|Mainly the South |
It's winter in the Netherlands and for us that means it is time to visit India again. The original idea is an extensive journey in the South followed by a flight to the North and a visit to Sikkim. Shortly before we leave we get an invitation for a wedding in Jodhpur and include that in our 10 weeks itinerary.
Chennai, 25 - 27 January 2011
We train to Amsterdam, take the Emirates flight and arrive in Chennai at 8.30 am. Within an hour we pass the customs and get a pre-paid taxi. It is Republic day and the cab driver gives us a small Indian flag. At ten we are in hotel Kanchi, we mailed previously to announce our arrival and they expect us.
We take a little rest before we go out for a walk. It is a quiet part of the town, most shops are closed today. After a while we stroll around Egmore station. We don't recognize anything, no wonder since our previous visit was in 1982.
Due to the time difference and jet lag we are not very active and it is noon before we go out. The rickshaw driver in front of the hotel insists that it is 100 rs. to Fort George and challenges us to verify it at the hotel. We do it and they advise us to walk down the road and take a rickshaw from there. Here we get one for 60.
The security guards at the fort have a quick look in our back-pack, other people are inspected more conscientious. Only the walls and canons of the original fort still remain. Within these walls are barracks, old crumbled buildings and a church with a beautiful garden. It is close to the sea and an hour later we go to the Marina.
There are a lot of shops on the beach and we pass them as we make the rather long walk to the sea. A lot of people are paddling, there is some wind so it is nice to walk along the coastline. But the sun burns and we return to the hotel.
It is again noon before we leave the hotel. We have to do some shopping and want to go to the Bharati Salai. We hire a rickshaw and try to explain this to the driver. He does not understand us and when we see some shops we stop. We buy what we need and walk again to the Marina.
Before we have decided what to do next a rickshaw driver stops. He offers to bring us for 50 rs. to the St Thomas church and the Kapleeswarar temple. We accept this and tell him we don't want to go to emporiums. The white cathedral is nearby, it is nice but not a place to visit for hours. And then the driver tells the temple is closed until four o'clock. To pass away the time he suggests some shopping and laughing we accept this. In one of the shops we buy a nice table-cloth.
After a chai we arrive at the Kapleeswarar, the temple is pleasant but not too impressive. The driver annoys us by constant asking extra money for his daughter. To get rid of him we tell him to drive us back to the hotel. While we are en route the man says the car is cracked and we have to wait for a mechanic. As we refuse that he arranges a colleague for the remainder of the trip. By six we are back in the hotel. Since we leave quit early tomorrow we settle the bill now.
Chidambaram, 28 January - 1 February
At 7.30 am four men come to the room to help us with our luggage, by the time we are outside there are even more. At this time of the day it is difficult to negotiate with a rickshaw driver so we have to pay 100 rs. for the short ride to Egmore station.
About half past nine the train departs. With us in the compartment is a nice family, they keep eating and cannot believe that we don't want anything. After a quiet journey we arrive in Chidambaram. On forehand we have selected some hotels but due to wedding parties there is no availability. The rickshaw driver has some other addresses and we end in hotel Grand Palace. The small AC room is with 1350 rs. somewhat overpriced.
We will stay in the town for some days and the hotel and the location don't make us happy. So after a good lunch we walk to our original choice, hotel Akshaya, and reserve a room for tomorrow. It is in the centre of the town, next to the main temple. We walk along the broad streets that surround it. Chidmabaram is a quiet and pleasant town. We have to phone the family back home and just as in previous years we don't have a mobile with us. For the first, but not the last, time during this journey that we learn that the number of phone boots is shrinking.
The good thing of our hotel is that there is a nice garden restaurant and bar.
At 8.30 in the morning the phone rings and someone asks if we want breakfast in the room. I tell them that we come down but to our surprise they bring it nevertheless. We send it back and go to the resaturant. There is only Indian breakfast, not my wife's favourite so we order coffee and one dosa. They serve the coffee but the dosa never turns up.
We go to Akshaya, for 660 rs. we have a reasonable non-ac room. We are still hungry but the restaurant is closed until 11.30. Back in the room there is a powercut and we discover that we have hardly any daylight. We ask if they have a room with more light, the answer is maybe tonight.
After the brunch we explore the town. En route to the Kali temple we walk through remote streets with traditional build houses. The people are friendly and helpful to show us the way. The temple is closed until 4 pm so we just have a look at the outside and the big tank in front of it. Surrounded by children we continue. We buy some sweets for them, as always a great success. When we reach the main road they stay behind.
Somewhat later, while we are talking with some boys, a rickshaw stops. The driver is just touring with his family and they assume that we are lost. His wife speaks fluent English and after some small talk they invite us to their house, and we accept. The house is small, a living, a kitchen and a bedroom. The latter is for the son, the rest of the family sleeps in the living. As welcome they offer us a glass water, we take the risk and take a small nip. Then we get soft drinks and biscuits. After quit a long conversation the man drives us back to the centre, he does not want to be paid so we give him some money for his grandchildren.
My day-pack is worn out and for 340 rs. we buy another. After that we visit the big Nataraja temple. In the street to the entrance are the usual shops. It is already dark and inside there is not much light so we don't see the details of the sculptures. Everywhere priests hold their services and in between they have a conversation with us. It has a great atmosphere. Back in the hotel we change to a better room.
Today we want to the mangrove woodlands near Pichavaram. According to the hotel employee it is simple to do this by bus. He makes a gesture towards the street but we don't understand what he means. Outside we ask some bystanders and they advise to take a rickshaw to the bus station. The bus is just leaving so we have to wait an hour.
At noon we leave, when we depart the bus is not fully occupied but that changes before we are out of the town. It is a nice ride through tiny villages in an agricultural environment and takes nearly an hour. The bus stop is near the boating facilities. A row boat is 220 rs for two hours further 40 rs for the photo equipment and one rs. entry fee. We have to wear a life-jacket, the first part is over a broad river. The rower has a tough job, rowing in the wind and the stream.
But then we reach the mangrove area and enter it through tiny channels, sometimes so small that it is impossible to row. The boatman speaks hardly English but despite that he manges to explain us a lot about the ecosystem. It is a great trip even while there are no birds at this time of the day. Back on the mainland we lunch in the nearby restaurant and have a look by the fisherman. Then we take the bus back, it stops in front to the hotel.
The plan is to arrive in Madurai by a day or ten. During this period we want to explore more then the main tourist spots. A hired car is most suitable for this. We explain it to the hotel receptionist and before we have finished he points towards a man in the hall. Mani is a driver, he speaks reasonable English and we have the idea that he understands and can concede to our wishes. We hire him for 9 days starting tomorrow, the price is 20.000 rs.
I want to visit the Naturaja temple by daylight and it is beautiful. On the outside we admire the many colourful sculptures, and as we enter the complex there is also a lot to see. Everywhere are small temples where priests and devotees worship their gods. We just look and don't join the services and we have no problems with deceiving priests asking for donations.
The bindings of my new day-pack are to short and we ask every man who sits outside with a sewing-machine if he can fix it. But these are only suitable for clothes and it takes some time before we find a shoe-maker, for 10 rs. he solves the problem.
Kumbakonam, 2 - 5 February
While I pay the bill, Wiesje has a discussion with our driver. He tells he cannot go with us and that his 'brother' will take over. We had made it clear that we had not a specific route in mind and expected him to show us nice and not too tourist places. But the new man wants to know precisely where we want to go and on top of that speaks hardly English. So we refuse the change and as we want to postpone the whole trip Mani is suddenly able to drive.
We go to his house, pick up his belongings, and are on our way. From the discussions we got the idea that we are going to Tranquebar but after a while it turns out to be to Gangaikondacholapuram. It is a nice trip in the countryside. On the fields around us it is time for the rice harvest, the men throw the harvest on the road so the traffic assists with the threshing. We continue along a large lake with a lot of birds and so we reach Gangaikondacholapuram.
The temple is large and stretched out. The most impressive for me is the location in the middle of nowhere, the city, where it once was a part of, has disappeared. The temple is decorated with an considerable amount of beautiful sculptures. Around it are many smaller temples and huge statues of a bull and a mythological animal.
By noon we arrive in Kumbakonam, for 880 rs we have a large room in the ARK hotel. Unfortunately it has no restaurant so we roam through the town and lunch. Everywhere we see temples and temple wagons. Striking are the many jeweller shops.
We have the feeling that Mani does not really undetstand what we like and make a list of the things we want to do in the coming days. At three we are looking for him, he is sleeping in the car. We wake him and then he suggests to visit the temple behind the hotel. That is not our idea and we tell him to go to Darasuram. He obvious does not like this. The man starts to irritate us, in the car he niggles at his shirt the whole time and every minute he controls the handbrake.
The temple is great, it is old and not used for worship any more so the statues are not coloured. In a corner a man shows a small museum with remainders of the coloured ceilings and an exposition of the history.
Next we drive to Swamimalai and visit a 'factory' where they fabricate bronze statues following the lost wax method. We get an elaborate explanation, five man work on the different stages of the production. We are so fascinated that we forget to take a picture.
In the meantime Manni has studied our list and say that tomorrow we should go to Tranquebar but we want to stay here and visit Thanjavur. In the room Wiesje tries to get hot water, the result is that she takes a cold shower with her clothes on. Later we get the water in a bucket.
Today we start with a short ride to Thanjavur. Mani did not have breakfast and drops us before the temple. This is again a gigantic and impressive complex. In contrast with yesterdays temples it is visited by many other tourists. We start with all the smaller temples before we enter the main sanctuary. We stay here for some hours and go to the car parking. We have to wait a long time before Mani shows up. We are not amused, to put it mildly, but he seems to find it normal. Next we visit the palace, not very much remains of the building. Inside the tower it is dark until a watchman turns on the light. The adjoining museum contains a lot of good sculptures and also the library is interesting. It is cute to discover there is a Dutch history book dated 1750.
A great ride through the countryside brings us to Thiruvaiyaru, we know that there is a music school. We have to ask a lot of people before we find it. It is situated outside the village. We ask if we may enter and a man brings us to the principal. She explains that the goal of the school is to preserve and teach traditional Tamil music. We are allowed to attend the lessons but now there is lunch-break and we have return over an hour. We use this time to eat in the village.
In front of the school women fabricate roofing from palm leaves. They take one leave and twine this skilful in a large screen. We wait in the hall of the school. A group girls sits on a large cloth and turn on a cassette player. Together they sing and clap their hands, next they talk which each other while the music continues and after a time they sing again.
The principal accompanies us to other classrooms. First to a group girls who are studying the veena and next to a boy and girl playing flute en percussion. All this is in the main building and the sound of the different groups troubles each other. There are some new, separate build, classrooms and when we walk to them we see an exited group gathering together. The pupils have discovered a snake of a meter or two and kill it a dozen times. Then we attend a long demonstration of percussion and nadaswaram musicians, we like the music. We make an entry in the visitors book and give a donation before we leave.
At four we are back in Kumbakonam. Out idea is to leave to-morrow and visit Tranquebar en route to Karaikudi. According to Mani this is too far and we have to overnight in Tranquebar, we have our doubts about this. At the internet I try to locate hotels and I only find a resort of 3500 rs. not the places we like. Wiesje and I talk it over and decide that we don't want to continue with Mani, tomorrow he can bring us direct to Karaikudi and that is end of service.
As we start to tell him the change in plans, Mani says he does not feel well and has asked for a replacement. That makes it easy for us, we tell him we don't need the other driver and that he can go. We get a refund on the advance money we paid, and in a few moments he disappears. We decide to stay here and hire a car for tomorrow to make a trip in the environment, it costs 1600 rs. Curious if this goes better.
At nine Sethy, our driver for today arrives. We explain which places we already have visited and that we now want to explore the countryside. He says that he understands it but the first stop is the Raaghu Bagavan temple in Thirunageswaram, one of the so-called planet temples. There are a lot of devotees and as usual there are several routes to the sanctum, for the shorter ones you have to pay more. People are already waiting for the darshan that starts in an hour. We don't join them. The temple and atmosphere are nice and peaceful while a temple elephant walks around.
Sethy shows a list of more than hundred temples and we repeat our mantra of small villages. Just outside the town we tell Sethy to stop by an old village temple, big statues of animals and gods are erected around it. Next we take some pictures from harvesting farmers and now Sethy really understands our interests. It is the start of a dazzling tour that brings us deep into the inland. The roads become smaller and end in sand trails. Everywhere are rice fields alternated with sugar cane. Palm trees, lakes and rivers make it very diverge. All the time we stop to make pictures of the nature, temples and the big statues that are all around us.
Most of the time we don't know where we are but at last we arrive in Konerirajapuram and visit the larger Nataraja temple. This one has very colourful frescoes on the ceiling. While Sethy takes a nap we stroll through the town. And on we go, by the next village are the statues outside greater than the temple itself. The priest here allows us to take photos even from the sanctum. Gradually our head becomes overfilled with images of the temples and we want to skip some. But each has something special. One is used by labourers to fill bags with rice, in the next the locals take shelter for the heat and we cannot stop our visits.
Female shepherds look after their cows, with Sethy as interpreter we have a chat with them. Then it is two o'clock and time for lunch, for the three of us I pay 62 rs. At this time of the days the temples are closed and we are tired. We just let us ride along a tributary of the Cauvery and enjoy the views of the landscape. From a distance we hear music and encounter a funeral procession. As we pass them the dancers wave to us and when we take pictures they jump as mad as they can. The last visit is something completely different. In large stables shelter 400 cows from different species. It is clean as a whistle and here we must remove our shoes for hygienic reasons.
By four we are back after a spectacular and unforgettable day.
We have the idea that Kodikkarai will be a nice alternation after all the temples so that is our goal for today. Half past seven we start, of course again with Sethy. It is quit a distance so the tariff for this day is by the mileage. Sethy starts to stop again by every statue but this will take to much time and, due to the distance, we also cannot take the remote roads. After an hour we are in Thiruvarur. We just stop here for breakfast and don't visit the temple in the lake.
Also here it is rice harvest time and a large terrain is used as a temporary depot. Near Nagapattiman we reach the coast. From the road we have a great view over the harbour and the sea. We drive parallel to the sea but to far off to see it. Around us rice fields and lakes with a lot of birds. The landscape changes and we enter a large area of salt-winning. The land is flooded with seawater and as the water evaporates a brown salt mass remains. Then we arrive in the woodland around Kodikkarai. At the beginning is viewpoint nearby a footprint of Ram. To reach it we must climb a stair dotted with monkeys.
At eleven we reach the Cape, we have the idea that it is possible to hire a car or boat and explore the sanctuary. But it is off-season and there is just a kind of deer-camp which we don't visit. Asking for 'boating' we are guided to the beach. But it is nearly storming, even the fisherman don't go to the sea. We walk around, it is great with the waves and a lot of colourful shells on the sand. The fisherman maintain their vessels and Sethy talks with them. One man joins us and guides us to another group. According to him they dare to take us for a trip but we don't take the risk. With our own car we visit some viewpoints, the nature is beautiful but there are hardly birds. Only at the water- inlet for the salt winning eagles fly and catch fishes.
Back on the road two dogs chase each other and run into the car, one of them dies. A little further a group labourers asphalts the road, as often the work is mostly done by hand. We make a short stop in Velanganni, visit the great white cathedral and walk to the sea. Here even women, covered in their sari, go into the breakers. We drive the same road back to Kumbakonam. All three of us are tired and somewhat disappointed, the day was not what we expected. At six we are in the hotel. We drove nearly 300 km and pay 6.5 per km. for the extra milage.
We arrange that Sethy will drop us in Pudukkotai tomorrow.
Thanjavur, 6 - 7 February
Sethy picks us up at 8 o'clock and off we go. We are in no hurry and visit a temple on our way to Thanjavur. Then we have breakfast and proceed to Karaikudi. Slowly the agriculture changes from rice to sugar cane and the scenery becomes less cultivated. Along the road they sell fresh branded cashew notes.
After some hours we are in Karaikudi. We have selected some hotels but this information is useless since all hotels are booked up, due to wedding parties. So we have to go further and reach Tirupathur, here Sethty informs at every lodge but again without success. By now it is two o'clock and after lunch we decide to go back and try our luck in Pudukkottai. The only availability here is a 4-persons room, so dirty that I barely look at it.
The only solution is back to Thanjavur. After some more efforts we get, for 1550 rs, a small room in hotel NewYorker. A long driving day for 40 kilometres.
Yesterdays search learned us that the wedding parties last also for two days and we stay in Thanjavur. According to our guidebook the fort is also worth to visit and we take a rickshaw. It is behind the temple and between the restored walls it is just a play ground. A small train, a cable-way and pedalo's complete it. It is great for children, we don't stay there very long. Just outside an elderly man addresses us. After the usual small talk he invites us to accompany him to his house. He has a lunch-break from work and soon we sit with his family. When we met, the man wears a western costume but he changes this for a dhoti. The family invites us to join the lunch but we are not hungry and just take some titbits.
Next we explore the rest of Thanjavur, near the market are the remainders of the city walls. Back in the hotel we arrange a car to drive us to Pudukkottai. For dinner we go to the nearby hotel Yagoppi.
Pudukkottai, 8 - 9 February
The cars arrives at nine thirty and in an hour we reach Pudukkottai. For 1100 rs we have a reasonable AC room in hotel Mari. After a short rest we go and explore the town. It is a relaxed place without a sign of tourists.
The roads are unpaved and dusty, it is a laid-back place and great to roam around. We cannot find a restaurant and go back to the hotel for lunch. The dining-room is under reconstruction. The tasteful food is served in a cheerless meeting room.
According to our Footprint there is a nice city temple and we want to visit this. We ask the men on the desk how we can find this. Unfortunately not a person speaks English but finally they arrange a rickshaw and instruct the driver. We arrive at a temple and as soon as we enter a man starts to guide us around. It contains a mixture of Jain and Hindu shrines and it is more a kind of charitable institution. Just behind it is a large tank and a city farm. Slowly we walk back to the hotel, everyone we meet is extremely friendly. When we observe goldsmiths a bunch of children translates the conversation.
Back in the hotel we drink a beer, they serve so many snacks with it that we skip dinner.
We arranged a car for today but as we are in the lobby there is no sign of it. I get the idea that the employees have forgotten it. Of course they assure us 'no problem' and 'just five minutes' and indeed after a quarter there is a car. From something I have read I have the idea that there is a Ayyaman temple in the neighbourhood but nobody has heard of it. So we instruct the driver to show us the nicest and most scenic places in the region. The man his job is taxi driver in Singapore. He is on leave and speaks enough English.
The landscape is flat and dry with many lakes used for the badly required irrigation. We drive to the village Sittannavasal, nearby is a large rock formation dominates the scenery. In the rock is an old Jain cave with the remainder of paintings. We are early and official the site is still closed. But the driver sees a man who has the key and he shows us the relative small cave. We pay him just the half of the entrance price. From the entrance of the cave we have a great panorama over the serene countryside. But that will change soon since a fun-fair is build and nearly ready. As we drive back I observe stairs that lead to the top of the rock, there are the shelters of the monks. By now the office is open and to enter I have to buy a ticket for the cave too. It is a steep climb in the full sun I don't want to spend another 100 rs. for this.
Next we go to the fort in Tirumayam which is of course also situated on the top of a rock. Besides the restored walls there is not much more left than a canon. A scary stepladder lead to a small Shiva temple in a cave.
At the bottom of the fort stand two larger temples. One looks great at the outside but the driver tells that the other one is more interesting. The pillars that support the roof are made from one piece of stone and decorated with beautiful figures. The priest just opens the sanctum for a puja and we follow him. The big castle rock is the backside of the temple. It is decorated with one large bas relief sculpture with many gods, one of them lies down. We stand aside and as the priests handles the offered coconuts he talks with us before he continues the service. At the end he explains the meaning of the sculptures to the devotees and repeats this in English for us.
Along the road to Pudukkottai stands a sign with 'prehistoric site' but we cannot find anything but a very old and ragged bridge by which we must to cross a river. Back in the town we go to the city temple. It is the same we wanted to visit yesterday. Since it is after twelve it is closed but a man opens a rear door and shows us around. Inside the beggars get a meal.
We expect that the driver waits outside but there stands a stranger. It is the drivers friend. He lives nearby and we have a drink in his house. Since we want to visit the countryside the driver takes us over small roads until we enter the backyard of a house. Here lives another friend, he serves us all kinds of fruits. His brother married yesterday and the young women obvious feels herself not at her ease.
The friend speaks fluent English and joins us. Through agricultural areas and small hamlets we drive to a temple with an enormous horse statue in front. The temple itself is new and colourful. We continue to another temple where the priest constructs an immense statue of Hanniman. While the men explain which crops are cultivated we go to another friend. He has a farm and here we get a tour around the fields. In the towns we often have seen the milkmen with their motorbikes, here one comes to buy his stock. The last visit is to the former high-school of the friend. There are so many children that the classes are inside as well in the open air.
We drop the friend at his house but as we want to leave there are troubles with the gear-box. The driver can only partial solve the problem and with only the fourth gear working we drive back. It was again a fantastic day and we have no problem to pay the agreed 1500 rs. It is five o'clock and since we had no lunch we are hungry and have dinner as soon as possible
Madurai, 10 - 11 February
Half past nine the diver arrives, the car is repaired. In a high tempo we drive to Madurai. The environment becomes rocky with many stone pits. We visit a memorial for freedom fighters and have a short stop to give a package to a brother of the driver. The last part we travel on the four lane road with the usual neglect of traffic rules. In Madurai we go to a large girls college, another brother of the drives owns a teashop on the campus. So it is a fine chance for a family visit while we get tea and a snack.
Just before noon we are in hotel Chentoor, we phoned them yesterday. The 2000 rs that we have to pay for the small AC-room is overpriced. From the roof terrace there is a splendid view on the Meenakshi temple. But is is so windy that the lunch nearly blows away from our plates.
In the afternoon we visit the town. I buy some cloths, a trouser and two shirts for 1650 rs. And then we go to the temple. Around it are a lot of touts but we don't find them extremely pushy. It helps of course that every answer from us begins with 'but we visited 30 years ago...'. But we do not recognize very much, we remember that the streets where unpaved at that time. We don't enter the temple, just walk around and do some sight-seeing before we return to the hotel.
Since we have visited so many temples in the last days we did not plan to visit the Meenakshi. But yesterday, when we saw it again, we changed our minds. At the entrance everyone is searched, we have left the contraband in the hotel and have no problems. Also at the inside the temples differs from our memories, one thing that we know certain is that at that time the tank was filled with water. But it does not matter, it is a fascinating and impressive temple and we stay for a long time. There are a numerous visitors, a mixture of devotees and tourists.
In the afternoon we take a rickshaw to the Thirumalya Nayaka palace. Not so much of it remains, but the enormous pillars are impressive as are the sculptures against the here and there painted ceilings. Also the museum has an elaborate collection of statues. There are remarkable many India tourists and school classes. We walk back to the hotel, the rickshaw driver we had earlier spots us and gives us a free ride.
Tomorrow we have an early start and without success we try to get some sandwiches for breakfast.
Half pas eight we walk again to the temple for the closing ceremony. It is less crowded as I expected. Someone tells us where we can see the ceremony and at nine we and some other tourist take our places. The the sanctum, forbidden for us, is filling up with devotees. We foreigners push each other aside to catch a glimpse but there is nothing to see. We only hear the sound of the ceremony. At ten the inner doors are closed and next a procession of musicians and priests which carry the image of Shiva pass by. Here and there they halt briefly by the statues of other gods and then they approach Parvati's bedroom where another rite starts. We leave before it ends and return to our hotel.
Kanyakumari, 12 - 14 February
Early in the morning we walk to the station where we have breakfast with coffee and some snacks. The train is on time and before seven o'clock we are on our way. We share the compartment with a few ladies who just awake. They don't speak a word English but they are cheerful and noisy. In the meantime they makes themselves presentable and leave the train at the next station.
As always in the sleeper class there is enough amusement from sellers, beggars, drag-queens and other people. We travel through a diversified scenery with a lot of ponds, rivers and strange formed rocks. Just after eleven we arrive in Nagercoil and take for 200 rs a rickshaw to Kanyakumari. We go to hotel Maadhini and get a non-Ac room for 900 rs. It is on the top-floor, from the room we cannot sea the see but from the large corridor with window-glass and a large balcony we have a perfect sight.
After some rest we go to the beach beneath the hotel. The wind is blowing hard and all the fisher boats are on shore. From here we walk to to centre, it is a nice but touristy town. With ragged vessels one can visit the rocky islands in the sea. It does not attracts us but a long row of passengers is waiting. After a while we go the point from where we can see the sun disappearing in the sea. It is very crowded and the fairground attractions have a lot of customers. People stand on the rocks in the sea before the coast. Sunset is at half past six but a few minutes earlier the sun disappears in the clouds at the horizon. Everyone disappears.
I want to witness the sunrise and by six I go to the same point were we were last evening. Buses drop new visitors and we all walk in the same direction. Everywhere along the coast people stand, often a row or five behind each other. The beggars are still sleeping but the trinkets and souvenir business starts already. Again the clouds obstruct a clear view. From the island we hear someone blowing on a shell and everybody jubilates.
A quarter of an hour later we can see the sun and everyone leaves the shore. In the meantime men take a sea bath and are rewarded by the priests. The horses start there rounds and even, if it is more than hour before the boats start, a long queue waits at the ticket counter.
After breakfast we walk along the fisher-ships on the beach. On Sunday nobody embarks but the men are busy with maintenance. The leakage in the bottom of a boat is sticked with synthetic material. Men repair the fishing nets and provide them with new beaters. In the streets behind the beach others put fresh bait on long lines. Also all kind of financial transactions are settled.
In the afternoon we go again to the sunset and just walk around, it looks just like combination of a flea market and a fair. Just as yesterday the sun disappears in the clouds.
At six I look outside but since it is still cloudy at the horizon I go back to bed. By ten we go to the station where the train waits. We travel again through a beautiful scenery, alternating all kind of trees, bananas and many lakes. We have nice chats with our fellow travellers. A young women takes a voluminous book but just phones or sleeps, she does not read a word.
Half past two we arrive in Kollam. The hotel that we have selected is booked up, the rickshaw driver knows another one and we have a look. It is far outside of the town at the beach and very dirty so we go back to the centre. After some other attempts we end in Dana Castle, a large AC room costs 2500 rs, but since we don't need the AC we get it for 1200.
Kollam 15 - 17 February
When I ask for a continental breakfast the hotel staff sends a boy to a shop. He returns with a whole bread and a pot jam. Since the latter is mouldy I end with water and bread.
For today we have arranged a boat for a backwater trip, with 6500 it is rather costly. We have to pay in advance at the hotel desk. A rickshaw is included in the price and escorted by hotel personnel on a motorbike we ride to the All Season's boating club. It turns out that we have hired a 10-seater motorboat, John-Peter is the skipper. Water, juice, fruit and a table are loaded and off we go.
First we sail along the banks of the Ashtamudi lake, here are many luxury resorts. On the lake we see a lot of small fishing boats, the man catch mainly shrimps and crabs. And everywhere around us are Chinese fishing nets. Along broad canals we proceed to Munroe Island. A man with a small canoe waits for us and with him we visit the small canals on the island. For us this is the best part of the backwater experience. Some people give us a demonstration about the making of coco rope. Besides the inevitable palm trees here also grow mangos and cashew-nuts. After an hour we go back to JP.
We sail around the island and cross again Ashtamudi lake. We take rather a lot of water and become soaking wet. Gulls fly in our wake seeking for food while vessels with small sails pass us. Near the harbour for the sea fishers er drink a chai. A friend of JP has to go to the other side and we act as his ferry.
Half past three we are back at boating club. We had a nice day. The personnel cleans the boat and throws the cans and other garbage into the water.
Tomorrow we take the ferry to Alleppey and we go to the jetty to arrange this. As soon as we are there a travel agent addresses us. He sells tickets for 300 rs per person. Since we arrive late it is convenient that he also can reserve a home stay. In Dream Nest we get a room for 500 rs., pick-up included. Today's ferry leaves and we watch the departure. After that we walk around the centre of Kollam, there is not much to see and we go back to our room.
In the afternoon we ask a rickshaw to bring us to the fishing harbour. Four drivers have to consult each other before they know where it is. The road along the shore is converted into a high-way. As everywhere the fishing boats rest on the beach. We talk with some of the fishermen and in the meantime more boats arrive. None of them has fish on board. As we walk along we discover the reason since a little further is the auction. The fishermen bring a great variety of fish, from small ones of 10 cm to large ones of over 2 meter and also cuttlefish. The catch is immediately sold to merchants and individuals. The larger fishes are cleaned on the spot. Crates are filed with a mixture of small fishes and ice.
We walk further and the neighbourhood gets shabby and there is no sign of a rickshaw. The owner of a tea stall waves to us and we take a chai. A little later we are back in the civilised world and get transport back to the hotel.
I go to buy some beer and as in every town in Kerala the shop makes you feel like an addict. A row of 25 men, standing between crush barriers, waits for the counter. Next to it others form a second row. These men give money to friends in the first row and they buy a double order. At the counter is a separate window where I have to pay and with that note I can get the beer, 50 rs a bottle.
As farewell the hotel serves us an abundant continental breakfast. Then with a rickshaw to the jetty. We collect the tickets and board. The luggage is stored downstairs and we sit on the upper deck. In the meanwhile men repair the engine and as they have fixed the problem the captain makes a test round before the real start.
The capacity of the boat is 200 persons but there are no more than 80 aboard and with 20 persons on the upper deck we sit comfortable. A crew member introduces himself as Sam, he speaks a little English and tells that he is our tour guide. After a short explanation he leaves for hours.
First we cross the Ashtamudi lake and then follows a large stretch through canals. On the banks the backside of the villages are situated, despite all the palms it is not the most scenic part. The water becomes overgrown with water hyacinths. Sometimes we sail close to the see, just a dike separates it from the canal. Numerous small ferries connect the villages along the water.
Just after noon we stop in a resort and have a very tasteful lunch. Half an hour later we arrive at the ashram off the 'hugging mother'. For myself I associate an ashram with a rustic life, but here stand a number of high apartment buildings. A few people embark whilst others board. On the next lake we see an enormous amount of Chinese fishing nets, many are ruined. They are placed in two rows and it looks likes a guard of honour as we sail between them. Half way the lake we encounter the ferry that comes from Alleppey.
We continue again through the winding canals, workers maintenance the waterway by restoring the banks and dredging the channel. At four o'clock we stop again for a short tea break. The ship's propeller is filed wit plants and the crew dives under the boat to clean it. Until now there were mostly palms around us but now the scenery changes into paddy fields. We drop some passengers at a resort before we arrive in Alleppey at half past six.
A rickshaw driver and a young man on a scooter wait for us and together we go to Dream Nest. The room is large and clean, without chairs. Other guests, two French and a British couple sit in the living room around the table. For beer we have to go outside, for food also or cook for ourselves. I start with a beer expedition. Again a great crush at the counter but I manage. Back in the home-stay the French guests change it with a cold beer from there stock. They have shrimps and we get a plate. Further they have prepared delightful crab and we get also a share from this. The enjoyable evening ends with community singing.
Calicut 18 - 20 February
We rise at half past six, pack our belongings and leave the home-stay. A lorry with an elephant on the bin passes. Soon afterwards a rickshaw stops. When we arrive at the station we hear that the train is delayed and I buy some banana snacks for breakfast. The first part of the trip, until Thrissur, we did some years ago and it is through the same somewhat disorderly tropic landscape. The scenery of the last part to Calicut is much better.
The pre-paid taxi booth gives us for 1 rs. a note that just says that the fare is by the meter. Wiesje and I think of each other that we want to stay in the Calicut Tower. On the 7th floor we have for 1015 rs. a large non-ac room.
In the hotel it is obvious that Calicut has strong connections with the Arabic world. The hall is filled with men dressed in their characteristic clothing. They sit there the whole day, drinking tea and doing business.
From the Footprint information I got the idea that the interesting part of the town is near the see and we take a rickshaw. First we walk along the beach, it is very dirty with more shit then shells. We return to the houses and ask where we can find the traditional mosques. A group men deliberate and arrange a rickshaw for us. It is on the other side of the city.
When we stop there a man addresses us and offers us a free guided tour. The largest mosque is under restoration and covered in plastic but we can visit the other ones and they are nice too. The substructure is constructed with stone while the rest is build with wood . It is completely different from the standard mosques. Large family houses are build in the same area.
In the evening we go to Manchira, a park and lake in the centre. A man on a motorbike stops and ask 'from where are you'. As soon as he hears we are Dutch he starts a tirade about the wicked way that unmarried people live together in our country. We walk to the Sugar Market Street, just a few shops sell this speciality. We buy a piece but it is to sweet for our taste. In an old hotel the tourist organization has an office. There are some tours but not in the weekend. Yet we decide to stay another day here and then leave for Kalpetta.
Wiesje telephones with the Green Mount homestay in Kalpetta and they have a room available. We have some shopping to do, one of the items is an eye-liner for Wiesje. First she tries a beauty parlour but they are only interested in a total treatment. They send her to the shop next door, so to see a fancy clothes store. A hostess accompanies us to the first floor where two sale girls wait. A boy carries the package downstairs where three man pack it and settle the payment.
The hotel has over ten floors but just one elevator. Today there is a large wedding party so it costs a lot of strain to get downstairs. The hotel clerk has forgotten to arrange a rickshaw and he picks one from the street. The driver does not speak a word English. With the help of the parking guard we tell him that we first want to visit the Kadalkundi bird sanctuary and then the harbour of Beypore. The driver goes straight to the beach at Beypore and asks us if this ok. We don't want to stay there and then it becomes obvious that he does not know the region. He discusses this with a colleague and we change to that rickshaw, the guys split the fare.
First we cross the river with a ferry. This consists of three vessels tied to each other and with a wooden platform on top. There is place for nine cars/rickshaws, numerous motorbikes and pedestrians. Then we follow a bumpy road, cross some other rivers before the drivers stops and announce: beach. We try to convince him that our goal is birds but he does not understand it. As we imitate the flying his answer is: airport. Bystanders stop and interfere but since nobody speaks English we give it up and go back.
We stay an hour or so near the fishing harbour. Men unload by hand large ships, the catch goes immediate in trucks for further transport. By six we are back at the hotel. Despite the fact that it was totally different than planned it was a very nice trip. The hotel guard sees that we give the driver a small tip and claims his share.
Wayanad, 21 - 24 February
The car arrives by ten, the price for the drop is 1400 rs. The winding road goes through many small hamlets and the scenery is attractive. During the first part we are surrounded by palms, later there are more rubber plantations and bananas. After a chai we reach the ghat road. It has nine real hairpins and for the rest it is also only curves. We constant drive through the woods and see many monkeys. At the end of the climb we stop at a viewpoint. Since it is hazy there is not much to see.
By noon we reach Kalpetta, the Green Mount Cottage is at the end of a steep, narrow side road. Only Mrs. Lopez is present, she does not speak English. The driver talks with here and so we understand that our room is available at six o'clock and that in the meantime we can use an older room upstairs. Soon Martin Lopez, the owner, arrives and he shows us the room we get tonight, it looks fine. With him we plan trips for the coming days after which we have a home cooked lunch, very tasteful.
In the afternoon we go to the town. Along the busy high road are many shops and houses, much else there is not to see. Even a beer shop we cannot find but Maxwell, the son guides us to the bar of the PPS hotel. While we enjoy our drink the youngsters which stay in our room come back, pack their belongings and leave. The room is cleaned and we move in. It is real huge with a sitting and a sleeping part and a large bathroom, further a fridge and a balcony. And all that for 1200 rs.
Punctual at eight Shamir our driver for the next days, arrives with a rather old 4-wheel. For today's trip the price is 1600 rs. Since we have only a vague idea about the region we let Lopez and Shamir decide the itinerary and this works out great. We start through a hilly scenery, with a lot of woodland, plantations and small scale agriculture. Shamir notices a lot interesting items and stops regular to show us all kinds of vegetables and spice plants.
At ten we reach Kuruva, where we have to cross the river. Not many visitors at this hour but everyone has to wait since there are elephants on the island. In the meantime we chat with a group of students. We are the first visitors and as a couple we go by rowing boat instead of the raft. There is a marked path through the jungle. At one side grow large trees and a lot of bamboo and on the other side is the river. Now it is quiet and peaceful but we hear the students coming. The path ends at the river. The students overtake us and cross the river by climbing over the rocks. This is too adventurous for us and we walk back by the same route. Now we encounter many people and often we are halted for a chat and a picture.
The next stop is the Pazhassi Tomb, a memorial and museum to remember fighters who battled the English around 1800. On the way to the Banasura dam we stop again every time as something interests us. It is a great way of travelling. At the dam we have to climb over 160 steps to reach the reservoir. It is a little strange weather, the horizon is hazy and we can not see far but the sun is burning right above us. We don't go for boating on the lake but walk a nature trail, disturbing many young lovers.
The last stop is Karalad Lake, this is nearly totally filled with water lilies. There is a path and I want to round the lake. It is pleasant but at the opposite end it becomes swampy. I must find my way with the help of shelves, the last one is to small. I fall and get muddy and wet feet.
Half past four we are back in our room. The sun has already disappeared for an hour and now a big rain and thunder storm starts, it causes a power cut. Two hours later all things are back to normal. During the dinner we and Lopez discuss tomorrows trip. It is a pity to hear that the wild-parks and Eddakal caves are closed. But at the other hand the road trips give us even more satisfaction than the sights we visit.
It is again hazy as Shamir picks us up for today’s itinerary. This time we visit the Southern part of Wayanad, this is a region with many tea plantations. As anywhere in the countryside children walk to their school. A very bad road brings us to the top of the Kanthanpara falls. During the monsoon it is all water but now we can climb down over the rocks. The fall itself is not too spectacular but together with the environs it is splendid place to explore.
After a while we continue, first by car over an unpaved road and next we walk through the woods. Here people cultivate ginger. The path ends high above the Sunrise valley. We can see far around us but as often these days the weather is not helpful. Deep down us we see a river while another fall tumbles down the opposing rock. We enjoy it here for a time before we return to the car.
On one of the tea plantations it is harvest time. Standing on the road we take some pictures. The supervisor does not raise objections when we enter the field, on the contrary he explains us the work. The women must pick at least 21 kg to earn 130 rs, if they pick more it is paid by weight. The pickers use a scissor with a catch-pit. Herewith they trim the bushes and empty the leaves in a bag they carry with them.
If this bag is full they overload in a large cloth, every women has her own and they tie the points together. It is lunch time and the ladies take this bale on their head and walk down the road. Everyone is cheerful, tries to communicate with us and wants to see the pictures. The harvest is weighed and recorded, one of the ladies has picked 27 kg this morning.
We continue to Chambra Peak, again through tea plantations. Along the road grows pepper, we always thought pepper plants are small bushes but now we see that it is a climbing plant. Also here it is harvest time, men use primitive stepladders made of bamboo and collect the berries. We don't climb to the top of the peak but just visit a watch-tower on the lower slopes, we just have to walk 500 meter and are happy that the sky is clear.
After the lunch we visit Pookot Lake. Larger and more visited then yesterdays Karalad. We find it less attractive but there is an easy walking path around the lake. When we return to Kalpetta it starts to rain again but this time it is just a short shower.
Today we start at the Karapuzha dam, the road is on the same level so we don't have to climb. We cross the dam to the remainders of an old fort, the sight is great again. In this region grows eucalyptus. We stop at a small factory where the obtain the oil from the leaves. The big branches are used for heating. The oil evaporates and the damp is cooled down.
The small museum of Amabala Vayal exposes statues and traditional utensils. From here we see the mountains with the Eddakal caves. Nearby is a agricultural institution here they nurse a lot of beautiful flowers in different variations.
Another nice ride brings us to the Phantom Rock, a large pillar with a separate rock on top. From here we have great view about the countryside and a large rock in the form of an elephant. But behind us workers crush the mountain. They drill holes, put dynamite into them and the result is chunk of stones. A part of these is crunched into coarse sand.
At one o'clock we arrive in Sulthan Battery where we have lunch. The Jain temple is closed at this time and we roam around, it looks a nicer place than Kalpetta. From the temple just a hall has survived the time and a short while ago vandals demolished the statues.
We know that the Muthanga park is closed but the road cross it and we decide to make a trip up and down the road. The best time for this is at the end of the day so we drink chai at a tea stall. And again a heavy thunderstorm starts. At four we start and it is nearly dry.
Along the road we see many deer, boar and even, rather close, a black bear. A Langur family sits quietly in a tree. Shamir drives very slowly and spots most of the wild. The bush is diversified and attractive with large open areas. After half an hour we are in Tamil Nadu, drive a little further and return. Now it is raining heavy again and the half open car gives little protection so we are soaking wet. At the end Shamir spots in the distance some elephants, we stap out to make some pictures.
Due to the heavy rain they show only grey spots.
It is a long drive back but happily the rain stops. Half past six we are back in Kalpetta, there it was dry weather for the whole day.
Coorg, 25 - 27 February
FridayWe have to rise in time since the new guests are expected early. They arrive as we want to settle the bill so it is a little hectic. At 8.30 we leave with a different driver in a big car. First by known roads and then through the Tholpetty wild-park. With this speed we don't spot animals. The road to Coorg is good but this changes dramatical as we cross the border with Karnataka. But the scenery is the same, hilly woodland with coffee plantations.
Our driver does not know this route and asks everyone he sees. We leave the green hills and drive a while trough a more scorched terrain. But even here farmers manage to cultivate rice. A last steep climb brings us in Madikeri. We stay in hotel Hilltown and despite this name it is down town. But we mange to find it a pay the driver the agreed 2750 rs.
In the hotel we have a rather small room for 935 rs. We go for lunch to the restaurant but this is closed due to a protest strike in the town so we use room service. Since Wiesje has a bad cold we visit a doctor in the nearby hospital. He has immediately time for us while a real sick woman lies in the bed behind him. For the consultation we pay 100 rs, for the medicines 110.
As we walk through the city we observe an outstanding number of policeman all over town. Most of the shops are closed. As you can expect in a city in Coorg the roads go up and down. It is a nice place with a fine market. Close to the hotel is a travel agent and we arrange some trips. For tomorrow local sightseeing and Sunday to Dubare.
Later I go to buy beer. Just as I have paid, some police-cars race through the street. All shop owners close the shutters and I return in a hurry. But in the next street it is calm again. Nobody can explain us the kind of the problems.
We have a lazy morning, our driver arrives at one o'clock. The first goal is Abbi Falls.
We drive over a climbing road, not my idea of a pleasant walk as Footprint suggests. Probably they mean the path from the parking to the falls. It is a scenery spot visited by many other tourist. We chat a while with an Indian who lives in Europe and is back for holidays.
Back in Madikeri we visit Raja's Tomb, the in Muslim style build graves of Hindi rulers. Also here policemen walk around. A few days ago vandals have burned the door of one of the tombs and we have the idea that this might be the cause for the strikes.
Inside the wall of the old fort we visit a palace and an into museum converted church. In the small temple a man holds an extensive worship without the help of a priest. Raja's Seat is a nice public garden with a great view. The last visit is to the Omkareshwara temple but it is closed at this time of the day.
Just after three we are back in the hotel, to late for lunch. Later we walk to to the travel agent and make the arrangement for tomorrow. A trip to Dubare and some other places for 1200 rs. In town we see still a lot police but most shops are back into business.
The driver arrives at half past eight. In an up tempo we drive to Dubare, the road is winding but this does not prevent our man to overtake every car he sees. Around us again many coffee plantations, since many high trees provide shadow to the plants it looks like woodland.
After an hour we arrive in Dubare and wait with other tourist for the boat that goes on and off. As we arrive an elephant is bathed.
Many spectators throw water and touch the animal. For this privilege you have to buy a separate ticket, a guard controls this. We take just a general ticket. Now and then an elephant carrying a large trunk trudges along, he manoeuvres with it and stands for a photo shoot.
Next it is her turn to bath. A guide gives a broad explanation about the physics of the elephant and the way they are trained.
A little further is Nisargadama, an island in the Cauvery. For 30 rs. we may cross the suspension bridge. The cultivation is mainly bamboo and, just as in Wayand, it just has flowered so it looks rather dull but we see already the numerous offspring. But it is a nice to walk, at some places we can descend to the river. A deer park and an elephant that makes his rounds complete the entertainment. Nature lovers can use bird watching spots.
The last stop is at the Buddhist Golden temple in Bylakuppe. The complex is very colourful. In the main hall stand three enormous gold-painted statues. And of course a lot of wall paintings. Just as we think we have seen it all, monks outside beat the gongs. Hundreds of monks enter the hall and sit in long rows on their pillows. The leading monk begins with a sermon which is alternated with shrill horns and loud drumming. After a while all the monks recite, on the rhythm of a gong, long phrases out of there books. Now and then there is an intermission with music, other monks serve drinks. It is very impressive but after nearly an hour we continue. On the compound are other smaller temple halls and in all of them groups of monks accomplish the same service.
Just before three we are back in the hotel. First we arrange a hotel in Hassan and next the transport. Since we did not really liked our driver we decide to go to the taxi stand to hire another one. But our man stands there in the row so that would be a little clumsy. Back to the tourist office where we arrange another driver. The price for the drop is 1700 rs.
The Omkareshwara temple is not far from the hotel and I decide to visit it, from a tourist point of view it is not very special.
Hassan - Arsikere, 28 February - 2 March
When we pay the bill the hotel staff gives us all kind of information concerning Coorg, a little bit late. Nine thirty we leave in a large car, the driver is real good. The first hour it is still coffee plantations around us but then the environment changes and we enter the dusty Deccan. At this time I realize how extra ordinary green regions like Coorg and Wayanad are. After the usual chai we arrive at twelve thirty in Hassan where we have a large non-AC room for 880 rs. in hotel Suvarna Regency.
In the afternoon we walk to the tourist office. According to them there is not much to see in the town itself. Yet we decide to stay here for an extra day. For the day after tomorrow we arrange for 2500 rs. a car to visit Belur and Halebid with a drop in Arsikere.
Our hotel has four different restaurants, we diner in the rooftop garden with a nice beer.
First to the station where we buy tickets for the coming journeys. It is quiet and the ticket officer has all the time to discuss our plans. Then we roam around the town. We see a small temple but it is closed. On the other side of the road is a public garden and we know there is a museum inside. For 2 rs we buy tickets from a woman who sweeps the surroundings. We enter the building and it is an aquarium, well kept but not what we are looking for. The next complex is a swimming pool and then we notice the museum. It is small but there are some beautiful carvings and also the temple car is splendid.
A wagon builder constructs wooden wheels and we watch this for a time. And of course there is a market, a favourite pastime for us. Wiesje buys bangles, it takes a lot of pain and strain before she has these around her arm. All the vendors ask us to shoot photos of them. At the end of the day we make another round. It is a nice town with pleasant people. What strikes us is the outstanding quantity of ox and horse carts.
Accompanied by the man of the tourist organization the driver arrives at 8.30. He has a lot of his own stuff in the trunk so we have some problems to store our luggage. The driver is very young, does not say a word and drives very slow.
But it is not far to Belur. There are just a few visitors. The outside of the main temple is equipped with numerous splendid and detailed sculptures. The guide, which we have hired, gives a exhausted explanation. He let the sun reflect in a mirror and uses the beam as indicator. There is so much to see that I cannot absorb everything. And then we have not seen the interior. It is rather dark, but for 10 rs. we get the assistance of a spotlight and so we can admire the beauty. We have the guide for an hour after which we admire everything again in our own tempo and visit the many other temples on the compound.
A road through a hilly landscape leads to Halebid. It is by eleven now and around this temple are many vendors and a lot more visitors. This temple is also very attractive, with a total different type of sculpture.
From here we continue to Arsikere, in the town the driver keeps going. I ask him where to he brings us and the answer is to the station. A coincidence is that we are near the Mayura Lodge. It gives the idea that it is closed but then we discover the entrance in the parking basement. The price of the room is 190 rs. and for 50 extra we get the remote control for the TV. But the man insists on an advance payment of 500 rs. And all this we have to arrange without much English. The room is small without a real window.
In another cellar across the street is a restaurant. We have a quick look at it and find it too dark and grubby so we walk out. Three employees run behind us and we let them persuade us to return. We get more light, thin plastic glasses and real napkins in stead of a piece of newspaper. The food is not too good but with a lot of chicken.
Back in the lodge we try to find out how far it is to the railway station. After 10 minutes it becomes clear that it is 5 minutes by rickshaw. Then it is time to make a walk through the town. It is obvious that few tourists visit Arsikere and stroll around in places like this is a great pleasure.
We encounter a temple where many people gather. The priest invites us and explains that this night all over India special Shiva ceremonies are held. We stay a while and are allowed to film every aspect of the ceremony. A remarkable good English speaking boy explains everything to us. Later we encounter a procession to the worship Shiva.
We find a restaurant that looks better than that of this afternoon. Upstairs is a table and after a while a man, who speaks a few words English explains that we have the choice between dosa and paratha, for 2 dosa and mineral water we pay 180 rs.
Chitradurga, 3 – 5 March
At seven o'clock we rise and take a banana for breakfast. By the clearance of the bill I get the money back and as in a real hotel someone takes our luggage and arranges a rickshaw. The train arrives at nine, just half an hour late and we board in the second seating. It is cramped with 2x three chairs in a bus arrangement. The biggest problem in these train is the small space for the luggage but with the help of fellow passengers we manage.
The reason for the night stop in Ariskere and now the train to Chikjajur is our fear for travelling by bus. We assume that we can find a car at the station for the journey towards Chitradurga. At eleven we arrive in Chikjajur and as we leave the station we stand in the middle of nowhere. We ask a man and he points towards the direction of a crosspoint.
Soon we are in the village and see some people stand together, this is the bus stand. A man asks our destination and we tell him that we want to go Chitradurga. He advices to go to Holakere first, from there depart many direct buses. Some minutes later he comes back and says that from here there are only slow local buses to Holakere and proposes to take a shared rickshaw. It is a large one and with six man we drive over a bumpy road, after half an hour we arrive at the bus station. Soon a bus comes and we find seats in the back. The luggage stands here and there on the floor around us. Our mentor leaves the bus before us and instructs another man the guide us for the rest. In Chitradurga this man arranges a rickshaw and at one o'clock we are in hotel Amogha. For 600 we have a large room.
Except the bananas we have not eaten anything and it is time for a brunch. After a nap we contact the family, visit an ATM and walk around the main street. For dinner we go to the bar-restaurant but the manager sends us through the kitchen to the family hall.
We are in Chitradurga to visit the fort and take a rickshaw. After a short ride the man stops and announces "the fort". It does not look the right place but he assures that it is ok. As we walk into the direction he points we stand in the lobby of the Aishwarya Fort hotel. They help us to find a more competent driver.
By ten we enter the fort. The guides are rather persistent but after a while they leave us alone. First we walk over the path along the lower side. At the far end we see stairs and presume that is the real entrance to the fort. Halfway some signposts point to specific places, it is by a steep flight of stairs. I want to go and Wiesje stays behind. Crossing the gates of the consecutive walls I arrive at the top of the hill. Along the path stand various temples, build against enormous rock boulders. On the top are the remainders of more temples and palaces in an fantastic, rough scenery. I wander around and realize that this is the central point and walk back to my wife. Parts of the fort are under reconstruction and men carry the large stones on their back to the top, this method is not changed since the original building started. A young man climbs the walls, just using his hands and feet.
Together we climb the hill again, we have all the time to enjoy this impressive site. Of course there are more tourist but it is not crowded. After a drink we take a path downhill but it it leads to a cave without a way out, it is part of one of the legends around the fort. But the consequence is that we have to climb up again. There are other branches but we get tired and go back. I take a quick look by the stairs at the end but there is nothing special to see.
Yesterdays bus journey has taken away our fears and we go to the bus station and ask if we can reserve seats to Haveri, our next destination. That is not possible but the bus departs every half hour and so that can not be a problem. From Haveri we want direct to Banavasi. Some days ago we mailed that we shall phone the tourist home when our arrival date is fixed. We call, the man who answers does not speak English and we decide to send them another mail.
For 50 rs. a rickshaw brings us to the Chandravalli lake. The driver drops us near a fence, warns for the monkeys and disappears, the civilized world is more than a kilometre away.
The lake is beautiful situated between the same type of rocky hills as the fort, I guess that the latter is at the other side of the mountain ridge. We follow the broad path that runs around the lake. After a while a sign points towards caves up hill, as we climb we feel in our legs yesterdays efforts. When we sit and rest a group of young men arrives. After the standard questions they enter a hall with pillars and disappear out of sight. After a while we too go inside at that moment the boys return. Behind the hall are all kind of voids, I have to climb up and down to reach them. Big boulders form the walls and roofs sometimes connected by some bricks. There is no clue that points to the original purpose of these place.
We continue around the lake and in the bushes we see a group peacocks. At the end of the lake we cross a stream, the main path goes straight ahead but we follow a smaller branch alongside the water. After a while it ends and we seek our way over the rocky slopes. It leads us back to the lake and a watering place for the buffaloes. A little further we encounter a fence, manage to climb it and are back near the monkeys at the entrance.
Outside the terrain a small van arrives, the owners convert it into a stall with food and drinks. It is ingenious how they do this, just using rope, sticks and cloths. A rickshaw brings new visitors and the driver agrees to takes us to the hotel for 30 rs. When we are there he suddenly wants 60, we refuse and angry he walks with us to an English speaking shop-owner. He advises, for goodness sake, to give another ten. The driver refuses this, the money falls on the ground and we walk away.
In the afternoon we call again the tourist home in Banavasi. This time an English speaking man answers. We tell him that we go to Haveri by bus and take a car from there. He explains that we also can take the bus to Sirsi and another to Banavasi from there. The conversation is exhausting since he keeps talking and we tell him that we will stick to our plan.
Banavasi, 6 – 11 March
Eight o'clock is to early for the cook but some time later he arrives and we get our dosa. As we arrive at the bus stand we hear a man shouting Haveri. On our question he confirms this is our bus and we hop into it. It is half full and after a smooth ride with few stops we arrive in Davangere. Everybody gets off and we think it is for a coffee break. But no, end of service and we have to change. The other bus is waiting and we continue, in Ranebennur we stop for coffee.
One o'clock we arrive in Haveri. All went so easy that we decide to take a bus to Sirsi.
But noway, when I leave the bus a man asks if we are bound for Banavasi. It is a taxi driver, send by the hotel. I give him my backpack and my wife, who has no idea of this, shouts "there goes our luggage". At the same moment another man hands me a cell phone. Since Wiesjes English is much better then mine I give it to her. It is the manager from Banavasi, he tells that the men stand there for some hours waiting for some foreigners in the bus. As soon as he knows we have the taxi he starts talking about lunch. We decide to take that in the hotel.
Soon we drive through the countryside, first it is only agriculture around us later we see more forest. Three o'clock we arrive in Banavasi. The drivers stops before the temple and phones Brahma, the manager. He arrives and guides us to the tourist home outside the town. It is hidden in the trees, the door is still closed by a roll-down shutter. A few minutes later Basavaraj, the housekeeper arrives with the key. The simple, spacious and clean rooms are situated around an inner-court. From our window we have a great view over the countryside. There is no restaurant in the tourist home and for lunch we walk to a small eatery, called a Khanavali. The food is sober and tastes reasonable.
The driver is still with us and brings us to the Gudnapur Lake. Here stand the remainders of the summer palace of the royals and a jain temple. Back in the village we pay the driver. The chairman of the Madhukeshwara temple committee welcomes us and promises that tomorrow he will give us a temple tour.
Back in the hotel we make plans for tomorrow. The food that they bring for dinner is cold and tastes not good. At ten the gate is closed. We are the only guests, Brahhma and the housekeeper sleep also in the hotel.
I wake up by daybreak and go for a walk in the environment. The front door is still closed but the housekeeper opens it. I take a path into the fields, it is a little hazy. After a while I see a temple and walk around it. Basavaraj, probably afraid that I get lost, follows me. After a while Brahma joins him and they gesture that I must come back. My walk disturbs the morning routine. Basavaraj must heat bathwater and fetch breakfast.
We visit a local sculptor and his small exhibition. It is at his home and afterward we have chai and talk with his family. Though the narrow, winding streets with traditional houses we walk to the temple. A ceremony that is a part of a Kannada festival in Belgaum has just ended. All the notables are still there and we are introduced to them. The mayor treats everyone on a glass sugar-cane juice.
We return to the hotel while we wait on the veranda a snake of a meter of two crawls before us. First we visit the pineapple factory of Dr. Rauf. A large stock of fruits is peeled, sliced and tinned. Most work is done by hand with the help of a few simple machines, everything is very clean. And of course we get a glass fresh juice. Next we visit some plantations of ginger and bananas.
We like it here and decide to stay another three days. Together with Brahma we plan the itineraries. We indicate the things we want to do and he makes day-trips of it. Five o'clock we walk to the temple since we fit in the chairman's schedule. First we get a lecture about the basics of Hinduism and the history of Banavasi. Then the conversation is expanded to cricket (it is world cup time) and football. Later he and one of the priest show us the temple. Special is the Nandu, he is squint and so he can watch both Shiva and Parvathi at the same time. After two hours as well the 76 year old chairman as we are tired.
But we are not ready yet. Two elderly ladies make all kind of flowers from the stalk of a aquatic plants. Together with all other materials these are also used to fabricate wedding crowns. We watch this process and of course are dressed as bride and groom.
Half past seven we sit in front of the hotel watching the monkeys in the trees. Brahma and a driver arrive and off we go. Through a great scenery of forest alternated by small scale agriculture and lakes we drive to Soraba where we have breakfast. Next to Belligavi, a small town where we visit some splendid, not often visited, Hoysala temples.
Then we go to Yelkundli, a sacred place in the woods, again a great ride through the countryside. Brahma nor the driver have ever been there. They keep asking and at last we reach the village. A farmer steps into the car and guides us for the last part. It is a not very extended forest but with a great variation of huge trees, I think this is the original vegetation. The whole site is sacred so we have to walk barefooted, but fortunately there is a stone path between the trees.
The next stop is by a temple in Keladi, before this stands a decorated temple car. The temple itself consists of two parts, one has beautiful wooden carving. By now it is two o'clock and we go to Sagar for lunch.
In the afternoon we visit some other temples and the source of the Varadha river. Next is a factory where they produce clothing in the traditional way. Unfortunately it is after five and they just close.
It is dark as we return in Banavasi. We wash ourselves before we visit Dr Rauf. A self-made man who is now an expert on the pineapple culture for which he has an honorary degree. As we arrive the table is filled with pineapples, juice, bananas and all kind of biscuits. Due to language problems the conversation is a little difficult at first but when his son joins us it gets very animated.
A few hours later we are back in our room and take a little nap. At midnight we go again to the Gudnapur Lake where a religious festival takes place. A platform on the bank is used as temple. In the lake floats a large raft with the statue of another deity. All around us is a lot of light, music, prayers and firework. On the stairs in the water three priests process the offerings. After a while the musicians and a lot of others board the raft. The base of it consists of two vessels and four man start to row around the lake. Large and loud explosions in the water escort them.
We make a short visit to the market, it is two o'clock before we go to bed.
We have a lazy morning and I walk to the town and the river to take some pictures. Over 30 men stand around the sheds of the temple cars. With a lot of efforts and shouting they pull the cars outside. After all the temples of yesterday it is time for something else and we decide to visit Gudavi Bird Sanctuary and have lunch in a nearby home-stay. Gudavi consists of a rather small lake and the surrounding forest, and as the locals warned us, there are no birds at this time of the year. So we go direct to the home-stay. The owners of the Madhuvana welcome us cordially and after some chat we get one of the best lunches we have eaten in India. Then Manchale family show us the nice rooms they have and guide us around their farm.
Half past four we leave them. Along nice small roads with again a great scenery around us we proceed to Chandragutti where another stair of 200 steps leads to the nice rock temple. From the top we have a great view. Near an altar lies a stone, when you lift it and it does not feel heavy you are in love.
In a village on our way back to Banavasi walks a tame elephant, for 10 rs. I got blessed.
Again at eight we start with the trip, first to Sirsi for breakfast. A long ride over small roads through the woods leads us to the Unchalli waterfall.
From the parking area a steep path downhill leads to a viewpoint. It is a great panorama. Beneath us are more viewpoints and we decide to climb down. From the last one the sight is indeed the best but we have to climb nearly 300 steps to come back to the road.
We continue to Manjaguni and visit the local temple. According to Brahma this one is very old but we don't find him very rewarding. All around the place workers are busy with the restoration.
Another ride through the woods leads us to Yana. We park the car and walk though the dense and humid forest. Suddenly two bizarre shaped rocks appear, bold and very impressive and about 100 m high. Of course there is a temple beneath the rock. We visit this but to reach a holy lake and cave we must climb barefooted a rocky path and that is too much. For Brahma and the driver it is no problem so they go and we walk quietly to the car.
After lunch we go to Sahasraling, the river there is filled with stones and sculptors have made numerous linga's and other sculptures. It is not to comfortable to reach the rocks but once you sit in the river it is worth all the efforts. We make a walk along the river before we return to Banavasi.
This is the last day and we pay the bill. The room is 650 rs a night and above that comes the food and the cars so the total is 9400 rs., tomorrows drop included. And of course we make an entry in the guest-book.
Haveri 11 - 12 March
At seven we awake because a macaque family jumps on the roof. We have breakfast and make us ready for the journey to Haveri. But Dr Rauf has called and invites us to observe some agricultural activities. Behind his house are large depots where the harvest is stored. Women peel enormous piles of betel-nuts. Others sort by hand the coffee beans according to their quality.
The last visit is to a field where they process ginger. First the bark is partly removed to make the drying easier. Now the men remove the remainder of the bast before they pack the ginger in bags.
At eleven we say goodbye to our hosts and two hours later we are in Haveri. In Hotel Hoysala we have for 840 rs a large AC suite, consisting of a room and a separate bedroom.
Haveri is a small, dusty and it is hot. We go to the internet to buy train tickets to Belgaum. No availability so we travel by bus again.
They don't serve breakfast in our hotel, for this we end in hotel Hitaishi Palace. It looks more comfortable than ours. We are tired after the strenuous last days and stay on our room reading and watching TV.
In the afternoon we go out for a walk and enjoy the quiet atmosphere. Remarkable is the great number of men and boys that play the drums.
Belgaum, 13 - 15 March
We drink a chai in the tea stall opposite the hotel before we walk with our luggage to the bus station. The bus to Hubli leaves at nine o'clock and soon we are on the highway. The grain has been harvested from the fields and large herds of cows and goats eat the leftovers. After just one stop we arrive at ten thirty in Hubli.
Half an hour later we are on the road again, this time in an AC bus. As always the driver starts extremely slow to give the late comers a change to board. Since this bus has curtains before the windows we can not see much outside. We drive directly to Belgaum and at one o'clock we sit in our room in hotel Adarsha Palace. For 1000 rs we have a non AC room, the bathroom has mirrors everywhere. After a little rest we go to the top-floor for lunch.
On the ground before the hotel stands an enormous tent, it is part of the exhibitions to promote the regional culture. It attracts numerous visitors and we join them. But here are only books in Kannada so it is not very interesting for us. Elsewhere in the town are other cultural events but we are to lazy to visit them. We have to make a phone call and see then large herds of buffaloes running through the streets.
On the inner-court of the hotel is an extra dining room, the guests can watch cricket on large screens, we take our dinner on the rooftop.
This morning we visit the fort in Belgaum, besides the remainders of the outer walls not much is left. Inside is a Muslim burial site and a mosque. I am allowed to enter this but have to cover my head with a plastic basket. A military camp is situated inside the fort. Fresh recruits get drilling lessons, they have to learn this on a hard-handed way. The park inside the walls is a relaxed place to walk around. At the end we visit two ancient temples, a beautiful lotus blossom is on the ceiling of one of them.
After some rest in our room we visit the vibrant market and shopping area. For tourist Belgaum is not very interesting. But we have tickets for tomorrows overnight train and stay another night.
The man at the hotel desk has also no ideas what there is to do in the town. We take a rickshaw to the Kapileshwar temple. The origin of the temple is very old but it looks colourful and modern. On the terrain all kind of smaller temples are erected and a lot of devotees visit the place. We think that we are in another part of Belgaum but as we start to walk we soon are in the same market area.
At twelve we are back in the hotel. Reconstruction is going on and in our room the drilling troubles us so much that we move to the hall. I go to the internet, on the street I miss a step and fall flat on the road, fortunately without injuries. All bystanders are very concerned.
Then it is time to go to the station, the train arrives, a little late, around eight. We have an upper and lower berth in the 2AC. An Indian family uses all the berths but without a problem they move to their own seats. The family consists of a women, her children and her in-laws, the old man is blind. The young woman is busy with feeding all of them, she and her children sleep in our compartment.
Ahmednagar, 16 - 17 March
Since the family members regular visit each other we have a restless night. At seven thirty we rise and an hour later we arrive in Ahmednagar. With a rickshaw we search for a hotel, the first two are booked up. The next one, hotel Pushkaraj, is somewhat further away. We call them and they have a vacancy. For 1100 rs we get a small AC-room, we have to wait in the hall until the room is cleaned.
In the afternoon we go to the bus station to inform ourselves concerning the bus to Aurangabad, the depart is every half hour. Then to the internet to mail the home front. We have no ideas about this place and also internet is not very useful. But with regular asking we manage to find the market area. It is quit a distance from the hotel, with a rickshaw we go back.
Dinner is in our garden restaurant, an inner court with many flowers. It is busy, pleasant and the food as well as the beer taste well.
According to our information there is a fort here and we ask a rickshaw driver to bring us. The man does not understand it and we go with him to the desk of the hotel. They explain that the fort is far outside the town and that it is used by the military so we are not allowed to enter it. We decide to go again to the centre to roam around there.
For 50 rs I get a haircut and head massage. The town has nothing spectacular see but it has a relaxed atmosphere. Besides the Hindu temples there are many, mostly small, Muslim monuments. Inside one of the mosques is a Ganesh temple, now they rebuild the outside. Notable is that many men are still dressed in the traditional white clothes.
Aurangabad 18 - 23 March
A man sleeps on the floor of the restaurant while we have breakfast he wakes up as his phone rings. With a rickshaw we go to the bus station. The bus just leaves and we wait half an hour for the next one. Just before it arrives someone tells us that we have to buy tickets on the platform. Quite a lot of passengers take the bus but everybody has a seat and we manage to store our bag-packs. It is a good thing that not every one has so much luggage. We drive over a highway and the only break is halfway in a restaurant. Half past twelve we arrive in Aurangabad and take a rickshaw to hotel IRA, for 900 rs we have a fine room.
After the lunch we take a rickshaw to the tourist office. This is only open in the morning and the dependence in railway station gives the impression that it is closed for ever. With another car we go to the City Chowk in the hart of the shopping centre. Here the clothing of the people is a mixture of traditional Muslim and farmer clothing alternated with modern dressed young people.
Back in the hotel I make a list of all the monuments that I find in the guidebook. Apart of the caves it are mostly mosques. We expect to have dinner in the pleasant bar-restaurant of the hotel but women are not allowed inside and we end in the cheerless hall where we had lunch. But the food tastes good.
Somehow I have got the idea that nearby the bus station is a travel agency where we can arrange a city-tour. When we walk in that direction a man offers to show us the city. He wants 300 rs and above that we must pay for the transport. It does not sound as a good idea and we reject it. At the bus station non of the sign boards is readable for us but obvious there is no tourist office.
A rickshaw driver speaks to us in English, he looks reliable. We make an arrangement with Massy, for 350 rs. he will show us around. The first 'guide' turns up and claims a commission, the driver gives him some change.
Of course the vehicle has to be filled up before we go to the Panchakki or Water Mill. Massy wants that we take a photo of the numberplate of his car so we always are able find him again. We expect a large mill, such are used in our country. But we enter a large Muslim style complex with many large water ponds. The first basin is filled via an artificial waterfall and from that pond the water is running into the next ones. In the buildings around around the water an important man is buried. It is a nice and serene place. As we walk towards the fall we see under it the water driven millstones. According to the explanation the water is transported from the surrounding hills through a kilometres long tube.
I tell Massy about the sites we have selected but according to him we can better visit some museums and we decide to do this. On our way towards it we cross the area where once stood the city palace, nothing is left of it. The first museum is surrounded by a beautiful garden filled with flowers. As we enter the building it looks as if it consists of just one round hall. But after we buy the tickets a fence is opened and corridors lead to other exhibitions rooms. A man accompanies us and turns the lights on and off. It is a nice collection of all different objects. From here we walk to an old palace, the Soneri Mahal museum. In contrast this is situated in a barren scenery surrounded by brown hills. In some rooms we can see the old battered frescos, other parts are repainted. If the new colours are similar to the original situation it was very colourful. In both museums we sign the guest-book and see that they are not much visited.
In the hills around the museum are the Aurangabad caves. We start to visit the eastern group, the ticket seller is not in his office but sits in the shadow of a tree. Together with a guide we climb in full sun the stairs to the caves. The man has a flash light with him and with this it is possible to have a good look at all the different statues. The largest cave contains a complete temple while others never have been completed. Next with the rickshaw to the western group. The tickets are valid for both groups, the guards phone the numbers to each other. Two of these caves are conquered by the bees and we may not enter them. The other three are not so spectacular as those we already visited.
Back to the city where we have a chai in front of the Bibi Ka Maqbara. At the other side of the fence a group young man is drinking and throwing paint at each other. They prepare themselves for tomorrow's Holi.
The Bibi Ka Maqbara is a memorial in the style of the Taj Mahal. But it is less elegant and build with cheaper materials, so is only the lower part covered with marble. But it is still great and impressive and as a plus point it is less crowded than Agra.
Before we have lunch we go to the Jami Masjid this is a sort of madrassa. My wife is not allowed to go inside and photography is forbidden. It is a large square with small apartments around it where a lot of young boys are boarded. At the end a huge building, probably the school but also a no-go area.
Then it is time for a perfect biryani lunch. According to Massy there are further only mosques and shops to visit. We have seen enough of these and go back to the hotel. For tomorrow we make an appointment for to Ellora. Massy gives us his cell number. I have to write it down since he has never learned this.
Today it is Holi. We have celebrated this already during previous trips. To avoid the paint throwing we have an early start. It is before seven when Massy arrives and it is still quiet in the town. We pass Daulatabad and make some photos since now the situation is optimal in connection with the sun light. Large processions walk along the road towards traditional Holi ceremonies. The men are in front and wear mostly traditional white clothes, the women wear sari's, some of them carry a plant on their head. Of course there are also priests and a deity in his travel temple.
We take our breakfast in Ellora, I am stupid enough to order two plates so it takes some time. In the meantime we see many more guidances, they walk into both directions.
Half past eight we go to the caves. There are just a few visitors at this time and therefore I think it is best to start with the Kailasanatha temple. Massy convinces us that the temple receives better light later on the day and we start with the Buddhist caves. The first caves are not very special but some of the next ones are huge and spectacular. A big stupa is build in one of them, inside is an enormous echo effect. A man sings to demonstrate this, I think he is just an unwanted guide. But then I see him outside, sweeping the environment. It turns out that each cave has his own caretaker. After some caves we sit on a bench against the rock-face but not for long. Monkeys on the top throw purposeful stones towards us.
In the next cave the caretaker gives me a tour through the three store building, as in the other caves I'm glad that we have a flash light with us. He opens a door behind which are the remaining of frescoes. In the last Buddhist caves are remarkable many status of woman. At this time more visitors arrive and as often we are an extra photo opportunity.
After visiting some beautiful Hindu style caves, with of course a total different style of sculptures we reach the Kailasanatha temple. It is a little crowded by now but we have all the changes to examine everything. I won't try to describe it but it is very impressive and we stay for more than an hour. At the end I walk along the edge of the rock above the temple, it gives a good impression of all the labour that has been necessary.
Massy drives us to the four Jain temples, they are at the other side of the complex. These too have there own character and are splendid. Another ride brings us to the remaining Hindu caves. The first one is immense huge and in the next one Massy arranges the caretaker to guide us around. There are more caves but according to them there is nothing special to see. We don't mind to skip them, it is half past one and we are overloaded with impressions.
We take a lunch in Ellora and go back, we are tired and decide to visit Dautalabad tomorrow. In the town the Holi activities are over by now. But as we want dinner the restaurant is closed. In the next hotel they only serve a simple standard meal with water, this is the other side of the festival.
Massy is timely again and half past ten we are in Daulatabad. The entrance is formed by thick walls with gates, they are positioned in right angles to each other.
After that we arrive on a large terrain with many remainders of wells, temples, mosques and palaces and we take all the time to witness everything. There is also a small museum but this is closed. This part of the site is dominated by the Chand Minar, a 30 meter high victory tower. Maybe you can climb to the top but we find it too high to do this.
Through more gates and stairs we encounter a bridge over a deep moat and thereafter we are on the inner court. Original the entrance to the next part was through an underground maze but now there is a stairway. At the top of this we still have to enter a cave and proceed by stairs in the dark. My wife does not like this and goes back and I'm glad I have my flash-light. It is just a short passage and I feel the bats flutter through my hair.
Then starts a climb over a long flight of stairs, nearly always in the full sun. If there is a flat piece of ground a temple is erected. After a tiring climb I reach a white palace and I think I have reached the top. I take a rest and enjoy the views, the Chand Minar is now far below and a miniature. In the palace sits a water vendor and he gestures that I can go further and so I arrive on the top of the palace. From here another stair leads to the last bastion but I have not the courage to continue.
The way back is a lot easier. Three boys tell me that Wiesje is waiting downstairs, they made a photo with her and now they must have mine. For people with small children the climb is to heavy and they often return half way. A mother and child take advantage of my light in the cave.
At the entrance of the fort we have a drink and return to the hotel. We are rather exhausted so we spend the rest of the day in our room.
We are by now familiar enough with Aurangabad to walk to the centre. It is just nine o'clock and most shops are still closed at this time. An hour later many have opened their doors but near others the personal stands still on the street waiting for someone with the key. Everywhere the streets and houses are still coloured as a result of Holi. We wander a time through the city before we return to the hotel.
Tomorrow we fly to Jodhpur and we go to the internet for the check-in. We see a small eatery and want a lunch. But this is their opening day and they just serve free drinks.
Half past six we wait for Massy in the lobby. He is on time and brings us to the airport. The security check is very severe. Since we have just an inland flight to Mumbai and next to Jodhpur we don't expect this. On this small airport we just walk to the plane but in Mumbai a bus waits for us. The arrival and the departure hall are adjacent so soon we sit and wait again. At twelve we depart and an hour later we arrive in Jodhpur.
Jodhpur 23 - 26 March
While we were preparing this years trip we got in invitation from Govind to attend the wedding of his brother. We accepted this and that is the reason for the detour to Jodhpur.
Govind and some of his friends stand outside the airport and greet us cordially. With two cars we drive to Durag Niwas where we get a traditional welcome. While we greet the family the personnel prepares the inner court for the festivities. Wiesje and another girl go shopping for party clothes.
At four the first musician arrives and start to play, gradually his colleagues join him, about seven of them play the coming days.
The priest comes and with the help of others he manages to span some ropes between the balconies and adjust chappatis and other lucky symbols on these. Next he prepares a home altar whereupon, accompanied by loud drumming, a symbol of Gannish is carried inside. The first guests arrive. It are almost only women and they disappear in the family rooms.
Shakti, the groom, appears at six. He is dressed in traditional white clothing and wears a turban with a long loose end. He sits on a pillow and opposite all the women take their places, their heads covered by the sari's. One by one they bless and congratulate him. They offer Shakti food and rub his head and clothes with a yellow paste. The last ceremony is with baskets filled with rolling pins and grain. This may not make any noise otherwise there will be quarrels in the future.
A catering service brings food and meanwhile more and more guests arrive. Young man install sound equipment on the balconies. The Rajasthan musicians keep playing and the women perform traditional dances. Many guests wave with money above the dancers heads and subsequently give this to the musicians. We are told that the money catches the evil ghosts so they cannot disturb the couple. Since the musicians are outside the caste system the ghosts do not harm them.
Then the traditional music is pushed aside by modern techno and another type of dance is performed. Guests keep coming and there is enough to drink for everyone. While the music styles alternates each other we protect our ears and sit with other elderly people on the street side. Around one o'clock the party is over.
The activiteis starts slowly after the long night before. The musicians begin to play and we get some background concerning the ceremonies. The family is proud to descent from the Rajput warrior classes and celebrates the wedding in this style. These first days is just for the groom and his family and friends. The bride has her own party. Remarkable to us in the coming days are the many presents they give to each other, the elaborate meals and above all the division between men and women. All the guests of the hotel and the volunteers are invited, they often ignore this segregation.
After our breakfast we go to clock-tower and market area. We drink a lassi and I buy some summer clothing.
The non-Indian guests are asked to wear traditional clothing so with four of us we go to a shop. Our visit is announced and we all buy a Jodhpur trouser and a matching shirt. I purchase also a pair of mules. We don't need turbans, these we get as a gift.
Around five o'clock the inner-court is equipped again with pillows and carpets. Guest arrive and the relatives exchange gifts. Of course Shakti gets his share, the real sense of this and other rituals is beyond my notion.
In the meantime we have changed into our new clothings, except for the trousers they are just for tomorrow. I get my turban it is a small piece of cloth, over 10 meters long. An expert winds it on his own head until it is nearly finished, then he puts it on my head for the fishing touch, it is tight over my ears. The turban dresser assists also numerous Indian.
It is after eight and guest are still pouring in but it is now time to leave for the reception. With some others we walk to the end of the street and take a rickshaw. The party is on the lawn outside a large hotel and we are the first to arrive. The space is divided in two parts, separate for men and women. We westerners do not accept this and take a table in the men department. Govind and Shakti appear fully dressed and Govind explains that Indian men feel unpleasant with the women around them and grumbling we split. We, the men, have chairs and tables, a fine buffet including meat, a lot of drinking and a professional orchestra with dancers. The women have just a few chairs, vegetarian food and music of the 'home' band.
The evening passes with talking, eating and (much) drinking. By midnight many of the Indians leave and the ladies join us. As Wiesje and I leave a police officer orders his driver to take us with him. In Durag Niwas it is still party time, we have a drink outside. It is pleasant and it is four o'clock before I realize this. One of the houseboys assists me to the room.
I have quite a hangover so after breakfast I return to bed and later on Wiesje also takes an extra nap. It helps, so we are able to enjoy ourselves again as at the end of the afternoon the ceremony starts. Just as yesterday the inner-court is provided with pillows and carpets and the priest accomplish several rituals. Shakti sits again in his fouled shirt and the women provide him with different gifts. Then it is time to dress ourselves for the wedding. My turban is wrapped again and happily not as tight as yesterday.
It is after seven and we go outside where the police music-band plays and the white horse waits The people, or better children, who carry the light boxes arrive. Then Shakti, dressed in great cloths, comes out of the house, accompanied by the singing of the women. After a photo session the Rajasthani women sing a farewell song, they stay in the house. Shakti sits on the horse, then the music and this is followed by the men while the feminine guest close the procession. Around us the children with the light, during the walk many bulbs have to be changed. We go towards the end of the street and continue from there with cars. The music has a prisoners car, the light has their own transport and a real horseman gallops the horse.
After a short ride the procession is lined up again, this time Shakti closes the row. I find it quite impressive, with their great turbans, clothing and a sword on their side the men bring alive the paintings of the Rajput era. We pass some triumphal arches and arrive at the wedding centre. A sentry with a broom asks for a symbolic payment before we may enter the premises where the brides family waits.
Shakti has to sit on a podium and we on chairs in front of him. The male family of the bride and later his own relatives join the groom. A priest performs all kind of ceremonies and in the meantime we get refreshments. Afterwards Shakti climbs on his horse and goes to building where his bride waits. Here the feminine relatives of the bride welcome him. As far as I understand the next ceremony is not for men, so I leave my wife alone. Later she tells me that the bride lies on a bed, covered with a blanket which is removed by Shakti. And of course new blessing ceremonies follow this encounter.
In the meantime the men go to a large marquee, on each table stand bottles with liquor and of course there is beer and a lot of food. Around ten we walk to the wedding building, Shakti and his wife come out and together with her parents they sit around a fire. Another long sets of rituals is performed. We stay for some time and by midnight a car brings us back to Durag Niwas. There we hear that the women had their own party, including a great parody on the behaviour of the Rajput men.
When we return from a visit the centre a removal-van is unloaded. All the new furniture stands in the inner-court and I cannot believe it fits in Shakti's renewed room. But during the afternoon everything finds his place.
At three o'clock outside a drum sounds, Shakti and his wife Rajeshwari enter the premises. They are surrounded by the women. Seven plates with a chapati are put on the ground. Shakti shifts them with his sword and his wife piles them up. This performance is repeated four times. Shakti's mother and grandmother come outside, they welcome Rajeshwari and offer her jewellery. The newly wed go inside to the altar and perform there all kind of ceremonies. Everyone wants to see this and tries to make pictures. At the end Shakti goes to his room and the bride joins her new sister in law.
Outside another pile of gifts, mostly clothes, is gathered and handed out according to a strict protocol. Also Rajeshwari brings a large crate with presents.
The bride comes outside, covered with many veils and says thanks to the musicians for the fact that they have taken away the evil ghosts. It is half past seven now and many guests disappear but after an hour they and others return. Now it is time for an informal party but we have to leave. We say goodbye to everyone and take a car to the station. The train to Jaipur has two different numbers and that gives some confusion. A fellow traveller eats his dinner and a mouse walks around. At eleven we depart.
Sikkim 27 - 31 March
After all the festivities we are a little uptight and don't sleep well. Besides we arrive in Jaipur around five o'clock so it is a short night. A rickshaw driver offers to bring us to the airport for 200 rs. But it turns out that he is not very experienced. There are two terminals and his colleagues have to explain him from which one Indigo operates. Once we are on the way we get the impression he does not know the quickest route but since we see regular airport on the signboards we don't worry. He is apparently in doubt and wants to know if the terminal number is on the tickets. By the light of the street-lights we cannot decipher this.
But at last we arrive at the right terminal and are so early that we have to wait for the check-in. The security checks are severe, it is even forbidden to have batteries in the cabin luggage. It is a budget flight and the crew demonstrates the security measures in the old fashioned way. At ten o'clock we land in Kolkata.
The depart time for our next flight is delayed and we wait in the crowded hall. When we are called to board the gate doesn't show our flight number. We and a lot others are confused. Then it becomes clear that two flights board through the same gate. On the platform we must pick the correct bus.
We fly at two o'clock and an hour later we land in Bagdogra. The temperature is 26º, quite a difference with Jodhpur's 37º. Also here you can get a pre-paid taxi and for 340 rs we drive to Siliguri. We sleep in hotel Vinayak, the price of the room is 800 rs.
We negotiate with a cab driver in the hall to bring us to Ravangla, he asks 2500 rs. We think it is too much and walk to the taxi strand. Here we can hire a car for 2000 rs. On our way back to the hotel we discover and explore the market area. What strikes us after such a rapid transfer to the other side of India that the nightfall is an hour earlier.
Half past eight we sit in the lobby. The rain pours down and there is no sign of our driver. We have his mobile number but get no answer. Te good thing is that after a while the rain stops. Outside is another driver but he has not a license for Sikkim. He advises us to hire a car at the tourist office but we hesitate. Others join the conservation. As they hear that we want to arrange the IPL at the border they all agree that that is not possible at Melli, the frontier place for Ravangala. We have to go to the tourist office.
This is still closed but bus ticket seller confirms the permit story. Our temporary driver arranges a car for 2200 rs and drives us back to hotel to collect our luggage. The office opens at ten and the first clerk arrives even before that time. In half an hour the formalities for the IPL are done.
At last we are on our way. There is a lot traffic on the road and due to the low-hanging clouds we cannot enjoy the views over the Teesta. Of course the route is the same as last year, we even have lunch in the same restaurant. But then we cross the river and reach the border. From here the road contains many potholes and is very narrow. In case of oncoming cars one driver must go back to be able to pass each other. First we drive along the river but then we turn and go steep up the mountains. After we have passed Namchi it starts to rain again. Now and then we drive through the clouds while next to the road there is an abyss of over hundred meters. It is not very pleasant and we are happy to arrive in Ravangla. It is three o'clock by now and the rains stops.
Ravangla is a small village with a lot of hotels. Our first choice is several kilometres outside the centre and it looks as if we are the only guests. This does not attract us and we go back. In hotel Meanamla we get a room, with a discount it is 1000 rs. The personnel wears thick sweaters and ice caps. They need it, the temperature is below 10º C. When we sit in our room we see a glimpse of the sun and cloud covered mountains. There is no heater in the room and even worse there is an opening of at least 5 cm under the balcony door. We put a pillow before that and wear all the clothes that we have. But for this temperatures this is not sufficient. The dinner is fine and we get a jug with warm water so we can warm our hands.
I have set the alarm in the hope to enjoy the sunrise view but it is cloudy and I return to bed. At seven we get breakfast tea and rise. For just a short moment there is sun and I can take a few pictures of the snow covered mountains around us.
Half past nine we start to walk and explore the vicinity. Just outside Ravangla a Buddhist complex is under construction. A statue of nearly 40 metres and furthermore temples and guest houses. The road towards the complex is broad and brand new. But for the rest it is a slippery old mud road, not steep but difficult to walk with many holes filled with water. Now and then it is raining so it is not a cheerful stroll. The road is under reconstruction, a truck filled with sand has to turn on the small road, a frightening sight.
We ask how far it is to the nearest monastery and when we are told it is more then six kilometres we decide to go back. Near Ravangla we discover the path through the Mainam Sanctuary, it is steep uphill and too hard for us.
By noon we are back in the hotel. There is a powercut and we get a cold lunch. Later I wander around in the village and the environment. With better weather you must have great panoramas. Our plan is to continue from here to West-Sikkim. But we cannot get any reliable information about the weather there. Since we don't want to stay another week in this cold and damp weather we look at the trains to Kolkata, but these are all booked up.
For tomorrow we arrange for 2000 a car for local sight seeing. In our room we discus what to do in the remaining days. Then Wiesje gets the inspiration that we can also fly from Bagdogra. It is to late now to investigate if that is possible.
This night it was pouring with rain and it is still cloudy when we wake up. The personnel thinks we are leaving and comes for the luggage. But it is just for a day trip that we start at eight. We drive along the same road as we walked yesterday. The rain has worsened its condition, a four wheel is more suitable than our standard car.
But we manage to reach the new Ralang monastery. At the outside it is not very special. The monks have emptied the big hall in order to clean it so we don't stay long. Yesterday we got a note from the tour operator with the sites we will visit. According to this we now go to the old Ralang monastery but the driver says that is impossible and we cannot convince him.
By the same road back to Ravangla and then into the direction of Namchi to visit the Temi Tea garden. Again the clouds make it impossible to really enjoy the views. We know that it is possible to visit the factory and again the driver denies that. But we insist and indeed we may enter and an English speaking manager explains the production process.
The next stop is the Bio diversity park, a beautiful a hill garden with all kind of trees and plants. Now and then it rains a little but we can cope with that.
A short drive brings us to the big Buddha statue in Samdruptse. This one is finished and beautiful painted with gold. As we arrive the head is covered by the clouds but it appears for the photos. All these places are close together as is the Rock Garden. It is set up at the slope next to the road. We climb down, first by stairs and concrete paths, the last part the route is made of rocks. Also here are beautiful trees, plants and ponds and of course great views. We don´t go to the bottom of the park and that is a wise decision since we are exhausted after the climb back to the road.
Back in Ravangla we visit a building where women knot carpets. They do it in a special way, according to Wiesje it resembles knitting. An experienced woman does this in a fascinating tempo. In another room new wool is delivered and weighed. Nearby is another small monastery.
Half pas three we are back. There is again a powercut so we first have lunch, the momo´s taste me well. Then to the internet and tomorrow we can fly from Bagdogra. Since we arrive late in the afternoon we reserve also a hotel in Kolkata. Then back to the travel agent and hire the same driver for the drop, the price is 2500 rs.
Today it is India Pakistan in the cricket tournament. All the personnel watches it on a TV in the hall but as we ask for dinner they fix that quickly. Back in the room we watch the rest of the match and try to understand the rules. India wins, it is eleven o’clock and outside is a small firework.
The driver arrives at half past eight and has already a passenger. They both disappear and with the help of the hotel personnel we store our luggage. When the driver returns he is irritated that there is no room for his 'brother' and gets pissed off as he understands that this cannot be changed. The whole journey he does not speak a word and drives fast but without taking any risks. We start the trip in the clouds, later it is raining and around Siliguri we see the sun sometimes.
Just after twelve o'clock we are at the airport and have plenty of time since our flight starts at half past three. An hour later we land in Kolkata and for 235 rs we take a pre-paid taxi to our hotel. It is rush hour and some streets are blocked for election rallies. It takes an hour to reach Sunflower Guesthouse.
With a ruinous elevator we reach the fourth store and go to the next floor where the reception is. For 1250 rs we have a small AC room, we need this since the temperature is here again 30º.
After a while I go out to buy some beer. I rattle at the fence of the elevator and the lift comes up with an operator. The lift is controlled by a handle with three positions: up, down and stop, there are holes in the wooden floor. I have asked for the direction towards the beer shop but take the wrong turn at the end of the street. I see a lot of restaurants but no beer. A man guides me and of course he expects a reward. The benefit is that I know where we can eat.
Kolkata 1 - 7 April
Our rooms are on the 5th floor but on the 3th there are more and also a breakfast hall. I don't know where they prepare the food but it takes quiet some time before it is served.
This is our second visit to Kolkata and we are glad to be back in this fascinating city. The Sunflower guesthouse is close to Sudder Street. It is there that we go to the internet and mail the folks back home. And then of course to the New Market. We ignore the touts and go inside. Crows fly in the part where meat is sold.
As I take some pictures a guard warns us that this is forbidden. For lunch we go to a very small eatery. The chapati baker sits on the street and hands the chapati's over through a hole in the wall.
The afternoon we spend in our room, and make plans for the coming days. By nightfall we walk along Park Street. The road and the footway are crowded. Some old mansions are still there but most of the buildings and shops are brand new. For dinner we go again to Gupta's.
The Indian Museum is nearby and after breakfast we walk towards it. It is an enormous complex with a very varied collection. Since we have different interests we each take our own route. On the ground floor are great collections of beautiful statues and coins. I like also the halls with the expositions of the life of all the different tribal people. But the large collection of minerals I appreciate less. The first floor contains expositions of fossils, herbs and skeletons of animals. All together we are here for over three hours.
After lunch we stay in our room and watch the cricket final. We just go out for dinner in a very small eatery. Despite the match there are a lot of visitors but they keep watching. The people who live on the street have other worries. This neighbourhood is a fascinating mixture of exclusive hotels and shops confronted with the basic versions of the same and street trade.
In the guesthouse we watch the remaining of the match. It is eleven o'clock when India wins. A street party starts and lasts for some hours.
After the festivities the personnel is not alive before nine o'clock. For the visit to the Zoo we need a taxi, the first ones refuse to use the meter but at last we succeed. At half past ten it is quiet in the Zoo. A great renovation plan is carried out and there is a mixture of new and old stables as well as building sites. But it is nice to roam around. More and more visitors arrive, by noon they spread out their blankets for lunch.
With another taxi we go to the Victoria Memorial. Since there are so many one-way roads it is impossible to establish if the driver takes the shortest way but we have our doubts. The memorial is a big, somewhat bombastic building situated in a large formal garden. Many visitors are here and see the somewhat strange combination of exposures: the English rulers, the history of Kolkata, the Indian leaders and Mother Therasa. We leave through the back entrance and a policeman is so nice to help us with a taxi. This driver knows the short cuts and in no time we are back in the hotel.
Tonight it is difficult to find a restaurant, before most of them long rows stand on the street.
One upon a time I have read an article about Dhanyakuria, a small village North of Kolkata and we think it is nice for a day trip. The travel agency that we ask to organize this has never heard of it. At the internet I print a road map and with this we return to the office and arrange a trip for Wednesday.
For the visit to Kalighat we take the metro, the entrance to the station is so inconspicuous that we pass it several times. A ticket costs just 4 rs. The station is clean and spaciously. The trains run every few minutes so we don't have to wait long. All the passengers are very helpful to get us off at the correct station. On the street we try to orientate ourselves, immediately a man asks if we want to visit the Kali temple and points the direction. We walk through narrow streets and at every corner someone stands to guide us. It is amazing and no one asks for money. It is so quiet around us that it does not feel to walk in an overpopulated city. But this changes as we reach our goal.
The temple is so built-in that it is not possible to get a proper overview of it. Inside it is crowded and dirty. For 100 rs we are allowed into the inner sanctum but as we see the mass of people we don't do this and just walk in the other parts. The neighbourhood around the temple is nice with many small shops, not all of them sell offerings.
Today we want to visit the Biological Garden. We take the metro to Esplanade and take a bus from there. After questioning several people we know the number and the point where the bus stops. The busses hardly stand still and you have to board immediate. As one with another number, but with B. Garden on it, arrives we take it. The route is obvious not the shortest. We travel through the city, over the Howrah bridge and along the station. It takes more than an hour, and that for 14 rs.
The entrance to the garden is not free of charge. Photography is allowed but we must leave the water bottles outside. It is an extended park with numerous trees of all kinds but without much explanation.
And it is so quiet, no traffic rumour just the whistling of the birds. Without any plan we wander around and after a time we reach the famous Banyan tree. From there we go back, partly along de Howrah and after some hours we reach the entrance. Thirsty of course. The bus back to Esplanade takes one and a half hour.
We pay the hotel bill because we leave here tomorrow. As we then have a car at our disposal we use it to move to a hotel near the airport. For six nights we pay 8200 rs, breakfast included. Dinner we have in a very small Bengali restaurant. Chicken and fish, both taste well. An Indian man joins us, we eat with our fingers, he asks for a spoon.
The car should be here at eight. So early the hotel personnel is still sleeping and the lift does not work. So we carry our luggage to the street. But no car is there and we wait some time. Since we have no mobile I have to return upstairs and call the travel agent. He assures me that the car is coming and when I'm downstairs the luggage is already in it.
It is not the driver that we have arranged and above that he does not know where we want to go. So first to the travel agency where the man gets his instructions. Kholapota is the largest town in the neighbourhood of Dhanyakuria and it is clear that he has never been to this place. But the diver speaks some English and we take our chance.
Next to the North Star hotel a little off the DumDum Road. We stayed here last year and know approximately where it is but we overlook the entrance and drive to far. I walk back and succeed to find it. A small AC room costs 870 rs.
It is about ten o'clock when we start for the real trip. The drive is a nice guy. He is so unsure about the direction the he inquires at every crosspoint. Slowly we leave Kolkata and stop for a breakfast of puri's and chai. There is a lot of traffic on the road and we travel through a successions of villages but still it is great to be on the country side again.
As we approach Kholapota the driver asks for Dhanyakuria and it turns out that we just enter the village. A large crowd gathers around us and wants to know where we exactly are looking for. But we don´t know nothing more then that we want to see palaces and mansions. At least someone understands it and tells that we must take the cross-road. Along this road is a high wall and above that we see the upper part of a palace but no entrance. The driver is very helpful and keeps asking and so we find a pink mansion, Gaine Bari, it is surrounded by a large garden. A women has a long discussion with the driver and the result is that we are allowed to enter. The owners live in Kolkata and use the house just one week a year during the Durga Puja festival. The housekeeper shows us the corridors and some of the servant rooms. Back in the garden is a private temple. The priest wants to start a ceremony but we reject this. The other palaces in the village are difficult to find. One is converted in apartments and another one is ruined.
Then we go back to the palace at the road and find the entrance. Some guards stand at the gate and they allow us to take some distance pictures. Although the trip is not that what we expected it is nice and satisfied we return to Kolkata.
By ten I go to the internet for the check-in procedures of tomorrows flights. As that is finished we are ready to go to Kumartuli, the potters quarter. We ask the man at the hotel desk if we can reach it by bus but he advises us to take a taxi. A hotel boy halts one on the street and without resists the driver turns on the meter. He does not exactly know the potters street, but Wiesje spots some puppets and we let him halt.
Everywhere we see clay puppets. The first thing that strikes us is that the puppets we see all have cracks and no hands. As we look around we understand that this is part of the making process. The start is a straw model which is coated with a clay layer. When this is dry a new layer is added. The heads, hands and foots are made separately by using a template. When the body is finished these are attached and then the puppet is painted. At the final stage they get there clothes. The statues vary from small figures to large groups. Also here the modernisations starts which results in puppets from polyester. It is an amazing quarter to spend a lot of time.
With another taxi back to the hotel. In the afternoon we make our last walk of this trip in the quiet streets and markets around DumDum road.
Travelling home, 8 - 9 April
The day starts at six o'clock and we pack the last things before we settle the bill. A hotel boy gets a taxi, for 150 rs we drive to the airport. Outside someone sells coffee, 20 rs is expensive but we take it since we did not have breakfast and it tastes fine. The custom formalities run smoothly and are completed at eight o'clock. Finally time to buy some sandwiches.
The plane is not even half full and Wiesje occupies four seats and takes a nap. We change planes in Dubai and depart with a delay of half an hour. We don't gain any time during the flight and have the misfortune that in Düsseldorf our luggage is the last that comes out. There is no way that we can catch our train and have to take an expensive taxi to Arnhem and continue with the train from there.
It is after midnight, our time, when we arrive in Groningen and take another cab for the last leg to home. After a glass of wine we go to bed.
It is still dark when I awake and need to pee very urgent. In the hotels we always have a torch next to us and, accustomed to this, I try to grab it. Nothing, in a little panic I wake my wife "Wiesje do you know where we placed the torch in this hotel?". "No"she responds, "where are our backpacks, maybe we did not get them out". She rises and feels around her to find some light while I sit with my legs crossed.
After a while Wiesje says "Here is the sink, use that if you need so desperately". I do it with a great feeling of relief. My wife continues to seek, finds the light and opens the bedroom door. Now she understands it: "Jan we are at home".