My Tryst with the Indian Railways – Part 1

This is a small diary on the trains I have travelled in in the last 4 months

12230 – Lucknow Mail

From: Ghaziabad Jn

To: Lucknow Charbagh

Class: 3 AC

Travel Time: 7 hours & 55 min for 466 kms (Avg Speed: 58 km/hr)

I boarded the Lucknow Mail from Ghaziabad Jn. The train arrived on platform number 3 as opposed to number 4 written on the electronic board as well as on indiarailinfo.com. It stopped for close to around 5-7 min on the station as opposed to its scheduled 2 min stoppage. The train has close to around 11 AC coaches. It is one of the most popular trains to travel on between New Delhi and Lucknow. My travel experience was okay. I was given the upper berth. Climbing up to my berth was very uncomfortable as the handle was missing and the curtain rod was fixed too low. My head banged on to the rod and I scratched my elbow in the process of getting onto my berth. Even the berth was bit ripped off where my feet rested on the berth. The train has good speed and reached Lucknow on time.

12215 – Delhi Sarai Rohilla – Bandra Terminus Garib Rath Express

From: Gurgaon

To: Ahmedabad Jn

Class: 3 AC

Travel Time: 15 hours & 26 min for 926 kms (Avg Speed: 60 km/hr)

I wanted to head home Ahmedabad from my office in Gurgaon. I didn’t want to travel all the way to New Delhi to catch a train for that. I had only one option at morning and it was the Garib Rath express. This was my first journey in a Garib Rath. Garib Raths have only 3 AC class and they have the notorious side middle berth in the coaches. The cabin was more crowded than your average 3 AC coach because of the extra berth. However, if you’re willing to travel almost Rs 400 cheaper than the average 3 AC ticket at superfast speed, then I think you can pass the overcrowded cabin. Just make sure you don’t bring too much luggage. The speed of the train was really impressive. It got almost an hour late between Ajmer Jn and Falna, however it recovered quickly and reached Ahmedabad 10 min before time at 01:10 instead of 01:20. The coaches were new and they were passable on cleanliness. The food was okay. The train has the distinction of being the fastest train between Ahmedabad and Borivali covering the distance in 5 hours and 50 mins, a fact that many people are unaware of. The Shatabdi takes 6 hours& 20 min, the Double Decker takes 6 hours & 15 min.

12958 – Swarna Jayanti Rajdhani Express

From: Gurgaon

To: Ahmedabad Jn

Class: First Class

Travel Time: 12 hours & 40 min for 903 kms (Avg Speed: 71 km/hr)

Swarna Jayanti Rajdhani Express is the only train apart from the Ashram Express where I have travelled in all of its classes. Once I travelled between Gurgaon & Ahmedabad in the First Class in June 2013. That was the first time the train got a stoppage at Gurgaon for experimental basis for a period of 6 months. One thing that I liked about the First Class apart from the comfortable upper birth was the food! I loved it! It was served like we do at home in plates and a guy from the pantry comes in rounds and serves different kinds of dishes. You keep taking the helpings till you’re full! I loved the variety of dishes that were served – 2 dry vegetable subzi, one paneer gravy, 2 different daals, rice, raita, salad and ice cream (from what I can recall). They lay out a table for each person in the cabin and you eat your food on it. It’s just perfect. I liked sleeping on the wide and comfortable berth as well. The breakfast was once again a tasty affair with corn flakes n’milk, poha, bread & butter and cutlets with three different varieties of fruit juices up for grabs! Once again eat it to your full! I generally travel in the 2 AC class which is almost equally comfortable sans the awesome food!

In my view, the Rajdhani can be easily speeded up. It is currently giving an average speed of 68. The train reaches Rewari Jn early and because of this stops there for 10-15 min and in the process reaches Gurgaon 5-10 min late. This has happened thrice.

12724 – Andhra Pradesh Express

From: Bhopal Jn

To: Secunderabad Jn

Class: 3 AC

Travel Time: 15 hours & 45 min for 963 kms

We caught the A.P Express from Bhopal Jn at 03:30 at night. Reaching the railway station at that hour was an adventure in itself with one of my friends dropping the two of us at 3 am at night on a triply! The ride from the hotel to the station (a good 7 kms) was a memorable one!

The train reached 30 min late. Our tickets were actually booked for sleeper however we wanted to travel in A.C. We positioned ourselves near the 3 AC coaches and as soon as the train arrived we caught hold of the TT and asked him whether he could find us two empty berths in the coach. Luckily we got the berths however we didn’t knew whether we had the difference amount with us in cash. I quickly calculated the price of the seats from what I had remember and made the estimations.  We boarded the train and jumped on the berths. The TT came and we quickly paid him the difference amount (there is a separate sheet with the TT in order to process the class conversion). We dozed off.

The train is really a superfast. It is the second fastest train between New Delhi and Secunderabad. The entire journey was comfortabl. The average speed between Bhopal and Secunderabad is bit low compared to its speed on other corridors. This is primarily because of the hilly terrain between Bhopal & Betul. The speed of the train is restricted in this corridor.

12721 – Dakshin Express

From: Secunderabad Jn

To: Bhopal Habibganj

Class: SL

Travel Time: 17 hours & 29 min for 957 kms (Avg Speed: 54 km/hr)

A trip made on short notice. We travelled to Bhopal to attend my friend’s engagement with the fiance himself! Due to the paucity of time we could not secure a ticket in the AC and instead got a seat in the sleeper. Now I had not travelled in a sleeper in a long journey (more than 5 hrs in duration) in many years before this trip. The train was nice and fast but it has too many stoppages coming along its course which increases the travel time considerably. At morning I was surprised to find that there were people sitting on the birth on which I was sleeping! We spent most of the day time standing on the door & enjoying the beautiful scenery created by the rains and the lovely hills through which our train passed on entering Madhya Pradesh. The entire route felt like travelling on a route made up of a mix of Konkan Railways and the Kalka – Shimla Rail route! It was mind blowing! The weather was on our side during the trip!!

12429 – Bangalore – Hazrat Nizamuddin Rajdhani Express

From: Secunderabad Jn

To: Delhi Hazrat Nizamuddin

Class: 2 AC

Travel Time: 22 hours for 1658 kms (Avg: 75 km/hr)

The best thing about the ride in this train was that the train was reaching each and every station throughout the course of the journey atleast 30 mins early. It even reached Hazrat Nizamuddin almost 25 minutes early to our surprise. The food was passable. The chicken curry tasted like maggi noodles, the same was true for the “shahi paneer” in dinner. The service given by the attendants was terrible. They missed something or the other everytime while serving food and would need to be asked for the missing item 5-6 times. Despite being banned and specifically mentioned in the sheet, the attendants were asking for tip despite their poor service. One thing that I do not like about the new LHB coaches is that the windows are not tinted. This not only exposes the passengers to scorching sunlight during the day time but also dents the privacy when the train is stopped at the stations as the people peep into the cabin through the clear windows. Once you enter Madhya Pradesh the terrain changes dramatically and you’re greeted by lovely hills. During the rains it feels as if you’re travelling up to a hill station. Absolutely stunning views!

12915 – Ashram Express

From: Ahmedabad Jn

To: Gurgaon

Class: First Class

Travel Time: 14 hrs & 36 min for 907 kms (Avg Speed: 62 km/hr)

I have travelled in Ashram Express plenty of times in my childhood. I remember hopping onto this beast of a train whenever we were going to Delhi to meet my grand parents. Getting a ticket on this train during the summers is next to impossible. In this particular journey from Ahmedabad to Gurgaon I travelled in its First Class making it the only train (till I did the same with the Rajdhani) where I have travelled in its every class – First AC, 2 AC, 3 AC and SL. I boarded the train from Ahmedabad and found that I had gotten the coupe. A coupe is  a cabin which is occupied by only 2 persons. It had everything – tables for meals, a wall clock, posters on Incredible India, an intercom and a digital display showing whether a particular toilet has been accompanied or not (first time for me on the Indian Railways). The entire journey was one of the most comfortable journeys I have ever embarked upon. If only they served food in this train…;)

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[UP East] 17th September (B’day) – Nawabgarh & Beeghapur

I visited the following two towns :

1. Nawabgarh:

Nawabgarh is situated 45 kms from Lucknow on the NH 25. It is located right in the middle of Lucknow and Kanpur. It’s population is less than 1,00,000. The highway leading up to the town is smooth. The town has one main road which has small shops on both the sides of the road.

2. Beeghapur:

Beeghapur comes under Unnao district. It is located 20 kms from Unnao bypass on the highway. The road leading to the town is well laid out and the scenery is beautiful. When you take the left turn on the bypass to enter the approach road, you are greeted by a stretch of almost 4-5 kms where you’re riding under a roof made by the trees on both the side of the road touching each other on the top. There are a couple of dilapidated structures on the left hand side of the road consisting of old school buildings, other than this there are just fields throughout the stretch till Beeghapur. A town called Achalpur comes in between. The town starts and ends on the same road with very small shops selling anything from electrical items to sweets, samosas, tailors, repair shops etc. Beeghapur is a very small town having a single road branching out into residential areas and the shops. There must be around 4-5 small electronic counters in the city selling anything from fans to sewing machines to small home appliances, electrical shops, stationary etc.

Rural U.P is beautiful. It is carpeted with lush green fields, tall trees on both the sides of the road, a canal or two running across the fields.

Into the Wild: Satkosia Tiger Reserve

With just one more month to go at XIMB and job offers in our drawers, we undertook an adventure into the wild. This account written by me narrate our adventure at the Satkosia Tiger Reserve.

Day 0:

We were planning to leave for the journey on the 26th as it was a holiday and the 27th was a Sunday. But thankfully we didn’t get any reservations for the weekend because of the holiday rush. I’ll explain the “thankfully” part a bit later in this account. At 3 pm I got a text message from Shreyas that we’ll be leaving tomorrow morning and he asked me to check out for trains leaving Bhubaneswar to Angul at morning. Angul is a tiny industrial city located 120 kms from Bhubaneswar. We had planned to visit the Satkosia Tiger Reserve located around 60 kms from Angul. Of all the trains that left at morning, we finally narrowed down on the Bhubaneswar-Bolangir Intercity Exp which leaves Bhubaneswar at 06:45 am. Shreyas went to make the draft for the reservation. I played tennis for an hour or so at evening, came back and finished my packing, had dinner and dozed off early by XIMB standards at 11 pm as we had to wake up early at 5 am the next morning.

Day 1:

I woke up and was surprised to see my corridor buzzing with fellow mates & music! There was some party going on and many of our folks were awake at that moment. I went to Vaibhav’s room to check whether he was up and I found him to be in all his humor. Kshitij and Shreyas were also up. I quickly took bath and readied my bags by 05:25. The first glitch in our trip was that we didn’t had any camera with us. The one guy to whom we had asked for camera forgot to charge it and later took it away from us telling that he was leaving home that day. The only camera that was left with us was Shreyas’s 3.2 megaPixel! I went up to the 5th floor to check out on Kshitij and found that the party was going on there at Chachu’s room! There were like 8 people enjoying the early morning with music! Sonam who was also there at the party got up seeing me and told me that she was coming with us to Angul. The party broke up and all of us walked down the stairs to leave the hostel.

We reached the railway station at 06:15 and to our shock found a long queue outside the ticket booking window. Only 25 min were left for us to book our tickets. We went to the other ticket window on the 4th platform and if it wasn’t for Sonam, we probably couldn’t have gotten the tickets for the train. The train was almost full and we managed to squeeze into the little space in the first coach of the train just after the engine. Vaibhav and Shreyas climbed up to the upper berth whilst Kshitij, I and Sonam sat at the lower berth. As soon as the train started moving, Vaibhav & Kshitij dozed off. Shreyas got into a meditative state. Later in the ride I found out that none of them had slept for more than 2 hours that night save me. That explained the early morning blues! After watching all the sleepy faces I dozed off too besides Sonam and kept waking up periodically just to check where we had reached. It took the train a little more than 2 hours to cover the 120 kms journey to Angul.

We reached Angul at exact 09:00 hrs. With bags at our back, we kick started the adventure by crossing the railway lines and getting out of the railway station. Outside the station we spent the next 15 minutes haggling with the auto rickshaw drivers. Defeated by the reluctant drivers, we finally took one and got to Sonam’s place. Sonam had planned to surprise her family by not informing them before about her arrival. At Sonam’s place we met her mother and her little brother, had some sweets and rushed out to the tourism office. We couldn’t stay longer at her place as we were in a hurry as we had to submit the draft and get to Tikarpada on time. Tikarpada is one of the spots of the Satkosia Tiger Reserve. On reaching the tourism dept’s office we found it to be closed. We called the person with whom we were communicating about the reservations from XIMB and got him there at the office in 15 min. It took us nearly 30-40 min to wait for the person to come, submit the draft and inquire about the mode of transportation to our spot. We found that the last bus of the morning had already left at 09:00. The only option we had was to either wait for the 3 pm bus or to take the ‘tempo’ direct to Tikarpada. Taking the tempo was bit expensive. But, with no option left at our disposal and doing a 60 km journey solo in a tempo sounding tempting, we jumped on it after bringing the fare down to Rs 600 from Rs 700. We just had to pay Rs 25 more for the registration.

Having eaten little since morning, we had our tempo stopped near the edge of the city and got ourselves loaded on some samosas and vadas with tea. We also got a couple of pieces of what I would call a large chunk of jalebi like sweet. The tempo ride was a trip in itself. We swiftly moved from the streets of Angul to the fields on both the sides of the road to the emergence of mountains in the background to forests on one side of the road and fields on the other to mountains on one side of the road and a mix of trees and green lands on the other. The ride was smooth throughout despite being a roller coaster in the countryside. The beauty of the landscape, the groggy eyes, the anticipation of new surroundings and the chatter was how I would sum up the tempo ride to Tikarpada.

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On reaching our spot we caught hold of Bharat who will be acting as our guide for the remainder of the trip. We got to know about Bharat from our friends who had been here at the Reserve only a few days back. Bharat showed to us our tents. Kshitij and Vaibhav took one tent, Shreyas and I took the other one. There were two beds inside each tent, a small side table placed on which were mineral water bottles and a few cakes of soap. There was a second small room at the back of each tent probably for changing clothes. Behind every tent there was a bamboo structure containing the toilets. We kept our bags in our tents and freshened up a bit. We then had lunch. The cafeteria was open on all sides and had the Mahanadi in the background giving it a totally wild look. We were served rice with vegetables, daal and egg curry in lunch. We had tea made up on the chullah together with our lunch.

With bags in our tents and food in our stomach we started our trek with a dip in the river Mahanadi. Carrying our towels and spare clothes, we trudged towards the banks of the river.  The terrain was rough thanks to the rocks of all size and shapes. We were a bit sceptical about stepping into the river. At one end there was a threat of a crocodile gobbling us up and on the other there were sharp objects on the river bed which was making it difficult to walk into the water. Waves of electric shock passed into our body as we stepped into the icy river waters. One dip in the water was all that was needed to recharge our body. The drowsiness of the travels and the limited sleep totally vanished from our body and we were like free once again. Kshitij, Shreyas and I became a little more adventurous after the dip and swam towards the deeper part of the river. We planned to make a sharp cut back towards the shore after swimming for a while. We made it back easily in the first try. Though my hand hit one huge rock which was invisible over the surface of the water. Kshitij’s foot got pierced by a sharp object which was lying on the bed and therefore the second time Shreyas and I did the swim. Shreyas went for the dive and I followed him. I made a mistake of swimming freestyle. Freestyle was a mistake because my speed is slower than usual and I got caught up in the currents. I didn’t realize that fact and I was slowly floating away from our decided course. I panicked a bit. I caught hold of Shreyas’s hands who himself climbed up a boulder. To me the river gave a fake impression of a still water body from outside. However, inside it was moving slowly but surely towards the sea. This incident made me realize the hidden powers of a river which my mum used to tell us!

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From Left: Kshitij, Shreyas, Mudit (the author!) and Vaibhav Pandey

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From Left: Kshitij, Vaibhav and the author

We were now refreshed for the trek that awaited us. We tagged along with Bharat who took us for a long trek alongside the river. Coming from an arid part of the country (Ahmedabad) Orissa for me has been a heaven. The landscape of the state is tempting. The flat green lands end unto the greener mountains which appear to have risen out of nowhere. The mountains are not too tall and not too short. They’re of just the size which makes them feel accessible and at the same time not becoming too intimidating. The Tikarpada landscape was a mix of green fields, river, the white delta, green mountains, a blue sky with a mischievous shade of white and yellow.  After almost an hour of walking we were at the banks of the river once again. This time the banks were guarded by boulders. Our troupe gave in to the beautiful views of this spot and spent the next hour lying down on the rocks relaxing. Vaibhav and Kshitij slipped into a peaceful slumber. Shreyas engaged our guide Bharat in a chat and I explored the scenery and took pictures of it.

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Relaxing and enjoying the beautiful scenery at our favourite spot!

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After spending sometime at the spot which instantly became our favourite  we decided to get back to our camp as it had started becoming dark. The colour of the sky turned into deep indigo as the sun went down the horizon. The yellowish-white tinged sky now gave into the night sky illuminated by the soft white light of the moon which was straight on top of our heads. The new colour of the landscape and the running river along side our trek all these reminded me of the landscapes I used to imagine during my primary school English lessons. I don’t know why but it brought me closer to the classics like Malgudi Days and others which I used to read when I was a kid. This long walk back to the camp was the most exciting part of the day for me. We were walking alongside the river. We could see the loaded boats of the fishermen sailing through the dark waters of the Mahanadi. We had heard of the gruesome incidents of ferries capsizing in the waters of this mighty river drowning hundreds of people just a few hours ago. All those horror stories didn’t perturb us one bit as we walked on and on with Bharat leading us from the front. It didn’t get pitch dark thanks to the moon above. Still, as we had to cross a lot of wild vegetation I switched on the in-built torch of my cellphone. We had not only forgotten to take a camera with us but also didn’t bring any torch with us. This is funny because just a couple of months back I used to carry my torch everywhere even when on campus at night. But when carrying it really became a necessity, it was not there for me. It had gotten rusted and had stopped functioning all thanks to the water that I had spilled on to it which went unnoticed. While walking I felt an urge to listen to some classic Hindi songs which Vaibhav promptly turned on to on his cellphone. Surprisingly, the lyrics of the song he had turned on were matching with the moments we were experiencing…

On reaching our camp, we first went to the cafeteria to get something to eat. We ordered a couple of plates of pakodas with tea. Kshitij and I, the two non-vegetarians in our group had a plate of chicken pakodas. By some divine intervention it came to our notice that we can get beer here at the camp! Thinking that we’re all set for the night, we got bottles of beer ordered to our camp. Shreyas accompanied Bharat and got some snacks to go with the drink. After finishing the pakodas and freshening ourselves up for the night, the four of us got the chairs together around the table outside one of our tent. We opened our beer bottles along with the bags of chips and nuts and enjoyed the night. Sometime later Bharat and one of the guys brought us our firewood. We had our dinner (it was chicken this time) and when we got back to our tents we found that the wood had already been lit up. We pushed the chairs towards the fire, sat there and enjoyed the night listening to the nature and watching the wood blow up in curtains of smoke into the dotted sky. Tired of the travel and the treks we retired to our beds early by 23:30.

Day 2:

The cosiness of the quilt was making it difficult for me to get out of my bed. I had woken up 30 min ago but wasn’t able to step out of my bed. Shreyas and Vaibhav were up. We had initially planned to go out for a boat ride through the course of the river at 6 in the morning. But when I woke up it was already 07:30. Kshitij was still sleeping, Vaibhav was brushing his teeth and Shreyas had probably gone to the toilet. We quickly got ready and reached the cafeteria. As it was too early for breakfast we had to settle for some tea and biscuits.

Boating in Mahanadi is officially banned for the tourists at Satkosia. Only the fishing and the government boats are allowed in the waters. The ban was enforced only recently when a ferry full of people capsized in the waters. Nevertheless, watching crocodiles sun bathe at morning was what we wanted to see before biting into our breakfast that morning. And we had asked our boatman to do those honors! We reached the banks of the river and there she was sitting pretty on the surface of the water, apparently carved out of one log of tree – the fisherman’s boat which would be our pre-accident Titanic of the trip. The day before while swimming in the river we had seen a beautiful ferry docked not far from our spot. The four of us instantly fell in love with that piece of wood and enquired whether we could lay our hands on that boat the next morning. We found that it was actually a government property meant to ferry the officials and their families across the rivers.

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The Boat!

So, one by one we started stepping onto our boat. Kshitij sat on the tip of the boat. Vaibhav & Shreyas sat in the middle together. Now came my turn. Standing at 5’11 and weighing almost 80 kgs I was the tallest and athletically built of the five (incl the boatman). So, as soon as I stepped onto the boat it wobbled furiously. It was now sure that the fate of the five persons on board that fishing boat resided on my bum movements that morning. I was the person who was balancing the boat! The initial few minutes of the journey were threatening. The boat was swinging wildly from left to right. A fear was growing amongst us that the boat might overturn as we weren’t able to get the right balance. The thought of becoming the breakfast for the crocs that morning was turning real. Vaibhav was also increasingly becoming concerned about the whole plan of watching the crocodiles and all in such a situation. He was the only person on that boat who did’n’t know how to swim. Mindful of our fears, the boatman decided to row the boat closer to the shores. We abandoned the plan of saying hello to the crocodiles and instead took our boat to our favourite spot where we had been the last evening. I took my headphones out for the first time in the trip and got lost in the music which was blending perfectly with the scenery. The fear of the boat capsizing into the river was instantly zapped.

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We reached our spot where our boatman showed to us the natural caves in which fishermen of the area rest many times when they’re out fishing in this part of the river. We walked for a while towards the other direction from our spot which we hadn’t been to the last evening. While returning back to our boat, the boatman pointed towards the other side of the river. There, sitting on the white silt was a crocodile! We could clearly see it from our point. The crocodile vanished later on when a fisherman stopped on that bank and his kid stepped out of the boat. Our return journey in the boat was much smoother. We were no longer scared of falling in the water save for one incident that involved me. While stepping on the boat I had forgotten to remove the jacket which I had tied to my waist. I had one of my foot on the boat and the other one on the shore. Didn’t realizing this I untied my jacket sending the boat in a tizzy! This scared the shit out of my friends! 😀

Back home, we went to the cafeteria for our breakfast. We were served aloo – puri in our meal. Now aloo-puri is the last thing which I would eat on Earth. I hate aloo-puri! And this hatred goes back to my school days when once during my lunch I puked after eating aloo-puri and since then I rarely ever touch this meal. Grudgingly, I ate some puris. I knew that I’ll need energy when we’ll be going for the trek to the waterfalls sometime later. After the breakfast Shreyas and I went to the shops to load ourselves with some snacks and toffees for the trek. Vaibhav & Kshitij went to the tents to pack things up as our check out time of 11 am was approaching. We packed our luggage and kept it in an enclosed luggage space near the cafeteria. The last night we thought of stopping here for another night. They were giving us a discount of Rs 800 if all four of us chose to stay in only one tent. We were tempted to accept the offer but then we found that we wont have much left to see. We had covered most of the spots that was to see. Also, we found that both Saturday & Sunday were completely booked. We were lucky we came here on Friday. There were just two more people apart from us four there at Satkosia. This gave us the freedom to explore things on our own. Had there been more people there we probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the sounds of the nature as we did being alone there.

At the market centre I saw an unfurled Indian flag which reminded us of the fact that it was the Republic Day!

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We set out for one final trek. This time we were in the search for the great waterfall of which we had heard a lot last night. We left at around 12:30. We had snacks, toffees, towels and spare clothes for we had planned to take one final dip near the waterfalls itself. This last trek would become a rather long one. We walked through the Crocodile Research Centre, the government quarters (guest houses) and then finally into the forbidden forests (Core Area). The Core Area was prohibited for the tourists to enter by law. While walking into the jungle, we came across a tree house overlooking the river. We climbed onto it to look at the view of the river from there. The tree house must have been closed for the passers-by too as the entrance to the top was blocked by a log of wood. We walked and walked until we finally reached what we thought was the course of the ‘waterfall’!

The Treehouse

The Treehouse

When we reached the waterfalls we were disappointed as we had expected something big. We were carrying clothes and towels with us as we had planned to take a dip in the reservoir. Instead we found a very tiny little stream running down in drops from somewhere up the top. We stepped on the stones and jumped over the water to reach the jungles above. Our trek turned into an elephant trail when we found elephant foot marks and fresh dung. Our guide led us very quietly towards the upper reaches of the jungles where he thought the elephant was hiding from us. The whole episode of standing quietly for the elephant to make a move was enthralling! Shreyas and Kshitij went to check out the elephant hiding spot more closely whereas I and Vaibhav stood near the ‘falls’ guarding our luggage and checking out the photographs we had taken during the trip.

The 'Waterfall'

The ‘Waterfall’

We couldn’t find the elephant so we headed back to the path through which we had entered the forests. While returning to the camp we found a huge crocodile cooling himself off on one of the delta’s nearer to our path. Bharat our guide took us as near to him as possible. We crawled through wild vegetations and bushes, slipped in the sand, rustled through the leaves and  finally reached the closest possible spot to the crocodile. Shreyas tried making videos of the creature. Vaibhav was taking pictures atop the banks when while climbing down towards us he made some rustling noise with his feet which scared the croc. He quickly splashed into the river. We were thankful to Bharat for helping us see a crocodile so closely in his own natural habitat. Unfortunately for us, despite walking more than 20 kms in the treks in total, the only wild creature we could see in the forests was the crocodile. We didn’t even cross one snake. But all in all we had a really good time in the jungles. We walked and walked and nobody of us four ever complained about anything. The closest we came was in that boat. Though we had a genuine concern while cancelling the plan to sail closer to the crocodiles. We returned back and found our tempo was already there and was ready to take us to Angul. We asked him to stop for 15 more minutes. In that time we rushed to the banks of Mahanadi and made one final dip into the cool waters. We held each other’s hands, took a deep breathe and jumped inside the waters. Instantly all the sweat, the dirt, the droopy eyes and the exhaustion of walking 10 kms vanished. We were charged up once again. Vaibhav was so excited that he exclaimed that taking a dip in the Mahanadi was the best part of his trip. The great thing in this final dip was that none of us were scared of the crocodiles any more. We knew that the crocodiles are also scared of us and it is damn difficult for the humans to find them floating around. One has to find them! We took a quick swim, dried ourselves up, took our luggage and jumped into our tempo. On reaching Angul we had our lunch at Sonam’s place. After the lunch we quickly took our train tickets and jumped into the Bolangir- Bhubaneswar Exp home. Sitting in the train I felt so tired and exhausted that I fell into a deep slumber. My eyes felt heavy. On returning back to Bhubaneswar we first headed to our X-Cafe and had a light snack.

All in all it was a great trip. One of the best I had ever undertaken. The most important thing about the entire trip was that I was with a bunch one of the most amazing people. I had a really great time with my folks – Vaibhav, Shreyas & Kshitij. The experience together was priceless and something which I would cherish for the times to come.

Costs

1. Cost of Accomodation: It costs Rs 1600 per tent (2 persons in one tent) which includes lunch, dinner and breakfast (next day)

2. Cost of Guide: If you hire a guide and take him along for long treks you can offer him anywhere between Rs 100 to Rs 200 depending upon the distance traveled.

3. Cost of Transportation: Almost all the trains that go towards Bhubaneswar/Puri/Visakhapatnam through the Sambhalpur – Bhubaneswar line stops at Angul. It’s usually a 2 min stop. From Angul the first bus leaves around 7 am, second at 9 am and the third and the final one in the afternoon around 3 pm. The bus ticket costs Rs 50. The second alternative (and costlier one) is taking a tempo direct to Satkosia. It will cost you Rs 700 one side. The more the number of people (it wont be able to accommodate more than 4-5 people) the cheaper it will be. The advantage of tempo ride is that it will be flexible – you can get down anywhere on the route stretch your legs or have a cuppa.

4. Cost of Boating: Although it is banned, you can hire a fisherman’s boat at Rs 200 to explore the Mahanadi.

Back to XIMB & Homesickness

So tomorrow, after staying home for almost two and a half months I’m off to Bhubaneswar for the second year of my masters programme. I’ll be catching the Ahmedabad – Puri Express at 6 in the evening tomorrow and will reach XIMB by the early morning of Sunday. It was great to be back home for a longer duration after spending close to an year on the eastern coast of the country. However, as the day of my departure started nearing, I got engulfed in a feeling of ‘pre-homesickness’ as I like to say it! I hate leaving home for extended periods. I can do up with a couple of weeks but more than that and I’ll be pretty sick. This sickness starts early in me, usually 2 weeks before the start of the journey away from home. I was homesick like hell in the first two trimesters last year which affected my performance not only in studies but socially as well. I took every opportunity to rush back home. I even missed the annual sports meet of my college to head home for the ‘break’ we got at the end of January this year. Every now and then the sinking feeling of being away from the comforts of home & family keeps me down. Bhubaneswar is 2000 kms away from Ahmedabad. That’s a long long distance. I wonder how the people who study in other countries manage without going home for a long time! I did find comfort in the fact that I’m not alone. Even English fast bowler Steven Harmison gets home sick every time he goes on the tour. I hope to try my best and make sure I’m not too affected by this sickness as I did in the third trimester. Hope alls well!

My Time in Kadiri (Part 1)

We arrived at a small town called ‘Kadiri’ in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. The town is 90 kms from Anantapur, a district situated in the south-west corner of the state. The majority of the population (around 60%) is Muslim and is controlling the economy of the city. Anantapur district is one of the few districts of the state where Muslims form a large part of the population. It is a typical small town of our country with dirty streets often having an open sewer running alongside the corners of the road. The streets are strewn with garbage and animals like dogs and pigs can be seen roaming around. If you spend some time walking the streets you’ll find that it has plenty of butcheries, meat eateries & bakeries. Chicken & mutton are the main form of meat which are available for consumption. Apart from that you can even find turkeys. Pigs are easily available but aren’t consumed for the fact that Muslims don’t eat pork. Hand pushed carts can be found on the streets at night (mostly after 9 pm) selling tandoori chicken. Alcohol, if at all you’ll find it, would be available only at shady locations which are thronged by casual labourers. The bakers sell reasonably good bakery items ranging from biscuits, pastries, traditional sweets & snacks at half the price of the products sold by the bakers in the city. The shops usually sell cold drinks, small biscuit & chips packets (both national & local producers), small snack products etc. I’ve selected a bakery and now I’m planning to try out each and every kind of baked stuff these guys prepare before leaving the city!

People & Language:

The majority of the people here speak Telugu. Urdu is also spoken and understood by the Muslim population. People who speak Telugu may not necessarily be able to understand Hindi (or Urdu). So, in order to communicate with them you may have to use sign language. I personally had a hard time living in the state as Telugu is very different from Hindi or any other languages which are close to Hindi like Gujarati or Marathi. Telugu is an entirely different language with not a single familiar word. Spoken Telugu often sounds like a barrage of curse words to me! Before coming to South India I used to picture the people to be rude or even violent (thanks to the violent South Indian movies I’ve seen or heard about). However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the people to be very friendly. I found them quite better than the people in Bhubaneswar. Once I gave a Rs 500 note to a shop keeper to get Rs 100 change in exchange. This happened after I bought something from her. She asked me whether she should give me Rs 500 in change back or cut the prices of the things I bought and then give me the remaining money back!

Anantapur district is known to be the second driest districts of India after Jaisalmer in Rajasthan (which is situated in the Thar Desert). However, when we arrived here it was overcast with chilly winds blowing day and night. It rained for the first 3 days. It was a terrible experience considering the fact that we were expecting the minimum temperatures to reach only upto 18 C and a dry climate as told to us by the company representative. At that time we regretted the fact that we didn’t bring any warm jackets. But after 4 days time the weather became dry and back to normal. The sun was up in the sky. It has become warm. It feels like the March of Ahmedabad. Now we thank god we didn’t bring any jackets otherwise it would have been an added burden to us as we had to carry it across the villages and all! The nights are cool though.

Stay & the Company

We’re staying at the office of Earth 360 Pvt Ltd. It is a company which is processing millets and also encouraging millet production & consumption. It is a start-up which came into existence last year by Mr M.N Dinesh. The company premises are pretty ordinary which consists of three structures – one consisting of the processing unit, one made up of two offices and the other one being the toilet. We’re staying in one of the rooms of the office structure. The structures are having a roof made up of asbestos (which makes the rooms pretty hot on a sunny day). Our office consists of one computer table, one almirah, four racks, three of which are stacked with books and the other one consisting of space to keep random stuff like water bottles of something. There is also one mattress-less bed which is holding our luggage. Guess where are we both sleeping? We’re sleeping on the floor. Our bed is made up of a chatai and a thin rajai. We brought our own pillows and blankets to cover ourselves. In the first week when the weather was cool it was tough sleeping on the floor as we could feel the cold floor beneath us. Afterwords it became all right but still it is tough on our backs! We’ve no running water. The only source of water in the entire premise is one hose pipe. The guys here fill up a large corroded drum with water every morning and we take our buckets and draw water from that drum. That water is used for morning ablutions. Later we found that the same water is used for cooking and drinking purposes as well! They don’t even boil the water they consume because of which in a matter of days you can find insects and bugs floating in the water. We were disgusted to find things floating in our water and asked them to boil the water for our consumption. The water has a salty taste to it. It doesn’t feel fit to be consumed but anyways we don’t have any other choice. Boiling has at least reduced our chances of getting infected with water borne disease. Now as we’re working with a person who is obsessed about bringing back Millets to mainstream consumption, all we are eating day and night is….you guessed it right – Millets! We’re eating millets in different forms ranging from Bajra roti, millet based idlis, millet rice you name it! Because the dishes have a touch of South India to it (ingredients and all) I sometimes find it difficult to adjust to the food. I liked the combination of millet based rice, peanuts & chillies. I particularly liked the peanut based chutney (I don’t know how to describe it). When you put it on rice, it takes its taste to another dimension. Bajra rotis are quite different from what I’ve eaten in Gujarat. It is sold as dried rotis just like we’ve khaakhras in Gujarat (although not exactly like that) having sesame seeds in it. It is eaten with groundnut chutney and chilli or mango aachaar (pickle). The workers which stay with us (in the adjoining room) make pretty decent bhindi too. A big problem we’re facing here is dealing with mosquitoes! They’re everywhere from our rooms to the toilet to outside. They bite you when you’re taking a bath, brushing your teeth, drawing water from the drum, drying your clothes you name it! To get rid of the mosquitoes we close our room at around 5 pm and switch on all-out for the next 4-5 hours and switch it off before going to sleep. In this way we’ve been able to sleep peacefully without getting annoyed by them. On our first night we fixed mosquito nets around our beds. However, as it was a time consuming process and we had to remove the net and tie it again every day we stopped doing it from the next day onwards.

Surroundings:

One thing which I liked about the city is that it is surrounded by mountains. Now I’m a person which has basically lived half of his life in a totally flat terrain (Gujarat). So, for me, it was a really good experience watching the mountains in the background. These are really dry mountains having big boulders of stones. At some places the mountains are covered with green grass but the majority of them are quite stony. We happened to go out for a village trip one day. It was a cloudy day and the clouds literally covered the top of the mountains giving the complete look of misty mountains the kind which you find only in hill stations. I went out on a walk near the mountains (as they’re quite near to our location too) and clicked lots of pictures of them. The pictures give the city a look of Afghanistan!

If you’re in Gujarat or any other state in the north of the country for that matter, you’ll always find people drinking tea. But here I’ve seen people asking each other out for a cup of coffee instead of tea. Maybe coffee is the more popular beverage here because of the fact that the coffee producing state of Karnataka is not too far from here. The coffee here tastes exactly the same, however these guys put a lot more sugar in it than us thus making it taste a bit more like sugar water. Effective anyways 😉

We went out one evening to the market to try out the street food. We had tandoori chicken, roasted groundnuts, chilly bhajji, papaya, masala pineapple and some barbecued beef. Tandoori chicken was served with onions and lemon. It was very tasty. Chilly bhajjis are like chilly pakoda. The only difference is that the chilly which is used to make the bhajji isn’t a hot one. It tastes just like capsicum but only a wee bit stronger in taste. I enjoyed eating it with onions. One afternoon the people who work at the unit roasted groundnuts ‘Rayalaseema’ style. They set fire on some twigs and put the groundnuts over the burning wood for 5-8 minutes. After the groundnut was roasted they brought in some salt and chillies. In typical Rayalaseema style you put salt in your right hand and the groundnuts are put on the salt. In your left hand you hold the chilly (usually red chilly). Then you eat the groundnuts with the chillies. It tastes great!