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Old 7th November 2011, 10:07   #1
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Default Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta

Bengalis learn about Rajasthan from an early age when they are given a book called Raj Kahini, written by the painter and nephew of Tagore called Abanindra Nath Tagore. Essentially a collection of stories from the land of "Rajas" adapted for children from Tod's Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan.
Their next brush with Rajasthan is around teenage when most of them would be reading and watching a story and film by Satyajit Ray called Sonar Kella which is set against the backdrop of Jaisalmer but it has lot of reference to Jaipur and Jodhpur too.

After these two, most Bengalis would see the state with their families before getting into college. But my father had other plans.

I wasn't so lucky and hence planned my maiden trip of Rajasthan by car this year at the grand old age of 47 . My companions would be wife and child. And means of transport is of course my good old Esteem who had an odo reading of 90k+ kilometers on the day we started for the trip.

For inspiration I bought Tod's book, consulted Eicher map and various threads on team-bhp of course.

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But serious planning was done with help from HV Kumar and another Rajasthan cadre forester friend of mine called Arijit Banerjee (not a member here). After doing my own moderation to the two different proposals made by the two, I decided on the final route like this.

Calcutta > Allahabad > Orchha > Bundi > Udaipur (via Chittor) > Kumbhalgarh > Jodhpur (via Ranakpur) > Jaipur > Agra > Benares > Calcutta

This is not the usual route by which Calcuttans see Rajasthan. But then hardly anyone goes from here to Rajasthan by car. If they did it, this loop would be the most logical route in fact.

Prior to the drive, I decided to offer voluntary retirement to my set of 4 Michelins that had done a glorious 50k+ kilometers and fitted 4 Yokohama A drives. Decided to retire my 4-year old battery as well and went for a new Exide Max. And of course got a routine servicing done as well.
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Old 7th November 2011, 10:23   #2
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Default Re: Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta

On Sunday, the 2nd October 2011 finally we started off from our home at 5 am. However, serious Durga Puja jam in the city during that early morning hour and an even worse jam at Panagarh meant we lost about 2/3 hours and could make it only as far as Benares by sun down.

I decided to cut my journey short and started the next morning for Orchha.

Ironically enough, on day one of our trip, somewhere in Jharkhand we saw these huge herds of camels walking down the road.

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They said they had started about a month ago from Kota and would walk upto Calcutta. The camels would be sold for kurbani on Eid (in fact they must have been slaughtered by now). On the up and down journey we must have seen at least a thousand camels.

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I don't think they all go to Calcutta proper and possibly most of them end up in Bangladesh.

There is nothing much to say about the road from Calcutta to Benares except that craters have already started appearing on certain stretches in Bengal and Bihar. The road after Dehri on Son for quite a few kilometers was horrendous.

On the way back we found the other side of the road, that is, from Durgapur to Panagarh is almost undriveable in stretches. It is really very unfortunate if such a fantastic national asset is allowed to rot like this.

The city of Benares, as usual, is a nightmare for motorists, particularly after sun down. There is absolutely no sign of any efforts at administrative intervention to bring order to the chaos. It is a complete mess. After entering Benares (through Chunar Road) it took us about an hour and a half to cover the 10-km distance.

The next morning we started off for Orchha near Jhansi. We would be bypassing Allahabad, Kanpur, turn left off the NH2 about 40 km after Kanpur and then drive through Bhaginipur and Orai.

To cut a long story short - we did all this without any drama. The road is superb and four laned right upto Jhansi except for a short stretch that still goes through the old town of Orai. Work is on in right earnest and I am sure within a short time this stretch should also be complete.

Just before Jhansi one has to turn left to go towards Orchha about 20 km away. This road ultimately goes to Khajuraho. Since we started rather late from Benares by the time we reached Orchha it was almost 6 pm. We checked into our pre-booked hotel by the side of river Betwa.
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Old 7th November 2011, 10:38   #3
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Default Re: Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta

Orchha is a quiet little place with just a few shops, resorts, historic palaces, chhatris and temples. It does not have the liability of a dirty town and one can easily spend a few quiet days here. Regrettably we had just one day and couldn't do any river rafting.

River Betwa is ideal for rafting but no one told us about it in advance

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Cenotaphs by the river in memory of dead kings of Bundelkhand

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Mute witnesses to history

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The Orchha Palace

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The Orchha Palace

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Orchha Palace has some rich murals on its walls but no flash or tripods allowed

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The palace at night

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The palace at night during the light and sound show

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The three of us at Jahangir Mahal, Orchha

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We stayed at MPTDC's Betwa River Retreat and took the luxury tent. While it did have a swimming pool that my daughter freaked out on, but the facilities are rather basic and at Rs 2500 plus, I thought it was a rip off. Location wise it is nice but certainly not the best there.

Geetanjali Roy loved the splash and was prepared for it

Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta-retreat_1237.jpg
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Old 7th November 2011, 10:49   #4
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Default Re: Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta

I was pleasantly surprised to find fantastic birding opportunities in Orchha and saw this unique sight of at least 30 or so long billed vultures nesting on the chhatris by the river. These vultures are critically endangered and number less than a thousand in the wild.

The small bushes and jungle like area behind the chhatris is also rich in birds.

Brown rockchat

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Critically endangered Long-billed Vulture at Orchha

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Critically endangered Long-Billed Vulture at Orchha

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Indian Robin

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Indian Roller

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Spotted Owlet

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Long-tailed shrike

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Brahminy Starling

Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta-brahminystarling_1422.jpg
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Old 7th November 2011, 11:30   #5
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Default Re: Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta

From Orchha we moved on to Bundi which has a special place in the heart of any educated Bengali who has read Tagore as a child. There is a famous Tagore poem for children about the valiant Haras of Bundi who were fiercely independent.

The route to Bundi from Orchha is like this. You go back to Jhansi to take the four-lane national highway and turn left. You keep driving through Shivpuri - there is a beautiful lake and Shivpuri looked like worth spending a day in but we were pressed for time.

I had read in one of the threads here about this stretch being one of the most desolate. HVK and his friends had also warned me adequately about this stretch being bereft of any petrol pumps. But we had tanked up in Jhansi and so wasn't really worried about petrol.

The road indeed is very desolate and there is no petrol pump for miles. But we saw cultivated land on the road side, which means there are human habitations around. I thought the Kota to Chittor stretch that came next day is more desolate and there is no sign of any human habitation for miles on end on this stretch of the road. But that's for later.

Anyway, we reached Kota at around 2 pm after crossing Chambal and Kota. The river occupies the mind of most young boys in Bengal. Jaya Bhaduri (nay Bachhan)'s father has a few books on this area and its lawless and rifle-toting denizens. He used to be a journalist for a famous Bengali daily. But when I actually crossed Chambal nothing much happened and it looked as tame as any river I have seen in life. On seeing my disappointment my curious child asked with a giggle,"did you expect to see some dacoits?"

From Kota we have to take the exit to Bundi and it's not a 4-laned road any more. My wife's childhood friend, Col Jayanata Ghosh was in Kota till a few months back. He told us the turn by turn route out of the maze of Kota and helped me find the road to Bundi without asking anyone else. But the road from Kota to Bundi, I must say, is pathetic.

At Bundi we stayed in a hotel called Kasera Palace (or perhaps Haveli or Heaven or some such thing). It is an old Haveli converted into a hotel which is nice and affordable. But food is atrociously priced and we had to haggle with the owner over the price of every individual item of food.

Though recommended by Lonely Planet, I wouldn't really recommend it for staying unless you are ready to fight for every single roti and daal they charge you at Rs 125 and Rs 20 etc - which I think are ridiculous prices.

The fort of Bundi

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The palace of Bundi

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The imposing gate to Bundi palace

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The beautifully carved gate from inside

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Bundi town is beautiful only from a distance. Driving there would be a nightmare

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The Chitrashala of Bundi is gorgeous with murals

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Bundi school of painting. Again no flash or tripod allowed

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Bundi murals without flash or tripod

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The wall of Bundi that is visible from miles away

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My wife managed to find out from her friend that Bundi is the place where one should look out for Kota Dori sarees. She found out from someone that there is no proper saree shop in Bundi but a trader who gets sarees woven by local weavers and sells them in Kota can be contacted. The fellow came to our hotel and sold my wife a few sarees after some very hard bargaining.

He said although called Kota dori, the sarees are made in smaller places like Bundi. And curiously enough - 95 per cent of the weavers are all Muslim.

Driving a hard bargain

Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta-kotadori_1505.jpg
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Old 7th November 2011, 11:58   #6
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Default Re: Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta

Excellent start, Sudipto Sir, waiting anxiously for more details to come. Nice pictures too. Also please mention how your car performed on the road.
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Old 7th November 2011, 12:04   #7
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Default Re: Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta

I regret that I couldn't spend more time in Bundi. The fort, which is much higher than the palace was left out of our busy whistle-stop tour. Probably some other time.

For anyone who plans to visit Bundi I have one advice to offer. Please choose your footwear like you were going on a Himalayan hiking tour. It is steep and bloody slippery. I am lucky that I didn't trip with my heavy camera gear, as I was wearing just a pair of sandals and was walking precariously. I wonder how they used to ride horses down this path.

The steep path can be literally back breaking if you trip

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From Bundi we started the next day for Udaipur. On the way we will see Chittor. We drove back to Kota from where we took NH 76 again and off we went to Chittor. Although there is a short cut that goes straight to the highway without going through Kota we chose the one through Kota because of better road surface.

This stretch of the road is beautifully desolate and a dream to drive in terms of road surface.

NH 76, somewhere between Kota and Chittor

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The sea isn't too far from here ;-)

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Chittor, to me, stands for everything that is valiant and historic about Rajasthan. Although in ruins, because it was repeatedly attacked, Chittor is beautifully rich with history.

Chittor is quite pretty and neat

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A section of the ruined fort of Chittor

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A view through the ruined fort of Chittor

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A portion of the ruined fort of Chittor

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An obvious temple, converted into a mosque

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Vijay Stambh built by Maharana Kumbha

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Another view of the Vijay Stambh

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The women of Chittor - Rani Padmini and Meerabai - of course are more famous than their male counterparts and the site where Padmini did her jaohar and the Meera temple are still there attracting hordes of tourists (mostly Bengali on a day trip from Udaipur).

The temple where Meerabai used to pray

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The story of Padmini's jaohar is known to all. This is the site

Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta-jaohar_1558.jpg
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Old 7th November 2011, 12:10   #8
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Default Re: Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta

Quote:
Originally Posted by rahul4640 View Post
Excellent start, Sudipto Sir, waiting anxiously for more details to come. Nice pictures too. Also please mention how your car performed on the road.
Rahul - thanks for your appreciation. Please don't call me "sudipto sir" !!! Just Sudipto or Sudiptoda is enough if you think you are younger to me.

I got 15 km per litre from the car. So on this 4500 km drive he probably drank 300 litres. I have all the bills with me as also the toll tickets. But I am yet to compute it all. I have the entire trip log too, if anyone is interested.

My car behaved extremely well. I didn't check any tyre pressure, engine oil level etc etc. Just tank up, drive, tank up, drive. Because I don't trust highway pumps too much, I was using System G during the refills.
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Old 7th November 2011, 12:34   #9
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After Chittor we moved on to Udaipur where we were lucky to get fantastic accommodation in hotel Rang Niwas Palace. It has its own swimming pool, lawn, very well maintained haveli styled heritage palace with a fantastic view of the City Palace from its restaurant.

I couldn't have asked for more.

Hotel Rang Niwas Palace is ideal for motoring tourists

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A section of the beautiful hotel

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Udaipur has been written to death and I don't have anything much to add over and above what is available on the net. So here are some photographs of the city.

City Palace from the rooftop restaurant of our hotel

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View across lake Pichhola

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View across lake Pichhola

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The palace gate

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A view of the palace jharokhas

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Street Scene outside the palace

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If you killed ten of these, eight would be Bengalis :-)

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A view of the palace walls

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Old 7th November 2011, 13:00   #10
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From Udaipur we went to Kumbhalgarh which is a beautiful little place deep in the middle of Aravalli mountains. We stayed here in an out of this world forest guest house in the middle of nowhere with an excellent vegetarian cook.

Most people who cross Kumbhalgarh on their way from Udaipur to Jodhpur or vice versa have no clue what they miss. It has both history and nature without the liability of a dirty town.

Here are my photographs of Kumbhalgarh. Wonder if they do any justice to this historic and lovely Mewar fort which I think leaves us with the most memorable memories.

From Udaipur you go to this place called Iswal for going to Kumbhalgarh

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The fort is deep in the Aravalli mountains-cum-forest

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The fort from our guest house - 11 km by road

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Kumbhalgarh looks its best at night

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Another view of the fort at night

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The fort looks like a glorious necklace from a distance

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The walls of Kumbhalgarh are second only to the Chinese Wall in distance

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The forest guesthouse where we stayed

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The same guesthouse at night

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The verandah of the guesthouse offered gorgeous views of the Marwar plains in front

Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta-verandah_1842.jpg
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Old 7th November 2011, 13:44   #11
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Kumbhalgarh wildlife sanctuary is rich in flora and fauna. Among mammals, it has panthers and chousinghas. But we weren't so lucky. I was concentrating more on birds and saw an eyeful of them.

We went to the forest core area in a 4-wheeled Gypsy. It is impossible to drive anything but a four-wheel there. In fact this car ride is the worst possible car ride I have ever taken in life.

The highlight of our trip to the forest core area - Thandi Bheri - of course was the sighting of a juvenile changeable hawk eagle from handshaking distance. But there was a rich collection of other birds too.

Changeable hawk eagle. I have never seen a more powerful looking bird from such close range. This is with a 90 mm lens

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This common buzzard kept a close vigil on us during our stay at the guest house

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The cute coppersmith barbet

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Plum-headed parakeet. Yet another cute denizen of Kumbhalgarh

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A white-bellied drongo inside the sanctuary

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Crested bunting

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Old 7th November 2011, 14:05   #12
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Default Re: Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta

Apart from being an interesting travelogue with beautiful pictures of the places you visited, the wonderful captures and identification of the variety of birds has been the icing on the cake. The night shots are equally captivating.

A pleasure to read this.
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Old 7th November 2011, 14:06   #13
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Default Re: Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta

Dada, just one word - Speechless. I was waiting for this thread the day you revealed your Rajasthan trip on GG. But the actual travelogue has made me... you guessed it

Awesome pics and narration. I'm inspired to do a similar trip. Please complete this in a hurry. Will call you for lots of tips.
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Old 7th November 2011, 14:27   #14
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Default Re: Rajasthan on self drive from Calcutta

This is one fantastic piece of travelogue Sudipto da.
Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story. Kolkata to Rajasthan - even to think of it is huge, and you have already done it. Kudos!! to you!!
The photographs in your last post are fantabulous.
How much Kms totally for your trip to and fro?
Do yo mind sharing the cost of Hotel Rang Niwas at Udaipur , and if possible please do update the details of cost of your trip, if you don't mind sharing.
Looking forward for more!!
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Old 7th November 2011, 14:50   #15
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Thanks to all of you. Especially SST. I cannot believe you would even talk to me !!! Is there a hugs icon somewhere? Please accept it from me.
Predator I have the log for the entire journey. Anytime you or anyone else wants it, it is there. Only issue is it is in a handwritten form and is yet to be computerised.
Fordmanchau - believe it or not, we got the last room in that hotel (after knocking our head at many doors unsuccessfully that late afternoon in Udaipur on Dussera) for Rs 900. Initially they said they didn't have any room. This room they later said, is not really offerable as it was small and didn't have an AC so they said they didn't have any room. I said to hell with AC - I am taking this hotel for everything else that it has. And in Udaipur in October you don't really need an AC. Their normal rooms cost Rs 3000 +. In fact, ironically enough this was the cheapest hotel in our entire trip !!! In Benares we stayed in a cheapo hotel near Godaulia. Even that cost more than Rs 900.
I am not sure about the total cost of the trip. I am sure it can be calculated. We have kept most of the bills. And I am sure my wife would have an approximate idea. It is just that I didn't do the calculations and didn't raise these uncomfortable topics with her. Being a banker she keeps track of money and payments. I just spend.
On a more serious note - my petrol bill should be upward of 20k. Rest you can calculate about 3k per day on an average. So I think the total ball park figure would be between 60 to 65k.
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