Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Road to Nagpur

The journey was in fact much extended right up to Pune. The Jabalpur beginning was as troublesome as  the ending at Nagpur. The journey begins in a rickety old bus paradoxically called luxury bus.

"Which Bus to Nagpur?"  

"Check Your Ticket!"

The bus has a characteristic scarred exterior with peals of paint with lost bindings. The interior does not look inviting either. Oh! Well one more weather beaten body inside.    

I twist and turn in order to avoid the ladder that leads to the sleeper bed on top. Eventually I manage to get into my seat, pull the lever and stretch myself maximum. The sun hits my face directly causing discomfort. The bus is warm and humid from inside, though it is October, but the parking is right under the sun. 

I wait in expectation for the bus to begin its journey onwards. The driver finally alights and begins chatting with the cleaner. The conductor is leaning out from the exit door. "Nagpur! Nagpur! Chalo Nagpur!

This is supposed to be a luxury bus, and only those with reserved tickets are allowed to embark. Who cares? "Nagpur" Nagpur!" 

Stuffed to the brim the contraption eventually moves forward. Amidst that sea of humanity, I try to close my eyes and relax for the seven hours tormenting journey onwards. The seat is not ergonomically designed, well  for a two hundred Rs fare one should not expect too much Luxuryyyyyyyyy. 

Throughout the journey I squirm like an acrobat to offer a comforting angle to my aching back and limbs. This does not work out much and discomfort continues. The bus traverses through picturesque surroundings of what where once dense forests. 

Its nothing new, the bad road condition, but the jerks break your bones and torment your muscles no end. You have to be careful so that you do not land on your neighbor. I peak from my window and see no sane piece of tar, only pot holes ravaged continuously by marauding wheels of buses and trucks. With each pounding the hole becomes larger and provides more space for the wheels. There are large stretches of road that contain nothing but loose sand and pebbles. There is no sign of any repair work throughout the National Highway. It is evident that proper ratio of material has not been used. The road is in utter state of neglect. Shameless! 

The extreme cataclysmic movement does not bother those in lofty seat as much, most of them are lulled by the rhythmic jerks that pass through the cross section like seismic waves. The unfortunate seat less travelers without a reserve ticket are engaged in constant maneuver to balance their bodies. And to save themselves from surrounding metal objects. Their journey is short hence they stand through. Years of discomforting travel has taught them how to hold one self  against life threatening thuds as the wheel falls into the pothole.   

In spite of the badly scarred road the driver pushes the accelerator to get the maximum thrust. The heat worsens as the sun rises and at each stop it is "Nagpur" "Chalo Nagpur". At each stop one lot disembarks  another alights to maintain the equilibrium. The inside smells of sweat, bad breath, oily snacks and garlic chutney all around. In India people eat throughout the journey, perhaps an instant source of energy that makes the body fight the hardship of travel better.            

The bus passes through small isolated hamlets that remain standstill, frozen back in time, centuries past, unconcerned with the changing pace of urbanity. The arid fields, rickety cows and goats are means of survival nothing exists beyond, most certainly the urban surroundings and its inhabitants. A lot which has discovered alien life and learned to ignore. The small towns on the way are engaged in a battle of survival between different eras, a conglomeration of rustic and modern structures. Noisy Baazars, loud blaring speakers and constant rant of the vendors characterize Indian townships. Stray cows, dogs and pigs are ubiquitous commensal  of man.   

The largest town half way through is Seoni made famous by Rudyard Kipling and his Jungle Book. Mowgli's Home, Pench National Park resides in the confines of Seoni and Chindware District close to the town.

The bus barely manages to drag itself uphill and the sharp turns make the ride more bumpy and troublesome.

The discomfort is compensated by the amazing scape of this National Park. The entrance to Pench is at Khawasa about 50 km from Seoni Township. At Khawasa the bus crosses over from MP to Maharashtra after a brief stop for tea, snacks, pan/bidi/cigarette and of course passenger exchange. "Nagpur" Nagpur!"    

We The People 

Roads in Maharashtra are better but not on this stretch, the journey lasts for another four hours exchange stops included. The passengers in seat wait eagerly for Nagpur to arrive. As decent law abiding citizens none has taken note of the road condition, a motley lot that represents all of us. A chalta hai lot that is voiceless and suffers in silence. The politician contractor nexus survives because of our silence since ages.

Perhaps the lot could teach those trying to turn turtles against the corrupt system. How not to confront? Chalta Hai Yaar hum bhi to khateein hain many would say.         

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Travel Advisory - India

Time to time many countries publish travel advisory or warnings for India. This is in keeping with safety of their country men traveling in this country. But care should be taken so as not to create a panic or feeling of doom. The risk factors should be clearly defined and places mentioned. The wrong perception of Incredible India should not be forwarded.

Those who are unaware of this country  and its magical destinations are most susceptible to panic. Best advise is to consult your countrymen who have traveled to India often. They can clear your doubts and apprehensions.  

India is a very large country and at any given moment situation differs between its various states and holiday destinations. That untoward incidence happen sometimes, but then there are million or more or less people staying there carrying on with their daily lives. Hence though danger is there of political unrest, riots, terrorist acts, strikes etc this does not affect visitors much until unless they are very unfortunate. The incidence are very sporadic and rare at any given place.          

Most of the susceptible sightseeing destinations are well protected hence the risk is diluted. Travel risk in India - largely a very peaceful and tolerant country - perhaps equals that of any other country. Anyway it is wise to heed the warnings and avoid risk fraught places as mentioned. This should not certainly make people avoid the wonderful destinations in the country.     

Mischief mongers sometimes carry out senseless acts, and most of the victims are Indians carrying on their day to day life. The risk is higher in major towns especially in crowded localities and public places. Health hazard, political disturbances, riots, terrorism, strikes, disturbing weather changes are localized and the news services are quite prompt to alert you of any danger or discomfort. Always keep in touch with your consulate or embassy.       

Hence do not press the panic button. Think wisely and travel safe. But enjoy the colorful and diverse magnificence this country offers. Bon Voyage & Happy Holidays.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Festival Time: Colors & Sparkling Lights

Hinduism is one of the most colorful religion, liberal, gregarious and open. The practice entwines itself with spirituality in ritualistic manner that unifies mind and body for inner peace. The exemplary myths are what makes and ideology peaceful an benevolent. The rites and rituals may appear to be indigestible to many but they are actually personification of soul and inner self. The apparently unscientific and irrational envelopes the truth and teachings of a civilization thousands of years old. Hidden deep with the spiral maze of invisible quagmire coexist the expression of science and spiritual quest.

The great events and auspicious happenings are celebrated as festivals. The celebrations are celebration of life and the World around us. The celebration of belief in God and his limitless creation. The festival of lights or Diwali is a follow up of series of events some related to Holy Ramayana.    

Navratri/Durgautsav: Dance & Music: This is the beginning of the harvest season whence Goddess  Durga is invoked as thanksgiving. Durga is representation of Shakti (Cosmic Power & Strength) as consort of Lord Shiva is blessed with constructive and potent destructive power. Navratri is celebration of her victory over Mahisasur the demon.  A nine day long ritualistic prayer sessions follow up with lot of fun and gaiety in brightly decorated and illuminated pandals or temporary fabricated structures. This is also the time for culture to manifest itself in traditional dance forms like Garba of Gujarat State. Commercial life except shopping comes to a stop in some states especially Bengal where Durga Puja is celebrated with religious fervor.  Finally the idols of Durga are immersed in the rivers and large water bodies with offerings of prayers.

Dusshera/Vijayadashmi: End of The Battle: It is celebrated for the victory of truth over evil.  This is the day whence Lord Ram killed Ravana the personification of evil. Ram is the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu the preserver in holy trinity. The 10th day is marked as Dusshera whence Ravana was killed by Ram along with his ten heads he!he!. The ten heads are nothing but representative of destructive and evil might of Ravana the King of Lanka. Effigy of the devil king is set to fire for ultimate demise and to signify victory of good over evil.

This event is celebrated with full gusto in many places in India especially in the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore. The palace is the center of attraction decorated with dazzling lights for full 10 days. The royals perform the ritualistic prayers at Chamunda Devi Temple. The festivities galore with the beginning of the precession of Goddess Chamundeswari on elephant back in the streets. The spectacle of singing, dancing and ritualistic fervor is amazing and attracts thousands of tourists to Mysore. The procession is a conglomeration of local audience, tourists, dance groups, live bands, tableaux, decorated elephants, camels and horses.              

Diwali: Lord Returns to Ayodhya: Ram, Wife Sita & Brother Laxman return to Ayodhya from fourteen years of exile after victory over Sita's abductor  Ravana. The return is celebrated as Diwali the festival of light. Illumination of structures by traditional clay lamps or diyas and modern lightening takes place during Diwali. Bursting fire crackers are a way of celebration that can be used for days especially on the Diwali Night.       

The rows and rows of houses and commercial complexes are illuminated with dazzling lights. The night is lit up in urban centers with diyas and modern methods.After the evening prayers the scene erupts and crackers and rockets take to the sky. It is an event of social gathering,  fooding, and night long of fire crackers till exhaustion takes place.

Travel in India during the festival season is a spectacle of huge unmanageable rush. All travel services are fully booked hence travelers to India and holiday makers should book transportation and accommodations in advance. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Keep your Identity Proof - India travel

India is a vast country with destinations spread far and wide. It is most likely that you will travel long distances whence going from one destination to another. The journey may be by rail, by air or road. Sometimes you have to use all mode of transport to reach your destination. 

Most of the distance covered may be overnight journeys if traveling by rail and road. While on travel you need to take care of your essentials, food, medicine, drinking water and interim stays. The weather may be different cold or hot so necessary garments are required. Banking facilities are not available at small places in the interiors so requisite amount of cash in bag is a must. While visiting ancient monuments or other places of tourism guide services may be required. Remember to check the identity of the guide and take reference from the hotel your are putting up at.  

Air travel is costlier in India and so are private taxis. The best way to move from one place to another is by train which is the cheapest mode of  transportation. You can book e-ticket online now but while presenting your ticket you need to show your original identity to the ticket collector. 

Identity proof is required even while boarding a plane. It will be required while booking hotels in India and sometimes at National Parks  and trade fairs etc.  For  foreign travelers passport works fine as an identity proof for Indian Nationals there are many options. Most popular form of identity proof is the driving license followed by the pan card issued by the Income Tax Department of India. Another good proof is the UID Card also known as the Aadhar Card issued by UIDAI. Bills with photograph and address may also work but sometimes the former ones are asked for. 

For foreign travelers passport details are compulsorily submitted to the nearest police station. This formality can be submitted on a form in possession of the hotel you stay at.  This information may be submitted at many major destinations in India. the information may also be required whence visiting major National Parks and places of archeological importance.            

Monday, October 3, 2011

Winters in India

Winters in India can take many people with surprise. This does not happen only in the case of inbound foreign travelers but to Indians as well. One of my acquaintance traveling to Madhya Pradesh without any warm clothing, shivered throughout his journey from Nagpur to Jabalpur.He made it alive.

We were caught unawares plenty of time in higher reaches of Nainital by heavy snow.  It can snow at Sat Tal and Pangot anytime as late as April.  Hence in all my birding expeditions I keep plenty of warm clothes.  These are required in summers as well although thinly as it could be very chilly during the predawn in many places in India.

The cold begins in India from October onwards and keeps to North and Central India but it can surprise people even in Mumbai which was much colder last year than it used to be. Warm cloth suppliers did brisk business at that time.

The Himalayan Reaches receive continuous snow and cold blasts of wind. Kashmir is very cold during winters and whence blasts of cold wind strike Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh shiver. Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh experience record breaking cold though the former two do not experience snowfall. Similarly it does not snow in MP and Uttar Pradesh but the shivering cold persists till January.   

Whence traveling in India be prepared with lots of warm clothing including hand gloves and head gear. Do not take chances there is very little conditioning in public places including restaurants.  The cold waivers between less cold and more cold but it remains right till January and sometime stretches till February in extreme form.  There are very good quality warm garments being sold in areas with cold hence do not hesitate to buy them if you do not have. In extreme cold warm inner are a must, buy the branded ones they are generally protective against extremes.

Hot tea is like manna during winters and it is safe as well. Keep sipping keep some brandy it helps if badly struck. The common sense advice is to restrict travel to day time nights can be Freeeeeeeeeeeeeezing! Burr!