Many people have taken time to make my visit to India special, but the three who really went all-out to show me a good time were Suresh, Sam and Gautam. 

So, I’m starting my reports on Calcutta with a trip outside the city, in honor of Gautam’s tireless help, suggestions, and thoughtful prodding.  I wouldn’t have made this outing without his guidance.  It was a wonderful day, a memorable day, and clarified for me a little of how Kolkata fills its plates. 

I hired a driver with Sam’s help, and headed north up toward Barasat.  Villages along this road host wholesale produce marketplaces which shift according to the days of the week.  Wednesdays and Saturdays, for instance, the market might take place at Gadamaara, and on other days of the week elsewhere.  I would guess this allows the farmers to harvest and deliver their crops in a reasonable manner. 

It was a spectacle, a marvel, to drive up the highway and start seeing the vegetables being bicycled to the market.  See this one full of light pink radishes?  (The photo doesn’t really show the freshness and the delicate pink.)   I must have passed fifty of these, pedaling along the road toward the market.  From either direction down the road of course, heading toward the haat. 

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Here, in this photo you can see at least three vegetable mountains being brought to market.

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At this market, radishes and cauliflowers seemed to be the current harvest. 

Getting closer to the hubbub.

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Some of the traffic jam around the market.

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Shopkeepers from the city come and barter.  Some vegetables are driven into Calcutta on the highway.  At some of the markets there must be a rail station which terminates at Sealdah in Calcutta. 

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I didn’t see pumpkins being cycled in, but there were thousands already there.

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I love this market scene.  Can you find the guy picking his nose? 

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Needless to say, most of the produce is FRESH in India. 

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More pumpkins.

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Some eggplants.

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I like this photo.  One shy guy, and one wonderful smile.  One neutral.  The vegetable on display is interesting, too.  It’s used for pickles (and maybe more?) and is known as a jolpai.  Hopefully Gautam or Jyoti can chime in with real info.

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I wish my photos could give a better feel for the dynamics of the market.  They don’t, though. 

After wandering around, we drove kilometers across the area toward Bardhaman city, the center of the district of the same name.  Aside from observing the Bengali landscape, my real goal was just to taste some sweets.  People travel for different reasons, some for history and some for art, some for nature.  I don’t think there’s any way I can tell you how satisfying I found this visit, traveling to eat.  It was immensely, profoundly satisfying.

Look at these strung-up boxes, this strung up clay pot.  Can you read the label, “Ganesh Mistanna Bhander”?  (Ganesh Sweet Shop.)  Boxes from the city of Bardhaman, and clay pot from the highway leading there.

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First, from Bardaman (you can pronounce it Bird-wan, too) are these twins:  sitabhog (right side) and mihidana (left).   Sitabhog (blessed offering of goddess Sita?) is a lightly sweetened rice noodle, while mihidana (no guess) is a sweetened semolina treat.  Bardhaman is famous for these two. 

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Here’s Ganesh Mishti Bhandar.

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The city of Shaktigarh (shuck-tee-gar) is a couple kilometers north of the highway which runs between Calcutta and Bardhaman.  It’s famous for its sweet, the lengcha (“clubfoot”).  Entrepeneurs have set up satellite shops selling lengchas on the highway.  Of course I stopped.

Gigantic roadside pots.  (See more pots hiding below?)

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These are sort of like oblong gulab jamuns, to be crude.  They are studded with the seeds of black cardamoms and swim in syrup. 

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Here’s the unwrapped pot I brought home.

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And an out-of-focus shot of one cut in two. 

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My friends seemed to love these.  I liked them.  But I have to say, I’m a shondesh kind of guy…

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