Destinations / JOURNEY
“Next,” he says, helping me strap my helmet back on, “we
But for the time being, I have a single goal: make it to the
end of my motorbike tour in one piece. Ujjal waits on the
sidewalk, cellphone at his ear. He puts it away when he sees
see Kali Temple, OK?”
I nod. “You’re the boss.”
He punts the kickstand and we take off.
OUTSIDE THE KALI TEMPLE WALLS IN KALIGHAT,
vendors hawk their wares: snaking garlands of orange and
yellow flowers, intricately woven tapestries and tables
stocked with brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Inside,
hordes of locals line up to offer prayers at the altar of the
goddess Kali. Ujjal leads the way, navigating the crowds
in the same way he does the streets: without hesitation,
pushing his way through the beggars and faux priests, their
palms outstretched in the hopes of a handout. I follow his
lead, trying my best to ignore the constant clamor of touts.
“Every Thursday and Saturday, many families come,” Ujjal
Ujjal pushes me toward the bars of the cage. Inside, two men
says. He turns to my husband. “For this part, no photos.”
He takes off toward the heart of the temple, motioning
for us to follow. I begin to hear drums. Goats bleating. A
chorus of voices, shouting. The closer we get to the temple’s
core, the louder it gets. I feel something slippery under my
feet and look down to see the floor of the temple covered in
a slick of blood. My heart pounds with the beat of the drums
as we approach a wide cage surrounded by crowds of people.
are strapping a goat’s neck onto a wooden block. Another
man, who’s holding a machete dripping with blood, pours a
glass of liquid over the goat.
“Do you smell the whiskey?” Ujjal says.
I breathe in, nearly choking on the stench of whiskey
“Uh huh,” I say, holding my hand over my mouth.
“Watch, now!” he says, excitedly.
I might be sick. But I can’t look away. The drums quicken.
The goat screams. The crowd bellows. The man raises the
machete over his head and brings it down. Hard, on the
goat’s neck. The goat’s eyes go wide, as if surprised. Tongue
lolling out. Two men toss the goat by its hind legs and its
body slams against the wall. The men dip their fingers into
the goat’s blood and mark their foreheads. The body of the
goat is dragged off to where, Ujjal says, it will be cooked and
eaten by the family who brought it.
I’m still shaken by the image of the beheaded goat as Ujjal
leads us back to the motorbikes. Hinduism doesn’t shy from the
more brutal side of life and death. Later, I learn that Kali is one
of the most bloodthirsty of the Hindu goddesses. The goat sacrifices are meant to (temporarily, at least) quench her thirst and
bring bounty to families who participate in the ritual.
I clamor onto the motorbike, eager to get the image of
the goat out of my head and clear the stench of blood from
DESPITE THE SEEMINGLY ENDLESS CIT YSCAPE, IT TAKES
only around 20 minutes to escape Kolkata’s traffic and wander into the countryside. Riding into the city’s outskirts,
surrounded by fields of vegetable crops — cauliflower, eggplant, mustard — we bump along a pothole-filled road next
to a blackened river that reeks of sewage. We pass rows of
huts, farmers working the fields, piles of burning brush. Ten
minutes up the road, Ujjal points to an enormous mound in
the distance, a mass of birds swarming over it. I can barely
see through the hazy smog.
Opposite page, clock wise
from top left: Joseph with
bike; Howrah Bridge; Ujjal the
guide. This page, from left:
Motherhouse; Kali Temple.