The City of Saint and Goddess.
A group of sisters kneel and bow their heads in prayers in a room on the 1st floor opposite our hotel, which is aptly named Hotel Heaven. Hotel Heaven is nothing like its name is located just next-door to Mother House at A.J.C Bose Road, Kolkata. Like any shutter happy photographers some of us immediately aim our zoom lens through the open window without realizing this maybe rude and intrusive to the sisters in their private moment. I only realize this the following morning when we went into the Mother House of Teresa and saw a sign saying ‘”Photography is not permitted inside the Mother House of Teresa” and we were only allow to take photos of Mother Teresa’s tomb. All other areas inside of Mother House are private and entry is strictly prohibited. Mother House as it’s now known is where Mother Teresa lived and worked from the 1950s until her death in 5 September 1997. In Oct 19, 2003 Mother Teresa was beatified by Pope John Paul II and this many would believe is the latest step to attain sainthood. To many people of Kolkata, especially to the poor and the sick, the Mother House of Teresa is indeed a place of sanctuary. During our short stay we had in Kolkata most of us visited the Mother House and took pictures of the nearby streets as well.
After arriving in Kolkata airport in the late afternoon we were caught in a massive evening traffic jam on the way to our hotel. This is partly due to last minute preparation for the celebration of Goddess Saraswati Puja on the following day on the 14 February. Saraswati is the Hindu Goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science. There are many stalls along the congested roadsides selling statues and photos of Saraswati in various sizes. The Mullik Ghat Flower Market is especially busy as people buy elaborate garlands of flower for prayers and to decorate the many statues of Saraswati before going on a street parade. The entire street is lined with flower stalls with baskets of flowers spewing onto the walkway. It’s a riot of colours and smells that’s very photogenic. We walk all the way to the east of Howrah Bridge but beware that photography of the bridge is prohibited. But we still manage to sneak some shots of the bridge further down the river away from the bridge. If you take a wide-angle shot of the river it’s impossible not to capture the bridge as well. But nevertheless our local guide keeps reminding us not to take picture of the bridge as we went for our walking tour.
We spend a day visiting the city, going to the traditional potters’ quarter of Kumortuli where many of the clay idols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses are made. Along the narrow streets potters are working in their small quarters but we didn’t see many statues of the Goddess Saraswati left as they were sold out since the Saraswati Puja is just a day away. Some of the work place is totally empty of statues, while some have potters working on statues of the monkey god and Gandhi. Photographers do take note that some of the workshops do not like to be photographed.
We visited a few other temples before returning to Hotel Heaven for our dinner. Meals are usually at the hotel or bigger restaurant due to convenience and hygienic reasons. After our dinner we depart to the railway station for our onward journey to Varanasi. It’s going to be a long night; the next stop at Varanasi is 12 hours away.