Writing this on the Coromandal Express, a 26 hour ride from Howrah to Chennai.
We had about six hours to kill in Kolkata aka Calcutta to most westerners. I had decided straight away that I was going to be the completely passive traveler today, as there were lots of potential ideas for what to try to see, where we could go, etc. My only rule for myself was that I would go for whatever plan got me to see the most things that would also not inconvenience the group.
I lean towards passive travel in general, and it’s something that drives my wife understandably nuts. In a group of two, there is plenty of room for differing opinions and discussion on where to go, what to see. Every time I shrug when my wife asks where I want to go, I can see how that is incredibly frustrating. There are many passive travelers on this trip, and in a group of this many, it works in a way that it can’t work for Christine and I. With 16 people, there will be three or four people who have clear ideas for how to proceed. The first passive choice to make was:
Head across the river to Howrah and get a hotel and take a shower, or, stay in Calcutta and go see places related to Mother Theresa.
That one was easy. See things over not seeing things. Slightly more of us chose this option. We jumped in cabs headed for Sudder St and the backpacker area to fine our own hotel to stash our bags.
During the cab ride I discovered the intensity of Kolkata, a city very much like smoggy Bangkok with some good old fashioned colonialism thrown in. This was more city than I was mentally prepared for. Happily, a benefit to passive travel is the ability to compartmentalize your experience at times like these. You, the passive traveler, are not the decision maker, and are thus exempt from responsibility if things go wrong. Somehow, that knowledge helps in otherwise tense situations, like negotiating hard on renting one hotel room for nine people for only five hours.
We head to where Mother Theresa worked with those about to die. I wasn’t fully aware of this when Troy asked, “Are you ready for this?”
Ready for what?
“The people at this place, they all came here to die.”
Wait… This is a tourist attraction? That’s incredibly morbid. I wasn’t keen to go in at this point, and thankfully they were closed for repairs, the patients moved to another facility.
But this is the thing about the passive traveler. Our Golden Rule, as it were:
If you are going to be the passive traveler, you do not get to complain about where you travel.
I am not always good at following this rule, as my wife will tell you. I whined just a bit about the dying people but by god, if it had been open, I would have gone in. Instead, it was back in cabs and off to Mother Theresa’s tomb and museum, a trip I was much happier to make.
Once that was wrapped up, we found ourselves with more time on our hands, and a new choice was presented: Go to the Victoria Monument, or head back to the hotel and shower up and/or drink some beers.
I really wanted a beer.
In order to even out the group, I decided to do whatever the fewest number of people wanted to do, which meant I ended up going to the monument with Bella and Usha. Going with the others would have forced that group to get two cabs instead of one, plus this fell into my earlier rule of “seeing things vs not seeing things”.
The monument was beautiful, and I was happy I decided to go there. I think the others may have expected just a statue rather than the palatial looking museum that we encountered.
Being a passive traveler can sometimes bite you in the ass, but as I have already stated, you don’t have a lot of say either way, and if you play it passively, you aren’t allowed to complain. Today happened to pay off for me, and I was thankful for that.
We headed back to the hotel, rounded up the now mildly intoxicated rest of the group (bastards!) and piled into two cabs headed to Howrah station for a 26 hour ride to Chennai, a train we nearly missed, running in a panic down the impossibly long length of the train with only a couple of minutes to departure. Everyone did make it though, and now we ride, further and further south, where the temperature already has us back in our shorts.
Next up, a quick stop in Chennai, so quick, it makes the fourth largest city in India barely worth mentioning.