Back in 2005 we arrived with just a rough plan for a six weeks trip. We had booked an airport pick-up and Delhi tours with Namaste travel agency. At his office we discussed our plans with owner Jawahar and he proposed a tour by car+driver. We accepted this and next day we were on the road with Kamal as driver. It was a great trip. Kamal originates from Himachal Pradesh. According to him that is the best part of India. He promised to show us around if we want to visit his region.
This year we want to go there and contact Namaste. Kamal still works for them and we make an arrangement for a tour through Himachal Pradesh. Thereafter we continue on our own through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and a part of Jharkhand. From Ranchi we engage another driver for a trip that ends in Odisha.
New Delhi, 2 - 5 October 2014
Our visa are delayed but when we arrive at Amsterdam airport our passports with the visa are at the desk. We fly direct to New Delhi where we arrive just after one o'clock in the night. An hour later we leave the airport, outside Kamal waits for us. It is nice to see him again. He drives us to hotel Park View in Karol Bagh.
After a short night we go downstairs where Jawahar meets us. His office is under construction so we settle the formalities here. Kamal joins and helps us to purchase a sim card. It is nine years ago that we toured through Delhi and we have the feeling there is a lot more traffic but the environment is not as dirty as then. We have no sight-seeing plans for these days, just want to get rid of the jet-lag. Nowadays Kamal lives with his family in Delhi and invites us for a visit on Sunday.
Later in the afternoon we wander through the shopping area around the hotel. It is the last night of Dasara and large posts with idols are erected. The best way to let them stand firm is to hack a hole in the asphalt. In a small park opposite the hotel people also erect a statue. While we have dinner it is set in fire and everywhere is firework. We are tired and don't go out but go to bed early.
Due to the time difference it is over ten before we awake. Without a problem we activate our phone. We are convinced that we also purchased a calling credit but there is nothing on it. Another problem is that my shaving device does not work. Time for some shopping.
It is been 2.5 years ago that we visited India and walking around it feels as we are back at home. Just looking around en ending with some beer is enough for today.
Early in the morning a phone call wakes us. It is Kamal, he wants to know if we are vegetarian. At ten he arrives, dressed in a proper suit, at the hotel. We cross the Yamuna on our way to Northern Delhi. Here and there we stop to buy the ingredients for the lunch. Kamal's wife and children welcome us cordial. After the traditional drink of water we get coffee. Kamal changes his suit for a more comfortable outfit. We have an animated chat and in the meantime we look at travel photo's, including those we sent from our previous trip. On our laptop we have pictures of the Netherlands and of our home, especially the teenage kids want to see them all.
Kamal's wife spends most time in the kitchen, busy preparing the meal. We have a beer and eat a great cooked chicken-dish followed by dal. We are modest eaters, so when it is followed by rice, vegetables, paratha's and more chicken our bellies are congested. Later Kamal changes
clothes again and brings us back.
I go out to buy some water and walking around I reach the Ghaffar market. Times fly when I roam around it. We don't need dinner and stick to a beer.
Shimla, 6 - 8 October
A phone call wakes us around five, we don't understand a word of the Hindi message. The result is that we don't sleep anymore. Kamal arrives before nine and we leave. First we drive across Delhi, along the Red Fort. Today the Muslims celebrate Eid-al-Adha so there is less traffic then usual. After an hour we reach the high-way that leads towards Amritsar. On some parts it is still the old road, There are also new sections with three lanes, but since there are no lines everyone is very creative in using this road.
The environment is not very inspiring but a constant stream of useless phone-calls and text messages keeps us awake. Near Ambala we leave the high-way and from there the trip becomes more interesting.
After lunch in a dhaba we visit the Yadavindra Gardens in Pinjore. Mughal styled gardens with pavilions and long water courses.
But the design is somewhat to formal to our taste, We walk to the end and on our way back we go along along the outer wall. Here we are surrounded by fruit trees and herbs, we like this better.
At four we arrive in Kalka, Hotel Windsmoor looks great but we hardly can enjoy it since we leave tomorrow at five. The town itself has nothing to offer.
Half past five we walk down to the hall where Kamal is waiting. It is a short ride to the station. There we will take the train while he goes by car to Shimla. Our train leaves at 6.30, as we enter our compartment a man examines our tickets and says they are for an earlier train. Kamal talks to the ticket sellers and after an extra payment of 200 rs. we are allowed to board.
We leave in time and after a short time we enter the mountains. Unfortunately it is hazy so we cannot see far. But it is an enjoyable journey. As we climb the sun shines now and then through the clouds.
During stops at the small stations there is time to get down and look around. At ten we get a breakfast, chai, juice, snacks and bread, Mine bread is moldy and I throw it away. Around noon we arrive in Shimla where Kamal waits.
We stay in hotel White. Since the center of Shimla is auto-free it is a firm walk uphill with our luggage. We have a nice large room with great view but the weather is still not cooperative. Monkeys roam around and therefore it is forbidden to open the windows.
We go for lunch to an eatery and walk around the Mall for a while. Due to the early rise we are tired and take a nap.
Later in the afternoon I go out again. As to expect there are tourist all over the place. One of the streets is blocked, they shoot a movie. It is funny to watch this for a while.
Tonight there was a thunderstorm. I didn't notice it but the result is that the views are better. We walk down to the road where we meet Kamal. We drive around Shimla and stop at several viewpoints. The panorama's are beautiful. After somewhat over an hour Kamals tells us that we have seen it all. I think he is joking, but he is serious. The only other possibilities are a horse-ride and trekking, neither of these attracts us.
The two of us spend the afternoon in the town. As often in this type of destinations I have the feeling it is highly overrated. Nevertheless it is nice to walk around and look at the English styled buildings.
For the lunch we go to the Indian Coffee House where we get an excellent dosa. Also we spend some time on the film-set. The clouds become thicker and we go back to the hotel. At half pas two another thunderstorm starts. Happily the rain stops when we go out for dinner. We end in a dark bar and need the light of our mobile to read the menu. The food is fine.
Mandi & Kullu, 9 - 11 October
At half past nine one of the hotel boys assist us and we walk with our luggage to the car. The roads around Shimla are congested and it takes more than half an hour before we are on our way to Mandi. This road is in a good condition but some parts are damaged. In combination with the heavy traffic Kamal expects the trip will take five hours.
The sky is clear and the mountain scenery around us is splendid. Lots of woodland alternated with agriculture on terraces. We drive under the sun but at the horizon we see dark clouds. After a while we reach the valley of the Beas river.
With some stops for chai and lunch it is three o'clock as we arrive in Mandi. Hotel Pajmahal Palace is, as the name suggests, the accommodation of a previous ruler The bed in our room is so huge that there is hardly space around it. But this is no problem since everywhere in the broad corridors sitting corners are situated. And the hotel has a nice garden restaurant.
We don't spend much time here and go to the town. First we walk to the old bridge over the Beas, an impressive construction. Subsequently we wander through the narrow shopping streets, buy a beer and return to the hotel.
We have dinner in the garden, Kamal arrives and we make the agreements for tomorrow's trip to Kullu. In the meantime he finishes our leftovers.
Just after nine we are on the road again. It is too early to visit the large Mata Bhimakali temple, situated just outside Mandi.
I take some pictures of the outside. In contrast with yesterday we drive close to the bank of the Beas. The gorge is rather narrow, unsteady bridges are build across the river. On other places there are hoists to transport goods. As the valley expands on some places there are villages with many tourist utilities. Kamal stops for a puja in the Hagoni temple, this god protects the drivers against accidents.
We ride along the water reservoir, down here the sun does not reach the surface. From here we enter the three kilometer long tunnel, winding and scarcely illuminated. At the other end of the tunnel the landscape changes, it is open en less wooded.
Around noon we arrive in Kullu where we first go to Kamal's sister. In front of her house is a large veranda with a roof where we can sit. She and her family give us a warm welcome and of course refreshments. This is followed by a tasteful but abundant lunch.
A few hours later we go to Sarvari tourist hotel where we get a fine room with a hall and a luggage store. En route we encountered already many processions since the Kullu Mela takes place. Our hotel is on top of the hill, at the foot is the terrain where the Mela is situated. Of course we go down and visit the Mela. Apart of the religious part there are markets for clothes, for utensils, for animals and of course a fun-fair. Although it is crowded the atmosphere is friendly and we enjoy it. We think that at this moment we are the only Western tourists.
Later in the afternoon we walk back to the house of Kamal's sister. Again we get chai and biscuits and they invite us for dinner. We feel that we take too much advantage of their hospitality and refuse this. Her sons are in and like our photo's from the Netherlands and our 2005 trip. It is dark when we leave but the boys guide us via a short-cut and in no-time we are back in the hotel. In the restaurant we are the only guests.
Last night I woke up and thought it was raining but it must have been a dream. We eat our breakfast on the veranda. Kamals arrives before nine and we start. Kullu is famous for shawls. We go to one of the weaveries. The production units don't work but the shop is open, Wiesje buys a fine pashmina for 2100 rs.
We continue along the banks of the Beas. Everywhere are rafting opportunities, but hardly anyone is on the river. Halfway on the road to Manali we cross the river and proceed to Naggar. The palace there is interesting. The walls are build with bricks and wood, without the use of mortar.
There is also a lot of nice wood carving. In the basement is a small exhibition. Only a part of the palace is open for sight-seeing. The other part is converted into a hotel. Somewhat further uphill is the Roerich museum. Apart from the paintings one gets an impression how the family lived. As a bonus we have great views over the mountains.
The sky is still very clear and as we continue we see more and more snow covered tops. At the roadsides there are only hotels. At twelve we are in Manali where we stay in Hotel Kunzam. It is another property of the HPTDC. We agree with Kamal that tomorrow we will visit the Rohtang pass. It means we have to start at six in the morning.
We go out and explore the city. First we have lunch, the spring-rolls are not the best quality. We continue over the Mall and the neighbouring streets. In a shop Wiesje sees a trouser, she wants to find out if it fits and has to change clothes behind the counter.
Then we go to a cyber-café to contact our relatives. It is dark when we are finished and then it becomes cold. Again we are the only guests in the dining room.
Manali – McLeod Ganj 12 – 15 October
At six we sit in the hall of the hotel but there is no sign of Kamal. We phone him and a few minutes later he arrives, he overslept. Half past six we start for the Rohtang pass, the sun lightens the tops of the highest mountains but here in the valley it is cold. For the first time we are glad with a heater in the car.
We start along the Beas. After the registration of the car at a police post we go uphill. With many hairpins we climb through a pine forest. The road is under reconstruction. As result there are some broad sections but for the remainder it is the small old road. Or there is no asphalt and we just drive on the rock ground. Direct next to the road are the deep ravines, it makes the passing with other cars rather scary. Especially as some part of the road are still covered with ice. But the environment and the panorama's are spectacular beautiful.
And yet we are still in the valley. In Kathy we leave that and start with the real pass. The pines are replaced by foliage trees but the leaves are already gone. We pass a great waterfall unfortunately there is no place to park the car.
After an hour we reach Marhi, this is nothing more than a group dhaba's. All the trees are disappeared by now. In the hard wind it is freezing cold and inside the eatery it is hardly better. We have a breakfast of puri. As we have finished, the sun rises over the mountains and the temperature becomes better.
We continue and see more and more snow covered mountains in the clear sky. Men drive flocks of horses up the mountain. They take the short route along the slopes and regular they cross the road and we have to wait. Half past eight we reach the pass.
On the flat terrain it is crowded and we drive a little further. Here it is quiet and we enjoy the beautiful views over the magnificent landscape.
After a while we return and stop at the crowded area. One can hire a horse or a quad for trips through the mountains. In the sun the temperature here is better than down in Mahi. But since we did not hire extra warm clothes we still feel cold. So we stick to a chai before we return to Manali. Now and then we stop to admire the views.
Back in the hotel we take a hot shower to get warm. After the lunch we walk a while in the town and stay for the rest of the day in our room.
With one of the hotel boys we walk to the end of the car free Mall where Kamal waits. We drive back to Kullu, this time at the other side of the Beas as on the outward journey. Both the landscape and the weather are splendid. Just after Kullu we fork into the narrow valley of the Parvati river. I feel that the scenery is even more impressive than that around the Beas.
An aluminum pipe is fastened in front of the bumper of the car. The road is not very good and one of the screws looses his grip. Kamal fixes it temporary but in the next village we go to a repair shop. In fifteen minutes it is fixed.
Early in the afternoon we reach Kasol where we stay in the Purnima guesthouse. It is situated on the bank of the river. From the veranda, before our spacious room, we have a splendid view. We just leave our luggage and continue to Manikaran. My wife has no wish to visit the temple so I go on my own. To enter the temple I have to cross the building constructions of parking garages and the bridge across the Parvati.
From here I can clearly see the steam that is created when the hot water runs into the river. Inside, if I want to go further than the hot bad, I must cover my head. I have not cloth and go back. Next we proceed to the village, as far as I can see Manikaran is very small. The old bridge is very nice but further there is not much to see and we return to Kasol.
After the lunch we walk back to the guesthouse and have a lazy afternoon. On the veranda and in the full sun it is hot. As the sun disappears behind the mountains the temperature drops.
This morning it is cloudy and as we are on the road for an hour it starts to rain. Moreover my wife doesn't feel well so we are not so cheerful. A bit of good luck is that we have traveled this road a few days ago under better circumstances.
Half past eleven we are back in Mandi and go in the direction of Joginder Nagar. The valley is broad, in the beginning we pass many small villages. Then the landscape is again great, this time with a lot of agriculture. The rain stops and the sun starts to shine.
A kilometer or ten beyond Joginder Nagar we reach Chauntra. We stay tonight in the family house of Kamal and this is the nearest town. Kamal buys ingredients for our dinner and of course he meets many friends. We don't drive straight forward to his house but take a smaller road through the hills. Beneath us lays the Kangra valley. Our first stop is by the house of one of his uncles. In the car he has a bag with clothes for the children. There are five houses on a row somewhat down the road. The middle one is destroyed by a big rock that tumbled down in the monsoon, happily no one was hurt. After a chai we continue and a little further Kamal's sister and a nephew wait for us. The house is not reachable by car and they help us with the luggage. It is a five minutes walk over a small path through the rice field. Wiesje steps into the brook that we have to cross.
Kamal's father and mother give us a cordial welcome. They live in a rather large house. Until a few years ago Kamal's wife and children lived here too. The house is expanded with a second floor, everywhere around are piles of building materials. We sit on the veranda with water, chai and other refreshments. It is five o'clock and the farmers return to their homes, an uncle joins us.
We sleep in Kamal's old room and when it gets dark we and the men go inside for a drink. The father does not stay long and then the ladies come to enjoy a small drink. Kamal's sister is going to marry and the family has fierce discussions about the ceremony. Of course we don't understand a word but their facial expressions make it clear that they disagree about it. We talk with the sister, she does not participate in the discussion.
Half past eight we get a fine dinner and soon after that we go to sleep.
The loo is in a separate structure, quite an adventure to visit it in the middle of the night. Around seven we rise, the sun shines again. We start with a chai, in the distance whistles the train on the Kangra Valley railway. Kamal and his father have long discussions about the rebuilding of the house, off and on we get a translation. Wiesje has still problems with her stomach and skips breakfast. We are not in a hurry and I take a walk through the rice fields.
At twelve we leave, mother and sister join us. It is a nice opportunity for them to visit a relative in the hospital. While we drive through the valley in the sun, the mountains are covered with clouds. As we approach Dharamsala there is nothing else to see than hotels. Beyond the city we take the steep, and partial bad, road to McLeod Ganj. Auto's are not allowed in the village and we take a rickshaw to hotel Sahiwa, situated close to the Dalai Lama temple. The room is fine. But we can stay only one night. The day after tomorrow it is booked by visitors for the India – West Indies cricket match.
My wife takes a nap and I go out. Everywhere here are market stalls and small shops. The main area consist of two streets. Of course it is crowded with tourists and monks. Again a town thats is not my favorite and because of the clouds there is nothing to see of the environment.
At nine I go alone to the dining room. There is no choice of food and the waiters are so indifferent that I decide to leave. Now they offer to get the food from some place else but I refuse. It is dark in the streets and apart from the restaurants everything is closed. Fortunately I have a perfect dinner. When I walk back a group monks with flashlights walk just in front of me. I am happy with their enlightenment.
Jalandhar 16 – 17 October
Our original plan is to stay here another day for local sight-seeing. And then tomorrow we leave for Jalandhar and take the night train to Lucknow. Both of us are not attracted to McLeod itself and the cloudy weather makes a trip through the mountains not appealing. In combination with the fact that we have to find another hotel we decide to shorten the trip with one day and leave to Jalandhar now.
When Kamal arrives we discuss this with him and he agrees. This time we walk with the luggage to the car-parking. From there we drive back to Dharamsala and further through the Kangra valley. Just as yesterday here below it is sunny and the scenery is great and diverse. After Kangra the road goes uphill. We cross the Beas again, by now it is already a broad river. The road we drive is perfect, and goes through woodland with a lot of monkeys. In the middle of nowhere we eat a perfect lunch in a modern restaurant.
At the border with Punjab Kamal goes to the office where he has to pay the border tax. He grumbles when he comes back to the car but he doesn't tell us the reason. At three we are in Hoshiarpur and although we have nothing to do there he goes into the city asking everyone for directions. We get irritated and then he explains that at the border he had to pay the tax by internet. His phone does not have that option and now he drives without a permit. He is looking for a customers office in the town. After an hour he finds it, but there he cannot pay either. He calls someone in Delhi who makes the payment. But since he has not a prove he is still insecure.
At five we are in Jalandhar and half an hour later we have a fine hotel. The room in Maharaja Special is 2000 rs without taxes. in our room we say goodbye to Kamal, it was great to have him again as driver. And he was right, the landscape in Himachal is fascinating. While we are talking, his Delhi friends sends an SMS with the internet address for the tax receipt. I go with Kamal to the lobby but we cannot find this address on the computer there. He phones his friend again and the personal will help him on the computer, so again I say goodbye.
As we go to the dinner hall Kamal is still in the lobby. He just got the receipt. A good timing, now we have a fine dinner with the three of us before we part for the last time.
Jalandhar is not a tourist destination. There is a small entry in my Footprint guide mentioning the Rainak bazaar. My wife is not interested. According to the desk man it is rather far and I take a cycle rickshaw. The bazaar is large area with consecutive market streets. It is indeed great and I roam around for nearly two hours.
Back in the hotel we mail the folks back home and Wiesje arranges a hotel in Lucknow. Late in the afternoon we pay the bill and drink a few beer. Then the hotel taxi brings us to the station. It is crowded on the platform. For the first time we have 1AC seats. Of course it is more spacious then 2AC but for us it is not worth the extra money. We are tired and sleep at half past ten.
Lucknow, 18 - 21 October
Although we travel luxurious we don't sleep well. Our co-passenger has locked the door, the next person has to make a lot of noise before he opens it. And as he leaves in the middle of the night he is noisy again. In the morning we talk with one of the other passengers, an Australian. He owns a bakery in Varanasi and is married to a Dutch women. Her birthplace is 25 kilometers from ours.
With a delay of an hour we arrive at eleven in Lucknow. On the platform we are welcomed by a man of the tourist organization. We go to his office in the hall, sign the guest-book and receive a map of the town. He shows us the stall of the pre-booked auto's. Yesterday we phoned hotel Amarpreet for a room. When we arrive they deny this and say they are full. My wife gets irritated and then the hotel woman gives in. But the room is so small and dark that we don't want it. The rickshaw driver brings us to another hotel. In Sky High there is a small and clean room for 2250 rs. A little above our budget but we are tired and stay.
After a short rest I go out to explore the vicinity. At one of the stalls I buy my first Lucknow street-food, a perfect sheep snack. We had the idea that we stay in the outskirts of Lucknow but is by foot a quarter away from the station. The hotel has only room services and somewhat later we go to a nearby restaurant for a good lunch. Then it is time to find a beer shop. The first one sells only liquor and I must walk somewhat further.
At noon we had delivered our laundry and at seven it is back. Clean but still wet and we spread it out all over the room.
The staff speaks hardly English and this results in a strange breakfast. This morning we want to visit the Hussainabad area. The first cyclist doesn't understand anything but the next one gives the impression he comprehends it. I know it is quite a distance and accept the 100 rs he asks. This brings him in a good mood and he sings when it is easy cycling. After a while I have the idea that the cyclist takes the wrong direction. Fruitless I try to persuade him to inform for the right route. A long time later he asks someone and with a large detour we reach the Bara Imambra.
In a tourist mood we take a horse and carriage for a tour along the monuments. All of them are large and impressive. After our return we enter the Bara Imambra. The many buildings inside the complex are immense and we spend a lot of time here. Since we don't want to climb we skip the labyrinth. As always many people want to take a photo of us, Wiesje even gets a baby in her arms for a photo shoot.
With our ticket we are allowed to enter the other monuments but we have seen enough and take a cycle to the Chowk. As always these market areas are our favorites, it is great to walk around. We try to find a cyber-café, everyone points us in the same direction.
When we are there it is just a computer training center. With another cycle we go back to the hotel.
Our next destination is Jaunpur and since we arrive just before Diwali we decide to reserve a room now. The man on the other side of the phone speaks only Hindi. We go to the desk-man of our hotel and he makes the reservation for us.
Half past ten we take a cycle to the Residency. I somehow had the idea that it was one big complex but it is a large compound with several ruined buildings. It is only interesting in relation with the historical important events. This is of course also the reason for the visit of large groups school children. One girl asks us to write our names in her exercise book. The rest follows and pushes around us. Now we an idea how uncomfortable this is for celebrities.
The small museum shows images of the same ruins. We must leave our luggage in the cloak room, although there is a watchman it is self service. After a visit to the cemetery we leave the compound. With the help of bystanders we organize a rickshaw to the Harzat Mahal Park. We enter it through a somewhat obscure back entrance.
The somewhat shabby umbrella palace is now an drugs research center but looks abandoned. At the official entrance of the park stands a watchman, this is his territory and he refuses us the passage. We cannot convince him and walk back.
After a lunch we walk to the tombs of Ali Khan and his wife. Again imposing buildings situated in a nice green park, just as the other places we visited today.
We get tired and decide to return to the hotel. Later I go out and look for a cyber café. The first one has a free day, the second one doesn't function at all but than I find an active one. On my way back I buy beer, I have to wake up the vendor. As I leave he sleeps again.
We are lazy this morning and it is after eleven before I go out to explore the neighbourhood. Diwali is approaching and all over the streets are temporally stands where they sell the goods to celebrate the festival. Larger shops have extra displays in the street for luxurious sweets and other gifts. In a back alley men transfer large color TV's from a truck into cycle rickshaw's.
In the afternoon we take some street-food, before we go visit the Botanic Garden. We manage to get an auto for 150 rs. As often here the driver takes the wrong direction. He refuses to ask for help and we let him stop. He is not happy with the 50 rs I give him.
The cycle drivers here neither have an idea where our destination is and above that they charge too much. At last we get another auto and after a short time it is clear that also he has never heard of the Botanic Garden. We want to give up and tell him to drive us back to our hotel. Then he starts to ask and after a while we arrive at the Garden. But at this time it is closed for the public. Our driver is still with us and we return to the hotel.
Tomorrow we have an early start so we order our breakfast and pay the hotel bill.
Jaunpur 22 – 24 October
Half past seven our breakfast arrives and when we have finished we go down. Soon an auto stops and before eight we are at the station. We both have some minor stomach problems, not ideal for a travel day.
As we enter the station of Lucknow the board shows a delay of four hours. It is crowded on the platform and there is no place to sit. Again a man of the tourist offices helps us. He suggests to take a bus. With our health problems we decide not to hang around but to hire a taxi. The price at pre-paid taxi booth is 3800 rs for the four hour trip.
An old driver comes with a car nearly as old as himself. He fills the tank, put air in the tires and we are off. The road is reasonable with occasionally large potholes.
With quite a lot of traffic jams and a short lunch stop it takes over six hours and it is 4.30 as we arrive in Jaunpur. We have telephonic reserved a room in Hotel River View. The desk man is not very friendly but without problems we get it for 1080 rs. Regrettably with a view on the street instead of the river. The personal speak little English but they are friendly and show us around. There is a restaurant, a garden bar and beer shop in the complex.
We leave the hotel and arrange transport to the center of the town.
Near the Shahi bridge we order the cycle driver to stop and walk to the bank of the Gomti river. Many men take a bath while fishermen are on the river. From here we have a fantastic view on the bridge with the blue structures.
Tonight is the start of Diwali, on the bridge merchants sell all kind of goods. We look around and somewhat further we ask a shopkeeper for a cyber-café, he escorts us toward it.
With our vague map of the city as help, we try to find the Jami Masjid. I see the remainders of a mosque and assume that we found it. Somewhat disappointed I take some pictures. As we walk back, a man points into another street and there we find our goal. It is an imposing building, the base is a meter or five above street level.
It has a high portal instead of minarets. Inside it is quiet, the only other visitor is an old man who studies the Koran.
We go back to the hotel for some rest. In the afternoon I go out on my own. According to my map there are some other sights near the hotel. The only one I find is the tomb of Feroz Shah. I wander around in the narrow streets and arrive at a cluster of Muslim monuments. A man tries to explain them to me and I think it are some burial memorials.
A group of boys has gathered around me and say they know something 'nice'. I go with them to the edge of the town. Here live the farmers and there are some local Muslim shrines. Around one of them a group women have some service.
They invite me to look and give me some chips.
Since it is Diwali the restaurant is closed and we get a simple meal in the room. The road to the center is rather dark and we decide to enjoy the fire-work from our room.
For tomorrow we want a taxi for Mirzapur and ask the man at the desk to arrange this. He refuses or maybe he doesn't understand it. We walk to the town for a travel agent and pass hotel Raghuvansi. It looks more sophisticated than ours. My wife asks if they can help us. No problem, the price is 8 rs per km and the car will arrive around 10. We pay an advance of 500 rs.
We continue to the Shahi bridge. Here and in the rest of the town it is not as crowded as yesterday. But her live many Muslims and their shops are open. Yesterday, on our way to the hotel, we passed the fort and now we stroll in that direction. Along the imposing wall we reach the entrance porch, a ticket costs 100 rs.
The area between the thick walls is mainly covered with grass, here and there are some buildings. Two men with sticks escort us, we think that they are self appointed guides and try to get rid of them, without success. Some English speaking students join us and explains that these men will open the buildings for us.
We leave the mosque aside but visit the Turkish Haman. It is an interesting maze of corridors, rooms and stairs. All the other visitors are kept out until we leave.
The guards stay behind and with the students we visit the rest of the fort. From here we have a magnificent view over the Shahi bridge. When we leave the fort the students stay behind with their friends.
From the walls we have seen the Atala Masjid, the other great mosque. When we are at the entrance the Friday prayer just has ended.
We are asked to wait a little to give everyone the change to finish his personal prayers. After a minute of ten we enter. The building is in the same style as the Jami Masjid and again very imposing. Also here an English speaking man explains everything. In front of the mosque are some eateries where we eat our lunch before we go back to the hotel.
Mirzapur, 25 – 27 October
After the rebate of the advance our hotel bill is 1101 rs. The man insists to receive that last rupee. Just after ten o'clock our taxi arrives, it is a Bolero, much bigger than our regular cars. As often the driver doesn't speak a word English. For 1000 rs. the car is refuelled and we are on our way. The road is bad, the first 20 km takes an hour. The country around us is flat and green.
Around one o'clock we cross the Ganges and reach Mirzapur. Without a problem we find hotel Galaxy. The one-way distance is 80 km., with the agreed price this makes a total of 1280. We already paid 1500 rs. and of course we don't expect a refund. In contrast the driver wants another 200 which we refuse to pay and let him grumble. Our room is rather small and costs 1400 rs. No restaurant, we lunch in our room.
In the afternoon we explore the town, the center is compact, pleasant busy and absolutely not tourist. In other words it suits us.
Soon we reach the Naar Ghat, not broad but with steep steps to the Ganges. It is surrounded with all kind of temples. We stay there a while before we continue to the Pakka Ghat. It has a similar structure. Here you can cross the Ganges in a rowing boat.
When we walk back to the hotel we wait for a large group monkeys that crosses the street. Somewhat further a cow is dying. Just as by a broken truck some stones are places around it.
To-morrow we want to visit Chunar Fort. The man at the desk calls a car owner and my wife settles the details. For 2500 rs we go to the fort and, as far as we understand, some other destinations. For dinner we go to a veg. restaurant in the neighbourhood. The menu is only in Hindi but we succeed to get a decent meal.
Half past nine the our taxi arrives. We clarify again that we want a day trip and not only a visit to Chunar fort. The man agrees, he is just the car owner, the driver waits outside. Needless to say that he does not speak English. His boss assures us that he has given him instructions for a full day program. We have to pay the trip in advance.
The road to the fort is good. Suddenly the driver takes a side-way and via a narrow viaduct we avoid the railway crossing. Shortly after that we stand high above the Ganges at the entrance of the fort. The driver joins us and he has to give a lot of information to a guard before we may enter, there is no entrance fee. The fort is underwhelming, we visit a small temple, a deep well, a marriage hall and a building at the river side. We know these particulars since an English speaking boy has joined us.
The view over the Ganges with the pontoon bridge is fine, although it is hazy so so we cannot see far away. In the background a new bridge is under construction. The terrain is much bigger but we are not allowed to walk further. In half an hour we have seen everything. When we leave the boy suddenly says he is an official guide and wants 200 rs., we are friendly and give him 50.
The driver wants to go back to the hotel, we order him to phone his boss. He talks with him and we go to a remote temple.
Maybe it is an important one, but for us it is not really interesting. Again the driver announces this is the end of the trip. Now we talk to his boss. The man gives the impression that he has no ideas for other destinations. I have read something about Tanda Falls and that will be our next destination.
We leave the main road and continue over a small path through the rice fields. Then we enter the hills and now we drive through an arid area with cactuses. The Fall is a combination of many rapids in the Sirsi and is very attractive.
It is busy with people who picnic and bath, rubbish in the surroundings is the result. We continue along the reservoir of the river and make another stop at the dam. From there we return to the hotel.
In the afternoon we are busy with tuning the upcoming weeks of our trip. One of our plans is a visit to the Sonepur Mela. For that we want to reserve a hotel in nearby Hajipur. There is something wrong with the phone numbers we have. Then I find another one on the net and we have a room during the beginning of the Mela.
As many towns Mirzapur has a clock-tower, it is called Ghanta Ghar. The manager tells us in which direction we have to go. Just on our way we hear a regular sound coming out of a building. We look inside and see men knotting carpets.
It is done by a semi-industrial method. We are allowed to look around but the men stop with their work and just stare at us. Only for the photo they act as if they are busy. We walk further and enjoy to observe the work of many other craftsmen.
After a while we ask someone for the Ghanta Ghar and we walked already far too far. We take another road and after a while we arrive. It is not a stand-alone tower but a part of a church and naturally somebody convinces us to look inside.
We ask a policeman how we can reach the Bariya Ghat. He escorts us towards the road that leads to the Ghat.
Everywhere in the town we see cycle rickshaws that transport sacks filled with wool. Close to the ghat these cycles are loaded. One of the man asks us to take a photo. Next he points that we must enter the building. Some men sit there at a desk and we ask them if we can visit this spinning factory, as we think it is. They offer us a chair and we have to wait. After a while we sign the visitors register and are guided to the director. He explains that he runs a carpet export firm, the wool we see goes to weavers in the villages around Mirzapur. He goes with us to a hall where his employees show us the different types of carpet.
After lunch in an eatery we walk back to the hotel. We need some money and I visit four ATM's, all of them out of order, before I find a working one. To-morrow we leave for Sasaram. We had RAC tickets but they are confirmed.
Sasaram 28 – 29 October
At seven we have our breakfast and half an hour later we go down The receptionist arranges a rickshaw for us and within a quarter of an hour we are at the station of Mirzapur. The train is delayed by an hour. The sleeper calls is already overloaded awhile together with us many others board. Wiesje has a middle seat and squeezes herself between the other four persons. My side upper is occupied by a young man. He refuses to go and I only can get rid of my backpack. Of course he has no reservation but neither my RAC ticket shows a seat number. Another passenger checks my PNR on his mobile and convinces the young man to leave. As I climb up another man joins me, so I sit rather cramped.
Next stop is Mughal Sarai where we stay for an hour. A group somewhat aggressive looking man have so the time to load an enormous amount of luggage. Al kind of packages, cooking utensils, stools and so on, no idea where they store it.
After the next halt many passengers grab their belongings, we join them and stand for half an hour in the queue. We can hardly move but the people of the catering manage to continue their work.
Half past one we arrive in Sasaram. There are no rickshaws in front of the station, we walk the 50 meter towards the main road. With the help of some bystanders we get two cycles to hotel Maurya. The city is one big street market. In the hotel just one man of the staff speaks English. With his help we get a spacious room for 1900 rs. For our lunch we go to the restaurant. They don't have the dishes that we want and the food we get is not very tasty.
In the afternoon I go to the market, they negotiate mostly fruit, vegetables and sugar-cane. When I walk back the Sher Shah Suri Tomb shows in the distance. In the hall off the hotel sits an armed guard.
When we go for dinner to the restaurant our English interpreter asks if we have complaints. We tell him about the lunch, the dinner is good. When we are back on our room he asks again if everything is fine.
Apart from the famous tombs there are some other sights around Sasaram we like to see. The man at the desk of the hotel does not speak English neither do the other men who site there. Again the English speaking staff member comes to translate. After a lengthy discussions the conclusion is that the Kaimur Hills area with the falls is unsafe and Rothas fort too difficult to reach. What remains are some temples and an artificial lake. When they mention a price of 5000 rs we don't even start to negotiate.
Instead of that we walk to the Sher Shah Suri tomb. A student asks if he is allowed to come along with us so he can practices his English. The tomb is constructed with the use of large stone-blocks and is enormous impressive as it rises from the lake.
Inside are several graves and at the outside some remains of the original ornaments are still visible. By stairs one can go down to the terrible dirty water. But these stairs are in such a bad conditions that we don't dare to use them. We spend quite some time the to admire the tomb.
In a distance we see the tomb of Hasan Khan Sur and walk towards it. This tomb is constructed on the same way, but is smaller and not surrounded by a lake.
Many young people hang around and practice their limited English. But we understand that today the people worship a local deity and that everyone is free. Many take a ritual bath in a river but we find that too far away. Instead of that we go back to the main tomb and walk around the lake. We end in a kind of park, a dilapidated stairway leads to the remainders of and old city wall.
We continue through the shopping streets. Men are constructing a tableau with deities, doubtless to collect offerings for the festival. The center is not attractive and we return to the hotel. Due to the festivities the dining hall is closed. But a bit further we find another good restaurant. The rest of the afternoon we stay in our room. According to the hotel staff to-night the other restaurant is also closed and here we can only get an omelet without bread and coffee, a minimal diner.
As far as we understand tonight a procession goes through the town. I go out to have a look. The streets are cleaned and extra lightened but there is nothing to see.
Gaya, 30 October - 2 November
This morning the kitchen staff is back and we order breakfast. Around eleven we check-out. For the two nights we have to pay 4000 rs, a way to much for this hotel. With two cycle rickshaws we travel to the station. It is crowded on the streets as well as on the platform.
The train arrives just in time. As often we have to conquer our sleeper class seats. We manage but also this time we sit in different sections. Half an hour before we arrive the other passengers are queuing and we can sit together.
Outside the station in Gaya there are only large auto rickshaws. We have a reservation for a hotel Sarbar. We think it is close to the station but we don't know where so we need transport. The first driver asks 300 rs, another offers a shared ride for 50 rs. Just on our way my wife notices the hotel and we tell the driver to stop. Then it becomes clear that this auto goes to Bodhgaya. We leave and walk to the hotel where we get a clean room for 1500 rs.
After lunch we wander through the streets around the hotel. We have visited numerous places in India but never seen such a dirty market area. All the rubbish is thrown in the streets and everywhere are rats.
And due to the Chhath puja festival most shops are closed so there is hardly any distraction. But at the good side are the many tableau's with deities, some of them are real humorous.
Near the hotel is a travel agency where we arrange a trip to Rajgir and Nalanda for tomorrow, it costs 1900 rs. Subsequently we go for a visit to the local Vishnu temple. Without success we try to arrange a cycle rickshaw. A bystander tells us it is rather far and that we need an auto. All the shared rickshaw's that pass are full and we walk to the station. There it is easy to find transport.
We know that we are not allowed to enter the temple. But we didn't expect that a high wall surrounds the complex and so there is not much to see.
Through the cremation ghat we reach the river and the other ghats. The riverbed of the Phalgu is very wide and there floats just a little water. On the sandy bottom many groups have there lunch and leave their litter.
We decide to walk back to the hotel. With a stop for chai and another for a snack it takes 1.5 hours. This part of the town is not very interesting.
In a week we want to visit the Valmiki Tiger resort. We mailed them before we started the trip but now we have to confirm everything. We phone there office but they want a mail. The wifi in the hotel doesn't work and I go to an internet café.
It is before eight, and we still have our breakfast as the travel agent arrives. The driver is with him and we are lucky that he speaks some English. We drive through Gaya towards the Phalgu. The bridge is under repair and we cross the river by a small temporary bridge. From there we travel through a flat country with occasionally a strange formed hillock. The quiet road is a renewed and broadened but the many long bridges and the village passages are still one lane.
When we diverse towards Rajgir the landscape becomes more rocky. Our first stop is at Nalanda where we arrive at ten o'clock. The entry fort the site is 100 rs. Most visitors arrive by bus. Just after us a large group Germans arrives. A good opportunity for us to redirect all the people who want to take a picture of us to them.
The ruins consists of brick stones, on a few place there are remainders of sculptures. A number of the monasteries and temples are under reconstruction and therefore not, or partly, accessible. This also goes for the main temple. I try to come nearer and a guard points me to a point from where I can see the stupas. He makes a photo of me and earns his tip. Although Nalanda is not very spectacular we stay there over two hours.
Next destination is Rajgir. We are not interested in the rope-way and know that the temple with the hot springs is only for Hindu's. For the remaining sites we leave the choice to the driver. Firsts he brings us to the modern Japanese Buddhist temple, inside are many golden statues. Next are the remainders of the old temple Maniyar Math.
At the caves of Sonebhandar scholars try to climb the rocks, the guards chase them away. At last we go to the viewpoints that mark the battlefield of
Our driver does not want to stop for a lunch so we are hungry when we are back in Gaya. Many families stay in the hotel and the children practice their English with us.
Half past ten we walk to the station for a shared auto to Bodhgaya. We have completely forgotten that a few days ago we had transport for 50 rs each. As a driver offers us a price of 150 rs. we accept this and it is enough for a private auto.
The trip takes about half an hour, we drive along the river and stop at the market area. Bystanders tell us that we have to cross that and so we arrive at the back-entrance of the temple.
Over the long corridor we walk to the other end where we get the free ticket. Now we go back, nearly to the point where we entered the complex. At the control post the man tells me I have to buy a ticket for my camera. So I have to return to the entrance. Again on my way to the temple I notice that mobiles are strictly forbidden. I don't want to return again and put it deep in my pocket. Of course I warn my wife about this. There are separate check-points for men and women, and everybody is investigated twice. I enter without a problem but they discover Wiesjes mobile. She has enough of the regulations and I continue alone.
Without shoes I go to the main temple. There stands a long queue and it takes a long time. The reason is that from the other side large groups pilgrims get right of way. Inside it is forbidden to take photo's but everyone does it. The Buddha statue gets a clean cloth. There is little space in the temple but it is enough for the real devotees to stretch out and pray. I wander a while along the other temples and of course the Bhodi tree before I go back to my wife.
We want to visit some of the other temples but between noon and two o'clock only a Chines temple is open. We have lunch and decide to go back. We liked the luxury of this morning and take again a private auto. Just as in Gaya someone registers which of the drivers has a ride. Outside the town we tell the driver he can pick some extra passengers, they are not allowed to sit in our bench.
Hajipur & Sonepur, 3 - 6 November
Our train is due to leave at 1 PM so we are not in a hurry and have a lazy morning in our room. Check-out time is at noon and by that time we walk to the station. The platform opposite ours is
crammed. After a while an overcrowded train arrives. People hang outside the doors and bicycles are attached to the windows. Gaya is the end station for this train and after a while it departs just so crowded.
Our train is nearly in time and since we sit ChairClass we don't have to fight for our seats.
It is after four o'clock when we arrive in Patna. Outside the station is a pre-paid taxi boot. For the distance of 15 km they ask 1000 rs. Very pricey we think but everyone assures us that this is correct and we have no choice. Half past four we drive off and after 50 meters we stand in a traffic jam. This stagnation lasts until we reach our hotel, Anamika Tower, two hours later.
The men at the desk act as if they don't know anything about our reservation and tells us that we just can stay for 1 night. We insist that we have an agreement and after a while we get a room for 4 nights. It is a spacious AC-room for 2000 rs. on the busy roadside. Unfortunately the boiler is out-of-order and we get another, smaller room, but it is a quiet one at the backside.
We want a beer in the bar but women are not allowed in. So we depend on the room-service.
Our original idea was to visit Patna, but since yesterdays traffic problems we decide to stay here and take a leisure day. Somewhere I have read about a boat trip to the ritual bath that sadhu's take at the start of the Mela. The men at the hotel-desk don't know about this and act further also not very cooperative. So we decide to take our chance in Hajipur.
The hotel is situated at the side of the NH77 and we walk a few hundred meters on the roadside towards the nearby Paswan Chowk. From there we wander to the center. The town is clean and the shops are relative modern. We ask people for a travel agency but just a few speak English and they don't know i Finally someone tells us to go to the railway station and there we find the small office. But it is just a ticket-seller and they only tell us that we need an auto for Sonepur. Nothing about boat rides or organized trips.
We go back to the hotel, on the way we see an elephant parked near a tree. Maybe her destination is the Mela.
According to the newspaper 2.500.000 visitors are expected, amongst them only 250 foreigners. At ten o'clock we are on our way and walk to the Paswan Chowk. Many shared auto's stop there but no one goes to Sonepur. A young, English speaking, man explains that there is no direct connection. He goes halfway and takes care of us. The first leg is over the high-way up to the real junction for Hajipur. The boy guides us to the next auto. He gets out at the station but in the meantime he has found a new guide for us. We have to change auto's one time again, ever leg costs 10 r. Our guide gives us the names of the transfer points so we know it for the return journey.
We stop at the beginning of the enormous market terrain, it covers not only the whole village but also the areas around it.
Some stands are ready and start the sale. Other merchandises unload the building material and just start the construction. This is also the fact with the fair attractions. We wander from street to street and enjoying everything. There are many visitors but it is not really crowded. At one of the ghats people are resting, probably waiting for to-morrows activities.
We are invited into a Sikh-temple, get a head-scarf and have a chat with the leaders. They offer us breakfast but we are not hungry. With white wooden posts a path is defined to lead the mass to the Kali Ghat. Now the fences are used to dry clothes.
We go inside the Hariharnath temple. When we want to leave the chairman calls us back. We have to sit on a couch, talk a while with the officials and write an entry in the guest-book. Some women police offers have to step aside, they are obvious offended. We feel somewhat embarrassed and don't stay long.
Already we are here for some hours but did not see any animal. We ask around and are told to go to the other side of the Mela. There we arrive on a field where we see oxes. They stand in small groups and the owners live in shelters between them.
When we walk further there is a much larger area, also covered with oxes and people. It is difficult to estimate how many animals there are but it are hundreds and hundreds. Some boys drag us along to a tent where they have a porcupine.
We are getting tired and although we have only seen a part of the Mela we walk slowly back. The sadhu's arrive for to-morrows ritual batch, now they are more interested in buying convenience goods. While we go back to the village we discover other large parts of the Mela but leave that for to-morrow.
With the notes we made, the first part with the shared auto's goes smoothly. It is rush-hour and at the point where we have to go to the high-way is is difficult to find the stand. A man helps us to cross the road and leads us to cycle rickshaw. With this on a four-lane road is rather special.
At five we are back in the hotel.
We have decided to avoid the probably overcrowded opening and leave the hotel at nine. Since we now know the schedule of the auto's we assume it will be easy to reach the Mela. And indeed as we arrive at the Paswan Chowk we get the first auto immediately. But far from the first transfer point the highway is blocked. An unridable bypass brings us somewhat further but then we have to leave the auto and walk through the slums to the main-road.
Countless people walk here in the direction off the market, while just as many are on their way back. We ask if there is any transport possible and some people think that we have a chance at the railway station. So we join the mass and start to walk. At the station it becomes clear that also from here the only way to reach the market is on foot. From yesterdays rides with the rickshaws we have the idea it will be a long walk. My wife is afraid that this will be too strenuous and reluctant she returns to the hotel.
It is very crowded on the road but in the beginning one can keep walking. Only when there is some entertainment, such as a girl walking on a tight rope, there is some hustle. The road from Hajipur to Sonepur is smaller. Besides people from all directions get together here and have to go by this road so the tempo reduces.
Both roadsides are occupied with hawkers. But since all the visitors are disciplined and keep left, an exception here in India, the crowd keeps moving. And so we approach the Gandak river. A lot of people take their ritual bath on this side of the river. But the bulk proceeds over the long and narrow bridge. So I arrive at the Mela and am pleasantly surprised that the walk lasts only 35 minutes.
Most people go in the direction of the ghats and the temples. I go on to one of the parts we didn't visit yesterday and soon see a signpost leading to the cattle and horse markets. I see some cows but continue and reach the horse market. Where ever you see between the trees, groups of horses are tied up and also here the owners live in tents between the animals.
On a long open strip horsemen show the capacities of the animals, they are rather crude towards them. And everywhere between it people walk and sit, but the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly. I roam around and at the end of the terrain I discover some auto's, so there must be a road connection from somewhere.
When I walk back I see in the distance another group tents. I walk towards it and here are even more horses. Here I also take my time to look around and just as want to proceed to the cow market I have a talk with some boys. As I ask them were the elephants are they insist to show me the way. While we are talking we go the terrain near the ghats. There they give me the last hints and go there own way.
Also here the animals are standing in small groups under the trees and it is difficult to count them. But I estimate there are over thirty. I see some other foreign tourist with there guide, one of the elephants gives them a garland and of course this attracts the spectators.
I am now several hours on the market and my legs get tired, as those of many others. In one of the restaurants I take a lunch. After that I feel reasonable fit but decide to go back. Since the distance is less then we thought it is possible to make another trip with my wife. The road is not so busy anymore. From the center of Hajipur I take a cycle back to the hotel. My wife doesn't wish to go anymore and we stay in the room.
Gorakhpur, 7 November
Although we should like to visit the mela again our reservations for the Valmiki Tiger resort make this impossible. Since we have no idea about the traffic situation we leave early. The men at the hotel-desk are not responsive in hiring transport to the station. Again we have to walk over the highway to the chowk and take a cycle from there. Traffic in town is back to normal and half past nine we arrive at the station, two hours before the train departs. While we wait we hear an endless announcement of security and behavior rules. In the meantime someone from Valmiki phones us, with all the noise I have no idea what he wants.
I ask the station manager for the position of our coach. He gives me completely wrong information and we have to run a long way as the train arrives. It stops just for a few minutes and we board at an arbitrary coach. A wise decision since the train starts immediately. It is crowded and we struggle to our coach, after some instigations people leave our side-seats.
The first stop is in Sonepur, from a distance it looks quiet. Around four o'clock we are in Gorakhpur. There are many hotels across the station but most of them are full.
Hotel Vardan provides us with a simple room for 800 rs. No hot water and just 1 towel. We phone the Valmiki number but now there is someone who doesn't speak English. Later someone calls us back with a vague story and we get a text message from a guide. It becomes diffuse.
Since we have no idea about ATM's in the reserver area we collect some extra money. Then we go to a bar-restaurant for dinner. In this bar Wiesje is allowed to enter. In the road it is pleasant busy. On all sides drivers offer us a ride to the Nepalese border.
West Champaran, 8 – 12 November
When I inspect the last phone and sms numbers I discover they are all from Birendra Soni, he seems to be our guide and will meet us at the station of Bagaha.
Our train arrives at 10.15, neatly on time and not crowded at all. But it takes half an hour before we depart. We travel through a nice landscape full of lakes and rivers.
There is no pantry-car but locals sell peanuts and bananas. We have to wait again before we cross the long bridge over the Gandak river. In the meantime Birendra calls that he is delayed too.
Our train is to long for the platform so we really have to climb down. Outside Bagaha station a bunch of drivers offer their services and we retire to the station hall. A short while later we get a call that our car is waiting outside. It is a large Tata Dicor pick-up and together with Birendra is Chandan who drives the vehicle.
We set off and soon we drive on a single lane road through the jungle. Birendra explains they are not professional guides but a group that want to promote tourism in the region. They act together with the forest department and we are their first customers. They have many ideas for the coming days and it sounds great. Only the trek through the hill we find too strenuous. Since we are a pilot group we only have to pay for the car.
The trip itself is great and we pass through several tribal villages. In the fields people fabricate
And then we drive again through the dense jungle. After a while we arrive in Kotraha. It is in the middle of the jungle and the Eco hut is rather primitive. We don't see ourself stay her for four days and we proceed to the hotel in Valmiki Nagar.
It is a small township and the hotel is far outside it. The location is great, just a 50 meters from the Ganak river, which is here the border with Nepal. Again we have serious doubts since it is so isolated. Birendra has already told us that Narkatiaganj, a town on the other side of the reserve, has a good hotel. An additional advantage is that they live around that place so it makes planning a lot easier. For us this looks the best option.
We take our time to look around and it is half past five before we are on our way. Soon it is dark. First we ride along a nearly unending irrigation canal followed by a ride through the agricultural countryside. We pass numerous small villages with the usual unlit cars and pedestrians. And of course the road is as bad as to be expect. But the four of us get along fine and we get more and more ideas for our stay.
Half past seven we arrive in hotel Boddhi't, for 1500 rs we have a large AC room. Anal, another member of the group, fixes everything. The restaurant is next door. I ask were the beer shop is and a boy is send to get it. After a while he returns, he cannot find it so we end with a whiskey, before we go to bed.
We wake up at seven and discover that an invasion of bugs eating the post of the bathroom door. We warn the staff and they immediate take adequate action. The restaurant serves only one type of breakfast, this morning it is omelet.
Half past eight Birendra arrives and we plan the activities for this and the coming days. After an hour we depart. Today Anal drives the car and Chandan sits on the cargo deck. After a few minutes we stop at the farmhouse of Anal's family, one the largest living and work domains in the town. His father is waiting for us and we talk with him, while we wait for the tea. In the meantime the others disappear with the car, we wonder what is happening. After a short time they return with two plastic chairs and cookies, now the tea can be served.
Then we really start with Birendra and Chandan sitting on the chairs on the cargo deck. We drive through the agricultural region and Anal explains everything about the crops we pass.
Our first stop is at a temple. The story is that a wife of emperor Ashoka was so good for the people that out gratefulness, over 1000 years ago, this temple was build. Here she is worshiped as a godess. The temple is renewed but at least the idols look very old to me.
During the whole trip we pass through small tribal villages. The people are two different cultures. One group lives here already for ages. The other arrived 500 years ago from Rajasthan after loosing a fight in one of the many wars.
After a while we reach the farming fields of Anal's family. Their main product is sugar cane. On many fields the cane is as good as ready on other fields workers plant for the next harvest.
Just put a piece of cane in a trench, add fertilizer and water, cover it with soil and it can grow. On the terrain stands a large farmhouse with around it the huts of the local workers. The farm is exploited on an environment friendly basis. They have cows and the dung is processed into cooking gas. Chandan is an engineer and has designed the process. Of course everything is explained to us. In the meantime the cargo deck of our car is filled with straw so the chairs cannot move anymore.
The farm borders on the tiger reserve. In the old days the family was hunting there, no they protect the wildlife. We go to a little fen or well at the edge of the jungle. It is very clear and we can see the water bubbling from the bottom. To reach it we had to ride through friable sand and on the way back the car is stuck, with the help of a passing herdsman we can continue.
Now we go through the jungle in the direction of the Nepalese border at Raxaul. The wood is often very dense and then we pass sandy river-beds. First we have to report at a forest office, here another friend of our 'guides' joins us. Next we go to the Indian border police and he allows us to pass. We cross the Sariswa river, not a big obstacle at this time of the year.
Then we stop by a clutter of eateries in no-man's-land. Her we enjoy our lunch of sheep curry. The forest officer pops up and tells that we are allowed to enter Nepal. The border troops pay no attention to us. We walk to a small mill propelled by the water of a rivulet. It grinds corn for chicken food.
Without any problem we return to India. Again we drive through the jungle until we reach another forest office. One of the officers climbs into the car and leads us back to the Sariswa river. Here people extract gold out the river.
They hold a coarse board in the water and hope that the small gold parts sticks to it. The particles are so minuscule that you can hardly distinguish them. I walk barefooted towards them, not a pleasure over the sharp rocks.
We continue our journey and around Rampurva we stop by two Ashoka pillars. They are not erected anymore and one is broken in parts. The bull and lion capitals are kept in the museums of Kolkata and Delhi.
Nearby is the Buddhist temple since Buddha should have changed his clothes here for an ascetic garb.
At high speed we continue to the Bhitiharawa Ashram, where Ghandi started a campaign after his return from South-Africa. The ashram closes at half past four and we are a few minutes late, the guard refuses to let us inside.
Nearby Birendra has his own Ghandi center. His aim is to explain children the principles of Ghandi's ideas. While he tells us about his ideals someone else has called the boss of the ashram and we are allowed to get in. Only the school contains part of the original building and inside are some utensils, the school-bell and a grind stone, used in that period. Further a lot of photographs. It is dark by now and there are not much lights so we don't stay long.
Again we drive through the dark country side. We are tired after the long day and are glad to be back in our hotel, it is six o'clock. The beer-shop is found and we relax for a time. Birendra's lives next to the hotel and he has invited us for dinner. Half past seven we are there and talk about todays trip and those of the coming days. Birendra works in Darbhanga and leaves tomorrow. We intend to visit that town also, so we will see each other again.
The dinner is fine and the conversation is pleasant but we want to go to bed and leave around nine.
Around half past nine we depart for to-days trip. This time Chandaun drives and Ashok, another member of the group acts as guide. First we go to Chankigarh, a small village a few kilometers out of Narkatiaganj.
A steep hill, a meter of 20 high, rises isolated out of the fields. We approach it trough a small, meandering road. Then we discover the remainders of stone wall amongst the bushes on the hill side. The hill is all that remains of a two thousand years old fort. On the backside a crumbling stairway leads to the top. The stones are baked from a mixture of clay and rice. Now they are porous and as one breaks them you can see the structure and the grains. We climb to the top but nothing of the fort is recognizable.
Then we drive to a village named Lauria Nandangarh. Here stands one of the Ashoka pillars in his full glory. Only the lions head is somewhat damaged. The story is that the English soldiers shot it with a canon, they expected to find gold. On a short distance is the artificial hill from which they fired the canon. Certain is that they covered the pillar with graffiti, the oldest names date back from1780.
Now it is time for something completely different. In the planning stage Birendra proposed a visit to a sugar fabric while the production process is going on. Apparently this is not possible and we go to one where the start-up procedure is in full swing. Besides sugar they extract ethanol and bio-gas from the debris of the canes. With a safety helmet on our head we get a guided tour which lasts for over an hour. Especially the shredder and the control room are impressive. Although we don't understand all the details it is very interesting.
Nearby is an excavation site. According to the explanation boards the experts doubt between a stupa or an old fort. A Korean tourist is there together with two monks. They believe obvious that it is an important stupa. The remainders are build from brick-stone and it is rather large. It is easy and nice to walk around it.
Half past two we are back in the hotel. We ask if there is a cyber-café in the town. Nobody knows it but Anal arranges a dongle for out laptop. Then we take a quick lunch since at 4 o'clock Chandaun is back for a short tour through the town.
The first stop is at the local temple. It is close to the town's sugar factory. You can smell that is is working.
Then Chandaun asks if we are interested in a to see a new, small shopping center. We are curious what this means in a laid back town as Narkatiaganj.
On our way we pass the dentist practice of Chandaun's brother. Of course we go inside. The treatment of the patient in the chair is nearly finished. Then we get a chai while the next patient waits without any protest. The dentist shows us some parts of denture plates, the technicians that fabricates these has his workshop on the family farm.
The shopping center is a three store building. On the first floor is a modern supermarket and on the top a cloth store. We look around but don't need anything else than some lychee juice. On our way back we pass the beer-shop. We try to call someone back home but our phone does not work. Then we see that there is only a credit of 23 rs left and hope that is the reason.
The first thing I do is upgrade the calling credit on my phone and then it works fine again.
We have a quiet day, the only thing on our program is to visit the farm of Chandaun's family. We leave around ten and have another guide with us. Later it turns out that he can explain us everything about the agriculture. First we drive again in the direction of Chankigarh and then continue over small roads along the fields and through many villages.
Chandaun's father welcomes us. He runs his farm on an ecological base and Chandaun designes the machinery they need to do this. While the men explain this to us we walk through the fields towards a table and chairs under a canopy. In front of us men are erecting a huge greenhouse. In the winter some crops need a shelter but they don't have to heat it. Next to us women carefully pluck the weeds from a field. Of course we get the traditional welcome water drink followed by apples and bananas. The father is too active to stay seated and plucks seeds from different plants for us.
Then we make a long excursion around the farm. First through the fields where cabbage. and sugar-cane grows. Then to the part where young plants and flowers are nursed and also a lot of polar trees.
Close the the house is a pump. With solar energy the ground water comes from a depth of seven meters and is then transported through a pipeline of three kilometers. Another pump is used to generate electricity, this one runs on bio-oil. In the stables are about 45 cows, from their dung gas is processed by an ingenious system.
Around the farm house grow vegetables and fruit for their own use. We walk through the village where the laborers live.
A woman twines rice-straw into a rope. Behind the village is a workshop were men fabricate and maintenance all the equipment.
It is time for lunch and we return to the farm.
Inside the dental technician and his assistant do their job. We eat on the veranda with a great meal of puri, curry and sweet rice as desert. Of course there are some flies and a servant is ordered to wave a cloth and try to chase them away. The situation reminds both of us at the old TV comedy 'It ain't half hot mum'. Half past one we go back to our hotel.
To-morrow we go to the tiger reserve. At four o'clock Chandaun and Anal come to talk over some details, they will stay there with us. Since it is unclear if there is good food in the camp they will buy it here and take it with us.
At ten o'clock Anal and Chandaun come at the hotel. While we pay the hotel bill, Anal arranges that we get a discount. Again we have another passenger with us. He, Chandaun and the luggage share the cargo deck of the car. First we buy some food and beverages, half an our later we are on the road. In Ramnagar we do some more shopping and, to our astonishment, two other men climb in the car. When we ask about this Anal tells us that they are relatives of Chandaun and they more or less invited themselves, they will pay their own costs. We make it clear that they should have informed us in advance since it is our trip.
After Ramnagar we proceed by small roads to forest camp near Gobardhana, were we arrive around noon. The camp with eco-huts is situated at the edge of the sanctuary. Our huts are fine and some others, including a small restaurant, are under renovation. We have not made explicit arrangements about to-days program and are somewhat surprised that Anal and Chandaun disappear.
A group monkeys roams around the camp and men use a slingshot and a lot of noise to chase them away. We wander around, first a walk through the jungle and then over the camp. There we discover that Anal and Chandaun prepare our lunch. There is a larger building for the forest officers where we enjoy the meal.
At three o'clock two forest officers join us and with the whole group we are on the way with our car. After less then a kilometer we stop and walk through a small path into the jungle. The forest officers have machetes and they need them to clear the way.
We have to pass a small stream. They cut branches from the bush. Herewith they create small islands and we can cross with dry feet. Now we follow a sandy path covered with numerous footprints of tigers, leopards, bears and of course deer. It is impressive and at this moment we are glad we don't see the animals. We continue to walk through the jungle and after an hour we return to the car.
We drive over a long sandy path, the jungle is just beside it, so it is nearly impossible to spot animals. During the monsoon this path is damaged by the heavy rain. It is getting dark and the men who repair it are going home. We must cross several riverbeds, steep with loose sand, and since we don't have a four-wheel drive we sometimes have to push the car. The end of this trip is a ruined hunting lodge. In their young days Chandaun's relatives spend there a week on a tiger hunt.
When we drive back it is completely dark. We stop by a post where forest officers sit near a campfire, they stay there the whole night. We continue on a path where the maintenances still has to start and the road is terrible. At the end we must cross a large sandy river-bed. A meter of twenty before we reach the solid ground our car is stuck in the sand and the tires loose their grip.
The forest officers have to chop a lot of branches before we conquer the sand. It takes half an hour before we can proceed. The next part is so bad that there is hardly any distinction between the path and the forest. We believe that we still have to travel for a long time but suddenly we are on the road next to our camp. We arrive there at seven o'clock and did not see any animal.
Time to relax, the leading officers stops by for a chat. He wants our ideas of possible improvements.
The man joins us also for the dinner, a lot of chicken but again tasteful.
Half past ten a Bolero of the forest department arrives. We sit with a forest officer and the driver in the cabin. All the others including another forest officer sit on the deck. With the help of flash-lights the men try to spot animals. The only 'success' are some deer, a wild cat and rabbits. Nevertheless it is a nice experience.
On our way back we pass a bullock car with a sleeping family, no idea where they go at this time. It is after midnight before we return, take a drink and go to sleep. At the moment that we dim the lights, the generator stops and it is completely dark.
Gorakhpur, 13 November
We have a short night since at half past five the Bolero is back. It is dawn but soon there is more light. We now get a good idea of the scenery of the sanctuary. For the greater part it is a dense jungle where it is difficult to spot animals. But due to the heavy rains in the monsoon and the resulting water floods there are many broad, sandy river beddings such as the one we were stuck last night.
Here we see the footprints and other tracks of animals. Numerous are the holes that bear make by their search for insects. We follow these rivers as well as the jungle tracks but again we don't see animals, apart from some deer and a peacock.
At seven we are back in the camp. Men are again busy with chasing the monkeys. Everyone is chilly and Chandaun makes a campfire. A little later there is tea and breakfast.
We leave and around eleven we are back at the house of Anal. We get some refreshments and a lot of food for in the train. One of the men checks the train timings and it seems to run on schedule. At one o'clock they bring us to the station. There it becomes apparent that the train is delayed. Meanwhile workers are replacing the sleepers of the track on which it must arrive. After a while they fix it temporary and stop the work.
As an engine passes the whole track surges up and down.
With a delay of two hours our train arrives. Anal en Chandaun help us with the luggage and we say good-bye to them. At seven we arrive in Muzaffarpur near the station is hotel Meenakshi. We are tired and after a beer and some food we go to bed.
Darbhanga, 14 – 20 November
Today we continue towards Darbhanga. The days in Valmiki were rather intensive and now we are somewhat exhausted. This makes us abandon the idea of traveling by bus and at the hotel desk I arrange a car, it costs 1600 rs. The manager advises us hotel Rama Residency and since we just have reserved a room there we are convinced of our choice.
The car, to our pleasant surprise it is an Ambassador, arrives at half past eleven. We criss-cross through Muzzaffarpur until we reach the four lane high-way to Darbhanga. Just before the toll booth the driver turns to a one lane road. We pass some tiny villages in this agricultural area and on the other side of the booth we are back on the high-way.
Around one o'clock we reach Darbhanga. Along the walls of a big fort we reach a pleasant market center with some hotels, but ours is not here.
The drivers inquires several people and it turns out that we stay in another part of the town. Frequently the divers asks for the direction and everyone tells that we have to continue.
And then someone tells we are too far. The road is to busy to make an U-turn and our drivers takes the tiny roads of a residential area. Happily we don't encounter oncoming traffic. We have no idea where we are but after a while we are back at the same point. Now the driver phones the hotel, we must drive 10 meters rearward and via an unsightly bystreet we reach the hotel. It has taken us one hour to reach it.
For 1050 we have a spacious non-AC room. The hotel has no restaurant and it takes an hour to deliver a lunch by room-service.
Later in the afternoon I walk to the main road to buy some beer. When I ask for the shop the man is so kind to escort me towards it. There are just a few other shops here, no restaurant and there is nothing interesting to see. And as I walk back along the path to the hotel I have the idea this is not enlightened in the evening. All together this hotel feels like a bad choice and we decide to move to Tower Chowk, the area we visited this morning. As the room service for the dinner takes again a very long time we are more sure about this.
When I order breakfast I select a wrong phone number and get another guest on the line. We are both confused, he thinks that I try to talk him into breakfast. At the desk we arrange transport, 400 rs is at the steep side, but we have a large car. And it is further than we thought. We have the idea that Darbhanga consists of a number of joint villages without a real center. We pick hotel Ashoka where we get a small room for 1250 rs, also here is no restaurant. The staff is extraordinary helpful.
First we visit a cyber café, fortunately we have the mail on a USB-stick so we don't have to stay long in the cramped cell. Then we explore the area, central are a clock-tower and a mosque, Behind these is a large street market. Striking are the many cows on the road. Somewhere on the second floor of a building is a bar-restaurant were we have lunch.
As often I go out on my own to explore the neighbourhood. Also here the area with the shops is not very elongated but there is a lot to see. The fort we passed yesterdays is only 10 minutes away. For dinner we go to the bar again.
We ask the man at the desk where we can have breakfast. He directs us to a passage at the other side of the street. This passage is dark and cows block the entrance to another hotel. But at the end is the remarkable modern and clean restaurant Rajasthani, which has an elaborate choice of food.
At eleven we walk towards the fort. The very high walls are either well conserved or else good reconstructed. At the other side of the street live the producers of potteries and statues in the local, colorful, Mithila style. Through a striking gateway we enter the inner ground of the fort. Here we see a weird mixture of buildings. There is a brand-new luxury hotel, next to it apartments are under construction. Somewhat further stand parts of the old remainders.
Most of them are heavy damaged but everywhere inside people live. Others stay in primitive sheds behind the buildings. But everyone is pleasantly surprised by the visit of foreign tourists and shows us around. At the far end of the terrain stands a temple, of course this well maintained.
We decide to walk around the fort. At one side the walls are used as the backside of houses and somewhat further the wall disappears totally for a quart of the total length.
After finishing this round we go in the direction of the former palaces, now used by the university. A guard gives us the idea that we are not allowed to enter the premises. In the chai stall we talk with some boys and they tell us that the entrance of the campus is somewhat further.
But just across the road is a religious festival and we visit this first. All the visitors have there best cloths on, especially the women wear beautiful saris. It is crowded and we follow the mass. An artificial lake is surrounded by temples. One side is quiet but at the other end all kind of religious ceremonies are performed. People encircle the temples and a group men sings continuously. Of course there is also a fair where we have lunch.
After a tour over the campus we walk back to the hotel. On our way we see some other, dilapidated, palaces.
We didn't plan the upcoming part of our trip since there were always trains available on short notice. But when I look at this now there are only wait-lists. This means we have to change our plans. We decide to take it quiet and stay here for some more days then we intended.
For tomorrow we arrange a car for Kusheshwar Asthan to visit the bird sanctuary. Now we discover that we have a problem with our cell-phone. Incoming calls are ok but we cannot phone anyone. With a hotel-boy I go to a phone-boot, but at Sunday-night all shops are closed. For dinner we go the bar-restaurant, we are regulars now with our 'own' table.
At eight we go to Rajasthani restaurant. Although they are still cleaning the tables we can order breakfast. Back at the hotel the car is already there and the manager instructs the driver. Outside the city are numerous brick kilns but somewhat further the landscape becomes more attractive. Mostly agricultural but alternated with wood and water, the latter mostly filled with hyacinths. The several waterbirds that we see give us a good feeling about the bird sanctuary.
In Kusheshwar Asthan is also an important temple complex and our driver stops in front of this. The priests encircle our car and are very pushy. We are not in the mood for this and tell the driver to go to a parking place. Without success we try to make clear to him that our goal is the bird sanctuary. We stand at the edge of a bare mud area which is just dried after the monsoon flood. It is hazy but in the distance we see water. A boy who speaks some English ask us what we want. We explain him about the birds and he gestures towards the people who walk through the wetlands.
We decide to give it a change and the driver accompanies us. By an unstable bamboo bridge we cross a brooklet, the bridge is to short at the end are some stepping stones. Over another, longer, bridge we cross a real river, here we have to jump and get a wet foot. We follow the path along the river. Except some crows, the other wanderers and a few fishing huts there is nothing to see. After half an hour we arrive at a bridge of stone, without a road to use it. We don't think we are in the right place and walk back.
Since we have no other ideas how to reach the sanctuary we decide to go back. In Kusheshwar Asthan is a traffic jam because the ox-carts cannot pass each other. In Darbhanga a truck unloads meal for a bakery and blocks the road completely. After a while the driver is send away by a police officer.
Since we still have the problem with our phone we go to a phone shop. One of the shop assistants is very helpful. Changing sim-cards, trying these in other phones and many other attempts. After nearly an hour he concludes that it is hardware problem. He directs us to a nearby Nokia repair shop. They try something and then it works, the advise is that we select manual the network provider.
Back in the hotel we want to make a call and again the phone does not work. Back to the shop and now they tell us that we must use the 2G network instead of the standard 3G. It is six in the evening and now we can phone again.
There is not a lot of tourist information about this region, but from what I have read nearby Madhubani looks interesting. We ask the man at the desk how we can go to there. He tells that we have to walk to the next chowk for the shared auto, it costs 10 rs to the bus stand. This is a large and busy terrain. For our bus we are directed to the back of it. The seats are so tight that I only can sit on the middle of the rear bench. We have to pass all the other buses and it takes a long time before we are on the high-way. We pay 70 rs and don't get a ticket.
After a while we leave the highway and through many small villages we reach the bus stand of Madhubani. This is next to the market area and shopping center.
But there is not much to see except and old temple. We ask someone and he tells that the palace and other sights are in villages outside the town. We have not the spirit to organize a visit and walk back to the bus stand. This time we have a private bus, a little more spacious and we pay 100 rs.
Back in Darbhanga the shared taxi driver refuses to take other passengers. We appeal to him and he tells he will bring us for 200 rs. We are not crazy, let him stop and leave the rickshaw. I offer him 10 which he accepts but only after a long time. In the meantime we walk to the hotel, it takes just a quarter of an hour.
The whole day we have exchanged text messages with Bihendra, one of the guys we met in Valmiki. He has a job in Darbhanga and arrives tomorrow. The last text arrives just before we go to bed. He will be in the hotel at seven in the morning .
And it is even earlier when he arrives. He is tired since he has traveled the whole night. We talk a while about his work with Medecins Sans Frontieres. After half an hour he leaves, we will see him at his work later in the morning.
Half past ten he is back with a car+driver from MSF, we have to sign a document that we travel at our own risk. MSF has here a project to fight against malnutrition. The emphasis of the programs is to help the people in the villages. Birendra's job is to act as intermediary between MSF and the Indian authorities. In Darbhanga is a hospital where they treat children which suffer of more than malnutrition only. The mothers of these children stay with them. The accommodation is hygienic but severe and the staff does everything they can. Yet it is not a cheerful visit.
Birendra takes the rest of the morning off and goes with us to the local museum. The collection is not very impressive and all the written information is in Hindi. After a lunch we take an auto back to the hotel.
Tomorrow we go to our next destination, Begusarai. Due to the full trains it will take us two days with a night stop in Mokama. Fruitless I seek the internet for a hotel in this town. We have promised Birendra that we will buy some toys for the children. Late in the afternoon he and one of the staff members come to our hotel. We talk a while, show them our Dutch photo collection before we go to the shop. It does not take that much money to fill a large bag.
The whole afternoon Wiesje has stomach problems. During dinner it becomes worse and she vomits. Back in the hotel she goes directly to bed but doesn't sleep much.
So we stay here for another day and will tomorrow travel by car to Munger. We call Birendra and ask him if knows where we can hire a car. After a while he phones back. It is nearly 200 km and the trip costs 5600 rs. For that price we can keep the car a day for sight-seeing in Munger.
Wiesje stays in bed for the most of the day, the only food she can eat are small parts bananas. Now and then I go out on my own and walk to the market area and the temples around the lake. The festival is over. Not the most joyful day of the journey.
Munger, 20 – 25 November
The prayer call from the mosques awakes me at five in the morning. The health situation of Wiesje has improved enough. Our taxi will be at at hotel around eight. Due to the one-way traffic the hotel is not easy to reach for a car. Birendera calls us and tells that our driver is on his way and will wait at the same crosspoint as Wednesday.
One of the hotel boys helps us to carry the luggage. At the crosspoint there is no car and we phone Birendra again, now he tells us to go to the next square, again no car. After several calls it becomes clear that the driver went to the hotel and now he is on his way to us.
Besides the driver there is a men extra on board, I think the owner of the car. We cross the city to his house where he leaves. Now I can sit in front and my wife lies on the back bench. It is ten o'clock when we really start. Just out of town an upcoming car blinks with his lights and our driver stops. That other car is the MSF car we had Wednesday and the driver collects the money for the ride.
It is hazy and there is not much to see. During the first part of the trip the road is fine but it gets bad as we come closer to the Ganges. Just before the river is an enormous transfer-point for sand, big trucks are loaded here. The whole road is covered with sand as is the dilapidated bridge. This is closed for freight trucks. A continuous row of tractors transport the sand and other goods over the bridge. The wind blows the sand from the trailers, On the other site are also numerous transfer points. After chai and food, for me it is breakfast, we continue over a good 2 lane toll way.
Half past two we arrive at Munger. The first hotel we inspect is full, somewhat further we find Raj Palace. Situated in the heart of the center it has a somewhat gone glory. For 1500 rs we have a spacious, old room. The lift does not exist anymore, the shaft is still there but at the ground floor the entrance is hidden. Wiesje still doesn't feel herself healthy. If we accept the car for another day, we have to organize trips. We don't think this is a good idea and tell the driver that he can go back.
We sit a while at the room before I go out shopping.
The center of the town is nice with street vendors everywhere. I can find beer and a cyber café. My wife likes some curd, this is nowhere available and neither I see a proper restaurant. So it is room service again. We have no phone at the room, for every order we have to walk three stairs down to the desk. But the food is good and here they serve curd.
Now, at the end of November, it becomes obvious that it is getting colder. We don't use the fan anymore and in the night we need a blanket to keep us warm.
At eleven we go out. We have a vague map and use it to try to walk to the fort. We interpret it completely wrong and after a while we are at the part of the city where the new bridge over the Ganges is under construction. We take a cycle which brings us to the other side of the town.
Through a red gate we enter the fort terrain and continue by foot from there. We don't see any ancient remainders, we ask some boys about this and they tell us that nothing is left. Wiesje gets tired and we decide to take a cycle back to the hotel, we are there in no time.
Later I go out on my own, the fort is indeed just a few minutes walking from the hotel. I cross it until I reach the Ganges. A ferry is fastened at the pontoon and at the riverbank are some smaller boats. People embark these with there luggage, some have a bicycle. And then the vessel sails off to the other side of the river.
Back in the center I eat some very tasteful samosa's in a small eatery. I walk around and although there is nothing special to see I like it it here. Everyone is friendly and relaxed. In the streets are remarkable few cars. I think that makes it so pleasant to walk around.
We are getting lazy and it is almost noon before we go out. We start with the ghat I visited yesterday afternoon, now there are no activities. Next we walk across the terrain to the Southern gate. Here are few old tombs and the the remainders of the original buildings. To reach the tomb I have to climb a stairway.
A caretaker allows me to look through the fence. He puts some ash on my forehead and asks for a donations. Of course he is not satisfied with the 10 rs I give him. On the other side of the gateway is the old moat. It is dry but the walls are under reconstruction so I guess in the coming years there will be water again.
A little further is another ghat where we have chai and go back to the hotel.
Yesterday we noted a funeral procession inside the fort and in the afternoon I try to locate the cremation ghat. In front of me I see some people, they carry a lot of goods and the way they walk makes it clear they are on their way to a ferry. I follow them for a while and then I notice a tower near the Ganges and go over there. No idea where it is used for.
Walking along the river I arrive at another ghat. The entrance and temples around it give the impression that they are rather old. From here I have a clear view on the new bridge. I continue in that direction and arrive at the jetty for the official ferry.
Later we go together for another sauntering through the center. Back in the hotel the boiler doesn't work. Again I have descend the three floors and ask for a bucket hot water.
This morning two men clean our room. One sweeps the floor while the other uses a wet newspaper to clean the table. With a wet cloth the bathroom and the floor are mobbed and the job is done.
According to internet sites Kashtaharini is worth a visit and we order a cycle driver to bring us there. It is the same ghat that I visited yesterdays. It is quiet and we sit a while to watch the river where many dolphins swim. I have a look at the waterside and go down until my knees in the quicksand. I climb out and 10 meters further the sand is hard and I flush my trousers. In the hot sun it dries in no time.
We walk along the river until we reach the ghat with the pontoon. While we are there the large steamer that connects Kolkata with Varanasi arrives. It takes a time before it lands and in the meantime we talk with some men. They are here for the cremation of their grandmother. The tourist in the boat have to wait quite a wile before they may go ashore. We don't want to wait for this and go back to the hotel.
In the evening I go for another ramble around the market area. While I feel completely at ease the passengers of the cruise ship walk around with a police escort.
Today we want to visit Sita Kund, a hot well situated a kilometer if six outside Munger. According to the hotel manager a shared taxi is the best way to go. Of course the taxi's start from several points and it takes some time before we find the right one. When we sit in the rickshaw the drivers quarrel who's turn it is and we must change into an old jeep. Regular new passenger halt the car including a mother with children and a goat.
We stop by an enclosed terrain. Inside are some temples, a few filthy water reservoirs and the fine maintained well. A school class is just inside and the teacher want us with them on the group pictures. The gas that heats the water rises with big bubbles. We get the change to feel how hot the water is, I guess it is over 60º C. Outside the enclosure the water is used for bathing, of course men and women are separated.
The landscape around is attractive and in the distance we see some temples on a hill, too far away for a walk. We take a chai and go back to Munger.
In a week or so we arrive very early in the morning in Ranchi. We search the internet for a hotel with 24 check-in and reserve it. We have to pay direct but during this process the computer crashes. In another cyber-café there is no internet at all. And also the ATM machines don't work. The only thing we can do is have a lunch and go back to the hotel.
For tomorrow we want a taxi to Sahibganj, the man at the desk tells us that only the manager can arrange this. Later in the afternoon the electronic problems are solved. After all these days we discover that there is a bell in the room where we can contact the room service. Unfortunately the man doesn't speak English and I must go down to order diner.
The last three days there are meetings in a nearby center with a lot of unpleasant music. Mostly they stop at ten in the evening, but today it continues after we go to bed.
Sahibganj, 26 – 30 November
The manager is back and while I order breakfast I arrange a car. Usually we take an Indica type but, since the quality of the road is very bad, the man advises a bigger one. I agree and we get a Tata Suma for 3800 rs. It is only 140 km and we are not in a hurry. The car is due to arrive around eleven but of course it is half an hour late.
Again we have a driver who hardly speaks English, worse is that he doesn't drives pleasant. To our astonishment he stops in some villages, obvious to settle things for himself. To makeup for this he treats us on a chai. The first part of the trip is nice, we regular ride along the Ganges. The road is reasonable, with some potholes, and I think we didn't need this type of car.
But around Bhagalpur this changes. Here are numerous brick kilns, which leads to a an enormous amount of freight traffic. The roads are not resistant to it and the surface has complete disappeared. This leads to a lot of dust in the air and we continue at a very low speed. After a bridge the trucks have to wait aside the road and we can speed a little. All together to trips takes much more time than we expected. I ask the driver to stop for lunch but there are no eateries. At half pas three he finds one and although we think we are nearly in Sahibganj we eat some snacks.
In the next village our side of the road is blocked up by two rows of cars. There is no upcoming traffic and our driver follows his predecessors into the remaining free lane. Then cars from the other side appear and now it is a completely standstill. Nobody takes any action. The engines are switched off and even the horns keep silent.
After an hour a man gives instructions to the truck drivers in the row next to us. They move until there is enough space for us to cross and we form a new row on the pavement. Now the upcoming traffic can roll on. We stand near a railway crossing. As a train passes there is a gap in the upcoming traffic and the unavoidable occurs, the free space is filled up again.
It is after five o'clock and it is getting dark. We phone our hotel and explain why we arrive late. The driver disappears and returns with an English speaking man. He suggests that we go with him for the rest of the trip. First we find this weird, then we get the idea they are send by the hotel and we just have to walk to the other end of the traffic jam. We phone with the hotel, they talk with the man and assure us that it is save. Everyone takes some luggage and we start to walk to a car in another row.
We are flabbergasted but it turns out that there is a plan. Now and then our row starts to move, mostly for a meter of ten. Step by step we reach a crosspoint and then cross the railway. From that point the traffic runs smoothly. It is half past seven, the passage took us nearly four hours..
Just half an hour later we are in Sahibganj and through dark back streets we arrive in hotel White House. For 1200 we have a fine room on the ground floor. We say goodbye to our temporary drivers, in contrast to our idea they have nothing to do with the hotel. The staff is friendly and helpful and gives us a computer print with all the tourist sites in the region. I ask them for a beer shop, we are told to wait and get soup instead. As I explain the misunderstanding someone gets beer for us.
We like coffee with our breakfast but here they serve ginger tea, brr. The hotel stands in a back street but via an alley it is close to the market in the main road. Locals from the neighboring villages sell food. From here we continue to the center. The town is not very attractive and has none historical buildings. According to one of the inhabitants an office building build in 1809 is the oldest. The shops are situated along the main roads. School is finished and the children go home in packed cycle rickshaws.
In the afternoon we take a cycle to the jetty at the Ganges where the ferry just arrives. It is fully loaded with four trucks, some cars, motor bikes and many passengers. Within half an hour it goes back with a similar load.
Next to the jetty is the cremation ghat, people just arrive for a ceremony. We continue to the following ghat were we sit and watch the river life. Another cycle brings us back to the station. From here tracks run straight into the city. It gives the impression that this rail is closed down. Saleswomen have put their trade on it. But a single locomotive comes along and they must clear the track.
In the hotel we arrange a car for tomorrow. At least we want to visit Rajmahal, Udhwa Bird Sanctuary and further other interesting sites. With the print we got yesterday as starting point, we work this out. Here the price for a car is 1500 rs + the costs of the fuel.
While we have breakfast the car arrives. The hotel manager gives the driver instructions about the things we want to see. We get accustomed to a no English speaking chauffeur.
Half past eight we start. The scenery is nice and we drive through many tiny villages.
In Maharajpur we go inland via a small road to the Mhoti Jharna fall. We walk towards it and visit the rock temple behind the fall. It is a beautiful and serene place. Next we return to the main road and drive further along a distributary of the Ganges. At the other side of the road we see the hills.
The first stop is at the temple in Kanhaiyasthan, dedicated to Krishna. The footprint of a important saint proves that he has visited it around 1500. Then we go to remainders of the fort of Baradari located on the bank of the Ganges. On the others side of the road is the big Jami Masjid mosque.
Half past eleven we arrive in Rajmahal. Again on the bank of the Ganges stands the Sangi Dalan.
This pavilion is all that remains from a large palace. We want a chai, but here are no refreshments. The driver gestures he knows a place. I assume that we go into the town and visit the Muslim monuments. Some of them I can see from the car. The driver continues and stops at the other side of the small town. After the chai he continues and we find a visit to the town not worth the hassle.
We drive away from the Ganges through a rather flat country. It is a great landscape with a lot of trees and small lakes. Everywhere people are working on the rice fields. Near Barhawa we visit the Bindabasini temple which has some fine statues. One a nearby hillock stands a tall Hanuman statue.
The driver wants to see our print-out with the tourist attractions. He points out a photo of a fall. I think that it is the one we already visited and say it was nice, and point to the Udha bird sanctuary, our next destination. I think the driver gets it. We continue and soon we take a new good road. But through the villages it is still the old bad one. At a checkpoint officers examine the car and luggage, no idea why. In Barhait the driver takes a small road. After a while we stop at the gate of another temple.
A long stairway leads to the entrance. My wife has no desire to climb. Barefooted the driver and I go up. At the top we need to wash our feet, as I do it to quickly the drivers helps me. We are at Shiva Gradj, this is the photo the driver choose. Just a little water comes down and is captured in bottles. Behind the fall is the holy cave.
Back on the main road we go back to Sahibganj. Partly through a hilly road through the jungle. The trees are chopped down as part of the reconstruction of the road. Via a new road with sharp curves we reach the hotel. It is half past three and although we did not do all the things we wanted it was a nice trip.
We have no special plans for today and I decide to take an up and down trip with the ferry. My wife didn't sleep well and likes to stay in the hotel. We are told that the ferry goes at nine o'clock. Half an hour before that time I leave, eat some puri's in an eatery and take a cycle.
There is no boat to see but people form a loose row before the ticket office, men and women are separated. It is relaxed, one can leave his place, walk around and take the same position afterwards. After an hour people start to push and as the boat comes into sight a parallel row is formed.
At the cremation ghat a ceremony starts and the wind blows into our direction. When the boat starts to unload the ticket window is still closed and as I see the mass of people I decide to skip the trip. Within a quarter I walk back to the hotel.
In the afternoon I go out for a walk to the other end of the town. Here is a an attractive shopping area.
We go to a cyber café to send some pictures to the people in Netherlands. The connection in the first one is so slow that we leave it, the next one is fine. Then we roam again through the streets. In the eatery we visited the previous days the owner shows us a video of the environment, it is the Mhoti Jharna fall we visited yesterday. Then we continue to the other market area. While we are watching street tailors the owner of a candy shop invites us. He offers us his best sweet, rice chips with brown sugar.
Our train leaves around 5 PM and we go in time to the station. There is no pantry car so we have to take our own food, snacks and bananas.
We find our seats in the 2AC an travel together with a non talkative passenger. At the next station a large group boards. It is the grooms party on their way to the wedding. First many of them, with a lot of luggage, come in our compartment. We tell them we don't like this and they assure us it is temporary. And indeed they leave to their seats, spread all over the wagon.
The leader tries to swap seats so they can sit near to each other. He comes and goes counting the whole time, it is funny. After two hours he has accomplished it. For us it means that we change our co-passenger for two men of the group. We have both an upper bed and they offer Wiesje a lower one.
They have much food with them and offer us to share. But we has just finished our snacks and are not hungry. One of the men speaks good English and translates for the others. In this way we have an animated conversation. When we tell that we have pictures of Netherlands on our laptop others join us to watch these. Then they offer us a drink. Of course it is forbidden but they find a wedding is worth the risk. With the curtains closed we empty a bottle of whiskey.
Half past ten we go to bed, it stays noisy for a long time.
Ranchi, 1 – 2 december
Despite the rumour caused by the people of the wedding party, I sleep deep and just wake as someone shouts Ranchi. It is the last station of this train so we don't have to hurry. We drink a chai at the platform and take an auto to Hotel Accord where we arrive at half past six. We wait in our room until it is time for breakfast. After a nap I walk to the station in the hope to obtain some tourist information, no luck.
For the upcoming Jharkhand and Odisha trip we have organized something. On previous journeys we became friends with Pratap, an Odisha driver. We have contacted his boss and although he doesn't organize Jharkhand tours he has made a rough itinerary for us. He has also supplied us with hotel information.
In the afternoon Pratap arrives, as always it is great to see him again. He tells us that he has a quarrel with his boss and doesn't work for him anymore. This implies we just have to pay the car and have to arrange everything else by ourselves. Pratap has had a long drive and takes some time to rest. When he returns we start to plan the first days.
Tomorrow we stay in Ranchi and someone from the hotel will guide us around. The day after we go to Betla Forest. When we phone hotel Van Vihar they tell they are closed due to renovation. The hotel inside the park has no availability but after many calls we find a room.
After breakfast we start with the sightseeing trip. We cross through the town which has notable many trees. The first stop is the Ranchi Hill. It is a long climb by the stairs to the Shiva temple on the top. Although it is a little hazy the panorama over the town and the lake is great.
There are many paintings of the deities and our co-driver wants that we pose by each of them for photos.
We walk down and drive to another part of the town where Pratap settles his required permits. We stay outside and visit a large flower market. Next we go to the Rock Garden situated on the other side of the lake. Although we don't find this garden very spectacular it is nice to walk around. According to our guide there are no other interesting sites in the town.
We have decided to bring some table clothes for our neighbours, who take care for our house, and go the center for shopping. It is difficult to park the car here. The only option is that Pratap stays with it and the co-driver comes with us. We don't like this idea and go back to the hotel.
Here we have another look at the proposed Jharkhand trip. It has some very long travel days and we re-arrange it to avoid these. In the afternoon I go to the desk of the hotel and ask where I can upgrade the credit of my mobile. They send someone out to do this for me. The hotel has a 24 check-out policy. We arrived at half past six in the morning, but they are generous and we can stay until half past seven.
Betla, 3 - 4 December
We have to rise early and take only a banana for breakfast. At the desk I have to fill an evaluation form. At seven we start, it is quiet in Ranchi. Pratap is not familiar over here and asks regular for the route. Outside the town we drive for a short distance over a six-lane road and divert then to a smaller road. It is agricultural land around us. The harvest is done but the oxes are busy with the thresh.
In a small village we stop for breakfast. There are two chairs and we are more or less obliged to use these. In Chandwa we taken another road and continue our tour through a hilly and wooded area.
The road becomes worse but it is not far and around noon we arrive in Betla.
Pratap phones with our hotel and at the end of the village a man waits to conduct us to our quarters. We stay in a Forest Bungalow at the edge of the hamlet that Betla is. It is rather dirty and they don't serve food. There is also no running water, we get some buckets, and that for 850 rs per night. With Salim, the manager, we arrange trips for this afternoon and tomorrow.
Pratap and I walk to the village and order lunch in a dhoba. There is also a canteen inside the wild-park where we will have dinner. They have a limited choice and we must order in advance. It is half past one when we have finished our lunch and soon the car is there.
Salim and a driver accompany us. First we drive back across the road we traveled this morning. After a while we divert into a small road and cross the railway. This crossing is always closed for road traffic, just when an auto arrives the barriers are opened. We reach the broad Kechki river, the large sandy bank are used for picnics. And thus polluted with enormous much litter. Close by was a bridge but some years ago this is ruined during the monsoon.
Next we go to the entrance of the park for the required registration. A guide comes with us. Before we go inside we drive to the Palamu forts. The most important one is upside a hill, since we don't have so much time we decide to skip that.
From the older fort, build by the father, only a few remainders are left. A gate, a mosque and some walls and buildings. And the beginning of and underground tunnel. According to the legends the queen used this to go for bathing in a lake. In its has-been glory the site is still imposing. We take the car to the bathing lake, it is several kilometers.
I don't believe the tunnel goes that far.
Now it is time to enter the park. On a short distance of the entrance we see many deer and monkeys. But for the rest of the trip the wild is restricted to some gaur, jackals and a peacock. The jungle itself is beautiful and divers.
Around five o'clock the trip is finished. We buy some beer and go back to the bungalow. When the caretaker switches a tap at the outside, we have running water. It is already cold and it is not easy to get an extra blanket. By this temperature it is not comfortable for Pratap to stay in the car. He sleeps on the floor in our room, we become a real family.
We go to the park for dinner, it tastes reasonable. We are all tired and sleep before nine.
When we wake at seven there is no electricity. To get some light we open the front door and the cold enters the room. We walk to the restaurant in the wildpark. Although we ordered yesterday-evening it takes a long time before it is prepared. Outside the safari elephant starts his first route. When we are finished the jeeps arrives, again we have Salim and his driver. They promise us a big waterfall and many wild animals.
Just outside the village we see an adult and a young elephant. According to Salim they are not domesticated but we have our doubts. We go to the entrance at the other side of Betla and this is a long drive. For the most part we have one lane roads through the jungle, we drive with high speed. We pass several small villages and in one of them we have a chai break. We attract lot of attention, one women sets herself on some stones to observe these strangers.
We continue and and cross the Koel river. Apart from some monkeys we don't see any wildlife. In the next village Salim asks bystanders for the direction. First we think that he doesn't know the region but it turns out that we are looking for a local guide. We find him and the men talk with each other. Of course I don't understand a word but it is clear there is some problem. Nevertheless the guide joins us. And after a few kilometers through the wood we understand the problem: the waterfall is completely dry.
We continue to Maromar, the other gate of Betla where several park officers live. One of them joins us, he carries a big ax. We leave the road and follow the wild tracks, in this part of the park the elephant herds live. We drive for over an hour through the splendid jungle but don't see anything but poop and footprints. We walk around the lake where they usual drink but again no sights. Back on the road we continue to the Sugabandh falls.
These rapids are fantastic. We talk with a large group school children who have a day-out. The teachers roast peanuts and offer us a bag.
At two o'clock we are back in Betla. While we wait for the lunch Pratap and I walk to the point where we spotted the elephants. A mahout is just training the adult one. Then the safari elephant arrives and both of them disappear. In front of the eatery is a water pump and the elephants come here to drink. In turn they fill their trunk with water. We are also allowed to pump. When an animal is finished he empties his last trunk on the road and walks away.
After lunch we walk to the stable where the little orphan elephant stands. He makes an enormous clamor while the mahouts prepare chapati's for him. We spend the afternoon on the veranda. In the evening the villagers bring in the cattle. Yesterday a panther killed a goat and they are afraid it will happen again. Regular there is no power and around nine we go to bed. Pratap snores with a volume that keeps us awake.
Netarhat, 5 December
At five the prayers from the nearby mosque awake us. And soon after that the baby elephant makes it clear that he is hungry. We linger for a while in our beds before we depart around eight, together with the young elephant.
Up to the Sugabandh falls we take the same route as yesterdays. Since Pratap drives more relaxed we now can really enjoy the landscape. After the falls it is an agricultural environment with many small tribal villages. Regular we stop to look around.
After a while we reach the plateau on which Netarhat is situated. The road is in good condition and winds through a Sal wood. At the top it is again farming land, alternated with some woods. It is remarkable how few people and traffic we see. This suddenly changes as trucks, loaded with bauxite, come from a side-way. From here on the road is completely ruined.
After a while I see a sign to the sunset point but don't realize we have to take that road. But when we descend from from the plateau it is clear that we are too far and turn around.
We take the side-way and soon arrive at Prabhat Vihar, the tourist hotel of Netarhat. A room has the strange price of 1013 rs. There is a restaurant where we order lunch. The sunrise one can observe from the roof terrace, now it is an ideal place to rest.
Our plan for tomorrow is Hazaribagh, stay there and head the next day South. But with these roads I think it is too far. Lohardaga lies on a more logical route and according to Google there is enough to see in the surroundings for half a day. Pratrap is happy with this, in turn he arranges a hotel waiter to escort us to the sunset point.
It is two o'clock by now and there is still a power cut. After lunch we get a bucket hot water so we can clean ourselves. At four we leave for the Magnolia Point. It is already clouded and my wife expects there is nothing to see and stays in the room. Through a nice scenery we drive to the sunset point.
There is a platform where people can sit and wait for the supreme moment. Some statues tell the story of the legend. There are more visitors and I have a chat with a Kolkata family. Tomorrow they go to Betla and I tell them about our experiences. Around five the sun disappears in the clouds.
Prarap utilize the waiting time to replace a tire that slowly deflates.
We like some beer but there is no real shop in Netarhat. The waiter knows somebody but they are sold out. At the end we get two cans for 150 rs. each. Back in the hotel it is completely dark. By touch I stumble through the hall, but soon a man comes with a torch and next the generator is switched on. When we go out for dinner Wiesje forgets that the door is closed by a bolt. She pulls firms and the bolt falls off. We tell it to the manager and it solid repaired.
Lohardaga, 6 December
I did not set an alarm for the sunrise, and since it is still hazy as I wake up this was a good decision. Prapat has a problem with the car, the dynamo is broken so the battery is not recharged. Here is no garage and we hope we can make it to Lohgardaga.
At nine we start, the way down the plateau. A bauxite truck has a flat tire and stands in the middle of the small road. There is just enough space for us to pass. On the other side a long row trucks is waiting. The trip down takes less than an hour, the road in the plain is under construction.
Half past eleven, ten km before our destination, the battery is empty. With the help of some bystanders we push the car in the shoulder. Pratap takes the battery with him in a shared auto. We wait beside the road. Everyone gazes at us but just a few people start to talk. After some hours two men on a motorbike arrive with a battery and soon after them an auto brings Pratap back.
At two o'clock we are in hotel Divya Palace and get a small room for 600 rs. There is a nice large suite but for one night we find this somewhat overdone. With the car in the repair shop we cannot visit anything and just take a walk along the main road. Since there is nothing attractive to see we go to a cyber café.
Half past six Pratap returns, the car is fixed. Of course we have dinner with the three of us. Although the hotel is very simple the service is great. The owner is young man in his late twenties, he speaks perfect English..
Chaibasa, 7 December
We did not order it but when we leave our room at half past seven a man brings a bucket hot water. First we continue by the bauxite route. In a village some aggressive dogs attack our car, it is good that we have the windows closed. From Kuru we take the same route as Wednesday, back to Ranchi.
Our destination is Chaibasa at this is specified on the signposts. But Pratap has a hand-written route description and goes in the direction of Ranchi. We drive through the outskirts of the town. After many questions we are back on the 6 lane road, near the junction to Chaibasa.
Around Ranchi there is again a lot of agriculture but after some time we reach the Sal woods. It is a great scenery. Close to the road are the Hirni falls. Here is still enough water to admire these. The road has is good and bad stretches but the bridges are terrible.
Around two o'clock we leave the forest and reach Chakradharpur. I'm hungry but there is no dhaba so I buy some streetfood. An our later we arrive in Chaibasa, in hotel Askash we have a small room for 1000 rs. We walk through the market area. Also here is nothing special to see, just a standard Indian town. We cannot find a beer shop and back at the hotel I ask the desk man. It is near the bus stand. At the moment I leave the hotel a man, who was in the lobby, comes outside and takes me on his scooter. Our hotel has no restaurant and for dinner we go Annapurna, the other decent hotel in town.
Keonjhar, 8 December
This night I start to suffer from diarrhea and take a pill. For breakfast I eat just some bananas. But my fellow travelers can neither find a suitable breakfast and have only chai. We leave around half past seven. Again the road is renewed but the bridges are under construction and thus terrible obstacles.
In Jaintgarh we enter Odisha and have breakfast. This region is familiar for Pratap. We take a small country road towards Khiching. The first part is extremely bumpy but very nice through the woods and tribal villages. In Khiching we take our time to visit the temple.
It is a new build replica, the carvings are very nice. Next to it stands a smaller and simple temple, for the children there is a play ground. Everywhere in the the surroundings stonecutters practice their work. Often they use machines but occasional they use a chisel for the finishing touch.
At one o'clock we arrive in Keonjhar. Several years ago we stayed here in hotel Plaza but this seems to be closed and we end in Ankita. They want 950 for the room but Wiesje negotiates it down to 800. We have to pay in advance, I have only 1000 note and they have no change. I assume we can settle that with the payment of our lunch. The restaurant is in the basement of the hotel, it is dark and the floor is under water. For lunch they serve only thali or soup. We have no appetite in these and when we decide to try our luck elsewhere they suddenly have noodles. The whole time they play the same, rather irritating, song. Back in the hotel there is nobody at the desk. We shout for a while and then a man comes and presents us the key of the room.
We take a rest. Around three Pratap comes along and we go the center of the town. First to a temple, outside stands an enormous big temple wagon. Next we want to visit the palace, it now accommodates a school and visiting is not allowed. A few kilometers outside Keonjhar are the Sanaghagara falls. It is clearly a tourist outing with a large car parking and a picnic spot. But the falls are really worth the visit. After we have watched them we go to top where a remarkable small river supplies the water.
Back at the hotel we want to explore the vicinity by foot but apart from the main roads there is nothing to see. When we go for dinner the hall of the hotel is completely dark. I go back to our room and take a torch. Then someone turns on a light. The floor of the restaurant is still wet and they play again the same song. Irritated we tell them to play something else but they turn out the music. The food is fine. Back in the hotel it is dark again. The owner makes some light, his excuse is that we are the only guests. The sheets of our bed stink and the diarrhea still troubles me. Traveling is not always a pleasure.
Dhenkanal, 9 - 10 December
In spite of that we have a good night. At eight o'clock we stand outside the hotel where a man sells breakfast, we have puri and chai.
We depart and stop in a small village to see potters at work. In the next village is a market. Although it is in the building-up stage we spend here a long time.
In Ghatgaon we visit the Maa Tarini temple complex. In a separate small temple a priest sacrifices the coconuts. Before the main building waits a long row of people who want to offer these.
Since I just want to look I don't have to queue. Bare footed, of course, I enter. Photo equipment is not allowed inside but there are no other restrictions. Several priests sit in a basement, with fires everywhere. Around it stand the devotees who present their coconuts. The milk is offered to the goddess.
The road to Jajpur is under reconstruction and converted into 4 lanes. But at this time it is a bad ride. Everywhere one sees ruined houses and uprooted trees. Near Anandapur we stop at a textile village. Although we have visited places like this before it is still fascinating to see.
After Jajpur we take another road, this leads us along a stretch of big steel factories. It is in the middle off the day but due to the smoke it looks like evening. We are glad as we leave this behind, now just plain rice fields are nice to see. We divert into a country road and this is really great. It is half past three and the cattle go to their stables. Further wood and rice fields, a sign warrants for crossing elephants.
After the bridge over the Brahmani river we arrive in Dhenkanal where we stay in hotel R.K. Regency. The AC room with hot water costs 800 rs.
As we depart at half past eight there is a dense fog. We cannot see further than 100 meters. It is scary to drive but fortunately there is hardly any other traffic. Half an hour later we are in Joranda and the sun starts to shine. Here we visit the Mahima monastery. This is a group of temples and lodgings where the monks live. Some of the men don't wear anything but a cloth that covers there private parts.
The sphere is relaxed, everyone wants to pose for a picture. With the help of Pratap we talk with some of the men. They arrive here voluntary at the age of ten, these children live by families in the surrounding villages. The monks have no contact with there family and don't tell each other from which place they come. But they are curious about our origin and most of them have a mobile. We visit most of the temples which are build in total different styles.
Monks and laborers together do the maintenance work. At eleven we return to Dhenkanal, now the fog is gone and we see that we travel through a lovely scenery.
We visit a small village where the craftsmen produce bronzes using the lost wax method. We look around for a while. Everyone is buzzy with preparing or finishing the figurines but nobody moulds.
In a nearby dhaba we order some snacks. It tastes good and the owner brings us all kind of extra specialties. I don't know if he puts in on the bill but I have only to pay 50 rs for the three of us, and the man refuses a tip.
Then we continue to Nuapatna another textile village. Outside is a weaver factory with many machines to produce clothes but special things are woven by hand. The village itself is rather stretched out. All over the place they make textiles using the tie and dye method. For 2600 rs. Wiesje buys a beautiful shawl.
Back in Dhenkanal we have a look at the palace. The owner lives there so we can not visit it. But for 15.000 rs one can spend the night there, a little over budget.
Village near Bhadrak, 11 – 13 December
At four I wake, again suffering from diarrhea. I take a pill and spend some time at the toilet. Today we are not in a hurry and I wait until things go better. At half past ten I feel alright and we start. Tonight we sleep at Prataps house and he has loaded the car with food, mainly vegetables and some goldfishes for his son.
We drive back to Jajpur, nearby we stop for a visit to the Chhatia Bata temple. We are allowed inside but taking pictures is forbidden. There are many statues some of them rather gruesome. Slowly we realize we have visit this temple already during our 2009 trip.
We continue over the 4-lane road to Bhadrak and from there to Pratap's village. His family, dressed in their best clothes welcomes us cordially. Since our last visit daughter Mama is married and she is here with her son Ayush. When we go to the village for shopping Wiesje carries him. Pratap and I follow them and this combination attracts a lot of attention.
The family lives on the second floor of their family building. A hall, two large bedrooms, bathroom and a small kitchen We get one of the bedrooms.
My entrails still trouble me and I go to bed early. Wiesje keeps talking with the family. Later she tells me that Prataps father killed himself by jumping from the roof. Pratap's wife is afraid that his ghost haunts around.
In the middle of the night I spend again some time at the loo. Happily the diarrhea is over after that stay. At seven we wake up, the weather makes it clear that wintertime is approaching. Today we will visit the school where Liku, Pratap's son in law, works. We assume that he is teacher at a local school. But the school is in another village, and we drive the 20 km with a rickshaw. The land is completely flat, here and there are the concrete escape towers, used as protection when a cyclone passes.
The personal of the school waits for us and escort us to the room of the principal. It is a three class secondary school. Liku is not a teacher but the administrator. We talk a while about the Dutch and Indian school systems and get a tour. It is examination time but the pupils are not bothered by the break.
For the lunch we go to the family house where Mama and Liku live. The food is perfect but much to much. The family wants that we take a nap so they can have their meal together. But we are not tired and in turn someone sits with us while the others eat. Many neighbors come to have a look at the strangers. Everyone is allowed inside but it is clear the some are hardly welcome. And of course there is a long photo shoot.
Later we go back to Prataps house. He has bought some new chickens and by nightfall it is a hard job to put them in their hen-house.
Around the house are many coconut trees and a man cut away the old and dead leaves. And of course the ripe nuts. The leaves are used for heating and are divided between Pratap and his brother who lives on the floor ground. I help to gather them and discover that the edges are terrible sharp. Pratap spots a scorpion and kills it.
In the village we visit the schools where the two youngest children get their education and talk with the teachers. Wiesje has promised to cook and has planned to make something with chicken and peanuts. There are no chickens on the market and Pratap has bought fish, no combination with the nuts. So he and my wife go on the motor bike to another market. The chicken are very fresh and slaughtered behind the house. I like the chicken dish but the family prefers the fish.
Further we have no plans for today, we sit a while on the roof and I walk a while through the fields.
Bhubaneswar – Amsterdam, 14 – 16 December
The holiday is nearly over and we say goodbye to the family. The farewell is cordial but I have the feeling that both parties found our stay a day too long. We leave at ten and after a three hours ride over the high-way we arrive in Bhubaneswar. We still need the table clothes and want to do some other shopping. Pratap drops us in near a market and mall area and takes a nap in the car.
We spend the night in hotel Samit Royale, for 1600 we have a nice AC room. It is three o'clock and if we leave tomorrow later then four we have to pay for another day. Thus we ask Pratap to bring us to the airport at that time.
It is nice to have a shower and have some time for ourselves. In the evening I do the check-in for the Bhubaneswar Delhi flight.
And this morning I do the same for our Delhi Amsterdam flight. We have a long night traveling ahead and most of the time we loiter in our room. After a last walk in the streets around the hotel it is four o'clock. Pratap is already there and brings us to the airport where we say farewell to each other.
After an hour the departure procedure starts. The check-in luggage is examined in the hall. The man spots the bottle whiskey we bought. We have to open the bag just to convince him that it is secure packed, and he puts a label 'fragile' on the bag.
Around seven we take off. We fly Indigo and I was completely forgotten that I ordered food during the booking process, they serve a veg. sandwich. A quarter past nine we land at Delhi domestic. Outside is a travel desk, by presenting both flight tickets we get a free ride on the shuttle bus. The halt is at the other end of the parking terrain, somewhat obscure under a viaduct. Several buses stop here, a man assists us to take the right one. Half past ten we arrive at International. The KLM counter is already open and around midnight we have finished all the procedures.
We have to wait another three hour before we are allowed to board. As always I don't get much sleep in a plane. In the morning we get breakfast. The orange juice glides from the board tight into my crotch, rather sticky. But it is dried as we land at noon (Indian time), in the Netherlands it is half past seven in the morning. An hour later we sit in the train and a few hours later we are back in our house.