Posts Tagged ‘india’

Pretty Palolem

Hospet is linked to Goa by one train in each direction, four days a week. The train west leaves at 6:30 am, and although I nearly missed it, it wasn’t because I didn’t get up early enough. The rickshaw I had arranged the day before got me to the station at 6:25, and the train was five minutes or so late. No, my trouble was finding my carriage, as there were no helpful train plans posted in the station, and I got conflicting information.

Perhaps I should explain a couple of things about Indian trains. First, they are very, very long. At least 20 carriages long, and although the air-con cars are usually at the head end, where the ride is smoother, that’s not always the case, and it can easily take longer to walk the length of the train than the train is scheduled to wait. Second, there’s no whistle to signal that the train is leaving, it just starts moving. Very quietly. Fortunately, someone yelled at me, and at an equally confused Australian, in time for us to scramble on board as the train pulled out (good thing we had backpacks!). Then I pushed and slithered my way through half the non-AC sleeper carriages to reach my seat. Nothing like that to make you appreciate being able to afford something cooler, quieter and less crowded!

Palolem beach at sunset

My first trip to India I stayed at north Vagator, and thought it the very model of a tropical beach: a long stretch of golden sand, backed by a profusion of palm trees and with a ruined fort on the headland to the north. I ate breakfast at a secluded beach shack near the fort, and headed south at sunset to drink cold Kingfisher beer while a rose-red sun slipped slowly into the Arabian sea. But I had heard that the southern beaches were even prettier, and this time I was visiting Palolem, as far south as I could go and still get AC. Ten years ago, Palolem was considered “undiscovered”, and even though it’s now firmly on the tourist map, beach chalets remain the main form of accommodation. The place I booked, Village Guest House, describes itself as “Palolem’s first boutique guest house”, and while that’s stretching it a bit, it does have rooms with AC and attached bath, and serves a praise-worthy breakfast. At least, the rooms are meant to have AC. I arrived by pre-paid taxi from Margao station (I avoided haggling with the taxi touts, but had to stand in a not very disciplined line in the sun) to be told that the AC in my room would be working “in two hours”…

Early morning

I asked whether the power was out (everywhere in India is subject to frequent, generally daily, power cuts, although many hotels have back-up generators) and learned that the unit wasn’t working but that a technician was coming to fix it. Having little faith in the appearance of the technician, and less in his ability to fix the unit in the promised two hours, I insisted I wanted a different room. Fortunately a (bigger) room with working AC was available for one night, and Janet, one half of the couple who owned the place, agreed to move me, albeit reluctantly. (Justifying my skepticism, the AC in my original room wasn’t fixed until the next afternoon.)

Patnem beach

While I found the guest house comfortable – certainly much more comfortable than a beach chalet – it was a little far from the beach and my choice put me firmly in the holiday-maker rather than the traveler camp. Most of the other guests were westerners spending a week or two sunning and partying. Not really my scene, although I did go to dinner with the group one night. As I get older, and my hearing gets worse, I’m less and less inclined to spend my time in loud places with a lot of people I barely know. If you want to party, and you certainly don’t have to, the upper verandah is the place. There’s an actual barman from 6:00 to 11:00, and other tastes are still catered to in Goa if not in Hampi.

Bringing in the boats

Palolem beach, despite the continuous line of cafes and chalets ringing its sands, was lovely. A perfect crescent curved between two rocky headlands, fishing boats still put out at sunset, and the sun made a dramatic exit behind a thick stand of trees. The shacks were set back under the fringing palm trees, and although I had to walk a gauntlet of clothes and souvenir stalls to reach the beach, the vendors weren’t especially pushy. The next beach south, Patnam, was following in Palolem’s footsteps, but still had a ways to go. I took a rickshaw there, quite early one morning, to find the cafes barely open – the help was still sleeping on the sofas out front – and hardly another person to be seen. Plenty of cows though – I didn’t go into the water!

More boats

In fact, I didn’t do much of anything – isn’t that what beaches are for? I spent some quality time in the beach front cafes – notably Drupadi, conveniently situated right where the road met the beach, with a stellar sunset view, and good food and service. I bought some cheap cotton clothes to beat the heat and humidity. I organized tickets for the next two train trips – I had planned to ride the local train, but when it came to the point I couldn’t face several hours without AC. I was lucky to get a ticket on the taktal quote for the Margao to Mangalore leg – these tickets are released 48 hours before the train leaves, at a higher than normal price. I even rode on the back of my host’s motorbike into the nearby town to buy an Indian SIM for my cell phone. Many tourists chose to ride bikes round Goa, but the accident rate is high and no helmets are worn. (For that matter, I don’t think I’ve seen a single helmet the whole time I’ve been in India, but I’ve seen hordes of motorbikes.)

And I made friends with another solo woman traveler, a technical writer from Delhi traveling on her own for the first time. Our last night at Palolem we ate dinner (at Drupadi) with a newly arrived young couple from Chennai (both I.T. workers – maybe the owner of the Mango Tree was right about them going to Goa). When they arrived I was on the net trying to find accommodation in Coorg. I had planned to stay at Coffee Creek, but when I sent an email confirming the reservation before finding an ICICI Bank to pay the deposit, the reply said, in so many words, please find somewhere else. Finding somewhere else wasn’t going very well, until the Chennai couple recommended Kabbe Holidays, where I wound up staying.

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Hot in Hampi

I had gone to considerable trouble to reach Hospet, a forgettable transport hub, in order to visit Hampi. I had intended to visit Hampi during my previous trip, but eventually decided it wasn’t worth a long and tedious journey by train via Bangalore, and spent extra time in Goa instead. Coming by car via Bijapur and Badami produced an even longer and more tedious journey, and I have to say that I’m not sure it was worth the effort.

Ruinous ruins at Hampi

Hampi, like Hyderabad, is a “once upon a time” place. Once upon a time it was the capital of a major empire. South Indian history is replete with empires, really quite separate from the history of the north. (Even the Mughal empire never controlled the whole of India – whether you think Britain did so depends on how you view the princely states.) Vijayanagar, one of the most successful, if brief, empires was based at what is now Hampi. Alas, the palaces and temples, and the markets, home to international traders, were destroyed when the empire fell in 1565. More recently, the site has become a major stop on the backpacker circuit.

Hampi’s boulder-strewn landscape and the river

At least, it was a major stop. According to the owner of the admirable Mango Tree restaurant, Hampi is suffering a significant drop off in tourism. I have the impression there has been a successful campaign against drugs, on the one hand, and on the other, the owner said that the Indian I.T. workers now had more money, and went to Goa. For my part, I have concluded that very ruinous ruins are boring rather than evocative, and many of the remains at Hampi were decidedly ruinous. I don’t care that the rectangle on my left used to be the banqueting hall, and the square to my right a bedroom, they’re just patches of grass outlined by a few inches of brick (or stone, depending on the ruins). Fortunately, I did enjoy a few buildings in better shape, notably the beautifully carved Vittala temple, where I spent significant time admiring the carvings, almost alone.

The golden Chariot at Vittala - once, the wheels actually moved

The first day I arranged for a car and driver, and visited all the sites south of the Tungabhadra River. Much to my annoyance, once again I had trouble with my driver. I told him that I wanted to start at the Royal Center, conveniently located between Hospet and Hampi Bazaar. I figured I would cover the bulk of the sites in the morning, eat lunch and investigate Hampi Bazaar in the heat of the day, and visit the Vittala temple when things cooled off again. So what did he do? Took me to Hampi Bazaar instead!

A less-ruinous ruin

We duly got that sorted out and returned to the Royal Center, and happily we had the same idea about where I should eat lunch. The Mango Tree is set into a cliff overlooking the river, apparently the only place around Hampi Bazaar actually on the river. You have to take your shoes off, and sit on mats on the floor, but you get to lean back against a stone slab and stretch your legs out under the low tables, shaded by the mango trees and with a breeze off the river. The breeze, like the AC in my car, was very welcome. I found Hampi in the middle of the day hot and rather humid. The hummus and falafel with chapatti and salad I had at the Mango Tree were so good, and such a nice change from Indian food (although I do like Indian food), and the place so relaxing, that I ate hummus and falafel there two days running, so I can’t comment on the rest of the menu, but the other customers looked happy.

Detail from the Vittala temple

I had intended to explore the sites north of the river my second day, but since I had spent three tiring days getting to Hampi, and now seemed to be coming down with a cold, I gave myself a break. I took a rickshaw back to the Mango Tree, and spent a peaceful few hours reading, eating and drinking. I had found hot lemon and ginger on one of the cafe menus the previous afternoon, and drank it again before lunch. The cold cure I know calls for hot whisky, lemon and honey, but this one seemed to work just as well. Because of the incipient cold, I ran low on tissues, and learnt that they were not a standard item in Indian stores. I think I was redirected four times in Hospet before I found a place that carried them (not very nice grey ones, at that). But after I bought a few packets, two Indian women customers decided they wanted some, too. Perhaps I will have started a trend.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a Western tour group, but dinner my last night at the Hotel Malligi took a while to appear, as a sizeable group was eating a buffet in the restaurant. A sizeable group of very senior citizens. I hope I’m still traveling at that age!

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Surprising Badami

The shore temple at Badami

On any long trip there’s a mixture of good and bad, but the day spent driving to Bijapur and the night at the Shashinag Residency combined to feature as one of the absolute worst experiences ever. So perhaps the travel gods were redressing some karmic balance the next day.  Once I left Bijapur, things kept improving. For starters, while the roads weren’t exactly good, they were a great deal better than the day before, and we made Badami by mid-afternoon, having stopped for another “will this make me sick” veg thali on the way.

Going up to the cave temples at Badami

The Spanish couple’s driver had agreed with Lonely Planet that the place to stay was the Badami Court, and while I felt it was a trifle overpriced, given the absence of competition, and the marked improvement over the Shashinag, I could hardly complain.

Entrance to one of the cave temples

Inside one of the caves

After I checked in I visited the cave temples, finding the late afternoon light absolutely perfect. Massive, rocky hills surrounded a big tank, and standing in front of the four nicely carved caves on the west side, I watched the rounded cliffs and the pretty little shore temple opposite glow in the slanting rays of the setting sun. For once, I used a guide for the site, and among a wealth of forgettable data, I learned that several of the statues were of “combined” gods – one deity forming the left half of the body, and a different deity the right half – in a bid to reconcile religious differences.

One of the carvings

The next morning I noticed that the hotel owned a big wall map of the state, and had the staff explain the route to Hospet to my driver. Then we headed slightly off course to visit the south Indian temples at Pattadakal. Mostly built during the 7th and 8th centuries C.E., the temples illustrate two different styles, but are worth seeing even if you’re not interested in the architecture. There’s another, older, group further on at Aihole, but I chose to get on the road instead of visiting them.


Also at Pattadakal

The only good thing I can say about the NH13 between Ilkal and Hospet is that a new road is under construction. The existing roadway is at best one, ragged, lane wide, access to which is contested by a constant stream of trucks in both directions. Not that the alternate route via Gadag is said to be any better. It’s a shame, because Badami is really worth visiting. Supposedly there will be a train from Hospet at some point in the future, but then you’ve still got to get to Hospet, inconveniently situated many miles from anywhere else of interest.

Not all the carvings were of gods!

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The morning of November 27th I was checked out of the Minerva Grand, and ready to get on the road, at 8:20, as agreed by email. How foolish of me. Half an hour later I called the contact number Savaari had given me. The universal SIM in my cell phone provided a horrible connection, but I gathered that the driver would arrive in “5-10 minutes”. He actually arrived after another half an hour, just as I was about to implement Plan B. So I was not paying as much attention as I might otherwise have done to the route we took. When asked my preference, I had simply said: “the shortest”, and sat back, not thinking that I needed to treat this driver the way I would a rickshaw driver who had agreed to use the meter.

On my previous visit to India, as best I remember, my contracts for car hire had specified a particular journey – town A to town B – but all the contracts I was offered this time were distance based. So many rupees for so many kilometers. Or, actually, half that many kilometers, as they doubled the outbound distance to allow for the driver’s return to Hyderabad even though he would travel a shorter route. Extra kilometers cost 10.5 rupees each. Except that the extra kilometers were doubled, too.

The only photo I took on the way to Bijapur – occasionally a hill appeared amid the flat fields

I had expected that we would take the NH9, so it took me a while to register that the nice, smooth, fast divided highway we were traveling was actually the NH7 to Bangalore, and even longer to conclude we were heading too far south. When I asked how come we weren’t heading more to the west, my driver made a U-turn, took the exit we had just passed, and announced that we were going via Raichur. At this point I pulled out my Lonely Planet, took a good look at the sketchy map of Karnataka, and made it quite clear that I knew that Raichur was completely and totally out of the way.

He stopped the car, and went “to get directions”, even though he had spent quite a while on the phone doing that already. Clearly, he had been planning to run up the mileage (sorry, I can’t figure out the equivalent word for kilometers), and now I had called him on it, he needed an alternate route. Unfortunately for both of us, that turned out to mean we spent the rest of the day doggedly traveling cross-country on roads of varying but generally miserable condition. Before the trip, I had written, mostly in jest, about a possible need for a search party, given that I had hired this outfit sight-unseen over the internet. Now I started to think one might actually be required. At least my driver was willing to ask for directions, and frequently did so, but when we finally reached Bijapur the last colors of a rather pretty sunset had already turned to black.

Golgumbaz, Bijapur

While I didn’t have to drive, I was stuck with some very uninspiring scenery. For most of the day, flat, agricultural land stretched to the horizon in all directions. The villages we passed – we saw precious few towns – were literally dirt poor: the houses had dirt floors and often just woven walls. And after the first few flocks of sheep and herds of bullocks, they cease to be cute and photogenic, and become simply yet-another-traffic-hazard.

We eventually stopped for lunch in a small town, but the first place we tried clearly wanted nothing to do with us, and I was less than happy with it. The second was pretty primitive, too, but I figured (correctly) that I would probably survive eating a veg thali. Toilet stops? Behind a couple of bus shelters. After we reached my hotel, my driver had the nerve to ask me where he was going to sleep. I pointed out, rather sharply, that the contract said that his accommodation was included in the price I was paying. Perhaps he slept in the car. When I saw my room, I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t have been better off in the car myself.

This family insisted that I take their photograph

The Hotel Shashinag Residency, says Lonely Planet, is the “most upmarket choice in Bijapur”. In that case I can only be thankful that I didn’t try one of the others, because the words “upmarket” and “Shashinag Residency” do not belong in the same sentence. The place is a dump.

As I entered, the lobby looked promising, but then the first person I saw was a fellow guest complaining bitterly about fresh blood on her towels.

One of the better bits of Ibrahim Rouza

At least this alerted me to the need to inspect my own linens. I had the towels and bath mat changed, which produced only minimal improvement, and while I passed the sheets I used my silk sleep sack. I also bathed using the bucket and pail rather than the very dirty shower head.

For dinner I had a choice of eating in the dark, gloomy and low-ceilinged dining room, along with some hungry mosquitoes, or outside, where an al fresco cinema seemed to be in operation, and no doubt the mosquitoes were even hungrier. (Based on the beer bottles I noticed on the lawn the next morning, it was a quite a party outside – although only two other rooms seemed to be occupied in the hotel.) I put some socks on, and the waiter found a mosquito coil. Once again, I felt it prudent to eat vegetarian – dal fry, paneer and mushrooms, and rice – and I drank both beer and water straight out of the bottles. Next morning, over a marginal breakfast, I chatted with the Spanish woman I had seen at check-in, and her husband. They were moving on to Badami for two nights, before heading for Hospet. I was booked for a second night at the Shashinag, as I had thought the Badami hotels sounded even worse than the ones in Bijapur.

Ibrahim Rouza

My driver duly reappeared as scheduled, and we set off to explore the sights of Bijapur. Golgumbaz, a mausoleum built in 1659, failed to impress me, despite having the largest dome in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome, and I didn’t bother to climb the stairs to the “whispering gallery”, currently more of a screaming gallery. The associated museum proved even less exciting. At this point I decided to skip town. I really couldn’t face a second night at the Shashinag, and the Bijapur didn’t seem worth a whole day’s sightseeing. Besides, now I had experienced the roads in Karnataka, driving from Bijapur to Hospet in one day seemed way too ambitious

I did visit the Ibrahim Rouza before leaving, but while it may indeed be “among the most elegant and finely proportioned Islamic monuments in India”, it’s also among the most neglected. As happy as I had been to stop driving the night before, I was just as happy to start off again.

[Note:  I sent a letter to savaari.com after reaching Hospet. I have received no reply.]

At least the birds liked it

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Haunting Hyderabad

Hyderabad: the old city

Once, so I have read, Hyderabad was a center of high Islamic culture, adorned with fabulous palaces and gracious gardens, and ruled by the impossibly wealthy Nizams – the Koh-i-Noor diamond came from their Golconda mines. That was before Independence and the partition of Pakistan and India. A great deal has been written about the horrors of partition on the frontiers, of whole trainloads arriving dead on either side of the newly-defined border, of hundreds of thousands, maybe as many as a million, killed. The story of Hyderabad is not told so often.

Hyderabad: the lake, a Buddha statue, and newer buildings

Just as the ruler of Kashmir vacillated, with disastrous consequences still in operation today, over the choice between accession to India or Pakistan, so too did the Nizam. But with joining Pakistan surely a geographic non-starter, he opted for independence from both. Negotiations with the new Indian government failed and the army went in, taking a mere five days to gain control. While Muslim militia units may have helped provoke the invasion (although it was called a “police action”) estimates of Muslim deaths after the invasion range from 50,000 to 200,000. The government report on the terror and bloodshed has never been published.

Certainly, there is little now to recall the city of palaces. William Dalrymple writes poignantly of an old man who grew up in the Hyderabad of the Nizams, and lives now in the Hyderabad of modern India, trying to forget the past. The streets are maybe a little broader, maybe a little cleaner, than elsewhere. A large lake is a surprising find near the city center. Here and there the bones of a once beautiful building still stand. But mostly, Hyderabad is just another Indian city. Better off than many, with a HiTec section growing on the western outskirts, and an upmarket area called Banjara Hills, where I stayed in the Minerva Grand.

Chowmahalla Palace

But one palace, the Chowmahalla, has been recently restored.  Situated in the heart of the old city, close to the bazaar, it is a surprising oasis of green grass, splashing fountains, and opulent white buildings. The durbar hall is still lit by 19 huge crystal chandeliers, and collections of porcelain, clothing, arms, photos and even very decrepit antique cars fill the halls.

The throne in the durbar hall

Before the Nizams ruled Hyderabad, the Qutb Shah kings held power, originally in Golconda, on the outskirts. When the water supply failed they founded the new city. While the remains of Golconda fort, built on a substantial hill, are still formidable, I didn’t find it as interesting as I expected. It could use some cleaning up, as could the much more atmospheric Qutb Shahi tombs nearby. Sometimes I am puzzled by the choice of the Indian Archaeological Society of what to save and what to neglect. Even with the water channels empty, the grass brown and the buildings stained, you can see how beautiful the site must have been, and could be again.

An Indian tour group inside Golconda fort

At the Qutb Shahi tombs

Some people come to Hyderabad for the shopping – my drivers all wanted to take me to jewelry stores. Some people come for the food – the Hyderabad biryanis are famous. I didn’t shop, but I did eat chicken biryani, twice at my hotel, and once at a city center place recommended by Lonely Planet, the Hotel Shadab, where I felt distinctly out of place as a solo female. All three were fine, but I am still not a fan of biryani.

Besides sightseeing, I spent some time in Hyderabad figuring out how to leave. I had arrived at the sparkling new international-standard Rajiv Gandhi airport, driving the 22 kms into town on an impressive new highway. (I noticed a sign: “Please don’t overload your vehicle” just before we passed an overstuffed rickshaw.) I wanted to leave by car for Bijapur, Badami and Hospet (for Hampi). I had asked for quotes before I left, notably from savaari.com, but they seemed high, and based on my previous experience I expected to do better in-country. But my hotel’s quote was much higher, and when I finally tracked down a travel agent in town his quote was also higher, and I didn’t feel comfortable dealing with him.

Qutb Shahi

I sent another email to savaari.com, and meanwhile worked out a Plan B. This involved flying to Goa, and staying at the Panjim Inn in Panaji. On the one hand, I liked the Panjim Inn. On the other hand, I had already done about all you could do based in Panaji, and I had skipped Hampi in favor of more time in Goa the last time I was in India. Getting to Hampi is a pain, and I might not be so close again, so when savaari.com replied, I accepted their terms.

Qutb Shahi, detail

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Into India

Since Lumbini was a long, dusty, potholed, 22km from Bhairawa/Sunauli and the Indian border, I arranged for the same young man in the same white jeep to drive me. Not only did he get me to the border, he organized a jeep for the trip to the railhead at Gorakhpur, and escorted me to Nepali immigration – three men in mufti sitting round a dusty table. I switched cars, switched countries, and immediately hit a traffic jam. After we extricated ourselves, the new driver escorted me to Indian immigration – another set of men round another dusty table, but the formalities were equally quick. I had a ticket for a 15:05 train, and had no worries about making it when we got under way at 10:30. Lonely Planet said that the bus took three hours, but since my driver, pushing the limits of my tolerance for speed, took nearly two hours to reach the outskirts of Gorakhpur, and then a full 30 minutes to crawl through the bazaar, I rather doubt it.

Distance lends enchantment to the view… You remember the pleasure and forget the pain… Cliches are cliches because they’re true. December 2001, after ten weeks in India, traveling mostly by rail and rickshaw, I couldn’t wait to leave. Now I was going back, remembering just the incredible diversity, the vibrant colors and tastes, the magnificent forts and palaces and temples, and the long, long history. Almost immediately, everything I hate most about India brought me back to the reality that all is not good any more than all is bad. The ridiculously chaotic traffic, with constant honking and no lane discipline. The dirt and trash in the streets, with the fragmentary sidewalks used as public urinals. The ugly concrete buildings with hole in the wall shops. Dubious sanitation. Gorakhpur epitomized all that is bad about India. At least, I figured, things would get better from there.

Symbol of the Nawabs of Oudh, who ruled Lucknow before the British

Among the things I had forgotten was just how dirty the stations could be – the platforms at Gorakhpur had no seats, and weren’t places where you’d want to put your luggage. However, when I found the cloakroom (left luggage office) closed, I remembered that there should be a waiting room. The Ladies Room was closed, the AC room was closed, but the air-cooled room was open, and I took the one empty chair. I had a long wait. At first my train showed on the monitors as “RT” – presumably short for “right time”. At 15:00, with a totally different train standing at its designated platform the message changed to “45 mins late”. It finally left, from another platform altogether, at 16:25.

Although called an express, it wasn’t a premier train, and the rolling stock seemed old and tired. Darkness set in early, and I spent most of the five hour trip listening to my iPod. Since I arrived after dark I had arranged to be collected by my hotel – a pleasant but regrettably expensive practice – and spotted my driver just as the first taxi tout showed up. I had had surprising difficulty booking a hotel in Lucknow, hardly prime tourist territory, and had wound up at La Place Samovar, which, like the train, seemed old and tired. It did have a still-open restaurant, although the food wasn’t great.

The Residency, Lucknow

Why Lucknow, you might reasonably ask. Besides being the first sizable town with an airport in either direction from Gorakhpur, it was the scene of a historic siege during the Indian Mutiny/First War of Independence, and also boasted a couple of significant Mughal buildings. I started my exploration at the Residency, where large numbers of British civilians, along with British and Indian soldiers, were besieged for a total of 148 days (the first relief column was unable to end the siege). The compound turned out to be much bigger than I had imagined, really a self-contained village in its heyday, and also much more atmospheric than I had expected. Multiple bullet holes still marked the roofless buildings, graceful arches still hinted at their past lives when the Resident would have received guests for dinner and dancing and diplomacy, and the whole quiet, misty, tree-shaded area had an air of gentle melancholy.

The Residency

Bullet holes still visible

Things weren’t a whole lot livelier at the Imambaras, mausoleums built as a form of famine relief in the 1780s. The interiors were dark and dusty, hardly worth the hassle of taking my boots off, and I chose to skip the labyrinthine stairs and corridors on the second floor of Bara Imambara on the grounds of incipient claustrophobia (and bad feet). I lunched very well and very cheaply at Tunday Kebabi on spicy mutton patties. Then I disappointed my driver by refusing his suggestion that we visit the Chikan Chowk (embroidery market). I had hired him for four hours, and after taking 30 minutes to negotiate the truly atrocious traffic jam near the hotel, we arrived back exactly on time. The traffic jam was possibly caused by the road works resulting from the installation of water pipes, and possibly not.

Bara Imambara

Chota Imambara

I spent the rest of the day catching up on the net, and the next morning catching up with the news. Back in 2001, Bihar state had been so dangerous that my train from Kolkata to Varanasi had carried armed guards. The chief minister who had just been resoundingly re-elected had so improved things that it was now safe for the inhabitants to go out at night. Less happily, I also read about death in Cambodia, at a river festival I had enjoyed attending back in 2004, about trouble in Korea, about plans to limit immigration to the UK, and finally about some authority or other wanting to take cellphones away from Indian girls. (Something to do with love matches, I believe.)

Then, just as I was about to leave to catch my flight to Hyderabad, my netbook’s keyboard locked up. Locked up so completely, in fact, that I couldn’t turn if off. Since the battery was sealed I couldn’t turn it off by removing power either. The battery was fully charged, and would last a good six hours… I thanked my lucky stars I was flying in India and not the USA, where the TSA would have had several fits, and hoped it wouldn’t overheat on the journey.

The mosque at Chota Imambara

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