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Old 8th March 2012, 10:59   #1
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Default When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India

Prologue

I don't know when the travel bug bit me. To be precise the road trip bug. I have always loved driving though not within the nasty city traffic, but open roads and highways always attracted me like bees to nectar. I guess once I came on Team BHP, it was a matter of time, I started spending more and more time in the travelogues section going through the incredible experiences members have driving through the length and breadth of India. Truly, India is an incredible country and you get to see so much and love it more as you travel by road and get to soak in the nooks and corners of the country. When you fly or travel by train, you miss out noticing those small things about this country that makes it so beautiful. A curiously shaped tree, or an age old temple, or the river taking a unique path, or your fellow countrymen who live in the numerous villages and towns on the way that give character to this nation. Thus inspired around November 2011, started a spate of planning on where should I take my first road trip.

Numerous travelogues about traveling to forests to see the king of the jungle had already inspired me to go see the tiger in the wild. Besides I love the forests regardless of sightings of animals in the wild because it gives me a huge sense of tranquility. But then I still wanted to see a tiger in the wild, an animal I simply adore. So it had to be some forest where tigers still roam free. Additionally I wanted to drive somewhere that would be relatively cool and comfortable, has good food options and of course offers good scenic drives. The choices then would be restricted to either the northern or the central part of India. Hence the trip had to be done sometime during end of February or early March, 2012 when it is still comfortable and not biting cold. The first choice of destination considered was Uttarakhand to Corbett National Park. My parents always wanted to go back once more to Haridwar and Rishikesh and I thought clubbing it with a visit to Corbett for its tigers was worth it. Hotels and routes were almost finalized when the news of the announcement of assembly elections in Uttarakhand came in. That coupled with elections in Uttar Pradesh was enough discouragement to plan a trip to these parts during this time. Back to the drawing board but this time, I had some ideas already at the back of my mind. Why not Madhya Pradesh, the heart of Incredible India? So many travelogues talk about trips to this fantastic place of temples and forests. As forests had always been my weakness so it took very little time to decide on the places to visit. The pictures of tigers in the wild in Bandhavgarh helped seal the deal and the final destination finalized was Bandhavgarh and Khajuraho. My dad chipped in and said, "Why don't you add Bhedaghat? The marble rocks and Dhuandhar falls should not be missed". Thus the destination was finalized Bandhavgarh-Bhedaghat-Khajuraho. The trip to Bandhavgarh had to be broken up in 2 days. Traveling via NH6 and through Chattisgarh was summarily ruled out because of the sorry state of NH6 in Jharkhand and Orissa and potentially bad roads and law and order issues. The only option of such a long travel from Kolkata was using NH2 with an overnight stay at Varanasi. Thanks to veterans like HVK sir and Fauji sir with their inputs on route and recommendations of the locations, the final route plan was finalized along with the routes to be taken.

Here how it looked.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-thewholeroute.jpg

Given my tight work schedule I could only manage a week off to cover this entire trip. Hence the detailed trip planning had to be precise, the routes known upfront to as much detail as possible and the stays booked well before. Since the majority of the trip had to be around Bandhavgarh where at least 4 safaris must be taken to have any chance of a tiger sighting the rest of the places were broken up for the remaining days. Thus went the planning and this is how it looked like.

Day 0 - Start from Kolkata in the morning reach Varanasi by evening
Day 1 - Start from Varanasi in the morning reach Bandhavgarh by afternoon
Day 2 and 3 - Safaris in Bandhavgarh
Day 4 - Start from Bandhavgarh in the morning reach Bhedaghat by noon
Day 5 - Start from Bhedaghat in the morning reach Khajuraho by afternoon
Day 6 - Temples of Khajuraho
Day 7 - Start from Khajuraho in the morning reach Varanasi by afternoon
Day 8 - Start from Varanasi in the morning reach Kolkata by evening

Total distance covered: Approx. 2750 kms
Worst stretches encountered: About 15 kms of tarmac less roads in MP on NH27
Best stretches: SH9 and SH22 in MP

In the next posts I will describe this experience of a lifetime I had as it unfolded every day with pictures collected during the trip. I don't think I possess the art of writing so I will try to keep it concise and precise and I sincerely hope you like it.

Read on .....

Last edited by samarjitdhar : 12th March 2012 at 22:17.
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Old 10th March 2012, 00:06   #2
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Day 0 Travel Log - Saturday 25th Feb, 2012
Destination: Rahi Tourist Bungalow, Varanasi
Distance to be covered: Approx. 700 kms


We are generally late starters on road trips. Be it long or short we generally end up starting an hour later than what is originally planned. Be it a long or a short road trip, this has been the norm always. For political correctness, I will not go into the reasons though some of them are perfectly valid ones. Making sure all nick knacks are packed in, printouts of reservations taken, batteries, travel essentials, the list always seemed to be endless. Besides my parents were traveling so couldn't push for too early a start. So a planned start of 7 AM ultimately became an 8 AM start. This included a quick tank refill and a tire pressure check and we were on our way. I was desperate to get out of city limits to dodge the Saturday morning traffic. Those who are familiar with Kolkata will know that there are essentially two ways to get on the major highways NH2 or NH6. One is the Kona expressway (which is preferred for NH6) and the other is Belgharia expressway (preferred for NH2) that passes by the famous Kali temple @ Dakhshineswar. Knowing that the Saturday morning office crowd will be coming down with vengeance through Kona expressway, I chose Belgharia expressway which turned out to be a great decision. I was on NH2 within an hour crossing Dankuni at around 9 AM. We made a quick breakfast stop at a new restaurant (I forget the name) next to a CCD on NH2. By 10:15 we were hurtling towards Burdwan my fingers crossed eternally that please let there not be that nasty traffic jam at Panagarh.

Before I continue here is the KML file for this leg for those who are interested. This has been converted from my GPS log and you can view it using Google Earth.
Home-Varanasi.kml

When I reached Panagarh I was thanking my lucky stars that there was not much of a traffic buildup, either the worst had passed or it was yet to come. Otherwise Panagarh is a place which can scare the living daylights of most veteran drivers. I have passed through it once where the build up extended till 3/4 kms outside the city. The trick is to go down the wrong lane as there is no oncoming traffic because everything is at standstill and dart or keep on darting in and out between the trucks which make up 99% of this traffic here till you have made satisfactory progress. But do be prepared for showing enormous patience to negotiate the nightmare called Panagarh on NH2. This place needed a bypass day before yesterday which is not too tough to build as the town is not too big and it would save enormous amount of time for everybody doing NH2 on this stretch. Well this time around because of the absence of any build up I managed to breeze through Panagarh in 10 minutes flat and was on my way towards Durgapur. With a late start, wanted to reach Govindpura near Dhanbad before 1 PM to have a timely lunch. Added to that were the concerns around the ability to take breaks at decent enough stops for the convenience of the ladies on the trip. Here are some pictures on the way to Govindpura near Dhanbad. The target hotel was Hotel Khalsa Vegis.

Crossing Asansol
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3738.jpg

Beautiful NH2 towards Dhanbad
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3752.jpg

Dhanbad coming up (actually Dhanbad is not on NH2, its about 20 kms from NH2 on the left)
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3762.jpg

NH2 is beautifully arranged with divider and plants all through
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3770.jpg

Khalsa Vegis - Best option for lunch located near Govindpura
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3779.jpg

Khalsa Vegis is a very good option for a break as it has clean toilets and the food is just awesome. After an hour spent on lunch & freshening up at Khalsa Vegis, the journey started again towards Barhi, our probable next stop. The intention was to maybe take a tea break at Barhi plus a rest stop at a decent hotel suitable for the ladies in the party.

After Dhanbad towards Barhi
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3785.jpg

NH2 is super smooth
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3796.jpg

Barhi bypass coming up
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3803.jpg

That's the average speed I could maintain on NH2 for 95% of the time
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3811.jpg

Just before reaching Barhi
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3822.jpg

We made it to Barhi by around 3:15 PM after some spirited driving as we were behind by a bit and took a roll call. The unanimous decision was not to take any break at Hotel Highway Inn (this hotel had an interesting story on the return leg) now as the traveling party was fine but to continue further ahead. So on we went to Barhi bypass which I feel is a big boon (more on this during the return leg).

NH2 passes through some reserve forest areas like the Parasnath Hill forest range after Dhanbad and the fringes of the Hazaribagh National Park and the drive is just very scenic through these stretches.

Here is one example
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3835.jpg

On the way we got the usual scenes that one sees on the highway like

The Indian Volvo - for sake of copyright infringements though I wonder how adding "Indian" serves the purpose of indemnification
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3845.jpg

Half of West Bengal was getting married to Jharkhand and the other half of Jharkhand was getting married to Bihar and then the remaining half of Bihar getting married to Uttar Pradesh, you get the picture. Lots of these on the way. Its peak marriage season and we could see the grooms with their brides and bag and baggage on their way home .
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3865.jpg

We were hurtling as fast as we can towards Aurangabad and Dehri On Sone
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3885.jpg

And our progress made difficult with minor hindrances such as these
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3892.jpg

Lots of trucks and tractor traffic simply come down the wrong way but because during the day traffic is less progress is not hindered much. I saw even a bullock cart coming down the wrong way on NH2.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3874.jpg

Once you enter Bihar the landscape drastically changes from green to dry and arid. We were now crossing Sherghati where we came across a direct connection to heaven.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3896.jpg

NH2 just stuck to its character with absolutely being butter smooth almost everywhere
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3912.jpg

Unfortunately just before we could reach Dehri On Sone, the battery on the camera died out hence couldn't catch the sun going down as we crossed the bridge. It was around 5:15 PM when we were crossing Dehri On Sone and we knew we had a lot more to cover. So stepped on the gas a bit to try reach Mohania as quickly as possible, however it was important that a break be taken now. So around 5:45 PM took a break at this resort for tea and bio break. The resort is decent and comes up at around 30 minutes before you reach Mohania. These pictures were taken using my cell phone camera.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-02252012605.jpg

Bagheera also got a break after being driven non-stop for almost 5 hours.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-02252012606.jpg

After a 30 minute break started our journey again with some more spirited driving knowing fully well that we were behind schedule. Crossed Mohania at around 6:30 and I knew Varanasi would take another one hour from here. Little did I know that once it is nightfall, truck traffic increases manifold on this stretch. Thankfully I had upgraded the bulbs on Bagheera from the stock ones which let me keep a decent pace dodging in and out of humongous trucks and we were almost at the entry point of Varanasi bypass. From here I had plans to take a right and enter Mughalsarai and continue towards Varanasi. But then I messed up, in my eagerness to dodge the truck traffic, simply couldn't get on the right lane and ended up on the Varanasi bypass. I had set up my route on the GPS to go through Mughalsarai (though later I thought using the bypass might have been a better idea). It was now 7:30 and after having traveled 2 kms on the bypass managed to take a U turn and then come back to the road towards Mughalsarai.

This road through Mughalsarai is a real nightmare specially in the night. They are widening this stretch and it was a real test of my skills after having driven all day. Traffic going any which way reminded me of my hometown with the potholed roads thrown in. It took me an hour to cross this stretch of barely 15 kms after which the traffic eased up as we crossed the Ganges. Since I was put up at Rahi Tourist Bungalow owned by UPTDC near the Cantonment railway station, it was fairly easy for me to locate it after a couple of inquiries. By 9 PM we were in the hotel, and I was cooling my heels to take up the remaining leg of the journey the next day. The hotel (Rahi Tourist Bungalow) is extremely basic with mostly broken fittings and furniture. I chose this because I thought I can comfortably park my car here. I think there are enough good hotels on this stretch of NH2 going through Varanasi where one can put up and park their vehicle safely. I wouldn't recommend Rahi Tourist Bungalow to anybody even if its for a single night stay.

Here is a log with the phone nos. of the hotels I thought I could take my breaks, though I didn't stick to this schedule but someone might find this helpful. I think I did make up on lost time fairly well due to the late start but if I had started an hour earlier I guess it could have been more comfortable. Please note that the timings are not accurate to the last minute but is a fairly accurate approximation.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-day0.jpg

There are no major gotchas on NH2 that one needs to be aware of. Except for the fact that food/break options are very limited apart from the ones I have called out in my log. No decent restaurants on the way till one reaches Mohania where there are a few A1 plazas and decent restaurants. So one needs to plan the journey a bit carefully if you are looking for a place with clean toilets for your breaks. Additionally all truck drivers on NH2 seem to be Americans as they only let you pass on their left. They always stick to the right lane because of all the local traffic (bicycles, bikes, mopeds, scooters, three wheelers, tractors, bullock carts, etc.) taking up the left lane. So it can get a bit tricky while negotiating through this traffic. Anyway all's well that ends well and soon we had dinner at the hotel in Varanasi and called it a day. This was the longest drive I had ever taken about 702 kms from my home to the hotel and Bagheera still showed 140 kms to empty which I think meant a very decent fuel economy even with so much spirited driving. With the next leg on unknown roads coming up I needed to start refreshed the next day and I simply crashed after dinner.

Last edited by samarjitdhar : 12th March 2012 at 23:49.
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Old 12th March 2012, 00:53   #3
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Day 1 Travel Log - Sunday 26th Feb, 2012
Destination: Wild Haven Resort, Bandhavgarh
Distance to be covered: Approx. 480 kms


The next day started on a bad note as my wife woke up with some indigestion issues. She had been doing some traveling even before this trip and developed a bit of a food poisoning. Thankfully we were well equipped with medicines on our trip and an hour's rest and relaxation helped her to feel a little better. She decided to rest in the rear seat and as she was the official photographer on this trip, I knew we wouldn't be able to take much pictures of this route. A planned start of 8 in the morning became a 9:30 AM start after breakfast at the hotel. Tanked up Bagheera again before exiting Varanasi through NH2 which travels around 13 kms before taking you on the Varanasi bypass towards Allahabad. The route through Allahabad was chosen on the advise of veterans like Kumar and Fauji sir who had advised that NH7 is a disaster in MP (more on that on the return leg). The drive through NH2 towards Allahabad was uneventful except for the fact that the Allahabad bypass comes up a lot earlier leaving you on 2 laned NH2 and a lot of local traffic to negotiate till you reach Naini bridge. The road condition is average and just before getting on Naini bridge it becomes horrendous as a flyover is being constructed here. We reached the Naini bridge at around 11:30 AM because of some heavy traffic and some broken stretches. My wife was still recuperating in the rear seat so no pictures of crossing Prayag or Naini bridge could be taken. It was much later after we crossed into MP when she felt better enough to take some pictures.

After crossing Prayag and Naini bridge one gets on NH27 which is popularly known as the Rewa road. There is a fair amount of local traffic to get through during the day however the road conditions are mostly smooth till one reaches Sohagi after crossing into MP. From here some ghat roads start going through Katra and the road condition reduces drastically till the tarmac completely vanishes. This continues till Garh and the average speed comes down to around 20-30 on this stretch. NHAI will put all snails in the world to shame at the speed they are trying to build this stretch .

My GPS conked off somewhere on NH2 during this leg hence the GPS log had a break in between. However I converted the two portions to two KML files for the benefit of anyone taking this route. The stretch with the gap between NH2 to NH27 going through Naini bridge is not so difficult and can be easily mapped using any of the mapping tools.
Varanasi-Bandhavgarh-Part1.kml

Varanasi-Bandhavgarh-Part2.kml

Ghat roads after Sohagi on NH27
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3913.jpg

When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_0945.jpg

Then the totally broken stretches after Katra on NH27
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3926.jpg

When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3928.jpg

The road condition on NH27 improves after crossing Garh and we were back to average speeds of 70-80 again till we reach NH7 at Mangawan. From here NH7 stays in a decent condition till Rewa. We didn't take Rewa bypass as we wanted to get on to SH9 which was our route to Bandhavgarh. We made it to Rewa at around 2:30 PM where we chose a restaurant for lunch which looked decent enough. Sorry do not remember the name of this restaurant but this is just before one gets on SH9 inside Rewa going towards Shahdol. Here are some pics.

Shahdol on the left on SH9, Jabalpur straight through.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3937.jpg

Bagheera all dirty after going through that horrendous stretch on NH27
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3934.jpg

We grabbed a quick lunch and started again on our way towards Bandhavgarh. Much deliberation had been done before the trip about whether to take NH7 till Maihar or take SH9 through Beohari and reach Bandhavgarh using SH10. The manager of the hotel we put up swore by the later route stating that "not even the water in our stomachs will feel disturbed on this route" when I had expressed apprehensions. So right he was. This route is the smoothest I have ever taken in my whole trip. Very little traffic and though 2 laned, it is super smooth. I even hit 120 in some stretches and maintaining an average of 80-100 is a breeze. To top it all there are some ghat roads with multiple hairpin bends where Bagheera strutted showing its prowess overtaking all other vehicles as it climbed up and down effortlessly. One just needs to slow down as one crosses some local villages or some major towns like Beohari on the way. SH9 goes right upto Shahdol though to reach Bandhavgarh you have to take a right turn on SH10 around 54 kms before Shahdol. There are clearly marked directions for Bandhavgarh put up by MP Tourism as you reach this turn hence one shouldn't have any issues at all. The GPS tracked this right through till I reached Tala where I messed up a bit. Tala is the main village in Bandhavgarh proper. Now I will let the pictures do the talking.

Ghat roads begin on SH9
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3944.jpg

I could hardly believe that hairpin bends are maintained in such impeccable condition
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3945.jpg

I was breezing through this at fairly high speeds
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3951.jpg

Then I realize why. Rewa Tollway Pvt Ltd is a PPP with the MP government managing all MP state highways. They are doing a superb job.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3954.jpg

Even half of MP was getting married to half of UP . A 1.5 decker bus?
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3955.jpg

SH9 shares some of its stretch with NH75 specially on the ghat section after which you turn right to go to Shahdol/Amarkantak
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3959.jpg

The scenic beauty of SH9 is stupendous
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_0953.jpg

Another view of SH9
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3961.jpg

Super smooth SH9 continues
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3962.jpg

Approaching Ban Sagar lake
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3966.jpg

We cross Ban Sagar lake which is a man made lake with a dam serving MP's irrigation needs
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3969.jpg

Around 54 kms before Shahdol we turn right on SH10 and the same superb condition of roads continue on SH10 till one reaches Bandhavgarh. You have to drive about 40-45 kms from this point to reach Bandhavgarh. The broken stretch in Tala that folks talk about is after you cross Bandhavgarh if you continue on this route crossing Tala and to get on to SH11 and then to Umaria. The hotels are mostly located in and around Tala before you reach this broken stretch which passes through the main forest area hence if you take this route you will never hit that rough patch of 8/9 kms. I strongly recommend folks take this route if you are coming from Allahabad/Rewa simply for enjoying the scenic beauty on the route and your car even though not a Honda Brio will love you back having driven this super smooth route.

As the sun set we were on SH10 approaching Tala (Bandhavgarh)
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3976.jpg

Here is the trip log for the day. The timings are fairly accurate.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-day1.jpg

I somehow made another goof up and entered some local village instead of going to Tala when I was about a kilometer away from my hotel. However quickly got back on track and made it to my hotel Wild Haven resort by 6:30 PM. Most of the hotels in Tala will have to be reached through some dirt track though these dirt tracks are mostly driveable. The hotels are located mostly at a stone's throw off SH10 and a little bit of careful driving will ensure your vehicle is not damaged if it does not have a large ground clearance. There are multiple stay options at Tala from the super luxurious like the Mahua Kothi operated by Taj to the extremely budget conscious. Some time on TripAdvisor will help you make the right choice. Our hotel, Wild Haven Resort was adjacent to Mahua Kothi which turned out to be an interesting choice described later. Reaching by 6:30 PM ensured that we had adequate time to rest and start on our safaris the next day the first one being early morning through the Tala gate. Evening tea and a quick dinner allowed us to feel refreshed though the drive had not sapped even one bit of energy from any of us. Even my wife who was feeling very sick in the morning was feeling much better which is quite unheard of after a long drive. Kudos to the MP government for maintaining the state highways so well. Thanks to them, we were all raring to go meet the king of the jungle the next morning.

Last edited by samarjitdhar : 12th March 2012 at 23:49.
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Old 12th March 2012, 23:46   #4
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Day 2 Travel Log - Monday 27th Feb, 2012
Destination: Nowhere, .... actually tiger country


2 full days were reserved for Bandhavgarh to ensure that we could get 4 safaris at least to take in the beauty of the jungle. Also to have a much better chance to spot the king of the jungle. I had made my bookings online with two entries in the Tala zone and two in the Magadhi zone. I later realized that it might be a better idea to book only the morning entries online and buy the entries for the afternoon entries on the spot based on local information on sightings. This will be evident when I describe what happened. For now here is how it looked like

27th morning - Tala zone 27th afternoon - Magadhi zone
28th morning - Magadhi zone 28th afternoon - Tala zone

The park remains closed for entry on the afternoon on all Wednesdays. We were ready for our first real tiger safari the next morning. It was around 5 AM when tea and coffee was served in our rooms and we were all ready raring to go by 5:45 AM. The Tala gate is a 5 minute drive from our hotel. Since I had done the bookings online, the formalities and paperwork was over quickly for us but when we reached the Tala gate there were already at least 15 gypsies ahead of us.

A public message before entering Tala
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3978.jpg

Without losing any heart or enthusiasm we crossed our fingers. But first a little bit of local trivia as narrated by the guides and drivers at Tala.

Once Upon A Tiger
This is a short tale of two females, one named "Langdi" and the other named "Kankatti". Though they got their names after they had a big territorial fight in which "Langdi" being older and physically stronger won and became well "langdi" (lame, physically) in the process. "Kankatti" not only became "kankatti" (ear lobe damaged) but I believe also lost one of her eyes in that fight. "Kankatti" retreated to safety to fight another day and "Langdi" claimed her area and I am not sure if "Langdi" already had her two kids by then who interestingly feature in this travelogue later. Then came another day when "Kankatti" had her revenge on "Langdi" which is sometime last year. "Kankatti" now much older and more importantly stronger challenged "Langdi" and this time around "Kankatti" ensured that no prisoners were taken. She killed "Langdi" and legend has it that she dragged "Langdi's" body deeper into the jungle and ate her up. The forest guards swear that this probably was the first case of tiger cannibalism they have ever heard of. I don't know how much of this is true or if its jungle legend but then I guess "Kankatti" was so angry that she probably made a statement by her act in the tiger community of Bandhavgarh . Anyway by that time "Langdi's" kids, one male and the other female were 2.5 years old and they made the Khitauli Zone (Zone 3) their home. This zone also includes some of the property owned by Mahua Kothi operated by Taj and was adjacent to our resort. Folks staying at Mahua Kothi and our resort have sometimes chanced upon seeing these two kids walk through the resort area. We were lucky though in a different way.

Back to the present, at dot 6 AM, the gates of Tala opened and all the gypsies moved in and separated into different paths. That is the deal with Tala. It is now a premium zone with entry fees of Rs 2000 for Indian Nationals and Rs 4000 for foreigners for a party of 6. Additionally they have divided the zone into sub-zones A, B and C and the gypsies are assigned these sub zones for the safaris before entry after which they are not allowed to stray from these sub zones. We were I think assigned B and C along with some others ahead of us. We had moved probably only a couple of hundred meters after the gate when 4 or 5 gypsies ahead of us stopped. There was palpable excitement in the air and the forest guards showed us tracks on the road. Not only they were tracks of a tiger but also a kill being dragged across very close by. We thought no-way we could be that lucky. But lucky we were as "Kankatti" had made a kill in the night or early morning and she and her three cubs were grabbing breakfast nearby. From the size of the tracks on the dirt road it might have been a sambar. By the way "Kankatti's" three cubs are fathered by the Bamera male, which is actually the alpha male of the Tala zone. Some pics of the Bamera male here http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/attach...tered-copy.jpg and http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/attach...4a8d1670c9.jpg courtesy member Subrat Seet.

As soon as word spread that a tiger has been located, absolute mayhem ensued. Gypsies rained in from all directions and probably 10 gypsies were trying to fit in together in about a 15 square feet area from where the tigress and her cubs could be seen. There was some thick vegetation as it was near a stream and dense undergrowth where "Kankatti" was savoring her breakfast. The kids having filled their stomachs were now playing and it was a sight to see though in fleeting glimpses. Let the pictures take over. Sorry about the grainy quality as there was much jostling in a small area with one hotel guide even threatening to get down and walk towards the tigress if he and his party were not given proper viewing area . On second thoughts that might have been a good idea with some interesting pictures to take home.

Fleeting glimpse of the first cub
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn3999.jpg

Cub walking by the stream
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Cub by the stream
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Cub jumping across through the undergrowth
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4017.jpg

Two cubs play fighting with each other
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4027.jpg

First glimpse of "Kankatti" with one of her cubs
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4034.jpg

Now she wants to drink some water after breakfast
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4037.jpg

Drinking water with mommy
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4038.jpg

Another cub jumps over mommy
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4040.jpg

Notice the eyes trained on the jokers (tourists) while drinking water
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4041.jpg

Thirst quenched time to retire
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The elephants come by to see if there is any chance to organize an elephant show
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We probably spent around an hour jostling in that small area trying to catch a glimpse of whatever we can of "Kankatti" and her three cubs. After she retired, it was time for us to go enjoy the rest of the jungle and see if lady luck would shine on us again. Apart from the tiger, the beauty of the jungle itself and its other inhabitants must never be missed. So here they are.

A pond heron
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4053.jpg

Probably a serpent eagle, couldn't get a better shot
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India's national bird is aplenty
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4064.jpg

A male Cheetal
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4071.jpg

Well lady luck didn't shine on us anymore and soon it was time to leave the park. But before we left there were a pack of langurs bidding us goodbye just before the gate. One of them was in a seated position as if on a chair.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4072.jpg

The rest of the morning was spent in grabbing sumptuous breakfast at our resort and then switching our rooms to ones with TVs as our parents needed a bit of a home even away from home. Soon it was afternoon before we knew it and it was time to go check out the Magadhi zone. In retrospect if I had not purchased the Magadhi zone entry upfront, I could have returned to Tala where "Kankatti" was camping around her kill with her cubs. A small lesson learnt in tiger spotting. Oh well, we could get lucky at Magadhi, maybe. So at 3 PM sharp we entered Zone 2 through the Magadhi gate and were immediately greeted with an immense amount of dust thrown up by the gypsies ahead of us. If you want to visit Magadhi, make sure you are the first one to enter this zone.

As soon as we entered Zone 2, we saw another pug mark, this time it seemed to be a male had just crossed. No idea where it was though.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4075.jpg

We came across a green vine snake crossing our track. No idea why it thought winter was over and had come out of hibernation.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4077.jpg

A male Cheetal made its way across a meadow
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4079.jpg

Even the Indian Jackal
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_0969.jpg

We spotted some lovely birds like this spotted fork tail
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4085.jpg

I don't even know what this one is called
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4086.jpg

The resplendent Indian Roller
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4098.jpg

A pack of Cheetals in the meadow. One unique thing I noticed was that while grazing at least 1 or 2 of them would have their heads up to keep a watch for predators. Then when they start grazing some other 1 or 2 of them would raise their heads and keep watch. Wonderful genetic programming and coordination.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4102.jpg

What is this bird?
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4104.jpg

Well no sign of that male tiger or even any female though we waited along with some gypsies for a female and her cubs hiding inside. The sun went down and soon it was time to leave.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4114.jpg

On our way out we spotted this crested hawk eagle. Royal isn't it?
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_1016.jpg

We were soon back at our resort to call it a day.
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We were scheduled to be back in Zone 2 through the Magadhi gate the next morning.

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Day 3 Travel Log - Tuesday 28th Feb, 2012
Destination: Still nowhere, .... chillin in tiger country


We were up again next morning by 5 AM thanks to piping hot tea for our trip to Zone 2 through Magadhi. There was some debate the previous evening whether to book the elephant joy ride too but we didn't. Once more we were going down the broken road of 5/6 kms to the Magadhi gate from Tala to enter Zone 2 at 6. On the way we saw lots of Cheetals on the road but because it was very low light couldn't take any good pictures. Up at the Magadhi gate things are generally more rigorous with the ID checks so it was a little past 6 AM that we could go in. Again more gypsies ahead of us, again a lot of eating dust as you go through the gates into the depths of the park.

The sun was already up by the time we could get in
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Sun bathes the meadow in Zone 2
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We came across a pack of Sambars
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_1023.jpg

And a wild boar. Jungle legend says that if on a safari this is the first animal you see, you will sight the tiger. Unfortunately this wild boar was sighted way too late
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4146.jpg

Another Indian Roller
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Not sure which bird is this
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_1031.jpg

An Indian Roller couple
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_1032.jpg

A Green Bee Eater
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Well actually a Green Bee Eater couple
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_1036.jpg

Is this the Magpie Robin?
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We came across an Indian Buzzard Couple
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A closer look at the eye
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The colors of the forest around this time is amazing
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_1072.jpg

A Langur with its newborn
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While our guide and driver went berserk looking for the king of the jungle, we enjoyed the flora and fauna. We did see some gypsies waiting for folks who had booked the elephant joy ride in hopes of sighting the tiger. From what we gathered only 1 or 2 gypsies had fleeting glimpses the previous afternoon of a tiger crossing their path. However most of the safaris in Zone 2 came up with no sightings of the tiger. It was now time to return back and say goodbye to Zone 2.

As we came out another Indian Roller bid us goodbye. They look best when they spread their wings. Resplendent blue
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Entrance to the Mahua Kothi
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And our resort during the day
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The afternoon we were scheduled to go back to the Tala zone and see if we could see some other tigers or chance upon "Kankatti" and her cubs. The thing about tigers are that they are mostly nocturnal and they continuously move around their area to ensure it is not being encroached upon. An adult male tiger owns around a 100 sq km while females need about 70% of that. 2 or 3 females share the area with the male tiger while mating with it. The cubs stay with their mother till they are about 3 to 3.5 years old and by that time they have learnt hunting and are fully grown. The mother then chases them out to go fend for themselves and find and claim their own area. Territorial fights are common because of this and I guess it is going to become more and more common as resources become scarce. Its a tough call as to who has a bigger right to life, humans or the tiger and I am personally kind of conflicted. Its probably how evolution plays out and survival of the fittest, humans equipped with their brains can definitely outgun the tiger, literally. However every animal has a right to exist and deserves a fair chance and hopefully the high fees charged by the forest authorities can be well spent in maintaining an ecosystem for the inhabitants of the forest including the tiger without creating a human animal conflict. Hardcore wildlife enthusiasts driven by their passion spend a lot of money to experience the beauty nature has to offer. For example, a passionate wildlife lover who incidentally works for the same company I work for, was camping for 10 days with his photography equipment. He even booked an entire day in the park from morning till sundown paying about Rs 30000 for only that day as entry fees . All this money collected hopefully is put to good use including rehabilitating adjacent villages and their inhabitants making more area for wildlife to survive and thrive. I was touched by the passion and love shown by the staff managing not only the forests but even those associated with the hospitality establishments here. We were now ready for our last safari in the afternoon to Zone 1 through Tala. Forests hold a very special place in my heart and it was with a heavy heart I was bidding the forests goodbye for now.

Lots of Cheetal even just 3/4 feet away from the gypsy
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A black shouldered kite observed proceedings below
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This is the Rajbehera meadow right?
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Finally spotted the Indian Gaur from close quarters. Notice the collar.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_1086.jpg

Red wattled lapwing
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Serpent vines are parasites killing one tree after another till they themselves die when they run out of trees. All part of the circle of life
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_1078.jpg

A tree owl
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Forests just have a myriad colors to offer. 100% natural.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4287.jpg

No tiger spotted, it was time to bid goodbye to Bandhavgarh for now with a promise to return back soon
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-img_1096.jpg

Back at the hotel, it was time to now look forward to our next stop Bhedaghat. All of us savored the wonderful experience we had since we were visiting the forests after about 4 years, the last time was in Buxa Tiger reserve in North West Bengal which have a very different kind of flora and fauna. The hotel Wild Haven Resort was selected after reading the reviews on TripAdvisor. It turned out to be a good VFM choice. There were cottages, tents and a 3 room villa which are very well spread out across 6 acres of the property. The food is very well cooked and personal attention being showered by Mr. Ram Govind who is now running the resort. He is still in the process of renovating the place so one might find one or two things broken but overall it was a very satisfying experience. We retired for the night, well rested and were looking forward for our next leg of our trip.

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Day 4 Travel Log - Wednesday 29th Feb, 2012
Destination: Hotel Marble Rocks, Bhedaghat
Distance to be covered: Approx. 190 kms


Since Bhedaghat was only 190 kms away from our hotel and the state highways on this stretch in fabulous condition as per reports by other TBHP members, we woke up leisurely the next morning and got ready to leave by around 9 AM. The plan was to reach Bhedaghat by around 12:30 or 1 PM and then do the marble rocks tour after lunch followed by a visit to Dhuandhar falls. There was a tinge of regret that while I was able to see the tiger in the wild, Bhageera missed out on meeting up with Shere Khan .
As we were finishing up the breakfast spread and settling the bills, the staff brought to our notice suddenly a pack of wild boars near the boundary wall shared with Mahua Kothi. Hmmmm.

So by 9 AM we were on our way through the broken road through the forest which takes one to SH11 from where one can go to either Maihar or Shahpura. We were to go towards the later as that was the route to Bhedaghat. As we made our way slowly through the broken road we suddenly came across a lot of langurs sitting by the road which I thought was unusual. Hmmmm. We had hardly traveled another kilometer when suddenly we saw a gypsy waiting on the road, probably on its way back from the morning safari, its occupants pointing excitedly to the bamboo bushes by the side of the road. My suspicions had borne fruit. We had sighted the wild boar in the morning and lo and behold two tigers were spotted sitting in the bamboo bushes by the side of the road. We quickly parked Bagheera and boarded the gypsy to get a better look. BTW Bagheera's wish to meet Shere Khan also came true . I will let the pictures do the talking now.

Wow. This is the male cub of "Langdi" now over 3 years old. He was sitting there with his sister.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4291.jpg

Sister got up and went away after some time while brother stayed on.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4295.jpg

Notice those eyes
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Now takes a look at Bagheera and Mowgli
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4304.jpg

Bares his teeth now. Probably saying that he will avenge his mother's death. Come back here soon for that story.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4307.jpg

The two cubs now live in Zone 3 where part of the Mahua Kothi's property lie. Currently there is a huge water body within the Mahua Kothi property where they find enough game to survive for now. Though as they grow up it will be worrisome if they encroach more and more into the hotel property. Either they need to be relocated or the hotel needs to be relocated. We were mighty thrilled at this unexpected encounter I specially because Bagheera finally met Shere Khan. After spending around 45 minutes there we restarted our journey.

This is the road by which we met Shere Khan and his sister.
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Umaria railway station is the nearest station for Bandhavgarh. Around 35 kms away.
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Super smooth SH11 begins
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Its just effortless driving on this stretch
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On SH22 after crossing Kundam about to reach Jabalpur
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Left turn to Dhuandhar falls and marble rocks on Narmada
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View of the A/C tent in Hotel Marble Rocks
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Which overlooks the Narmada and the marble rocks
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4388.jpg

The reception of Hotel Marble Rocks
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4391.jpg

One can either book an entire boat for themselves or go on a shared basis at one eighth the price. We decided to book the whole boat as we wanted to relax a bit. This is again something to be experienced. Marble rocks on all sides for only about 1.5 to 2 kms on the Narmada with the river going 60 feet at its shallowest and 600 feet at its deepest. The guide on the boat is a local villager who describe the rocks in small rhymes. It really makes an interesting listen.

The ride through the rocks begin
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The famous three faces all naturally formed in marble
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A view of the other tourists soaking it all in
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Dhuandhar falls lies beyond this place
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A wide angle view of the marble rocks. Another one of nature's mystery
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The monk and his follower at his back. Again naturally formed marble.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4440.jpg

After a trip of around an hour, it was time to return back and go see Dhuandhar falls. One can either drive upto the falls on one's vehicle for an entry fee of Rs 100 or one could take the ropeway and get a bird's eye view of the falls. We did both.

First a view from the ropeway
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Another view of the falls from the ropeway
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By the time we reached the falls by car it was evening and was dark. Here is a view in the dark.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4487.jpg

For some reason I had forgotten to start the log recording on this trip on my GPS. I only remembered to do this after crossing Umaria somewhere on SH11 just before reaching Shahpura. I had carefully mapped my route to bypass the main city of Jabalpur as much as possible. This was extremely helpful as it helped me dodge a lot of the city traffic. I am posting the KML file of the log for those who might find it helpful. A sureshot way of avoiding navigation of lanes and bylanes of Jabalpur if you are going through this part of the country.

Bandhavgarh-Bhedaghat.kml

Here is the trip log for this leg. Fairly simple.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-day4.jpg

It was an eventful day with Shere Khan in the morning and the wonderful Narmada with its marble rocks in the evening. Fully content we all were ready to wake up early the next morning and go to our last stop, Khajuraho.

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Day 5 Travel Log - Thursday March 1st, 2012
Destination: Hotel Jhankar, Khajuraho
Distance to be covered: Approx. 400 kms


After a good night's rest we were ready to travel to Khajuraho the next morning. The route would be a longish one as most suggested routes from Bhedaghat to Khajuraho use national highways either through NH7 or NH12A which were known to be totally broken in most parts (thanks to HVK sir's expert advice on this one). Another option was to go through Saagar and then Chattarpur which also has been discovered to be a car breaker on most stretches (as Fauji sir ji had discovered). So the only option was to take the longest route possible which is go back the same way we had come from Bandhavgarh cross Umaria and Parasi village and then take a left and continue on SH11 till Maihar. After Maihar then continue towards Nagod through Uchahera instead of going to Satna joining NH75 going to Khajuraho through Panna. Yeah, I know a pretty long and convoluted route but I wanted to ensure Bhageera enjoyed the superb state highways of MP as much as possible. Besides this time I was careful to turn on logging on my GPS right from start to finish. Here it is for those who might find it helpful.

Bhedaghat-Khajuraho.kml

We started around 9:20 AM in the morning after breakfast (yeah true to our late start character) and I knew it would need some spirited driving to reach Khajuraho before sundown. The same route taken bypassing Jabalpur taking SH22 and then SH11. Here are some pics again on the same route. I must have broken some record on this stretch from Bhedaghat to Umaria doing it in 3 hours flat. The careful bypassing of Jabalpur and familiarity with the highway helped me immensely.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4507.jpg

Absolutely fantastic roads with hardly any traffic
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Another view from the ORVM
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After crossing Umaria and Parasi village if you carry on straight you will reach Bandhavgarh but continuing on SH11 you will have to turn left which takes you to Maihar. SH11 again goes through some of the reserve areas of the national park in Zone 3 and the road becomes single lane again. The road is more or less smooth and not as broken as the other one going to Tala village but it does have speed breakers at frequent intervals which come up without warning. Hence you have to be careful on this stretch. This has been done on purpose to prevent folks speeding on this single lane stretch endangering wild animals. This stretch is for about 10 kms till one reaches the Khitauli check post from where the road becomes two laned and super smooth again. From here on you will cross Barhi which has a little bit of congestion as it goes through the village otherwise it is absolutely fantastic till Maihar. After crossing Barhi village you will cross the outer fringes of the Ban Sagar lake which we had crossed while coming to Bandhavgarh but from the other side. Ban Sagar lake has recently taken up some more area hence we still see these pictures of partially submerged trees and fields.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4546.jpg

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The beautiful road continues and takes us to Maihar. Again I was pretty aggressive on this stretch and reached Maihar in less than 2 hours. By the time I reached Maihar it was almost 2:30 PM. This is inclusive of stops made for toll as well as registering the vehicle going through the forest reserve areas.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-dscn4553.jpg

Maihar is very famous for being the birthplace of Ustad Allaudin Khan where he trained his disciple Pt. Ravi Shankar. Ustad Allaudin Khan's ancestral home where he spent most of his time and his last days is located near SH11 after one crosses Maihar going towards Satna. It is the same place where some of the stalwarts of Indian classical music stayed and received training under his tutelage. Incidentally a classical musical festival was being held for the whole month in his honor during this time. NH7 passes through Maihar and its absolutely in a broken state in Maihar. We made our lunch stop here at a decent enough dhaba on the NH7-SH11 junction. We inquired about the road ahead from the dhaba owner who said that around 6-7 kms of the stretch is bad going towards Nagod but the rest is good and it would take us 2.5 hours to reach Nagod. That was worrisome as we wanted to make it to Khajuraho before sundown to catch the light and sound show in the Western Group of temples. An hour spent for lunch and refreshed we were on our way.

From Maihar we continued on SH11 which actually takes you to Satna. An interesting looking hill came up on this route.
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At Uchahera one needs to get off SH11 and take a left towards Nagod which is a new road constructed (not a state highway) which helps one to reach NH75 faster. I was apprehensive of how much of this road is good or completed but it turned out to be fantastic. Remember this is not even a state highway and barring 1/2 kms where the road is being completed I could maintain the same speeds. I must say folks in MP have very high standards and expectations about their roads .

Here is an example.
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Somewhere before Nagod this road actually joins NH75 and for the first time MMI simply got lost in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly the road vanished in MMI and it showed me that we were driving in some fields or something. It finally got back to its senses when I started driving through NH75. I think NH75 is probably the best maintained national highway in MP for at least this stretch. Beating the dhaba owner's prediction of 2.5 hours, we reached Nagod in 1 hour.

The great condition of NH75 allowed me to maintain even better speeds. I was doing 100-120 speeding towards Panna.
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We crossed Panna at around 4:30 and had to slow down to go through the ghat roads that cross the Panna tiger reserve. There are quite a few speed breakers on the way through the reserve. Thankfully these are clearly marked.
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Crossing the Ken river after crossing the Panna tiger reserve.
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The roads improved after crossing the Ken river and we reached Bamitha quickly from where you need to take a right and drive another 10 kms to reach Khajuraho.
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Just before reaching Khajuraho, saw this unique way of carrying luggage
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We made it to Hotel Jhankar just before 6 PM and quickly finished the check-in procedures. A picture of the hotel taken later in the evening. This is located opposite the Khajuraho Radisson.
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Here is the trip log for this stretch
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After check-in we got tickets to the light and sound show the English version of which starts at 7:30 PM in the Western Group of temples. It takes about 10 minutes to reach the place from the hotel. The hotel manager offered the services of a guide for the next day for Rs 750 which I put on hold. I had been forewarned about the explicit and frank explanations of Khajuraho guides and with parents accompanying me thats the last thing I wanted. A quick call to Fauji sir (thank you so much) sealed the deal and we were not going to need the services of a guide the next day. However it was time to freshen up and go for the light and sound show.

Those who have been to Khajuraho and not done this, you have missed something. Those who plan to visit Khajuraho, make sure you DO NOT miss the light and sound show. Its very beautifully done and I think the narration is in the voice of Amitabh Bacchan (someone can correct me if I am wrong) which makes it special. It so vividly describes how the temples came into being back in those ages with dramatic voice overs making it so realistic and lifelike. As if you are there as these temples were built. Remember we had not seen any of the temples yet and this show just set up the stage for the next morning. As the show unfolded, my memories of Indian history came rushing back to me when we had to study our history book in school which was at least 3 inches thick. The Bundelas and the Chandelas came back to memory from those books as the show described how these temples came into existence. It is just wonderful and your heart will swell with pride when you realize the richness of Indian culture, the science and the skills coupled with the art that went in to the making of these wonderful temples. The show is for about an hour and when it got over we decided then and there that we will be back again for the show the next day.

We made our way back to the hotel and called it a day ready to come back to the Western Group of temples by sunrise (as suggested by Fauji sir).

Last edited by samarjitdhar : 15th March 2012 at 22:50.
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Day 6 Travel Log - Friday March 2nd, 2012
Destination: Nowhere, chillin in Khajuraho
Distance to be covered: Insignificant


Inspired by last evening's experience of the fantastic light and sound show, we were up early in the morning to go visit the Western Group of temples. The thing about Khajuraho is that the temples are divided into three main groups, the Western Group, the Eastern Group and the Southern Group. As the sun rises, the Western Group receive the first rays and the beauty of these temples is best enjoyed during this time. Also this is the main and the most important group of temples in Khajuraho. Not taking away anything from the Eastern Group of temples, these are located on the other side such that the rays of the setting sun bathe these temples and that is when these are best viewed. The Southern Group I think has only 2 temples and unfortunately we didn't have enough time on our hand to visit them. The temperatures during the day hover over 30 degrees during this time of the year and its best that the temple viewing be limited to mornings and late afternoons. So as per our plans, we reached the Western Group by 6 AM.

Taking a guide to these temples is purely optional and I am sure there are good guides available who can help educate you in detail about the history and other finer aspects of these temples. Also if you are more interested in understanding the finer points of the architecture that is the science and the mathematics behind it a good guide would perhaps help. However most of the guides I saw looked pretty dicey to me. My suspicions were confirmed when I overheard many of them saying "Kamasutra originated from Khajuraho" to some of the foreign tourists who had availed their services. Enough said about the guide services here. I was in no mood to hear such crap for Rs 750, when they have gotten the facts so totally wrong given that Kamasutra had actually originated some 1200-1400 years before Khajuraho, its better to not listen to such rubbish. What I do strongly recommend is taking the audio guide available at the temple entry near the ticket counter. The audio guide is a small device with a headphone along with a guide map of the temples. It costs just Rs 100 per person for an unlimited period for that day and it is of amazing help in appreciating the temples. The company that has created is Audio Compass. It was a God send for us who hadn't chosen a guide so rightly. More so it even had a narration in Bengali which my parents loved immediately.

Taking this audio guide will help you understand a lot of aspects of each of the temple in the Western Group. Specially when and how was it made, the important features of its architecture, the different sculptures, the deities, etc. It will also help you break a lot of myths that have been established over the years most of them wrong about the temples of Khajuraho. Specially the one that says that all the sculptures here are about erotica. Its simply incorrect. Actually only 1/10th of the sculptures are about erotica. The rest are about the daily happenings of life back in those days. I will try to capture most of them using the pictures I could take. The sculptures on erotica actually have been placed only on the outer walls of the main sanctum of each temple. The theory is that it is to completely purify one's mind and soul before you enter the temple for prayers. The main temples in the Western Group are the Lakshmana Temple, the Khandariya Mahadeva Temple (which I found the most majestic), the Chitragupta Temple and the Visvanatha Temple. Each of them were constructed by different kings of the Chandela dynasty marking some special achievement in their lives and careers. Okay I will stop turning into an authentic guide now and let the pictures do the talking now.

The tour started with first the Lakshmana Temple. Notice the splendor as the first rays of the sun start falling on it
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Another view of the Lakshmana Temple
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The audio guide takes you around each and every temple first before taking you onto the podium and then inside the temple sanctum. As you circumvent the temple foundation, you get introduced to the world famous sculptures of Khajuraho. All of it done in the most exquisite and minutest detail.

Scenes of a hunt
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And that of a dance. Notice the detail. Even the beads of the ornaments worn by the dancers.
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The famous sculpture of the apsara getting the thorn removed from her feet
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The main spire of the Lakshmana Temple
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You get introduced to the first erotica sculpture as you come towards the outer walls of the main sanctum
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A row of elephants looking straight ahead. Each is a carbon copy of the other. The art work everywhere is just so perfect and damn accurate.
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Then you come across the work of a mischievous sculptor in those times who did this. Notice all the elephants looking straight ahead with glum faces except for one with his head turned to his left and a smile on his face. Guess why .
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Goddess Durga sculpted on the walls of the Lakshmana Temple
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One of the most beautiful Ganesha sculptures I have seen. Even this one follows the main principle of sculpting the human body pointed in three directions which is the main theme in the sculptures in Khajuraho where it involves depicting the human form.
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The entry to the Lakshmana Temple
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The entry to the Lakshmana Temple adorned with Makara the mythical crocodile
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Inside the temple you see this sculpture of Narasimha destroying the demon king Hiranya. Narasimha is the avatar of Lord Vishnu to whom the Lakshmana Temple is dedicated
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The main idol of Lord Vishnu
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After this the audio guide takes you to the famous Khandariya Mahadeva Temple
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This is another view of the Khandariya Mahadeva Temple. Simply fabulous. No mortar or even water was used to build this temple. The stones were simply fitted together and made to stay that way using gravity. Almost 1000 years ago without the help of any technology or machines.
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And yet another view, majestic isn't it? I am not such a religious person, I confess. But what struck me was with how much perfection and accuracy with which the construction of these temples were executed. It was a work that came straight out of the heart.
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A look at the numerous spires of the Khandariya Mahadeva which give the impression of ascending height as it rises
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Notice the perfect geometry as the spire rises up
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Each spire is sculpted exactly like the other one
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Notice the artwork in stone.
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Now a view of some of the erotic art in Khajuraho. Even these are based so much on the fundamentals and beliefs of Hinduism. This one is based on the Yogini Yantra posture. More details here. There is a lot more information on the Internet on this.
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All these sculptures are almost always limited to the outer walls of the main sanctum of the temple. After my visit, I wondered why in the world everybody focuses on only these sculptures in Khajuraho. I still found local folks ogling at only these even though they are so aesthetically executed. The rest of the sculptures remain ignored.
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After the Khandariya Mahadeva, the audio guide took us to the Chitragupta Temple which is dedicated to the Sun god. The first rays of the sun actually fall on this temple and the main sanctum of this temple before all other temples in the Western Group.
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Finally another look at the Khandariya Mahadeva Temple with a smaller one built in the same pattern dedicated to Goddess Parvati.
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By the time we made it to the Visvanath Temple the batteries in all our cameras ran out so couldn't take any more pictures. The Visvanath Temple is also dedicated to Lord Shiva with a huge sculpture of Nandi the bull. Legend has it that if you whisper your wishes in Nandi's ears, your wishes will come true.

We spent close to 4 hours with the Western Group of temples, such were their grandeur and beauty. By the time we stepped out of the complex it was 10:30 AM, late for breakfast at the hotel. So we stepped into a nice little place called Raj Cafe located opposite to the Western Group within the large market complex across the road. A sumptuous spread of nicely made sandwiches vanished quickly as soon as they were laid out as we were thoroughly famished after so much circumventing and climbing up and down in the Western Group of temples. We moved back to the hotel to stretch our legs and relax for the rest of the day. We planned to go to the Eastern Group of temples in the afternoon. A relaxed lunch followed by a siesta helped us recharge our batteries (cameras included) and we drove to the Eastern Group which was again about 10 minutes from the hotel.

The Eastern Group of temples are dedicated to Jainism all 69 of them I think is the number. A lot of them probably were damaged and have been rebuilt over the years. You can see the influence of different cultures in the rebuilding effort like the Islamic form of art of using domes and arches. The art work and sculpture on these temples though equally exquisite and detailed does not depict erotica in any of the temples. The two main temples are the Parsvanath Temple and the Adinath Temple.

The Parsvanath Temple is the one which still remains intact to a large extent
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The Parsvanath Temple at sundown
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Another view of the Parsvanath Temple
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The Adinath Temple is the other main temple in the Eastern Group. It has had some damage so repairs were done later. Notice the architecture at the entry of the temple. It definitely looks like it has the Islamic influence as it was done later.
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As the sun went down, we called it a day and went back to the hotel. One of the most incredible trips I have ever taken came to an end and quite rightly in the heart of Incredible India. It was time to make our way back home with a pit stop at Varanasi the next day. The hotel where we stayed is not so great but its not bad either. Its VFM I guess and the rooms could have been a bit larger for the price. But I guess Khajuraho has become an expensive place with all the 5 stars catering to the foreign tourists visiting here.

One thing that didn't escape me was that so many tourists come to Khajuraho under the impression that it is all about erotica. In fact the guides out here play a major part in propagating this rubbish such as "Kamasutra originated here". What utter nonsense. This single track focus on erotica takes away the importance of all the other aspects of these temples. My strongest recommendation is unless you are interested in details of temple architecture do not get a guide. If you want a guide try to get one who is very knowledgeable because most of them I came across specially ones accompanying the foreign tourists didn't look like they have ever come across a history book ever in their life.

Well we did go back for the light and sound show again, it was that good. We made some audio recordings of the show surreptitiously as video recordings were not allowed. I will share those recordings later if one wants. After the show, came back to the hotel, reviewed the route back to Varanasi again and went to sleep early after a quick dinner for the drive the next day.

Last edited by samarjitdhar : 16th March 2012 at 12:10.
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Day 7 Travel Log - Saturday March 3rd, 2012
Destination: Rahi Tourist Bungalow, Varanasi
Distance to be covered: Approx. 420 kms


The following morning we were scheduled to go to Varanasi on our way back home. The plan was to start early enough and try reach Varanasi in time for the evening arati at Daswamedha Ghat. After a quick breakfast at the hotel and settling of bills, we bid goodbye to Khajuraho. We were able to start by 8:30 AM in the morning and were back on NH75 quickly. Traffic on NH75 is almost non existent except for an occasional pack of buffaloes leisurely moving across the road from one field to another in search of food.

The tarmac of NH75 is IMO in the best condition of all national highways in MP. We were again back to the same high speeds maintaining an average of 100-120. The only place one needs to slow down is going through the ghats in Panna tiger reserve with some broken roads. As soon as we crossed Panna, picked up speed and were rushing towards Satna and then Rewa. Satna thankfully was not that congested and my driving and dodging skills in the streets of Kolkata helped me cross Satna through peak daytime traffic. Got on to NH7 and then Rewa bypass which is another gem of a drive because it is maintained by the MP government along with Rewa Tollway. After crossing Rewa bypass we came up to a nice looking dhaba where I thought we should take a break. We also thought of packing some lunch but decided to actually have an early lunch there itself even though it was only 12:00 noon. Not bad eh? Covered about 180 kms in 3.5 hours flat between Khajuraho till this dhaba on NH7.

Incidentally this is the same dhaba where Fauji sir took a break when he was in MP though it seemed to have changed its name. But its receipt was still of that of Kadambari Resorts for some reason. Here it is.
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Quite surprisingly food was out of the world. Reminded of typical Dhaba food. This was just awesome the best I have tasted in my entire trip in MP. I wonder why the hell I missed this one when I was on my way to Bandhavgarh. Highly recommended. This dhaba comes up on NH7 on the left coming from Rewa going towards Mangawan. Here is a view of the spread
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By 1 PM we were ready to rock and roll after a relaxed lunch. Talking to the dhaba owner, he suggested that I continue on NH7 going to Mirzapur and then Varanasi and not take NH27 through Allahabad. Knowing the notoriety of NH7 I asked him about the condition beyond Mangawan and he gave a thumbs up. Moreover I was feeling a little unsettled about going through that broken stretch of 15 kms on NH27 again and then some broken roads in Allahabad. He also said that NH7 in UP is also driveable. Having seen the high standards folks from MP expect from their roads, trusted his judgement and re-calibrated the GPS to now continue on NH7 through Mirzapur and then reach Varanasi through the Varanasi bypass.

It seems that NH7 in this stretch has been repaired or is being repaired inside MP and soon we were doing very good speeds going towards Hanumana where the MP-UP border comes up. Sorry not many pictures on this stretch as my wife, the official photographer on the trip was catching up on work on her laptop in the rear seat. Yes NH7 is pretty decent after the repairs and we were maintaining good speeds reaching Hanumana somewhere around 2:15 PM. The condition of NH7 actually goes down in quality in UP. It is still driveable in most stretches but there are around 5-7 kms of broken stretches and around 1-2 kms of absolutely no tarmac as you go through the ghats crossing into UP. The truck traffic which was still manageable in MP increases manifold within UP which considerably slowed our progress.

We reached Mirzapur by around 4:30 PM and were still hopeful of making it to Varanasi on time. However after Mirzapur continuing on NH7 turned out to be a mistake. All the trucks of UP seemed to descend with vengeance on NH7. The road was also under repair in many sections which made progress even slower. I should have taken SH5 at Mirzapur and driven 20-25 kms to get on NH2 which should have been the right route. Anyway we continued on NH7 crossing historic Chunar where I think Sher Shah Suri is buried. Also had to waste 30 minutes at a level crossing as they let train after train pass while traffic built up every which way. How Bagheera went through such impossible gaps at that level crossing is a story for another day. By the time we made it to the hotel in Varanasi it was 7 PM leaving us without any chance of making it to the evening arati at Daswamedha Ghat . On top of that one smarta$$ cop decided to stop me in front of the Varanasi Cantt. railway station in the middle of peak three wheeler traffic and checked my documents in hopes of making a quick buck. Fortunately I was covered very well with my documentation for the car so no problems there.

Back at Rahi Tourist Bungalow I plonked myself on the bed as I was very tired given the heavy traffic I encountered after Mirzapur. My recommendation is to take SH5 at Mirzapur and then go to NH2 since most of NH7 turned out to be good enough and driveable after Rewa through MP and UP.

Here is the KML file from the GPS log.
Khajuraho-Varanasi.kml

Here is the rough trip log.
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-day7.jpg

I was very tired at the end of this stretch and without much ado had a quick dinner went to sleep. I had to again drive from Varanasi to Kolkata and if I didn't start early enough I could end up in a lot of trouble as I reached Kolkata. My worst fears came true.

Last edited by samarjitdhar : 16th March 2012 at 16:46.
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Day 8 Travel Log - Sunday, March 4th, 2012
Destination: Home, Kolkata
Distance to be covered: Approx. 740 kms


My mother was not going to pass an opportunity of coming to Varanasi and not offering puja or collecting some water from the Ganges. So she and dad woke up early in the morning, bathed and went to Prayag ghat at around 6 AM in the morning to witness the sunrise. I was fast asleep resting my tired body recharging all of myself for the ensuing drive back home. My mom turned out to be a pretty good photographer as she captured some pretty good ones in her camera IMO. Here they are.

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By the time we had woken up and gotten ready, parents had returned after puja. We were a bit disappointed that we didn't get enough time in Varanasi specially foodie highlights like the blue lassi or the ghee kachori (from Fauji sir's travelogue). We decided if we go through Varanasi next time, we will keep aside at least 2 days for the city.

A planned start of 7:30 AM actually became a 8:30 AM start. To avoid the mad traffic in the city and Mughasarai I went back to Varanasi bypass and then on to NH2. This I hope saved me some time of navigating through the crazy traffic of Varanasi and Mughalsarai and we were cruising at highway speeds on NH2 going towards Mohania.

At one of the toll booths I came across one funny message at the back of a truck.
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I came across a small resort just before reaching Mohania and took a quick tea and bio break as there were not going to be anything for quite some time. I had plans to have lunch at Barhi at Hotel Highway Inn and didn't wanted to spend time in between looking for a suitable place for my break. This resort seems to even have a/c rooms if you are traveling on NH2 and need to put up for the night or in emergencies.
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After a quick break we sped towards Dehri on Sone and reached by 11 AM. This time around the camera batteries had enough juice and here are some pics as we cross the famous 3.5 kms bridge.
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Here is a picture of a train crossing Dehri on Sone the picture taken from the car. The train was moving real slow and we had to slow down to a crawl.
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The rest of the journey remained pretty much uneventful. For a moment I could touch 150 but then had to drive at saner speeds of about 100-120 because of the usual hindrances on Indian national highways. By the time we reached Barhi bypass it was 1:45 PM and that's when the fun started. To break for lunch I called Hotel Highway Inn (I had read about this hotel in some other blogs) and asked if lunch is available. To my shock the guy who answered the phone asked me to identify myself first. I was hesitant but he just persisted about knowing my name. After I gave my name he sounded disappointed and informed me that they only serve lunch to folks who are staying in the hotel. By this time I had already got off Barhi bypass and entered Barhi in search for food. So having given up hope I stopped at what look like an eatery with some proper facilities. Inside though was another story. It looked like nobody has been fed at least in this place in years. A guy sauntered up and asked what business we had. When we asked if we could get lunch he got the shock of his life and told us that it would take a lot of time as he would have to cook. It also looked like he would have to do some shopping first to get to the cooking part. This looked like it was some official guest house owned by the Jharkhand government. No wonder. Moving on we came up to Hotel Highway Inn where a guy in front of the hotel informed us that there is a decent dhaba on the Hazaribagh highway accessible from the main crossing in Barhi. Some kind of festival was on and it took some time to finally locate it turning left towards Hazaribagh. Its about half a kilometer from that main crossing. The name of this place is Hotel Yuvraj and the facilities here are just about passable. The food though was atrocious. Lunch break thus took over 1.5 hours which set us back a lot. On second thoughts continuing on NH2 and reaching the outskirts of Dhanbad would have been a better ploy as we could have had more decent options even though lunch would have happened late.
Here is the picture of Hotel Yuvraj on Hazaribagh highway.
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Here are some scenes from Barhi. It was market day and traffic was choc a bloc.
Red pepper sale
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Animal crossing
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It was about 3:15 PM when we started after lunch and I had to step on the gas. We were way behind schedule. We reached Govindpura (outskirts of Dhanbad) by about 4:30 PM and refueled quickly. As we entered WB, got stuck again at the border due to huge trucks but somehow managed to wiggle through. By 6 PM I had reached Durgapur and needed another break. We were already well behind schedule so better be refreshed enough for some night driving. I drove into Hotel Samrat on NH2 just before the crossing of Mahatma Gandhi Avenue and NH2. 19 years ago when we were in college, Hotel Samrat used to be the official mess for our hostel. It used to be a small shack back then and for Rs 15 only we used to get lip smacking dinner. Memories came flooding back as I parked the car and took it all in. This is how it looks now for the benefit of any BHPian who might be from Durgapur or from my college (NIT Durgapur).
When Bagheera met Shere Khan - Trip To The Heart Of Incredible India-03042012687.jpg

Apparently it has fallen on rough times as there was hardly anybody there. The college folks have migrated to the swanky food courts in the malls that have come up in Durgapur. Ah those simple days when there used to be no malls and food was enjoyed in the open on a chaarpaai. After a quick break and tea we were on our way towards that dreaded place on NH2 called Panagarh. It was after dark and truck traffic had significantly increased and my worst fears came true. About 2/3 kms from Panagarh there was a huge build up of trucks with private vehicles stuck all in between. Something clicked in my mind and I saw all the seasoned travelers starting to go down the wrong way one by one. I too followed them (yes I am guilty but hey I was very tired too) and made to Panagarh junction by around 7 PM. From then on it was crawling in the dark. I tried to get off the road and overtake some of trucks, was successful a few times, scraped the bottom of the car a few times but without much progress. Finally made out of Panagarh by around 8 PM.

From then on it was really crazy going. Loads of truck traffic littered all over NH2 and given that everybody on the road were feeling bottled up after crossing Panagarh, they let it loose at the same time. It was again time for Bagheera to show it's prowess and I started dodging in and out of trucks as quickly as possible to finish this last leg of the journey. It was not really easy going at all. Clusters of trucks move together on the highway at night blocking both lanes moving slowly at hardly 40-50 kmph. One has to squeeze through these trucks and make way cluster by cluster. I must say I did pretty well making it from Panagarh to my home in Kolkata in flat 2.5 hours at night. As I approached Kolkata, fed up with all the truck traffic I decided to take Belgharia expressway again instead of Kona expressway which I thought would by now should have filled up to the brim with trucks coming from NH6 and NH2. This turned out to be a pretty good decision and barring a small hiccup where I accidentally landed on BT road, we made it home by 10:30 PM. Finally home, sweet home and back to the grind after one of the most enchanting trips of my life.

Here is the KML file for the trip from Varanasi to Kolkata. You will find the place where I had lunch at Barhi which I can say is the only close to decent option on NH2 midway.
Varanasi-Home.kml

Here is the trip log for this leg.
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Old 16th March 2012, 22:28   #11
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Epilogue

Before I sign off just wanted to share some parting thoughts about this trip. This incidentally was my first major road trip where I covered around 2800 kms with 6 days of driving thrown in this 9 day trip. Some of the things I loved about it was being on the road and getting to see the country from up close as much as possible. It was a pity we didn't have the luxury of stopping where we wanted or spending more time in places where we wanted to but then traveling by road gave me the best feeling of how the country looks like across various states.

Bagheera, a VW Vento HL TDI, is one hell of a car. It stood up to whatever roads it was driven across. It actually becomes much more comfortable at higher speeds say above 40. In fact my aged parents never felt any discomfort or fatigue at any point of time throughout the whole trip. The car just insulates you so well from the outside world and the roads as if you are sitting in your living room watching TV. Unless it is totally broken roads you will never know that you are on the road. Be it cornering or stopping it is just awesome. I think the brakes stand out a lot for this car. Although I rarely drove at insane speeds, generally the speeds I maintained were close to 100 and the brakes were just super responsive never giving one goose bump to driver or occupants while stopping or slowing down in an emergency situations on the road. Sure the steering feedback could have been better but then the response is extremely accurate. The way I dodged through some heavy truck traffic before reaching Varanasi or on the return leg to Kolkata that steering had a huge role to play. Overall full marks to the car .

Highways are the actual lifeline to the nation. The nation's economic health is dependent on a strong network of well maintained highways. I was impressed by what I saw in Madhya Pradesh though I hear national highways are a different story. I have seen so many places with totally broken or non-existent roads. More than us tourists it is the citizens who live outside cities in villages need this for their existence. It is more important that the aspects of safety be addressed creating bypasses/underpasses/flyovers to ensure that local traffic either doesn't get endangered or endanger the traffic on these highways. I saw one most unfortunate sight, a hit and run case on NH2 on my return leg somewhere near Sherghati in Bihar. I guess the poor guy was trying to cross the road without looking out for the oncoming traffic. It was really a very sad sight to see his body lying sprawled lifeless on the road. Instead of making inane changes of the highway numbers, the government must first spend the money to ensure safety on roads and highways.

This trip was just the beginning for me for many more to come. There are so many places to see and I have just started compiling my list . One just needs to step out and take the plunge to get an experience of a lifetime. As the voice over said in the audio guide at Khajuraho, "to do this, you just need an open mind, an adventurous spirit and a nice pair of shoes". Umm, add to that "also a solid set of wheels".

Adios Amigos.

Last edited by samarjitdhar : 16th March 2012 at 22:31.
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Old 16th March 2012, 22:49   #12
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line section. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 17th March 2012, 11:12   #13
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Lovely travelogue with real nice pictures. Especially loved your Bandhavgarh, Bhedaghat and Khajuraho pictures.
Let me help you with some of the bird ids. There is a lesser adjutant stork, 2 thicknees or stone plovers, tree owl is a scopps owl and the Indian buzzard is actually a Oriental Honey buzzard.

The little cub with mama drinking water is priceless.
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Old 17th March 2012, 12:12   #14
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man!!!, amazing pictures and might I add an adept hand at photography too. Seems like fun all the way. I have never been to those parts although always wanted too, being a civil engineer I have to say the structures at Khajuraho are marvelous. Have to plan a visit to these parts of India soon.

One question though, if you dont mind my asking, how much does a trip like this cost?. including travel, lodging, food and entry tickets.
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Old 17th March 2012, 12:30   #15
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Nice travelogue and some good pictures.
Narration was very good and lot of tips on your trip is well taken.
I have a fair idea now about the road conditions in M.P. and planning to hit the road in M.P.
Thanks for updating the road conditions and some good eating places on the highway.
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