Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Journey is always more exciting than the destination

I love traveling, the wanderlust in me is always hankering to see new places, meet new people...sometimes it is the journey that I look forward to it more than the  destination. Many times I travel alone, I just enjoy the solitude sometimes, it is a nice break from the routine life.

If I am travelling with a group of people who have the same kind of lookout towards travelling, the journey becomes even more exciting I guess. The conversations, food, music, and so much more... Wow! Writing about journeys is making me want to journey again!

I am sharing one of my travels; actually it is just the journey that was quite memorable and packed with a whole lot of uncertainty. So here goes-

My brother in law, who is with the armed forces, was posted in Bhutan. In one of their journeys from Kolkata to Bhutan, we (me, my younger sister and our cousin sister who is a lot older than us but lovesto travel) we decided to accompany my eldest sister, her husband, and our two year old neice.

It was the month of February, so the weather was nice and I was so looking forward to this trip. All was well, till just a day before the journey our train got cancelled. We hurried and booked our tickets through tatkal in another train. We were lucky we managed to get the reservations but in different coaches. So much for travelling together!

The train was a bit delayed and it kept getting delayed. We finally reached New Jalpaiguri around two hours later than the scheduled time. Since we were late; we missed our connecting train to Alipurduar:(

We got down from the train with our luggage, and almost instantly my cousin caught sight of a vendor selling pineapples. Now that is something that she cannot resist! So off she went to bargain with the vendor and get some yummy pine apples.(This travel happened quite some time back, mobiles were hardly around those days.)

We had a lot of luggage with us because they were carrying were carrying a lot of their stuff back from Kolkata; among other things the luggage included a huge TV!  We had barely managed to get the luggage down on the platform, when my brother in law came running to tell us that a local train was departing from another platform for our destination soon, and we need to hurry. So we hurried after him and took the overhead stairs to cross over to the next platform to where the train was. In the meantime my cousin was still bargaining with the vendor. I called out to her asking her to hurry up. She looked up and said she will be with us soon. I knew that she needs to get a head start ' cause it will take her quite some time to catch up with us (she has  rheumatoid arthritis and has difficulty walking)

Me and my younger sister decided to slow down a bit so that my cousin could catch up with us, while the others went ahead. When we reached the platform, I saw my eldest sister and brother in law waving at us frantically signaling that we should get up on the train immediately. All this was happening too fast.

I saw the signal man waving the green flag and the train started moving. I looked at him and said please stop the train and I started looking at the engine and actually  started waving frantically to the engine driver for the train to stop. The signal man has the most awestruck expression on his face. He did not know how to react to this wierd situation I guess.

I saw my cousin coming down from the stairs slowly with a bag bulging with pineapples. Amidst all this commotion, she very coolly asked me if this was our train (In  Bengali she said- Etai ki amader train!!!) I was like...what? Hurry up! We are missing our train and you still want to know if this is our train! I did not know whether to laugh or cry. After all these years, I still remember her making her way down the stairs, unruffled or untouched if you may, by the commotion around us. At that point, the expression on her face was, look, I got the pineapples and I have successfully navigated all these stairs, and you guys are asking me to hurry!

I think my eldest sister pulled the chain and we managed to get up on to another coach. Just when the train started moving I saw the coolie running alongside the train along with my luggage and behind the coolie, I saw my eldest sister carrying two suitcases, my niece next to her and my brother in law with a lot more luggage.

What happened?  What were they doing back at the platform again, and why did they ask us to board the train? (We found out later that my sister and brother in law had got down from the train because they  thought we did not manage to board the train,so when we got up they got down! )

The train was now picking up speed. All this while my cousin who was quiet, suddenly she nudged me and asked where her black bag was... I think both me and my younger sister must have given her such an exasperated look that she stopped for a bit and kept looking for her bag. I was out of my wits...my sister and family were at the platform, our luggage was in the platform and all that my cousin was bothered about was her black bag!  In our desperation both me and my younger sister started requesting to everyone or whoever cared to listen...”dada, please pull the chain”. We were incoherent actually, I don’t think our voices reached many people, it was too noisy, some people just looked at us blankly, many of them were locals and I am afraid in our hysterical state we only came up with English sentences, it would not have made a whole lot of sense! Some young guys, tried to help by offering to yank up the luggage...when they saw the amount of luggage that needed to be yanked up... they exclaimed "oh baba!"

In the meantime, my cousin was becoming increasing vocal about her black bag and was beginning to make us even more hysterical. I think someone finally heard us and pulled the chain, finally the train stopped and we all got together got in the same coach with our luggage.

After taking a count of all our luggage, my brother in law said, people,  no need to worry anymore, once we reach the station, we will have two cars waiting for us and we will had a great journey after that. We relaxed and started recollecting the incidents and laughed till our jaws ached.

Within an hour into our journey, our train halted. Some trouble had broken up, and no one could say how long it would take for the train to move. My brother in law went to talk to some people to find out what was wrong. I think there was a problem with the engine and we were not close to any town, I remember we were stuck in that place for over two-three hours. Our already delayed journey became even more delayed. By the time we reached our station, it was dark. My Brother In law asked us to  wait, he said people no need to worry, from here on everything will go as planned. He went off to fetch the cars.

He came back after sometime looking a bit harassed. He informed us that the cars had gone...they had waited for us for a long time, and then perhaps they thought we would not be reaching, so they had left. It was getting dark and we had to do something quick. The journey would involve going through deserted areas and traveling at night wasn't really the wisest thing to do. We had no other alternative though. We decided to take the risk and hire two vehicles to take us to Phontsholing.

The journey through Dooars to Phontsholing was really lovely, jungles on either side and with darkness around us, there was a sense of adventure. All through the journey we listened to music, snacked on food we had packed, and enjoyed the eerie darkness of the surroundings. I just loved it. To me that was the bets part.

We reached Phontsholing safely, without anymore incidents, thank God! I think we had exhausted our quotas of incidents for that day.

We wanted to celebrate with a bottle of wine. We kept the wine in the freezer so that it cools faster. By the time dinner was over, we were too tired and we went off to sleep. Next morning we set off for Thimphu, this time however, like my brother in law promised, we had no problems with the transport.

On the way, we remembered our bottle of wine! We called up the hotel; we wanted them to keep it for us, we would pick it up on our way back, we would have it before setting off, you know finish off the journey in style :) We were told that the bottle had frozen and when they tried to take it out...it broke. So much for celebration!

Well, believe it or not, the rest of the journey was perfect. All's well that ends well.

The destination was beautiful. Bhutan is absolutely, amazingly beautiful. Bhutan will always bring back wonderful memories for me.

 I had asked my cousin why she was looking for her black bag when almost everything that we were carrying was in the platform, why wasn't she bothered about the other things. She said well, I saw you two hysterical sisters and thought well one of us has to be sane, and we would need money in case we got separated from my eldest sister. Her black bag contained all her money and she had asked me to carry it for her, and in the commotion I could not quite remember where it was. My cousin wanted to make sure we have cash on us so that we can manage things. It makes sense now; it did not then.

Every now and then in our travels together, if she is carrying a black bag, it reminds me of this trip, and we break into a grin.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Serene and historic-Garpanchkot in West Bengal

Tribal art on a hut in
Garpanchkot is 15 kms from Barakar at the border of Burdwan and Jharkhand and around 250 kms from Kolkata. You can choose to go by road or take a train from Howrah to Dhanbad. This is not a very popular tourist destination, I wonder why though. My cousin who recently went to Barakar and Garpanchkot was enamoured by the temples she saw in both of these places. The stone temples of Barakar and the terracotta temples of Garpanchkot are really beautiful.

Not only that, Garpanchkot can be a great place to visit because it is visually appealing too. It’s serene, sylvan and peaceful surroundings  makes for a great weekend getaway.
Old terracota temple
Terracotta temple
Garpanchkot, West Bengal

Terracotta temple
Terracotta pillars

A very old terracotta temple
at Garpanchkot

Friday, February 24, 2012

Stone temples of Barakar, West Bengal, India

Barakar stone temple
Barakar is in the neighbourhood of Asansol in the Burdhawan district of West Bengal. It is at the border of West Bengal and Jharkhand. Barakar houses some very beautiful stone temples dating back to the 8th century and 14th, and 15th century. And not many people know about it!

From Kolkata it is at a distance of 250 km. You can go by road but I am not certain about the road conditions. The best way would be to board a train from Howrah to Dhanbad. You can hire a car to take you to Barakar. Or, you may fly from Kolkata to Durgapur (30 min) and hire a car from there. It would take you around 1 and a half hours to reach Barakar.

These temples are known as begunia temples because they are shaped like Eggplants (the Bengali name for eggplant is Begun). This place definitely deserves a visit. If you like old temples, Barakar is one pleasant surprise.

An update on Barakar: I am adding some more facts about Barakar, thanks to a very valuable comment by someone who visited this site. He lives in Barakar and had some suggestions:

One can easily travel to Barakar from Howrah by  direct trains like Coal field Express and Black Diamond Express. There is no need to go to Dhanbad if you are traveling from Kolkata.
The road condition is good. You will need to take the National highway NH2.

Work on the
external walls

Barakar temple 3

Intricate work on the temple wall
at Barakar, West Bengal

A well preserved temple
with beautiful carvings
at Barakar

Stone temple 4,
West Bengal

Temples no 1 and 2
in Barakar

Work on the wall of a temple

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunderbans Video

I am uploading a video of Sunderbans that I took during my last visit in January.

Not a great video but it will give you a general idea of
how beautiful and serene Sunderbans is.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Queen's Bath, Hampi

Queen's bath
Queen's Bath, Hampi

Queen's bath in Hampi quite an elaborate structure surrounded by decorated corridors with work on the ceilings.Believed to have been built by Achyuta Raja, this was used by women of the noble family.
It is quite a nice structure.

Entrance to Queen's bath
Structure around the
Queen's bath, Hampi, Karnataka

Work on the ceiling

Intricate work on the
ceiling of Queen's bath