|During our previous trips we covered a lot of India. This time we want also explore some not so often visited regions and have planned an itinerary that starts in Chennai and ends in Amritsar. |
Chennai, 25 - 27 January 2012
It is exactly a year after our previous journey. Again we start in Chennai and even stay in the same hotel. At half past ten we leave the airport and take a pre-paid taxi to hotel Kanchi. This year we have decided to use our mobile. In the afternoon we walk to a nearby shopping mall and buy an Airtel sim card. Including a deposit and a lot of paperwork we have to pay 200 rs.
We are back in Chennai since we have an appointment here. In the late seventies we were the contact between a Dutch ngo and a local school. During our 1982 family trip we visited it. Last year we wanted to see the ladies who are in charge again, but they were out of town. Now we have mailed them and settled a new meeting for tomorrow. My wife calls them and then it turns out that we have used a wrong date. The only possibility to see each other is this afternoon. So jet-lagged and tired we take a rickshaw. It is nice to see each other after such a long time.
Due to this meeting we did not make other plans for today. The museum seems to be a good idea but it is closed on Friday. Besides Wiesje has blisters on both feet so walking is unpleasant.
We stay for a while in the room and in the afternoon we go for an hour or two to the Marina. The traffic is a mess and the police has a lot work to do to keep it moving. When we go back our rickshaw has to make a detour to avoid a traffic jam. The driver wants more money for this. We get off, walk around the blockade and take another rickshaw to the hotel.
We phone for a room in Trichy, only hotel Femina has one available. Rather steep for 2000 rs.
Trichy, 28 – 30 January
Our train to Trichy departs around seven thirty so we have to rise early. At this hour no breakfast is served but all the personnel lines up for a tip. We ignore most of them and take a rickshaw to Egmore station.
In our wagon sit a bunch youngsters, many of them share our benches and it is a little cramped with thirteen persons. It is noisy but this keeps us awake, when they get off we fall asleep.
Half past one we arrive in Trichy and go to our hotel. We have a rather large AC room and the price is inclusive tax and breakfast. A major disadvantage is the area, rather dull and far from the centre.
Annex to the hotel is a travel agency and we try to arrange a taxi for a visit to the peacocks in Viralimalai. It is completely unknown to the man and since he hardly speaks English we cannot make an appointment.
For 100 rs the rickshaw driver brings us to the bazaar around the fort. It is a nice area and we walk there for several hours before we return. My wife's blisters still hurt but with another pair of shoes it is not so painful.
After lunch we take the bus to the temple complex in Srirangam, this is a lot cheaper, only 12 rs. The outer circles of the complex is just a part of the city, inclusive heavy traffic. Then we enter the holier part where we remove our shoes. A tickets is required for photo's and a visit to the watch-tower. A young man leads us to the entrance of the tower. The fence is closed and it takes some time before the the guard is back. From the top we have a great view over the towers of the temples.
The young men offers to guide us around, he wants 400 rs. and we accept this. As non Hindu's we are not allowed to enter the inner area of the complex so we can just visit a small part. Our guide is a nice and funny lad but does not give much information. Nevertheless there are enough great things to observe.
With the bus back to the hotel. For dinner we go to to a nearby garden restaurant. It is cheap and so is the quality.
After breakfast we go again by bus to the fort area. First we wander through the bazaar and then continue in the direction of the fort, high up a hill above us. We don't see an entrance, only a flight of stairs who seems to lead to a temple. We round the rock completely and end near the small temple where we started.
We ask again and hear that those stairs are the entrance. I go alone, the admission fee is 3 rs and 20 for the photo's. The stairs are build in, quite comfortable in the heat. The sides are decorated with several statues. After a severe climb I stand in the sun, from here there is a great panorama over the town. In the distance I spot Srirangam. On the top of the rock is a temple, although these stairs are in the full sun I decide to go. Sometimes I have a fear of heights and half way feel a little uncomfortable but I return safe.
For next Saturday we have a reservation for the toy train to Coonoor. We don't want to stay here for that period and decide to explore Erode and its surroundings..
Erode 31 January – 1 February
This night it rains heavy and in the morning it still drizzles. But by nine this stops and we walk to the nearby bus stand. There is a bus waiting and we install ourselves on the rear seat. The route follows the North bank of the Cauvery and is awfully nice. We drive along a small tributary river and through a lot of tiny villages. Now and then we stop for new passengers and then we continue in a high tempo. The bus gets more crowded and the scenery gets less attractive. Half past twelve we have a longer stop in Namakkal and two hours later we arrive in Erode.
We go to Club Melange where we can get a room for 1000 rs., it is rather cheap since the hotel is under reconstruction. There is a bar in the hotel and a separate one outside. So I don't have to shop for beer and we take one on the the edge of the swimming pool. Tomorrow we want to do a day trip and the man at the reception assures us that he will arrange a car.
The noise of the market right behind the hotel wakes us early. There is no price list for the breakfast and the waiter calculates the bill by head, afterwards we realize that is is rather costly for what we got. Our driver arrives and talks with the personnel about our trip. We want to go to a nearby fort but they say it is closed. For the rest we have hardly any influence on the arrangement and the temples and other sites that they add. Finally it is a trip off 280 km for the price of 1500 rs. and 8 rs. each kilometre. We can negotiate a little but it remains overpriced and we cancel it. All in all we are irritated and decide to leave tomorrow. To be certain of a sleeping place we call the Nanda Lodge in Mettupalayam.
With a rickshaw we go to the bus stand and from there to the Bhavani Sangameshwawar temple. The temple is situated on an island but there is a bridge. The conductor advises us a rickshaw for the last part, some women say it is walkable. To be sure we take an auto and indeed it is just a short distance. The entrance is free, we just pay 25 rs. for the photo equipment. It is a stretched out collection of all types of temples. Not the most spectacular but it is very nice and we spend there some hours. The views over the river are great. We are the only westerners and are a main attraction for other visitors, many of them take a picture of us.
We walk back to the bus stop and it takes some time before we understand that the bus stops twenty meter before the signpost. This is a luxury bus and the tariff is 16 rs. for the both of us.
Back in the restaurant the kitchen is closed and at four in the afternoon there is no food in the eateries around the hotel. So we take some bananas. At half past six we take a beer at the side of the pool and later we have there our dinner.
Mettupalayam, 2 – 3 February
This time we let the waiter write a bill and pay a lot less. After check-out we take a rickshaw to the bus stand. Once more we take the rear bench and at ten we are on our way. Just as I pay the tickets the bus takes a roadblock and the rupees fly around. Via a not yet completed highway we travel in the direction of Coimbatore. Now and then we go to a village for a stop. Every time the ticket seller must write down how much tickets he sells. It is not a very fascinating scenery around us. It gets better when we drive by smaller roads to Mettupalayam where we arrive at half past twelve.
The Nanada Lodge is close the bus stand and for 520 rs. we have a tolerable room.
According to the manager there is nothing to do in the town, disappointing since we have to spend another day here.
Around five we walk to the station, just 10 minutes away, and makes some photo's when the train arrives. I spot a notice board of a travel agent but nobody knows where that office is. We have a chat with Mose, the night porter of the lodge, and tell him what we want. He promises to arrange a car for tomorrow.
The driver promised to arrive at eight o'clock, half an hour later Mose calls him and somewhat later he is there. Together we make a rough plan for the rest of the day. The price of 1800 rs is higher than we expect but when we see the luxury car it is understandable. The driver does not speak English but Mose does and we are happy that he accompanies us.
The first stop is near a simple temple in the outskirts of the town. We visit this because it played an important rule in a Tamil movie. Adjacent to it stands a school, we have a look inside and of course disturb the lessons.
Next we visit the Vanabadrakaliamman temple, where our companions go for breakfast. Before the temple stand two huge statues, inside are just devotees. The priests want me to join them. After a while the four of us walk to the river. Since a few years there is a bridge but the previous used round coracles are still there. Mose and I hire one and for 100 rs we make a trip over the river.
In this regions are many cocos and areca palms and we visit one of the plantations. Our journey leads us over small roads and through tiny villages. It is very pleasant. In a tribal village we encounter an old lady, according to her family she is over hundred years of age.
Now we leave the fertile valleys, drive through a barren rocky scenery and end near a temple on top of the hills. My wife and I climb the stairs, at the top priests and musicians wait for us and the other visitors. The temple as well as the panorama is nice. The driver knows a holy cave at the other side of the road. He guides me over the steep path, on both sides live sadhus. After an energetic climb we see the cave far above us. We gasp both for breath and decide to leave the last part to the sheep that wander around. Near the temple the preparations for a feast are in full swing. People built the fairground attractions and the godess makes a tour.
It is time for lunch but on our way to the restaurant we pass another temple. It is just a few minutes before closing time so we have just a quick look. As in many temples the beautiful old parts are overshadowed by new constructions.
Mose suggests that we continue the excursion with a visit to a nature park. On our way towards it we see a wholesalers vegetable market and that is more interesting. The driver knows a lot of the people that work here. In vast warehouses large piles of carrots, beans and cabbage are piled up.
A little further is a cotton spinning-mill. After a short chat we are allowed inside and get a guided tour. First the cotton is crushed and processed into thick knots. In succeeding steps these knots are transformed into thin threads.
Gradually we get tired and tell the men that we have done enough. But we have to make another visit to a village where the inhabitants produce sari's, of course they try to sell them. The vendor has also a machine which fabricate paper chai cups and an emu farm.
We drink another chai and at half past four we are back in the hotel.
Coonoor, 4 – 6 February
Half past six in the morning we leave the hotel and although the station is nearby we take a rickshaw. As soon as we board the TTE controls the tickets, people with wait-list tickets follow him, hoping for a seat. Our fellow passengers don't have much luggage so we can stow ours beneath the benches. For breakfast we buy some wada and bananas.
The trains departs on time, we sit in the first cabin and since the engine is at the backside, we have a good look at the track. The first part goes through a flat area with palm plantations. At the start of the climb the train stops and everyone walks around. Then the steep climb starts, between the running rails is a rack rail. It is a curved course with now and then a tunnel. At the backside of the wagon sits a group they yell each time we enter one. Every five kilometre, that is roughly half an hour, we halt and tank fresh water for the engine. The passengers can walk around, happily there is a clear sight. It is a great and alternating trip and we enjoy every minute.
A quarter past ten we arrive in Coonoor and take a rickshaw to Hotel Vivek. We have a luxury room, for 1300 rs. we have a balcony and a separate bedroom. Beneath us the tea pickers are at work.
After lunch we walk to nearby Upper Coonoor where we visit Sim's park. It is situated in a little valley and contains many impressive trees and beautiful flowers. Tomorrow we want to do some sightseeing and back in the hotel we arrange a car. In the evening it gets chilly and we pull on a sweater.
Our driver picks us up before nine. His English's is very good and he has a great knowledge of the flowers around us and the tea culture. It is sunny but from the valley the clouds climb quickly upwards along the slopes.
The fist stop is Lamb's Rock, still just visible. Later we walk through the wood towards Dolphin's Nose. But now it is to misty the see anything further away. Nevertheless it is alternating and captivating. Over the narrow road we drive back to Coonoor. We get an explanation about the tea culture we now can distinguish a well maintained tea plantation and know that the type of tea-shrub depends on the height.
We take another valley in the direction of Kotagiri, the road is better and the sun shines. The last stop of the day is Kodanadu view point. The road leads us through tiny tribal villages, near one is a small temple one gets to crawl to get inside.
Of course forbidden for tourists. Then we cross an enormous huge plantation. According to the driver it is owned by Tamil Nadu's prime minister. At the viewpoint the atmosphere is clear so we can enjoy the panorama off the valley and the rocks around us. Late in the afternoon we are back in the hotel.
Around ten we check out and take a rickshaw to the bus stand. The bus towards Coimbatore just leaves but within a quarter the next one arrives. The journey by road is by far not so nice as by train but a lot faster. After an hour we are in Mettupalayam and another hour later we arrive at the bus stand of Coimbatore. It takes another three quarter with the city bus to the railway station. We bring the luggage to the cloak room and go for lunch. In the afternoon we go to the internet and mail the folks back home.
The train starts at half past four and is far from fully booked. A group women sleep in other compartments but sit and chat with us. For the first time we have a train where an an official cleaning company picks up the waste. By ten we have had our dinner and go to bed.
Vodarevu, 7 – 9 February
It is still dark when we get off the train in Chirala, a town in the coastal area of Andhra Pradesh. Enjoying a chai we wait for the daybreak and arrange a rickshaw to Vodarevu. During the trip there is a dense fog around us but near the coast the sun shines. The road leads through the small fishermen village, at the end the driver stops, we are at the beach. We explain that we have to go to the Sip&Dip resort. He has to ask for the direction. Over a track through a group of fishermen cots, with the accompanying garbage belt, we enter the walled resort. The manger is already up and for 700 rs. we hire a spacious, but rather run-down cottage. It has see view but the sand just in front of the cottage is filled with paper plates.
They don't serve breakfast for this we have to go to a stall in the village. And for lunch we must buy our own fish on the beach. In one of the several eateries we get tasteful puri's and dosa's for 28 rs. In another stall we buy a cup of coffee.
Next to the beach. A hundred meters from the coast the fishing boats lie at anchor. With small vessels the men bring the fish ashore. The large fishes are displayed in rows and auctioneers immediately sell the whole bunch. We have the idea this often fails and that local women try to catch as much as possible, meanwhile quarrelling with each other. In the next days we understand more of the process. It is a fascinating spectacle and we spend quite some time here.
Then we walk a little further and have the beach for us alone, it is not a bathing strand. When we return we have still no idea what fish to buy and the auction is nearly over. Then we spot large prawns. For thirty pieces, nearly a kilo, we pay 250 rs and for 10 rs. more a women cleans them.
After a short rest I go explore the rest of the village on my own. Around the houses the people dry the smaller fishes and of course repair the nets. As usual everyone asks about my origins. A young man is pleasantly surprised that I'm from the Netherlands. Pikki's education is paid by Dutch people and he has visited our country. He is a cook now and leaves in a few days to Malaysia. Together we walk to his mothers house, he is curious about the resort and I invite him to come along. While we are talking our prawns are served, tasteful but very spicy. Pikki tries them, says he can do it better and offers to cook for us tomorrow. Next morning we will buy the fish. The lunch is served on paper plates. The waiter throws the remainders on the sand just in front of the cottage.
Pikki goes home and we want to take a rest. With the power-cut the flies come in and I go again to the beach. It is high tide, there are no fishermen but many people from Chirala take a bath. In the evening there is a smaller auction, mostly different types of shrimps and crabs. The manager of the resort sends a boy to buy a beer for us, and is so nice to put in the fridge. For dinner they serve a reasonable meal of chapatis with egg-curry.
At half past seven I walk to the beach where Pikki is waiting. He shows me around and again I'm caught by all the action around us. At the moment that men unload a boat, needy people try to snatch some fish and guards try to prevent this. Pikki honours his name and is very picky in choosing our fish, at last we have a tall one for 370 rs. He takes it to his home to prepare.
It is half past eight by now so time to go to the eatery for our breakfast, we are greeted as regulars. Next we visit the beach again, nearly all the fish is sold and it is quiet. We slender through the village, everyone is welcoming, pity enough the people speak just a few words English.
By noon we walk towards Pikki's house. Although I know the general direction we need to ask several times and he is anxious waiting for us, we are ten minutes late. Just as yesterday his mother is at work in Chirala and he has invited some friends. We chat for a while and then Pikki sends them away and serves the food. Sitting on the floor we enjoy the delightful prepared fish. The head seems to be the best part, but we don't dare to try it. He has cooked so much that there is enough left for tonight's family dish. The friends return and after some more talking we go back to the resort. A village idiot follows us and only leaves when we act that we are angry.
Later in the afternoon I go for a swim. The water has a splendid temperature and the breakers are strong enough to roll me over. Silly that I didn't get in yesterday. And of course we walk around for another time.
The dinner and the beer are as good as yesterday. Our original plan was to stay here another day and leave Friday early morning to catch our reserved train in Guntur. Now we have seen how poorly the transport is we decide to leave tomorrow.
At seven I bring the last visit to the beach, Wiesje stays in the room. Big ice blocks, used for cooling, lay on the sand. The auction has not started yet, the men are busy to bring the fish ashore.
One off the boats is capsized in the breakers. The crew reverses the vessel and threw most of the fish back. But one of the beggars has also a good catch. Little by little I understand more of the procedures. I follow the women with their buckets full of fish to the village. They bring them to packing factories in the village. They are paid for each load and therefore they are constant in a hurry.
After breakfast we tell the manager that we check out and that we need a rickshaw to Chirala. There is also a bus but we don't think it is suitable for us and our luggage. Not that the rickshaw is much better, it is a transport vehicle with a couch provisional fixed into it. It is a bumpy ride.
In Chirala we wait a short time for the bus. This is the only one during our whole trip where the luggage fits in the overhead racks. It is a nice ride through an agriculture area and within two hours we are in Guntur. The Annapura Lodge is on the other side of the road, for 800 rs we have a large room with AC. The town, at least the area around the hotel, has not much to offer.
Rajahmundry, 10 – 15 February
Our depart is scheduled at noon so we have a relaxed morning. The train arrives just half an hour late, our CC compartment is not fully occupied and we can store our luggage in the racks. For lunch we buy two portions samosa, my wife is not very hungry and shares hers with some beggars. We travel through an agriculture area. More passengers board and at the end it is standing room only.
By five o'clock we arrive in Rajahmundry. The station is outside the town and after a ride across the city we arrive at hotel Surya, situated nearby the other railway station. For 1000 rs. we have a large AC room, it looks very clean but there are plenty off small cockroaches.
We explore the neighbourhood a it looks quite pleasant. Back in the hotel we ask for a beer shop, one of the men gets the beer for us.
As always in hotels with a 24 hours check-in policy it is noisy the whole night. We wake up in time since yesterday we are told that the laundry pick-up is at eight. Nobody comes and it turns out that we just have to place it in the corridor.
The main reason for our visit is the boat trip to Punnami. On the internet I found many offers, most of the offices are located at the Bund, they all bear nearly the same name. We enter one of them, no one speaks English but another travel agent assists. I like the two-day trip, the bamboo huts look reasonable and at the end we choose this instead of a daytrip, the costs are 4000 rs all-in.
Along the Bund flows the broad Godaviri river, close by is the Markandeya temple. This is a collection of several smaller temples scattered inside an enclosure. There are so many of them that it is difficult to have a good look at the separate ones. As part of the celebrations the devotees run around one of the temples.
On the banks of the river we watch the always pleasant activities of people, washing and bathing. Men unload by hand boats loaded with sand. Near the large bridges is a temple ghat.
We sit a while on the stairs and watch the activities. It is possible to boat here, just a few people are interested. We think that the hotel is not far away and decide to walk back, take a wrong turn and end in the vivid Main Street, a real shopping centre. Wiesje buys pants and after that a rickshaw brings us in no time to the hotel.
In the afternoon we roam again in the streets around the hotel and discover a nice, small local market.
After an early rise we take a rickshaw and arrive shortly after seven at the travel agency. They have arranged an English speaking guide, we will meet him at the boat. The bus arrives and we, as only foreigners, get the best seats in the front. At eight we start and drive over very bad roads through a lovely scenery with tiny villages.
An hour later we stop in Pattiseema, we sit next to the door and get off. Then the bus accelerates and we panic, bystanders calm us down, this is the embarkation place. A young man introduces himself as Previn, he is our guide. A narrow path leads to to the river where several large boats are waiting. Walking over sand-bags and a small gangway we board. One of the crew gives us coins for our breakfast and we sit in our chairs on the upper deck.
It is ten o'clock as the boats departs. The trip leader tells stories in Telugu, alternative he plays loud music. The atmosphere on the boat is as on a school-trip. After half an hour we stop near the Gandiposama temple and Previn and I visit it, together with the other passengers. It is crowded and atmospheric, for me that is enough and I don't enter the sanctuary. After another half hour we stop by a police station, photographing is forbidden. The crew bring large messtins on board, this is our the lunch.
We continue over the broad river and then stop near a checkpoint. The entrance to the protected area, 10 rs., is included in the trip price. The ticket inspector counts the number of passengers, as he notices two foreigners he wants 400 rs more. We refuse to pay, since we only can talk with Previn it is a difficult discussion. The captains leaves the ship and talks with the leading officers. After a while he returns, now with a bill of 150 rs. Again we refuse to pay since we have an all-inclusive trip and we find that the travel agent has to pay this. Previn settles the problem.
We now enter the Papi Hills, even here the journey is not very spectacular and we find it rather disappointing. From a new announcement I understand that we must go downstairs for lunch. That is true but the passengers are called in groups and I arrive at the wrong moment. Of course I get food and find a seat somewhere on a bench. By two o'clock we see the bamboo huts on the bank but we pass and continue to a tribal village and temple up on the hill. The locals here sell all kind of handicraft.
An hour later we and another couple embark at the Kolluru resort, the boat continues directly. It is hot and it is a long walk through the sand towards the huts. I guess there are a hundred of it. Ours is disappointing, a bamboo frame on piles with a heavy tent-cloth above it. The frame is covered with mattresses and bedding, there is no room for chairs.
But we have a splendid vision over the surrounding scenery. So here we sit and as we understand there is nothing to do here than wait on tomorrow's boat. Previns suggests to change our plans, visit Bhadrachalam and take the bus back from there. We have our doubts but at last decide to do this.
By five we are called, in the centre of the camp coffee, tea and pakora's are served. All the guests, not more than 25 are assembled. Later I try to walk around the camp but soon I am stopped by the fence around it. By the time that it gets dark it turns out that the electricity in our hut is not working so we move to another one. The bright spot is that Previn organize a bottle of beer with some nice fish snacks. The camp-fires are lit and at the same spot where we had tea now the dinner is served. Fish, chicken, rice and curries, it tastes well.
The hard underground of the bamboo frame combined with a developing cold makes that I don't sleep well. In the middle of the night we go together to the toilets, a hundred metre away from our hut. Watchdogs bark and immediate the watchman turns on a light.
At seven Previn brings us a cup of coffee. In the meantime the personnel cleans the campground. The part of the camp where we stay is flooded in monsoon time. High above are some permanent buildings where we have breakfast. Here is also a primitive bathroom.
Previn is very vague about today’s scheme but around ten we walk to the river. He has given us the idea that he has arranged our own transport but we join a group of men, they have rented a small boat. It is a group from Hyderabad and have got this trip, as a reward, from their company. With 12 men we board in a rather small vessel. The first stop is the village on the other bank that we visited yesterday, this time we stay on board. Then we continue up the river, in this small boat the trip is more rewarding.
At noon we embark and plod along the friable sand to the bank and say goodbye to our companions. Previn claims that our car is here but that we have to wait for the driver. To put it mildly, we are not happy with the situation. This is just a boarding point for the boats and the nearest town is kilometres far away. Gradually it becomes clear to us that Previn just has arranged a lift with the Hyderabadi people. After the lunch the driver arrives and half past one we depart in a minibus. The journey through many small villages is nice. The fields are filled with red pepper, rice and tobacco.
By three we arrive in Bhadracham and now really say goodbye to our hosts. Since we have a bus journey of five hours ahead for us we want to hurry, something Previn cannot understand. The walk to the temple is rather long and then Previn suggests we hire a hotel room for an hour so we can clean ourselves before the visit to the godess. We refuse this and he and i take a quick lunch before we go to the temple. No idea about the spiritually aspect, but for me the temple is not very spectacular. Special is a big rock, the devotees seems to receive a message from it.
Then we hurry with a rickshaw to the bus stand. When the bus arrives it is half past four. Previn runs ahead and is able to secure three seats for us. But bad luck again, they are reserved seats. In the meantime the bus is overcrowded and we struggle to get outside. It is getting late and we decide to take a taxi despite the price of 2800 rs. Soon it is dark and then is driving not our favourite so we are glad as we arrive in Rajahmundry at nine.
We are tired after these two days and take it easy. Just spend the morning with a visit to an ATM and the internet. For tomorrow we want a day-out to the backwaters of Konaseema and go again to the travel agencies at the Bund. But the only trips they offer are those with larger boats and we don't want to repeat that experience.
Along the river is a small park and while we sit on the bench I have a look at our map. Yanan, a part of Pondicherry is not far from here. We find some information on the net, it looks good and we decide to give it a try.
At nine we arrive at the bus stand, there is an information desk and the officer explains that we have to change bus in Ramachandrapuram. He also tells us our bus starts from platform number 23. The highest number we see is 22 and after a lot of questioning we discover that our platform is outside.
Soon the bus arrives and we find a seat. The road goes along a canal, at one side is an industrial area, at the other side are paddy fields. After an hour we arrive in R and the bus conductor escorts us to the Yanan bus. This departs immediate and now we ride through a terrific beautiful scenery, the rice fields are dotted with groups of palm trees, it is just like a picture of the tourist office.
Shortly after noon we are at Yanan, a very laid back town. Most buildings are painted white, and the policemen wear the same caps as in France. We take a rickshaw and order the driver to make a tourist tour. The first stop is not a temple but an elderly home. We are invited inside and escorted to the director. He expresses that apart from 50 senior citizen they also accommodate 10 orphans and all is paid through gifts, we get the hint. The English teacher shows us around. Men and women live apart in 4 or 8 bedded chambers, they have just a bed and a trunk. Nearly everyone lays in bed and as we look through the doorway the inhabitants want to stand up, quite embarrassing. It is clean and well maintained, the home has also a medical centre and a nice garden. The children have a box of their own.
We continue our trip to the river which has a splendid boulevard. And of course visit the usual mix of temples, churches and mosques. One of them is situated near a canal, with the small boats it resembles Kerala. We try to persuade the driver to a journey through the countryside, but he does or will not understand this. Each time as we leave the built-up area he returns. After one and a half hour we have seen all the streets and pay him.
We take some refreshments and start the route back. This time we have to wait long for the bus arrives and also in Ramachandrapuram we stay for an hour. We have a seat but this bus is so full that passengers hang outside the doors. By six we are back and take a rickshaw to the hotel.
Vizianagaram , 16 – 19 February
Half past seven we leave the hotel and it takes some time before I find a rickshaw. In the railway station is a restaurant and we take our breakfast there. The train runs half an hour late and the sleeper class is overcrowded. It is hard to convince the others that we have reserved seats, some leave but I sit with five on the three seat bench. The splendid landscape around us compensates a lot. At the beginning it resembles that of yesterday, later it gets more arid. In Vizag some new passengers board, they shout at the passengers without reservation, they disappear and now we sit just with six men.
Half past two we arrive in Vizianagaram where we take a room in hotel Vytla. We sit a while in our room and then start to explore the town. Our hotel is in the station area and this is clearly not the centre. Nearby is a large artificial lake, at the other end is the fort. It is getting late, we decide to go back and leave the rest for the coming days.
Breakfast is served in what looks like a parking basement, the food maches with the place. We want to visit Kumili and Bavikonda Hill and ask the men at the desk if they are in the same direction. The four of them are not sure about this and we decide just to do Kumuli by rickshaw.
The driver takes us first through the centre of Vizianagaram and next it is a pleasant ride in the country side. The temple complex in Kumili is nice. It is old and a little worn-out but restoration is in full swing. We are an attraction for the priests and the villagers. Several gods are worshipped here and in each sanctuary another priest guides us while a villager translates. Surprisingly nobody asks for money but of course we donate for the restoration. The Bavikonda Hill with the Sri Rama temple is not so far and we can see it. To reach the temple requires a solid climb in the full sun and we skip this. Instead we decide to take a chai in a cool shed.
By two o'clock we are back in the hotel, the restaurant is overcrowded and it takes a while before we can share a table with some others. When we are finished others take immediate our chairs. In the afternoon I decide to walk around the nearby lake. It is nice but it takes over an hour it, much more time than I expected.
My wife has troubles with her stomach and wants to stay at the room. I visit the town centre on my own. Yesterday we passed a market and now I walk towards it. It is smaller than I thought. Opposite is the entrance of the fort. The impressive walls are intact, the buildings are converted in education institutions for girls.
A broad shopping mall leads from there to a clock-tower. Around this a vast market area is spread out. A great place to keep me busy for quit some time, a few hours later I return to the hotel.
In the evening we stroll together in the neighbourhood around the hotel, the papayas taste great.
Since Wiesje feels much better we take a rickshaw to the clock-tower area and explore the market area and the streets around it. Many of the market vendors ask if we want to take a picture of them and they have great fun with the results. Some days ago my wife bought a trouser, it does not fit proper and we see a street tailor which can fix it. With a shared rickshaw we return to the hotel.
Another town we wanted to visit from here is Bobbili. Since it is situated between here and our next destination, Koraput we decide to travel by car instead of a bus. The travel agent does not now the distance, the price he asks is 9 rs per kilometre and we accept. We always eat very little in comparison to Indian people, for dinner we order often just one dish and as we not even finish this the waiters keep laughing.
Koraput, 20 - 23 February
It is nine in the morning when our car arrives and we leave Vizianagaram. It is Maha Shivaratri and everywhere stand long queues in front of the temples. The driver is good but, even for Indian standards, he uses his horn very fanatically. In Bobbili we stop in front of the palace and enter through the gate.
Here and there white, rather run-down, buildings are situated. As we look around a man asks us to enter one of them. He shows us a room filled with photographs of an important man and his family. From the guides poor English we understand this are the owners. On the second floor is an museum, for a visit we need approval from someone elsewhere. We walk in the direction towards a group men. At that moment the man from the photo's arrives. He is hailed with great respect. As the owner hears that we want to visit his property he orders a man to show us around.
In a shed stand some old cars, they fall apart by lack of maintenance. Then we visit the museum. A hall with fine pillars is filled with many utensils and memorabilia once belonging to the former rulers. The staircase is beautiful ornamented. Another man guides us around the compound and insists that we must visit a guest-house. Some elder men with an equal old Jeep follow us. It is tempting to go with them but we are afraid that it takes to much of our time and we refuse. Without success we try to explain this. Only when they spot our car it becomes clear and disappointed they go back.
We continue our trip through a mountain area. First over a good road with great views, the last part before Koraput it is very bad. By two o'clock we arrive after a trip of 175 kilometre. We stay in the new and clean Raj Residence and pay 1100 rs. for a room.
Five years ago we visited this area on a organized tour with a car + driver. This time we want to make our own plan and try to locate a travel agency. As we don't see one we ask the men on the desk if they know a guide. We get some phone numbers but with our mobile we cannot reach them. With the hotel's land-line we have more success but all the men are occupied. I have read about a travel agency, Grace, and ask their address.
But since the hotel has its own agent we are persuaded to deal with him. He can arrange a car for a reasonable price but indicates that we cannot go to the tribal areas. After a lot of doubts we accept it. According the man there is, apart from the tribal museum in Koraput, also one in Jeypore. Although we never heard about this we trust him and tomorrow we will start there.
In the middle of the night the music from the Jagannath temple awakes us. Just after eight we have breakfast and are pleasantly surprised that our driver is already there. He has an old car, my front seat has only the sleeping stand. After a stop by a laundry were we get towels to cover the chairs we are on our way.
The road to Jeypore is in a bad condition with big holes, especially in the hilly part. The driver knows nothing about a tribal museum here and everyone he asks agrees that the only one is in Koraput. The only thing to see in this town are the remainders of the old palace. Only the antique carriages are worth a second look.
Next we go to the Natsura dam, the views over the lake are not so special but on the slopes of the dam is a nice garden with many bougainvillea and other flowering trees. For other visitors we are the main attraction, they stand in line to take a picture of us. The last stop is the Srirama temple in Dumriput at the other side of Koraput. Outside stands a big Hanuman statue. By one o'clock we are back in the hotel after a hardly rewarding trip.
The only benefit is that I have seen the office of Grace's and visit it. They offer several nice day-programs and we decide to do some of these.
We still have problems with our mobile and get the message 'ban on outgoing calls'. I consult the owner of an Airtel shop he does not understands it and directs me to a customer care office. While I try to find it, a bystander comes to assist. I'm glad that he comes along with me. The shop is closed but the man knows the back-door. They personnel tries to help me but also they have no idea what causes the problem. They give me a phone number in Tamil Nadu but nobody picks up our call.
Just after eight we wait in the lobby. A car, larger than we ordered stops, the driver cleans the windows and enters the hotel. It is our car and we get it for the same price, 1900 rs. as we agreed. As usual we need fuel and as the nearby gas-station is re-filled we have to cross the town. Our driver, Mahoun, does not speak English but he manage to make it clear that he still must have breakfast.
All together it is about nine as we really start and go around 60 kilometre back in the Vizianagaram direction. Then we take a cross-road, it is small and full potholes but the scenery is great. First we travel through a narrow valley with much agriculture and than we start to climb. Mahoun points to some far away towers on top of the hills. Those are our destination. In the beginning it is woodland around us and then we reach a rough area with only low vegetation.
After another 15 km. we reach the watchtowers at Deomali, the highest point in the region. Since it is clear we have a good view over the landscape. We stay for a while and wonder why many of these towers are deliberate ruined.
Back over the same road and near Semilgude we leave the highway again and go to Nandapur. We don't know what to expect here and neither does Mahoun. He calls several times with his boss and then we stand still near a temple on a hill. To top of this hill is sacred and is worshipped inside.
The last stop on today's plan is the Nageswari fall. But we cannot reach this by car, we don't envy the walk of 3 km. and go back. In Nandapur is a nice local market, that is more to our taste.
By 3 o'clock we are back in the office and have a chat with Firoj, the owner. We mention the problems wits our mobile and he takes control. After half an hour, with the help of several others and many calls it is clear. We have missed the verification sms and now our sim-card is deactivated. The only way to solve this is by returning to Chennai, of course that is no option. We fill a new form and one of the men assures us that we have a new card by tomorrow. Firoj offers to drive us back to the hotel but we tell him we have to go to an internet first. No problem, we can use his computer and then he drives us back.
Mahoun and Firoj arrive together at half past eight. The latter gives us a new sim-card, an Uninor this time, and leaves to his office. We take off into the Jeypore direction, this time we take another road through a great scenery. It is apparently a new road, the first part is good to drive but then we continue over a rocky surface.
At the entrance of a village this is blocked and we take a cart track through the fields. No road for a normal car but Mahoun manages to complete the detour, After a great journey we arrive in Machkund. In two hours we covered 50 kilometres.
We have no idea why we are here and it is clear that it is also Mahoun's first visit. He phones with Firoj, ask several villagers and then we stop near a small shop. It become apparent that we need some kind of a permit. It takes half an hour to accomplish and we pay 5 rs for it. A young man joins us, he knows the region and speaks some English. Criss-cross over small roads we reach a plateau from here we watch the Duduma fall. Since here is also an electricity plant photographing is forbidden and even if we walk a little further the watchman comes in action. Somewhat further down the road we can climb over the rocks and have a spectacular sight over the river.
Next we visit the tribal market in Ankadeli. It is not so big but very colourful and many Bonda's attend it. Mainly women dressed in bright blue clothes. The men are mostly gambling and everyone is drinking, we stick to a chai. There is one other tourist couple, also from the Netherlands. Via another path we reach the border with Andhra Pradesh. We stand high above the river with waterfalls all around us, it is awful nice. Then back to Machkund to drop our guide and then we return to the office of Grace in Koraput.
We pay for the trip and the sim-card. As far as I understand, we don't have to bother about registration this time.
The preceding days we have made appointments for our next stop in Chandoori Sai and Firoj will bring us tomorrow. It is nearly five o'clock before we are back in the hotel. Somewhat later we have to buy toilet paper. The shops were we expect this don't sell it, we have to go to the bakery.
Goudaguda, 24 – 26 February
It is early in the morning as I wake up and I decide to visit the Jagannath temple. There it is very peaceful at this time of the day. Five years ago I was here also and again it is obvious that memories are not reliable. I remember the somewhat scary sculptures but don't recall the total setting, glad I came back.
Around ten we leave, this time Firoj drives. He firsts gives us a tour along all the governmental buildings. Then we drive over a small but good road through the country side to Goudaguda. This is a very small village, we see the drinking guests of wedding parties but there are no signboards for Chandoori Sai. Firoj asks someone and it turns out that we are already close to the resort. We cross a dry ditch and stop in front of a closed fence. We rattle it and the owner, Leon, with his three feminine assistants come to welcome us.
The resort looks great and we get a large residence with a veranda. Around us is a nice garden and over the fence we see the hills of Orissa. Leon shows us around and under the pleasure of a good cup of coffee we chat. Since we are the only guests he has all the time and tells expressive about his life here.
The lunch is served, home-baked bread with tomatoes, Italian style so is all the food during our stay.
The women that work for him live in the village. One of them speaks reasonable English and all three escort us for a village tour. First to a big pottery and then we watch the dancing at the wedding parties. Of course we visit also the street where the ladies live and then have a walk trough the fields. From a hilltop we have a great panorama, Chandoori Sai is close by but hidden behind the trees.
Together with Leon we make some plans for tomorrow. Sunday we leave from here. We have a train ticket from Rayagada but he tells us that we can board in nearby Kakiriguma. We sit in front of our apartment, the sky is filled with fire-flies, quite a different atmosphere compared to our standard overnight stays. At seven there is a power-cut, the generator does his job and we eat in the great hall. An hour later the power is back, and so is the music from the wedding parties. Back in the room we hardly hear this.
Half way the night I wake up and have to go to the toilet. It was seldom so quiet in India. Breakfast with a large omelet and a matching mug coffee. The morning we spend with reading, puzzling and talking, the ladies cut the grass with scissors. Later I go for a walk in the surroundings. Partly it is dry while other areas are irrigated and used for agriculture.
Around noon Leon takes us to a local market. It is not such an extending one but as always we enjoy it, such spots are never boring. Three o'clock we are back and get an abundant lunch. Bread with tomatoes and rice with several curries.
To digest this I take a walk at the other end of the village. The scenery here is also dry and barren. The road continues and after a while I take the same route back.
After breakfast I go for another walk. This time I take goat paths in a hilly area. After some time I see, still far away, the railway and the road. Since I'm afraid that I get lost by trying to find a circular path I return. Today there is another marriage, close to the resort the fires for the meal are burning. We hear the music from the village. A group of women walk along the resort, they escort the bride. After a while we go to the party. The young couple presents bidi's to everyone, we also get some. Of course the people drink a lot. A few elder women dance, most of the other people sit and watch.
Then we visit the pottery again. The sun has dried the pots and now they are piled up with wood, straw and dung beneath and around them. Tonight they put the fire on.
We take the preparations for our departure, pack our bag, take a shower and pay the bill. Leon prepares a dinner for us to take and then he drives us to the railway station. Every night there is a powercut around this time, the station is completely dark when we arrive. Pocket torches and mobile phones provide the lighting as I buy a general ticket for the first part of the trip. The train arrives, we say goodbye to Leon and board through the first door we see. Inside we walk to the 2AC and inform the TTE. Just like we hoped our seats are free. The TTE has a pupil with him and together the fill the forms for the upgrade.
We enjoy our diner, lasagne and pie as desert, talk for a while and go to bed.
Bhadrakh, 27 February – 1 March
In the middle of the night we are back in Vizianagaram, from here the train goes in the opposite direction. Now we sit nearby the constant whistling locomotive so we get hardly any sleep. We are on our way to our friend Pratap. In the morning we try contact him but the connections are poor. The idea is to meet in Bhunaneshwar but it turns out that he is still away for his work. So we will continue on our own to Bhadrak. Now and then another man calls us, we don't get who that is.
With a delay of three hours we arrive in Bhubaneshwas. Fortunately we have plenty of time for our connection. Half past eleven the next train departs and again the Sleeper class is overfull.
Shortly after one we arrive in Bhadrak and have now time to phone at our ease. Pratap explains he will arrive tomorrow and we must take a taxi to his house. We give the phone to the driver and P. gives the man the direction to the village.
Not far out of the town a car approaches. The two men stop our taxi, we are flabbergasted. Then it becomes clear that one of them is Liku, Prataps fresh son-in-law. He is also the other man that phoned us. We change cars and continue.
At two o'clock we are in the house and get a cordial welcome. A friend of P is engaged and takes the lead. Soon we have lunch and a beer, in the meantime we have the usual chats. Since a few days there is no electricity, another new experience for us.
After a short rest we, and a lot of children, go for a walk through the village and the fields. Although it is our third visit we still draw a lot of attention. Afterwards, when it gets dark, we sit on the roof and drink another beer. Most of the time we talk with the young couple, Mama and Liku, she tries to learn us the names of her new family. By nine we have dinner and go to bed. As by our previous visit we get a room for ourselves, the rest of the family sleeps in the other room and the corridor.
Around six everybody is awake and we join the family for breakfast. We lounge around the house watching the daily affairs and play with the four young dogs. The girls give my wife an Indian style make-over. Pratap phones, there is a transport strike so it will be late before he arrives. His friend is warned and walks again with us through the fields.
Liku has a bike and with the two of us on the back we drive to the school of the youngest daughter. First we visit the headmaster and then have a look at all the classes. As always they are to small for the many children.
Next to Liku's home, he and Mama have an own room in the clay build family house. In the courtyard Mama gives a demonstration of her cooking skills, our tasteful dinner is served in the only room in which fits a table. Then we are obliged to take a rest in the conjugal bed. Now the family members have not to entertain us and can enjoy their own meal. We are so tired that we immediately fell in sleep.
Afterwards one of the relatives transforms Wiesje in an Indian lady, inclusive red nails, henna painting, make-up and a sari. For the photo-shoot I wear Liku's wedding hat. Of course we visit the local temple and my wife joins, for a short time, a volleyball game.
In the meantime Pratap has arrived and we go back to his place. It is nice to see him again. Due to the strike he had to use more then 20 different types of transport between Puri and Bhadrak.
There is still no electricity and we sit on the roof with the light of pocket torches. From the village comes the sound of music and we assume there is an wedding. But it is a memorial gathering in honour of a man that passed away ten days ago. The three of us walk towards the large tents, in the first one we sit a while on a chair, then we enter the next tent. Cooks prepare food on open fires and we join the many people sitting on the ground. Everyone get a leaves plate and the food is served. I'm still no master in eating with my fingers in this position. Needles to say that we are again in the focus of attention.
The music continues until six in the morning and shortly after that we get up so everyone can take their belongings out the closets in our room. Once outside the youngest daughter takes us to the village, it is time to present us to some elder relatives and the best time is before breakfast.
Around eleven an old Ambassador rides in front. With the family we start a tour through the hamlets in the countryside. It becomes a mixture of visits to temples and family. The first temple is closed. Pratap searches for the priest, the man is now building worker. When he is finished with the mortar he changes his clothes and walks with us to the temple. It is just a simple tower with some nice carvings inside.
Also the little sanctuaries in the other villages are charming. In between we we visit the extended family house of Pratap's wife and a rather large farm. Of course everyone welcomes us with drinks and sweets.
Back home it is time for lunch and a siesta. New is the internet café in the village. It is rather primitive, we lie on the ground with a laptop but it works. So another peaceful day ends.
By one o'clock loud music awakes us. We look out of the window and see a marriage procession passing by. A decorated car and a lot of light. In the morning we take pictures from the family so we can send them a photo-book. By ten the taxi is there and we say goodbye to everyone except for Pratap. He has to go work and accompanies us.
The train departs in time, the three of us sit on the site bench. We are provided with a lunch and we finish it early so P can take the tins with him. Around two we arrive in Bhubaneshwar were our friend works and get off. Half an hour later we leave the train in Khurda Road. We bring the luggage to the cloak room and for the first time we experience that the employee asks for locks on the bag-packs. We don't have these and at last he accepts our bags.
We have a few hours before our next train and spend most of this time on the internet. Just to be sure of a room we phone a hotel in RajNanadagon our next stop. We have success and our mobile is still working. Then back to the station. Since train stands here for half an hour we have all the time to find our seats in the nearly empty carriage. After dinner my wife tries to use her laptop, the train shakes so much that cursor jumps away. I have an upper bed and by ten I climb into it.
Rajnandgaon, 2 – 3 March
We sleep well in the train but wake up early. Soon a breakfast of coffee and omelet is served, in the meantime we enjoy the alternating scenery. Around eleven we arrive in Raj Nandgaon. The train stands here for just a minute so we are in a hurry. An elderly couple blocks the door, they just stand there to greet some relatives. A little rude we push them aside. Outside the rickshaw drivers jostle around us. We mention the name of our hotel and one will bring us 30 rs. It turns out to be a cycle and we prefer an auto, that costs a little more.
The hotel is not far away but it is situated at a road that just is transformed into a highway. To make space for this, the adjacent houses, and also our hotel, are partly pulled down. The owner is restoring it but we don't want to sleep in a building site. Our driver knows another hotel in the centre and brings us to Laximinanayam. For 1200 rs they offer us a rather small room, but since this has no electricity we get a larger one for the same price.
While we refresh ourselves a policeman knocks on the door. Foreigners are a curiosity here and he asks why we are here and how we travel. Our I-tickets are so intriguing that he is happy with a copy of it.
Next to the hotel is a restaurant where we eat an dosa. Back in the room I make a raw concept for the next weeks of our itinerary. Our next destination is Gondia. A hotel-boy has a train schedule and we choose the morning train. In the afternoon, when it is less hot we stroll through the centre. It is pleasant busy with not much motorized traffic.
The hotel restaurant serves only dosa's and snacks. This afternoon we discovered another one and there we have our dinner. On the way back we buy our traditional beer.
The first thing I do is walk to the station. There are no queues, I fill in the form and hand it to the officer. He holds a long speech, of course I don't understand a word of it. But his decision is clear, he does not process my enquiry. Confused I go to an internet and find out that this train is not bookable for such short distances. There is another train with availability. Since booking through Cleartrip does not work I return to the station for another, this time successful, attempt.
Our guidebook has nothing about RajNandgaon so I have googled some places and we try to locate them. The first one, Rattan store, is nearby. No idea what make this special, for us it is just an ordinary shop as one sees everywhere.
We have written down the sights and with the help of some bystanders we get a cycle to the Mata Sheetla Devi temple. It is a new temple, build on the remainders of an old one. Inside are nice statues and an electric operated drum. The priest sends for an English speaking man who explains all this to us.
Behind the temple is a large lake. At the other end is a palace and we walk towards it. The first gate is open and we enter, the next one is more or less closed but we walk on. A large poster gives us the idea this is an military institute. Just as we want to leave a man approaches us. He explains that this is a state college of which he is a teacher. The last ruler dedicated that his palace should be transformed into a school. The man escorts us to the office of the principal, who is not there, But we are seated and get an welcome drink. Several teachers join us for some talks and in the meantime the principal arrives. We make an entry in the guest book and one of the men shows us some of the classrooms. We leave the palace at the backside. Here at the lake the fishermen dry their nets. Since it is not so far we walk back to our hotel.
Later we go out for dinner. This morning when I walked to the station the shops opened their doors. Now, at nine in the evening, they close again. The streets are occupied by the cows, dogs and goats.
Gondia, 4 – 6 March
As the other day the breakfast in the restaurant is very rudimentary. I take some unfamiliar food, Wiesje has just curd. Our train leaves at noon so we take our time. The hotel-boy arranges two cycles for us to the station. The train is in time and we make the short trip to Gondia. The scenery is nice with woodlands alternated by rice fields.
Half past one we arrive, here stand only cycle rickshaws and we take one for each of us. Our hotel is at the other side of the railway. The viaduct is too steep to cycle so the men have to walk. Once we crossed this it turns out that they don't know the hotel. They cycle around, ask here and there and after a while they reach hotel Pacific. For 1310 rs. we have a spacious room.
After lunch I go out to explore the town. I hear the trains, walk in that direction and find out that we are just a short walk away from the station. There is a footbridge which ends near the centre. Now, at Sunday, most shops are closed but it looks as though Gondia is a vivid city. There is also a large market area. After an hour and a half I return to the hotel.
From here we travel to Chhindwara and my intention was to do this by train. First to Nagpur and then with the metre gauge. It is a long ride and the most scenic part we will travel in the dark. So we change our plans and decide to take the bus.
Tomorrow we want to visit a wild-park and we go to the lobby and arrange a car. According to the men we can easily visit Nagzira and Nawegaon in one day, a nice surprise. They don't have any idea about buses to Chhindwara but explain that the bus station is on a walkable distance. It is too far to be nice but we reach it. There is an information desk and they declare there is a direct bus at nine in the morning.
From here we take a rickshaw to the centre. First to the internet. For the registration they even need the visa information. Next we upgrade our Sim-card, an easy process by phone. Since we don't trust that the card will last for long we put only 50 rs on it.
Now we start with one of our favourite pastimes, roaming around in the unknown streets, shops and markets. We have a great time and when we get tired there is always a chai or juice stall. We see another restaurant. I have a look inside and immediate the owner wants to book me in his attached hotel. After a few hours we go back for a rest.
A few kilometres outside Gondia, in Naga, is an old temple. In the afternoon we ask an rickshaw driver. He pretends to know it and for 100 rs we are on our way. After a few moments he stops by an English speaking friend of him. With his help it becomes clear to the driver what we want. He now asks the double price, still a reasonable amount in our opinion.
We drive over the highway and reach Naga. Most buildings in the village are large blue painted family farms. After a short time we reach the temple, parts of it are old and weathered. Many pilgrims visit the place. The driver knows another temple further inland but since the road is blocked we cannot reach this.
We walk through the village, our drivers feels himself responsible and stays very near us. The villagers are just as fascinated by us as we are with them and their activities. Of course we have to take pictures, especial from baby’s. But this time also from a farmer and his somewhat aggressive bull.
Back in the hotel we are informed that they have arranged a car for tomorrow but we can only visit Nagzira.
Shortly after seven the driver arrives. Since he does not speak a word English he gets his instructions from the desk man. For breakfast we stop by an eatery at the end of the street. The previous days I often saw people eat a rice dish. I give it a try and from now on poha stands high on my breakfast list.
In high speed we drive towards Nagzira. Halfway we pass many workers, wearing different coloured safety helmets. They travel by bike, bus, cycle or just walk, I estimate there are several thousands. Their destination is an electricity plant in Tirora.
Half past eight we reach the sanctuary. I fill many necessary registration forms. Since they are written in Hindi I need a lot of assistance. The man sums up some amounts and the result is 962 rs, a rather reasonable entry price. But I just have to pay 300 rs. A guide joins us and we enter the park.
Nagzira is mainly woodland where we spot many monkeys, deer, sambar, nilgau and of course all kind of birds. As far as tigers concerned we just see the footprints. The accessible part of the park is not so stretched out and we take most trails more than once. It is great trip, at this time of the day we don't see many other visitors. After an hour or three we have seen enough and take a chai just outside the fence. Then we drive with the same speed back to Gondia.
To be sure if a room in Chhindwara Wiesje phones a hotel, surprisingly the man there speaks fluent English.
Chhindwara, 7 – 11 March
After a dosa breakfast we go half past eight to the bus-stand. At the information we ask which is the bus to Chhindwara. The men talk it over and hand me a note. We have to wait an hour for the bus to Balaghat and from there take another one. In the sun it is already hot and we look for a shady spot. Before we sit, one of the men points us to a bus that leaves earlier. We join the other passengers and have plenty room for our luggage on the back-bench. The driver starts the engine, proceeds ten metre, stops alongside another bus and leaves. For unknown reasons we all have to board that bus. We just find two seats for us and the luggage, it is rather cramped. En route more passengers board so it becomes very crowded. At the border of Madhya Pradesh most people get off.
Half past then we reach Balaghat. Men shout loudly the destinations of the different buses. Ours is a smaller private one with a separate luggage compartment. Within a few minutes we are on our way. As usual the conductor sells the tickets. In the following towns a peculiar method is used. At the beginning of the city a man comes in and sells the tickets to all the passengers who board here. At the end of the town he splits the profits with the conductor and leaves.
The first part of the journey goes to an agricultural area but soon we enter the woods and climb with hairpins in the direction of Seoni. There are some problems in front of the bus. It is so crowded that we cannot see it clear. One of the passenger vomits or something falls, but a lot of people get wet and dirty clothes. In Seoni we have a break of a quarter. The passengers have time to make themselves decent. The two conductors clean the benches with newspapers. Some scoops of sand on the bottom finish the cleaning process.
Back on the road two men get a quarrel, a lot of shouting and one pulls a sharp awl. The conductors calm the situation. But this trip stays tumultuous. Another man chows tobacco and spits regular out of the window. In several cases the spit flew back through the rear window in the face of one of the conductors. He threats to expel the offender.
But everything ends and just after three we are in hotel Saket. In contrary with yesterdays phone-call nobody at the desk speaks a word English. We manage to get a room and since the best one is just 1000 rs. we take that. It has a nice view over an artificial lake. After a while we discover there is no electricity. When we go down to complain the owner and his nephew have arrived, one of them we had on the phone.
We want to explore Chhindwara and ask them where are the highlights. They assure us there is nothing special to see here. We go for a walk around the lake and from there we proceed in the adjacent streets. Before the temples and at the corners stakes are erected. Back in the hotel we here that these are lit tonight as start of the Holi celebration. The hotel has a garden restaurant with good food where we are the only guests.
After nightfall I go back since I'm curious if the celebrations have started. People makes sacrifices but the fires are not lit yet.
During previous trips we have had our share of the Holi colours and we stay in the hotel. Most of the personal has a day off but we manage to get a simple breakfast. We spend the day reading and puzzling. It is difficult to get the lunch, an occasional cook warms some sausages and serves this with fruit.
I still want to have a ride with the metre gauge and we decide to go by train to Sausar and return by bus. At six in the evening I walk to the station for tickets. It is quiet, nearly all shops are closed. There is no availability for tomorrow so I buy tickets for Saturday.
This night I fell sick with vomiting and diarrhoea. Most part of the day I stay in bed.
In the afternoon it gets better and I feel well enough to undertake something. With a cycle we go to the tribal museum. It is mostly uphill so the cyclist has to walk, this way of
transport still embarrasses us.
The entrance fee for the museum is just two rupees. It is nice with many utensils, music instruments ant objects of art. There is no English information but we hardly miss this.
One of the coming days we want to visit Patalkot. We ask the owner of the hotel how we can organize that. He starts with an elaborate description of the route and ignores my interruptions. Only after he has finished I can explain that we need a hired cat. Of course that is no problem.
When we rise at half past six I feel healthy again. We walk to the station where we have poha and a cup of chai. The train is already waiting and we sit spacious in the sleeper class. School girls and a young chai vendor ask us to take photos.
The train leaves at half past eight and the first part of the trip we travel through a rather flat area. The preparations for the gauge conversion are in full swing. The TTE joins us and tells that it will be completed in three years. Most stations are in the middle of nowhere and at the tiniest station the man's service is ended. As farewell gift he gives us some oranges, the local product. Other passengers follow this gesture and at the end we have so many that I put some in our backpack.
The second part of the journey is downhill through the woodlands, it is very nice but by far not as spectacular as the trip to Coonoor. More people board and it gets very crowded. Half past eleven we are in Sausar and leave the train, together with many other passengers.
We follow the crowd to the road an ask for the Chhindwara bus stop. It is just here but it will last an hour before it arrives. So we have plenty of time for a chai. Just after our first sip we are warned that the bus arrives. It is full and we both have to stand. But the passengers are nice and we get both half a seat. At every stop villagers board, they sit calm on the floor. That is wise since during the hilly part we rock to all sides. After an hour we are back in less half the time of the rail trip. This bus continues to Pachmarhi and seems to be the only one.
Back in the hotel we finish the arrangements for tomorrows Patalkot trip and ask for the price of a car to Pachmarhi. With the bus we arrive rather late and the luggage will be difficult to store.
We have hardly seen anything of Chhindwara and after lunch we go to the centre. It is small and besides some temples not very rewarding.
After an hour we are back at the bus stand from where we walk to the hotel. A young man starts an English conversation with us. He follows a language course and his teacher, who walks behind us, stimulates him to practice. Close to the hotel is a modern shopping hall which we want to visit and there we say goodbye to him. We just look into the shop and don't buy anything. Still, as we leave, we are asked to make an entry in the guest book.
Back in the hotel the owner gives a lengthy explaination about the Patalkot trip, it costs 1250 rs. A few people join the conversation and then I realize they are Assis and Doulat, the pupil and his teacher. Assis claims he knows Patalkot and asks if he can join as guide. Also Doulat wants to come. It will be cramped with four passengers in an Indica. Since we have no luggage we agree but tell the men that we leave at eight and don't want to wait.
Shortly before eight Ankit, the driver, is there as is Doulat. We phone Assis but he is still at home, bad luck for him.
First we drive in the direction of Tamia. halfway there is a roadblock. A lorry has overturned and a breakdown truck tries to get it back on its wheels. It takes a lot of time, Ankit gets impatient and drives careful underneath the drag-rope. Doulat is car sick and we change places so he can sit in front. But also there he regular hangs his head outside the window. Ankit is quite religious, by every temple that we pass he respectful greets the gods with his horn.
The scenery around us gets better and better, in the nearness of Tamia it is a great hilly landscape. Just before the town we take a crossroad. There is a small eatery where we have breakfast. The landscape is still hilly but gets more harsh while the road gets worse. After some time we reach Patalkot.
Near the viewpoint is a long fence and from there we can admire this beautiful valley. It looks as if the slopes go vertically down for several hundred metres.
From the viewpoint a, so to see endless, flight of stairs leads to the tiny villages at the bottom. With the four of us we start to descend. After a hundred steps we bump into two Indian families. They are from Nagpur and just hired a local guide. He leads them via a small path to a river and caves at the bottom. It sounds special and when they invite us to join them we decide to do so.
Before the descent starts we wait until some locals, carrying heavy bags on their head, climb up to the path. Half past ten the expedition begins. After a few minutes we realize it will be very heavy but decide to go on. The path deserves hardly that name, often it is invisible and then the only indications are white painted rocks. A few times I slip away, fortunate without hurting myself. The Nagpur ladies manage to walk this on city shoes. But the views around us are overwhelming. After nearly an hour we arrive on a more flat and grassy track and take some rest. We have only one bottle water with us, the others have nothing. They refresh themselves with the water out a muddy source, we don't dare to drink this.
We are still not half way and continue through the woodlands. Often the track is no more than the rocky bottom of a dry river. This all becomes to much for Wiesje, her leg starts to hurt. At half past twelve we reach the nice brook at the bottom of the valley. Everybody is glad that we made it so far. We rest for half an hour and those who like this go with their feet in the alga filled water. A little further is the temple. It is a simple one, beneath the overhang of a large rock stand several idols.
It is only now that we fully realize that there is no easy way back, we have to climb the same 5 kilometre. For my wife this becomes an ordeal and after every few hundred metres she has to take some rest. The Nagpur families are very sympathizing and stay with us. But after some time we tell them and the guide that they better can move on in their own tempo. Soon they are out of sight and the four of us continue. I seek a stick for Wiesje while Doulat and Ankit in turn help her. The men walk alongside the trail, take my wife by the hand and drag her upwards.
Another group with a guide descends. When they see us and hear how far it is they return. Their guide takes his big knife and cuts a proper stick. Sometime later our guide returns after he has dropped the others at the top. Then I remember that I still have some of yesterdays oranges in my backpack and we share these.
Everyone is relieved when we reach the stairs, even this last part is heavy. Exhausted we reach the end, it is five o'clock. After a short rest to recover our breath we drive to the nearest village. Finally we can drink. We are too tired to eat and since Doulat never eats outside his house only Ankit orders a meal.
It the dark back to Chhindwara. Doulat is car sick again and Ankit chows tobacco. He spits regular outside the other door. And we sit exhausted on the back bench. We are happy that we have save completed this trip. It is clear that in this condition it is ridiculous to go to Pachmarhi. So we decide for tomorrow we will take a car to Hoshangabad.
Eight o'clock we are back in the hotel. Everyone sees how exhausted we are and want the whole story. Doulat and Ankit leave with a significant tip, without their help we never made it back. A hotel boy goes to buy some beer. One of the bystanders is a masseur and he gives my wife a good treatment. We eat a little snack, refresh our selves and sleep early.
Hoshangabad, 12 -13 March
When we wake up I'm only stiff and tired but Wiesje can hardly walk. We go down where the boss informs us that he did not order the car for Hoshangabad since that trip is more expensive than to Pachmarhi. To us this is obvious and since the price is just 2600 rs. for a total distance of 400 km. we tell him to confirm.
Around ten Ankit picks us up. We depart but in the town centre he announces that we first go to see Doulat. His small education centre in an apartment above the bus stand. Of course we have to visit it and have some small talk with the pupils.
Than we are on our way and drive in the same direction as yesterday. Close to Tamia we stop for a chai, Ankit takes this opportunity to make a darshan in the opposing temple. The trip leads through a stunning and varying landscape. The two lane road is in perfect condition, apart for a short track around the junction to Pachamrhi. There is hardly any other traffic.
Around Piparia the scenery changes into wheat fields. Back on the main road the traffic is heavy. Of course we stop for a lunch. At three we arrive in Hoshangabad where Ankit brings us to the modern Namada hotel. The fence is closed and we end in hotel Hazuri. Normally my wife inspects the room but due to her physical condition it is my turn. It is not much but what can one expect for 450 rs. and I take the room. As Wiesje sees it she is not happy with it.
I feel fit enough for a walk through the town. Most shops are closed and it is not very cheerful. The Holi celebrations are not ended and youngsters are still throwing paint. The are so nice to ask first so I stay clean. The road to the ghats is blocked in a way that only pedestrians can pass. Around the entrance are numerous temples. There are few activities at the gath, just people who try to get rid of their colours.
When I go for beer I see that Namada is open but they have no vacancy. Our hotel has no restaurant, for dinner we have to go another hotel. This looks much better but we are so engaged with ourselves that we simply forget to ask if they have rooms. There is a lot of police in the streets. People behave as if they expect riots on this last night of Holi. All together we feel not happy with our situation.
To make things worse this night we are troubled by mosquito’s. We decide that we don't want to stay here and leave for Bhopal. In the morning we walk again to hotel Sant Krupa for breakfast. A cow enters the restaurant but he is not allowed to order.
Before we depart we want to find a hotel in Bhopal on the internet but this is not open before eleven. So we have plenty time to visit the ghats. Although many shops are still closed the general atmosphere is more vivid then yesterday. On the banks of the Narmada the sadhu's install their shelters. A large group women cross the river with all kind of merchandise and the first groups pilgrims roam around.
We reserve a hotel and are back in the hotel at half past twelve. The manager, the staff is very helpful, arranges a car and a quarter of an hour later we are on our way. The area through which we travel is not very attractive and their is heavy traffic on the road. After a chai stop we arrive around three in hotel Ranjeet and get a fine room for just 850 rs.
We have a quiet afternoon and make some plans for the coming days. A great plus of the hotel is that they serve beer so I don't have to do any shopping.
Bhopal, 14 – 16 March
A knock on the door wakes us, the boy asks us to order breakfast. We are not fans of room service and tell him we eat in the restaurant. When we arrive the personnel is still cleaning the hall but of course we can order.
I need a haircut, three hair dressers stand next to each other. The one I choose asks 30 rs, a head massage is included. After some shopping we take a rickshaw to the Taj-ul mosque. It is an imposing big complex with high-rising minarets.
Just as we arrive it is time for the noon service. Those devotees who are in time wash their feet in a basin, the stragglers enter the mosque unwashed. After the short service is completed we enter the mosque. A part of it is converted into a madrassa where young men study the Koran.
From here we walk towards the centre and visit internet. There is a mail from Emirates airlines, the Amritsar - Delhi flight by Kingfisher is cancelled, we are transferred to an Air India flight. Around us is the old bazaar of Bhopal, a fantastic area to stroll for a long time.
Back in the hotel we get our laundry back, it is not cleaned since the dhobi is on leave.
This time we take breakfast in the room. It takes some time and we get only half the items we have ordered. This is our second trip to Bhopal and we decide to go to some less visited places. Tomorrow we want to go to Bhimbetka and arrange a car, today our goal is Islamnagar.
According the man at the desk we can reach it by minibus, the stand is nearby the hotel. We ask around which bus we have to take and board. Since it is overcrowded we hang in the aisle. After a few stops we obtain a seat. The other passengers ask for our destination and it becomes clear that we have to proceed after the final stop. The conductor helps us and arranges a rickshaw for 100 rs. We drive about six kilometre over a narrow road through the countryside. Then we cross the remainders of an old fort and stop before the palace. The driver refuses to wait.
The entrance fee to the palace is 225 rs and a guide shows us around. His English is rudimentary but we understand that once the kings lived here. The garden is beautiful. Also the rest is nice and partly renovated. The guide opens the doors so we can go inside, one of the highlights is a bathroom.
Outside is a small shop where we can have a drink. Before we order a man approaches and invites us to visit another palace. Also this is closed with a fence but he has the key. This is really run-down and parts are too ruinous to enter. From the roof there are great views over the town, in a distance I see other old buildings. Since Wiesje still walks troublesome we don't explore them.
We have no idea how to return. To our surprise a small minibus stands at the road with Bhopal as destination. Since we don't know how frequent it rides we board at once. Now we go for only 10 rs. back to Hamida Road.
Late in the afternoon we go to the immense large vegetable and fruit market. Parts of it are indoor. Behind it is the meat market, this smells not so fresh and soon we return to our hotel.
Half past nine our driver, called Rewe, arrives. Again one who speaks hardly English and the hotel clerk helps us to finalize the program. With high speed we drive towards Bhojpur. The last part of the trip takes us over a small inferior road through the cornfields. At the end of a barren ridge we see the square remainders of the temple.
An enormous hall with a very high linga inside and some sculptures is all there is ever completed. Next to the temple is the clay slope which is used to drag the large stones.
A wide road with a surface of broken stones leads us to Bhimbetka. Rewe has never been here so he regular has to ask. After some time we reach the highway to Hoshangabad and then it is a short distance to the site. We have to pay 400 rs entrance fee for the car and the people. From this entry point we must continue for three kilometre. Through and imposing rocky area it brings us to an parking place.
From here a path of 1400 metre leads us along a number of caves and shelters. Many of them contain the famous rock paintings. These beautiful paintings are clearly to view and often very detailed. Here and there stand information boards. The last cave contains the painting of a large bull and from there we walk back over a slightly different route. There are not many other visitors under which just one foreigner. We end the sight seeing at the same moment and he starts to walk to the entrance.
Since we have a vacant seat we offer him a lift to Bhopal. Rewe thinks he can take advantage of this and wants more money. Of course we refuse this, but when we later ask him for the price of a drop in Vidisha his lowest offer is 1500 rs. I think he takes his revenge in this way.
Since we now have an Indian mobile I go to the internet and complete my IRCTC registration. After half an hour I still have not received the OTP code and return to the hotel. Once there the SMS message arrives, I go back and finish the process without further problems.
Vidisha, 17 – 20 March
Exact at 10 Rewa arrives, our luggage fits hardly in his Suzukli Alto. Again he drives in high speed, this time we drive through the cornfields. The road is perfect, we pass Sanchi and at eleven we reach Vidisha. On internet we have found the name of a hotel and Rewa asks regular to find it. After a while we reach a hotel. Rewa insists he has to look first, I guess he arranges some commission. Then we have a look and we decide to take a room. Just then I see that we are in Suroska, the hotel we selected. It is a reasonable hotel where nobody speaks English, the small AC room costs 1000 rs.
After a short period in the room we go to explore the town. The station is nearby and from there we continue our way, but this is not a very attractive neighbourhood. We have to wait a long time for a railway crossing. It is amusing how every biker and cyclist ignores the bars. On our way back we take a wrong turn and are in a better area. In one of the shops I buy some trousers.
Late in the afternoon I make another stroll on my own. Soon a good English speaking man is addressing me. He introduces himself as Ashish. We talk a while, he offers to show us around and gives me his phone number. He leaves, I forget to ask him where I can find a beer shop. So I search for it, cross the attractive centre and ask again. A young man points towards a small street. I take it and arrive at the beer shop near the busstand. From here it is a walk of fifteen minutes back to the hotel. I tell Wiesje about my meeting with Ashish and we decide to phone him. He answers the call but is on his way to Bhopal and will stay there a day.
The noise of the railway station wakes us early and given that we stay here for some days we decide to take another room. This one is larger and is on the street side. The restaurant is not open in the morning, again we depend on the room service. We get a SMS from Ashish, he offers to make a plan. Today we want to visit the Udaygiri caves which we can manage on our own.
We walk to the station where we hire a rickshaw for 200 rs. The caves are a few kilometres outside the town. At the entrance sits an elderly guide, he explains that there are caves to the right and to the left. We first go to the right and he opens the fence of the very simple cave. Then we continue along the path that passes into a difficult stair. For my wife this is still too strenuous and I go alone. At the top are a closed tea stall and the ruins of a temple. There are some more ruins but I see that the visitors are chased away by bees and I don't give it a try. The panorama is great. Deep beneath me I see other caves, I can walk towards them but I return.
These caves are also reachable through the next entrance and our driver brings us. The admission to the small terrain is free. The caves are shallow so we can see the statues through the fences without hiring a guide. The sculptures at the outside are severely damaged.
Our rickshaw driver wants us to visit Sanchi, this we have already done during a previous trip. It is hard work to convince him that we just want to see local sites. After a chai we go to the Heliodorus pilar. Here is also a guide, he wants that we sign the guest-book. Next to the Bijamandal temple at the other side of the town. The fence is closed with barbed wire. Another visitor arrives and he arranges a young boy to lead us to the fence at the other side. It is a mosque is build on the remainders of an older Vishnu temples and is so ruinous that it is hard to image how it ever was. The terrain around it is filled with wreckages of statues.
Early in the afternoon we are back in the hotel and have lunch. In the hotel is a kind of political meeting. I call Ashish, he is at that meeting and as it is finished he and a friend come to our room. So far as we understand both are farmers but they have also a house in the town. For tomorrow we want to visit Udaypur and Ashish will arrange a car but does not mention a price. He invites us for dinner at his house.
At eight he picks us up and in ten minutes we walk to the remote street where he lives. Many people wait in the room. They greet us and most of them disappear. As welcome we get a glass water followed by chips and fruits. And of course there is beer. In the meantime the cricket match India – Pakistan is on the TV and regular someone comes to view parts of it. Some friends arrive and together we have a chapati diner. Again we try to get a rate for the car but get no answer. With a little too much beer we climb on the back of the bikes and Ashish and a friend drive us back to the hotel.
This time I go to an eatery a buy poha for breakfast. Around nine Ahish and the driver arrive. The man owns a large but very old vehicle with a hole in the floor. Moreover the horn does not work, we always thought that implies total-loss in India. The price is 10 rs a kilometre and is not negotiable. Ashish disappears and we pick up another guy, who speaks some English and will act as interpreter. First the driver refuels, reduces the pressure in the tyres and then we start.
The road we take is under construction, some parts are very bad other parts are just rocks. Half past ten we arrive in Gyraspur. The temple is on the edge of the hills and we see it from far. In the village we take a chai. Opposite us is the so called eight pillar temple, these pillars are all that's remaining. The Mala Devi temple is also in a bad condition but it has nice carvings at the outside. The entrance is closed and we just enjoy the beautiful views around us. Then a man on a bicycle arrives, he has a key and opens the temple. Inside the pillars and walls are crooked, we disturb the rest of the bats. Back to the village we stop near the remainders of another large temple complex, what rests here are four pillars and some arches.
Before we go to Udaypur the driver inflates the spare tyre. This road is terrible bad. The first part goes through the woods further on we see strange, temple shaped, hills. The driver stops at every water pump since his car is very thirsty. At one o'clock we reach Udaypur. The temple is in the middle of the town. The streets are nearly too narrow for our car but the driver manages to reach the temple. This one is beautiful preserved or restored with nice statues and carvings. Around the central sanctuary stand several smaller ones.
The original intention was to go from here to Ashish's farm. He phones that this trip is cancelled and that we will meet in Basoda for lunch. When we call him again he does not pick up the phone. The lunch is in some rather obscure eatery. We think that the men choose this one because meat is served.
Back in Vidisha we pay the driver and then search for an internet. We cannot fine it and everyone directs us into another direction. As we find one it is out of order. When I buy a bottle water I ask again. The man speaks no English and indicates to a narrow spiral staircase. On the third floor are some computers. It is dark, we need our torch to see the keyboard, but it works.
After dinner we try again to get in contact with Ashis, it is fruitless.
We are rather tired. The idea was to visit the fort in Raisen but we decide to stay here. Most of the day we spend in our room, alternated with walks through the town. Tomorrow we leave for Datia, Wiesje calls the only hotel that we are aware of. The man does not speaks English so she cannot ask for a room.
Ashis gives us a ring, yesterday an uncle of him suddenly died and he had to organize the ceremonies.
Gwalior, 21 – 25 March
In the morning we pay the hotel bill and walk to the station. The train is twenty minutes late and crammed. In the daytime everybody seems to board in the Sleeper class, the TEE controls only those passengers listed on his reservation chart. Our seats are occupied and only after we act angry and raise our voices the others give us some space. I sit with five on our bench, Wiesje has more comfort with three other passengers. Of course, as we have installed ourselves, they turn out to be nice persons, a group on the way to Kashmir.
Half past two we are in Datia and take a rickshaw. We show the driver a note with the name of the hotel. Soon we ride outside the town and it turns out he is on his way to the MP hotel. We let him stop and take us to the hotel of our choice. But they have no vacancy as neither have the two other hotels in town. Near the last one a man does not believe this, but his mediation does not change anything. Since we are not interested in the MP hotel the only solution is Gwalior. Our new aid recommends Hotel Shelter as a budget option. We call it and reserve a room. Considering the time we decide to take a car and the rickshaw takes us to the taxi stand. After some negotiation we get a taxi for 1500 rs.
After a delay of an hour in Datia we are on the move again. The first part is a perfect four-lane road but it is not completely finished. So we alternate racing with bumping, for the last part we take the old two-lane road. At five we arrive in the hotel. The budget price is 2800, rather expensive for us but we don't wish to look for another one.
After the complementary breakfast we take a rickshaw to Urwahi gate of the fort. According to our guidebook this is the easiest access. At the parking place a man uses his map to show us how far it is to the entrance and how stretched out the fort is. For 400 rs he offers a car. For a moment we hesitate and then decide to accept this offer. Of course he is a middleman and for urgent matters we get his phone number. It is a narrow and steep uphill road and we are happy that we don't have to walk. The driver drops us near the palace and tells us that the visit takes at least an hour.
The entrance price for the Man Mandir palace is 100 rs. A part of the murals at the outside is preserved and there are nice sculptures. First we walk to the big and impressive entrance gate from where we have a great panorama. Then we enter the palace. My wife does not like cellars but she decides to join me this time. We have a torch with us but despite that Wiesje returns after the first stair. I take the time to explore the several stores. When I'm in the fresh air again I don't see my wife and am afraid she got lost in the cellars. So I go back and don't see her there either. After some time I go to the entrance and a guard points to the corner where Wiesje sits. Behind the palace is another group of temples but we don't want to pay the extra 250 rs for the entrance.
As we arrive at the parking area our car is not there and our phone has no connectivity. We walk to highest point around but this makes no difference. Then we hear our driver yelling. According to him he had to refuel the car but we think he serves simultaneous another group. We drive along the various other temples on the plateau. The first ones we visit are the Sas and Bahul temples, for these is our entry-ticket valid. That applies also for the Mandir temple. Alls these temples are very different from construction and all worth a visit.
The trip comes to an end and we drive back. The steep road has only one lane and a long row of cars is waiting. Neither arrives a car from the other side. Our driver phones and goes halfway downwards. There stands a truck that cannot make the climb and blocks the road. We have to walk along the blockade where another taxi waits for us. This gives us the opportunity to have a good look at the immense Jain statures alongside the road. On the lower parking place are so many rickshaws that the drivers lower their prices without any haggling from our side.
We go to an internet in the centre of Gwalior. I still have to synchronize my Cleartrip and IRCTC accounts to be able to use them. I try to do this but don't get a SMS from IRCTC. Amother problem is our mobile, there is no shop where we can recharge it. Back in the hotel we tell the man at the desk about this problem. They send a boy but it shows that in Madhya Pradesh one cannot recharge an Uninor simcard.
Our train tickets have Datia as boarding point and I walk to the station to change this in Gwalior. On a scratch of paper I have to write an official request. I handover this together with the printed tickets and the officer make the changes. I don't get the tickets back so on my way to the hotel I print them again in internet café. Back in the hotel the OTP code of the IRCTC has arrived so to the internet again and without problems I finish the synchronisation.
Our idea for tomorrow is to visit the Datia palace and we ask the desk clerk if he can arrange a car. For today we have a look at some tombs here, I have written their names on a paper and show this to a rickshaw driver. He does not understand it and goes inside the hotel where the personnel explain it. For 80 rs, a little steep, he brings us.
I think that these tombs are on different locations but they stand together in a park. The Ghaus tomb is huge and has many decorated windows. We have to cover our head before we are allowed inside. I pick a green shawl from the pile. The fence around the grave is filled with small notes and flowers. The Tansen tomb and the other ones are rather simple.
When we leave the compound our driver is waiting. His price was including the return trip but we want to room around here. Unfortunately the neighbourhood is not very attractive. Also the market is overflown with flies so we don't stay long.
We have a drink and take a rickshaw to the chhartris. When we arrive it is not yet three o'clock and the park just opens after an hour. We don't want to wait and go to the Scindia palace.
It is an enormous and pompous complex. The interior design corresponds with this. Unbelievable what a abundance. In the dining room a railway track runs over the table to transport the drinks. In another hall gigantic candelabra hang from the ceiling.
Back in the hotel the clerk confirms the car for Datia. Not far from the hotel is a garden restaurant where we go for dinner. Annex is a bar, in front of that stand two armed guards. They deny us the entrance to the garden but the waiters convince them that we are harmless. The beer and the food taste good.
The car arrives at exactly half past eight. The driver has his 'brother' with him, this time we accept the extra passenger. The man leaves the car as we take the road to Sonagiri.
At ten we stand at the foot of the hill with the temples. Boys run towards us and offer a chair to carry us around. But we are not so old that we have to use these. Of course at a Jain sanctuary we must take off our shoes off and leather items are forbidden. A perfect English speaking young man introduces himself as a guide and asks 250 rs. for his services, we accept his offer. There are 77 temples on the hill and in the last decades nearly all of them are painted white. We climb in a moderate tempo and in the meantime the guide explains the history of the Jainism and the individual temples. He selects those who are worth a visit. Some of them are very old while other are build in recent times.
On the top of the hill stands the most important temple, here a continuous service is going in. From where we stand we can see the palace of Datia. There is another path across the hills to descend. This is difficult to walk, certainly while it is hot already, so we take more or less the same road back. Also here the hot stones trouble our barren feet. Men closes the temples, at the hottest time of the day the hill is closed.
From here to Datia is a short distance, the driver parks the car at the entrance of the town and we walk to the Bir Singdheo palace. Again a guide offers himself and together with a French couple we take him. After some haggling he is satisfied with 200 rs.
The palace is seven storeys high. From the two lowest levels we see only the stairways and we are glad we have our torch with us. The next two floors we watch elaborate. Great sculptures, wall paintings and mosaic. And of course splendid views over the town. The upper three levels are so ruinous that it is not allowed to visit them.
Half past three we are back in the hotel. In the room we order a drink. The waiter makes a very deep bow and leaves the room walking backwards. In the hotel is a big reception and we eat again in the garden restaurant. This time we are at once allowed to enter.
We are still in bed as the phone rings, the clerk asks if it is true that we will check-out to day. For the umpteenth time I tell them that we leave tonight. Immediately they call again to ask if we pay by cash or card. A friendly wake-up call.
After a lazy morning we take a rickshaw to the park with the chhartris. The fence is open. Spread in a large garden stand seven tombs with the appearance of a temple. A large part of the garden is now used to grow vegetables. Many young couples visit this quiet place We walk around until four, by that time the doors of the chhartris are opened. Inside, besides the tombs, stand the partial dressed statues of the rulers. There is music on the background.
After dinner we go at half past nine to the station. The train arrives at another platform as planned and our coach is far away from the place where we expect it. It is good that the trains stands some time here. We have an lower and an upper berth, a lady has already occupied the lower one. She claims she can not go up but she is with a group and mutual they change.
Patiala, 26 28 March
My wife hardly sleeps in the train since she is troubled by the noise the other passengers make. In contrast with this I sleep well and even don't notice that we pass New Delhi. Around six I'm awake. Soon we get a chai to start the day. In Ambala Canton, where most of our fellow travellers descend, we get our breakfast. Just after eleven we arrive in Patiala. The rickshaw driver asks 100 rs., since we have no idea how far it is we accept. There is a festival and the road to the hotel is blocked now this is the market area. The police man refuses to let us pass, but an appeal on his commanding officer solves the problem. In Green's hotel we take for 1500 rs. an Ac-room.
After some rest we are ready to explore the city. The Kali temple opposite the hotel is the heart of the celebrations and people line up to enter. We walk to the centre and try to recharge our mobile but also in Punjab this is not possible for Uninor. For foreigners it is neither possible to buy another sim-card. The centre is stretched out and enjoyable. With a cycle we return to the street market near the hotel. Most trade concerns toys, utensils and of course offerings for the temple rituals.
Late in the afternoon I go to the Baradari Gardens. It is just some five minutes away and lovely place to stroll around.
The service in the hotel is very slow, it takes an hour before we have completed our breakfast. I have written down some sights in Patiala and ask the personnel if we need a taxi. According to them an auto rickshaw is fine. The tourist office is closed and we walk to the rickshaw stand. One of the men speaks good English and pretend to know the places. For 350 rs. Satnam will show us around.
We start with the Sheesh Mahal, a palace and museum. Due to restoration we cannot go inside. In front of the palace is a large, but now dry, lake. A suspension bridge connect both sides. We walk through the nice garden around the lake. From here we have a good look on the big palace.
Next stop is the Moti Bagh. I expect another palace but it is a Sikh sanctuary. Around the temple are demonstrations going on. As far as I understand the murderer of a prime minister will be hanged within a few days. For some people he is a freedom fighter, for others a terrorist. Tomorrow it is a holy day for the Sikhs and then there is a general strike.
Before we enter the sanctuary we must wash our hands and feet. I also have to cover my head with a cloth. Satnam, he is a Sikh but has no turban and is clean shaved, accompanies us. Inside is the tomb of a saint, the priest stands behind it and the visitors sit in front. A colourful picture with all the turbans. We walk around the grave and set ourselves at the side. The priest starts a service, the devotees stand opposite him and answer the priest from time to time. Then they all kneel and bow, it is an impressing happening. Satnam has taken food inside, it got blessed and then he shares it with us. Remarkable is that everyone takes pictures of the ceremony.
Satnam asks if we want coffee, and to our surprise he takes us to his home. With his wife and son he lives together with his mother and his sisters family. His father was officer in the security force and killed during the aftermath following the assassination of Indira Ghandi.
After the coffee and the inevitable cookies we continue our trip to the Dukh Niwaran, another Sikh temple.
Of course we undergo another purification ritual before we enter. It is crowded, crush barriers and waiters control the mass. We enter a big hall with a gold-painted ceiling. In the middle is an exposure of holy swords where everyone drops his donations. Priests crawl around and gather the money. Through an exit door we leave the hall and stand near a large square water tank. Many people take a bath, men put the dagger in their turban. We round the water and visit a small museum with an exhibition about the history and the persecution of the Sikhs.
We cross the city and go to the old Qila Mubarak fort. A large porch vault is the entrance to the terrain. Also here the main building is closed due to restoration. The Durbar hall is open it is enormous and now and museum. On the wall the paintings of the former rulers and a lot of weapons. The painted shields are beautiful as are the decorated doors. Old cars and a carriage complete the collection. We walk around the fort, this is in a fair condition, the other buildings are ruins.
There is indeed also a Mothi Bagh palace, again at the other side of the town. It has 15 dining halls and according to Satnam 365 bedrooms, one for every wife of the ruler. Now it is a sports academy and we are only allowed to visit the garden. There stands a railway carriage, the Maharadja won this with a bet.
We are getting tired but Satnam wants us to visit a modern Krishna temple. We have to wait some time before it opens. Then we go back to the hotel. It is half past four and we have completely forgotten to lunch.
Everyone assures us that today Punjab is closed and we have a relaxed start. Later in the morning we walk to the bus stand. Only the information desk is open. Our next destination is Firozpur. There is only one direct connection, very early in the morning. A better option is to go to Bathinda first and take another bus from there. We go to the centre, all the shops are closed. In the streets we see many police and military, they control the small scale demonstrations. There is a lot of tension and we rush back to the hotel.
Later in the afternoon we walk to the Baradari Gardens. There are two sections. The 'Rock' part with birds in cages closes within ten minutes after our arrival. This is enough time to see it all, the rocks are artificial objects constructed from concrete. The larger section on the other side of the road is more rewarding. There grow many flowers and special trees. Some of them are the home for large colonies of bats. Just a few people use the training circuit.
In the town it is quiet now but the shops are still closed. Adjacent to the Kali temple is a farm. We look inside and get a guided tour. On the ground floor are the stables for some 200 cows, in the first floor stand the bulls. The milk is used inside the temple.
Bathinda, 29 – 30 March
We wake up early and the restaurant is not open yet. Before eight we are on the street. There is just one cycle rickshaw, the driver insists that there is enough space for us and our luggage. It just fits. It is a short ride tot the bus stand where the bus to Bathinda is about to leave.
Half past eight we are on our way, without even a cup of coffee. As usual the bus makes several stops before leaving the town and by that time it is overcrowded. At a given moment we sit with seven passengers on the rear bench. The road is fine but the scenery consists again of dull wheat fields. There are remarkable many police controls and checkpoints.
Around noon we arrive in Bathinda and decide to stay here instead to continue to Firozpur. We have the name of a budget hotel, Sun City, and a rickshaw drops us. It is a very nice hotel but the tariff is much higher then on the internet site. We can afford it and, with a discount, we take for 1700 rs. a comfortable and spacious AC-room. Of course we are hungry and order coffee and a lunch. Before she can finish the meal Wiesje feels herself sick and goes to bed.
I go out to buy bananas and somewhat to drink, not far from the hotel is a nice shopping area. On the way towards it I see also the hotel that we selected, it has nearly the same name as ours. But it looks grim and I don't think we liked to stay there.
We sit a while in the room and I decide to visit the Qila Mubarak fort. I take a rickshaw and tell the driver to go to the fort. After a short ride we stop near the railway station, the man has obvious no idea of what I want. He talks with some colleagues and one of them brings me. The fort is constructed with bricks and the walls are immense high. The entrance is completely restored and also at the inside repair work on the walls is going on. The terrain between it is completely empty.
At one side is a large gathering of Sikh's, I don't feel the need to attend this. A boy asks me if he can practice his English by showing me around. We climb a stair in the wall that leads to a porch. There is an opening to the top of the wall from here but it is closed by a fence. My guide explains this is due to the restoration and here is also the end of his tour.
Near the entrance is another stairway by which I reach the top of the wall. Here is a small Sikh sanctuary. I take off my shoes, wash my hands and walk on. Besides the temple four men hold a small service. One of them points at my head, I take my handkerchief but he offers me a cloth. The temple is small and sober but offers a great view over the town. The men invite me to join them, when they have finished the recital of verses they offer me a chai. We sit and talk for a while.
I walk around the outside of the fort, large parts of the walls are crumbling down. It is not far to the hotel so I walk back. My wife still does not feel well and I have dinner on my own.
Since Wiesje still feels sick we stay a long time in the room before I go for a walk. By now I know that route and go to the bus stand. From there I continue to the centre. In this part are several small markets and remarkable many butchers. In no time I am near the fort again. From here I start to explore the bazaar for a second time. Striking are the many men on the street which dye shawls.
Later in the afternoon we go for a short walk together.
Firozpur, 31 March – 1 April
Fortunately my wife feels well again but yet we decide to hire a car to Firozpur instead of travelling by bus. The hotel manager arranges one for 2000 rs. Uncommon to normal the driver arrives half an hour before the scheduled time. But then he tells that we have to go to his home since he has forgotten his drivers license and we know we are still in India. It is about two hours drive and again mainly through endless wheat fields.
Already in the outskirts of Firozpur the driver asks bystanders for the direction to our hotel. After a long gathering the men give us a direction. It is correct and at one o'clock we arrive at the Mittal Guesthouse. It is an imposing building in colonial style and we like it immediately. For 1700 rs. we have a large room. Before we have unpacked a boy tells us to go to the desk. The receptionist apologizes, she has not consulted the reservation book. Tomorrow there is a wedding party and we can stay only for one night. She has already arranged an alternative. We don't want to install ourselves twice and decide to leave now. Although it is only a hundred meters a taxi is arranged and the boy goes with us.
Hotel Kay Sons is in the same price class, but modern without any charm. The main reason for out stay here is a visit to the border ceremony at Hussainiwala. It is a copy of the more famous ceremony at Wagah but in a smaller setting. After lunch I go to the reception and ask how we can accomplish this. If we want they will try to arrange a car for today but tomorrow is a better option and so we decide.
The centre of the town is nearby and on the way I pass the beer shop. Firozpur offers nothing real special but roaming around in the small winding streets is great. On many spots the streets are covered with clothes to provide some shadow. On the way back I buy a beer, rather cheap for 70 rs. The restaurant we choose for dinner has also low prices, these match the quality.
Now it is my turn to have some physical problems, happily Imodium stops the diarrhoea. We go to the internet where we have a long chat with a, now in Canada living, Indian man.
In the afternoon we get for 600 rs a car to the Hussainiwala border. Just after four the driver picks us up. It is a rather short ride to the Pakistan border. In the last part we cross some bridges which are in a very bad condition. The driver parks the car and accompanies us to the ceremony. We have to line up for a simple registration procedure and get a note with the number of persons of our group After a superficial security check we walk together with the other visitors to the border. Guards shout and direct everyone to one side of the road.
The borderline diagonal crosses the street and tribunes are erected on both sides. Men and woman are separated. The Pakistan tribunes are higher and all are already packed. In front of our side stand chairs for the VIP's, as the only foreigners there is also our seat.
Half past five the ceremony starts. Six soldiers from both countries execute it. Turn by turn the man march forward in parade step, stretching their feet as high as their shoulders. The public encourages fanatically their own soldiers. When all the men are on the spot each of them performs a show to impose the other side. They stamp with the feet on the ground, do rifle exercises, look angry, stick out their chest and make threatening gestures. The public goes wild, sings patriotic songs and cheers loud, the Pakistanis make the most noise.
It is fantastic and the Indian soldiers do their exercises just before our nose. After half an hour the buglers arrive and the flags are ceremonial lowered. The border terrain is so small that one of the soldiers must cross the border to accomplish this. When we walk back the car the regular border troops take their position.
Back in the hotel I go for beer. I get another brand and when I open the bottle it is stout and tastes like licorice water. I want to trade the unopened bottle but the standard beer is sold out. With the help of a bystander who speaks English I get my money back and go to the next shop.
Amritsar (and back), 2 – 6 April
This night I have again an attack of the Delhi belly. In the morning it goes somewhat better and we decide to stick by our plan and leave for Amritsar. But instead of the bus we take again a taxi. The hotel arranges this and we get the same driver as yesterday. At half past nine we depart. The first part of the route leads us over small roads, around us wheat fields and brick-makers. Then we reach the high-road that goes to Amritsar.
We know that the Grand hotel is near the railway station but it is in a bystreet and we pass it several times before we see it. For 1600 rs. we get a large AC-room. The hotel is build around a triangle shaped garden. Outside the room are chairs from where you can enjoy this. Here it is very tranquil despite the heavy traffic around the station.
I have still problems with my bowels and we stay in the hotel. Both of us feel that the intensive way of travelling that we like so much becomes to hard now we are in our late sixties.
It becomes monotonous but today again we don't feel healthy. We are glad that we stay in a comfortable hotel where it is no punishment to stay in the room and the garden.
At the end of the day we take a rickshaw to the Durgiana temple. The structure of this Hindu temple resembles the image I have of the Golden temple. It is a beautiful scenery, just a few devotees and tourist visit this place. We have the impression that the temple stands in a nice shopping area. At the cross-point are many shops but after a metre of fifty there are just ordinary houses. Close to our hotel is a market where we spend some time. We look at a flash light without the intention to buy it, the seller asks 450 rs. When we walk away he offers it for 200 rs., so we take it.
We want to visit the Golden temple early in the morning. At eight o'clock they don't serve breakfast in the hotel and also the eateries around it are still closed. Again we start the day without breakfast. The rickshaw driver asks 100 rs., the hotel cleaner says this is too much and negotiates it down to half.
Of course there are already many visitors around the temple. We deliver our shoes and I buy a cloth to cover my head. Just like all the others we walk around the central pond.
Everywhere people are praying and many take a bath. Also here the men put their dagger in their hair before they go into the water. It is a serene and peaceful setting.
We have no impression that it is crowded but on the path to the central temple stands already a long queue. I take my place, as I stand between the crush barriers I see that there are two different queues. I'm in the slower one, every five minutes a group can enter the temple. The people in the other row constantly move on. Inside the temple is much smaller than I expect. The pictures on the television give this idea.
There is little time to stay inside, guards push on the people to make room for the next ones. It is so crowded that I miss the stairways to the first floor. Queuing takes three quarter, the visit, at the most, three minutes. But there is much more to see and we stroll a time along all the other temples in the main building. In our condition we don't take the risk with the temple food. Some where outside is a rather modern eatery. There we have breakfast. before we go back to the hotel.
In the evening I visit the temple again and take a cycle rickshaw. The elderly biker does not manage to cross the viaduct and I have to walk and push the rickshaw. The illuminated temple in the moonlight gives an overwhelming impression. The queue for the Golden temple is as long as this morning.
This is the last day of our trip, tonight we fly back home. We had booked a code-shared Kingfisher/Emirates flight. Due to the problems with Kingfisher we now fly with Air India to Delhi. There is internet in the hotel and try to check-in. It works for the first leg but in the hotel I cannot print the boarding pass. The check-in with Emirates does not work. We tell the hotel people that we leave in the evening and pay the bill. Also we arrange a taxi to bring us to the airport.
We spotted an internet near the Golden temple and their we print our boarding pass. Nearby is the Jallianwala Bagh, especially impressive because you know what happened there. With a shared taxi we return to the hotel.
After an elaborate lunch we pack slowly our luggage and hang around in the garden. Strictly at six our car is there and within half an hour we are on the airport. The flight to Delhi is a domestic one but lands on the international terminal. Within an hour we are there, it is about eleven o'clock.
The plane is late and we leave around five in the morning, so we have a long time to hang around on the airport. In Dubai the plane halts a long way from the gates and we need to wait for the bus. All together it is eight o'clock when we are there and our next flight leaves in half an hour. Ground personnel leads us along a short way to the security, we get our seat numbers and soon we take off.
In all the consternation one of our backpacks stays behind. It is neatly delivered at our home the next day.