|Seven weeks North-East |
Seven weeks North East
In April 2009 we competed a 3½ months journey. This trip was somewhat too long and we thought that we had enough of India, at least for some years. We start to think about something totally different for our next holiday. Because of all kind of reasons these plans don't unfold as we hope.
And we have an attractive invitation from friends to celebrate Holi in Orissa with them. Combined with a long time wish of mine to visit Kaziranga and our curiosity towards Sikkim we plan an itinerary of seven weeks.
We start in Kolkata, next Northern Orissa and then a trip through West-Bengal, Assam and Sikkim.
Kolkata, 23 - 27 February 2010
Early in the morning a neighbour brings us to the nearest railway station. Light rain let the last snow disappear, we had it for two months. Four trains later we arrive at Düsseldorf airport. We fly again with Emirates with a stop in Dubai.
Seven thirty local time our plane lands in Kolkata. We are amongst the last passengers that leave the aircraft. It is already hot, humid and a little hazy. We walk towards the airport buildings and get then a new type of form. It is the time of the Swine Flu and we have to fill a lot of questions about our health and the counties we recently visited. There are no tables so everyone sits on the floor or lean against the walls. All passengers must pass a screen to control their body temperature and then we line up for the customs. All together it takes 1.5 hour and in the meantime the loudspeakers call that our flight has to collect the luggage.
We change some money and arrange a prepaid cab for 240 rs. In less than an hour the yellow cab brings us to hotel Green Inn. My first impression of the town is that Kolkata is that of a busy but not a very hurried metropole. There are many trees and a lot of street-life with markets anywhere on the side-walks. As we stop for a traffic light we observe a man examine a baby, acting that he is a doctor.
We had send an e-mail to the hotel and got a kind of confirmation. They expect us, have even a copy of the mail, and for 1200 rs. we have a small AC-room. When I fill the register the manager decides that we are friends and offers us a larger room for the same price.
After some hours rest we go to explore the vicinity. We are not far from the Suddar Street area and I think that I know in which direction we have to walk. As soon as we are outside the hotel we start to like Kolkata. Of course it is hectic but is is that in a relaxed way. Along the road, on the pavement, is a string of street sellers so there is not much room left for the pedestrians but there is so much to see and enjoy. As in previous years we want 20.000 rs. from the ATM but the machine gives no money. On our way to Suddar Street we pass the New Market, a four store building with small shops. There is a car parking in front of it, the vendors use the cars to show their merchandise. And of course a lot of touts who try to persuade us to enter.
Wiesje wants to shoot some film but our cam recorder does not work. Now the touts are useful and one of them escorts us to a repair shop in the market. The repairman consults a colleague and tells that he has to replace a part of the mechanism. It will cost at least 4600 rs, and as we hear that a new one is less then 20.000 we decide to see if we can buy one. 'Our' tout works for a jewel shop, we go with him and Wiesje buys a snake ring. After firm bargaining the price drops from 1800 to 1000 rs.
Sudder Street area is also a nice area to roam and further there are a lot of small hotels, internet places and shops. On our way back to the hotel there is another ATM. Here we see that the maximum withdrawal nowadays is 10.000 rs.
In the hotel there is only room-service, not our favourite. So we go out for dinner. The street life is vibrant, but by nine most shops are closed.
Due to the jet-lag we sleep until nine-thirty so we have a late start. The man at the reception desk advises the E-Mall for a new camera and he fixes a taxi for us. The driver uses the meter and I pay 2x the tariff + 2 rs, in total 50 rs. The mall is a pile of different shops and we discover one which sells camera's, for 15000 we buy a Samsung. The salesclerk disappears as soon as we have decided and points to a girl to explain the working of the camera to us. Another girl must write down all the serial numbers of the 500 rs. notes on the bill.
This part of Kolkata looks much more modern than the area around our hotel. We walk around and after a lunch we take a taxi back to the hotel. This driver knows his way and we just have to pay 22 rs. We make ourselves familiar with our new toy and then go to the streets to try it out. Crossing some very busy roads we reach a park with sports fields. We decide that is to far too go the board of the Hooghly and return.
Saturday we will leave Kolkata and visit friends in Orissa. So far all the arrangements were made by E-mail with the travel office for which P. works. He has some days off unless there is a last minute tour booking. So we don't know exactly what to expect. We try to contact P. and as we don't have a mobile with us we go regular to a telephone boot, without success.
(Two trips ago P. was our driver during a great itinerary through the tribal belt of Orissa. We got along very well and he told us that sometimes guest stayed a night in his house near Bhadrak. We did that during our next trip and get acquainted with his family. During that trip he invited us for a Holi celebration in the future; and here we are.)
We have still problems with the jet-lag, we just fell asleep by six so it is again ten o'clock before we have breakfast. As we still can not reach P. we call his boss. He tells us that P. is at home and expects us, besides he has a new mobile number. We try this one but get still no connection.
Owing to the bad nights we are not very adventurous and decide to walk to the old English centre. We know the global direction and so we walk along. Sometimes through small alleys and then along roads with heavy traffic. Policemen stop the pedestrians who want to cross with a rope until it is safe. There is nothing special to the colonial buildings but we like the feeling of the city more and more.
A street is covered by cloths, there is some demonstration and people can sit on it to listen to the speakers. We want to the BBD Bagh but everyone we ask points us in a different direction. At a certain moment we cross the railway and end up by the Fairlie Ghat at the Hooghly. We sit a while at the bank and watch the ferries. They are filled with new groups of demonstrators, on the boat the are quiet but as soon they embark they start to shout slogans. We walk through the Millennium Park and are surprised by the many young couples that sit on the benches.
We want a taxi to return to our hotel. De first driver refuses to put on the meter and gives a fixed price. We refuse this and step out. After some more attempts we find one who turns on the meter. By this time we are so familiar with the city that we observe that he takes a detour but we don't know how to change it. At least we have to pay 40 rs. less then with the first driver.
Without success we again call P., we will see what tomorrow will bring.
We fill our bag-packs and leave the hotel by ten thirty. The hotel-boy arranges a cab and half an hour later we are at Howrah. It is a vast station and our platform is on the other end. It is a firm walk over a foot-bridge and at the end we even must cross some roads. The train is waiting and we take our seats in the sleeping class.
Just before noon we depart. At once the food vendors come along but we are not hungry yet. By the time we want to eat there is no vendor to see and we have to do it with chips. The first part of the journey we share the compartment with three man playing card and one sleeper. In Kharagpur the three card players are replaced by six other passengers, it is cramped. The landscape around us is very nice and varied. There is a lot of agriculture ground, especially rice, but also many ponds and woodland.
With hardly any delay we arrive by five in Bhadrak. We have mailed with which train we arrive and assume that P. will be there. But we are wrong. Outside the station we wait some time while taxi drivers regular offer their services. Then I go to the telephone boot and after a few attempts I get P. on the line. The connection is bad but it is clear that we have to arrange the transport ourselves. Of course we have his address. At the market place he will wait for us.
(P. lives in the country side on a walking distance from a small hamlet. A few kilometres further on is a little town with shops, they refer to that as the market.)
I go to the group taxi-drivers and show them the address. The first one sees an opportunity and asks a ridiculous 1000 rs. One of the others notices the phone number of P. and calls him. After a consultation of a minute of ten there is an agreement, for 200 rs. we take a rickshaw.
The twilight falls when we drive out of Bhadrak. We pass some small hamlets, here and there we see illuminated small temples. It is completely dark when we, after half an hour, arrive at the market place. P waits with his motorbike and it is great to see him again. He guides the rickshaw to his house. The condition of the road is much better than last year and the big surprise is that the second floor of his house is ready. There he has two rooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a large corridor. Underneath live the families of his brothers.
The welcome of his family, wife, three daughters and son, is so hart warming that it is nearly unbelievable that we had only seen each other for one night over a year ago. We talk, the children speak English too, drink chai and give them some presents. We get one of the rooms, the family sleeps together in the other one. Another good thing is that they have a well, the water is also drinkable for us.
After a while we walk to the village. P tells that the name for Holi in Orissa is Dol Purnima and that the festivities take several days. During these period the idols of the temple gods are placed on palanquin, these where the small temples we saw. In the night they are carried to a central temple where in the morning the priests perform ceremonies. Tomorrow there is a celebration at the main temple of the village and now we have a look. There are some preparations but not much to see yet.
A bunch of children gathers around us and we give them some sweets. We visit different relatives, they remember us from last year, for us that is difficult. Back at the house it is time for dinner. At nine we go to sleep. There is no glass in the windows but there is a mosquito net. Fulfilled with all the impressions we find it difficult to fall asleep.
Holi / Dol Purnima 28 Feb - 3 March
We often wake up and hear the music of passing groups. It is the day before Holi so the moon is nearly full and we see the enlightened palanquins pass in the distance. It gives the suggestion of images of a bygone era. Then we fall asleep and wake up as P turns on the light, it is half past five.
In the dawn we walk to the village, it is a little hazy. Near the village temple the idols of a fifteen deities stand in their small temples. A priest, assisted by some helpers, accomplishes all kind of rituals. Amongst others he offers coloured powder and flowers to the gods. On all sides is the sound of women blowing on cunch shells. But there is more rumour. In a sharp contrast with this ceremony the bearers sit in a corner of the area and watch a Bollywood movie on the TV.
It is full light as we walk back and have breakfast with backed potatoes, bread and bananas. P and I take the bike and go to the market. In a nearby neighbourhood the milkmen reside, this afternoon they celebrate their festival. We visit one of the men and get a complementary breakfast. As a part of the festival those who can afford it distribute food to poor people. Large family groups walk from house to house. Then we go shopping, my offer to pay the groceries is mildly rejected, of course this does not apply for the beer. For 300 rs we buy also two chickens, they are immediately slaughtered.
As we drive back we stop by a farm where another celebration takes place, this time with just three shrines. While I take pictures four musicians gather around me and give me an aubade. Of course they have to be rewarded.
We have a dvd with us with the video from last years visit and back in the house we play it on our laptop. It is great fun. The elder girls (18 and 17) are busy preparing our lunch so we regular stop the show. Then it is time to visit a teacher in the village and discuss the differences in schooling in both our countries. But after a short time one of the girls comes and tells lunch is ready. After a tasteful meal of chicken with rice we take a rest.
At noon P drives us again to the milkmen village, together we sit on the back of his bike. We visit again the same people as this morning. The ceremonie is not started yet and in the meantime we talk in very simple English with our hosts. A music band passes and it is followed by a group of shouting people, as far as we understand they go to a political meeting. P leaves to collect the rest of his family and we visit another household, as always there is chai and something to eat.
The milkman parade starts from this house. The same three temples I saw this morning are carried on their palanquins in front of the parade. They are followed by a group professional dancers and stimulating, clamorous music. Many of the young male villagers join the dancers, while other people watch. The dance lasts for almost a quarter of an hour. All this time three milkman with beautiful cans are quietly waiting. Then, as the procession starts moving, the wife of one the milkman notices that his outfit is not correct and gets a scarf. After fifty meters the parade stops, the dancers start again and the next milkman is waiting to take his place.
And so it goes on and on. As long as the villagers are dancing the professionals take there rest, they just keep the dance going. There is a transvestite amongst them and she collects a lot of money. A man approaches us. With the help of one of the few English speaking bystanders he asks us to join him. It is a local politician and we refuse the invitation. After a few hours the procession is halfway. We get weary from all the impression and ask P to drive us back. With his young son on the petrol tank we travel as a real Indian family.
By five everyone is back in the house. From here we hear the rumour of the ongoing ceremony. We take a shower, play the rest of the video and drink a bear. During the traditional powercut we sit by the light of candles and torches. The local deity will come at nine for a special ceremony but it is Indian time. We get sleepy and go to our room. By eleven the sound of drums warns us. Out of the dark a palanquin appears. By the light of a torch the puja is accomplished. Wiesje and the other women have to cover their head during the ceremony. After fifteen minutes the men disappear in the night.
We don't sleep well and the whole night we hear the rumour of the parades with the deities. Early in the morning we get tea and by seven P brings us on the bike to the main temple in the outskirts of the market village. En route we notice that we have forgotten our money and papers. P drives me back. Wiesje waits between the villagers. An English speaking man looks after her, of course she stands in the centre of interest.
Fifteen idols are gathered in front of the temple. Again all kind of ceremonies and offers are accomplished including the gifts of a lot of paint powder, no wonder since it is Holi. Not only the priest but many others bring their offers. Breakfast for everyone is served in the temple. The men eat first, when they are finished the women follow. We are invited to join them but we feel us to much a bystander to do so. Instead we get a plate of food outside. After breakfast it is time to colour the people. The priest ask friendly 'may I' and then we get a lick of powder over the head, just as everyone else. And the offering ceremonies continue.
After a while P drops us in front of a great, modern house and he disappears to arrange a rickshaw for the rest of the day. We sit on the terrace and get the inevitable chai and biscuits while we relax and enjoy the environs. We hear music coming nearer and there is the parade of all the palanquins from the temple. This time there are no dancers. They stop by each house for a rite and so it takes a lot of time before the procession disappears slowly along the road. In the meantime P has come back. He drives us to the town where we buy some paint to celebrate Holi ourselves. With the hired rickshaw we go home. For the younger children (ages 5 and 9) it is great fun to use the paint, the older girls keep aloof.
But we don't have much time to play. The rickshaw waits and we go on the road again. P, his young son and we in the back, two other men sit next to the driver. It is a ride of nearly an hour over bad, unpaved roads. Some of the the paddy fields are fresh and green, other fields are harvested and brown. We arrive in a larger town, Kalimanga or something like that. In the outskirts their stands again a row of deities. A little further we stop, one of the men who rides in front is our escorts since P has other business to attend.
We walk to the centre and encounter many people full of colours and slowly we come near the market place where everything happens. There are more then fifty temples brought together and everyone brings offers to the idols. It is immensely crowded but everyone is cheerful and there is a relaxed atmosphere. A lot of the people wish us happy holi and ask politely if the may colour us. We accept it and get handfuls dry powder in our face and hair. As the only tourist everyone gathers around us but it is never annoying. And despite all the powder we can safely use our cameras. Of course there is a normal market too.
Our guide becomes nervous as we wander around and sometimes split up, but we don't see any harm in it. After one and a half hour we return to the car, and look terrible colourful. P has been shopping and looks still clean as a whistle.
Again we hear loud music and the temples we saw at the begin of the town are carried to the gathering. In front of us is a small temple and the bearers walk with the palanquins around it. First in a quit tempo but at the end they are running and then the parade continues to the centre. It is tempting to follow them but we have other plans.
The sister of our guide lives in a nearby village and that is our next destination. The concrete road is just wide enough for the rickshaw and is half a meter above the surrounding paddy fields. We are happy there is no upcoming traffic other than some cycles. In the village there is no sign of holi colours to see. It is obvious that our visit is good for the status of the family. They collect some chairs and immediately there is tea and food. Proudly they show us the house but unfortunately they have a problem. The thatched roof has holes as a result of monkeys who break into the house and steal food. A large group family members surrounds us and P cannot translate every conversation so we often use gestures. Then another English speaking man arrives, he helps with the small talks and as a reward of his support we visit his house.
On our way we pass a temple and are invited for a puja. As part of it we get some food, a leave, banana and milk, in our hand and must eat it. Afterwards we have to rub with our hands through our hair. Wiesje did not finish her banana and gets the remainders in her hair. The inevitable bystanders laugh. And of course our new host also gives us tea, biscuits and a tour through his house. After a while we return to the rickshaw and make the journey home, it takes one and a half hour. We pay the rickshaw and of course reward the guide.
P's family laughs their head off as they see our new look.
Quickly we take a shower and most of the colour disappears. By now it is three o'clock and time for lunch, not that we are hungry after all the biscuits. Immediate I transfer the photos to our laptop so everyone can enjoy them. P and one of his daughters plant peanuts, the girl has to do the hard labour. We take some rest before we walk to the village to visit P's grandmother and some other relatives. And of course we drive to market for some shopping.
At seven thirty is the powercut and we sit on the roof drinking our beer, it is cool and very peaceful. A relieve after this hectic day. An hour later it is dinner, photo and sleeping time.
Today we have a quiet start. As usual the girls make tea and serve it while we are still in bed. Then a breakfast of bread, marmalade and bananas. Afterwards P and I go to the market for vegetables and a fresh chicken, while Wiesje and the girls go for a walk. And then the food preparation starts again. A rickshaw will pick us at eleven and before that we need to eat something. Happily nobody is real hungry so we leave before we have lunch.
We travel with the whole family. P and his eldest daughter ride the bike, while the rest of us take the rickshaw. We go to another village where today it's festival time. It is again a mixture of procession and market. Yesterdays event was larger but today there are more music and dance groups. Paint powder is hardly used, the priest offers to colour me but I friendly decline. The parade with the palanquins proceeds very slowly. We recognize some of the dance and music groups from the other days. New is a group of percussionists with large plumes on their drums. While playing they jump around and it gives the impression of large, dancing birds. It must cost them tons of energy, they play for hours in the burning sun. Another group wears big masks. I guess it's good that their is no doping control.
Of course we draw every ones attention, they spring higher and play louder as we take pictures. But again it is a joyous atmosphere. We walk down the parade, at the end some groups take a rest and take refreshments before they start their performance.
Then it is time to visit the market. All the female members of our group get stamps on their hands and fingers. And of course we buy other useful and pretty articles. We drink lassi at a stall with a lot of ice in it, it did not harm us.
After that we travel further to visit other relatives. As always we feel somewhat uncomfortable with all the special attention we get. Often we get the only, mostly plastic chair, this time we sit on thick pillows. In this house the rooms are divided from each other with walls of just a meter high.
About two o'clock we are back at the house. The food is heated and after the lunch we take a nap. Afterwards P and I go again to the market and pay some more visits. And then this day has almost gone. During the powercut a quit beer on the roof, then dinner and bed.
Wiesje awakes at six and it is good that she does. The youngest two children have to go to school today and their uniforms are in our room. The boy goes to a private school and is dressed like a little gentleman, his sister wears a simple blue dress.
P is already to the market and comes back with a large fish. We sit at the back of the house while he cleans the fish and cuts it in slices. Normally the cooking is done inside but the fish is baked on the outside oven. For the eldest daughter, during our stay she and her sister usually cook, has never done this before and gets instructions from her parents.
Men are working in the fields behind the house and we roam around while we are waiting. A boy climbs in a coconut tree and we drink the juice. As result we are not hungry when our breakfast of fish and chapatis is ready but of course we eat some and it tastes fine.
We give a contribution for the cordial hospitality we P and his family has given us. They try to persuade us to stay for another day but we find that our visit is long enough. Besides P has to return to his job, he lives in Bhubaneswar for most time of the year. P calls the Tourist Lodge in Bishnupur and we reserve a room.
By ten o'clock Wiesje goes to the schools and makes some pictures. As the youngest girl is back she wants me to go with her to a nearby small farm where her friends live. And again I get the inevitable chair. The only place for it is in the full sun while everyone else sits on the ground in the shadow of the veranda. After a few moments I join them. The purpose of this visit is of course some pictures.
Before we leave we have lunch, the remainder of the fish is the foundation for a soup. Then it is time to leave. We have a touching farewell with the girls. P goes on his inevitable bike while his wife and son join us in the rickshaw.
Much to early we arrive at the station. We tell the family that they don't have to stay but they insist to wait with us. A quarter past three the train arrives, the son starts to cry when we say good-by. This marks the end of an unique and fantastic experience.
Our seats in the train are occupied but without a problem they make room for us. There are a lot of families with children on the train, we talk with a couple about our trip. It is seven o'clock as we arrive in Bishnupur. A fellow traveller arranges two rickshaws for us, the price is 60 rs. It is dark and the ride through the quit town takes nearly half an hour. To arrive in such a way corresponds with my ideals how travelling should be.
Since the man at the desk of the Tourist Bungalow does not speak English there is some confusion about our reservation bur we get a non-AC room for 550 rs. A guide, his name is Bannerjee, shows up and offers to take us on a temple tour for to-morrow, we are not ready for this yet. Before we settle down I go to the internet. B accompanies me and stands behind me when I check the mail, later he escorts me back to the hotel. Happily this hotel has a bar. After a shower we go for dinner, not that we are very hungry. P calls and asks if everything has gone well. The two of us have a lot to talk about so it is rather late before we go to bed.
Bishnupur 4 - 5 March
Today we are lazy and it is after nine before we have breakfast. By noon I walk into the town. Next to one of the large temples stands Bannerjee. He asks where I'm going and is apparently afraid to loose a potential customer. But I have no special plans and roam around the town, it is very quit. Since it is 35º it does not last long and within an hour I return.
Later we finalize our plans for the next days. Tomorrow we have a tour with Bannerjee, to avoid the heat the start is at eight. The day after we travel to Bardhaman.
For dinner we want a more cosy restaurant than that of our lodge. During my walk I have seen a signboard and we take a rickshaw towards that place. The restaurant is at the back of another hotel, through a dark alley we reach a small room with four tables. No atmosphere at all, the food is cheap but not tasteful. It is not far from our hotel so we walk back.
During our breakfast Bannerjee arrives and he wants to leave at once. We finish our meal and at eight o'clock we start. We sit in a cycle rickshaw and B rides in the front of us on his own bike.
The monuments are scattered around the town so we have a complete city-tour. The temples are build with bricks. Original some of them were white plastered, that is mostly gone. Others are decorated with beautiful terracotta ornaments. The constructions are totally different from temples in other areas. To enter the four best preserved temples we have to pay 100 rs, the rest of the sights are free.
As soon as we arrive at a monument B begins his explanation and wants to go to the next one when his talk is finished. But we want and take more time to explore the temples. Besides temples there are also remainders of palaces and forts. And of course some shopping is part of the tour.
All together is is a very pleasant morning and it is good that we had an early start. We return around eleven and it is already very hot.
At the end of the day I visit the local museum. The collection is nicer then mostly in these local museums. There are three guards, I am the only visitor. As I want to leave they call me back and unlock two other closed rooms. One is devoted to music and the other to local art. The latter contains again beautiful terracotta statues.
We ask the man at the hotel-desk to arrange a car for tomorrow. The driver arrives to make the appointments. He barely speaks English and another guest translates. The kilometre price is 6 rs. and by a distance of somewhat more than 300 km that makes 1900 rs. We used our map to calculate the distance and think it is less but the driver insists. He likes the map and makes a copy of it.
Bardhaman 6 -7 March
We rise early and before eight our driver is there. The luggage goes in the back of his old Ambassador and off we go. Even according Indian standards this man uses his horn unremitting. The speed is barely 60 km but with the condition of the car and the road it feels like speeding. As the car trembles the drivers door continuous opens itself.
But the landscape we pass through is again great, small-scale agriculture consisting of rice and vegetables fields. Later we drive through extended woods, it is clear that these are for timber production. Whole areas are cut down, just tree stumps of a meter high are left, a sad sight. But a little further young trees are planted.
After three quarters we are in Panchmura, the village of the terracotta statues. The driver drops us near a shop. They sell beautiful objects but don't manufacture anything. The big horses, more than a meter high, are fantastic but don't fit in our backpack so we buy some small stuff. Then we roam through the village and see everywhere people that make the statues. Everyone makes a segment and after the baking process the sculptures are assembled. It is a traditional village with, besides the potteries, a lot of farmers. It is easy to forget the time and we stay here for more than an hour.
Since we think that the distance the driver mentioned is too much we are alert on the road signs. And so we observe he takes a detour. We travel by Duragpur and from there over a very uninspiring 4-lane road.
Around one o'clock we arrive in Bardhaman. We have the address of a hotel (Monohar) and the drivers asks bystanders the route. We end in the centre but don't see it. So he turns around and tries again. At least we find it in a very narrow side street. As we stop the road is completely blocked. Wiesje inspects the hotel and the porter immediately unloads the luggage. In the meantime I have trouble with the driver who insists he now wants 2100 rs. I pay him the amount we earlier agreed and go inside the hotel. The AC-room is with 2200 rs. overpriced but we don't have the drift to walk around with our luggage and stay.
After a while we take a cycle rickshaw to the station. We are here to take the narrow gauge train to Katwa and are not sure if it is still running. But it does and tomorrow we can buy the tickets.
Bardhaman is very vivid town with many markets and shops. We enjoy it and it is nearly dark as we return to our room. The hotel has only room service but on the plaza at the end of the street is a restaurant. During our walk we saw a signboard for a rooftop restaurant and that attracts us. But it is only the signboard. A friendly youngster knows another restaurant and escorts us to that on the plaza. It is cosy and the food is good. Afterwards we go for a last stroll, it is nine and the shops close.
We prepare our own breakfast and take a rickshaw to the station where we arrive before seven. I ask for tickets to Bardhaman, quit stupid since that is where we are. But all ends well and for 18 rs we can go to Katwa. Wiesje wants to smoke and outside the station we get company of an older musician and young man who offers us a chai.
The train is due to leave soon but does not arrive before eight. It consists of four wagons. The engine occupies the half of the first wagon and we board the other half. Bardhaman is the end station and the train leaves after a few minutes. We wonder why the other wagons remain at the platform. Just outside the station the train stops and all passengers must get off. The train proceeds towards an unstable turntable. It is manual operated and for the children it is a nice distraction. After some messing around the operation is successful and we collect the other wagons.
With a delay of more then an hour the trip starts. There are many passengers but everyone has a seat. Direct outside Bardhaman we see the activities concerning the broad gauge conversion. Trucks drive on and off and deliver sand for the new embankment.
Also at the stations the construction work is started. The total distance is 53 km and takes four hours to cover this. We drive slowly and often stop at the small stations. It is great but due to all the construction work it is not so romantic as we expected.
Halfway we stop for a while so the train from the opposite direction can pass. The second part of the journey is really great. Now there is no sign of the conversion and we drive literally through the rice fields and the small villages. On the fields grow not only rice but also vegetables and there is some woodland. It is time to harvest the potatoes. Children carry large sacks and take the train for a free ride to the next station.
At noon we are in Katwa and take a rickshaw to the bus station. Now we know how to orientate us and go roaming around in this very quiet town. The sole of Wiesje's shoe is broken and we go to a shoemaker. Surrounded by a lot of bystanders it takes quit a time before he has fixed it. No one speaks English, as I try out to find the costs a women lifts one finger. I have no change and show a hundred. Of course she nods, it is steep but I pay. (here is a video of this journey)
In an eating along the road we take a great tali. As we leave a young girl tries to convince us that we must follow her. After a while it becomes clear that she is ashamed that the cobbler let us pay too much. We must return with her to collect the change. We are so touched that we decide it is all-right so, to convince her is very difficult.
For 55 rs we take the bus and return to Bardhaman. It is crowded but we have a seat. After only 1.5 hour we are back.
Murshidabad 8 - 10 March
Seven thirty we enter the station, yesterday the train departed from platform 2 so that is where we go. To be sure we ask an officer and he tells maybe it is another platform. And indeed just before the train arrives we hear that is the fact. We rush over the footbridge and there stands the musician we met yesterday, he claims that he knows where our coach will stop. We follow him and when the train arrives we stand before the unreserved class. Since it just halts for a short time we board. As to be expected there is only standing-room left. A kind man offers Wiesje his seat but she refuses. In the other end of the wagon our musician and a friend play and collect. An hour later we are in Bolpur and go to our reserved seats.
Neatly on time we arrive in Rampur but for the remaining 60 km to Azimganj it takes another 1.5 hour. Often we halt for a long time, a fellow passenger explains that a new railway to Murshidabad is under construction. In the meantime the old line to Azimganj is reopened. It is a great ride, again through small villages and a beautiful scenery. The paddy fields are alternated with woods and ponds. One o'clock we are in Azimganj on a very small station.
The only thing we know regarding the trip to Murshidabad is that we first need a ferry to cross the river. Outside the station stands just one cycle rickshaw. Naturally the driver does not speak English, yet we try to explain our wishes to him. As always bystanders interfere, one of them speaks good English and is of great help. The next complication is that, according to the locals, we are already in Murshidabad. They think we are looking for a hotel in this part of the town and here is just some hostel. As we mention hotel Manjusa it is clear to them that we must cross the river. They call another rickshaw and after a vivid deliberation we have to pay 30 rs. and go the ferry.
It is a bumpy ride to the Bhagirathi river. On the landing place some flat boats lay in the river. The first rickshaw wallah boards with us. As the ferry is loaded we depart and quick we cross the river. Everyone stands on the bamboo deck. At the exit we must pay the passage, 2 rs. each. The driver still accompanies us to a shared taxi. He does not want any extra money, I have to force something in his pocket.
We sit in the back of the 4-wheel and have enough elbow-room. De road is bad and dusty so the back cover is closed. After a quarter the taxi stops near the palace/museum and here we descend after paying 40 rs. We don't see the hotel but a man asks us if we are looking for Manjusa. He gets his horse and carriage and brings us. We don't have to pay him since during the ride we arrange a day-trip for tomorrow.
Manjusa has a clean, basic room for 500 rs. The hotel is beautiful situated on the bank of the river and surrounded by a large garden. Next to it is the palace, we pass as we walk to the centre. The coming days there is a festival and the construction is in full swing. Murshidabad is a quit town with monuments scattered all around it.
By six we sit on the balcony overlooking the river. The festival starts with a sound and light show. We decide to visit this tomorrow and now we just relax, listen and drink a beer while boats cross the river. The show last for one hour and is followed by popular music. Manjusa has no restaurant and the crowded stalls around the festival just serve quick foods like egg-rolls and pasta. Not bad for a change. By ten the the festival ends with a firework.
We have a non-AC room and although it is warm but with open windows and under a mosquito net we sleep well. It is a luxury to have a breakfast of toast, banana and coffee on the balcony .
At eight we leave, a bumpy ride through a stirring scenery brings us to the Katra mosque and fort. The charioteer tries to guide us but his English is just sufficient to mention the names of the rulers and some other general information. But it does not bother us, we have all the time to witness the monuments. The rest of the morning we visit all kinds of temples, palaces, mosques, manors and beautiful gardens. There are so many of them that, although I write my diary as soon as we are back, I cannot recall all the individual sights.
In some of the palaces an extra guide is obligatory. For me the most imposing place is the worn out Jafarganj cemetery, the burial ground of the Nawabs. But most enjoyable is the ride through the diverged surroundings of Murshidabad.
Half past ten we are back, the charioteer wants to do another trip this afternoon but we have seen enough and pay him 300 rs. The hotel staff is surprised that we are already back and are afraid that we missed a lot of sights. Above the desk hang pictures and so we can explain what we have seen, combined with the price is OK. For tomorrow we arrange a boat to the Char Bangla temples.
We sit in the garden overlooking the Bhagirathi river where something large swims We assume it is a dolphin since they live here. In the afternoon we go to the Hazarduari palace/museum. There are a lot of people attending the folklore festival. As so often we are the only foreigners and draw the attention of a TV-crew, they want our impressions of the festival. Wiesje her English is much better than mine so she does the interview. The museum contains a nice collection of weapons, paintings, ivory and old cars.
In the evening we return to the festival, tonight there is only music. It is crowded and we stand to listen, soon someone brings us chairs. Later we visit the stands with folk art and return to our balcony. From there we can hear the music as well and enjoy a beer in the meantime.
In the morning it turns out that the hotel personnel has forgotten to arrange a boat. No problem, a shout over the river and by eight the boat is there. The deck is seven by two meter and consists of cloven bamboo, a simple carpet is our seat. It is an upstream journey of more than an hour, just pass Azimganj. We navigate close to the banks, these are more than two meter high so our scope is limited to the river. Everywhere women are washing and cleaning while on the river we see a lot of small fishing boats.
The skipper escorts us to the Char Bengla temples. As the name suggests there are four, situated in a squire standing close to each others. The outside of three temples are decorated with splendid terra-cotta figures. They are very well preserved or restored and very impressive. The fourth temple has a total different type of decoration. A guard opens the temples, inside they are very sober with tree linga's all pointing into the same direction. Behind this group are some other, more ruined temples. While we go back Wiesje spots a dolphin close to the boat. Downriver it goes faster and in three quarters we are in the hotel. The the ferryman gets 350 rs. and we had another great trip.
The rest of the day we spent on the bank of the river. Tomorrow we want to go to Malda and ask the people of the hotel to arrange a car. The driver will be there at eight o'clock in the morning.
Malda 11 - 14 March
We have breakfast on our balcony and see again some dolphins in the river. The driver comes from Malda, he takes a rest and by nine we leave. The man is very small and the bench of the Ambassador is pushed so close to the front that I have barely room for my legs. But it is a nice ride. As everywhere in Bengal the landscape is pretty, a lot of rice and further trees and other vegetation to make the attractive variation.
Further on we travel through a watery region, small ponds with a lot of birds. We pass a lot of tiny villages, sometimes they consist of no more then a few clay houses. Later on we see more industry and the traffic gets busy. We cross the Ganga over a large barrage and the other side of the river is mango tree land.
At one o'clock we arrive in Malda. Our hotel Kalinga is next to the highway but a little difficult to reach via a parallel road. For 1000 we have a moderate AC-room, it is on the backside so the traffic does not trouble us.
The restaurant is on the top and not very attractive. The most of the day we spend in our room and arrange a car for tomorrow.
Just as we depart the toilet breaks down. We call a servant and he promises to let it repair. He also takes care of the laundry.
The driver waits for us, a nice man who speaks reasonable English and drives very carefully. The last part of the road to Gaur is terrible. This road leads to Bangladesh and is under construction so it may be better now. The monuments are spread out over a large hilly area. Mostly mosques but also watch towers and the remainders of palaces.
The country around it is sprinkled with mango trees and small lakes. We ride from site to site, go out the car and have all the time to wander around. Most ruins are known for a long time, but the driver refers to one spot as 'new site'. A few years ago a mango tree on top of a hill tumbled down and so revealed some stone walls. The rest of the hill is excavated and now reveals the ground floor of a large palace. It makes you wonder what is hidden beneath the trees of the other hills. All monuments are free and just at the last one we met the first other tourists. And of course there is a guide who gets angry when we don't use his services. At twelve we are back at the hotel. We make another appointment for tomorrow and don't have to pay the driver.
The toilet is repaired but the laundry is back in our room, the laundryman has a three days leave due to a wedding.
Close to the hotel is the market area, extended and covered for a great part. Wiesje needs some elastic band and we see a lot of shops before we find the right one. But since we love markets this is no punishment.
Tonight we have dinner on the roof terrace of our hotel. This is much better than the canteen inside where we had lunch yesterday.
At eight our driver picks us up and we go to Pandua, in the opposite direction of yesterday. Our speed does not exceed 50 km and the driver explains in this manner he avoids any risk. At least he overtakes some vans but they are the tail of a file. As upcoming cars approach us the driver takes the roadside and drives behind a bus. Then the bus stops, we cross the line of vans and take the other verge. When this gets to narrow we crawl back into the file. A cycle rickshaw tries his luck on the talus and falls down, happily the man jumps in time.
Soon after that the traffic moves again. In Pandua we take a small road and halt by some old mosques. Four man go with us and two of them explain something, both we reward with 10 rs. Then further to Adina where we visit the remainders of an enormous mosque.
After a chai we continue to the deer-park. The trip to it, through small villages, is more rewarding than the park itself. In a wood, with fences around it, lives the herd. By noon we are back, the price for these two days is 1300 rs.
We ask the man of the front-desk if there is anything else of interest in Malda and the answer is clear: no. So we just go for another stroll around the market and shops.
Today we have all the time in the world but we wake up before seven. Later in the morning we walk along the river. A few boys want a chat with us but their English is too limited. We sit on a wall and overlook the scenery. In the river lies a dead cow and the dogs cram of it. Around it the people take their bath, wash their clothes and try to catch fish. We get a push against the shoulder, a cow wants to pass. Now and then the path leads us through the narrow lanes of the neighbourhood before we can walk back to the river.
Then we leave the water and wander around in the outskirts of Malda. We stop and see a baker producing biscuits. I grew up in a baker family and know that this type of oven was used in Europe until eighty years ago. The man gives us some fresh baked cookies. And or course we stumble into a market, it is very relaxed and everybody is cheerful towards the unexpected visitors. This market is not suitable for vegetarians since the animals are slaughtered on the spot. We drink a chai and see some craftsmen at work. We enjoy the quit life around us and sometimes I forget that I am just a tourist.
By one o'clock we are back in the hotel. It is hot again so we spend the afternoon mostly in our room. We have dinner on the rooftop and then it is time to pack our luggage. Half past eight we take two rickshaws and go to the station. It is further from the hotel then we think.
We are an hour early and the platform for our train is still unknown. But an official warns us as soon as he knows it. The train is a half hour early and we install us. At ten we depart to Guwahati.
Guwahati, 15-16 March
The train to Guwahati shivers so terrible that we have a bad night and wake early. Since the windows are damaged and dirty we hardly see anything of the scenery. Half past nine we arrive. The local taxis are pricy, the drivers ask160 rs but after bargaining we get one for half of that price. The first hotels where we want to stay are booked and we end up in Fame City on the road to Siliguri. For 1800 rs we have a large AC room with balcony.
After a rest we go and explore the town. Our first impression is that of a busy, not so attractive city. The bazaar is on the sidewalk before the regular shops, just now and then there is a continuation into an dead end alley. This makes it difficult to roam around. On the streets is a lot of traffic.
After a while we reach the Brahmaputra and decide to visit Peacock Island. It is quite a walk before we see the ferry and we ask how we can go down to the river. A man points us a small path and over the area of a timber factory and an unstable footbridge we reach the ferry.
Just as we board the small vessel a thunderstorm starts, we are glad with a roof above our heads. Happily it is just a short shower. The Peacock Island is rather small, just some stairways to the temples on the top and not very interesting for common tourists.
We walk back to the hotel and decide to see if we can book a train to Jorhat for the day after tomorrow.
In the train reservation office Wiesje takes the ladies queue. As it is her turn the man tells we must use the foreigner counter. He collects our passports, leaves his counter and goes to the other one. The result is that the other ladies have to wait. At the foreigner counter he squeezes the man there to handle our tickets first so the queue here is also unhappy.
For 350 rs. we take a rickshaw to the Kamakhya temple in the outskirts of the Guwahati. It is on a steep hill but our driver manages to get there. The temple is not excessive decorated but the place has his charm. It is busy but serene and the priests are not pushy. Everywhere goats and other animals walk around, determined for offering. Long rows wait to enter the inner part of the temple, we have not the urge to join them. For the first time since we left Kolkata we see a group of Western tourist and of course they are Dutch.
Back in town we go to a phone operator. We have the address of a resort, Mou Chapuri, near Jorhat and want to know if we can stay there. After four calls to different numbers we make contact and reserve a room.
Jorhat, 17-21 March
Five o'clock the hotel reception wakes us and soon after that breakfast is served. Before six we are on the street and take a rickshaw to the station.
Our train arrives on the last platform so we have to cross the station. It is a great ride through a scenery where flat land is alternated by hills. In the beginning the agriculture is mostly rice, further on tea plantations prevail. All together a great mixture of natural areas and small towns. The train is of the CC-class and the personnel keeps it extraordinary clean. It is fully occupied but in Dimapur most passengers get off.
When we approach Jorhat the train personnel starts to carry the luggage of the passengers to the preceding carriages. We follow them and at the station we understand this action, the train is much to long for the platform. Rickshaw drivers gather around us and advise their hotels. One shouts Mou Chapuri and since we know that the price should be 150 rs. he has to accept this. Over a very bad road we reach the Neamati Ghat within an hour. There is a shed with the name of the resort and two man are waiting for us. Together we walk through the slush towards a small boat. After a short trip over a narrow canal followed by a walk through reed land we reach the resort. It is on the bank of the Brahmaputra, in the monsoon time this is an island.
At the first glimpse the resort looks fantastic but after a closer look we see the damages that the October tempest has caused. Because of this damage we get a discount of 40% on our luxury cottage. The room stands on stilts, the bathroom is beneath on the ground. We make a tour around the resort and see all types of accommodation, play-ground and climbing towers. We are the only guests
I walk to the very wide river and since it is a little hazy I can hardly see the opposite side. On a field the personnel plays cricket, they don't stop before it is dark, just in time to start the generator.
Our contact person, Bibhuti, arrives. We think he is the manager but he is an English teacher and assists with foreign guests. For tomorrow we arrange a trip to Majuli island. The restaurant has a limited choice but the food is fine. We talk a while with Bibhuti and by ten we go to bed.
So far to the east the sun rises early and as I wake up at five thirty the day has already begun. By eight the skipper arrives and brings us back to the Neamati ghat, this is the starting point for Majuli. The ferry is a large barge with a cabin for the passengers. On the forward deck is space for three cars. For 40 rs we buy two tickets and embark. The passenger cabin is not high, crowded and we sit on benches, so it is not very comfortable. Then we hear a lot of noise, the crew fills the metal roof above us with motorbikes.
By nine we depart and an hour later we approach the island. The river streams fierce so it is not easy for the crew to get the boot to the landing stage. Cars are waiting and for 400 rs we hire one for half a day. The first part of the route to the village Kalambari has no regular road. It is sandy and the driver takes the least bumpy paths. In the village I must register at the police station. The man copies all the information of our passports in a large book.
Our first goal is the Aunati Satra. The centre of the Satra is a large praying hall, sober with some big statues, one of them is Garuda. A priest prays and feeds the pigeons. Behind the hall is a temple with many splendid statues of Vishnu. Around the hall are rows of small cottages where the 400 monks live. We see just a few of them, more then half of the monks prepare a festival somewhere else.
And the temple services take place in the morning before the ferry arrives. The whole terrain is sacrificed and we must walk bare footed. In the museum we see a lot old utensils and musical instruments. All together it is nice but a little disappointing.
On the way back to Kalambari the driver tells about a Satra where monks manufacture masks. It is 22 km and on this roads that is more than an hour. We find that to far and tell him this. In the village the driver takes me to a man who speaks fluently English. He asks me what my problem is, I am stupefied since I don't have one. Then it becomes clear that the driver does not understand why we refuse his proposal. As this is cleared we go to Na Satra. It is smaller then Aunati but the construction is alike.
After a cup of chai we go to the tribal area. All the houses are build on stilts and beneath them, in the cool shadow, the women are weaving. These people belong to the Mishing tribe but I think they call themselves 'missing people' and am flabbergasted. They are very cordial and show us their houses. And of course we buy some textiles.
By one o'clock we are at the harbour and soon the ferry departs. Now we go upstream and that takes nearly two hours. And the benches of this boat are just wood so it is a long journey.
On the Neamati ghat we watch the vivacity while we wait for the hotel boat. It is loaded with students who have made a day trip to the resort. By four we are back, talk a while with the the manager and Bibhuti. As Wiesje goes to the toilet in our cabin she screams, there is a fat rat. Now we understand what causes the tooth prints on our soap.
Today we just move to Jorhat and are not in any hurry. We make a statement in the guest-book, pay the bill and after breakfast we go for the last time to the Neamati ghat. A rickshaw brings us to hotel Paradise where we get a non-AC room for 690 rs.
We have enough plans for the next days but no idea how to accomplish them. We ask the man at the hotel desk for advice and he orders a boy to bring us to the Tourist Lodge. A very competent travel agent helps us. The first thing we arrange is transport and lodging for Kaziranga. The governmental tourist lodges are fully booked so the man arranges a private hotel. He writes the name DRDA and phone number on a stretch of paper and also his own phone number. Transport costs us 1500 rs. Sunday we want to visit Sibsagar and arrange a car for the same amount. As the agent understands that we don't have specific plans for tomorrow he suggests the Gibbon sanctuary in Mariani. We have to be there early in the morning and the car will pick us op at five o'clock. Then the agent changes his mind, an hour later is early enough. It is not far so the price is 700 rs. which includes the 300 rs. entrance for the car into the park.
We wake up, drink a glass of water and at six o'clock we stand in front of the hotel. No car and after twenty minutes I walk to the hotel desk and ask the man to phone the travel agent. At that moment the driver arrives. We have to go so early since the gibbons forage in the morning and after that they withdraw into the forest Now we are afraid that we may be too late and are pissed off. But the driver speaks not enough English to explain this to him.
Half an hour later we drive through Mariani and stop before a crumbled building in the woods. It has the words 'Gibbon reservation' on it. The driver yells but gets no answer. Happily a cyclist passes and on his instructions we turn into a country road. After a while we cross the railway, by this time we think this trip will become a disaster.
But then we arrive in a small hamlet where men wash themselves at the pump. We get a chair and have to wait. As one of them is dressed the paperwork and payment can proceed. The entrance price is 250 rs per person and 500 for a still camera.
Our guide is impressive and carries a shotgun. Together we take the car and drive into the forest. Soon we encounter a photographer with companions, they go on foot into the bush. We follow them, the jungle is so dense we often loose sight on the others and I have the feeling that we are miles away from the civilized world. The whistling of a passing train and the driver his mobile phone prove the reality. In a tree we spot a gibbon and some other monkeys. So the trip is at last not a complete waste.
After a while the guide leads us back to the path and after a short ride we continue by foot. Everywhere around us we here the gibbons 'sing' and as we approach a large tree with fruit we see them clearly. They jump from branch to branch and next to another tree. It is a great sight and we stand a long time watching them. As we walk back to the car we see other, smaller groups. The guide explains that each family has his own territory. The man speaks good English and tells us a lot about the sanctuary and the animals. The rifle is just for the show, he carries the patrons in his pocket.
Driving and walking we explore the rest of the reservation. The trees are covered with orchids, unfortunately not blooming yet. There are a lot of beautiful butterflies, birds and squirrels but we don't see large animals. Half past nine we go back to the hotel and take our breakfast.
Later we roam through the city. Since some days Wiesje is looking for new shoes and here, on the market, she finds them. Jorhat is a very relaxed town with friendly people. For instance we are looking at a shop with washing machines, the system of them is different from that in Holland. The owner approaches us and invites for a tea. There are quite some guests in the dining room of the hotel, many come to our table for a small talk.
Half past eight our driver, the same one as yesterday, arrives. It is an hour ride to Sibsagar via a decent road. Around us are rice fields, the tea plantations are further away and we see only their entrances. Near Sibsagar we stop by a group of statues to honour local heroes who fought a battle with strange invaders.
Then we visit the first temple of the day. Little is left of the original decoration. A guard arrives to collect the entrance fee, only16 rs for all of us, before he opens the gate. After this we continue with the sight-seeing. As usually it is an alternating succession of temples and palaces. It is Sunday and many Indians are here for a day trip, we met a young student we also saw near Mou Chapori.
The tickets for foreigners are of course more expensive, the price is mostly 100 rs. It is obvious that Sibsagar is not often visited by strangers. The tickets are wrapped in a separate package and for the giggling children we are an extra attraction. The travel agent phones and wants to know if we are satisfied with the day and we tell him it is great.
Again the style of the buildings is completely different to what we have seen elsewhere. One of the temples is decorated with strange animals, a combination of crocodiles and elephants. The images of men resemble those of the medieval period in Europe. The driver accompanies us into the monuments, mostly he can enter without paying. His English is slightly better then we thought and sufficient to explain what we see. In the town are many artificial tanks with of course temples around it. Also around the houses are many ponds and canals.
The last palace we visit is in Garhgram a 20 kilometre out of the town and than it is time for lunch. The driver knows a good restaurant it is on the way to Jorhat. I have a tali with bony fish but it tastes excellent. Then we drive back to Sibsagar and visit some Shiva temples which are still in use for services.
Three o'clock we are back in Jorhat. We go to the ATM and take some extra money since we have no idea if this is possible in Kaziranga.
Kaziranga, 22-25 March
Half past eight we depart with again the same driver. The route leads through a diverge scenery with tea plantations, forest and rice fields. We stop for a chai, in the village the tame elephants walk on the roads. Kaziranga is just two hours ride.
The driver does not know where our hotel is and asks here and there. The name DRDA is just known by some people but after a time we find it. The hotel is situated beyond the lodges of the ATDC and so brand new that builders still work on the upper floor. It is on a island and can only be reached over a bamboo footbridge. Nobody in the hotel speaks English so it is good the driver is still with us, now he act as our interpreter. The hotel does not really expects us but they call one of the phone numbers that we have and than this problem is solved. The next question is if we want a guide, a good idea since we don't think it is wise to go to the rhino's on our own.
Our driver leaves and we go to our room. We are a little confused and wonder how this soyourn will turn out. But soon Sanju, the guide, arrives. He is a young man who speaks very good English. With him we make all the arrangements. Tomorrow we start with an elephant and jeep safari and after that we will decide for the coming days. During our conversation the desk clerk and another man join us. The latter is the man who has been phoned. I assume that he is the hotel manager and ask if he can arrange transport for us, no problem of course. With the help of Sanju we order lunch and in the meantime we keep chatting. Now we understand that the name of the hotel is Gramonnayan Bhawan and that DRDA operates it. It is an organization which arranges work for the local people. Behind the hotel is the village of the mahouts and the personnel is recruited from there. They speak only Assamese so that Sanju also has to translate for tourists out of other parts of India. And the 'manager' is just a travel agent.
The lunch is simple, rice, potatoes with onions, fish and vegetables. But is is served as if we stay in in 5-star restaurant. Sanju leaves and we walk to the village. That is just a small market with some hotels along the road. Via the normal way, along the tourist lodges and tea plantation it takes half an hour. On our way back we walk through the village of the mahouts and this is a lot shorter.
In our room it is not very pleasant with the noise of the building workers above us. We sit on the veranda before the hotel and the staff serves us tea with a biscuit.
Sanju comes back and at half past six we walk to the booking office. It is necessarily to book and pay the elephant safari in advance. I must fill some forms and pay 3550 rs (see here for tariffs). We book for the first safari and the driver will come round five o'clock.
For dinner we have again no choice, this time the dish consists of rice with chicken and potatoes. Besides us an large Indian family are the only guests.
We get up at 4.30 and it is still dark, half an hour later we sit in front of the hotel. It is remarkable how soon the light increases and dawn starts. This night it has been raining and it is still cloudy. After fifteen minutes the four-wheel arrives and we climb into it. To our surprise the driver enters the hotel. After a short time he returns together with Sanju. Our guide slept in the hotel to be sure that we are on time. While we waited outside he stood knocking an yelling at our door.
Within a few minutes we are in the resort where the elephants are waiting. We stand on a platform and the mahout drives the animal towards this so we climb more or less easy on the elephant's back. We sit astride at it takes some time before I feel comfortable. The group consists of five adult elephants and two babies. The terrain is open with grass of about a meter high. Soon we spot the first rhino's, it is remarkable how quiet they keep grazing as we approach them. The mahout is a nice man and demonstrates how he leads and controls the elephant. When we take pictures he positions the animal so we can make the best shots. As we proceed the grass is so high that it grows above our head and we can only hear the rest of the group.
Besides the many rhino's we see buffaloes, deer and birds. At one spot another mahout takes our camera so we have a picture of ourselves and the rhino's. After more than an hour we return. I am so stiff that it is difficult to dismount.
Back to the hotel for a quick breakfast and at eight we start with the jeep safari to the Central range. The weather remains cloudy, sometimes a splash of rain and rather cold. In the meantime the elephants have completed their second safari and wander around. We continue out trip through the great nature, extended grass fields alternated with forest, rivers and lakes. Everywhere we see animals as deer, wild elephants, buffalo's and rhino's. Some fruit is thrown on our car, a group monkeys sits above us. In the wood we discover a Muntjac and in the river swim small turtles. We are satisfied but according to Sanju there are a lot more animals when it is sunny. This range is the most popular in Kaziranga and now and then the four-wheels form a file as the first one stops to observe a rhino.
By eleven we are back in the hotel and take a rest. Then lunch and at two o'clock we go to the Western Range. Part of the entrance price to the park is a fee for the guards and this time we get one with us in the car. These men have a double function, they protect the visitors and in the meantime the try to prevent poaching.
Again we make a large loop through the park and at immediate we see some rhino's, buffalo's and elephants. Large parts of the grassland are burned on purpose, this looks cheerless. It is done to make the young loots grow better and rhino's love to eat fresh grass. We finish the trip near a large lake. It is still hazy so we cannot see very far but on the other side graze at least a dozen rhino's.
By five o'clock we return to the hotel where the tea and biscuits are ready. It is a pity that we cannot communicate with the personnel but they are very friendly. Later we sit on the veranda before the hotel. An Indian family wants to know everything about our life in Holland. The dinner is again pullow with chicken.
This morning we do some sight-seeing. First we go to a tourist resort that is still under construction. The objective is also to give work to the local tribes and also try to preserve their culture. The cottages are build in their traditional style.
Then we go to a friend of Sanju, she shows us traditional Assamese clothing. It is not only showing, both of us get dressed. Great fun of course. The visits to a coffee an rubber plantations are disappointing, both have a rest period in this time of the year. On a nearby picnic place we talk with people of a ngo, they educate children who are freed from child-labour. Today they have a trip and we give them a contribution for a snack.
In the afternoon Sanju suggests to visit the eastern Agoratoli range, a 20 km away from our hotel. He constantly phones and as we are in the village he asks if his girl friend may join us. No problem of course and now it is clear to us why he wants to take this range today. We get again a guard with us. This part of the park is less visited and we see just a few other gypsies. But enough animals, two rhino's close to the car and a lot more in the distance just as many buffalo's and deer. For the first time here the sun shines now and then. One rhino gives the idea he wants to chase our car.
The driver provokes him a little and Sanju is not happy with this. According to him rhino's are more dangerous than tigers. The rhino turns his back on us.
A little further the drivers stops suddenly. Around the curve he spots a tiger jumping over the path. We see only the footprint. The trip continues along a large lake and the bank of the Brahmaputra. In a forest with many birds, the guard collects elephant apples and wild vegetables.
After a few hours we return to the village and Sanju treats us on a snack. His friend takes a rickshaw and we drive to the hotel. It is getting dark and quite cold in the open car. The promised pork is not available so the dinner is again pullow with chicken.
Today we explore the most Western or Burhapur range. This part is the less visited and the paths are overgrown with vegetation. Again we have a guard with us and he guides us to the less accessible sections where we have more change to see animals. There are a lot of monkeys, wild boars and so many deer that it feels like visiting a deer camp. A group of buffalo's rises one by one as we pass them. We cross the grassland to another path and there we see the rhino's.
One of them approaches the car and when he makes preparations to run the driver gets out of the way. But there stands a group of buffalo's, when the driver blows his horn they move and we continue.
It gives the idea that we are in the middle of nowhere but when we climb a watchtower we see that the main road is not far away. On the way back the buffalo's and rhino's are bathing together. Another rhino turns his back towards us and shows he has the shit on us. The sun shines sometimes and makes this two hour trip very nice. We are the only visitors.
By the lunch they serve the promised pork and it tastes good. We have now seen all the four ranges of Kaziranga. But we don't like to stay in the building site that the hotel is and decide to do the Bagori range for the second time. Again we see a lot of rhino's, elephants and buffalo's, sometimes close to the car and then further away. Near the lake we spot an osprey and numerous rhino's.
Back in the hotel we say, with a tip, farewell to our driver. In the nearby shop we buy a wooden rhino as souvenir. We are tired from the three safari days. Kazingara is great but afterwards I think that a two day visit is sufficient too. The travel agent pops up, we pay the rent for the car to him. And of course we pay Sanju, he is a great guy and a fantastic guide.
Tezpur/Guwahati, 26 - 30 March
We arranged another car for the drop to Tezpur. The driver arrives an hour earlier than we expected. While we have breakfast he cleans the car. We pay the hotel bill, 6500 rs for sleeping and eating. Sanju drops by to wave us goodbye and half past eight we leave. We don't like the drivers riding behaviour since he is speeding. We cross the Brahmaputra over a large bridge (5 rs. toll). Ten o'clock we are in Tezpur and we want to stay in hotel Luit. The driver does not know it and asks someone as soon as we enter the town. After a long discussion one of the bystanders comes into the car and guides us. The hotel is on the other side of the town. For 1200 rs we have a large AC room.
After a while in the room we go to the city. The sun starts to shine and it is immediate a lot warmer than the previous days. Our first impression is that Tezpur is a nice place. We lunch in a family restaurant, to enter one must ring the door bell. Then back to the hotel and change into thinner clothing. We have some global information about the sights in and around the city and want some assistance. The man at the desk has no ideas and points us towards the tourist lodge. It is a little difficult to find but as we are there we learn that they have just the same list as we have. They suggest to take a rickshaw for half a day. On our way back a travel agency offers us a full day by car for 700 rs. We think it is too much and decline the offer.
Later in the afternoon I go out to buy some beer and am amazed by the prominent presence of armoured police.
As we leave the hotel in the morning our laundry hangs on the line behind the hotel. Our intention is to hire a rickshaw but we bump into a taxi stand. According to the drivers are some of the sights inaccessible by rickshaw so we take a car for 650 rs. We show the driver the list with the places we like to visit and tell him we don't want to shop. As often we have to refuel petrol before we are on our way.
The first stops are on some hills near the Brahmaputra for great views over the river, unfortunately it is again a cloudy and hazy day. Naturally there are also some nice temples, Wiesje buys an oil lamp and incense for a sacrifice. We want to go to a tea estate but here nobody is working. The young diver is a nice person after a while he suggests that we should have a tea break. We are surprised as he stops at his own house and invites us inside. He makes the tea and after a short time his wife joins us. They have just one room in the family house. Wiesje has the only chair, I sit on the bed and they keep standing.
Then we go to the Bamuni Hills by a bad, steep and small road. On the top we buy a ticket and enter the park. We disturb some love couples who use this as a getaway. The clouds are thickening and we hear the thunder so we return before we have explored everything. After a short visit to an artificial tank we go back to the hotel.
Just as we are there a thunderstorm with hailstones starts. It does not last very long so in the afternoon we roam again through the town. But it looks like that is going to rain again and we go back, just in time.
The thunder and rain continue for the major part of the day. Since we did not have a particular plan for this day we stay on our room. Tomorrow we return to Guwahati and it is convenient for us to find a 24-hour hotel. In the afternoon the rain stops for a while and I go to the internet café. On Sunday nearly all the shops are closed and also the cyber-café shuts the door at half past four so I have no time. When I'm back it rains again.
We travel tomorrow by car and the hotel manager arranges something. The owner tries to talk us into a big car for 4000 rs, we go for a smaller one, that costs 2500 rs + 100 for the driver.
And it keeps raining the whole night. The driver arrives at half past nine and his boss gives the last instructions. En route we want to visit the temples of Madan Kamdev, and no one seems to know their exact location. The constant rain turns into heavy showers as we depart. The driver does not turn on the fan and the sight through the blurred windows is bad. I open my window but this does not help much and I get wet. The driver takes a cloth and sweeps his part of the window. I try to clean my share using the same cloth but I grab his scarf. All together it is not a comforting ride, and we are glad that the rain showers become less frequent. Lucky the scenery is great. Normally the just harvested rice fields are brown but after the rain they now turn green.
About noon we reach Baihata Chariali where the temples should be. I notice a small post with Madan Kamdev and we stop, drive back and continue underneath a large new gate over a narrow road. The driver asks everyone he sees if this is the right direction and so we stop at a stall where women sell temple gifts. A bus with Indian tourists stands also here. We ask and they all say that this is the entrance. It is a steep muddy slope, very slippery after the rain but we manage to reach the top. There we see the stairs to the official entrance on the other side of the hill.
On the top of the hill is an enormous pile of broken statues, temple walls and other stones. A group men is busy to reconstruct a temple, in my opinion they just place parts that fit more or less upon each other. There are also two small temples where priests conduct services. But I don't understand in which way anyone could determine that the sanctuary original consists of 24 temples. We roam around and spot another terrain. Amongst us are the outlines of the other temples and a lot of remainders from the structures. There are many statues consisting of two animals, one on the top of the other, it is not clear if they mate or fight. The head of the upper one is usually gone. I wonder if other rediscovered temples did look like this before the restorations. And then it starts to rain again so we seek shelter in the canteen of the builders.
By the stairs we descend to a museum where the finest statues are kept. Official it is not open but foreigners are allowed inside. The Indian family follows us and is hardly tolerated. The statues are spread out while workers whiten the ceiling, this shows.
An hour later we enter Guwahati. We tell the driver that we want a hotel nearby the station. After a while it becomes clear he does not know the city and he shows us the whole town. Near the centre we try to find a hotel but they are fully booked. We finish on the road to Shillong, I go from hotel to hotel and at least I find one for 1500 rs. The driver has parked the car on the opposite side of the road. I don't risk my life by crossing it and wave them to follow me and go to the hotel. It takes awhile but then they arrive too.
As we check in the 1500 rs. was for a single room we have to pay 2300 but we decide to stay. Original we planned to stay one night and walk around in the city tomorrow. Due to the weather we take the hotel for two nights.
We sleep very well in the soft bed and a paper in the morning is also comfortable. As a result of the hotel problems here we decide to book a hotel in Kalimpong and go again to the internet. The first one we choose has a room available. We visit some of the bazaars but the clouds become alarming and we return to the hotel. Just in time before the thunder and hail storm start.
Half past nine in the evening we pay the bill and hire a rickshaw to the station. The train stands on the platform and we take our seats. The seats around are occupied by families who also have visited Assam. We talk a while with them, the train starts and by eleven we go to sleep.
Kalimpong, 31 March- 2 April
Our seats are near the emergency window and that makes a terrible noise. Above that one of our fellow passengers is a clamorous snorer so we don't get much sleep. But all things come to an end and around eight o'clock we are in New Jalpaiguri.
The long footbridge crosses the shunting yard and at the end the drivers are waiting. We ask for a shared taxi to Kalimpong but they all insist that this only runs out of Siliguri. From the station the only transport is a bus or a private car. In the meantime they scrupulous pass by the the pre-paid stand (as we find out when we return). We don't want the bus and hire car for 1200 rs.
Through the outskirts of Siliguri and extended forests we reach the Teesta river, which we follow upstream. The road is winding, steep and in a bad condition. There is a lot of traffic and our driver often overtakes other cars. But the spectacular views over the river and the mountains make us to forget the risks. The Teesta runs far beneath us, the sun is shining and alongside the road monkeys beg for food. After a tea break we cross the river. A mountain road leads us to Kalimpong. The road is so steep that, besides many hairpins, a circular turn is necessary to gain enough height.
Half past ten we arrive and go to the Deki Lodge. The gate seems to be closed but after a while the friendly boss arrives. Together with his assistant he carries the luggage inside. I pay the driver and completely forget that I have already paid for the petrol. No wonder that he is extremely cheerful when he leaves. For 1050 rs we take the room on the top floor. It is not very large but we have a nice balcony. The view over the city is great but the mountains disappear in the dim atmosphere.
We are hungry and take a breakfast, after that we walk into the town. We are lucky since Wednesday is market day and the locals of the surrounding villages attend the haat. In this mountain town there is no flat road and walking around is tiresome.
We take a rest in a little park before we return to the hotel.
Clouds roll down from the mountains, there is a steady wind and it gets chilly. In the past the lodge had internet facilities but now we must go to the town again. On the way back we feel the steep slope in our legs. We drink a bear on the central terrace and order dinner. The owner/cook persuades us to take an egg-curry, if we want another course he has to shop first. The egg-curry, a kind of watery omelet is not tasteful. We go to our room and hear the thunder in the distance. We are not surprised that there is a powercut and sit by the light of a candle. As we go to bed it starts to rain.
I wake up by five and it looks as if the sky is clear so I go to the balcony. Slowly the sun rises above the mountains. But it remains too hazy to shoot nice pictures and I go to bed again.
According to our travel book there is an orchid nursery near Kalimpong and we ask the boss if we can visit this. According to him there is not much to see and he advices a visit to the Durpin monastery. On the way back we can visit a nearby cactus/orchid nursery. He arranges a car for us and with a schematic map of the city we go to the monastery situated on the top of a hill. The temple is surrounded by military camps. Durpin is beautiful painted, at the inside as well as at the outside.
And of course there are numerous praying wheels and flags. The serenity of the place is highly disturbed by the constant trial landings of a helicopter.
After a while we walk back, the map is not very helpful so we wander down the hill. But as always there are nice people and after a while we find the cactus nursery.
The beautiful plants grow in greenhouses, inside these it is hot and dry. After a refreshment we continue and reach the auto road we used yesterday. Now it is a complete traffic jam and we are a lot faster in town than the cars. It is two o'clock by now, we are hungry and we lunch at Gompu.
Back to the hotel we have an lazy afternoon on the balcony. It is cloudy again and a little to fresh to sit outside. We move to the central terrace that is more sheltered and warmer. For dinner we go to Gompu again, it tastes fine.
After breakfast we take the steep road uphill to the beautiful ornamented Tharpa monastery. As we go inside a monk points us where to look and turns silently the lights on and off. We ask him something and then he gives us an elaborate explanation about the temple and Bhudism. Now we understand that the high seat is reserved for the Dalai Lama and that Tharpa monastery belongs to another sect of Buddhism then Durpin. This explains the differences in the paintings. Outside he shows how we can reach the neighbouring monasteries.
First we visit a simple constructed one. More then a hundred children are accommodated here, today they stand in the row for a medical treatment. An older monk shows us the kitchen and the prayer room. From here we go downhill in the direction of the city centre. It is weird weather, we walk in the sun and are hot, still it is to hazy to enjoy the panorama. Via some steep roads we reach more small monasteries and then continue to the Tongsa gompa. Beautiful decorated a the outside we expect it will be the same inside, but it is closed. After a while a monk opens the door and we enter, to our disappointment the walls are scanty decorated. Next we walk along an ashram and a catholic church. It is Good Friday and a priest invites us to wait for the procession. We decline this and make another visit to the market area. Back in the hotel we arrange a car to Gangtok, our next destination, the price is 1300 rs.
Gangtok, 3 - 5 April
SaturdayAround nine we leave and go back down-hill to the Teesta. Whenever possible, ant that is often, the driver switches off the engine. Subsequently we continue through the river valley. It is again a great journey but not as spectacular as Wednesday. There is a lot of traffic on the damaged road. The first stop is in Rangpo, the border city of Sikkim. We have already a visa and here we get a stamp with the date of our entry. All the information of our passes is written down in a book.
We follow the Teesta for a while and then we climb again. But first it is time for a tea break. The hotelier gave us the address of a Gangtok hotel, our driver calls them but there is no room available. He pretends to know another hotel and we decide to give that a try. By noon we reach the outskirts of Gangtok where this hotel is situated. They neither have vacancy, besides that it is far above our budget. The man at the desk calls some other hotels and we get a room in Little Wing. The driver get his instructions, asks now and then and so we end high above the city. We have a reasonably room for 1800 rs and get a discount of 20%. The view through the windows must be great but it is still hazy.
We order lunch and it takes quit some time to prepare this. The personnel needs to buy all the ingredients before the cook can start.
Transport in Gangtok is by shared taxis and we try to hold one as we want to go to the centre. With the assistance of the manager we succeed. The city is outstanding clean and full of high buildings. We walk up and down the Mall. In the tourist office we ask for some information and get a complete Sikkim booklet. For the ride back to the hotel we manage to get a taxi without any help.
At six the phone rings, the receptionist asks what we want for dinner. We just have decided to eat outdoor and tell him that. A few moment later the cook stands at the door and asks the same question.
The walk to the Sikkim Retreat is not pleasant. It is dark, no pavement and there is a lot of traffic. The dinner is good. When we walk back we buy a beer, just 40 rs a bottle. As we read in the tourist booklet that a trip to North Sikkim is possible for two persons we decide to change our plans and go for it.
At seven o'clock we wake up by a knock on the door. The hotel-boy brings us a surprise bed tea. He insists that we order breakfast immediately, we do this and tell him we will be downstairs by eight. Within an quarter they serve the toast in our room, we send it back. And when we are going to eat there is just dry toast, a boy is send to shop for the marmalade.
Later we take a taxi to the tourist office and inform which travel organizations are authorized to arrange a Northern Sikkim trip for foreigners. The mention a few and since Blue Sky is next door we take them. We reserve a 3D/2N trip to Yumthang for 14.500 rs. and are so excited that we forget to ask what is in the package. They just need three pass-photo's and fix everything, we start Tuesday. For tomorrow we arrange a car for a day-trip in Gangtok and Rumtek, this costs 1250 rs.
After this we explore the city by foot. We walk down the Mall and a little further we suddenly stand on the piglet market. The animals sit in big baskets, the vendor lifts them at their back-legs to show. After the purchase they go into a jute bag, screaming loudly the whole time. Behind the market are butcheries, each selling the flesh of one type of animals.
Further down the street is the vegetable market and behind that is the four-store market building. On the ground floor is the continuation of the vegetables trade and on the other stores all kind of goods are sold. Dressmakers process the just bought textiles on demand. From the top of the building there is a great view over Gangtok.
Half past three we are back in the hotel. It looks if a thunderstorm is coming so we stay in our room. At five the cook want to know our dinner order so he go can go shopping. The meal is simple but tasty.
Today there is no bed tea and the breakfast is again a surprise party. The car should be here at nine but does not show up. Half an hour later we ask the manager to phone the tourist office. A little later the driver arrives and takes us to a sort of headquarters. There waits the man of the travel office and he gives the driver his instructions. Obviously something has gone wrong.
The first stop is the Banjhakri waterfall. Around it is an energy park demonstrating the possibilities of green energy. Further there are many statues and artificial huts representing the live of the original inhabitants.
Next we have a long ride to Rumtek monastery. We drive over the hilly terrain through forests, alternated with rice fields on the terraces of the slopes. The road is not so good but the scenery is great. At the entrance of the monastery area we have to register again at a military post. From the fence it is a steep climb uphill. It is obvious that this is a tourists high-light, there are a lot of visitors. The monastery is great but not so exuberant decorated as those in Kalimpong. A disappointment is that the colourful statues inside are wrapped into plastic. We cannot leave the monastery by the front-gate and are directed to the backside to visit the Golden Stupa. I'm looking for something huge and do not expect that it is inside, behind the prayer room.
After a cup of tea we take the main road to Gangtok. Part of the trip are several 'view points' but due to the cloudy and hazy weather there is not much to see and we skip most of them.
In Gangtok we visit the white Dro-Dol Chorten and the nearby Tibetan Namgyal museum which contains a fine collection Buddhist objects. We miss out the visit to the rope-way and continue to the Enchey monastery, high above the city. As usual a visit to an local art warehouse is part of the tour. We end in the flower show with a magnificent exhibition of orchids.
At four o'clock the tour ends and since we have to do some shopping we get off to the Mall. Later we take a taxi, we know the routine by now. In the hotel we must again order dinner at once. While we are sitting in our room the hotel-boy comes with a note that, due to a meeting the restaurant, all four tables are occupied and the dinner is served in the room.
Northern Sikkim, 6 - 8 April
Despite the fact that we will come back it is naturally that we pay the bill for these days, only 4600 rs. for food and lodging. Just a little late this time, our car arrives with three man. One of them is the travel agent. The hotel manager complained the whole time that there is something wrong with our visa and now he can explain and solve that problem, he just needs another copy of our passport. We think that the third man is another tourist and we are angry since we have a trip for the two of us. As we complain the travel agent explains that Passing is our, obligatory, guide.
By ten o'clock we start and at once it is obvious that Karma, the driver, leads the expedition. The 'guide' is 21, has just left school and this is his maiden trip. Karma, who is proud to be a Lepcha, teaches him the local names of plants and places.
From Gangtok we go down to the Teesta river which we follow upstream for the whole day. It is a fantastic ride. The whole time we go up and down through a magnificent scenery. The road is terrible bad and often damaged by landslides but who cares. Road workers repair this and leave a small path for the cars. Worse is that there is an attempt to enlarge the road, on these stretches we drive over the bare rocks.
Our first stop is Kabi Lungchok, the place were, a long time ago, the leaders of the Lepcha and Bhutia people swore blood brotherhood. A holy stone stands as the witness of this and Karma explains everything. As we continue we pass a large number of waterfalls, sometimes so close to the road that we drive through the stream. All of them have names, I just remember the Seven Sisters. We have all the time and stop regular to enjoy the panorama. Now it becomes clear what Passing's task is, he accompanies us as we walk around while Karma stays with the car.
The mountains are for a large part covered with a varied forest with beautiful flowers as orchids and rhododendrons. Also we perceive a lot of cultivated cardamom. And where ever possible are terraces for rice agriculture. We pass many control posts and every time Passang shows the permits and often leaves a copy behind. At one o'clock we stop for lunch and get a traditional Sikkim dish.
The government builds barrages in the Teesta to produce electricity. Deep down us we see the ongoing work, the river streams through a temporally tunnel. By Chumtang we take the road to Lachung. As often today we must again wait for the labour of road workers. Outside the car we see the first snow covered mountains. Close to Lachung is the last stop near the Bhim Nala falls, in my opinion the greatest falls we have seen today.
At six o'clock we arrive in LeCoxy resort where we have small room, no chairs, a lot of blankets and an electric heater. Immediately we get tea and Passang regular asks if we need something. On our laptop we have photos of the Netherlands and later we show these to him, Karma and another driver. The drivers suggest we should drink millet but according to Passang this is to strong, he even is perplex as we ask him to buy some beers for us.
An hour later it is time for dinner, simple but good. In total there are about twenty guests. It is fresh despite the heater and we go to bed early. After an hour the cold wakes me and I put some more blankets on.
As I wake up a six o'clock the sky is clear and I go outside to take some pictures, many other guests have the same idea. The sun shines behind the mountains.
After breakfast our trip starts. At the end of the village is a sharp hairpin bend and immediately the mountain road begins. The air becomes clear and for the first time in the last weeks we see a deep blue sky. We pass a few hamlets and then we are in the midst of nature. The only disturbance are some military posts for the permit control. Along the road flower a lot of primroses and soon the first rhododendrons appear. All around us we see snow covered mountains, waterfalls and glaciers. We are very lucky that exactly today we have a good sight.
Near the road we spot a herd of yaks, Wiesje wants to leave the car and film them but according to Karma this is dangerous. He hardly has time to stop and drives as speedy as possible over the bad road. The higher we come the bigger the rhododendrons grow and form complete forests. Most of them don't flower yet. And the mountains around us become more barren.
After an hour we reach the Yumthang valley. We assume that this is the end of the trip and prepare us to wander around. But Karma wants to go further and just then it becomes clear to us that we also visit Yumesamdong. Since the weather is still perfect Karma does not want to spend time here.
We are totally overwhelmed by inhospitable scenery around us during the next part of the trip. First we travel trough deciduous forests and then pine trees take there place. The rhododendrons stay around us until we reach the tree limit. The road continues with many hairpins and after a while we are as high as the snow covered mountains we saw at the start. The road becomes worse and worse, a bridge is destroyed by the river and a path through the rocks leads to a new build one.
Half past ten we are in Point Zero, the end of the road. Only footpaths continue in the direction of the border. With many other tourists we stand on a hight of 4800 m., just as high as the supreme tops of the European Alps. The ground is covered with a tiny layer snow, enough to make it a great first time for Passang. We wear not the right clothing for the windy and cold weather, Wiesje stands barefooted with her sandals in the snow. But the views are breathtaking we just take a quick walk.
After an hour we start the ride back. This time Karma gives us all the time the time to take pictures, he stops just as we ask it. At Yumthang we go for a walk that ends by a sulphur spring and take time for a cup of tea. A girl who works there gets a lift, she will be astonished by us since we still want to stop for each new view. It is good that we did not waist time this morning as now the clouds start to appear.
By three we are back in Lachung and have lunch. Later we drive to the local temple. It looks as if it is closed but we climb over a fence and enter. Karma explains that the only purpose of this barrier is to keep the cows outside. Monks are here only at prayer time. The men celebrate the worship in the morning and have other jobs for the rest of the day. In Sikkim people are not prosperous enough to support full-time monks. We also get a clear explanation about the different types of Buddhism in Sikkim and Tibet. Through Karma's explanations of the paintings we observe these in different manner.
Back in the hotel a good dinner completes this great day. We chat a long time about this wonderful world with some other guests.
After breakfast we leave Lachung at eight, apparently everyone is impressed and tired from the last two days since we are silent for most of the time. What a luck we had with yesterdays weather, now it is cloudy and grey again. The road is of course the same as on the outward journey only the traffic is a lot heavier. During a long part of the day we try to overtake the cars of a military column while another one encounters us.
Half past eleven we are in the same restaurant as Tuesday. It is owned by a friend of Karma so it is a more or less obliged stop. Since we are so early the fire is not on and we have plenty of time to enjoy the views over the rice covered hills. The lunch is great again, one of the dishes is a fern course.
A thirty kilometre before Gangtok we take a side road to the Phodong monastery. Here is a school for monks. The young kids rattle off the prayers together, the older ones study on their own. Again Karma explains everything to us. Somewhat higher upon the hill is the Labrang monastery. We enter it by climbing over the wall. In an annex painters restore the wall paintings, outside young monks play cricket.
We ask Karma if he knows a driver for tomorrow, he phones a friend who will drive us to Mirik for 2500 rs. It is half past three when we are back in our Gangtok hotel and say farewell to Karma and Passang. Together with the nature they made this trip unforgettable.
After a while we decide to go to the internet café in the centre. Man repair the road so the ride takes some time. On our way back we have the same driver. As the other passengers step off he asks if we have a moment so he can go to the butcher. Next we ask him to stop so we can buy a beer. Now the engine refuse to start and since the hotel is nearby we decide to walk but then the motor does his duty and we drive the last few hundred meters.
Mirik 9 - 11 April
At three o'clock in the morning some new guests arrive and that makes a terrible uproar. After we complain it becomes quiet but at six the tumult starts again. So we dress ourselves and order breakfast.
Before eight our diver is already there and we leave. At this time of the day the traffic is heavy and it takes nearly an hour to leave Gangtok. Then we go downhill to the Teesta again and follow the river until Rangpo. The paper work at the border does not take much time.
We cross the Teesta and continue by a steep road, with very sharp hairpins, uphill in the direction of Darjeeling. Is is another great trip through a Sal forest, many monkeys jump around. After the climb we stop at a viewpoint, deep down us is the confluence of the Teesta and the Rangit rivers. The road keeps climbing and the clouds come lower. Around us the slopes are covered with endless tea plants. Then we drive trough the clouds, fog is never pleasant and certainly not on a mountain road.
After a while we reach the Silguri - Darjeeling road, alongside us is the narrow gauge. In Ghoom we take a minor route to Mirik. The fog stays for the most time and we cannot enjoy the panorama. So it is also no use to stop by the viewpoint from where you can overlook Nepal.
One o'clock we are in Mirik, we cross the place to reach the lake where the hotels are concentrated. We stay in Jagjeet and have reasonable spacious room for 1000 rs. After lunch we walk around the lake. Near the hotels are a lot of tourist shops and people can hire boats or horses.
Back in the room the inevitable powercut starts. We here the rumour of the generator but nothing happens. Soon we get some candles. We go for a romantic dinner wit candle light, but the restaurant is in a separate building and there the electricity works. Back in the hotel it is still dark, we hear that labourers cut the generator cable.
In the morning we walk to Mirik, along the lake it is not far away. The sun shines and it is pleasant weather. Yesterday, when we passed the town, I had the impression that Mirik is larger than it really is. Just a few streets with shops and a market, but is a nice place.
Back near the lake we see a couple that we met in Lachung. They stay in Darjeeling and like the non-tourist feeling of Mirik. At a local taxi stand we inform about trips in the vicinity. They all go from viewpoint to viewpoint and since it cloudy again we don't think that is a good idea.
After the lunch we arrange a car for tomorrow and reserve a hotel in Kolkota. They want a conformation by email, the connection here is so slow that it takes half an hour to accomplish this. Despite the misty weather we climb to the monastery above the lake. The large temple is closed but a smaller one is open for visitors. To enter we must pass a group of carrom playing monks.
Sunday I awake early and as it is sunny I walk to the monastery to make some pictures. Now the beauty of the town and lake is clear to see.
The rest of the morning we spend reading in our room. At noon we have to checkout and pay also the 1200 rs for the car, the driver will arrive at three o'clock. We leave the luggage at the desk and go for another walk around the lake and through the town. It is strange weather. Where we walk it looks as the sun will shine while heavy clouds hang above the hotels on the other side of the lake.
After lunch the car waits and we set off. It is quit a long distance through the tea covered mountains and the driver keeps a steady tempo. After a while we reach again the main road from Darjeeling and drive parallel to the narrow gauge. In the meantime a heavy rain is started. On a stretch without curves the driver increases his speed and then the car gets into a spin. We have the luck that there is no upcoming traffic and the driver manages to keep the car on the road. For the rest he drives careful.
By five we are in NJP and wait a while in the car until the rain stops. We store the luggage in the cloakroom where the rats run around. The environment of the station is cheerless, especially now after the rain. A parking place, a market and a few hotels. A group of children bring away the dead body of a friend.
We go back to the station, eat something and wait until the train arrives at half past eight, with just 30 minutes delay. We share the compartment with two ladies, they have a lot of luggage so it takes some time to store everything.
Kolkata and Netherlands, 12 - 13 April
We have a good night sleep in the train. In the morning there is no breakfast, only coffee. At nine we arrive at Kolkata's Sealdah station. It is hot and crowded, a great contrast with the previous days. The station has two exits and we take the one that leads us to the private taxis. They ask 400 rs., much to much, and we walk the the pre-paid stand. The man knows the Dum Dum street of course but not the North Star hotel. He considers with someone and they decide that the fair is 135 rs.
It is a long trip, first to reach the street and then to the hotel which is at the other end. The driver asks regular and then we see a signboard. The hotel is situated a little away from the road. The room is not very spacious but ok for one night. It is half past ten and we order breakfast.
We have quit some ideas to spend the day but we are tired and the heat troubles us. So we stay in the neighbourhood. First to the internet for the check-in procedure for our flight. Then to all small cigarette shops since Wiesje wants a stock to bring home. They don't have their brand and in the meantime I get it steaming hot so we go back. In the hotel they inform us that it is nearly 40º.
Late in the afternoon we go for another attempt. Now we walk to the other side of the road. First we stumble across the market. Near the bus station the cigarette expedition ends successful.
In the hotel bar we have our last Indian dinner and beer, both taste well.
Tuesday, a hectic travel day
Half past six the wake-up calls rings. Then breakfast and an hour later the hotel boy arranges a taxi for us. It is just a quarter of an hour to the airport. Our luggage passes the security and we stand in the row for the boarding passes. It is a slow procedure and there is no separate desk for passengers who did the electronic check-in. The lady who helps us handles simultaneous two phone calls. We are most concerned about the correct labels on our backpacks and as there are no names on our boarding pass we think that is a novelty.
After changing the last rupees we proceed to the customers and security desks. They look a long time upon the documents but give the necessarily stamps. I pass the personal security but the lady who controls Wiesje persists a name on the boarding pass. The staff tells us that we both have to go back. Lucky the female employee of Emirates takes command and sends a man to collect new boarding passes. In the meantime my day-pack fails the control. We have completely forgotten that a month ago we put a knife into it. Of course they keep the knife, to get the pack I need to show my boarding pass. We become a little nervous but than the man with the passes is back. Next problem, the officer who must have these passes declines them because there are no stamps on it. Now the Emirates lady takes the passes and goes back again and at last we can proceed. The plane stands about 20 meter from the exit but we are obliged to take a bus, together with a few other late comers.
The boarding pass for our connecting flight lacks also our names. We ask the crew and they suggest to ask the ground personnel in Dubai. As we arrive there the advise is to collect a new pass and we do that. And then, as we are at the control post, the lady looks at it and tears it to pieces. I nearly explode. The problem is a missing bar-code but here she can produce a new one on the spot.
For the rest we have a smooth flight to Düsseldorf, and just have four trains to go to reach home. The first train brings us to Duisburg, but we cannot find the connecting one to the Netherlands. I assumed that this went every day but it is a bi-weekly. I think we have to spend the night here but Wiesje has a better idea. We hire a car to the first station in the Netherlands. With a speed of more than 160 km we race over the four-lane road and reach the station on time.
For the rest no excitement and five o'clock in the morning (Indian time) we are back in our home.