Saturday, January 5, 2008

Lots of Photos

Photos can be found
here and here.

Farewell HRI

Before I leave on Tuesday I thought I'd stick up a few more pictures of HRI.

This is my house at the top left.

This is the view from my office window, you can just about see the Ganges.

This is my office, I'm lucky enough to have one to myself.

Here's one of the residents on my flat, I call him Lizzie. In the grounds there are Jackals and mongooses (I've seen both).


The next day, after a late rise and much faffing, we were set to go to the Panna Tiger Reserve! Sounds exciting doesn't it? A quick check on the web revealed that a tiger sighting here was pretty unlikely, unlike some of the bigger tiger reserves. It was 330pm with dusk approaching by the time we got there, but we all got piled into our seven seater car with our driver, and the "guide" who we had to hire from the park.

It turned out to be pretty disappointing, 20 minutes in and the first sign of life: a monkey. You may know from earlier postings that they are quite common in some urban locations as well. We did see quite a few of the rather large Sambar deer eventually though. Our "guide"'s main contribution was to say "Sambar" a few times and point at the deer we'd already seen. It was quite nice to see the countryside properly and there was a scenic river through the park, but we were beginning to come to the conclusion that there were no Tigers around at all. We stopped at a viewpoint (see photo) where someone else's guide told us that they'd seen tigers the last few mornings. As we continued through the park, the lack of safety precautions seemed to point to a lack of tigers: in the big tiger parks I hear guides always have a gun or tranquiliser in case tigers attack. We were allowed to go in in out own car here and we saw three guides scoot past us on a moped. The guide also managed to switch the radio on full blast with his knee when we were stalking some deer! No tigers here, best stick to Gwalior zoo, next to the pigeons.

Early the next morning I had to set off back to Allahabad on my own, and had to get the infamous bus along "the worst road in India". In fact the bus was fine despite having around fifty people on a 30 seater for long stretches. It took just over four hours for what took 2 and a half in the car the other way. The added advantage of the bus is that you get to see bollywood hits blasted out on a dvd player. Beginning with a women chained up on a boat finding it necessary to do much writhing in her ripped outfit in the rain, it degenerated after that. It seems quite a few Indian leading men have the look of a young Swiss Tony about them, I wouldn't buy a used car from them. One of the next leading men was wearing a green dungarees and bright yellow polo neck combo. Wow.

On arrival in Satna I had 4 hours till my train was supposed to leave. I had a waiting list ticket and wasn't guaranteed a seat, though people had assured me I would get one. I had lunch and then walked to the station as I had the time. There I was told the charts were not made up so it wasn't known if I'd get a seat yet, come back later. I went to an Internet cafe and came back an hour before the train was due and the charts were still not ready. Eventually I was told I was not on the chart but I could speak to the conductor when the train got in to see about getting a ticket. Of course the train was an hour late and when it arrived the conductor was quite unhelpful but checked and said there was no space and I couldn't travel, but he didn't have much English.

I hadn't been able to book a seat on any trains that day so I decided to go back to the bus station as someone had told me I could get a bus if my ticket didn't come up. I got an autorickshaw there only to be told that there were no buses and to go to the station! Back to the station it was. Here I asked at the Ticket Counter who told me to go to the enquiry counter who told me to go to the chief ticket inspector. He was quite helpful and told be to get my old ticket refunded and use the money to get an unreserved ticket which I could then upgrade by asking the conductors on later trains: the 1155 would definitely have space as a last resort. He signed a form for me to have countersigned by the deputy station commander to take to the ticket desk for a new ticket and a refund. however, the ticket desk sent me to the reservation desk for the refund, then back to the ticket desk for a new ticket which I took back to the Chief ticket inspector. He gave me the numbers of some trains I could try for an spare seat, the next 1.5 hours later. Being alone at this point it was different experience to usual and I ended up talking to quite a few people: A group of Indian teenagers at the station (they first managed to stop me going into the ladies toilets) - they also liked my beard and thought my overgrown greying haircut was expensively styled and tinted to look like a bollywood star. There was also a nice older Indian man on the platform, and a group of Spanish tourists (one with a boyfriend from Glasgow). The next possible train came (over an hour late of course) and there was actually plenty of available sleeper spaces! I had the top bunk and managed to sleep a bit on before getting back to Allahabad after 1am. The institute bus finishes at 11pm so I had to get a taxi for the 15kms to Jhunsi which is very isolate. After my primitive attempts at haggling I ended paying 500Rs (5 pounds!) for a taxi which seemed a lot but was well worth it to get home quickly to bed! I ended up getting to bed around 230am after having to direct the taxi down the right street. A very long day but an experience. I won't take peoples advice on waiting list tickets again!

Friday, January 4, 2008


The plan was to go for three nights over new year to visit the temples at Khajuraho, famous for their erotic carvings! What was originally going to be Sarah and me had burgeoned to include Daniel, Emma, Paige and Dr Chatterjee, all from the orphanage where Sarah works. The four others would be coming with a car from Gwalior, and meet Sarah and me there. As Sarah decided late in the day to come via Allahabad we couldn't get a ticket on the right day so we planned to travel a day earlier and stay in Satna, where we had to change from train to bus, or continue on for an extra night in Khajuraho if we could make the connection. In the end our train was four hours late in departing so we were stuck in Satna for the night, a town who's lonely planet entry consists solely of how to get from the train station to the bus station.

We wandered around near the station for a while, after swatting away the initial swarm of touts, but there was not much sign of any hotels or restaurants. So we got an auto-rickshaw to a hotel we'd heard the name of, which turned out to have room, and be a bit cheap and cheerful (bedding would have been nice). The next day we were offered a very cheap rate for a car to Khujaraho by a driver from there who was returning after having dropped tourists off in Satna. We took him up as the bus journey was reputedly the worst one in India. Thus we arrived in Khajuraho around lunchtime on Sunday, where Sarah had to renegotiate out booking and rate due to the lax Indian approach to what a booking means.

We went for lunch in an Italian restaurant which had real pizza with (gasp) real cheese! We ended up back there many time over the next few days. Sarah and I headed to a local art and craft museum before the others arrived, saving the temples for a large group visit. When they did arrive we headed out for Chai and there was much talk of Orphanage politics. A putative ban on such talk in the following few days was not enforced!

On New Years Eve we went to see the main temple site in the morning. These were pretty amazing. They were built by the chandelas around 1000 years ago and feature many carving of dancing women as well as some more "non-veg" (as the Indians say) carvings. There is no proper explanation about why the carvings are there, especially the one of a man sodomising a horse! I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, I may add more in a gallery later. In the afternoon Sarah, Danial and I walked out to see some of the more outlying temples: Jain temples this time, but with similar carvings.

Before dinner some of us went to see the sound and light show at the temples. Not that great really but something different to see. The highlight was the supposed voice of the British officer rediscovering the temples, good god man!

After dinner in the Pizza place again we wondered what to do for "the bells". The fancier hotels out of town would have bars, and one supposedly had a disco, going by the rock'n'roll name "Downing Street". In the end we went to a nearby hotel for a few drinks, where it was interesting to see the expressions that crossed Sarah's face after she tried downing some dodgy Indian Rum. We could see that the party was more jumping across the road at... the pizza place again, where they had a sound system and people were dancing. We headed over there again with less that an hour to the new year. The dancing had stalled a little and Sarah made a valiant effort to get things going again, with moves David Brent would be proud of. Dr Daniel was then enticed up by some Indian men, and then I was dragged up to by an Indian man who kept hugging me (did I mention that many men told we that a had a nice goatee (or French cut as they sometimes called it) over those few days - no where else we have been has had this fascination with beards). Eventually everyone had been up for a dance. You can see Dr C and Dr D in the photo. We didn't last that long after midnight, and any plans to make it to the British New Year as well were abandoned.


Sarah came to visit for a week over Christmas which meant we had a chance to explore Allahabad. Unfortunately there's not much here. Immediately after she arrived we went to see some Moghul tombs which are very near the train station. There are three in a row and they are quite impressive and I'm sure they see very few tourists. It was early in the morning and there were just a few locals hanging around, some doing some yoga. One of them is for the brother of the builder of the Taj Mahal. He failed in a coup attempt, and if he'd succeeded there'd be no Taj Mahal.

The next day we walked along and across the Ganges from the institute to the Sangam (where the Ganges meets the Yamuna). We were able to walk across because soon will be the most auspicious time to bathe in the Ganges and people will be coming from all over: they are setting up electricity and lighting for huge tent villages on the dried out flats by the river, as well as a pontoon bridge. At the Sangam itself you can see there are lots of stalls hawking various things, and lots of boats to take people out to the point where the waters of the two rivers meet. We didn't take a boat trip, or a bath in the waters.

A few days later was Christmas and Sarah was getting a bit bored by this time. We went to the posh 4 star hotel for dinner and a few beers with Andreas (5 year fellow here). The hotel, and many of the other more expensive restaurants around town did have their Christmas decorations up, but they did rely a bit heavily on balloons. A had Tandoori fish and a creation which was a bit like a posh Scotch egg curry. We went to the hotel bar afterwards and sampled the (terrible) Indian whisky (manageable with coke!). A drunken Indian offered to give the three of us a ride home on his motorbike (the paper today had a picture of 2 parents and 4 children on a small scooter in town).

The rest of the week there was not much to do but go out for dinner a few times. I resisted the temptation to go to the seminars that were scheduled on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. On Saturday we set of together for Khajuraho.