|From Kochi to Delhi |
In December 2008 we are off for another three months in India. This time we start in Kerala and through Karnataka, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan we travel to Delhi for our flight back.
Kottayam 9 - 12 December 2008
Tuesday - Wednesday
It is cold and snowing when we leave our home in the Netherlands at eight o'clock in the morning. Friends bring us to a railway station from where we go to Düsseldorf in Germany. We fly with Emirates to Dubai and arrive there at midnight local time. A few hours later our flight to Kochi leaves and it is again eight in the morning as we land.
In the slow moving row by the customs we get familiar again to the queues. We change money and take a prepaid taxi to Kottayam, for the last 90 km we pay 1400 rs. All with all the formalities don't take so much time and within an hour we are on our way.,The start in the real tropical climate is quit a difference with our previous visits which started more in the north. We drive through a beautiful hilly landscape. But after the long trip we are tired and fall nearly asleep.
On internet the Vembanad Lake resort looked good but the reality is different. The cottages are completely surrounded by high flats and the only one available is damp. To be honest, the manager is reluctant to rent it to us We go to the nearby Hotel AidaI, a business type of hotel where we take a non AC-room for 950 rs. The room is at he front side and we have the inconvenience of the traffic noise.
After the lunch we lie down and later take a short walk to the jetty where the ferry to Alleppey starts. Of course there is a powercut, it just happens while I'm loading our photo battery. This gives an short circuit at the moment that the current returns and our loader is finished. The day ends with a heavy thunderstorm, a great way to start a holiday.
As result of the jet-lag we don't sleep well and are still tired as the night ends. From Kottayam we want to visit the Kumakarom bird-sanctuary. According to the hotel manager we should be there at six in the morning, and now we have our doubts about it.
By noon we walk to the centre for a new loader. It is not more then ten minutes and we go first to a large photo shop. From there we are send from shop to shop until we find a small store which sells al types of loaders. Kottayam is busy city with a lot of shops but nothing very interesting to see. We take a drink and lunch before we return to the hotel. It is hot and we have still to acclimatize so a shower is wonderful.
At six I go out and in front of the hotel a rickshaw driver asks if I'm interested in a temple festival with elephants and traditional dances. We must decide at once since the ceremony is about to start. I go back to Wiesje and we go for it. Anil, the driver, is a special type. On the back of his chair are quotes of Kafka and other famous writers. He likes to read literature and when we tell we are Dutch he mentions the books of some of our writers.
It is not far to the temple. The inhabitants of the village decorate their houses with oil lamps. The temple has a wall around it and the central building is also filled with small lights. In the hall priest prepare five elephants for the ceremonies. The crowd is gathered before the hall. A rectangle is free and garnished with larger oil lamps and numerous incense sticks. The music is loud and slowly the elephants appear. The middle one is dressed up as a divinity, the others carry priests. From the other end of the rectangle another god, in the form of a peacock, dances and approaches slowly. It is a fantastic experience. Many people leave after some time but still more are coming, the ceremony takes the whole night. We watch it for a time but after a few hours we want to go back.
In the meantime we talk with Anil about all kind of things. He will take us to Kumarakom and pick us up at seven to-morrow. He owns a copy of an article that a Dutch writer wrote about him. He shows it to us and to our surprise it is written in Frisian. Wiesje promises to make a translation of it.
In the Netherlands we have Frisian as a second official language. About 600.000 people can understand it. We are born in that part of the country.
Up at six but Anil is late and after a ride of half an hour it is eight when we arrive in Kumarakom. For a wild sanctuary the entrance price of 95 rs. is cheap. The park is not very extensive. Helas even when we walk through the smallest paths there is nearly a bird to see or hear. The explanation is that we are too late and the birds are on the lake by now. For 300 rs. we hire a small fisherman's canoe.
This is our first encounter with the back-waters. Just as in the sanctuary the nature is great with palms an banana trees everywhere. First we navigate on a wide river. On the shores the people are busy with washing, cleaning and other activities. After a while we approach the Vembanad lake. The water is covered with large fields of water hyacinths. Of course we see some ducks and other birds but the scenery makes this trip a great one.
And there is something else. We had already decided not to take a houseboat trip. When we see the long line of ships sailing behind each other, some of them with people watching television, we are sure that this is nothing for us.
After a few hours we are back in Kumurakom, time for a snack and chai before we return to the hotel. In the afternoon Wiesje buys a nice blue tunic. When she wears it the paint sticks on her body.
Alleppey 13 - 16 December
Before we leave we phone with Johnson's Nest, a homestay in Alleppey. They have a room and promise to pick us up at the jetty. The ferry leaves at half past eleven but we have no idea how crowded it will be. So we leave the hotel on time and have more than an hour to spend. There is no ticket counter, we must buy the tickets later on board. The boat is already there and is old and worn out, but looks reliable. We bring our luggage on board and walk around. There we see Anil waiting for new customers. Wiesje gives him a rough summary of the Frisian article.
The boat leaves on time. There is a seat for everybody, the price of the tickets is 20 rs. The first part we navigate through canals, on the banks we see houses and small villages. The ferry acts as public transport and stops often to load and unload passengers. We also stop to let the crew open the small foot-bridges. Gradually we leave the civilized world and see a fantastic scenery with palms and all other types of tropical plants. There are a lot of birds, mainly ducks.
When we approach the Vembanad lake we see again the fleet of house-boats. In the vicinity of Alleppey are many restaurants on the waterside. By the jetty the touts swarm on board and try to persuade us to go to the next stop. The boatman knows better and indeed a driver waits for us.
Johnson's is situated in a quit neighbourhood of the town. We have a large room, our balcony is halfway the stairs. We are just in time for the lunch, Johnson's wife Angela is a great cook. Johnson offers several excursions, we go for the secret beach and a boat trip. This afternoon we wander through the city. In the evening we enjoy the quietness of our balcony with a beer. As the traditional powercut begins we get candle lights. We don't see mosquito in our room so we try to sleep without the net.
This is not a smart idea and halfway the night we awake from the itch and hang the net. Early in the morning we wake up by the singing in a nearby church, this service continues for a very long time. At the other side of the road the prayer calls from the mosque regular joins the rumour. Wiesje did not sleep well so I go out on my own. Soon I find the way to the beach. It is quiet on the streets and also on the sandy beach. It is not very scenic and slowly I stroll back.
Johnson's knows a, as he mentions it, 'Secret Beach' a kilometre of 10 out of the town. At one o'clock we go to it with a rickshaw. A friend of Johnson's owns there a restaurant and we enjoy a great lunch. Through a small fishermen village we walk to the beach. This is a real tropical delight, just as one sees on the posters. Sand, palms, children playing, fishermen working and hardly a tourist.
We sit down and absorb the atmosphere. It still astonish us that, as in every beach we have seen, there are no seagulls but just crows. The crabs dig themselves in the sand but the crows pick them out and they also eat the remaining fish out of the nets. We slander alongside the sea, after a few hundred metres we see some small resorts, it looks as if they have just a few guests. In the meantime the fishermen prepare their nets for the next catch. This preparation takes a long time and we decide to go back to the restaurant for a beer. After a short time the rickshaw driver arrives and we go to the guest-house.
On Sunday Angela does not cook. We go out for dinner to hotel Prince and have another beer on our balcony.
At ten the rickshaw driver is there and he brings us to a wharf a little outside Alleppey, where our trip with a country boat starts. Another man guides us to the water. A small rowing boat with a canopy against the sun and a few cushions and benches to sit on waits for us. We pay 2500 rs for a trip of six hours. Two old man, in their seventies as they tell later, come on board and pick up a peddle.
First we navigate on a broad water, at the waterside we see many house-boats. And still more are under construction. As everyone tells us, the tourist industry is not booming. We leave the canal and go further through very small waters, only suitable for this size of boats. It is a fantastic trip everywhere palm, banana and mango trees. Between these vegetation little house are scattered around. Often the ground on which the houses are build is lower then the water, so the bank is also the dike. Behind the houses are the paddy fields.
Later we row on the same route as the ferry and stop to enjoy a fresh coconut. A tamed eagle sits next to the stall. Without a warning they put the bird on my hand, it is a little frightening. We make a little stroll on a path so small that it is difficult to pass each other but everyone we meet is very friendly. The inhabitants have constructed plastic shelters before their house to obtain some privacy. Many people here have fishing eagles.
We paddle further through small canals and it is indescribable beautiful. The boatman speaks enough English to name the plants and the birds that we see. For lunch we go to a restaurant on the shore for a thali.
Then we row for a while stream up a river, it is hard work for the men. And then we enter a polder, the land is lower than the small canals in which we sail. The banks are nearly half a meter high so we have a great panorama. By three o'clock we go back and for our bodies that is good. Our muscles and backs have enough of sitting on the benches. It takes still one and a half hour before we are at the jetty. Of course our rovers deserve a tip
We organize a rickshaw back to Johnson's. For dinner we have tapioca, something new for me. It tastes a little like potatoes.
Since Johnson wants to paint our room he asks if we will change. The advantage of the new one is that the balcony is directly connected to the room. At the end of the morning we go to to centre of Alleppey. Besides all the vessels it is not very interesting, just some shops and so.
We do some shopping, lunch and take a rickshaw to the beach. It is quiet there but the scenery can not be compared by that of the 'secret beach'.
Back at the Nest we pay the bill. Sometime later we go downstairs for our dinner. Nobody is there but the food is on the table. So we warn the lady in the other room and dinner with the three of us. In the meantime the family returns. With a beer on the balcony we enjoy our last evening in this great place.
Kochi/Ernakulam 17 - 20 December
Before we leave Johnson show us his garden, beautiful with a lot of orchids. In the back of these garden are two guest cottages. Our breakfast consists of cheese sandwiches and too strong tea and then we take a rickshaw to the station.
The train is on time and after a journey of an hour we arrive in Ernakulam. Outside the station is a pre-paid system for the rickshaws. For 1 rs. we get a paper with our destination and the price of the ride. We have the name of the hotel on a paper. The first driver refuses to go but the next one brings us. It is busy in the lobby and we ask at once if they have a free room, the answer is no. Or second choice Hotel Biju is around the corner and has a reasonable room for 600 rs. When I walk down to fulfil the registration I learn that it was the last one.
We take some rest before we walk to the nearby jetty. Of course don't recognize anything from our visit of 25 years ago. We want to walk along the waterside but our path leads us off the waterside. So we come closer to the busy centre, eat something and go back to the hotel.
For a bottle of beer I have to walk 10 minutes, the selling point is a very dark. First I must pay at a counter with fences and give the receipt to the bar keeper. It gives me the impression as it is something illegal. Our hotel has no restaurant and we choose one in the neighbourhood. The service is worse but the food is tasteful.
After a good night sleep we go for breakfast to the nearby India Coffee House. Back at the hotel we arrange for tomorrow a backwater cruise with the KTDC.
Then we walk to the ferry and are in a quarter of an hour in Fort Kochi. There it swarms with rickshaw drivers, they all want to show us around, the further we walk from the jetty the lower the price becomes. We use our feet and go to the Chinese fishing nets. The men operate the nets but we don't see any successful catch.
We stroll further alongside the water and then turn to the centre. This is fulfilled with tourist shops. Of course we visit to the Dutch cemetery and see some churches.
After lunch we walk through a residential area to the Mandacherry district, another tourist area. Here we see the Dutch palace, it looks more as a farm house, and the synagogue. This is situated in a dead end street with shops witch 'exclusive goods'. All the shopkeepers invites us for a free visit. It is great fun to pass them twice twice with a lot of laughing from both sides. Slowly we walk back to the jetty and are around five in the hotel.
In the hall is an internet connection so it is easy to mail to the family and buy train tickets for the one of the upcoming trips.
Shortly before eight a small bus from the KTDC collects us from the hotel. Together with an 86 year old Swiss lady we cross the town. In the outskirts a bus with other tourists from Kochi waits for us. We are now with a group of thirteen persons the ages range from 6 to 86. Also here it is a bad time for the tourist industry, other years there were forty people in a group.
After an hour we stop and embark a kettavallum. The guide explains the day-program and tells more about the history of the back-waters. First we navigate over broad rivers with small islands. Everywhere we see the tiny boats of the mussel fishers.
After an hour we anchor at one of the larger islands. We look around in the small village. A man taps the juice of the flower of a palm, within six hours the fermentation starts. By a herb garden the guide gives an ample explanation of the use of the herbs in the Ayurveda. Back on board we get a banana leaf with a delightful prepared portion mussels. Some people go for a swim and then we return.
As soon as we arrive at the landing-stage a great lunch is served on board. It is a pity that nobody is hungry after the mussels. The bus brings us to the country boats and the group splits up.
And so we row into the small canals. In contrast with the Alleppey region the land is here above the water level. This makes it more natural and again very scenic. We visit a village where the woman make rope from the fibres of the coconuts. At the next stop we get a coconut but so short after lunch it is to much. A group priests plays the drums and walks from home to home. Then we navigate back and see a lot of birds, including many kingfishers.
Half past five the tour ends and we take the bus. First to Fort Kochi and then to our hotel so it is six o'clock before this fantastic but tiring day is over.
At eleven we leave the hotel with the idea for some shopping and a trip to Vypeen Island. The small stores are situated in large concrete buildings which makes the town not very pleasant. It are mostly clothes shops and everyone is completely filled up while in the corridors the new stock waits. Then we watch a Christmas market in one of the by-streets and we continue our stroll through the back alleys until we reach the vegetable market. Nice as always.
We have a rough map of the city and see that the jetty to Vypeen is nearby. We walk to it and find out that nowadays all the ferries start at the main jetty. Along the water side is a boulevard and it is a pleasant walk. A lot of vessels in all sizes are for hire. Some for a round-trip others are expensive sail yachts. As we arrive at the jetty it appears that we have to wait for another hour. By then it will be half past two and we decide to skip the trip. We have lunch and a quit afternoon in the room. A television station in Kerala shows English spoken films and we watch one of the Jaws films.
Thrissur, 21 - 24 December
At nine we take a rickshaw to the station since it is quit on this time of the day it does not take long. A train, apparently not ours, waits at the platform. We know the place and number of our coach and go to the signal. Then the train identification has changed and it is ours. The coach number is relative to the engine and since the train goes in the opposite direction as we expect and we must walk back. The half filled train departs on time. The trip goes through a region with all kind of small agriculture and in somewhat more then an hour we reach Thrissur.
We go to Lucia Palace and have a wide room with a reasonable view for 777 rs. The hotel is situated in a quit street but when we go for a walk it is just a few minutes to the centre. This consists of a hill with a park and a temple in the middle. Around the park is a circular road. We parade the full circle inclusive the side streets. Despite it is Sunday it is busy but not tourist. Most shops are closed but on the pavement before the street merchants display their goods.
Back in the hotel we go to the bar for a beer and later we have dinner in the garden restaurant. This is divided in two parts, the smaller section is for families the big part is for the men. It is animated and the food is good.
This afternoon we want to visit the Kathakali school in Cheruthuruthy. In the hotel we arrange a car for 500 rs. Around two the driver, who doesn't speak a word English, arrives. He has a dispute with the receptionist. That men also speaks hardly English so we don't understand the cause of their agitation.
By a busy road we drive in an hour to the school. A friendly guard explains that the school is closed during the December holidays. So we have no choice than to go back. Our mood does not improve as the receptionist welcomes us enthusiastic assuming that we had a great trip. It takes some time before he gives the appropriate reaction. We take comfort with a beer in the bar.
For dinner we go of course again to garden. We had noticed posters with an announcement that on November 13th there is something special. We ask the waiter why the announcements are still there and it turns out that from that date on they serve traditional Kerala food. It is prepared in the garden. Wiesje takes mutton and I go for the beef. The food is very tasteful although a little spicy and with 183 rs still cheaper than the breakfast.
During these days the hotel is prepared for Christmas celebration. In the hall stands already a big tree in the hall, now men enlighten the parking place and the entrance.
We don't have train tickets for Kannur, our next stop, so we drop in an internet café. It is oppressive small and just as we are checking our mail there is powercut and of course no generator. So we do some sight seeing in Thrissur and visit a huge catholic church, something else then the usual temples. The next internet spot has a generator. We try to reserve but the trains to Kannur are fully booked on the day we want to travel. So we must reschedule and we want to take the time for that.
After lunch we return to the hotel and arrange a car for tomorrows trip. We decide about the next part of our itinerary and book the tickets. Then we want to visit the big temple in the centre but as non Hindus we are not allowed to go inside. So we stroll around the small alleys around the centre and within a 100 metres we walk into a farm with a lot of cows.
For dinner we take again Kerala food and make our choice at the cooking place. The cooks explain everything and of course we don't grasp all the courses. It is great fun and we get a good dinner of fish and shrinks. People here have their dinner late, at ten o'clock it is still very lively in the garden.
At eight we leave with another driver, he too speaks nearly a word English. Our goal is the elephant centre in Punnathur Kota, close to the famous temple town Guruvayur. With hands and feet we try to make it clear that we don't want to go there but we fail. The town is full of pilgrims and the driver tries to find a parking place. And we keep telling "no temple, go to elephants". At last he understands it.
Punnathur opens at nine, just at the moment we arrive. More than sixty elephants are sheltered here, between their jobs in the temple ceremonies. The entrance fees are again particular, 25rs for a person, 50 for a camera but 1000 for the video. Trucks unload large piles of cane, this is the feed for the animals.
Some elephants transport the cane to their companions, most of the animals are chained. At the same time it is wash hour. Some elephants are cleaned with hose pipes whilst others use their own trunks or take a bath in a pond. It is nice to be here but it resembles a zoo and after a few hours we return.
We have shoot our first video film and want to watch it on the TV. To our consternation we don't see anything. We have an old tape with us and when we try that one it gives a disturbed picture. Something must be very wrong.
Of course we go for dinner to the garden. After all the meat of the last days we want a vegetarian dinner. As we arrive the family part is fully occupied. We go to the men's part and sit in front of the kitchen. So it is again Kerala food. We did not noticed it before but the waiters here are wearing a dhoti while those in the family part have black trousers and a white shirt.
Kannur 25 - 29 December
Normally we don't reserve a hotel but since it is Christmas and we arrive quit late we call Palmgrove Retreat. They have a room so that is settled. I make a last stroll through the city, it is very quit on the streets.
After lunch we go to the station. It is again a CC class but the seat numbers have gone. We take our chances and at the next stop it appears that we have the wrong seats. It is a rather scenic trip, we ride through large palm woods and cross a lot of rivers. Near Bekul the train goes close to the coast.
Just after six we arrive in Kannur, a police officer helps us to arrange a rickshaw. Palmgrove is outside the city and gives a clumsy impression. First they tell there is no room available but after some talking they find something. It is a small room in the old building, for tomorrow we are promised a better one.
Our Christmas dinner we have on the terrace, an unappetizing sticky rice dish. They don't have coffee and we prepare our own on the veranda.
The bed is very hard and small but we are so tired that we succeed to sleep. In the morning the manager tells that it is not sure that we can change rooms. So we decide to go to the town and look for another hotel. But before that we want to know what causes the video problem. We find a photographer who has knowledge of it and who is very helpful. After a lot of experiments it is clear that the recording part is damaged and that in Kannur it cannot be fixed.
We have more luck with the hotel, in Green Park we get a reasonable room for 850 rs. So it is back to Palmgroove, pack, pay and at twelve o'clock we have moved. The hotel is close to the centre and the railway station, our room is at the street side. We hear loud music. Through the window we see glimpses of a ceremony, we think it is some kind of wedding party.
Kannur is a relative small city and has a tourist bureau in the railway station. The officer is about to leave but takes all the time to help us. He gives us a map of the city and tells that there are boating options and daily Theyyam performances in Parassinikadavu, a 20 km out of town. But also that in a temple opposite our hotel a Theyyam ceremony starts at four o'clock.
The ceremony is in front of a small temple. There are some other tourist but it is clear that we are just bystanders. The main priest or deity is painted with a large coronet, decorated with flowers, on his head. He jumps, dances and accomplishes all kind of rituals, assisted by other priests. All kinds off foods are offered. The whole time there is a deafening music from drums and trumpets. And regular all the priests walk around the temple. By now we realize that we saw this also from our hotel room a few hours ago. The deity sits down and the devotees approach him. After a gift they get a special blessing or personal advice, he takes a lot of time for each individual.
After a while I want to go to the winery, the hotel man advises to take a rickshaw. It is indeed difficult to find, in a back alley with crush-barriers before it. At six it is quiet in the temple and we think the ceremony is finished. But at half past eight there is music again and after our dinner another short service starts. At eleven it is over.
At five the temple music awakes me and I go again to the temple. This time there are two deities. One is the same as yesterday but in a thinner version, the other one is obvious more important. They just put on their coronets and a dozen devotees are already there. The ritual consists again of music, dances and the blessing of food, knifes and peoples. It looks like the upper god has silver balls before his eyes and he cannot see much. The others priests often support him.
The devotees keep coming, some stay whilst others leave and go to their work. I'm the only outsider and rather impressed. Making pictures makes me feel uncomfortable but nobody objects to it.
At seven the deities take their seats and the devotees approach them. A young women whispers a minutes long story to the first god, repeats it by the second one and goes then back again. I'm tired and go to the hotel for an hour of sleep.
At eleven we take a rickshaw to Fort St. Angelo,on the seaside outside the town. Build by the Portuguese, then captured by the Dutch and later by the English. The entrance is free, officers of the tourist police supervise the few visitors. Two of them give us a free guided tour. One is off duty and with him we walk to the taxi stand on the highway.
From there we go to the lighthouse, not much to do there and as we leave we notice it is closed. With another rickshaw we drive to the Payyambal beach. A small entrance fee and then we can walk along the seaside. For lunch we have fired bananas in a stall near the playground.
Today we visit Parassinikadavu. It is mainly a temple and Theyyam centre but according to the tourist office it is also possible to do boat trips. We hope that will be something like the backwaters. We decide to take a bus. A rickshaw brings us to the station and an official points us to the right bus. All seats are occupied but for Wiesje the conductor finds a piece of a bench.
At the next stops a lot people are boarding. Slowly I am pushed backwards and have just one hand to clamp me on a bar and cannot move. And then I'm lucky that I'm taller then the other passengers so I can see something. Wiesje sits with four on a bench and has a child on her lap. Despite the packed crowd the conductor manages to swing himself from front to back and sell tickets. The last part of the road is rather winding and I can hardly stand on my feet. We are glad that after 45 minutes the ride is over.
Via long stairs we descend to the water. The temple is on the bank and since we follow the crowd we walk right into it. But we are not here for a ritual bath and go the other way. It takes some time and efforts but we find the boating place. We hire the only available type, a motorboat, large enough for 10 people. We just make a round over the lake, no small canals and as we navigate to the other side we see a dam. This is just an artificial lake where nothing resembles the backwaters.
We climb the 260 steps to the bus stop and are so happy that this time there are not many passengers. Now we have the opportunity to enjoy the scenery.
Our idea was to spend new year in Kasaragod. But we decide to go to Mangalore, it is larger and perhaps we can fix the video there. So the afternoon we use for planning and book a train for the 30th.
We want to visit the fisherman's village we noticed when we were in St Angelo. The hotel receptionist speaks very little English but seems to understand us. He writes something in Malayan on a scratch of paper and tells we just have to show it to a rickshaw driver. We do so and arrive again in St Angelo, the benefit is that we can now point out our destination.
Ayikkara is the name of the village and there is also a nice museum but today that is closed. An inhabitant points us to the direction of the sea. We walk between the houses until we reach a dike of rocks, clamber over it and reach the tiny beach. We stroll to the end and continue through the village. So close to the city it is a total different world. We watch fishermen who repair their nets and slender through the small streets. At a stall we have a drink and everyone gathers around us, contact is only possible by means of gestures. We continue and every time we are unsure an inhabitant shows us a direction. Sometimes it looks like a dead end but behind the laundry the road continues. We pass a crèche where one woman takes care of a forty children aged from two to five. They sing a Indian version of Brother John and we do the Dutch one. At last we go back to the main road and take a bus to Kannur.
Mangalore 30 December - 2 January 2009
While we pay our hotel the young women behind the desk gives a shy smile, her male colleague explains that she has dreamed about me, it is time that we leave. One of the hotel boys takes our luggage and we walk the station.
The train is old with hard benches. A beggar gives the passengers a written story of his misfortune. After a while he collects them again and hopes of course on some support. The landscape is a mix of agriculture and villages, most of the time we stay close to the sea. At one o'clock we arrive in Mangalore, just half an hour late.
The hotel we want to see is Poonja International. The first rickshaw driver says that we cannot afford that and asks an exorbitant price for the ride. So we take another rickshaw. The hotel is indeed quit expensive with a costumed doorman, not our usual style but we decide to stay.
The reception has no information about Mangalore. The tourist office should be further on in the city at Lighthouse Road. All asking we find the street but no office. In an internet café we print a map of the city and look for some more information. The address is good and tomorrow we give it a further look.
The road before the hotel is a building site. The original houses are demolished and new large concrete flats arise. For dinner we go to a bar behind one of these buildings. The food is good as is the beer and it is even allowed to smoke here.
Wednesday, New Years Eve.
On IM I have asked for the name of a video repair shop, the nearest one is in Hyderabad, so we try it here.
The hotel receptionist directs us to a large electronic shop. They give us the address of another shop, there they redirect us and after a few shops we stand before a small repair company. Too bad it is closed, the neighbour tells it will open in five (Indian) minutes.
In the meantime we continue the search for the tourist office. It turns out that is has moved. We go to a commercial tourist agent, the friendly owner explains that there are not many interesting things to do in Mangalore.
Back to the repair shop, the owner has arrived but cannot repair the video but he calls a colleague. He draws a map on a piece of paper and so we find it. We explain the problems and the man promises it will be fixed by to-morrow.
According to our town-map it is possible to reach the harbour through the winding streets behind the hotel. And we are convinced that there also will be a restaurant to lunch. It is a nice stroll but the alleys lead us to all different directions so it takes quite some time before we reach the harbour. On the quay we see big piles of rocks and sand. Men shovel this in bags, others put these bags on their heads and load the ships. It is extreme heavy work.
We take the local ferry to a peninsula on the other side of the harbour. Here are a lot of small shipyards where workers repair the fishing boats. They also build new ones and use therefore the timber of unrepairable old ones. We still have no lunch so we take some street food. Then we cross the area until we reach the seaside and return. The incoming boats are overloaded with children at the end of the school day.
For the celebrating of New Years Eve the hotel is illuminated. The terrace is prepared for a dinner with flowers and the music is playing. The setting has not our preference and we go to the same restaurant as yesterday. It is not before ten that the first visitors arrive on the terrace. We look down on it from our room, most tables stay empty and it does not look very animated. At midnight there is some fire-work in the town, nothing spectacular. The streets remain quit and half an hour later the party is over.
Thursday, January 1, 2009.
We decide to go to Ullal, a beach roughly five kilometres South of Mangalore. According to the hotel staff is is easy to reach by bus, we must take line 4. A long file of buses leaves slowly the station, we see number four, raise our hand and the driver stops. The bus is not crowded, we makes first a tour across the city. The conductor knows how to whistle and with his mouth he signals the driver when to stop and start again.
Ullal is not far and we step off in the centre. The sea is still far away so we take a rickshaw. The beach is disappointing, small and filthy and with protecting rocks. These are necessary because the currents are strong. Soon the rocks come near the sea and we continue through a small village. At the end of it we are back on the beach where fisherman sell their catch.
The bus goes also to the beach and for the return journey we take it direct from there.
Around six o'clock we pick up the video, it is repaired for 1900 rs. We only have recordings from the Kottayam days.
Our train leaves tonight and we have our room until one o'clock and we stay as long as we can. When we try our video camera we notice that not all the options work, so back to the repair shop. It will be fixed in a few hours. My shoes need to be repaired and for 10 rs a street shoemaker does the job.
With a rickshaw to the station where we store our luggage in the cloak room. By now our video is working again and we make another visit to the harbour. On the peninsula we take a different route. It leads us along a lot of small shipyards and ends in a fishermen's settlement. As we walk back the school childred leave, a large crowd accompanies us, the girls walk with Wiesje, the boys stay with me. On the ferry I see a tear in my trousers and we buy a new one.
The train starts in time but after a while it halts for an hour. Since we are scheduled to arrive at 4.30 it suits us. At eleven we go to sleep, the pressure on my ears tells that we are climbing.
Mysore, 3 - 6 January
At four o'clock I wake up as the train stops somewhere between Mangalore and Mysore. All the personnel is asleep so I cannot ask where we are and we decide to gather our belongings. A good decision since half an hour later we arrive in Mysore. The rickshaw driver asks 50 rs and at this time we don't have the urge to bargain. As always we have a list with the names of some hotels but stupidly we did not check if they have a 24 hours check-in. The first two of our list are unlit, our driver yells, someone comes out and tells that there is no place.
Then we let the driver decide and end in the, a little crumbled, Royal Heritage. A small room without a shower for 950 rs. We take a nap and at eight we are ready to start the day.
We take a rickshaw to the tourist office, my Footprint mentions that they organize a tour to Belur and Halebid. Unfortunately this is not so but there is another tour and we book this one for Monday. Outside we take a rickshaw to the Devaraj Market. The driver offers to show us around so it will become a shopping tour.
The market is large, busy and as always a great place to be. The next stop is the spice market but first we go to a shop where they fabricate and sell all kinds of salutary oils. The owner smears all kinds of oilon our arms. At the end we buy something against flies. One drop should be sufficient for the whole body, we never tried it. After the spice market we visit a luxury gift shop and then we have enough of it and let the driver drop us in the centre. Tomorrow he will pick us up for a tour around the town.
We eat a dosa and return to the hotel. We pass the busy bus station where a hundred rickshaws are lined up, waiting for a ride. Our hotel does not have a restaurant and we have to walk again along the bus station. In the dark it is somewhat scary.
We are hardly surprised that the rickshaw driver does not show up and let the hotel arranges a car. For 950 rs. we make a trip to Somnathpur and Srirangapatna. The driver speaks hardly English but the car-owner does and he is happy to join us.
It is a ride of an hour to Somnathpur. We drive through the country side, it is harvest time. On some fields the harvesting is done by large combines while on other areas the farmers cut the rice by hand and use the road for trashing. The last part of the road is in a terrible condition. The companies which process the teak trees drag the stems behind a car and so remove the asphalt.
The temple of Somnathpur is a beauty with a lot of fine carving especially on the outside. We are lucky to arrive between the visits of two large groups so we have the time to observe everything quietly. By the most monuments the entrance price for a video camera is higher than that for persons. Here it is the opposite, 25 rs, for the camera and 100 for us.
We continue our trip on a road between a lot of rice-fields. The rice is harvested and large herds of sheep are lead into he fields to eat the left-overs. The shepherds carry the newborn lambs on their shoulders.
Because the highway cross the town we cannot notice that Srirangapatna is an island. Everything here is to honour Tipu Sulatan he fought his final battle near this place. We start our visit at the Gumbaz, the tomb that Tipu build for his father and where he himself also is buried.
Next to the summer palace. The inner and the outer sides are beautiful decorated with paintings. At the exterior are large paintings of battle fields. Inside there are portrait galleries, the ceilings of each room have a different pattern. The place where Tipu is supposed to have fallen is marked by a simple stone. For the rest there is not much to see, the remains of the fort are ruined and only restored at a few locations.
We are hungry and our guides drop us at the Amblee resort where we have lunch at the border of the Cauvery river. Half past three we are back in Mysore.
By seven o'clock we walk to the City Palace. The gates and all the buildings are illuminated with thousands of lamps, it looks like a fairytale. After an hour we leave and just at that moment the lights go out, at eight the show is finished.
This night Wiesje has a mild attack of the Delhi belly so we have to cancel our day trip with the tourist organization. After a quit morning we have lunch in the nearby Ritz Hotel. We just walked into it and it looks more pleasant than our hotel, the restaurant has a covered terrace.
Next we go to the palace to visit the interior. The rooms and halls are huge with colourful walls, tiled floors, wood carvings and beautiful processed windows. Especially the reception hall that overlooks the square is impressive. It is crowded with large groups of children. Outside the main palace are temples and museums. Guards whistle in an irritating way since they want that everyone takes the same route.
Our train starts at eleven in the morning, Since our check-in time was half pas five we have to leave by that time or take the room for another full day. It is not negotiable so we pay. Half past one we are in Bangalore and take a, not very tasteful, dosa in the stations restaurant. The train to Hindupur leaves nearly an hour late and with a little more delay we are around seven o'clock in Hindupur.
With a rickshaw we go to hotel Palla Residency and get a large room for 650 rs. After dinner we walk in the streets around the hotel. It is quit, what a relief after the expeditions around the Mysore bus station.
Hindupur, 7 - 9 January
Our hotel serves no breakfast so we go to a small eating in the neighbourhood. Of course they have only Indian food and finally I start to like this type of breakfast. There are just a few tables and chairs, most people eat standing.
Today we have no special visits on our mind and we wander around the town. I like it, no tourists and everyone is minding his own business. People look surprised at the strangers and ignore us. It is not until the school comes out that the standard questions start. Back in the hotel we sit reading and watching on our balcony. We cannot use our electric equipment so I buy a plug adapter. For 15 rs I have the top quality and now we can make or own coffee.
Today we visit Penukonda and at nine o'clock we negotiate with the drivers on the taxi stand near the hotel. First they want 1000 but we get the price down to 800 rs. The driver is a young man who speaks some English.
It is nearly an hour to Penukonda, a very quit, small town. Our first visit is to the Babayya Darga temple which has a combination of Muslim and Hindu characteristics. Wiesje needs a headscarf and is not allowed to enter the sacred places, those are just for men. We are not allowed to take photographs inside. A priest leads a service and we both attend a part of it. A man shows us around but sadly he doesn't speak English. Around the buildings are graves and between this the people live and cook their food.
Outside the town is an enormous statue of the sleeping Kumbhakarna. Two towers are erected to make it possible to see the whole statue, but one stands now in the middle of the trees. The statue is so huge that there is a foot path inside.
Since the Sher Khan mosque is closed we drive through the city gate and along some ancient temples to the Gagan Mahal palace. It is neglected and the obliged guide uses his fantasy when he shows us around. From the palace we see the remainders of the fortification on the hills around. The weather is cloudy and mopish so we don't see it clearly. This is the place where the rulers of Hampi went after their defeat, but it cannot be compared with that. We visit some temples before we drive back, now it is really raining.
We hire the driver for tomorrow to visit Lepakshi. He keeps telling that we also must visit Puttaparthi and as he lowers the price to 1400 rs. we accept it.
In the restaurant in Hindupur the banana leaves lay on the table. Before we can ask anything a tali + banana is served. It tastes fine and is only 30 rs. each. As we have washed our hands the table is already waiting for new guests.
At nine the driver arrives and within half an hour we reach the temple of Lepakshi. A very good English speaking guide has a great knowledge of the temple and explains everything to us. Original there were seven rounds to go before one reaches the sanctuary, nowadays only three are left.
The first one is sober, the walls are build direct on the rocks. The next round is full of sculptures such as a large cobra and a, never completed, dancing hall with statues of numerous gods. There are nice details in the carvings. For instance there is cow with three heads, by covering two of them with your hands each time another image of a normal cow appears.
The last round consists of another dancing hall, gods with their music instruments and wonderful frescoes on the ceiling. In the sanctuary is an image of Veerabhadra and other deities. Priest offer their services and than a peculiar situation arises. We may photograph everything and just as the priest lights the fire my photo card is full and I have to change it. Just outside the town is a huge Nandi.
Through a nice hilly landscape with a lot of weathered rock we drive to Puttaparthi. Shortly before noon we arrive in this centre of the worship of Sai Baba. The railway station, hospital, police station and all the other public buildings are new, have a lot of frills and are sugary painted in rose and white. In a enormous stadium a celebration takes place. I get the impression that a lot of motorbikes are blessed. But then it is twelve o'clock and we must leave the stadium.
Our driver takes us to the ashram for lunch. Their are separate restaurants for men and ladies. I join the queue, take a plate and go to the men who serve the food out of large mess-tins. A little further sits a man at a table, there I must pay 15 rs. I sit down and a few minutes later the driver joins me. Later Wiesje tells she has never seen the cash desk.
We take a walk trough the ashram, their are large apartment buildings where the pilgrims stay. Of course there are also many temples, mainly painted blue and rose. It is extremely clean, white dressed devotees are constantly sweeping the roads.
We walk in the streets around the ashram, everywhere pilgrims amongst them many westerners, and a lot of souvenir shops. It is certainly not our type of town. We need to pee and go back to the ashram to find a toilet. By asking the always friendly volunteers we find it. In the paths long rows of pilgrims are waiting for a darshan. We go to the car and by five o'clock we are back in Hindupur.
We pay the hotel for the three days we stayed here, leave the luggage behind the reception and go to the nearby restaurant for a meal. As we look for a rickshaw to the station our driver sees us and brings is for free. There is hardly anyone at the platforms, by nine our train arrives. Most passengers are already sleeping.
Hyderabad, 10 - 12 January
I sleep well and wake up at five o'clock as the other passengers start to roam round. An hour later we are in Hyderabad. We take a cup of coffee before we go to the rickshaws. The first hotels that we see has only hot bucket water and since we want a shower we end in Rudmini Riviera. For a relative small room we pay 1650 rs, quite expensive compared with the accommodation we usually have.
We refresh ourselves and go to the breakfast buffet, which is included in the hotel price. We recharge the batteries of our cameras and as this is done I leave the plug adapter into the contact. It overheats and causes a short-circuit. The desk-boy sends a mechanic who solves the problem and repairs our plug.
In the room I hear a very irritating hum but Wiesje hears nothing and calls me an exaggerator. I think she is deaf. As we change places we discover that there is a hum except in a small part off the room.
In 1982 we visited Hyderabad with our two teen-age children. After the hectic of Mumbay is was a remote and quit town. I still clearly imagine the four of us in a rickshaw. We drove on a nearly empty road to the Salar Jung Museum as a police officer tried to stop us because of overloading. Our driver ignored him, went into some back-alleys and stopped. He was afraid for the fine and refused to go further. Also he wanted more money, we did not want that and a women came out of her house and assisted us. We were near the museum and walked to it.
What a difference with the present circomstances. We take a rickshaw to the Char Minar and the traffic is hectic. We wander through the bazaar there are a lot of shops for trading embroidery, bracelets and other jewellery. Far more interesting are the all the tiny workshops in the small back alleys. Here they produce all these products and the people are proud to show their skills.
After a lunch consisting of some snacks we walk further and reach the animal market. Many birds such as full coloured chickens, crows, ducks and song-birds. And of course little dogs, rabbits, goats and many other animals.
The rickshaw driver who brings us back is not familiar with our hotel and stops at the other side of the road. He claims that it is a detour of two kilometre to reach the front of the hotel. We step out and cross the double four-lane road; it is just another fine episode of 'how to cross an Indian road'.
As we lay in bed the hum is so loud and gives a disturbing reverberation. We complain at the lobby and get another room. The hotel is strictly vegetarian and we are looking for a non-veg dinner. To find it we walk around the smaller streets behind the hotel. After a minute the heavy traffic is forgotten and it feels like we are in a great village with a local market. But we don't see a good restaurant and walk back to the entrance of the hotel. There we see the neon advertisement of a non-veg restaurant at the other side of the road. It is dark now and we don't want to risk our lives for a piece of meat.
The nights are colder here and for the first time on this journey we need a blanket. We want to do some sight-seeing. The hotel has a travel-desk and for 900 rs. we hire a car.
First we go to the Qutub Shahi tombs, the burial ground for the rulers of Hyderabad and their families. All the important persons have their own tomb, the largest is more than 50 meter high. The other people are buried in more sober graves. Little is left from the original tiles on the tombs but with their simple appearance they are very impressive. A guide lifts the cloth from a coffin so we can see the inscriptions. Then he stands in a corner and sings loudly a prayer so we experience the fantastic echo. It is so peaceful here we enjoy of wandering around with just a few other visitors.
This is rather a contrast with the crowds in the Golconda fort. The citadel is situated on top of a hill, a lot of houses are build between the outer wall and the fort. We go through the entrance gate, look around and then join the numerous visitors who climb the 360 steps to the top, for the most part we walk full in the sun. The stairs lead us along all kind of, partly restored, elements of the complex. Besides the fortifications there are a small mosque and other temples. From the top we have a splendid panorama of Hyderabad, unfortunately it is somewhat hazy.
We did not have a lunch so we buy some chips and biscuits from a stall. There are hardly chairs but we get those of the vendors. We go down at the the others side of the fort. Here we see very well the combination of the natural rocks and the build structures. At the bottom is an exposition with pictures of the fort before and after the restoration. Remarkable a lot of it is reconstructed from little remainders. Tired we go back to the hotel.
Yesterday Wiesje did not eat much of her dinner. The waiter has noticed that and he advises us to take one portion of a local speciality, it should be enough for us both. He is right and it tastes good. On the table next to us sits an Indian family. We think that the new daughter-in-law is introduced and that she is uncomfortable with the situation.
Nothing special to do so first we arrange a car for tomorrow to Bidar, it costs 2250 rs. Then we take a rickshaw to the centre and are dropped in a street with a lot of jewellery shops. These don't interest us and we visit a modern shop centre. Before we can enter the central hall there is a stringent security check. In the centre is an internet café but we don't see it at once. So we walk from one floor to the other and every time we are checked again. At least we find the café and their is a waiting list.
As we walk through the streets we come in a neighbourhood with streets full of shops just for mobiles. New ones as well as second-hands and a lot of repair centres too, it is amazing. We ask for an internet and a young man points us the way, of course he asks 'from which country' and after our reply he answers in Dutch. He is employed by one or other company.
Later in the afternoon we go to the Hussain Sagar Lake. According to the map it is close by and we decide to walk. Soon we are lost in the winding streets and decide to take a taxi. A good decision since it is in a opposite direction but indeed not far. Near the lake is a kind of playground. By the entrance is again a, in our idea overdone, security check. There is a separate row for man and women and we are exhaustive searched. We have even to show that the video camera really operates. The park is just a small playground with a pond and an artificial waterfall. And there is an opportunity for boating. It is again such a situation where everyone wants to take a picture of us. As we want to go nearer to the lake the security agents halt us.
In fifteen minutes we walk back to the hotel. In the dining room celebrates a family the birthday of one of the children. They brought their own cake, all the other guests and the employees get a piece.
Bidar Jan 13 - Jan 17
Today we leave Hyderabad for Bidar with a taxi, it costs 2250 rs. We start at half past eight and the driver, who speaks hardly English, is crossing Hyderabad and inspects a lot of gas stations. we wonder why but at last he finds one where they can check the exhaust gasses of his car.
At eleven we arrive at the border of Karnataka and we go to the control post where I pay the 200 rs. tax. It is just half an hour to Bidar but regular we must show our papers. We have the addresses of a few hotels and stop in hotel Mayura, and get a simple, spacious room with hard beds.
After a short while we go to the city. According to our guidebook and other information it should be a very picturesque city with winding small alleys. But what a disappointment, all the roads are just modernized on a very blunt way. The fronts of the houses are demolished and the inhabitants are building new walls on the remainders. The monumental buildings and the city gates are still there.
Another advantage is that our hotel has a very fine garden restaurant with good food and a beer license.
It is time for the laundry, Wiesje makes the list and I bring it to the counter. First the man and I have a discussion which items are on the list and I have to impersonate a bra and underpants. Then the bag is emptied to see if the numbers match.
Apart from the garden restaurant there is a breakfast/lunch canteen. Later we go to the fort. Bidar is a small town and soon we walk along the huge walls. The entrance is free and through a number of giant gates we enter the fort. Just a few remainders of the buildings are left on the immense court. At many places builders are busy with reconstruction works. It is a dry region but in front of the museum is a garden with grass and hedges.
The outer wall of the enormous fort is more or less intact and just because there are not many buildings inside it is impressive. Due to the reconstruction some of the remainders are closed with fences. We are looking through it and then invited to enter it.
In the afternoon we wander through the inner city, here the charm of the old times is still present. Before we realize it we are again near the fort and have to walk the same way back as this morning.
Tomorrow we fly from Hyderabad and via the hotel we arrange a car for 2100 rs. Then we are going to visit some sites in the outskirts of Bidar. First we walk to the Papnash temple, a small temple in valley one and a half km from the city. On our way back we pass Barid Shahi Park, inside this park are the cenotaphs of the Bidar sultans. Unfortunately it opens at four o'clock. Through the fence we look inside and one of the gardeners, they have just their lunch break, opens the gate for us. The park is well kept and their are statues of shepherds and farmers, so natural that from a distance they look as real people.
In a small restaurant we each take a half portion of biryani with a lot of meat, for us together we pay 30 rs. Our next goal is Nanah Jhera. En route we see a nice park, of course it is closed. But we see other persons inside and we join them, it is a memorial park with a lot of beautiful flowers and trees. Beneath us we see Nanah Jhera, another tomb and it is a firm climb. We are a little tired and decide to take a rickshaw back to the hotel.
After some rest we return to the centre of Bidar and visit some old mosques and the madrassa.
A group children accompanies us. We have to do some internet business,. In the café we get a small paper with the start time of our session. We drop it and it falls under the table. With the light of a cell phone the owner tries to find it, a lot of laughter and no success.
The restaurant is busy, yesterday was a holy day and the inhabitants were not allowed to drink, today they catch up.
Just as we awake the hotel employee calls us and tells that the bill is ready and within half an hour he calls again so I go down and pay. Our driver arrives around ten o'clock. He knows a short cut so we avoid the state border and the tax. After a cup of chai we arrive in Hyderabad the driver takes the by-pass and we arrive at the airport at one o'clock.
It is a modern airport but in the hall where we have to wait before the check-in there are no refreshments available. After two hours hanging around we can proceed and then we discover that we still have to pay airport taxes. One of the employees of Indigo takes care of that. Although our flight-back is too heavy we are allowed to take it with us. In the departure hall we eat another biryani, here is the price 180 rs for one meal.
Around four o'clock we can board, the security control is very stringent. After a smooth flight we land at six in Bhubaneswar. We were here two years ago and return here for another trip with the same travel agent through the tribal belt, this time mostly in Chhattisgarh. With a taxi we go to the hotel and contact our travel agent. It is a pretty surprise to hear that we have the same driver as during our previous itinerary.
This day we keep for 'house-keeping' activities, I transfer the photo-card to a CD, we mail and phone with our relatives and more such things. Around five Pratap, our driver, arrives and we drive through Bhubaneswar to the office of his boss. We go to the outskirts of the town, along broad roads , the sides are decorated with mural paintings and sculptures. In the car we phone to say hello to Babuli, our guide of two years ago.
In the office we make the final arrangements and return to our hotel.
Bhitarkanika, Jan. 18 - Jan. 20
We leave before eight, it is rather foggy and everyone drives full speed. It is good that we have a four-lane road without ghost drivers. The fog has gone when we leave the high-way and proceed to the Chatia Bata temple. Before we visit it we take our breakfast in a small eating-house.
The temple complex is beautiful and there are shrines for many gods and build in a great variety of styles, with fine carvings. From one god you only can see his face through a mirror, otherwise it is to dangerous for the visitors. According to Pratap this temple contains many elements similar to the great temples in Puri and Bhubaneswar, which are not open for non-hindus. It is a relief that the priests not force their services and do not ask for money.
The next stop is Udayagiri and old Buddhist site with monasteries and many stupa's. The entrance is free but a guide is required. He walks quick up the hills. We follow in a slower tempo, it is hot and their is no shadow. First we visit a large stupa and a monastery with a lot of sculptures of Buddha and then go to a terrain with 500 small stupa's, many of them are damaged. A sign says no photographs but the guide says 'no problem'. Another guard protests loudly and we wonder if this is a method to get extra money. We don't know and of course don't pay. Here are also the remainders of another monastery and a deep well.
We proceed to Ratnagiri, another Buddhist sanctuary. Here we have to pay a few rupees for the entrance but there is no guide. The ruins are on top of a steep hill, as far as we can see the surrounding country is flat. Here again we see stupa's, sculptures and monasteries, they have been more restored then in Udayagiri. There is a small museum with the finest sculptures.
We have to return to the high way and continue in the direction of Bhadrak. We cross many rivers, they are nearly dry at this time of the year. The longest bridge is five kilometres over a stream of a few meters.
After Bhadrak we drive on small country roads with many potholes through the tiny villages. In one of these villages we stop for a visit . The walls of the houses are beautiful decorated. Nobody speaks English but everyone is cordial and we may film all the things we want. We have visited often such hamlets and it still
fascinates me but at the other hand it makes me somewhat uncomfortable to film everyone busy with his or hers daily affairs.
It has been a long day in the car and we are glad when we arrive in Chanbali. We sleep in Aranya Nivas, a typical OTDC hotel. The room is rather small with a balcony. There is no hot water and dinner must be ordered in advance.
It is six o'clock and though we are weary we want to stretch our legs and go to the town. There is hardly street light so it is very dark, the traffic is mostly cycles and just a few cars. The market is still going on by the light of candles, oil lamps and electric generators. It is nice but soon we feel so tired that we walk back.
Half past eight is our dinner ready, cold rice with some chicken and shrimps, the coffee is excellent. There is a large family group in the dormitory the children play all over the hotel.
At five o'clock the family is awake and the tumult starts again. Later on we are told that the manager locked them in the dormitory for the night and they start cooking in the morning.
Our intention is to leave to Bhitarkanika at seven-thirty but there is to much fog. Half an hour later the sun starts to shine and we go on board. It is a eight meter boat with a crew of two men, they and Pratap stay with us during the trip.
It stays misty and we are just able to see that we sail on a broad river. Now and then we encounter small fishing boats. After a while the fog returns so we cannot see the shores any more and the skipper throws the anchor. Soon we here another boat and the sight gets better. We have missed a canal and have to go back. We go on full speed since, according to our guides, it is important to be the first visitors. This last week the sanctuary was closed on behalf of the yearly counting of the crocodiles and therefore it is probably that there are many crocodiles on the banks.
At the entrance P. fixes the necessary permits. As soon as we are on our way we see the first crocodile. I estimate that we see more then twenty larger, a meter or three, ones and numerous smaller. Mostly they stay on the bank, sometimes they slip into the water. The rivers we sail are quit wide with muddy shores and woods behind it. On other places the mangrove trees reach out to the water.
Besides the crocodiles we see also a lot of deer, monkeys and birds. We spot four different types of kingfishers. In a small creek we go ashore and walk through the mangrove forest. The bird colonies are empty but we see a big lizard.
Then we go to Dangmal where we will sleep. It is a walk of a quarter to the resort. We have a simple cabin with a solar light. The restaurant is provided with electricity so we can recharge our batteries there. In the resort is also a nursery where they breed the eggs of the crocodiles. When the young ones grow up the go back to the nature. In two ponds stay two larger crocodiles, they lived here to long for a successful return. One is very aggressive.
By a small path through the woods we walk back to the water for our next trip of boating and walking. At five we return and see another water monitor lizard in front of our cabin.
Our solar light gives enough light to read but after one hour it is over and for the rest of the evening we use candles and go to bed early.
While we have breakfast Pratap joins us and tells that there is a problem. We have a permit to visit Ekakula Beach today but the local official orders that we are not allowed to go there and has blot out the permit. We want to talk with him but he is not in his office and we have to wait.
In the meantime we walk to the village behind the resort, it is very small and consists of mud houses. We find that there is a privately owned resort with large tents, electricity, good chairs and hot bucket water. The owner shows us around and it looks better then our place. As we go back the functionary has returned, in English he says that he regrets it and further on he talks mostly with P. As far as I understand the place is prohibited for foreigners due to military reasons.
The only thing to do is to make a similar trip as yesterdays, we let an Indian family join us. Of course we take a different route and the scenery stays fantastic. When we walk back from the landing-stage to the resort we take a different path through the mangrove. We have to cross creeks by small wooden bridges, some are so unstable that they swing when we pass them.
For a lunch of crab and fish we go back to the village, the restaurant is very primitive, as plates we use a piece of a newspaper but the food is good. A new road connection is under construction, it must be ready by the end of this year so things will probably change quickly then.
In the afternoon we make our last trip, it is high tide so there are just a few crocodiles but many deer, birds and a kind of flying fishes.
Northern Orissa, Jan. 21 - Jan. 23
At eight o'clock we depart and after saying goodbye to the last crocodiles we sail back and are at half past ten in Chandali. Pratap lives near Bhadrak and we sleep this night in his house. Before we leave Chandali we buy chocolate and sweets. A short distance before Bhadrak we leave the main road and by some small rural roads we arrive at our drivers place.
There are two houses, an old spacious mud-house and a new one build with concrete, just the first level of this is finished. The whole family, parents, wife, sun and three daughters are waiting for us. We receive a traditional welcome with shell whistle, garlands, and a flower in the hair. And of course we are blessed and sprinkled with rice. All the neighbours are looking. Just as we have got acquainted with everyone we get a great lunch of rice, chicken, vegetables and various curries.
Afterwards we walk with the daughters and their grandfather to the village. Many other children join us. First we visit the school where we talk with the teachers, meanwhile we hand out the sweets. Then we go to all the relatives of the family, the eldest daughter, who speaks good English, calls every older person grandfather, the rest are uncles.
After a while we go back to the house. P. shows his motorbike and one by one we make a ride, visit the neighbours, and talk to other visitors. We talk with each other and we show them some pictures of the Netherlands and take photographs.
The dinner is also excellent and then it is nine o'clock and time to sleep. The parents live in the mud house and the rest of the family sleeps there too for this night. So we have the king-size family bed for our selves.
In the middle of the night we stumble together in the dark to the loo on the backyard and manage to find our bed again. At six we hear rumour and get up. It is light but the temperature is still low. The family wakes up, one by one, the noise we here is caused by the cleaning of the dishes we used yesterday. There is one pump and we use them also for our own morning rituals. After a breakfast of baked potatoes with beans alternated by toast with jam it is time to say goodbye and at eight we leave.
After a while we visit a village where every one is busy with the silk production. The cocoons are brought in from somewhere else but all the processing is done here. Some men are drilling for water. The system is the same as you see in documentaries of the oil industry but here it is done by hand.
Later on we visit a tribal village where the women make plates from sal leaves. They stitch the leaves to each other with small branches. Older ladies greet us by touching our feet, this is normal here but it makes us uncomfortable.
We stay tonight in Keonjhar when we come near it we pass hundreds of lorries which are standing along the road. In the centre of this town two high is a crosspoint of two high-ways and from this side the drivers must wait until six before they may proceed. And now it is four o'clock.
The beds are hard and since the hotel is near the high-way it is very noisy. So it is not a penalty to leave at seven thirty. Just outside Keonjhar is an OTDC hotel where we have breakfast. As soon as we are on the road again we drive into the steep hills. The scenery is beautiful but the road is terrific, big holes, nearly any asphalt and very much traffic since it is a main road between Kolkata and Mumbai.
Also this day we visit some tribal villages and then proceed to Gonasik, one of the sources of the Baitarani river. Quite a difference with the broad river on which we boated to Bhitarkanika. A blind priest plays on a stringed instrument and sings a song. Another priest gives us his blessings.
At six we are in Sambalpur where we stay in the Parantha Niwas just as two years ago.
Chhattisgarh - Amarkantak - Katni, Jan. 24 - Jan 30.
Early in the morning we leave Sambalpur and visit some textile villages along the road before we have breakfast. The roads in Orissa are very bad, in Chhattisgarh they are better, P. speeds our Ambassador sometimes up to nearly 100 km. There are just a few villages here but enormous supplies of rice.
In the afternoon we leave the high-way and drive to Sirpur. Around this place are several old temples and monasteries. First we visit an old brick-temple, a man wants to guide us, we tell him we don't need him but he keeps walking behind us. When we each walk into a different direction he is very confused. The temple is rather damaged but still impressive. Near the city are monasteries and on the other side of the road some temples.
From both sites only remainders are left, a restoration is going on. Sirpur is nicely situated along a river, in the town itself are numerous temples in various styles. They often stand on the inner court of the houses. From here it is still nearly two hours driving to Raipur. A busy industrial town with a lot of traffic and pollution in the air.
We start at 6.30 in the morning and it is quiet in the city. The road is good and after two hours we have covered 150 of today's 400 km. At nine o'clock we stop in Kanker for our breakfast. From here the road climbs with odd hairpins to a plateau with a total different scenery and less agriculture.
At noon we go to Narayanpur and visit the weekly market of the Moria people. Colourful as always and few tourist, at least no westerners. A policeman wants to have a copy of our papers, he agrees that we bring them to the station before we leave.
We stay two hours at the market and drive back to the high-road. A little further on we stop in Kondagaon, a place where the inhabitants make statues of terracotta and iron. It is Sunday and nobody is working so we just look around. We visit a sculptor/writer named Baghel and buy a copper ashtray. Just before Jagdalpur we stop and see how people process sugar-cane on the traditional way into chunks of black sugar..
At 6.30, twelve hours after our start, we arrive in Jagdalpur where we stay in the Rainbow hotel.
It is 26 January, Republic day, there are all kind of festivities and the music wakes us at six. We start at eight o'clock and after a short ride we arrive in Ammaguda, a tribal village of the Madia people. There is a big parade of the younger children, they and their teachers are shouting and singing. We look at the village life, everyone is very welcoming. Everytime as we stop to observe something interesting the inhabitants offer us drinks and a chair. A man harvests the first juice from a palm tree and we get a cup of it.
We stay there a few hours after that we visit the tribal market in Tokopal, it is situated on the other side of Jagdalpur. We arrive here at noon, the market is just beginning and again we enjoy ourselves. Nearby in Mumun is another market and it is also a cock-fighting location. We have to choose between this and the Chitrakoot falls and go to the latter.
To reach them we have to pass Jagdalpur again. The falls are impressive even at this time of the year, a few months after the monsoon. Nearby are some trees with numerous bats. On our way back we stop and visit memorial stones which the tribals erect for their deceased.
A family fabricates bricks, simple with mud from the surface of the earth, water out off a pond and dry them in the sun.
We stayed this night again in Jagdalpur and go to the Thirathgar falls. They are inside the Kanger national park, the ticket-office for the park is in Jagdalpur. It is a short drive and again a beautiful place. We start at the top of the falls and by 350 steps we walk down to the bottom. No visitors just monkeys around us, we do not have time to go further into the park.
After visiting another tribal village we arrive at the Pakhnar market, this one is situated in the woods.
At two o'clock we are back in Jagdalpur and start off to Kanker. En route we buy some small iron statuettes. At seven we arrive in Kanker where we stay in Hotel Lake View.
Again an early start at 6.30 and as so often we have our breakfast along the road. Thirty km before Raipur we visit the nice temple in Rajim. It is situated on the bank of a river that is nearly dry now. It is not allowed to use the camera inside the temple but P. makes some arrangements with the guard and for a small fee this problem is solved. There are many temples in the complex with fine statues and carved doors. A lot of people attend the services. At the end of our visit we have to write something in the guest book. The previous entry is from more then a week earlier.
At the road we see a caravan of nomads with camels carrying the belongings of the group, they are from Gujarat. As we stop for lunch there is another group of them with a large herd of goats.
During the rest of the journey we stop often along the road, whenever there is something interesting to see.
At five o'clock we arrive in Kawardha, a small town rarely visited by tourists, there we stay in Hotel Supreet. This hotel has no restaurant and together with P we walk to an eatery at the roadside. He has washed his clothes and is now in his pyjamas.
Around eight we leave to visit the Mandwa Mahal and Bhoramdeo temples, it is a ride of one hour. The first one is rather small and lies solitary in the landscape. The carvings on the outside are very explicit and erotic. Those on the inner walls are more sophisticated.
Around the Bhoramdeo temple workers build facilities for the tourists. We are the only western visitors.
The temple resembles those of Khajuraho but is not so carefully restored. According to P this is done to give it an more authentic look. Beside it is also an old brick stone temple.
Afterwards we drive in the direction of Khana over a poor mountain road, the scenery is beautiful. First we visit another tribal village and go then to the market in Chilpi.
We go back to Bhoramdeo region, have lunch in a small resort and take a look at the expensive Jungle Retreat. On our way back we visit another village, Rababa I guess. At five we are back in Kawardha, and take a stroll through the town.
Amarkantak-Katni. Jan. 30 - Feb. 3
This morning we leave for Amarkantak. The hotel-owner says it is only a trip of a few hours, P has never been there. We take our time and stop often to look at something interesting. P often asks bystanders about the direction and they tell him it is more the four hours driving. So now we have to hurry to reach our destination. Just after twelve we reach Amarkantak where P's boss reserved a room for us in the MP tourist hotel. With a big hug we say goodbye to the driver who was our fantastic companion for the last weeks.
We store our luggage and go to the village. Amarkantak is very small, it is situated around a temple complex wherein the source of the Narmada river. Around the village it is hilly with forests, sources of other holy rivers and a lot of temples and ashrams. It is situated at an altitude of 1000 meters and the evenings are quit cold. We did not see any foreign tourists. It is rather noisy as a result of the loudspeakers from some of the temples but they are quiet during the frequent long power-cuts.
While we are in the internet-café a man from the hotel arrives and tells that there is a problem with our bookings. It appears that the reservations are made for two weeks earlier and today the hotel is fully booked. The manager has already arranged a room for us in hotel Sarvodaya. This hotel is in the middle of the village, the room is not so nice but it is the only other decent place to stay. As dinner the hotel serves only thalis and we must order them in advance. In the village we do not notice any other nice restaurant. All together we are not so happy.
Next morning our mood is better, we have breakfast in an eatery in front of the hotel. A man which speaks good English introduces himself as Yadoo, the guide. We talk with him about the things that are possible here but we want to think it over and he leaves. Later on we decide to hire him and a car for the next day, the hotel manager arranges this.
In the Narmada river are several weirs and long after the monsoon, there is still water and there are some nice lakes. We walk along the river and cross the dams.
After twelve hectic days with a car we need a quiet day so we don't do too much. Just enjoying the scenery and wander around on a site with fine old temples.
We are still eating our breakfast as the diver arrives. We go to the ashram where Yadoo lives and at half past eight we depart. The car is a four wheel drive and we need that today.
The start is a visit to some of the beautiful lakes that the weirs have created in the Narmada. Then to a very clear pond with the house of three sadhus. Of course there is a story connected with this place and this is true for most of the places we see this day but I don't remember the details.
We have a wonderful day visiting temples, waterfalls, view points and holy men and women. Sometimes we stay close to the road and then we drive and walk deep into the sal woods. Amarkantak is on the edge of the hills and at many points we can look down for a hundred meters.
Near the Kapildhara falls we watch a female sadhu and her assistant, they offer things in a small fire. Rice, sugar cane, and a lot of things we do not recognize. While we sit there the monkeys jump around us and Yadoo smokes a joint. He is 70, lived as a hippy in Goa and smokes weed since that time. Next we visit another string of lakes and small streams.
After lunch we go to a sadhu who lives deep into the forest. He only wears a loincloth and has rubbed his body with ash. He lives in a clay-house with a fire in the middle. We sit a while with him and then we walk deeper into the forest towards another waterfall and view-point. It looks like autumn in Europe since the trees loose their leaves.
We visit some new temples and the source of the Son river. Half six we are back in the hotel, rather tired.
Today there is a great sadhu festival and the whole night there is a lot of noise, singing and drumming. At ten, before the festivities start, we have to leave and go by car to the station in Pendra Road, 30 km away in the valley. As often the train is delayed, this time by an hour.
It is a really slow train and at every stop many people step in with a lot of luggage. There is no catering on the train and we get hungry since we only had a few bananas and biscuits.
When we arrive in Katni, a rickshaw brings us to Pankaj Palace where we get a room and a decent meal with a beer.
By noon we walk to the city. Katni is not a tourist town but we find it a pleasant place to wander around. The road-plan is disorderly and we never know where we are exactly. Many houses have wood- or stone-carvings, there are a lot of small temples and markets, so there is a lot to see.
We have to leave the hotel at seven pm and walk again through the city. Although it is dark it is still very busy. We have dinner and at 10 o'clock we walk to the station, the train is delayed and arrives at 11.30. We have to walk a long distance over the platform to reach our carriage. The platform is full of sleeping people and since they also have a lot of luggage we can hardly pass.
Some guys sleep in our beds, we wake them up and they move. Now we can lay down and leave for Varansi.
Varanasi, 4 - 7 February
I wake up as fellow passengers turn on the light. They get off in Allahabad, it is four o'clock and we go to sleep again. The train is on schedule but now stands still for a long time. The result is two hours delay and we arrive at ten o'clock in Varanasi. We want to stay at the Asi Ghat. Our rickshaw driver asks if we want to see some others hotels. Since we pass them on our way we agree. They are not what we are looking for and so we go to the Temple on the Ganges. There is only one room free and this is not available before five in the evening, we like the hotel and take it.
We have coffee and breakfast on the roof top, from here we can see the Ganges. Although we are a little tired we decide to walk along the ghats. Our previous visit was 3½ years ago but it feels as we never have left the ghats. But what a difference with the last weeks. That period we travelled in less visited areas and now we must get used to all the tourist and all the people offering boats, guides, hash and all the other things.
But it is fantastic to be here again. We saunter onwards to the central Dasasvamedha ghat, halting every time as there is something that attracts our attention. And that is quit often. From the centre we go through the small alleys behind the ghats back to the hotel.
As we arrive our room is ready. It is rather small and situated between the reception and the kitchen, so very noisy. But it is just for one night, tomorrow we transfer to another one. The meal on the roof terrace is suitable for all westerners that means not very spicy.
With a cycle rickshaw we go to central ghat and explore the riverbank further upstream. After the cremation and Scindia ghats we see less tourists. And a few ghats further they and the touts have completely disappeared and only cows, and people cleaning the laundry remain. The steps are less maintained and it all ends as just a normal river bank. At this point we climb by a stair to the city. Here also are a lot of winding small streets with many of temples. We manage to orientate ourselves on the river and so we don't really get lost.
We find a small chai stall and drink outside meanwhile chatting with the neighbours. One of them owns a real "Dutch coffee house", it takes us a while before we realize that he sells weed. The streets become more crowded and suddenly we are in the main-street behind the central ghat. The lunch we take is so spicy that the tears roll out of my eyes.
Back in the hotel our new room is available. For 1200 rs we have a rather specious one with a view on the Ganges. In an internet café we book train tickets for Jhansi and make a walk in the dark along the ghats, it is quiet in the environment of the Asi ghat. Before dinner on the roof we tell the waiter to prepare it on the Indian way and now it is quit tasteful.
At six in the morning I go to the ghats on my own. It is dawn and a little hazy. There are already a lot of people by the river. Many take a boat whilst others take a ritual bath. The spirit so early in the morning is totally different as in broad daylight. Less tourists and more devotees. After a while the sun breaks through the fog. On a very slow way I wander to the Dasasvamedha ghat. Here it is very crowded with bathers and numerous priests conduct their rituals. By now the sales of flower garlands and other offerings starts. After a few hours I get hungry and walk back to the hotel, without stops it takes half an hour.
After our breakfast I take a nap. And then we decide to go to the ghats again. While we watch the ceremonies at the burning ghat I'm nearly run down by a funeral procession. I have a cold and when we wander through the small streets I get exhausted. We are lucky to find the chai shop of yesterday and then take a rickshaw back to the hotel. Time for another nap.
From the hotel we can see the pontoon bridge near the fort and at four we go in that direction. We hope that it is possible to walk along the riverside. But there is no path and we continue along small lanes between the houses and a cattle path. This leads us to the river and there the path ends. The fort is still far away and we decide to go back. We try to walk by another route but come to our sense and take a rickshaw.
It is our last day here and again we use the ghats to walk to the centre. Observing the live alongside the river never bores us. During our visit in 2005 we wandered in a bazaar and now we try to find that again. We both don't remember where it is situated exactly and after some efforts we give up.
Next to the Dasasvamedha ghat is an observatory. We buy a ticket and two boys with long sticks accompany us. On the first floor is a palace with nice painted ceilings. The instruments to observe the firmament are on top of the building. They are of the same type as those in Jaipur but here are not so many and everything stands close to each other. Now it becomes clear why the boys are with us, with their sticks they chase the monkeys away.
At noon, in the full sun we walk back over the ghats, not the most wise thing to do. After lunch we lay down and at four we pay our bill.
A rickshaw brings us to the station, our train towards Jhansi stands there already. There is no pantry car so I look for some food. As a fellow passenger claims that we can order food in the train I just buy some bananas.
The train leaves on time and then it comes true that their is only chai available. Before we stop in Allahabad Wiesje and her cigarettes have made friends with the personnel and one of them goes with her to the food stall. At eleven we have dinner with samosa's and chips. Then I climb in the upper side berth.
Orchha, 8 - 10 February
After a good night sleep we arrive, with a delay of an hour, at 7.30 AM in Jhansi. With another tourist we share a rickshaw to Orchha. The price is fixed on 225 rs. and the driver offers us a cup of chai before we depart. So early in the morning it is still cold .
Since there is a religious festival in Orchha many people are on their way to the town, a lot of them walk. The driver tells he knows a good hotel and since we don't have anything special in mind we decide to inspect it. Our companion goes her own way. For 700 rs we get a large room, a bath with hot water, a balcony and a roof terrace with a splendid view over the town. It takes some time to prepare the breakfast and we chat with some other guests.
In ten minutes we walk to the centre. It is already crowded, besides the devotees there are of course many sadhu's, beggars and traders. Unthinkingly we assume that the ceremony will be at the riverside but as no one else goes that way we return. At noon the ceremonies start, we are in the midst of a crowd and are more or less carried into a temple. To get out against the stream of incoming people is difficult.
We take a lassi in Ramraja and watch the rather strange mixture of pilgrims and tourists walking behind the flag of their guide. And all this in the setting of the impressive monuments. Of course their is a market. The beggars and saddhu's line up and everybody offers them some food. In a corner narrators tell stories standing next to full-coloured posters. After a while we go back to the hotel and take a nap.
In the afternoon we visit the centre again, it is still crowded and for some rest we go to the beautiful Betwa river. We cross it by a small bridge, when a truck rides on it we must save ourselves on the rocks. Near the bridge is a bar where we order a beer. After a while it is served in a large mug, bar means just coffee-bar. This restaurant is just open and the owner does everything to attract customers. A bad thing for him is that the locals use the bank as public toilet. We take a snack and it is dark when we return to our hotel. The ceremonies are still going on though it is not so crowded any more.
Near the hotel we hear drumming and singing. In a house across the hotel women peel green peas. The neighbourhood prepares the wedding of the hotel-keeper's son. We join them for a while. Because of the festivities the restaurant is closed. We go back to the town for dinner again at Ramraja. In temple the priests are still conducting ceremonies, the devotees sit on the market place. The shops close and tired as we are we sleep at ten.
Everybody, including the hotel personnel, is busy to decorate the street for the wedding party. For our breakfast they must interrupt it and the owner is glad as we say we eat outside. In return we get an invitation for the party. We have our breakfast in the eating-house near the river. Some young men take the orders and then leave to buy the ingredients. In the same sequence as the boys return the food is served.
We walk to the chattris which are situated at a picturesque place near the river. Nearly all cenotaphs are restored and surrounded by a wall with a closed gate. Just one building near the river we can visit, around it the restoration continues. Then we wander around the walls of the other monuments and just as we disappointed want to leave a guard arrives. For 100 rs he opens the gates and we can visit five of these wonderful memorials. Through a small stairway in the walls of one of them I climb to to the top and enjoy the great views of the environment. When we want to leave the guard opens another gate and we visit another grave. By noon we are back in the hotel.
In the afternoon we want to visit the Lakshmi Temple, situated on the other side of our hotel. It is nearly abandoned. Only a flute playing monk, a market woman and a guide are there. The guide explains that we need a ticket and that the selling point is at the fort. That ticket also covers the entrance for this morning's chattris.
Back at the hotel the wedding festival starts. The guests arrive and we get all kind of snacks. In a nearby inner court 10 man prepare the dinner. Everyone contributes money as a wedding gift, and this is carefully administrated. Of course we too give a contribution, an uneven amount the bring bliss. My gift is a little elaborate since I don't see through that other people ask for a change.
As always only men are outside, the woman stay in the house. Wiesje visits them and comes back with her feet painted red with henna. The story behind it is that we have now seven other lives together.
Later there is a self-served buffet with delicious food. It is served on clay plates and cups. Besides the festival tent a couple washes these dishes non stop. A cow, goats and dogs eat the remainders. At this time the women join the party. By ten the first guests leave and we go to our room.
Again no breakfast service this morning so once more we go to Ramraja, as regular customers the owner nearly exults when we enter.
The nearby fort-palace is as nearly always an overwhelming bunch of palaces and ruins inside the walls of the fortification. We don't hire a guide but by one of the palaces a warder joins us. He has keys and opens the doors of a lot of rooms with frescoes. These are very damaged but the remaining fragments witness their original beauty. The palaces itself are enormous and high. The guide leads me through narrow stairs to the top. The panorama from here is great but their is nearly a balustrade and since high locations are not my speciality I'm glad to be back on the ground again. Together we observe the other parts of the fort. Everywhere are notice boards but the origin of some of the remainders is so vague that the boards give more then one explanation. But that does have any influence on the impressive of this site.
After a few hours and a lassi we go to the great temple, also called Ram Raja. Originally build as a palace it is again an enormous building, without much decoration. A self-appointee guide takes me via a stair in the wall to the next floor. This stair is really scaring, it is complete dark and some steps are missing. I don't climb to the higher floors.
For lunch we go to the eating-house at the river but since they serve nothing it is again Ramraja. There are a lot of restaurants in this street, one even offering 'Dutch food' something as an vegetarian hotchpotch, but we like Ramraja the most.
We stay some time in our hotel and for 1500 rs we arrange a car to Chanderi. Then we walk to the Lakshmi temple, the priest plays on his flute as we climb the stairs. With a guide we enter the temple and then the teamwork between him and the priest becomes clear. As new visitors arrive the latter plays a special tune and so the guides knows that new customers arrive. Our guide speaks hardly English but we don't bother since we can admire the paintings on the ceiling without explanation.
Around seven we sit again in the garden of our favourite restaurant. It is busy tonight and we sit on one of the long tables near the open fire and have a beer. At eight the sound and light show in the fort starts and we see glimpses of it. We have ordered dinner but with so many guests it takes a while and then a thunderstorm starts. Everyone gathers insides or, as we, under a shed. With a parasol above the fires the cooking continues. Of course the unavoidable power-cut takes place and an worn-out generator is started. Our dinner arrives, the rain stops and soon the garden is ready for new arriving guests. As we go back to the hotel we encounter some wedding processions.
From Orchha to Mandu. Feb 11 - Feb 19
Wednesday 11 February
The manager of the Shri Mahant hotel has arranged a car for our journey from Orchha to Chanderi. We leave at half past ten, we have to drive back to Jhansi and then we follow the high-way to Bhopal. After a while we take a small road through a rocky area. Despite the barren ground there is agriculture possible since there are many irrigation canals. Later on we stop at the big artificial lake that feeds them. From there the last part of the trip goes through the hills and over a new road we arrive at Chanderi.
There are two hotels in this city. One is owned by the tourist organisation and is a few kilometres from the town. We go to the other, Shree Kunj that is situated near the centre. The old part of the hotel is run down but they just opened a new wing and we get a room for 900 rs. We order a lunch, they serve just one dish it is take it or leave it. The cook and the waiter keep talking with us while we eat, and naturally a power-cut starts.
Afterwards we walk through the city, Chanderi is a nice small but lively town. Since it is not a tourist centre we draw a lot of attention but on a well-mannered way. Even the children don't bother us with their standard questions and of course there are no touts. And the most amazing thing is that we hardly see litter in the streets. On the hill above the town is the fort, the city walls are for a part intact and there are a lot of old monuments. It is a good place to visit and we are glad that we decided to come here.
Back in the hotel the power-cut is over but there are still problems with the electricity. Every time when they switch it on there is a short-circuiting. It takes some time but then it works. Our room has also his shortcomings. When we want to take a shower the hosepipe breaks down and the TV is not working. The personnel, young boys, do hardly speak English but they repair everything and act as it is a show.
For our dinner we go to a garden restaurant. The menu is in Hindi but a young man translates it for us. The food is fine. Since we have so little information about Chanderi we decide to take a guide for the coming days. The hotel manager promises to arrange one for us for tomorrow. Before we are back in our room a hotelboy asks if we want to hire a friend of him as guide.
As breakfast we have toast with a lot of fruit. In front of the hotel the guide, the one arranged by the manager, waits for us. Muzaffar, or Kalebhai as everyone calls him, speaks fluent English and makes a reliable impression. Since we know little about the things to do we let him make the program. This morning a heritage walk through the city and then one and a half day with a car to visit the surroundings of the Chanderi.
And off we go. Kalebhai is very proud of his city. He is the local historian and knows a lot of it and tells about it in a way that infects us too. Many of the old buildings are under restoration. There are governmental funds for this and since there is a deadline a lot of work is in progress. We walk through the narrow streets and visit a wide variety of gates, palaces and a big mosque.
Before we are allowed to enter a Jain temple we have to wash our feet and undo ourselves from all leather and modern equipments. Inside we see a lot of statues and K. explains the Jainism to us. When we leave two priest arrive, totally naked and they use peacock feathers to clean the streets before their feet.
Our guide knows many inhabitants and regular we stop for a chat and chai. After visiting more palaces we leave the city and go to a lake with some fine statues en temples around it.
After lunch we go with the car for a trip, a friend of K. joins us. Chanderi is situated in a valley surrounded by hills, on top of which the old defence walls are situated. We visit one of the gates before we go to an old hunting palace. It is nice to have the company of two historians who disagree about a lot of the history.
There is a another Jain temple with a giant statue carved out of the rocks. In the historical museum are a lot of things that Kalebhai had found. He does not get any credits for this and is not amused, to put it mildly, about this.
We drive further and after a while we leave the road. Through the barren land we go to a river. In the distance the crocodiles lie in the sun. But we are here for the prehistoric rock paintings. We climb down and under the inclined rocks are shallow caves with a lot of paintings. Probable they are not the best paintings in the world but it is unmistakable to recognize what they imagine. The most impressive is that we may visit this without any guards and as a bonus their is a spectacular view over the river. Through a small canyon we climb to the surface.
At six we are back in Chanderi where we sit around the camp fire before the hotel. K. performs also the art of calligraphy and writes our names in Hindi and Urdu (see my Avatar). Kalebhai has invited us for dinner so we walk with him to his house. He lives in a part of the city with a lot of weavers and minimal street lights. K's wife and daughter have prepared the food but just the three of us eat it on the roof of his house. It tastes fantastic and in the meantime our host tells us his family and personal history. With the light of his mobile phone K escorts us back to the main road.
In front of the hotel the personnel and some guest still gather around the fire. We don't want to join and instead order a beer in our room. It takes four man to bring it and really we drink just a few bottles.
Today after an Indian breakfast we have to change to another room. The boys move our luggage with a lot of fuss.
Today we make another car trip with Kalebhai. At nine we leave to visit the Koshak Mahal a large monument erected to remember a victory and used as relief work for the inhabitants. From the original 7 floors only 3½ are left.
Our next goal is a group of a thousand years old temples. We stop near some houses, walk through the fields and cross the river before we reach them. One is just behind a farm, a little further on stands a group. The temples are small and provisional restored, the carvings are reasonable intact. A local guide joins us and we drive cross the country to two abandoned temples. Two priest live near them in a hut and they prepare chai, of course we make pictures. According to K. they have never seen a digital camera. They roar with laughter as they see the picture of themselves together with my wife.
We continue with a visit to the Jain sanctuary of Thruvanjo. The more then 24 white painted temples contain a lot of statues, but we see hardly the differences between them.
From here it is a journey of an hour to Kadwaya, K. calls this place little Khujaraho. The temples are scattered around the village and are smaller and have less sculptures then those in Khajuraho, but they are older. By each of them is a guard and every time we have to write something in the guest book. There are just a few westerners who did the same in the past months. All together it is impressing, In the meantime Kalebhai attends his Friday service in a mosque.
Our last stop is at a very curious place. After the Muslims captured the place they converted the old Hindu temple into a mosque. When the Hindu rulers returned it became a Hindu temple again. Next to it is a monastery, inside it is very dark so there are a lot of bats. In the nearby school we drink chai with the teachers. In the meantime the schoolboys rattle off their lessons while one of them stands in front. Even when we visit the boys continue.
Half past five we are back at the hotel and have to pay the car rent of 1620 rs. for two days. The rest is 'as you please'. Sunday they will bring us to Lalitpur.
As usual the hotel staff sits around the camp fire and we join them before we have dinner.
We have a quiet start and then we go to the fort. It is a heavy climb with a lot of stairs and at the end a steep path but the panorama is beautiful. From the old fort only parts of the outer wall are original as are some of the buildings, the rest is new. There is also a monument for a massive jauhar that took place when Babur conquered the fort, Kalebhai told us that story yesterday.
Via another road we return to the town and wander through a weaver district. Today it is market day, nice as ever. A long row people with jerry cans waits until they can buy there ration of two litre oil. In the evening we make a stroll outside Chanderi. Also here it is quiet and clean with a lot off ruins.
Back in the hotel the dining room is closed so we take dinner on our room. I smash a beer glass and ask for a new one. Due to the language problems three man come to clean our room.
Kalebhai has to pick up tourists in Lalitpur this afternoon. Since this is also our destination we drive with him and have the change to visit Deogarh. At seven we start and after breakfast in a roadside restaurant we visit the remainders of the Vishnu temple, dated around the fifth century. There is not much left of the temple but the sculptures of Vishnu are fantastic.
On the way to our next stop, a large complex of Jain temples, we pass the same naked priests that we saw in Chanderi. One is accompanied with followers who carry water and other things for him, the other, a well fed man, walks alone. We have seen a lot of Jain temples in the last past days but these are, in my opinion, the best with a lot of temples and statues in different styles. According to K there are more then 3000 statues of the Jain saints.
Behind the temple are the remainders of the fort situated in a protected nature area. And after a while we overlook the river. We walk down the stairs to the banks, there are a lot of caves where monks used to live.
Back in Lalitpur we get a room for 850 rs. in hotel Ashoka. After a mediocre lunch Kalebhai and the driver leave. This part of Lalitpur, near the station, is situated apart from the city and there is not much to see. But there is an ATM and as we ask for internet some students take us to their school, I don't think it is official. Later on we discovered that we could also use the computer in the hotel.
Our train to Khandwa is due to leave at half past eight in the morning. When we pay the bill the hotel owner informs us that the train has a delay of an hour. We stay a while in the lobby but as everyone is staring at us we decide to walk to the station. Halfway I discover that I still have the room-key, a speciality of me, and return. The station is a walk of just five minutes. We sit down on a bench a have a sluggish conversation with a teacher who hardly speaks English.
Two and a half hour late the train arrives. It is eleven in the morning and most of the passengers have their curtains still closed. We share our compartment with three older men, regretful we can not communicate with them. We can hardly see anything through our window. The scenery between Bhopal and Itarsi is nice but for the rest not very stunning. So altogether it is a rather boring trip and we are glad when we arrive in Khandwa at half past seven.
We take a rickshaw to the Grand Hotel, a somewhat old but very clean place with a charming atmosphere. Later the owner tells us that it original was a part of an English army camp. I guess we sleep in the officers quarters. For 700 rs we have a room with a bathroom and a room for the luggage. The owners son runs the place, speaks fluent English and turns out to be a great host.
Our original plan was to stay one day in Khandwa and arrange a car for the trip to Mandu, eventually with a stop in Maheswarh. But according to Kalebhai we should visit Burhanpur. After a fine dinner we discuss our plans with the owner and his son. They too say that Burhanpur is worth a visit so we decide to go for it. They will arrange the car and also for the trip to Mandu, besides they offer to make a hotel reservation for us in that place.
Despite the harsh beds we have a good night. We make our definitive plan for the next days; to-morrow a day-trip to Burhanpur and then in one day to Mandu.
Our room is pretty and cool but as we walk outside it is muggy and hot. As so often we wander through the town and after half an hour we reach the centre. It is a laid back place with a lot of houses with carvings instead of modern concrete buildings. For an Indian city there are remarkable many trees. As transport we see more horse rickshaws then the cycle ones. At least for a day it is nice to be here.
After the lunch we go back to our room. This morning we brought our laundry and it is back already, the only thing is that we still have to dry most of it. The manager arranges a car for the next two days for 3300 rs. and he tries to find a hotel in Mandu but until now without success. We have a fine dinner in the garden, mainly a big lawn used for parties.
At eight a Suzuki Maruti with a driver who speaks hardly English stands in front of the hotel and we leave. The first hour we drive through an uninspiring agriculture area than it changes into a wild hill country. Already from a big distance we see a fort on top of one of the mountains. When we are near it the driver stops at a chai stall and I must follow him. Inside are pictures of the fort and other monuments. And it becomes clear he wants to know if we wish to visit the fort. I nod and we go.
Via a very bad road we go to the Asirgarh fort. It is five kilometres on a rocky steep path with hairpins. Sometimes the road is so narrow that the driver has to fold in the mirror and at other moments it goes alongside the abyss. We are happy that we only encounter a motorbike. They turn around and follow us to have a close look at these crazy tourists. In the front of the fort stands a big tree where we park the car. There we notice that it is also possible to reach the fort by a footpath, walking in the burning sun.
As many of the Indian forts it covers an enormous range. The entrance gate and walls are reasonably kept as are the mosque and a big stepwell. These parts have undergone a minor restoration, the rest of the compound looks as it was just discovered. Some weeks ago we were at the Golconda fort near Hyderbad, there were pictures showing how it looked before the rebuilding. Here we see that situation in reality. We walk around for quite a time, one of the things that amazes us is the large amount of wells and ponds still filled with water. The view over the surrounding landscape and the dinky-toy cars on the high-road are also spectacular. The way down towards that road takes us twenty minutes.
Twelve o'clock we are in Burhanpur. First we drive along the high city-walls and then through the centre of this busy town. The streets are small and winding and often we stand still in a traffic jam. From what we see it looks like a fine place to stay for a day or two but we have only a few hours. We stop at the palace near the river, the Hamman in the garden is nice with beautiful tiles. On the riverside stand imposing ruins and, as so often, under reconstructions. Because of that large parts are not accessible. There is a lot information about other sights but most of them are 20 or more kilometres out of town so we decide not to visit them. This morning, when I looked at the pictures of the fort, there were also some off a small palace on the other side of the main road and we decide to visit that on our way back.
But first it is time for lunch there is a hotel, Ambar, with chalets and a large garden restaurant. But it is so hot that we take our lunch inside.
Near the fort we take a country road and after visiting a temple we see in the middle of nowhere a charming small palace called Moti Mahal. The story is that it was erected for the mistress of a ruler of the fort. You can see the fort from here and so the lovers could stare at each other. Two men who live in a cabin nearby guide us around, via a stair on the outside we reach the second floor. We must be careful for there are bee nest all over the place and they seem to be very aggressive. We visit the hut of the men and then we leave. Half past four we are back in Khandwa.
The manager informs us that he has reserved a room for us in hotel Maharaja in Mandu so we leave tomorrow.
Thursday 19 February
The hotel boys sleep in the lobby and when our alarm goes off at five o'clock we hear the hotel telephone. The owner wakes his personnel so we can have breakfast. The driver wanted to start at six but he is half an hour late. He needs a cup of chai and refuel the car before we leave, the benefit of this is that it is dawn when we are out of the town.
Eight o'clock we arrive in Omkareshwar, it is still quit and we can drive up to the parking place near the foot bridge. At this time of the day most of the shops are closed and just a few beggars have taken there place on the bridge. But there are a lot of monkeys and one grips the shawl of a lady, her companions try to take it back but the monkey is to fast.
It is a real pilgrims place. While the boatsmen bail the water out of there old boats, the first pilgrims take their ritual bath. We try to walk along the river but the stairs bring us back to the main street with all the shops that are standard in this type of towns. All the roads and stairways lead us to the main temple in which we are not really interested. If it is due to the early time, the lot of litter in the town, to much spirituality, or something else I don't know, but it is not our place. Of course you can walk around the island but we have no time to do that. After an hour we walk back to the car while the stream of pilgrims begins to arrive.
At eleven we arrive in Maheshwar another river town with a fort, palace and temples. We drive through the city and stop near the small palace. It is now a museum dedicated to a princess and not so interesting, neither is the small temple behind it. From the fort around the palace we have as always a fantastic panorama over the river. Of course also here a lot of people their ritual bath. But in contrast with Omkareshwar we like the atmosphere here. We descend the stairs, alongside it are factories with many sari weavers. Half way down there are some nice temples and then we reach the riverbank. We walk up and down the ghats and sit a while in the shadow. On the river the regular mix of boats and baths is going on. A bride accompanied by a group of women performs all kinds of rituals, she gives the impression that she is not really happy with it.
By this time we are hungry and walk back to the car. The chauffeur does not know a restaurant in the city so we drive on and stop somewhere at the highway. The first place has more flies then guests but on the other side of the road there is a better one.
We drive on the highway that leads to Indore and a twenty five kilometres before we reach it we take an exit into a small country road. The journey continues through small villages in a hilly landscape. Each time as the diver sees someone he asks if we are going in the right direction. Then we make a turn and go directly into the mountains. For the most part the road is very poor but at some places it is renewed. From the high road to Mandu is less then an hour but we have the impression of a much longer trip.
Our reservation is in the Maharaja hotel, this is very basic and we decide to try our luck elsewhere. The Malwa Resort of the MPTDC looks good and they have a room available, but when we tell that we will stay four nights there is a problem. The reservations are made centrally and they have to contact the headquarters. After a lot of telephone calls we hear that we can stay.
It is four o'clock as we walk to the small village and immediate observe some of the famous buildings. There is an internet connection but it is so slow that it is quicker to deliver the mail ourselves. We just look around a little before we go back to the hotel.
Of course then there is a powercut and with a candle we sit on our balcony drinking a beer. At seven the generator starts and we are able to take a shower. We have to order dinner in advance, the manager is also the cook.
Mandu, 20-22 February
As mentioned by so many people Mandu is a fantastic place to be. Maybe it is a little difficult to get there but for us it was worth the effort. It is great to wander around and visit the monuments.
This morning we walk to the village and visit the Jami Masjid, Hoshang Tomb and other monuments in the centre. Then it is back to the hotel for lunch and the afternoon we spend on the balcony to relax. It is quiet in the hotel since we are the only guests. It is not before four o'clock that there is electricity available.
I go out for a walk and when I return there is again a powercut. The generator is not working so we sit with the light of a candle. Dinner we take at hotel Rupmati. There is light and we have a delightful meal on the terrace. As we walk back the contrast with the dark MTDC hotel is enormous. The managers excuse for not starting the generator is that we are the only guests and even went out for dinner. My wife gets a little angry and that helps.
It may be true hat the best way to explore Mandu is by cycle but we had observed the distances between the various sites. We are in our mid sixties and decided to do it the easy way and hired a car for 700 rs.
Popi, the driver, arrives at nine with his Suzuki Marata,
We start at Rupmatis Pavilion on the south end of Mandu. From the parking place it is still quit a climb to the edge of the plateau but from there we have a marvellous view over the plains. We visit the Pavilion and walk back to the car, drive to the next ruin and so we explore this great area. Near the Sagar Talao lake is an echo point where Popi loudly shouts my name.
After the lunch we visit the Royal Enclave. The restored Jahaz Mahal Palace and the ruins behind it are one of my favourites. In the afternoon we end our trip at the Delhi gate in the north of Mandu. By then it is half past three. We make an arrangement with Popi to drive us to Ujjain for 1600 rs. Before we return to the hotel we visit the market.
Although there are more rooms occupied in the hotel they don't start the generator before seven o'clock. We meet our neighbours, two friends, they are here for the weekend. With the four of us we have diner at Rupmati. It is a pleasant evening, we are entertained by a school class, they are rehearsing a revue and do musical chairs.
Today we do nothing special and after breakfast we sit and read on our gallery. At eleven our neighbours are coming back, they have already completed quite a program. After some small talk we say goodbye since they have to leave.
A tourist bus stops at the restaurant for lunch, when we want to have ours it is such a mess that we decide to eat in the village. Later on I wander for the last time through the fields around the hotel. It is indeed amazing that everywhere you look there are big and small remainders of old buildings.
Tonight we have dinner in the restaurant of our hotel. I want chicken but the meat is frozen to the freezer. With a lot of effort the cook liberates the animal. The other days the manager prepared the food, today there is a genuine cook, he uses to much salt to make the dinner eatable. When we order coffee there is one cup for the both of us.
Then it is time to pay the bill. I must check the vouchers, but they are written in Hindi, so that makes no sense. There is a lot of laughter when the men understand this. Since we are not very satisfied with the hotel, to put it mildly, we want to fill a complaint form but there is only a guest book.
Ujjain 23 - 24 February
We arise at six, it is still dark and no electricity. Yesterday we bought some bread and jam and take that as breakfast. It is a pleasant surprise that Popi arrives at seven sharp, he has a driver with him. Our backpacks go on the roof-rack and off we go.
The road to the north is by far not so spectacular as the one by which we arrived in Mandu. En route we see large herds of sheep and a group nomads with all their belongings on donkeys. The driver knows his way and we pass Indore through the outskirts and we are at half past ten in Ujjain. We stay in hotel Ashray, the only room left is a large AC room for 1200 rs.
The day passes with a visit to the internet café, lunch and reading. At five we take a rickshaw to the Ramghat. The ride goes criss cross through the town, mostly via very narrow streets, when the driver stops we are a hundred metre from the river.
On forehand I had the idea we would arrive in a smaller version Varanasi but the impression is totally different and the ghat has his own characteristics. The Shipra river is relative small and we cross it by a foot-bridge. As we look around a young man approaches us and explains that there is a special ceremony tonight. He had come just for this event, the cheap hostels are completely full so he has to spend the night at the station. After a while talking we continue and walk on the quit side of the river. It is not stretched out and over the next bridge we cross the river again and walk back. On this side are numerous small temples.
We sit down and wait for the ceremonies to start. At half past six as the daylight vanished it begins. On both sides of the river people sing and make music. As it darkens the priests light the torches and accomplish their rituals. It ends when it is completely dark. The fountains in the river are lightened and everywhere people conduct their own services.
We walk around for quit a time before we take a rickshaw back to the hotel.
We have promised to send a birthday card to the son of our Orissa driver. It is not easy to find one but we succeed. For a stamp we have to go to the post office in the clock-tower. The counters are on the street side, for the counter there are a ladies and a men's row. Since the first one is the shortest Wiesje joins it.
In the meantime I observe the large tempos which are used as local transport. We ask which one will bring us to the bazaar.
After a while the car departs, a driver, a ticket seller and fourteen passengers, the price is 4 rs. We reach the bazaar and wander around the picturesque narrow streets. So we arrive in front of the large temple. An enormous long row is waiting to enter, we don't join it and walk further to the ghats.
We are curious about where the station is so we take a tempo to there and go with another one back to the clock-tower and from there we walk to the hotel.
Jhalawar 25 feb - 2 March
Around eight we are at the station, the train halts there for half an hour and is just arriving. We travel CC-class and then it is always more difficult to store our back-packs. When I put mine in the net it slips out of my hand and I can just grab it before it crushes an older lady.
After a smooth trip we arrive at half past eleven in Ramganj Mandi. We hope to find a taxi for the last 30 km. but there is just a rickshaw. The driver does not want to drive to Jhalawar and brings us to the bus stop in the centre of the town. According to him there are no taxis here.
After a few minutes another rickshaw driver comes along and he takes us for 300 rs. to our destination.
Around Ramganj Mandi are stone and marble mines, this results in a terrific scenery and road conditions. The last part of the journey this improves and after an hour we arrive in Jhalawar. We stop at the RSTDC hotel in the town but here and in the other hotel in town we can only stay for one night. After that all is complete since there is a large wedding party.
The RSTDC resort is a little above our normal budget but since it is off-season we stay for a few nights we get a discount. For 1340 rs. we have a nice cottage where we can sit outside in the shadow. Around five o'clock I walk in fifteen minutes to the town. Jhalawar is a nice, not spectacular, quit place. The minus point is the, even for India, enormous quantity of litter in the streets.
During my walk I look without success for a beer-shop. I ask a rickshaw driver, he does not speak English but with the help of a lot of bystanders I can make myself clear. We drive back the part of the town close to the resort and there the diver drops me, here the shop must be. I don't see it and ask again. A man brings me to a shabby concrete building.
I walk back and after all these efforts the beer tastes good. Tomorrow we want to visit Jhalarapatan a small neighbouring town. We ask the manager how we can reach it and he offers to bring us.
At half past nine we leave and Mr Singh drops us near the Sun temple in Jhalarapatan. First we wander around in this very charming town. The city walls are still intact and there are no other tourists and the inhabitants are very welcoming..
We stand opposite a large building and cannot figure out the function of it. Some men stand outside and tell us that it is the high school, they are the teachers. Before we realize it we sit with a large group in the principals office. He must sign countless salary slips in the meantime we talk with the English teachers. Other teachers are taking pictures. Just as we want to leave the chai and biscuits arrive.
Outside a town-gate is a small temple, the people who live there invite us immediately for a visit. It is dark inside but the lights are turned on so we can use our video. Meanwhile a devotee continues with his prayers.
A little further is a wedding party inside a large tent. Today they celebrate the ring-ceremony and we must join them, meet the groom and dance with the male guests. They invite us to stay but we decide to move on provided with a blessed coconut. .
So we arrive at the lake and the nearby herbal garden, of course there a temples inside it besides many plants and a lot of bee nests. Near the lake is a restaurant where we have lunch. After all the time in India we are still shocked when the waiters dump the plastic litter into the lake.
Now it is time to visit the Sun temple, on our way an Indian boy taps at my shoulder, behind him is Nicole, a young woman from Germany. She works here as a volunteer and we join them to visit the house where she and the other volunteers live. After chat and chai we leave our coconut there and go again to the Sun temple, which by now is closed. One of the volunteers had pointed out the way to the Jain temple Shatinath. Outside are some big elephants and inside it is decorated with beautiful murals. And old lady claims she is the guide and walks around with us, the money disappears of course in her pocket.
Since the Sun temple is still closed we call Mr Singh and go back to our cottage. When we sit outside our neighbour joins us for a drink. Delphine is a French lady who speaks fluent Dutch since she lived in Amsterdam for some years. We have a lively conversation and have dinner together.
We are somewhat tired of travelling and decide to stay another two days even if it means that we probably have to skip Jaisalmer.
Although there is no train station in Jhalawar there is a ticket office in the palace. Because the only internet café we have seen does not look so adequate we decide to book our tickets in that office. Without a problem we get tickets to Jaipur on Monday and afterwards in the evening to Bikaner. Then we go to the internet to cancel the old tickets. It looks chaotic but we are astonished about the fast connection.
The city palace is nowadays used by the court of law. Inside there should be fine mural paintings. I have read that the people who work there are willing to show the paintings. So we ask a lawyer and he guides us, but unfortunately the entrance door is locked and we are not allowed to enter through an office. The three of us walk to the other side of the building, ask again and now three more men accompany us. One of them is a prosecutor and he takes the lead. He tries some doors, all of them closed and so we are again in front of the office. After some small talk we may enter. Behind the office is an archive, the dossiers are wrapped in textiles and piled up.
We get an extensive tour along the great paintings. We go from room to room through dark corridors and stairs by the light of the cell phones. In the rooms the men open the shutters and so we can admire everything. Afterwards the prosecutor takes us to a nice park with old armoury.
Today we visit Gagron fort. It is about 12 kilometre and according to Mr Singh we can cycle it. There are two bikes at the resort and we may use them for free. The first one is fine and nearly new, the other one is old an has a nearly flat tire. Besides the chain is too long and does not work proper, so this bike is useless. For 50 rs we hire the bike one off the staff members and depart.
Afraid to get lost we ask at every crosspoint which road leads to the fort. The track is reasonable and not too hilly, just on two slopes we need to walk. Needless to say that we draw a lot of attention. It is still hot, above 30 degrees. So we are glad that after an hour we reach the fort and sit down in a chai stall.
We leave our bikes there and walk through the village to the fort.
We miss the entrance and walk alongside the restored wall until we reach the river. The fort lies in a curve of this river and from the bridge we have a great view. We walk back to the village and take another path to the gate. Inside the fort there is also lot of restoration going on. We explore the whole site until we are at the end and look down on the river.
After a while we walk back to the chai stall and return to the resort. We arrive just in time for the lunch.
For tomorrow we need a taxi to Ramganj Mandi , we ask Singh and he will take care of that. Now this problem is solved we once more go to the city. The temperature is above 35 degrees, no wonder that we find it quit hot these last days.
In the palaces is also an old theatre but it is closed and we decide to visit the museum. While we are looking for it we meet again the prosecutor, the man who showed us the paintings. According to him the museum is also closed. He is on his way to a private performance of traditional dances and we join him.
It takes at least an hour before it starts and as someone else says that the museum is open the three of us go there. The collection consists fragments of statues, and parts of collections of the former ruler such as shells, paintings and miniatures. On the first floor is the public library. The librarian shows us around and explains the way people can lend a book. There is also a large collection of old English books.
We go back to the dance but it is still not clear when it starts and as we hear that performance goes on for more than two hours we decide to leave.
On the way back I have a hair-cut for 20 rs. Besides the chalets in the resort there are also huge tented accommodations. As the season ends they break them up. Tonight there is a party by the police force. I have the impression that for most attendants it is a obligation.
The cook of the restaurant act as driver and brings us to Ramganj Mandi. The train is just a little late and leaves at a quarter to twelve. There is no pantry car so we buy some snacks in Kota. By five o'clock we are in Jaipur and have six hours before we catch our next train.
We take a rickshaw for an hour of sight-seeing. But as to expect, the driver is just interested to bring us to the shops. We have dinner in a luxury restaurant near the station to celebrate our upcoming wedding anniversary. After this lush meal we walk to the station and seek the platform of our train. It is at the outside since it is the old metre gauge, this line is now cancelled.
Bikaner, 3 - 8 March
Despite the shaking of the old train we sleep well. At half past seven we arrive in Bikaner and take a rickshaw to Vinayak guest-house. We book a simple but spacious room for 300 rs. As we arrive only the old owner is awake but soon his son Jitu appears. He leads the hotel and during our breakfast he explains the tourist possibilities. I'm attracted to a camel-safari but Wiesje has her doubts.
After a short rest we walk to fort. From the outside it is a stronghold with thick walls, inside it is luxury palace where each maharadja contributed his halls. A splendid audio tour supports the visit. For a tip the usher shows us some beautiful painted, normally closed, rooms.
After that we look for a opportunity to lunch, the only place near the fort is full. It is hot and windy, the sand is in the air so the terrace is no option. Besides I have an infected nose, am tired and want to go to bed. After a few hour sleep I feel better and we return to the restaurant for dinner. The wind is gone and now it is great to sit outside.
The infection causes me a bad night and we decide to see a doctor. Jitu accompanies us to the nearby private hospital. The doctor gives it a look, decides that it is not his speciality and directs us to the state hospital. There Jitu asks something at the reception and we go to a consulting-room. The doctor sits inside, the door is open and a row of at least fifteen people waits. Jitu speaks to the doctor and I can take a chair in the room. In the meanwhile the doctor continues his treatment of a women. Behind his chair is a bed with a curtain around it, that is all the privacy. Then it is my turn, a quick look and a description for two different pills and an ointment. We buy them at a pharmacy and return to the hotel.
I take rest for the remainder of the day. Jitu and Wiesje go by bike to the camel farm. First they visit the museum and then to animals. The main purpose of the farm is the camel milk. The foals start to drink and then the milkers take it over, each camel delivers a litre. On their way back they visit a turban museum.
I feel better this morning and we arrange a city tour, at the guest house they know a skilful driver. Jitu will work out a plan for a three day auto and camel trip. On our way to the centre we pass a ropery where they fabricate kite-lines for fights. A little further woman filter the waste water of the silversmiths in the hope to find some remainders of the metal.
The driver parks his rickshaw and acts further as a guide. We witness the many havelis, build a hundred years ago by merchants with the purpose to show their wealth. Now the owners have moved to the big cities and these houses are only used during festivities. The havelis in Bikaner are decorated with carvings at the outside, our guide tells that inside they are sober.
Next we visit Bhanwar Niwas. It is a large haveli converted into a luxury hotel. A staff member shows us the lush rooms, all with different decorating. The beautiful painted Bhandasar Jain temple is the following location. Here are a lot of pigeons so we walk barefooted through the shit. After a visit to the market we return to the hotel. It was a great way to see a city and that for just 150 rs.
Jitu has made a plan for a two day trip to the Shekhawati region including a visit to a wild-park. It will be to hectic to include a camel safari and we accept this.
As we walk to the internet café a street dog bites me. It does not look serious, even my trousers are undamaged, so we continue. In the café I inspect my leg, as the owner hears the story he strongly advises us to take a rabies injection.
We take a rickshaw to the private clinic we visited yesterday and they direct me to the ER. My leg is disinfected and I get a large bandage around it. Annex to the hospital is a pharmacy where Wiesje buys the medicines, injections against tetanus and rabies and more pills. And a schedule for four more injections in the coming weeks. The worst thing is that I'm not allowed a beer and that on our wedding anniversary.
I remove the bandage from my leg, the wound looks fine. Vickey, the driver, arrives and together with Jitu we leave. In the desert around Bikaner are surprisingly many trees. The result of irrigation and more rain in the recent years. The road is good and after a chai stop we reach Fathepur.
The havelis here have mural paintings on all the walls but just a few are well maintained. Mostly a guard and his family are the sole inhabitants. Jitu knows some of them and we are allowed to go inside. It is free but for taking pictures we must sometimes pay a few rupees. A boy offers to guide us to other havelis and we go the smaller roads and see a lot of them. Some of the havelis that we visit are half ruined and from the outside we look straight into the rooms.
Another is still inhabited and restored in the original colours. Now we can imagine what an overwhelming colourful sight this city once was. One haveli is restored with modern paint, it is possible to visit it but we save the100 rs. During all the hours that we are here we don't see another tourist.
A drive of half an hour brings us to Mandawa where we stay in hotel Shekhawati, a former haveli. It is half past two and we have lunch before we take some rest. At five o'clock a local guide gives us a city tour. The havelis here are not as splendid as in Fathepur but since Mandawa is in the guide books the tourists come here. A bus load of French is surrounded by beggars and touts. Some members of the group give money so they attract even more public.
Mandawa is relative small and gives the impression of a real desert town. Peacocks walk through the streets. And of course here are also beautiful havelis, a lot of them are converted into hotels. After a visit to an also splendid painted temple we return to the hotel.
For dinner we go to the roof terrace. Just as yesterday in Bikaner there ls a lot of music in the city. The youngsters start the Holi preparations. After our meal we stay on the terrace, the personnel leaves. If we want we can take our next beer out the fridge but we don't need that.
At eight we are on the road again and ride to the Padar Haveli museum in Nawalgarh. The building is used as school for a long time but now it is completely restored. Inside are all kind of exhibitions regarding the different facets of culture and history in Rajasthan, Some sections are nice while others are boring. How great these havelis are by now we have seen enough of them.
At Dunlod is a fort/palace converted into a luxury hotel. It is one of those visits which are just nice because it is so clumsy. The ticket seller/guide hides his newspaper as we arrive and acts as if he is very busy. He shows us the large hall and whispers his explanation as if someone lies in state. There are many books but it is so dark that it is impossible to read. Once outside the man tells the the maharadja still lives here and he may not be troubled. The rest of the palace has nothing special and the rooms are relative small and costly.
In the afternoon we go to Tal Chhapar a wild sanctuary near Churu. The important animals here are the Black Bucks, but there are also other types of deer and Nilgau. And of course a lot of birds amongst them cranes, eagles and vultures. Jitu is a studied biologist and his speciality is a type of lizards that live here in holes in the ground. We drive a few hours through the desert like wild park.
Half past seven we are back in Bikaner. An Australian couple just arrived and we tell about our trip while we have dinner together.
When we wake up our dinner guests are leaving with Jitu to make the same itinerary. At ten I have to go to the hospital for my next injection, my leg heals well. Next we go to a photo shop and make some hard copies of the photographs as we promised to Jitu.
We are in the centre and cannot find a decent place to eat. On advise of a policeman we walk into the direction of the railway station. The first we find is a self service restaurant. After the lunch we see of course a lot of other restaurants.
The rest of the afternoon we spend with reading, writing and talking. The owners give, as a souvenir of our stay, Wiesje some nice bangles and I get a carved walking-stick to chase the dogs.
Jodhpur, 9 - 15 March
At nine we arrive at the station the train is already waiting. There are just a few passengers but a lot of beggars, musicians, shoe polishers and sellers. But hardly something to eat or drink. We travel through the desert, only near Merla there is more agriculture. Three o'clock we arrive in Jodhpur. and take a rickshaw to Durag Niwas.
Downstairs we don't see anybody but from the first floor, where the Sambhali project resides, comes a lot of rumour. Govind shows up from there and greets us with a loud shout. He is totally painted because he has a Holi celebration with the girls. Mukta and the rest of the family join us and it is the reunion of friends. Govind brings us to our room and goes on with his party. We too take a look, it is great fun but I'm not in the mood. Wiesje joins them and of course is instantly red and wet.
We take a lunch and go for a nap. The rest of the day we stay in the inner court. Most guest are here for longer a period, working for the Sambhali and other projects.
At eleven we go to the city and there a great festival is going on. We did not know it but today it is Mawlid al-Nabi and the Muslims celebrate this with a big parade. People sit in carts and rickshaw but also on camels, horses and bikes. We watch it for a while and then go our own way. Of course some streets further we encounter the procession again.
On the clock-tower market we buy some metal platters. The women in the shop don't speak English and a neighbouring textile seller assists. Of course we must then visit his business and subsequently he wants to take us to a spice shop but that we reject. We take a lassi and want to do some more shopping. But the parade keeps going on and we decide to walk back to the guest house where we enjoy an elaborate lunch.
Tonight a large group tourist arrive and the guesthouse is completely booked up, some of this group are lodged in the next-door hotel. The long-term guest of Durag Niwas are asked to stay a night on the roof. We sleep inside the living section of the guest house, and well in the bedroom of Govind and Mukta.
The group of a 25 people travel with a large red truck and get a traditional welcome with music and garlands. Most of them have dinner here and and so many orders are nearly too much for the kitchen, But with each other we have a very pleasant evening.
This night it feels as if we are part of a big household. Regular there is rumour from the family in the other rooms. In the morning the guests who sleep on the roof go through our room to the toilet. Of course we awake early and gather together with the long-term guests on the inner court. The travel group goes to the town but Govind has arranged Holi festivities around the guesthouse.
He presents large piles of pigment powder and snacks on a table near the entrance. The hosepipe is connected and the chaos begins. We rub each other with paint and then throw with water. It starts somewhat uneasy but as we are joined by family friends it became a great mess. We chase one another and at the end everyone is red. In the meantime groups of singers and dancers arrive and perform. They don't have to be afraid of the paint.
After a few hours we have enough of it and take a shower. Afterwards we are still red. There are still musicians and we listen to them with a beer in hand. It is great. At three o'clock the festivities are over and we also have back our own room.
Everyone is tired and hangs around. Mukta prepares a simple dinner. By ten we want to go to bed as Govind invites us to go for an ice. During all our previous journeys we never dared this but now we try. It is at the other side of the town and there are a lot of visitors, often families with small children. Later we visit Lucky, a friend who lives with several households in a large house. We drink tea and all the family members come to see who these nightly visitors are. It is after midnight before we see our bed.
Until some days ago I still had the hope and wish to make a trip to Jaisalmer but after more than three months travelling we don't have the spirit to undertake this. Besides I have to go the the hospital for another injection. A hostess conducts us to the ER. An assistant asks if I want to see the doctor but I don't think that necessary. In the pharmacy they don't have the prescribed medicine and we have to wait.
In the meantime the treatments in the ER continue. The three beds are continue occupied. Again the lack of privacy strikes us. A doctor comes to me and examines careful my recipe. After a long time he declares that the injection scheme is wrong but than he realises that this is already my third shot. We can use an alternative drug and he will give me the injection personally. For this privilege I pay100 rs above the 20 rs. for the hospital. Of course we must also pay for the medicines.
In the town centre we buy some clothes to take home and lunch in Nirvana, a rooftop restaurant above a temple. Then back to the guesthouse for a lazy afternoon and evening.
We had asked Bunty, the manager, to show us some pictures of his new born son. Besides that he takes all the photographs and DVD's of his 10-day wedding ceremony. We watch some of it but the total show is to much.
A rickshaw driver charges us 200 rs for a trip to Mandore. The temple like cenotaphs of the former rulers stand in a park-like environment. A lot of monkeys run around. In a small museum is a weird collection of sculptures, paintings, scale models and a dead crocodile. Next to it is a long line of haut-relief sculptures of heroes. At the end of the park stand the remainders of the old palace, the entrance is closed to the public. I climb to the ruins of the old fort above the palace.
Back in the guesthouse we have to change rooms again. People had reserved our original room but never contacted the guest house again. Now they suddenly appear. After lunch we go into town. Friend Lucky builds a guesthouse and a restaurant and has invited us to come and see. We go to the nearby bangle shop of his family and one of his brothers guides us around. When we are back in the shop we get a glass carrot juice, obvious not our favourite.
The evening we spend with talks with some of the long-time guests. The subjects differ completely with the standard conversation between tourists.
Another lazy day, we do some shopping. Our hair is still red and everyone smiles and says 'nice colour'. The rest of the day we read and chat.
Since our first visit in 2005 we have never been in the fort area. Today I return to it and stroll around. It is quit and nice. And of course I get lost in the winding streets. A group of small children directs me constantly into dead-end alleys. Together we have great fun about this. Another, a little older, boy comes around and guides me in the right direction.
One of the other hotel guest wanted to improve the live of at least one Indian. He saw a boy with a harelip and wants to arrange and pay the operation. He takes the boy and his parents to a hospital. There it turns out that there is even a sponsor program for this. But now the boys grandmother comes with the argument that the gods created the boy with this handicap. A lengthy puja is needed to satisfy them before an operation is possible. The costs of the puja are something like 11000 rs.
We have dinner with some new guests and then our taxi arrives. During the constantly changing of rooms I regular forgot to look after my Bikaner walking-stick . And now, when we step into the car, I nearly leave it behind.
The train is about half an hour late and just after eleven we depart.
Alwar 16 - 17 March
Despite the hard benches I sleep well but it causes Wiesje pain in her back. Shortly before eight o'clock we arrive in Alwar and take a rickshaw to hotel Imperial. We get a large simple room, with an inside balcony for 500 rs. Hot water but no shower and only room service.
Later in the morning we walk to the City Palace. It is badly maintained and completely utilized by offices. On the roof is a museum and we climb all the stairs just to find out it is closed, off course since it is Monday. We have a look at the inner courts before we walk around the palace. Behind it is a big tank beautiful surrounded by ornaments and temples. On a steep hill we see the remainders of a fort. A great view and we sit quite a while in the shadow.
For more information we take a cycle rickshaw to the tourist office near the station. The man there speaks hardly any English, has no information and as far as we understand they don't organize anything. With another cycle-rickshaw, the common method of transport, we go for the lunch to restaurant Delhi. A modern place with good food and nearby our hotel.
The afternoon we are again lazy and by the evening we stroll through the centre of Alwar. Chaotic and pleasant and as ever and as so often we are the only foreigners.
Wiesje her back gives her a lot of trouble another reason for us to do nothing challenging. By ten o'clock we slander to the city, most of the shops are still closed. The street is a half meter lower than the sidewalk. The latter is half open at the front side and underneath it runs the drainage canal. Men clean it, they crawl through the outlet and threw the waste on the street. There it is shovelled in a barrow. In the silversmith area they inspect the rubbish careful.
According to our guidebook there is a big ceremonial carrot near the palace. We cannot find it and nobody knows anything about it. Alwar has a winding bazaar with a lot of markets and shops. Most of them stay closed so it is not so lively as it could be. Also our restaurant is closed, so we have dinner in a bar.
Delhi 18 March
We pay the bill and the hotel boys arrange a cycle rickshaw for each of us. As we take off one boy runs after me, again I forgot to take my stick. At the station we hear that the train is half an hour late. A porter stays with us, he hopes to carry our luggage and a young man asks if he can practice his English with us. We sit with them on a bench and after some time more then 15 men gather around us. As everyone's curiosity is satisfied they disappear. The last one is the porter and he is so nice to tell us where our wagon will stop.
After a quit journey we arrive in Delhi Canton and a taxi brings us for 200 rs to hotel Airport Inn. During our previous trip the roads around Mahipalpur were still under construction, now it is a smooth trip. At three o'clock we are in our room, just as previous year for 1500 rs.
After lunch in a luxury restaurant we check in for our plane and buy some more shirts. The neighbouring street with the market is a victim of the modernisation. The street is a mess, new houses are build and the market is in garages beneath them.
We have dinner in the same fancy restaurant, this time there is music. We have just finished reading the White Tiger and some people behave like Mr Ashok.
Back to Netherlands
Thursday 19 - 20 March
At eight o'clock the taxi is there. For 200 rs it brings us to the airport. Needless to say that again I almost forget my stick. Of course I'm not allowed to take it in the cabin, it gets a label and follows the suit-case.
Neatly on time the plane takes off at a quarter to eleven. Three and a half hour later we are in Dubai. An hour later the plane to Düsseldorf departs where we arrive a half hour before midnight Indian time.
But here it is just seven pm. We are pretty surprised that my walking-stick has survived the trip. We buy train-tickets to Groningen and walk to the platform. There we see that from another platform we can take and earlier train and we go for it. As the train leaves I realize that my stick still stands on the first platform.
We need to change three times but all trains are in time and just after one o'clock in the morning we arrive in Groningen.
For the last 20 km we take a taxi. In India I always sit next to the driver and intend to do that again. But out of habit I take the left seat and the driver asks if I will take over his job. After a journey of in total 22 hours we are back in our house.
The first night we can hardly sleep and it takes quit a long period before we have back our Dutch routine.