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EXPLORING INDIA : From Kaziranga to the Himalayas to the desert of Jaisalmer to the backwaters of Allepey to the sun baked coral beaches of Lakshadweep....A first hand account of exploring this beautiful country.



Wednesday, November 23, 2005

ISBTs in Delhi : traveling out of Delhi

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There are many tourist locations around Delhi and you are often required to catch a bus for traveling out of Delhi. But here comes the dilemma -- should you take a private bus or a roadways bus (govt. buses)! Traveling by private bus should be avoided at all cost. Now, where do you go to catch a roadways bus as there are 3 ISBTs in Delhi which are located wide apart. Delhi is full of touts who are out there to exploit innocent tourists. We had all learned it the hard way by getting duped at least once. It starts with the autowalas. If you ask them to go to ISBT, they will quiz your knowledge by asking which ISBT. Local word used for ISBT is Bus Adda. If you can not answer that then they know that you a sitting duck and may take you to private operator. To avoid trouble, you need to tell specifically that I want to go say Kashmere Gate Bus Adda. There are many shops outside New Delhi Station, the so called Tourist Information Bureaus. They constitute the second line of touts. They book tickets for private buses and hotels. You will find cheaper and better hotels if you take the help of a man puled ricksaw. There is no published price of bus fares for private bus and so the price you pay depends on your knowledge of fare and bargaining power. So it is always better to go to ISBTs and catch a roadways bus that keeps running almost 20 hours. But you need to know which ISBT you should go.
During 1998-99, I was employed in Delhi with a private organisation where I had to travel extensively out of Delhi. Fortunately, around that time, the Transport Deptt. of Delhi had published a list of buses from diferent ISBTs in leading newspapers. I had preserved that piece of information which had always been very useful for me. As now I have my own webspace, I feel it will be nice to share it with you all.
ANAND VIHAR ISBT (VIVEKANANDA)
(Buses mostly to UP and East Uttaranchal areas)
Almora
Allahabad
Bulandshahar
Bareilly
Bageswar
Dharchula
Etawah
Farukhabad
Ghazipur
Gajraula
Hathras
Hamirpur
Haldwani
Jhansi
Kanpur
Kashipur
Kalagarh (also from Kashmere Gate ISBT)
Lucknow
Lohaghat
Mainpuri
Moradabad
Nainital
Nagina (also from Kashmere Gate ISBT)
Pithoragarh
Pilibhit
Ramnagar
Rudrapur
Ranikhet
Tanakpur
Varanasi

KASHMERE GATE ISBT (RANA PRATAP)
(Busses mostly to North Haryana, HP, Jammu, Punjab and West UP, west Uttaranchal areas)
Guhana
Sonepat
Panipat
Karnal
Nahan
Kurukshetra
Ambala
Chandigarh
Kalka
Hoshiarpur
Patiala
Bhatinda
Ludhiana
Jallandhar
Amritsar
Katra
Jammu
Moga
Shimla
Dharamsala
mandi
Kulu
Manali
Pilani
Rohtak
Jind
Sangrur
Bhiwandi
Hissar
Sirsa
Ganganagar
Meerut
Saharanpur
Muzzafarnagar
Rurki
Rishikesh
Dehradun
Haridwar
Kotdwar (via Meerut)
Dhampur (via Meerut)
Nagina (via Meerut)
Kalagarh (via Meerut)
And all other routes towards GT Karnal Road, Bahadurgarh Road and Saharanpur Road

SARAI KALE KHAN ISBT (near Ashram)
(Busses to Hrayana towards Faridabad side and Gurgaon side, MP)
Ghaziabad
Hapur
Gurgaon
Sohna
Rewari
Narnaul
Sikkar
Alwar
Kotputli
Jaipur
Ajmer
Jodhpur
Chittor
Bhilwara
Udaipur
Kota
Faridabad
Palwal
Ballabhgarh
Agra (also runs from Anand Vihar)
Aligarh
Gwalior
Mathura
Vrindavan
And all other routes towards Gurgaon and Mathura Road.

Dos and Don'ts:
Here is a list of Dos and Donots from that list. I had added a few.
1) If you can not find the place you are going, check a map. You will get a general direction based on the location and go to that ISBT. Even if you land in the wrong ISBT, do not worry as DTC runs city bus service between these ISBTs. These buses starts from inside the ISBTs.
2) For God's sake DO NOT EVER GET INTO PRIVATE BUSES. The advertisement by Transport Deptt of Delhi rightly says You May Not Reach Your Destination'. Believe me, it is 100% true. The private bus service is highly unorganised and so there is no control.
3) Do not fall for luxury buses or AC buses of private operators. Many agents moves around inside the ISBT, manily around ticket counters and gates looking for innocent looking victims. I can assure you that if you fall for them you are guaranteed a horrible experience you will never forget. We all had gone through it and is so awareing you. Further, I have not seen any AC private bus till now. Probably there is not any. But I have I have seen many people fighting for refund of extra AC charges. But these crookes will not return you money.
4) There is no standard fare of private bus. They charge you depending on your knowledge. But my experience is that roadways bus fare is much cheaper, e.g., the Dehradun - Delhi fare for good quality delux bus of any roadways was 170-80/- while that of khatara delux of private bus was 250/-.
4) Even autowalas may be packed. They may pretend giving you friendly advise to take you to good delux buses. They do it for commision and once they hand you over to touts they will vanish leaving you to suffer.
5) So cardinal principle is that always board a bus from inside the ISBTs. All types of buses are available -- from real khataras to Volvos. Quality of buses may not look good, but they will still make you reach your destination safely.
6) All long distance buses from Delhi leaves by 10:30 pm or maximum 11 pm. So, you should not expect to get buses after 10:30 pm.
Useful Links :
Here are some useful link in case you want to gather more information. The DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) not only runs city bus service in Delhi, but also operates buses to almost all major tourist points to states around Delhi. Here is the link to DTC website . There is another very useful link to find local city bus routes within Delhi. Check this out DTC City Bus Route Finder . Want to know the auto and taxi fare in Delhi, then check this Auto and Taxi fare Calculator . To end, here is the link on the latest mode of commuting in Delhi, the metro rail Delhi Metro Rail .

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 12:49 PM | 18 comments

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Off-beat Dehradun : Santhala Devi Temple

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Off-beat Himalayas is a popular term generously used on the net to attract exploring tourists to those little known destinations which are off the radar of the average tourist that travels to well known destinations only. Such places are everywhere, but because of lack of information one tends to stay away from it. Last Sunday, we have been to one such place within Dehradun which I am certain that even many Dunites living here for years have not seen. The place is a temple named Santhala Devi.

The place was just 7.5 km (excluding the 2 km track) drive from the ONGC colony towards Garhi Cantt. This means it is a mere 4.5 km from the junction at Garhi Cantt. It is the same road that goes to the more famous Tapkeswar Temple. But instead of taking a left turn, keep moving straight by the main road. Soon after crossing a bridge, you will get a cantonment complex named Birpur Estate. Further ahead you get another cantonment complex named Gonghora. Move ahead right through the gate of this complex. The army personal posted at the gate will not stop you. If you get a fountain named Phillora Fountain then you are on right track. A few meters ahead you get a diversion at Milan Chowk. Take right turn. There is not much confusion beyond it. Keep moving till you reach the end of the road. The road will take you to the foothill of the temple. A stream, may be a rivulet, gently flowing has made this place a picnic spot. The day being a Sunday, the place was bustling with picnic goers. Maneuvering the crowd and haphazardly parked vehicles, we reached the paid parking lot and parked our cars.

Then we set out on the track to the temple. The temple is on the top of a nearby hill. It was 2 km up from this point onwards. The climb was very stiff. It was difficult to ascertain how much you have climbed. When we asked those coming down as to how much is left, the common reply was that we had covered only half of the track and half is still left. The demoralizing effect almost made me gave up after traveling 3/4th of the track. Take my advice, do not ask anybody coming down a hill. It took almost an hour for us to reach the temple.

The temple is dedicated to Snthala Devi, probably a loacl deity as I have not heard of any such godess. Being inside a cantonment area, some unit of army has facilitated construction of the temple complex. Besides, the reigning deity, there were few other idols including that of Vishnu. Out side the temple, there is a tree where devotees tie knot with the traditional red ribbons to seek good luck. These will probably be untied when the wishes are fulfilled. There is no place left on the tree. I have seen that people had inserted small papers writing their names within the knots so that they can identify them later. Some has even put visiting cards. Ingenious ideas! There also is a viewpoint in the complex.

Animal sacrifices are made in the temple. There is a sacrificial spot just outside the temple. The blood of hundreds of animals that have been killed here over the years has covered the place in gory red colour. It was generating the kind a foul smell you get at butcher’s place. This signifies that some form of Shakti is worshipped here in the name of Snatala Devi. We did not witness any sacrifice during the half hour stay, but while coming up we saw many headless goats and chickens being carried by devotees. This is the second sacrificial spot I have seen in my life. The other such place I have seen is in the Kamrup Kamakhya temple in Guwahati. That was a long time ago when I was a kid, probably 6 years old. I have heard that large animals are no more sacrificed in Kamakhya.

Coming down was much easier. We made it in about half an hour. Picnics have reached their peak or the effects of booze have reached its peak. It was high time for lunch. We spotted a group that were enjoying picnic with the chicken sacrificed in the temple. Only the head is offered to God, the body is for mortals to eat! Who would eat a chicken head anyway? We too were feeling hungry after spending so much of energy. Many roadside hotels have sprung up in the foothill area which is very common in such places around Dehradun. But all of them seem to sell chowmin only. So we left the place to find a proper eatery for a late lunch.

That summed up the trip. It was more a tracking trip then pilgrimage. The quickest one this year, but undoubtedly the one that required maximum physical effort.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 11:04 PM | 1 comments

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Tehri: The Sinking Town

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Sinking Tehri : the price of development
Tearful eyes are bidding farewell to the centuries old Tehri town. The gigantic reservoir of the Tehri dam has started swallowing up the old town. Houses of more than 1 lakh people of Tehri and 112 villages will soon be lost forever. Relocation of the displaced people has been completed though on paper. Harsh reality is that many are yet to get compensation and are fighting a losing battle. The land and houses, however well constructed, up in the hill cannot replace the fertile lands in the valleys. It is never easy for the hill people to leave their houses where generations have lived. Commercial importance of the old town will also probably get shifted to Chamba. The events in Tehri have generated some tourist interest in the last few years. We went to Tehri during last diwali (15th Oct, 2004). It was a memorable journey for me as it was my first outing in Uttaranchal and also the first long drive in the hills. As more and more news of Tehri has started pouring in, it gave an occasion for me to look back and chronicle the trip.

The Drive from Dehradun to Tehri
From Dehradun we proceeded via Rishikesh, Narendranagar and Chamba. There is an alternative route from Dehradun via Mussorie and Chamba. But the road via Narendranagar is a better one for a new driver in hills. Once you leave Rishikesh, it is always up the hill. Narendranagar is 16 km from Rishikesh and you can see the Narendranagar Palace on the top of a hill from the Gandhi Chowk in Rishikesh. The palace complex, which was once the abode of the erstwhile King of Garhwal, now houses a five star resort named the Ananda in the Himalayas. There is a bypass at Narendranagar which passes right in-front of this palace. We spent a few minutes at the palace for photography. The guards on duty were polite enough to let us into the complex. The road was quite good and wide as this is used to carry all the heavy equipment and material to Tehri dam site. The sloping of road was also low and my Wagon R with 5 people was pulling well in third gear even in the stiffest stretches. The traffic was sparse as used to be in most hilly roads. A rivulet named Henval flows by the road. We had lunch in a decent roadside restaurant. You will get few of such decent eateries on the route.

Chamba (1524 mtr) was the next big town on the route. It is about 61 km from Rishikesh. The town looked beautiful from distance. Four roads converge at the town center of Chamba. These roads go to Narendranagar (the one we were traveling by), Mussorie, Tehri (and also to Uttarkashi and thus to Gangotri as well) and New Tehri. It has hotels in case you decide to stay. We proceeded straight for going to old Tehri, which that was 17 km away.

Tehri town (Old Tehri)
The final stretch of road was not that good. Near the Tehri bus stand we found a signboard welcoming you to the ‘Emerging tourist spot’ of Tehri, but other than that there is literally nothing to guide you. No road signs. We had to ask here and there and finally reached the point called Dobata from where the road to Uttarkashi starts. It is 70 km to Uttarkashi from here and 166 km to Gangotri. Here we had our first view of the dam and the sinking town down below. We had to take guidance there from the police outpost and started for New Tehri. We were told that no one is allowed to go to the old town. We had to come back to the point where we saw the signboard and took a dusty track that branched off from the main road hoping that this is the right road. After traveling for about 2 km the dusty track joined a blacktopped road. A kilometer or so further, we reached the office of Jaypee Associates who is the company having contract to build all THDC sites including Tehri. We gathered some information from the office there. The road to the dam site starts at this point. One may go to right up to the dam if they can manage prior permission from the THDC. If you know someone in THDC, then it is possible. We went down a few hundred meters by that road to have a good view of the old town and the dam. The town looked deserted and dilapidated. It was not submerged and was waiting its destiny with eerie calmness. Located at an altitude of 755 meters, the old Tehri town is more than two hundred years old. Maharajah Sudarshan Shah established the town as the capital of Tehri-Garhwal in 1803. Sadly, in about a year’s time it will be only in history and photographs.

Then we started our journey up to the New Tehri town, which was about 12 km away from this point. On the way up there is a viewpoint (along with a bus shed) at a place called Bhagirathipuram from where you can have a majestic view of the entire dam. I must confess it was quite a site. Dusts from the site had created a grayish layer on the entire site. The bulldozers, the concrete mixers, the trucks – everything down below were looking miniscule and resembled the scene of some sci-fi movie. You could see both the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana rivers from this point. It was late afternoon around 4 pm. The setting sun casted an orange hue to the grey colored concrete surroundings on the higher areas of the dam. The THDC guesthouse is very close to this point. One can also try for accommodation here.

New Tehri
New Tehri town is located at an altitude of 1600 meters. So it was up all the way from old Tehri. Thos stretch of road was not in good shape. Landslides had taken its toll in many places. We finally made it to the New Tehri a few minutes before sunset. We had covered roughly 135 km from Dehradun. New Tehri is a planed town built to rehabilitate residents of Tehri. It has all modern amenities built in a planned way. There are three hotels, all located together very close to the bus stand and the market. These hotels are located on one end of the town, the end that you get while traveling up from old Tehri. It will be opposite end if you travel from Chamba. There also is a GMVN guesthouse just next to the hotels. But we found it closed, may be because of low tourist traffic or to let the hotels survive. We bargained and got good rooms in the first hotel of the row for Rs.250/- a piece. I forgot the name of the hotel. The hotels provide you a magnificent view of a Himalayan peak. The setting sun casted a pinkish orange colour to the peak that was visible from our hotel room. As the sun was setting, the colour changed from pink to orange before becoming white again. I had never seen such a beautiful image of a peak in sunset. I am told that you get o see the best such possible view of this spectacle of colour from Kausani. Unfortunately, I ran out of camera rolls to capture this view and I will always repent this. I still have that scene deeply impregnated in my mind.

Our hotel did not have the restaurant functioning. However it was serving tea. Probably it is same in other hotels as well because all of them appeared to be unoccupied. So we had to go out to the restaurant in the market, which was hardly 50 meters from the hotel. To our shock the shops were closed and the town had gone into sleep even before 7:30. Though it was only mid- October, the cold outside was biting. Fortunately, we had managed to get our dinner in the only restaurant that was open. After returning back to hotel, the cable TV was the only instrument for passing time till the time we went to bed. Thanks to technology that cable TV is now available even in remotest places. We just imagined how would be the life of those getting posted to such remote places, e.g., people working in NHPC can get posted to such places. I must say a posting to Lakwa (in Assam) in ONGC is much better than this.

We started our return journey at around 10 next morning. This time we took a different route and proceeded further up the town and then came down to Chamba. It seems that the main town is located up the road as we get another market in upper areas. Once we left the town, a much larger range of Himalayas started appearing in horizon. We were excited to see a single peak last evening. But here we got a clear view of a large range with many peaks in front of us shining majestically in bright early morning sunlight. Traveling for few kilometers, we got confused in a road junction. There is no road sign. It is very irritating in the hills and is also dangerous. You may not find people for guidance. We almost proceeded by the road that goes to Karnaprayag. But then someone guided us the right way. After traveling for about 11 km from New Tehri we almost made it to Chamba, but got stuck in a traffic jam created by some stupid fellows protesting arrest of Sankaracharya. I really do not understand what is the mindset of such people. They think that by holding up traffic for an hour or so in a nondescript place in the hills they are going to make Jayalalitha listen! Fortunately, by the time we had reached there, half of the scheduled traffic blockade had been completed. So, after about half an hour of hold up, we managed to get out of the jam. Anyway, it gave me some experience of maneuvering a traffic jam in the hills. The incline of the road was very stiff, but fortunately I was driving down. If you keep your engine shut and decides to keep coming down slowly be-aware! Brakes tend to get jammed when your engine is off. But I must conclude that I had thoroughly enjoyed my first driving trip in the hills. When I saw this news pouring on Tehri over last few days, it brings back those beautiful moments.

Where has Ganga gone !
Where has the Ganga gone at Haridwar? Ganga sans Bhagirathi! These are few of the news headlines getting flashed in various news channels in the last few days. The news is that following a court clearance, the tunnel T2 of Tehri dam has been finally closed on 29th Oct, 2005 thereby diverting the water of the sacred Bhagirathi river into the massive 42 sq km reservoir of the dam. Mythology goes that King Bhagirath brought Ganga to earth through penance and so the river is also called Bhagirathi, i.e., river Bhagirathi represents actual Ganga. In fact, Bhagirathi provides 40% of total water supply to Ganga. Following the closure of the tunnel T2, supply of Bhagirathi water has come down to 2 cusec from the normal 1000 cusec. There is an agreement that release of water will be maintained at 40 cusec and the dam officials are claiming that they are maintaining it. Whatever is the amount of water getting released, it is still quite low and imagine how much water will actually reach Devprayag after traversing 80 km. This means that water of Bhagirathi is hardly reaching Ganga and so Ganga has lost its sacredness to the eyes of many who believes that a holy dip will wash away their sins. Alas! Ganga will not do that for them for the next 45 days or so. It is another matter that Ganga is so polluted that you cannot even take a hygienic dip beyond Haridwar. Ganga today is flowing with waters from Alknanda and Mandakini. What is Ganga or even where is Ganga without waters of Bhagirathi? There is considerable resentment over this even in the plains down below. A clash of religious sentiments with technology and development! Yesterday I saw a report in NDTV showing how Bhagirathi has reduced to a stream at Devprayag. I could feel what has actually happened or rather what changes might have taken place in the last few days. I have been to both Devprayag and Tehri in last one year. It was just four months back (23 June, 2005) when we saw the majestic view of the confluence of the two roaring rivers, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi at Devprayag. The river is called Ganga from this point onwards. (You can see this magnificent view of confluence at Devprayag in the Badrinath folder in My Photography)

The Tehri Hydel Project
Why are we undertaking a project that is displacing more than 1 lakh people and is hurting religious sentiments many more lakhs? With a projected generation of 2400 MW electricity, this is one of the largest hydroelectric project in the world. Built at the confluence of Bhagirathi and Bhilangana rivers, the 855 feet tall main dam is the 5th tallest in the world. The main reservoir is a massive 42 sq km that will completely engulf Tehri town along with 40 villages and partially submerge another 72 villages. The project has another 97 feet tall dam 14 km downstream at Koteshwar that will produce 400 MW power of total capacity. This will submerge an additional 16 villages. Besides generating electricity, it will stabilize irrigation to 6 lakh hectre of existing land and will bring another 2.7 lakh hectre under irrigation. It will also provide 270 million gallons of drinking water daily to Delhi, UP and UA. The project was approved in 1972 and construction started in 1978. The Tehri Hydel Development Corporation (THDC) was formed in 1989 to oversee the construction of the project. But it has always mired in controversy and the project got delayed by many years. Even the closing of tunnel T2 that has created the recent controversy was scheduled for Dec 2002. Two lower tunnels T3 and T4 were closed in Dec 2001. Besides the displacement and relocation of more than 1 lakh people, there were environmental concerns as the dam is located in a highly seismic zone. The Uttarkashi earthquake in Oct, 1992 raised further doubts as the dam is just 70 km away from Uttarkashi. One of the noted protestor of the dam is the environmental activist Sundarlal Bahuguna who once undertook a 74 day fast to register his protest. He said once that this dam is built with our tears. One of the major concerns is that what will happen to those living below if this massive dam crashes in an earthquake. Dam officials say it is adequately safe and can withstands earthquakes upto 8.5 Richter. But one should see the programs like “Nature’s Fury” and ‘Nat Geo Investigates” in National Geographic to understand what unexpected things can happen with nature. There already has been an accident on Aug 2, 2004 in one of the tunnel that took few lives as the tunnel gave in following heavy rains.

The dam may be beneficial for development. This is going to take care of all power and water problem of UA, UP and even Delhi. But the residents of Tehri and its adjoining villages had to pay a huge cost. Their struggle will go on and so do the controversies. But with closing of the tunnel T2, the dam is getting ready for generating its first unit of power sometime next year. I wish to visit Tehri again some time next year to see the sunken town.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 10:54 PM | 10 comments

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