Paul and Rita - India and About, 2005/6 - Orissa


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Orissa is India's ninth largest state in size and 11th in population.  The state is drained by three great rivers, the manhandi, the Brahmani and the Baitarani which flow into the Bay of Bengal.  Orissa is a state with a lustrous history.  The Emperor Ashok 200 years BC won the Kalinga war here, afterwards turning away from conquests to the compassionate religion of Lord Buddha. It is a land of fertile plains, blue mountains and beautiful beaches and the sun temple in Konark is reason enough for visiting India.  Further South Puri is the site of the famous shrine of Lord Jagannath and the site of one of the four most holy Hindu places. Here are to be found great traditional dances, and music, handicrafts and temple architecture and warm hospitable Oryan peoples.


Itinerary - click link to jump to day

12th Dec - Kolkata to Bhubaneshwar 
13th - 17th Dec Bhubaneshwar
18th Dec - Bhubaneshwar to Puri
19th - 30th Dec Puri
30th Dec to 3rd Jan 2006 - Puri to Gopalpur to Jeypore
4th Jan - Jeypore
5th to 11th Jan - Jeypore/Ankadeli market/Koraput
12th Jan - Jeypore to Bhadrachalam


Mon 12th December, 2005

Arrived in Bhubaneshwar after a reasonable 8 hour train ride from Kolkata.  We don't like arriving in a town after dark, always give the wrong impression, but this town seemed alright, quite friendly in fact. Still very busy roads, and I must say, the motorcyclists seemed very unsteady, two almost crashed into me within the space of a couple of minutes.  Might have been something to do with me not having any lights on, but then again no cyclist have lights in India!  We headed for and found the Hotel Sahara, recommended in out guide book, and negotiated a nice big room for 450 rupees a night.  That's more like it.  They said they had a restaurant in the hotel as well, but it was dark and dingy, as usual, so we had dinner in our spacious room.  Even managed to persuade one of the lads to nip out and get me a couple of bottles of beer.  I'm never quite sure if they will be offended by someone drinking alcohol in the hotel, but I've found even in hotels with signs everywhere saying strictly no alcohol in the rooms/hotel, that without me asking they've offered to get me some beer.  So now I figure, if they mind, they'll tell me.  

Back to Itinerary

Tue 13th to December, 2005
The hotel is set back about 50 metres from one of the city's main roads, just far enough for the noise of the traffic to not get too annoying, and so we also weren't woken too much by the early morning rush hour.  Potato curry and roti for breakfast, yummy.

Bhubaneshwar is famous for its temples, there were over 7000 in its hey-day, about a thousand years ago.  Today, and I'm fairly sure probably yesterday and tomorrow, there are about 500 remaining.  That should keep us going for a while.

Looking at the city map, there are a big batch of temples in the south of the city, not too far from out hotel, but we decided to take our bikes so we could more easily get around, and it stops the leagues of cycle rickshaw riders asking if you want a ride to the temples.  Not all of them, though, even when riding along, we still get asked by some if we need a ride, and when we point out we're okay because we have bicycle ourselves, they get laughed at by their compatriots.

The first temple we found turned out to be probably the most interesting we saw,.  Actually, we weren't allowed into the biggest one, Hindus only, but we saw some of it from a viewing platform erected especially for non-Hindus to cop an eye-full.  I still thought the first temple we saw was best.  The Muktesvara dates from the 10th century, and is beautifully decorated with outstanding carvings, and a gateway arch in front of it, which is apparently an unusual feature, dating from the 9th.  Around the back of the temple is a tank.  No, silly, not a battle tank, a sort of swimming pool with ghats, which in this case means steps.  Ghats is a versatile word in India, it can also mean hills, a road on a hill, or a landing place on a river bank.  The tank is supposed to be for priests and devotees to bathe in, but there were a number of young men diving in to it when we were there.  Amazingly, there was no entrance fee to go into this temple, but after a while we were approached by several people carrying visitors books and asking for donations.   I put some in the big donations box at the door of the temple, not sure who would empty it but I figured it had a better chance of going towards the maintenance of the temple. 

The other temples we were allowed to visit, as I said before, were not quite as interesting, so we cycled around a large area, stopping to take the occasional photo when something caught our eye.  There were a lot of  sadhus and other devotees hanging around the temples, but we weren't pestered too much for donations. There are only so many temples you can look at and visit, so after a couple of hours, we had had enough and made for a SouthIndian restaurant called Venus, between the temple area and our hotel.  Lovely masala dosa, and quite a nice restaurant while they had the window shutter open, letting in some lovely sunlight.  When the restaurant got busy with locals, they had to close the shutter, at the request of the locals, and we were plunged into the gloomy dimness of a 20 watt bulb.  Nice.

Brief summary of the following days:

Wed - Posh hotel for lunch across road - very nice meal and excellent service, huge bill of nearly 1000 rupees.  Only drawback is it made Rita un-well in the evening.

Thu - rest/shopping day - Rita not feeling brilliant, I went shopping for some essentials.  Took me 5 hours to get hold of some blank DVDs.  They allegedly have four technology parks in Bhunaneshwar, but I struggled to find any shop that sold computer related stuff.  I think the technology is kept firmly within the guarded gates of the technology parks. 

Fri - Visited the Udayagiri and Khandargiri Caves, just outside the city.  Some of the earliest caves in India, (I presume they mean earliest caves that have been carved out by man, not natural ones, of which I'm sure there are many examples any thousands of years old!) these caves date from a around 2000+ years ago and were carved out and lived in by the Jains at that time.  They were quite interesting and worth the effort of getting there, the most impressive looking is cave number 1 in Udayagiri caves, The Ranhi Gumpa, a double storeyed monastery cut on three sides of a quadrangle with some very detailed wall friezes.

Sat - Dossing.

Back to Itinerary

Sun 18th to December, 2005
We're going to cycle to Puri, had considered catching a bus, but we enjoy cycling too much to miss this opportunity, even if it is the last thing we do!  The first 10km out of Bhubaneshwar were busy and noisy, but there was a lot of local cyclists on the road and not too many buses and trucks.  There were a number of buses with sheets hanging from the back saying "picnic" of some description or other, either a company, family or religious groups day outing, probably to Puri. Puri is one of the four holy places on the Hindu "must do" list, and is especially popular as they can combine a trip to one of the holy places and a trip to the beach.  

The next 40km were a little quieter, the best thing being that we weren't run off the road by any oncoming vehicles in the whole of that time.  This must be a holy place, as I think that was a miracle, never have we cycled for so long without one brainless moron charging at us on the wrong side of the road with murder on their mind.  I do go on about that, don't I, well it preys on your mind after a while, but I'll try and stop. 

The Grand Road in the centre of Puri is one of the widest roads I've seen , anywhere.  It must be 100 metres from side to side, but of course has been encroached upon from either side by mobile market stalls and parked vehicles.  Still, a pleasant change from the normally packed, narrow streets that seem to form the heart of most Indian towns and cities.

Found CT Road with no problem, most foreign tourists stay there, so when you ask for directions, they assume that's where you want to go.  We spent quite a bit of time checking out a number of hotels, deciding on an room at the Gandhara Hotel.  The hotel is quite interesting, the front part is quite old and has a rooftop restaurant (which we never saw anybody use, for some reason), and a the back of the property in a four storey new block, but the room we had was too dark and small for us to stay in for a week or so, and it also had a lot of mosquitoes hanging around the windows.  But it will do while we find something bigger and brighter.

Being a foreign tourist area of town means that the local restaurants serve up a lot of international favourites, such as pancakes, cornflakes and spaghetti (not all together of course) so there might be a chance we will be able to get a roast dinner for Christmas after all.  There are also a number of open-air garden restaurants here as well, a welcome change from the usual black-hole-of-Calcutta type as the usual offering.   

Back to Itinerary

Mon 19th to December, 2005

First thing, well, after breakfast anyway, is to find another hotel room.  We'll have to stay here for another night anyway as we'd missed the check out time of 8am.  Yes, you heard correctly, check out time is 8am!  There's a nice looking old rambling place nearby called the Z Hotel, but they didn't have a room that was available for the whole of the next week, and were fully booked for the Christmas weekend.  We found an available room at the City Plaza, available over the Christmas weekend as well, but the price went up from Rs400 a night for the first three nights to Rs1000 for the following week, although the official rate was 1400 a night. The room was a good size, and south facing with a large balcony, but it was on the top floor and the kitchen didn't seem very good so we would have to eat out all the time. SO we said we'd think about it and went to look at other options.

A pattern quickly formed with all the hotels we checked out subsequently.  At the first, they said they were empty and we could have a choice of rooms.  The south facing (and lightest) were too small, but the north facing were light enough and bigger.  The price was also very attractive at Rs400 a night.  With the rate at the City Plaza rising suddenly on the 23rd, we asked how much their rate was for Christmas, thinking perhaps if they're so quiet, they might no raise it so much.  But no such luck.  "I'm sorry, we're fully booked for Christmas and the following week".  This was the same story at every hotel we visited after that, we didn't get around to seeing any more rooms, there' wasn't any point if they were fully booked.

So, after trying a dozen more hotels, in fact most of the hotels on CT Road, we hot-footed it back to the City Plaza and said we'd take the room from the following day.  Luckily it was still available. We even put down a deposit of Rs1000 to make sure nobody else could gazump us.  The manager back at our current hotel was a little upset that we were moving to another hotel, he had assumed we would be staying over Christmas, but he had failed to tell us the rate would be going up to Rs950 a night shortly, and the room was too depressing for us long term anyway.

On the Tuesday, we cycled around Puri for several hours.  We found the Jagganath temple with little problem, well it's enormous and quite difficult to miss. Only Hindu's are allowed inside, so we had to view from outside the perimeter wall, which, being 10 metres tall, was a little too high to jump up to get a peek over.  The library building opposite the main entrance to the temple allows foreigners to go to their top floor to have a look for a small consideration, but apparently the consideration rises rapidly with each floor you go up, and we got so pestered by touts at the bottom that we gave up and cycled off around the perimeter wall.  I found another building at the back that offered a temple view for Rs20, but when I got to the top, there wasn't much of a view.  Back at the bottom, I found the price had gone up to Rs40. Why?  "You took two photographs, 20 and 20, 40 rupees".  No chance, I gave him 20 and told him it wasn't worth that, but thats what we'd agreed.  He saw my point of view eventually.  

We spent an hour or so cycling through the back streets of the town, between the temple and the coast, a myriad of narrow streets and pathways, occasionally coming across water tanks and smaller temples.  Very interesting, but also depressingly filthy in most places.  When we finally emerged on the sea front road, we found a large number of tourist shops, but not selling the usual foreign tourist trash like kiss-me-quick hats, but bags, lamp-shades and bangles. Its the Indian equivalent of Blackpool, I suppose.  On the sea front we saw several roped off areas with people busily at work on large piles of sand This must be Puri Sand Sculpture Festival we'd read about.  The pictures we'd seen of earlier festivals looked quite impressive, but they didn't quite seem to be up to that standard yet.  Still, there are several more days to go of this festival, so I'll give them a chance. 


On the 21st we cycled around the city of Puri on our bikes to see some of the sites and how the locals fill their days! It is one huge pilgrimage centre with little shrines at every corner and temples scattered throughout. The buildings are ramshackle and tatty in the main and streets a hive of activity with vendors, cows, dogs, rickshaw cyclists, sadhus, kids, ice cream sellers, candy floss sellers and pilgrims.

The huge main street is called the Grand and is inundated with literally thousands of people at this time of year, since this place is the fourth most holy city in the Hindu religion and on the coast is a great place for relaxation too.

We made our way through the back streets and quite by accident came across the huge temple of Lord Jagannath, lord of the universe. Non believers are not allowed to enter, but it is around 60 meters tall and with a little negotiating Paul organised a trip up to a nearby rooftop for the classic shot!.

Outside the temple are many stalls selling religious bits and pieces, including marigold garlands, coral and pearl garlands, incense, marble and wooden carvings of hindu deities and all sorts of Indian sweet meats - some of which are simply mouth-watering and others just too sweet .

As usual our bikes draw a lot of attention and we are soon surrounded by young and old wanting to practice their English as well as many begging hands.

During the evening we went to the food festival called Bhojon, held in the garden of one of the larger hotels. The trees surrounding the garden were decorated with huge orissan lanterns and lights and as ever the kids section had large models of deer and frogs and such like. The local traders were all there with stalls flogging, very cheaply, their delights for us to sample. We carefully watched as they prepared their tasty assortments and eventually decided on our choices, aloo channa for me and Chicken masala for Paul. The dessert section however was the most enjoyable as the chefs on this stall let us try bits and pieces of the dishes for just a couple of rupees per portion and were delighted to have pictures taken of their produce.

We caught a cycle rickshaw took us back to our area of town where most of the foreign tourists hang out. Our cyclist was speedy and overtook most others on the way.

When we reached our entrance, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely cycle rickshaw driver of 63 years. He told me he had been working as such in Puri for 45 years. He has 3 daughters and 2 sons and is about 5ft 6 inches and probably no more that 6 stone soaking wet. He had a piece of cloth plonked on his head and when I asked what it was for he said He was cold. The next evening I gave him a furry hat which I had bought in Darjeeeling - it suited him and I was delighted to see he was wearing it when we saw him again last night. It is hot for us but much colder for the locals who enjoy temperatures of 32 degrees most of the year.

On the 22nd we planned to take a coach up the road to Konark, another religious place with huge temple to Surya the Sun god. As we were getting ready, we thought we could manage the distance there and back on our bikes - and since the weather was so great we decided to cycle. We always prefer to do that than go to the fuss of buses, not to mention the discomfort of those rides with tiny seats, cloying heat and stilted conversations.

We started around 9 ish and after a few watering holes along the road finally arrived at midday, very thirsty and pretty hungry. We hadn't prepared properly for this trip and had no re-hydration sachets with us. The temple is again a huge tourist attraction - the locals from Kolkota mostly do the circuit of here, Puri and the temples at Bhubaneshwar on their pilgrimage. The local officials have chosen in their ultimate wisdom to place a toilet block to the right and front of the temple and felt it necessary to plaster it with LADIES TOILET signs. We were greeted with officious government guards who directed us to leave our bikes in the bike park which we completely ignored. We are very precious about them and rarely leave them unattended. The temple was clearly visible from the row of vendor stalls and I stayed with the bikes while Paul did the tour. 10 rupees for locals and 250 for foreign tourists. I sat under a tree and drank some sprite and chai and was soon joined by the temple priest in dhoti and sporting a cream coloured lines across his forehead and down the centre of his nose. His English was pretty good and we discussed the stupidity of the government, the danger on the roads, meditation and yoga and inevitably religion.

Later when Paul returned he took us to his friends restaurant where he and Paul shared a couple of beers and when we left he took our address promising to write to us twice every year. He offered ganga as we left but we declined.

It was exceedingly hot and fortunately the head wind we had encountered on the way up was now at our backs, so we made good time completing the cycle in about 2 hours. En route there and back we followed the coastline and saw many beautiful butterflies, one in particular much like a red admiral but larger and more magnificent. Unfortunately the butterfly section in our guide is limited and we don't know the name yet. We also saw a deal of bird life just outside Puri including drongo birds, kites, bulbuls and shedfuls of Kingfishers as usual, mynah birds and cattle egrets (the ones that always hang around the zebus, near or on their backs).

We finished off the day with a clean, safe meal from the Achha restaurant which is run by a Swedish woman!!

Thursday and Friday I spent most of the time worrying about just where I was going to get a roast dinner on xmas day.  I was beginning to think that perhaps I shouldn't even attempt to get a roast dinner, as from what I could see I was most likely to end up severely disappointed.  But then we got chatting to the Swedish part owner of the Achha restaurant, and after telling her what a typical English roast dinner consisted of, she said she would give it a go.  The most surprising thing was that she didn't know what roast potatoes were, I thought everybody in Europe ate roasties! Never mind, we gave her a list of our requirements, and a recipe for making roast potatoes, and booked a table for lunchtime on Sunday. 

Christmas eve was surprisingly quiet.  With all the hotels being fully booked, I was expecting the place to be heaving, but the restaurants were fairly quiet.  The only "bar" near our hotel is a dark and dingy place, so we haven't stayed in there longer than the time it takes to buy some carry-out, so we had a few drinks in the restaurants.  They are not legally allowed to sell beer, but they're keen to keep their punters happy, so they wrap the beer bottles in napkins and put them on the floor next to the table.  Apparently, there are some special "alcohol police", but they're based in Cuttack and dont make it down to Puri very often, and even when they do, everybody knows they're coming anyway and makes sure they dont have any alcohol on their premises.  Must be some baksheesh involved in that, somewhere.

Christmas Day!  A fabulously sunny day with lovely clear skies.  Perhaps a bit too warm, really.  (There's no pleasing some people!)

Christmas dinner at the Achhu was fabulous.  We had a small roast chicken stuffed with apples, bread and some herbs, excellent roast potatoes, gravy made with the chicken stock, cauliflower cheese and some mixed steamed vegetables.  Not a hint of curry anywhere.  Actually, we did have some brinjal pakora as a starter, but the main course was spice free.  We couldn't believe our luck, and after all those weeks of fretting!  And to top it all, even with several bottle of beer, the bill came to less than 500 rupees, about £6.50.  Bargain!

The rest of christmas day was spent eating Dundee cake and toffees washed down with the occasional beer.  We even managed to contact several family and friends through various methods, but being five and a half hours ahead of Britain, we had a good head start on most people, and were quite worn out by the evening.  Must be getting old.  

Boxing Day.  Determined to go down to the beach and maybe in the sea for a quick dip.  Made it to the edge of the sea, but the beach was none too appealing, and there was a stream of jet black water rushing into the sea from a stream only 50 metres away from where everyone else was messing about in the sea.  Perhaps not, then

The week flew by in Puri, not that we did anything special, just chilled out really, and planned our escape.  We wanted to go to Chilka Lake, the second largest brackish water lake in the world, to see some of the wild birds that winter over there.  We had an option to do a round trip from Puri, but it sounded like the best place to get a boat to see the birds was on the other side of the lake, making it a long 200km round trip. So we ended up booking a taxi to take us to lake, wait for us while we did the twitching, then drive us on down to Gopalpur-on-Sea.  All in, it would take about 10 hours, and we had to pay for the taxi driver to return to Puri, so the total bill for the taxi came to 2000 rupees, after Rita had negotiated for a while.   Back to Itinerary

Fri 30th December, 2005
On the morning of the 30th, we checked out of the City Plaza just before the official check out time of 7am, yeah, crazy isn't it, and were picked up outside by our drive, Jaggar, in his gleaming white Ambassador car.

(Rita takes over the narration)   .
It was an awful last night for me anyway, the last in the city plaza hotel at Puri b4 moving on. The family on the landing below us were having an argument with the family opposite and this meant very loud voices - I went out to give them a long ssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhand later about 9.30 Paul gave them a Paddington hard stare - but this din went on and on. Paul went to sleep no probs but at around 00.40 (that's twenty to one) I was getting very pissed, off as you might imagine and went out give them a real telling. They were about to come to blows and the hotel guard wearing a gun had stick out and raised at one of the parties involved. I thought perhaps this isn't the time to start complaining and fortunately the racket ceased shortly after this.

We lavishly took a black and yellow taxi to Goralpur on sea - (the brits used to love the place apparently) and en route we stopped for 3 hours at a bird sanctuary in a lake, which is famous for it's host of migratory birds which arrive at this time of year.

The taxi trip was around £10 each for a couple hundred miles so good value for money (although very expensive for India) - but mostly convenient to get to the lake at Belugan town where the hotels are a bit crappy, even below our standard (some of you may not believe that) We stopped after about 15 kms to get some chai as we had no brekkies leaving early at 7am. The road side stall was delighted to serve us, especially when I gave them some Christmas dates I had bought earlier, as we thought about the feet that had pounded them and couldn't bring ourselves to eat them after that.

Our driver was a sweetie, very polite and respectful and genuinely kind. He offered to stop every second minute when we spotted something and wanted to take photos. He also took us through some lovely Orissan villages. We passed an extremely flamboyantly dressed female leaning against a post - (how can she afford such a fabulous Saree, I thought ) and it wasn't til I saw a second similarly dressed female also leaning on a fence, at the next village that I realised they both were working !!!!!!!!!!!! The route was rough for the first 50 kms but we turned on to national highway 5 which was a great road and newly tarred. The traffic, more remarkably still, was travelling in two different lanes in both directions very much like any road in England - we couldn't believe our eyes. But not for long - alas, as soon as we reached a garage on our left hand side we realised there were no island breaks in the centre - so vehicles coming from the garage wanting to turn right could not.   You guessed correctly, here, they can of course, and on this brilliant, new, most modern dual carriageway these vehicles turn right in to the main flow of traffic, which by the way is travelling at about 50 mph - Incredible India!!!

At around 11ish we arrived at Chilka lake and we were looking forward to a spot of bird watching from a boat. We negotiated a boat after various comings and goings and any amount of middle men - par for the course, bought some fruit and were off.

Two crew, nice chappies; and very friendly, very interested in Paul's camera and quick and keen to point out some dolphins which they spotted less than 30 yards ahead of us, swimming in pair formation!!!!!(On cue) There were lots of fishermen in boats on the lake and we managed some great shots of them before arriving at the boundary of the barr. At this point we were about 150 yards from the birds, which were as SPECKS in the distance even with binos. Just then the lake police arrived on the scene and threatened our crew with arrest if they took our boat any nearer the barr. Naturally, the crew don't argue with these chappies, so sadly we didn't get to see any birdies after all (flamingos and all)- cost of trip was 750 rupees - much disappointment also much confusion! If you cant see them when they are on the barr and you cant see them anyway when they are not there - when do you get to see the birds in the sanctuary which we paid steeply for ? A con.

Our crew were also very disappointed for us - if we don't get to see anything they don't get a tip is probably the thinking. However, on our homeward trip we spotted a Sea Eagle heading towards the boat which was magic. We saw a fishing boat hauling its drift net in and asked the crew to pull over for a closer look. They pulled up alongside and we had a great laugh with the fishermen and the kids on board, They offered us some sprats! Many Fish eagles were soaring over head and Paul got some priceless shots needless to say.

Our driver was asleep in the car guarding our luggage when we returned. We made off to a restaurant (I use the description very loosely) to feed him and us. He declined food but went for a Coca Cola, what bad taste! We tried veggie curry and roti - It was good stuff but we couldn't bare to look at the prep area.

We continued for another 3 hours arriving at Goralpur -on-Sea before sunset to a large family reception. This was because for once, with it being New Years or thereabouts, we thought it better to book ahead. They all looked us over to make sure we could afford to pay and were most amused when our bikes came out the boot. They also gave us a room with balcony overlooking the beach approx 20 yards away. Great stuff. The manager and two others helped us with our bags to the room. (all expecting tips!)

It turned out to be quite a good spot for New Years. Although the sea looked tempting, we declined to go for a dip as we noticed a couple of other Europeans get the zoo spectator treatment when they went in.  We had fireworks displays along the Coast on NY eve, for fireworks read homemade explosives, not quite "Standard" and were more like bombs going off.

New years day the beach gradually became packed with tourists as the day went on and by evening the main street was seething with hundreds of folk who had turned up on their motorbikes etc.. Many went for dips during the day, only a few Europeans in swimsuits, Indian women wear sarees in the water! And they never sit down on the beach - they all stand in family groups nattering - it is an unusual scene.

On the 1st we had got a rickshaw into Berkhampur and booked a train ticket from Berkhampur to Vishakrapatnam - also on the coast but a big hub of industrial activity and a progressive town with many facilities. The station at Berkhampur is great, the Brits built it, we could tell. I particularly like the 1st class and 2nd class ladies waiting rooms - but couldn't work out which I should use! As the train wasn't due to leave until 10:50am, we cycled the 16km from Gopalpur to Berkhampur on the morning of the 2nd, stopping at a South Indian restaurant near the station for an excellent masala dosa.  There was no easy way to get our bikes over to platform 2 so we dragged them across the rails. We packed them this journey for ease of carriage and so we didn't get questioned for a ticket etc….We got a huge audience as ever for this task on the platform, and the inevitable questions "how much?" and "which country?"

Our carriage companions were a female with child opposite and another mother and child on the side seat. The child opposite was eyeing my fruit so I offered him a banana and some moments later the woman offered us some delicious milk sweets and sundried mango. She spoke with a beautiful English and by her size I would say she was relatively wealthy. All very friendly and the journey was a delight. It is a good idea to go on one of these long slow train journeys in India to remind yourself how lovely the countryside and villages are - especially after visiting the city areas which can be depressing. The journey was regularly punctuated by junctions where vendors get on and off. The chai is great and I have never had a cold one. Milky coffee is also a good buy at 4 or 5 rupees. The transvestite beggar (Eunuch as they call them here) who appeared as soon as we took off was over 6ft tall, had a very low voice and huge feet. HE chanted some curse on us when we gave HER no money and strutted off.

Just before arriving at Vishakra I chatted to another young woman near the carriage door. She was also getting off and had got on two or three stops earlier. She was delightful, told me she was lucky to meet us and be able to speak English, she also said she had just earned 3000 rupees for some work she had been doing as a staff manager at a catering function. Not bad money I thought considering most rural workers earn less than 100 rupees per day.

We left our bikes in left luggage overnight and caught a rickshaw to the Apsara hotel, a D grade in our guide book. So when we ended up at the hotel Green Park which allegedly used to be called Apsara, and when the doorman came out sporting a beautiful white jacket with gold buttons and red turban, we thought this smacks of an Indian five star. Sure enough, I choked on the tariff and we made off to another C-D grade hotel nearby. Surprisingly this one also smelt a bit pricey, but with a train ticket out the following day we thought we would splurge for a night. On check in the hotel instructor invited us to use the gym, but he let himself down when he pointed out that they had a machine for Abs, who was he looking at? But I did use it, as it happens and spent 40 minutes there while Paul checked out the bar.  (Well, somebody had to do it! Paul)

We met up in the Dimple restaurant bar later on. It was pitch as usual and Paul had got stuck behind a smoking drunk. We cleared off to another table where I asked for the lights to be turned up and Paul spotted a rat running down an electric cable. I told him about my unfortunate incident in the shower when I stubbed my toe on the bathroom door which springs closed, when you open it, because the toilet is smack up behind it. Before we finished our meal we were handed our bill and plunged into darkness by an over zealous waiter who thought the bar should be pitch dark. No, this is a smart hotel!!!!! Incredible India!!!

(Paul continues)

(Note:  The pedantic amongst you may well have noticed that Visakhapatnam is in fact in Andhra Pradesh and we should have started a new page.  Well, tough.  We return to Orissa today and will be back in Andhra Pradesh next week, that's when I'll start a new page.  Cheers, P)

We had to leave the hotel by 7am to get the 7:45 train to Jeypore, so we had to skip breakfast, which was a shame as it was complimentary, but didn't start until 7.  Arriving at the station at 7:15, we had plenty of time to collect our bags from the cloakroom, as it was called, and hire a porter (Rita's idea) for 30 rupees to carry them across to platform 2.  Rita thought the porter looked a bit too old to carry both of our bags, but I explained he'd been doing it all his life and would have no problems.  Mind you, he did take his time going up the stairs  I then realised that we were wait-listed for seat allocations, so I nipped back to the reservations office to find out what seats we'd been given.  I was none too pleased to find out we were still wait-listed, which meant we would have to fight our way into the general carriage and probably stand all the way until the guard found us an empty seat somewhere along the way, not a thought I relished, especially with our bikes.  As a last resort, I asked him was there any tourist quota left for the train.  Apparently, all mainline trains have a tourist allocation of 6 seats.  After a minute or so of rustling papers, he suddenly grabbed my ticket and wrote S1 42 43 on it, meaning we were in sleeper carriage 1 seats 42 and 43.  I felt a bit guilt about jumping the waiting list, but hey, why do they have tourist allocations if we cant use them!

When I got back to platform 2 and gave Rita the good news, the porter set off up the platform towards the far end of the train.  The carriages are normally clearly labeled, but I couldn't see which one was S1, so after we'd gone passed 4 sleeper carriages and the porter was still plodding on ahead, I found a guard and he said our carriage was the first one we'd passed.  It took a while to persuade the porter to turn around, and then Rita felt sorry for him and ended up carrying one of the bike bags herself.  What are we paying him for?  There were several people already sitting in our seats when I found them, but luckily there was a large area by the carriage door to leave our bikes for a while, until we could get settled and see where we could store them for the journey.  There was a lot of debate going on about which seat was whose, but after 10 minutes the old woman and young girl who had been sat in our seats moved off to pastures new and we plonked ourselves down.  As the train pulled out, we realised that the porter hadn't returned with the change from the 100 rupee note we'd given him.  Oh well, the price we pay for taking our eyes off of him I suppose.

There were 8 people in our cubicle, designed to seat 6, so we soon realised we were not going to be able to bring our bikes in to keep our eye on them, we would have to go out watch at every stop.   We've never had a problem with our luggage on trains in India, but they have a bad reputation for bag snatchers.  So much so, that one of the most frequently seen vendors peddling his wares along the carriages of a train is a guy selling chains and padlocks, so you can chain up your baggage to your seat.  The doors on the trains are often left open, no such thing as central locking or anything fancy here, lucky to have doors, really!  So there is also a chance that someone might throw your bags out of a moving train as well, either to a waiting accomplice or jumping out after them, but I didn't want to spend the whole scheduled eight hours of the journey standing watching over our bike bags, and as there were quite a few people stood in that area, I figured we'd take our chances.         

When we left Berkhampur yesterday morning, we could have opted for a bus directly from Berkhampur to Jeypore, but we had chosen the longer route by two trains in as many days so that we could particularly travel on this train, train number 1VK, which climbs slowly up the slopes of the Eastern Ghats to the highest broad gauge rail station in India at Shimiliguda, at  a little over 996 metres.  Actually, according to the sign at the station, the "little" is 326.8 cetimetres, that's what I call precise.  As a comparison, that's 18 metres (roughly) higher than the highest point in England, Scafell Pike.  The views on the way up the ghats were quite good, spoilt slightly by the heat haze coming  from the planes.  The train wound its way around the hills, following the contours and going though numerous tunnels.  The gradient was not too steep, so we were not exactly crawling along, but somewhere along the way we managed to get behind schedule, ending up an hour and a half late at Jeypore.  We were also fairly hungry by the time we arrived, there had not been the usual array of vendors on this train and we had only managed to get some sun-dried mango and a small chocolate bar each all day.  There had only been one chai-wallah on the whole trip, and he only came around half an hour before we arrived at Jeypore station.  You just can't get the service these days.  The sun was setting as we arrived, so instead of cycling the 10km to our hotel on the other side of town as we had initially planned, we got a auto-rickshaw for 100 rupees.

As Rita mentioned earlier, we don't normally book in advance, but because a lot of hotels seem to have been fully booked around the festive season, we had also phoned ahead to the Hello Jeypore to book up for tonight.  They had told us then that they only had a room for one night, they had several tour groups arriving tomorrow and were fully booked.   But when we checked in, we were so nice to them (as indeed we are to everyone!)  that they said they would try and fit us in for the next few nights as well.   Tonight's room was a little pricey at 900 rupees, but we as it was getting on, we didn't have much option, and it was a nice, large, airy room.   We dropped our bags in our rooms and repaired to the dining room for a well deserved dinner and a few beers.  The food was quite good, but a little bland.  We hadn't asked for it spicy, so, as with a lot of restaurants, they assumed that being tourists, we wouldn't want it spicy.  How wrong could they be!

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Wed 4th January 2006

After two days of travel, we felt we deserved a rest.  I think we're getting lazy.  Had a relaxed breakfast in the sunny garden, maybe a bit too sunny, we had to move or table into the shade after 5 minutes. And the locals have been complaining about the recent cold spell! How hot do they want it?!  We were also told that they had managed to find a room for us for the next few days, not quite as plush as the room we had last night, but only 500 rupees a night.  It turned out the only difference was it didn't have a carpet (something we prefer), it was a floor higher (no lift! but we need the exercise) and there were no tissues in the bathroom!  How are we going to survive?  Oh, and there were plastic garden chairs in place of the comfy armchairs we'd enjoyed last night.  

Later in the morning we cycled into the town centre, where, we were informed, there is a palace and a fort.  They turned out to be one and the same, in a very dilapidated state, but apparently still occupied by the local rani, or queen.  Not quite sure what she is queen of, nobody could explain, but I guess it may be a hangover from the bad old days of the British Raj, when large areas of what is now called India came under the title of princely states.  There is also a temple dedicated to Lord Jaggernath, denoted by the red pennants flying from the mast atop the deul (day-ool), the tall tower part of an Orissan temple.  Unfortunately for us sightseers, the deul was covered in bamboo scaffolding for maintenance, something that seems to be on-going at just about every temple we've seen.  We cycled around the back roads of the town for an hour or so, stopping for the occasional limited conversation with the friendly locals.  

Back at the hotel for a late lunch in the garden, we booked a car and guide to take us to Ankadeli, a small town 70km south west of Jeypore, which has a market every Thursday, frequented not only by most foreign tourists within 100km, but also the local tribes.  Well, it is their market I suppose, so why shouldn't they be allowed to go?  They are, after all, the reason for the tourist being here in the first place.  This explains why Hello Jeypore is full up tonight, all of the tours that pass this way time it to arrive here on a Wednesday night so they can be at the market early on Thursday morning.  When we went down for dinner at 7pm, the place was full of foreigners, with several groups of Dutch, Italians, and a large contingency of Aussies.  And guess what the Aussies did, they had a barbie in the garden.  No surprise there then.     Back to Itinerary

Thu 5th January 2006

Thought for the day:  Why do we still call it a building when it's finished?

Up and out in the road by 6:30, no time to pause for breakfast, this is a race and we're some of the last to leave the hotel.  Not sure what all the rush is about really, the market doesn't get going until after nine and carries on until mid afternoon.  But it seems the guides like to take you to the edge of the town so you can watch the tribal people walking into town for the market.  Perhaps we could give some of them a lift, or maybe that would be breaking some rule or other about contact with the tribal people. Do you think I'm getting a little cynical.  Rita does.

The journey started badly.  Our driver was well versed in the rules of using the horn on Indian roads, i.e. blow your horn for every possible reason, and if you cant think of a reason, blow it just in case there's one you don't know about.  During the first five minutes he was giving a double toot every 5 seconds.  I was watching from my back seat, and could see that to facilitate ease of access, at some time in the past he had removed the steering wheel and rotated it by 45 degrees so that the small horn button on the arm of the steering wheel was positioned directly under his left thumb when his hands were in the ten to two driving position.  This meant that the parts of the steering wheel with the hand grips on were now no where near where his hands normally are, but, more important than the steering wheel not slipping through your hands, he did have immediate access to the horn!  His left thumb was kept permanently extended and ready for action over the horn button.

Fairly soon Rita asked our guide to ask our non-English speaking driver to refrain from using the horn, except in occasions that really deserved it.  Or words to that effect.  The driver seemed sceptical, as he explained through the interpreter, the people on the road were stupid and if he didn't blow his horn there would be an accident.  Try it, we said.  We continued our journey with no horn, although I could sense he was getting twitchy, with his left thumb shaking over the horn button.  We soon came across a large group of pedestrians walking down the road. The driver looked at us nervously in the mirror, but managed to restrain his horn thumb and instead slowed down a little, and to his great surprise, the pedestrians parted to either side of the road and we passed safely.  I think he though it was just a fluke, but after this had been repeated several more times with no casualties, he seemed to resign himself to not using the horn.  There were a few occasions when he rightly did use the horn, but in a far more restrained manner than before.  A convert, maybe?  I think not. I bet, the moment this journey's over.......!

We arrived in Ankadeli at around 8.30, drove through the village, out the other side and promptly got lost.  Or so it seemed, as we stopped to ask directions several times and each time turned around to go back the way we had come and try another route.  It seems our guide is a little rusty.  Finally we pulled up on a mud track and were told "We're here".  I've always thought that a particularly pointless phrase, wherever you are, you're always here!

Rita's version of events:

We arrived at Jeypore about 5 days ago and since have visited Ankadeli village and were lucky enough to visit the Thursday market where the beaded Bondo women trading their veg and artesanal wares e.g. beads, necklaces, pottery, metal objects, cane baskets, fine woven grass wrist and head bands, toe rings and anklets, and woven pieces which are used to cover the bare necessities. Otherwise the Bondo women wear only rows and rows of well positioned beads. It was a colourful market and I found I was constantly buying toffees and rice balls for kids who come and hang on your arm, I can buy about a dozen rice balls for 2 rupees and these can feed a few mouths, plus they are a bit of a luxury. Noticeably the male folk are absent from these market activities and as our taxi driver told us the women have a very domineering manner. In this matriarchal society not only are the women the bosses but do all the agriculture work, artesanal work and housework. The men used to be hunters and fishermen according to the museum at Koraput, but nowadays, since the arrival of tourism they only hunt and fish on festival days spending most of their time drinking the local Moet called Moa, which is a strong brew and can be lethal. Women doing all the work – sounds about right!!  Fortunately in India in some areas women are really taking over the reins of power and becoming local leaders of their village committees. One such woman in the Tamil Nadu region got toilets installed in every house in her village to stop the use of stinking latrines and open drains. No one can really talk about the prosperity of India without also including information re the state of the roads and rural communities which is about 70% of the countries work force.

Hand to Mouth,  Keep the wolf from the door,  Make ends meet, are all phrases that spring to mind when you see all the many and diverse entrepreneurial ways in which people make a living. Of course I don’t mean just adults here and I don’t mean earning enough to buy clothes and houses and holidays. I am talking about filling the burning hunger in the stomach that is a daily focus.

Info ; Human development Report 2005 One billion people 1/6th of the global population still live on a level of poverty so abject that it threatens survival. A further 1.5 billion live on 1- 2 dollars per day i.e. 40% of the world population are faced daily with the reality or threat of extreme poverty.

Coconut Slice vendors, shoe shine boys, pan vendors, peanut sellers, vendors selling onions, tomatoes, caulis, chai, stone splitters, train vendors including eunuchs selling curses if you don’t tip them, Oryan dancers strutting their stuff to entertain you, laden with nose, ear, hair, ankle and wrist trinkets. Normally there are usually so many vendors on the average train that its not more than 10 minutes b4 you are cajoled into checking out something to eat or drink or watch. The exception on this occasion being our train from Vizakhapatnam to Jeypore. Just 2 vendors in 9 hours, but no one tells you this b4 boarding!! It’s a locals train and they all bring their food with them. We were unprepared but survived thanks to a generous Oryan sharing here paneer sweets and sundried mango with us – both delicious. We were also offered raw sugar cane sticks but declined – they are so tuff they wreck your teeth. We reached Jeypore famished and thirsty and were grateful that the Hotel hello Jeypore had a good recommended restaurant – Course that doesn’t mean the food is any good!!

On the 9th Jan we cycled some 20 kms to the town of Koraput to the tribal museum, with limited resources it was very informative and well maintained. We waved to the children at the gates of the school for the blind on the way from the museum and shouted lots of hellos. Sadly it looked like a prison rather than a school and not a patch on Guide Dog premises in UK that I have seen (Paul)

The sight of the children as well as reading about the advasi, tribal, highlander peoples in the museum made me think about the big divide between the have and the have nots in India.

Koraput is a scruffy dirty town but I couldn’t pass a chai stall where I saw a charming smiling boy selling tiny glasses of chai and so happy in his work.

The cycle back to Jeypore was a delight as it was mostly down hill (damned hard work all the way there I might add). As well as being interviewed on the way by Discovery channel TV by a couple of opportunist reporters about the local eco tourism, I saw some fine specimens of flora and fauna. Papaya, Mast, Mango and Fig Trees to name but a few. Cacti 20 feet tall which reminded me of the one I grew on my window sil and sitting on one of these monster plants was a brilliant green bird which I later found was a coppersmith, rarely seen but often heard calling kutroo, kutroo. Lucky me! They feed on bees and swoop beautifully to catch them. I also saw numerous egrets, mynah birds, with yellow ringed eyes, black drongo birds with split tails and thousands of crows! This route is a special area of eco interest and there are different species of flora all along the route including vivid orange Gul mohar, Ashoka trees, Poinsettia, rain trees covered in hairy white flowers, temple trees and acacias, banyans and with a huge fruit a giant jack fruit tree. And our bikes are still going well!!!

For Rita's birthday on the 10th, January we decided to stay in Jeypore, our escape plans were not going well, Jeypore is not the easiest of places to travel from.  Adopting that well know Irish saying, if you want to go anywhere, you wouldn't want to start from Jeypore.  Actually, that's probably a little unfair, there are buses to several places in Orissa, and there is one daily bus to Bhadrachamal in Andhra Pradesh, our next intended destination, but it leaves at 5am and takes 12 hours (or so) to travel the 300km.  I felt it wasn't fair to attempt this journey on Rita's birthday, so here we stay for another day, or maybe two.  We had a nice relaxed day around the hotel, on the sunny lawn out back of the hotel.  We had hoped for a fabulous meal in the evening, but although it tasted ok, yet again the food was served only luke warm, even though we had specifically asked for it to be served piping hot.  We had had to wait for over half an hour for the food to arrive, not that we mind waiting, at least, we thought , its freshly cooked and should be nice and hot.  But not one of the dishes was hot, I think they had finished cooking all the dishes twenty minutes before and had forgotten to bring them out.  Worse still, a few hours after the meal, Rita developed food poisoning symptons and was quite unwell for the following 24 hours, without going into too much detail!

So our departure was delayed another day, and having seen the state of the bus going to Bhadrachamal, we booked a car and driver to take us instead.  The car and driver were only 500 rupees for a day, but the fuel worked out at about 4 rupees a km, and as the round trip was 600km the total would be 2880 rupees, almost 40 quid!  I think I'll have to get a job! (Shudders at the thought)

I settled the hotel bill on the night before we departed, they always seem to take so long to get the bill together in the morning, especially when you've stayed for several days, even when you tell them you'll be checking out at a certain time and can they have the bill ready.  And when you roll up at the desk in the morning, they seemed surprised to see you.   Anyway, as I was saying, I got them to prepare the bill while I was having my evening meal (Rita was still recovering from last nights meal).  I though the total looked a bit lower than what I'd calculated it, so I queried the number of days, not being able to remember exactly how many days we'd been there, but the manager assured me it was correct, so I paid up.  20 minutes later, back in our room, I got a phone call from the manager saying he'd undercharged us by one night.  When I went back down to reception, he seemed to make out I had been trying to rip them off.  But I told you I thought it was wrong!  He then blamed it on a computer error.  Computer error?  I hate it when people blame spurious output on computer error.  In 99.99999% of cases, the computer has only done exactly what it was programmed to do, and if the result is not what you wanted it will invariably be down to one of two things; wrong expectations or a bug in the programming, or, as we in the programming fraternity prefer to call it, an undocumented design feature. 

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Thu 12th January 2006

We were packed and ready outside the hotel by 7am, the time we had been told our car would turn up. After several phone calls it arrived at 7:40.  Off to a good start then.  The car was a small hatchback, so our bikes had to go on the roof rack, but the boot was big enough to fit our other luggage in comfortably.  The driver had brought a mate along with him, so we had the back seat, but at least it had rear doors so we didn't have to clamber in through the front.  Our driver spoke very little English, so we asked the hotel security guard, who had kindly helped us load our bikes onto the roof, to ask the driver to refrain from using the horn in the usual manner, e.g. one blast a maximum of 5 seconds from the previous, and maybe keep it down to to a minimum, say one blast every twenty seconds, especially as Rita was not fully recovered from the dodgy food the other night.  I could see the driver almost go into shock.  Not use the horn?  He started to twitch a lttle, but he recovered well, and off we jolly well went. 

The suspension in the car seemed a little better than in the Ambassador we had driven to Ankadeli village in, but with us two and our luggage and bikes, it bounced around quite a bit on the rough part of the road, which were many and frequent.  We had to remind the driver several times about not using the horn too much, but he soon got used to it and was quite surprised that everybody moved off the road without the aid of the horn.  Another convert maybe?  I dont think so.

We had not had any breakfast before we left, so we suggested he stop at a roadside stall for a snack and some chai, but it was 3 hours before the driver stopped at a place.  We didn't fancy the grim seating area and the grimmer cooking area, so I opted for a Pepsi and Rita a glass of chai while the driver and his mate tucked into their late breakfast of eggs and something.  They seemed to be expecting us to pay for their food, and as the whole lot only came to 50 rupees I wasn't too bothered, but it hadn't been mentioned as part of the deal when we booked the trip.  Perhaps its normal practice.

The road deteriorated after breakfast, not that it had been particularly good before, but now it seemed more like a country track, so much so that we wondered if we were on the right road.  The driver didn't seem too sure either, pausing at length at junctions and discussing it with his mate.  We tried to help out as best we could, pointing out road signs in a script we couldn't even recognise let alone read, and which the driver seemed to take little heed of.  Maybe he couldn't read them either?  His driving abilities were limited as well, limited, that is, to accelerating and then braking hard at the last moment before hitting an obstacle in the road, be that a mobile obstacle such as a cow or pedestrian, or a immovable obstacle such as a huge pot hole or a missing bridge! Speaking of bridges, we crossed many bridges of varying size at frequent intervals, mostly small ones over gulleys, but just about all bridges are at a different level from the road either side, lower or higher.  So you would think that after hitting 20 of these bridges at speed and crashing the suspension each time, not to mention throwing us around the back of the car, he would have spotted a pattern starting to form.  i.e. lots of pained noise from the car and lots of shouts and screams from the back of the car every time we crossed a bridge.  Perhaps he's a slow learner, but after a while we had to ask him if he would consider slowing down whenever he came to a bridge.  We could see from his puzzled expression that he didn't understand why, he'd been driving this way for years with no problem.  

After another hour of very rough road and rougher bridges, Rita was feeling quite unwell again, so she swapped places with the drivers mate and sat in the front.  At least this way she could try and make him stick to a reasonable speed as we crossed the rougher parts of the road and bridges.  But even then he still didn't seem to grasp the problem.    We gave up trying.

At 1:30 the driver and his mate were looking hungry again, so we stopped at a small but busy village for them to have lunch, which again they expected us to pay for.  I didn't fancy the look of what was on offer so had a packet of my favourite Kurkuris, a spicy corn chip snack, and Rita certainly wasn't up to the offered fayre.  Only about another 60 km to go , hope road improves from here, I think we've crossed the border into Andhra Pradesh now, so that about wraps it up for Orissa.  See you on our Andhra page. .     .    

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