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|30th October 2009, 12:31||#1|
Senior - BHPian
Puri and Chilka from Kolkata - Rediscovering coastal Orissa
Puri, a small religious seaside Hamlet in Orissa, is really a second home for most Bengalis. Home to the revered Jagannath temple, Puri also houses a wonderful beach and is the gateway to the fantastic Konark temple. Its difficult to find a Bengali who has not visited Puri multiple times in his life - to offer Puja at Jagannath temple, to chill out at Swargadar or the other beaches, to eat Puri's famous sweets "Khaja" and "Chhanapora" - or all 3!
Hence it kind of surprises me that Tbhp houses so many route queries, yet so few travelogues on Puri. So many Kolkatans visited Puri, yet few had the perseverance to sit and write down about their trip. Maybe it was the lethargy, or maybe the feeling of "What is there to write about a destination so commonplace?" So here it is, the definitive travelogue and route reference on Kolkata - Puri.
For me, 2009 had not been a good year for travel. Incredible work pressure, coupled with my dad not keeping well in the middle of the year meant a great planned East Coast trip got cancelled. Leaving aside business trips, the only time I travelled outside Kolkata on vacation was a small weekend trip to Garpanchkot, Purulia.
Last week, my boss himself came over and suggested that I should take some leave, or he would have to answer HR on why this particular employee was not utilizing any of his allotted leave (I swear, its true). I was kinda put on forced leave for 2 weeks.
So I was on this unplanned rest at home, with nothing to do and no where to go. This is when my parents suggested a week's trip to Puri. Its accesible, its a known place (we have visited Puri at least 9 times in the last 15 years, last time in 2000), but we never grow tired of its calming influence. Plus this time would be the first time with my wife, and the first time that we would drive over.
From Kolkata, you cross the Vidyasagar Setu, Kona expressway and hit NH6. Keep going straight, passing Uluberia, Sankhrail, Bagnan, Kolaghat, Panskura (remember to take the Panskura byepass). After about 134 kms, you reach the outskirts of Kharagpur. From here, you have the option of taking NH60 (which goes through the border, Jaleswar and joins the NH5 at Balasore) or cross Kharagpur city and take NH5 directly. The first route saves you 60 odd kms, and the road surface is fantastic. Recommended.
After crossing the border, you hit Balasore town and join NH5. Keep going straight as you reach Bhadrak, about 70 kms from Balasore, then Cuttack and Bhubaneshwar. From Bhubaneshwar, you leave NH5 and take the Puri-Cuttack road. First 10-15 kms are through Bhubaneshwar city, then its a fantastic sweeping single-lane highway (NH 203). 60 kms later, you're in Puri. A total distance of 500 kms.
Monday, 26th October 2009
We left Salt Lake at about 5.45 AM. Crossed Vidyasagar Setu, Kona expressway and hit NH6 at 6.15 AM. The sun was just up, and traffic was sparse. Predator was roaring at 140 kmph, devouring NH6, and my wife and mother were sleeping in the backseat. The only stops we were making were for the toll booths. It was an unbelievably fast drive to Kharagpur, which we reached by 8 PM.
From here, we took NH60. The road surface got even better. I had never travelled NH60 before, yet the surface gave me confidence to keep up 120-130 kmph speeds.
A bit of apprehension as we approached the border. I had heard much about the "Orissa Motor Vehicles tax", the dreaded conspiracy hatched by Orissa RTO officials that is making unsuspecting motorists cough up Rs 800 every time they cross the border. I was determined not to pay, whatever it takes. Had even noted down all the hierarchy numbers of Orissa RTO and was carrying the piece of paper with me.
But when we actually approached the border, a funny thing happened. We passed the endless line of trucks and approached the barricade. The uniformed official peeped through the glass, then gave a "kadak" salute and allowed us to pass, no questions asked!!!
Eh? What the..? Was it my car's black colour that made him think it was a govt car? Or was it the fact that my dad, with his Ray ban Aviators on, was looking too much like a DGP of police (see pic below)
Whatever it was, we made it through without paying the dreaded tax.
Progress was fast and relentless. We covered 130 kms in about 70 mins. As we approached Balasore, we could see the road surface deteriorating. The NH5 from Balasore to Bhadrak is under construction, and there are several diversions.
We stopped at Balasore for about an hour at this roadside hotel. Food was pretty ordinary, but the staff were warm and inviting. In any case, there aren't many options for decent food in Balasore unless you choose to leave NH5 enter the city.
Mom, Beta and Predator
Mom and Beta cooling off after a heavy breakfast
After an hour, we left Balasore, and the road got unbelievably bad. Someone on Tbhp had said that the Balasore-Bhadrak stretch was "indescribably bad", and I fully endorse it. There is no road surface whatsoever, just a rocky top layer, and its chock-a-block with potholes. Your car ends up continuously shuddering, as you aim for the smallest pothole (to avoid the larger one next to it) and thud through. 4X4 testing tracks are like this (I'm serious). And the car breaker punishment runs for 70 kms!!! There was one incident when I was being tailed by Tata 4018 trailer. I gingerly drove through one pothole, then braked hard to avoid another one that was more than a foot deep. The dinosaur behind me applied brakes full lock, and I held my breath as it groaned and swerved out of the way to avoid rear-ending me. I shudder to think what would have happened if the driver didn't have the presence of mind to swerve away.
So while Kolkata- Balasore (260 kms) had been covered in 3 hrs, we took more than 2 just to reach Bhadrak. I was pretty tired by this time. Dad took the wheel from here, and I dozed off in the passenger seat. Ironically, the roads became excellent immediately after Bhadrak. The few times that I woke up, I could see dad grinning away as he rocketed the car through, passing unsuspecting cars and 2 wheelers as if they didn't exist.
I was too jealous to see him having all the fun, and wrestled him out of the driving seat to take control post Bhubaneshwar. The 10-15 kms through the city was pretty slow, but after this lay the single lane NH203. It was afternoon time, and there was little traffic. I maintained a steady 100 kmph snaking through the excellent road. By 2 PM, we had reached BNR hotel in Puri.
For the uninitiated, Puri has a plethora of staying options, catering to all budgets. Most hotels (Puri Hotel and Victoria Club come to mind) are on "Swargadar", the main beach. But Swargadar is always chock a block with people and shops, so if you want solitude, avoid.
The second option, if you have lots of money, is to stay at Mayfair, Hotel Coco Palms or Toshali Sands. Room prices start at 5-6K per night, and you get 5 star accomodation. But not affordable for us poverty-spec types.
The third option is to stay at Holiday Resort, OTDC Panthanibas and BNR. The first is the new kid on the block, boasting a huge number of rooms and good infrastructure. It also has its own private beach. Panthanibas is a govt hotel, but very well maintained with large rooms and its own beach.
Our favourite hotel in Puri is BNR. Established by erstwhile Bengal Nagpur Railways, its a huge colonial mansion with large rooms and uniformed colonial waiters at your beck and call. Food is excellent both in quality and presentation, and it will make a "Sahib" out of you. It has a well stocked library and billiard room. If you're lucky, you will get one of the balcony rooms with huge wood armchairs to curl up with a book and spend an afternoon. Its only catch is that the beach is a good 150-200 mtrs away, across the road.
The huge Colonial building that is BNR
The right wing. We were lucky to get 2 balcony rooms
The left wing. Note the car "shelters" below.
Predator cooling off in the shade after having done 505 kms
The engine has been on display at BNR since 1994. It was bought from its erstwhile English owners for the princely sum of Rs 12000!
The excellent garden facade
BNR has now been taken over by Chanakya group of Patna. They have invested a good amount of money into the hotel, and the rooms now boast all amenities of a good 4-star hotel. Chanakya has decided to keep the rates same (1300 per night with breakfast) till December 09, post which they will atleast double.
At night, the 4 of us paid a respectful visit to the Jagannath Temple. Considered Highly auspicious by Hindus, the shrine attracts millions of visitors from all across India. We make it a point to visit atleast once everytime we come to Puri. Unfortunately no electronic devices are allowed inside, so I cannot show any pics of the magnificent structure.
A little about the temple (photo and text courtesy www.orissatourism.org):
The land of Lord Jagannath, meaning 'Lord of Universe', is one of the most sacred pilgrimage spots in India. One of the four divine abodes lying on four directions of the compass; The Jagannath temple in Puri was built approximately 12th Century AD by King Chodaganga of the Eastern Ganga dynasty. The completion was later brought about by his descendant, Anangabhima Deva, during the 12th century.
One of the most revered of all temples of Lord Vishnu in eastern India, the Jagannath Temple was built in the classical temple building phase. Protected by two surrounding walls, the conical tower of the temple is 58 mts high on which the flag and the wheel of Lord Vishnu can be seen.
Dedicated to Krishna, Balabhadra and Subhadra, the temple has these three as principal deities. Similar to the Lingaraja temple in Bhubaneshwar, this temple is also close for Non-Hindus who contend themselves by just viewing it from outside its precincts.
The architecture of the temple follows the pattern of many Orissan temples of the classical period. The main shikhara, or tower, rises above the inner sanctum where the deities reside. Subsidiary shikharas rise above ante-halls. The temple complex is surrounded by a wall, on each side of which is a gopura or gate, over which rises a pyramid-shaped roof. Being the largest temple in the state, it has a complex covering several square blocks with dozens of structures including a mammoth kitchen.
The main temple structure of this architectural and cultural wonder is 65m (214 feet) high and is built on elevated ground, making it look more imposing. Comprising an area of 10.7 acres, the temple complex is enclosed by two rectangular walls. The outer enclosure is called Meghanada Prachira, 200m (665 ft) by 192m (640 ft). The inner wall is called Kurmabedha, 126m (420 ft) by 95m (315 ft). There are thirty-six traditional communities (Chatisha Niyaga) who render a specific hereditary service to the deities. The temple has as many as 6,000 priests.
There is a wheel on top of the Jagannath Temple made of an alloy of eight metals (asta-dhatu). It is called the Nila Chakra (Blue Wheel), and is 3.5m (11 ft 8 in) high with a circumference of about 11m (36 ft). Every day, a different flag is tied to a mast attached to the Nila Chakra. Every Ekadasi, a lamp is lit on top of the temple near the wheel. There are four gates: the eastern Singhadwara (Lion Gate), the southern Ashwadwara (Horse Gate), the western Vyaghradwara (Tiger Gate), and the northern Hastidwara (Elephant Gate). There is a carving of each form by the entrance of each gate. The Lion Gate, which is the main gate, is located on Grand Road. Thirty different smaller temples surround the main temple. The Narasimha Temple, adjacent to the western side of the Mukti-mandapa, is said to have been constructed before this temple even.
Last edited by predatorwheelz : 30th October 2009 at 12:33.
|30th October 2009, 12:48||#2|
Join Date: Sep 2009
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Balasore to Bhadrak still bad unbelivable.When I was driving to Kolkatta from Hyderabad in2007 October we halted at Cuttack and started early morning 3am.Till Bhadrak was ok from there to Balasore was bad.When my wife woke up I was in Balasore.I was thinking it is going to continue till Kharagpur.My wife said why cannot we try Chandipur believe me it was one of the best low tide beach I had seen.
|30th October 2009, 13:33||#3|
Senior - BHPian
Tuesday, 27th October 2009
A lovely morning, a good breakfast, and what other option except to head out to the beach?
The Addams family all ready to hit the beach
Puri's beaches, unlike Goa, are characterized by 3 genres of people who will hound you as soon as you hit the sand.
The first is a breed of people called "Nulia"s. Little, dark skinned people who have been living for centuries in coastal Orissa. They are natural swimmers and know the sea like the back of their hand. The sea at all East coast beaches is much more ferocious (huge, powerful waves) and treacherous (sand traps, undercurrents etc). So it makes sense to take a Nulia along when you go swimming in the sea. We certainly did, taking 2.
The second is the Malishwala. Like Nulias, Puri's malishwalas too have been serving for generations. The guy we took immediately recognized us from 10 years ago, and even remembered that we had put up at BNR then as well!
Mamma Addams getting a foot massage
Mamma, Papa and Bahu Addams getting a Champi
The third is the ubiquitous Pearl Salesman. He will show you pearls and semi-precious stones, then quote insane prices. Keep haggling (he'll entertain this for hours) and you can strike a good deal for dirt cheap.
Anyway, I had enough of these 3 categories and hit the water. My wife had the brilliant idea of drowning me, and a one sided fight ensued (she knows swimming, I don't)
Dejected, I walk away
Anyway, we stayed at the beach for at the better part of the day. A scrumptious lunch followed by some siesta saw off the afternoon. In the evening, we were off to Konark temple.
Konark temple is 33 kms away from Puri. The road passes through 25 odd kms of Jungle, then 8 kms along the sea. Often referred to as Orissa's "Marine Drive", the Konark-Puri road found mention in the Top 10 most scenic roads in India published by Autocar Magazine some years ago.
Unfortunately, we had started out of Puri too late. The sun was going down fast, and we wanted to catch the magnificent temple in the rays of the setting sun. So we made it to Konark in a 40 min mad rush, and couldnt get time to halt and take many photos along the route.
Some photos taken from inside the car:
The Sun Temple of Konark, often called as the Black Pagoda, was constructed in the mid thirteenth century by Raja Narasinghs Deva-I of the Ganga Dynasty. Conceived in the form of a huge chariot drawn by seven spirited horses on 12 pairs of exquisitely decorated wheels--after the mythical seven horse chariot of Sun God--the temple was unique in its architecture and implementation.
The way the idol was placed was a marvel of engineering. There was a large magnet at the base, another making up the pagoda of the temple. The huge iron idol lay suspended in the middle of these 2 magnets, not requiring any other support.
The roof magnet made up the structural support of the temple as well. Unfortunately it was removed by the Portugese in the 16th century after the huge pull generated by the magnet made their ships' iron compasses go off course.
Intricate carvings on the walls of the main temple and the Natya Mandap (a separate structure just in front of the temple) are a sight to behold.
It is often considered the best among other temples of its kind and that is saying something when you are talking about the golden triangle of Orissa which boasts of Sri Jagannath temple and Lingraj Temple of Puri and Bhubaneswar.
The Sun Temple has lost its many of its original structures to time and disrepair, but the remaining structures and the remainder of the structures confirm till today the infinite imaginative power of the artistes of the time and their inspiring contribution to Vaisnav Culture.
The crowing glory of the temple architecture of Orissa, the Sun Temple at Konark, plays host to the annual dance festival featuring Odissi and other traditional dance forms. The open air stage against the backdrop of the floodlit temple reverberates with the beats of classical ragas and thalas to transport the audience in sheer ecstasy.
The accompanying divine music and the breathtaking movements of the performers turn the event into a truly out-of-this-world spectacle. It appears as if the entire monument has come alive. Besides this lavish feast for the eyes and ears, the festival involves display of traditional art and craft marking the glorious traditions of Orissa and an exhibition of exotic Sand Art.
A word about the guide here. Konark has hundreds of touts and fakes pretending to be tourist guides. We have seen this in the past. However, this time we met an excellent guide called Sankar Biswal (09937708364). A young graduate, govt certified, who's knowledge extends beyond Konark only. He took a lot of time and exquisitely explained every little facet of the temple's history and carvings. Do give him a call when you're in Konark.
|30th October 2009, 13:41||#4|
Senior - BHPian
Join Date: Aug 2009
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Nice travelogue. I've always loved visiting puri. IMHO, it's one of the underrated beaches/tourist spots.
Orissa has some of the best beaches in the country - you need to see for yourself to believe it.
|30th October 2009, 15:22||#5|
Senior - BHPian
Wait for the next day's travelogue, when I go spotting the Irawaddi Dolphin.
|30th October 2009, 16:27||#6|
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PW, Its a fantastic travelogue and you are right that we do take the Puri drive from kolkata a very casual and "been there done that" kind of drive.
You have really brought the essence of the place through you travelogue.
Pics were equally good. BTW I didnt expect such a huge bungalow in an otherwise crowded Puri (Nice one!!).
|30th October 2009, 19:00||#7|
Senior - BHPian
In search of the Irawaddi Dolphin
Day 3 - Dolphin Hunting
Chilka lake, the world's second largest Brackish Water Lagoon, starts just South of Puri district, and runs through the Khurda and Ganjam districts. It has long been a center of attraction for migratory bird sightings.The more popular access to Chilka is through Rambha in Ganjam district. Tourists flock to the OTDC Panthanibas here in hordes.
But of late, the access point in Puri district, Satapada, has also gained a lot of prominence. A small harbor has been set up here, from where one can hire a boat and set off to go Dolphin Sighting. This "Dolphin Point" is where we were headed.
(I have highlighted the approximate location of Dolphin point on the Orissa map, just for reference.)
NH203 does not end at Puri. It continues towards Brahmagiri/Satapada as NH203A, onward for another 48 kms. The road is beautiful, with lots of villages on the way and scenic lakes. Check out some of the pics we took.
The road to Dolphin Point branches off from the main road 10 kms before Satapada town. A narrow village road leads you to the boating point at Sipakuda.
The place has an interesting story. During the cyclone many years ago, a relief shelter was set up at Sipakuda. Indian red cross operated out of here along with many NGOs. One such NGO (lets call it ABC, shall we?) wanted to do something long term for the poverty stricken villagers after cyclone relief was over.
So it bought many boats, popularized the area as dolphin point, and made tourist attractions out of sighting dolphins, and a delta island at the juncture of Chilka Island and the sea. Hundreds of villagers were given boats, the erstwhile relief shelter was turned into boating office. The villagers who couldn't turn boatmen have become tea stalls/pearl sellers/restaurateurs. Sounds like a small artificial heaven, doesn't it? Read on.
This is what it was
This is what it is now
Setting off to see the Dolphins
Mr & Mrs PW
These indigenous boats are the means to ferry tourists for dolphin sighting
Fishermen and women en route. Chilka, despite housing a huge variety of fauna, is only knee deep at most places.
Framework of nets
About to reach Dolphin Point
(To be continued..)
|30th October 2009, 23:16||#11|
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Join Date: Jan 2008
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1. Where does the NH 60 peel off from NH 5 when driving from Bhubaneshwar towards CCU? Are there any boards? How can I recognise this turning?
2. Likewise when coming from CCU towards Bhubaneshwar, how do I recognise the turn onto NH 60?
3. What is this Orissa Road Tax? Is it legal? What is the way out? (I know asking your dad to ride shotgun with us while I cross Orissa borders 4 times (entering and leaving on both the outward and return journeys) would be too much - but could you share any other way of saving us from getting gypped - 2 cars X 4 crossings = 8 crossings X Rs.800 = Rs.6,400!!!!. (A PM explaining what to do would be highly appreciated).
Cheers and keep writing.
|30th October 2009, 23:31||#12|
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|30th October 2009, 23:53||#13|
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My Viva can be seen parked at the far end of the building.
Don't tell me you missed the khaja at Puri.
And here's a pic from the shore road on the way to Konarak from Puri.
Last edited by SS-Traveller : 30th October 2009 at 23:54.
|31st October 2009, 09:38||#14|
Senior - BHPian
Its a funny thing now. The new menu only shows mainstream Indian and Mughlai fare. But if you insist, they'll come up with all their old items (outside the menu). The day we arrived, they made us Fish n Chips and Roast chicken for Dinner, because we wanted something continental!
While going from CCU to BBSR, there's a flyover which comes after Panskura byepass and just before Kharagpur. Not well marked, so watch out for it. The road under the flyover goes on to NH60, while the flyover itself continues as NH6 and into Kharagpur city.
The Orissa Road Tax is a legal order passed by Orissa RTO authorizing vehicles going into orissa to compulsorily pay road tax if they will stay inside state limits for 3 months or more, and voluntarily pay if the period of stay is uncertain. The last clause is clearly a loophole, and this is what the corrupt officials are taking advantage of.
Since most motorists who go into Orissa have no clear document certifying their period of stay, the officer makes them cough up road tax, not allowing entry unless the amount is paid. The legal loophole provides a nice escape route for the officer, because if you book him through vigilance, he can get away showing that you voluntarily paid the amount!
How can you escape it? Well, I really don't know. Contrary to what people who visited previously told me, the entry barrier has been made pretty strong, there's a "All vehicles entering Orissa must pay road tax - by order" signboard, and the guards have become wiser. So the "ignore the guard and sail through" won't work. The only choice is to tell them you work for the government or the army, or you're the guest of some senior Orissa admin official.
In my case, I made dad carry his id card (he really does work for a state govt concern) and carried numbers of all RTO offices in Orissa (from their website). Of course, didn't need all that, but thats just my luck.
(Feel free to PM me in case any other info is required)
And FYI, do you really think a foodie like me would have missed the Khaja at Puri?
Day 3: Dolphin Hunt (continued)
So about 1.5 hrs after leaving the harbour, we finally reached the area where Dolphins are sighted. There were at least 25 boats there, carrying not less than 150 noisy tourists. Why isn't it a surprise that most of them were Bengalis?
Ideally, the boats are supposed to reach this point, then switch off their noisy engines and wait for a dolphin to surface. This was not happening as continuously a new boat kept appearing. The noise levels just refused to die down.
Still, after about 15 mins of waiting, one specimen did show up. He was swimming in a particular direction, and jumped up about 3-4 times. What happened next was unbelievable. The person in the nearest boat screamed, everybody started screaming. All 25 boats started their engines together, and gave pursuit to the hapless animal!!!
You can imagine the scenario. 25 unsilenced engines, and 150 unsilenced voices turning Chilka into a fish market! I marveled at the sheer stupidity of the tourists. No wonder that the scared dolphin never showed up again. The noisy convoy went on pointlessly for another km or so, before the boatmen nodded their wise heads and declared that the commotion must have scared off the animal and there was no way of seeing him again.
So there it was. We hung around uselessly for another half hour, but the dolphins were gone. Dejected, the convoy sailed on its way back.
Next stop for all the boats was Red Crab Island. This was a Delta island which bordered Chilka Lake on one side and the sea on the other. It got its name from the bright red crabs which made their home on its shores.
Red Crab island is this vast expanse of sand with a small hillock and forest on one side.
It also has an absolutely virgin beach on the sea side.
But even here, commerce has reared its ugly head. Shanties have sprouted up in the most unscientific manner. They were selling all kinds of soft drinks, beer, chips, fried prawns, crabs...what not!
All the island was waiting for was some bright entrepreneur to set up a hotel, and it would be chock a block with tourists.
As the Eagles said:
Some rich men came and raped the land,
Nobody caught 'em
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes, and Jesus,
people bought 'em
And they called it paradise
The place to be
They watched the hazy sun, sinking in the sea
There were 2 particularly heart-rending sights for me.
One was the shanty owners casting nets into Chilka at the drop of a hat and pulling out fish, prawns and crabs, which hungry consumers gobbled up at the drop of a hat. No license for fishing, no limit, just cast a net and Bob's your uncle.
A more ironical sight was that of some unscrupulous pearl sellers who were pulling out live shellfish from the sea, then breaking them in front of our eyes and taking out pearls.
As I kept watching the unchecked murders, the truth struck me like a thunderbolt. What ABC NGO had done was not provide meaningful employment. It had created a path for the absolute destruction of the ecosystem. Where once dolphins, red crabs and migratory birds roamed freely, now the influx of people would drive the dolphins and birds away, and destroy crabs and whatever sea life existed.
In trying to create an artificial heaven, ABC had ended up creating an artificial hell.
Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
'Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here
We satisfy our endless needs and
justify our bloody deeds,
in the name of destiny and the name of God
I sat in the boat with a heavy heart as we set off for the harbour. For me, the trip was over.
(To be continued)
|31st October 2009, 10:40||#15|
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Join Date: Jul 2009
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Very well narrated Travelogue. I had just been to Puri once in early 2005 when one of my friend was working in infosys, Bhubaneshwar . We went on a bike and had fish curry and rice on the way. Awesome experience.
I completely agree-Bengalis are a loud-no offence but I had very bad experience with them, not once but twice on a trip to Ooty and Araku.They just can't keep quite. Apart from being loud they also sometimes get rude when travel in a large group. Strangest was when the whole group kept on shouting every time a tunnel came during a train ride from Vishakapatnam to Araku.
Sorry if I hurt anyone, but this has been my personal experience.
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