some tiny roadside villages, but mostly we passed rice paddies: huge rice fields a km across. Lots of piles of dried straw, which appeared to be used for roofing thatch houses. Many truckloads carrying bundles of reeds – at least, they looked like dried reeds – that again I think were used for construction.
For the most part, the road is a smooth four-lane divided highway. On the other hand, the median is usually occupied by cows and goats, which sometimes stroll across the lanes at a whim. 100kph is the speed limit, except in little villages and when oncoming traffic decides to use the wrong side of the highway. Yes, when the eastbound lanes were jammed up for miles (er, kilometers) for what maybe was an accident, our near-empty westbound lanes must have looked oh so tempting. Thank goodness it was daylight, because then at least you can see the humungous overloaded truck barreling toward you at 60kph. A little unnerving.
In several villages, they seemed to be building a large, temporary structure of bamboo and wood; some were as large as a two-story house. In Kharagpur I saw craftsmen making dozens of life-size figurines out of clay and grass. These are preparations for the upcoming Durga Puja, which “is widely celebrated in West Bengal and Tripura where it is a five-day annual holiday. Not only it is the biggest Hindu festival celebrated throughout the State, but also the most significant socio-cultural event in Bengali society.” [Wikipedia] (More on Durga Puja, including music and video, at durgapujas.com) [Editor’s note: as of 2021 that site is gone.]
I was puzzled by a road sign, as we approached a bridge over a very broad river, that said: “Drive slowly, weak bride ahead.” Looking down at the swirling monsoon-swollen river, and looking up at the large trucks that barrel across this bridge, I really wanted to read the sign literally; however, I encountered no wedding party.
Once in Kharagpur, I think we took a wrong turn, because the driver kept stopping to ask directions. We ended up on a small but busy street, with two-way traffic. Well, two-way traffic for the cars, trucks, bicycles, and scooters, but the cows, goats, and people pretty much went every which way. And that steamroller, heading slowly toward us in our lane, trying to flatten 3” crushed stone into the mud. Behind it, workers turned (by hand) the recalcitrant stones so they would fit better.
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