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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, December 31, 2008

Welcome 2009

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I wish a very happy and prosperous new year to all who have stumbled upon my site today.

The year promise to begin on a happy note for me. The first thing I will get to do tomorrow is to take over charge of the promoted post. So no holiday tommorw, but no complaint. I hope that the year brings further good news.

But more importatntly, I hope that in the coming year, we all will be able to get out of our homes on weekends, and during festivals, without any fear. I was out on the street today. The fear after the Mumbai attack is still palpable. May be the world become a safe and better place to live.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 7:31 PM | 0 comments

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Delhi to Bharatpur : a road guide

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I was travelling from Delhi to Dibrugarh when an article caught my attention. The article informed that migratory birds have returned to Bharatpur this year. Thanks to a real good monsoon, the canals in Bharatpur had received good amount of water this year. That was a fantastic piece of news. When I visited the park last year, it was all dry. Park authorities tried to keep the park alive by pumping up water using two bore wells. That was really pathetic. We saw a few birds in that small marshland kept alive by pumping water. The birds we saw could be counted on finger tips. We saw more sambhar deers and nilgais than birds. But a walk through the park could make anyone feel how wonderful this place could have been with water and birds.

I feel lucky that my wish had been fulfilled so fast. So on my return to Delhi, we headed for Bharatpur on the next available weekend for a second trip. Being just 180 km from Delhi, it can be easily covered in a weekend trip. We decided to drive down rather than taking the train (2060 Kota Janashatabdi) as this would involve reaching station by hiring a cab, then wait there and get transported to hotel at Bharatpur. The only enticing part by train is that at 80 rupees tickets are really cheap. However this will be the best option for a couple or small family. On reaching the hotel we were informed that there is enough water in the park this time that even the boat ride is also operational. That was real good news. The park had benefited not only from the huge rainfall this year, but the extra water from the dams nearby was also released to the park.

We headed for the park soon after lunch. As I am familiar with the park, we preferred the cycle as mode of conveyance. We were really delighted to find lot of birds from close range. Hordes of Painted Stork and Black Ibis had nested very close to the road. There were various varieties of heron and ducks. We were lucky to see a pair of famed saras crane in the morning trip next day. We got to see one pair last time as well in an evening trip. But that time the birds were at some distance. This time the pair was close enough to be within the range of my 300mm lens. This was the icing on the cake.

Other than those mentioned above, this is what we saw: a rabbit, couple of jackals bold enough to roam in broad daylight, three different species of owls, cormorants, snake bird, grey heron, purple heron, mud turtles, two different species of kingfisher, moorhen, sambhar deer, spotted deer and nilgais. I left out few common birds which we often see in our backyards like robbin, bulbul, Indian mayna and babler.

We had two trips this time. One on the afternoon of the day of arrival and another early next morning. Both the trips were on cycle. Approx cost incurred was rupees 3000. Summing up the trip: it was really worth the time and money spent.

Driving directions from Delhi to Bharatpur:
I downloaded a driving direction from indiacar.com. It was useful. But need some modification as follows:
1) No comments on the distances till Vrindavan or rather the point at which you need to turn left for Vrindavan. This is because the distances between Delhi-Vrindavan will vary a few kilometers depending on where in Delhi you start. In any case you need to reach Badarpur border, whether you make it by the Mathura road via Ashram / New Friends Colony or by the Mehrauli-Badarpur road.
2) We stopped at Sagar Ratna resort after crossing Hodal for breakfast. This is the costliest place for food on the entire route. Breakfast for 4 people cost nearly 500 rupees. It can be avoided. But it also probably provides the cleanest toilets en-route.
3) Keep moving straight till you reach the overhead sign on the NH-2, indicating left turn for Vrindavan.
4) Vrindavan to Mathura road junction is 8 km. You will get many turns between these two. But the one mentioned in the detail is the one with a right turn for Govardhan.
5) Keep moving straight. The flyover on which the cut for Bharatpur exists is almost 5 KM from this junction. The distance mentioned in the indiacar.com road guide is about 4 km which is a little less. En-route you will cross the Jai Gurudev temple, a big white structure, on right hand side of the road.
6) Cross the flyover. Halfway through you will see the road sign for Bharatpur on the right hand side of the flyover. The U-turn is not far from the end of the flyover. Take U-turn here.
7) Bharatpur is 34 km from here. The outskirt of the park is another 2 km. This is a single way state highway. 50% of the road is in pretty good condition. But other 50% is bumpy and bad. Always drive with reasonable speed as real bad sections crops up suddenly. These are bad enough to break your axle. You need to avoid situations when there is a speeding vehicle from opposite on the good section of the road and you have no option but to land your vehicle at the bad spot.
8) I used the Wikimapia map to have an idea of directions within Bharatpur. Once you have reached the railway overbridge at Bharatpur station, keep moving straight.
9) Use this link to get the map I had created for driving direction from the station to the Park.
10) Most hotels are on the road to the park which is the Agra-Jaipur highway. Few around Saras chowk. I stayed at the Hotel Pratap Palace which is good place to stay. I stayed at this hotel in my last visit and the experience was good. I paid 650 this time for double deluxe room. But food here is costly. However we have decided to explore other accommodation around. The Sunbird Inn turns out to be the costliest in that area. They offered room @900. Few other accommodations we checked were cheap but you will not like spend the night there. There are two more costly options – the ITDC run Hotel Bharatpur Ashok, which is located right inside the park and the RTDC run Hotel Saras.

( Read about my first trip to Bharatpur on this link)

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 8:12 PM | 3 comments

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Free movement of Taxis and auto-ricksaws across Delhi and NCR areas

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The days are not far when you will be able to hire a taxi or auto to Noida or Ghaziabad or Gurgaon from Delhi. The much awaited Reciprocal Common Transport Agreement among Governments of Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh for unrestricted movement of taxis and autos in the National capital Region (NCR) has finally been signed and published as gazette notification on 11th December, 2008. It was published in national dailies like the TOI on 13th Dec, 2008. For your reference the gazzette notification no. is PCO(STA)/DTC Cell/06/07/pt.II/482It took almost a year since the news about such an agreement was first published. But anyway, it is better be late than never.

What does it mean?
Take for example I live in Kaushambi, which falls in Ghaziabad district of UP. One side of the road around the Anand Vihar ISBT falls in Delhi and the other in UP. Kaushambi falls on the UP side of the road. Thus taxis and autos available from Delhi airport or railway station will not ply to my residence across the road in UP. I had to hire a taxi or auto to Anand Vihar and then get into a cycle ricksaw to reach my home. While making the trip to airport or railway station, I either have to reach Anand Vihar or hire a taxi from a local operator in this area which charges a hefty premium. Further they use private cars for this business, which is not only illegal but also unsafe.

Of late Easy Cab had started operating to NCR areas. But hey charges about Rs15/- per KM. This is OK for summer as taxis are AC, but much higher than the pre-paid taxis operated by Delhi Traffic Police. In the police operated pre-paid taxi counters at Delhi airport, you might observe a notice saying taxi to Noida not available from here. Fortunately you have Easy Cab now. Earlier you had to use the similar tactics used by me. I am lucky that my house is less than a kilometer from the border. But for places like Noida or Indirapuram, it certainly is tough.

The catch:
The details published in news papers on 13th December, 2008 had few catches as under:
1) It is not free for all situation for autos, i.e., not all autos will ply across border. Only the ones holding special permit for this will ply. However all taxis can ply across border in NCR areas. I had assumed this as there is no mention on no. of taxis being allowed.
2) All such vehicles have to be registered in NCR areas. The definition of NCR encompasses a large area, e.g. it includes even Meerut.
3) No. of autos for this mutual agreement is fixed, e.g., registered in Delhi but allowed to ply to UP NCR areas (like Vaishali, Kaushambi, Indirapuram and Ghaziabad) is 4000. Another 4000 from UP can ply to Delhi. I think 8000 autos altogether is a good number. Same is the no. agreed between Delhi and Haryana.
4) The autos and taxis registered in NCR and plying across border will be given a colour code and logo for easy recognition. There no mention what these indicators it will be. So one need to look out for this.

Anyway, almost a week has passed since gazetisation of this agreement. But no taxis or autos have started to ply yet. It may take few more days, may be months for this to materialize into practical reality.

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posted by Rupankar Mahanta at 8:55 PM | 0 comments

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bharatpur : good weekend break from Delhi

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First of all apologise for all those who sought advise on travel, specially to Lakshadweep, in the last few months. I have been very busy and could not find time even to moderate the comments.
As a break from the hectic life, I went to Bharatpur (Keoladeo Ghana National Park) last Saturday (06.12.2008). While flying to Dibrugarh some 15 days back, I read a small article mentioning that most water bodies in Bharatpur has been replenished by the good moonsoon this year. This has made many migratory birds to return. When I visited the park last Christmas, it was in real bad shape. Almost no water and very few birds. But being there I could easily imagine had there been water, this would have been a bird lovers paradise. Thus when I got to know that Bharatpur has received water, I was itching to go there a second time.
On arrival at the park this year, it was a different scene altogether. All the water bodies has been replenished naturally. And so there were scores of stroks, ducks, herons and many other birds. One can see the birds nesting from a very close range. The made the trip a worthy one. If are around Delhi, you can give it a try. Bharatpur is some 180 KM by road from Delhi. The Kota Janashatabdi will take you there in 3 hours for just 80 rupees. I will upload some photos later.

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