Day 7 - Khajuraho
At 6 o'clock in the morning I get up and like yesterday, I have a coffee, infusions and cookies on the door. I prepare everything to leave here, and to my surprise, the driver has arrived on time and is waiting with the engine running. I pick up the packaged breakfast and say goodbye to the owner and other staff. After a little more than an hour's walk, when preparing to eat breakfast, I see that they have not prepared what I asked them.
For many kilometers, the road is even good, with no holes or no asphalt areas. Suddenly, we entered an area full of sharp turns in all directions, in which I see several trucks that have left the road and are overturned in the ditch, with the load scattered on the ground.
A little later, we make a stop so that the driver can have a tea in a joint on the side of the road. There is a large outdoor pond, in which I can see how several truckers wash their clothes and take a shower themselves, next to the asphalt. Not long before arriving in Khajuraho, we stop at a kind of temple located at the foot of the road, in which a priest spends the day praying.
The driver buys some pieces of coconut and offers me delicious segments. Finally we arrived at the hotel, located opposite the airport. After a quick search and leaving the luggage in the room, I am ready to go to see the temples. The new driver takes me to the entrance to the temples, where the local guide waits, who to my surprise, informs me that I have to pay the tickets.
Not to mention, the deal with the agency was that I should not pay anything in any visit. The guide speaks by phone with his superiors and returns saying that everything has been a regrettable mistake.
We enter the western temples in Khajuraho, very well maintained, with gardens, and flowers. The temples have walls full of stone carvings representing a multitude of erotic scenes, with couples, animals, men and women. It is an authentic orgy, for many of those who visit it should look like science fiction.
The guide soon discovers that I do not pay much attention to him, and he lets me explore on my own. The entrance to the majority of temples of the set is allowed. I have to admit that after the visit, the libido had gone up slightly.
When leaving, we went to the temples of the east, not so pretty, large or well cared for. The guide informs me that he is going to take me to a shop, but first I ask him to go to see the southern temples. They are even more abandoned than those in the East, located next to a school.
After this visit, the guide's work has ended, so he says goodbye and leaves me with the local driver, who offers me several (extra) activities to do before dinner. I refuse. We go back to the hotel and we find a show. On the way we saw all the trees full of illuminated light bulbs, a trail of light and various ornaments that go from the hotel where the bride is staying to our hotel.
Before the entrance gate of our hotel we see a large number of horses beautifully harnessed with colorful fabrics, also an elephant all adorned in a similar way. Passing the gate, on each side of the access road we see a long line of human lamps. We find women dressed in saree of purple tones with a huge lamp in the head.
The lamps that are lit thanks to some cables attached between them with the previous one and finally to a car that seems to have a generator. Then there are rows of boys with other types of lamps, also in the head, lit by the same system. There is a music band playing in the same door of the hotel.
I see men in elegant suits and brightly colored turbans. Women are beautifully dressed in saris and lots of jewels, and finally the groom comes out in his white gown, exquisitely adorned, and with a white turban in tune with his suit. He gets into a car similar to the one that brought me at noon, with the same pink bows but with more floral adornments. Younger girls throw rose petals and colored papers.
We had already seen several wedding parties, from the bus, when we were going on auto rickshaw in Agra, walking in Orchha. This wedding seems to be of high decibels. And no wonder, as the groom is the son of some minister of this state of Madhya Pradesh. The wedding guests seemed to be happy to pose for the many photos we were taking. And soon I go to bed as tomorrow I have to wake up early.
Day 8 - Panna National Park
I get up at 5. I have to arrive before dawn to the Panna National Park. The driver pick us up at the hotel in a jeep. Five go in each car, and the driver and then an assistant was added to us in the park's information center. Our car is not heated and the hood, although it is there, has some places where it does not fit well. So we feel really cold. We would have taken much more (we wore warm clothes but some more was needed).
We stopped at the information center to which we took a brief look, as it is still night. The hood is removed from the vehicle and we thought we would freeze completely. But when going through trees, the cold is less. We begin to walk through a forest of large teak specimens and we go up in height.
With the little clarity of the incipient day we see deer in a plateau with other types of trees and a lot of yellowish undergrowth. There are gazelles and other types of deer. We are also hear a lot of the special warning roars of these gazelles. This is a sign that they fear the presence of the tiger.
We stop in different places in pursuit of these claims of the gazelles. Suddenly we heard clearly the growl of a tiger. Only one time. And there we stayed for a long time. Now the clarity is total and the sun begins to appear, a joy for our frozen bones. But as the sun rises, the hopes of seeing the tiger go away. Tigers with the sun lie in the undergrowth.
Lost all hope of seeing the tiger in this area, we began to descend the hills to an area where there is a large pond of brownish green. In it live some crocodiles of a special breed. They do not appear either. It seems that with the wind they do not leave their hiding places and the wind is blowing.
Now we go down all the way to the river area that forms a very beautiful place. The Ken river crosses the reserve and it gives life to the park. We go along this river for a while and in the distance there are some ruins that correspond to shelters that some maharajahs had to hunt and as a place of retreat.
Once back we passed through a place where we have to cross a bridge over a stream that forms a natural raft, of an intense green, surrounded by a lot of vegetation. We stand on this bridge because there the tigers go down to drink water and there are indications (that was what the guides who accompanied us said) that one was approaching. We waited a while but it did not appear there either. Surely the tigers had sniffed our presence and did not want to appear on the scene.
So we went back to the composite visitor center and had not seen a tiger or a crocodile. Truly I had never thought that we would see any tiger. They are very intelligent animals to be seen by humans. It would have taken me a great surprise if I had seen one. Actually, what I wanted on this route was to see a different nature, to know what a natural reserve was like in this India so full of Maharajas palaces.
And in this we had succeeded. We see the huge forests of teak, the type of vegetation of these places, and the valley of the Ken River. We see the small green raft where they usually go to drink the animals that formed a very beautiful landscape. We have also seen lots of wildlife, gazelles, deer, other deer of the Bamby type, monkey's, and many kinds of birds.
On our way back to Khajuraho, we went through small towns where people were already beginning their day washing themselves in the middle of the street. Our stay in the city of the temples ended with erotic figures. After a copious breakfast (we were hungry after the early morning and the tour of the park) we moved to the airport where we would catch the flight at 13:25 to Varanasi.
Khajuraho airport is a very small and modest airport where the cutting-edge technological advances do not seem to have arrived. But very demanding in security measures. They check our carry-on carefully and do not miss almost any lighter leaving all smokers with tobacco but without fire. For people there are two rows, one for men and one for women. The flight lasted a little over half an hour.
We arrive in Benares, where the new guide picks me up and takes me to the hotel. The hotel is located in the building of what looks like an old palace, with a large garden in the center. At 5 o'clock in the afternoon I have to attend a ceremony in the Ganges, specifically in the Prayag Ghat, one of the many Ghats on the riverbank.
The traffic is chaotic as always, and the car leaves me, along with the guide, at the entrance of the neighborhood that stretches along the river, with many streets, alleys and alleys for which it is very easy to get lost. Luckily, I follow the guide closely. The atmosphere is loaded with different smells, some pleasant, others not so much.
Finally we reach the river, where many devotees are seen, praying, washing clothes, and even drinking water. They take me to a rowboat from where I will observe the ceremony from the water, like so many other hundreds of tourists that are already waiting in front of the Ghat. The boats are tied to each other, offering a kind of catwalk for tea vendors and others who move through them.
I am also offered the possibility of making an offering to the gods. For 10 rupees I am given a candle in a float made of leaves, which I can light and throw into the river. The ceremony itself is a hubbub of noise and smoke caused by priests who make their show for 1 hour.
After the ceremony, I visit a shop in which I spend a while and buy a bottle of essential oils at a price of gold. After the essential oils, they try to coax me with a big assortment of spices, but I have had enough and I return to the hotel. I ask for food to the room service and I have dinner in the bed.
Day 9 - Benares
At 5 o'clock, it is time to get ready and get dressed quickly. The guide and the driver are already waiting in the car to go and do the same thing as many other tourists who roam the hotel at this untimely hour to go to watch the sunrise sailing through the Ganges. When I get there, with a little less traffic on the road, it seems to be a continuation of what I left last night. There are boats full of tourists who are going to witness the sunrise.
How could it be otherwise, for every 3 boats of tourists, there is a boat that looks like a street market, with lots of objects to sell standing next to the boat that suffers the boarding. The dawn on the Ganges, today is surrounded by a mist that barely distinguishes the outline of the sun, taking away the sharpness of the subject, but nevertheless, it gives a mystical air that is not bad.
After sailing (rowing) for a couple of kms up and down the river, to observe the different ghats as the natural light increases, we return to the place where I embarked to continue on foot. I visit a seen and unseen, a new temple, the Benares University and another temple, but this time only from the outside.
I go back to the hotel so I can have breakfast, because my stomach starts to roar. I put my boots on the free buffet, sharing a dining room with a group of Tibetan monks who also do not cut anything when it comes to having food. After breakfast I go back to the car crossing the city and the suburbs to go to see some ruins that we skipped quietly, because they have nothing special.
I return to the hotel to take a shower, since the heat is suffocating and with so many people everywhere, one is easily impregnated with the smells of the place, not very pleasant by the way. On the way to the train station, I stop at another shop, this time of silk products. First I attend the process of dyeing, spinning and weaving. The pattern is coded on perforated cardboards.
Before the departure time of the train to Calcutta, I still have time to wander around for a while, but since there is nothing interesting to see, and walking through the streets in the midst of so much crap is not very pleasant, I get back soon. They leave me at the station, without even commenting on which platform I should wait for the train.
It is expected that the train is delayed, so I sit on the platform, to read and see how the people spend their time observing rats that play on the tracks. More than an hour after the theoretical departure time of the train, I am about to call the agency to change my train ticket for one for the flight and not have to put up with waiting.
In the end, I decide to give another opportunity to the trains. With more than three and a half hours late, my train finally arrives. I know what it is because at the last moment the guide has returned to tell me where to wait. Surely I already knew that the train would arrive so late.
I wish I had not given them the opportunity. The train is even worse than the previous one. I sleep in the bunk again, with all the people walking at all hours, and some rat (smaller than those of the station), hidden under the lower bunks.
Day 10 - Calcutta
At dawn the parade of hawkers continues with vendors shouting through the corridors. And there are still about 4 hours to get to Calcutta! I try to spend my time reading, an activity that has become an authentic escape valve.
After finally arriving in Calcutta, the driver surprises me by waiting for me. He recognizes me at once. The traffic in Calcutta is horrible for a change, but luckily I'm not going to visit anything. I will just cross the city to go to the Sundarbans National Park, in the Ganges delta. Still I have two long hours of car to get to the pier where I will board the boat that will take me to the interior of the tiger reserve.
During this time the landscape changes from an ugly gray to an ugly green, both equally contaminated. At least in the last sections there are fruit trees, cane plantations, rice, and palm trees on the sides of the road. I arrive just in time to embark on a motorboat with capacity for few passengers, without cabins, but with a cover with tables and benches. They welcome me with a refreshing natural juice served inside a green coconut.
During the trip through the marshes, we get closer to another big boat that travels in the opposite direction. The official guide of the ship leaves its former clients and comes to welcome me. He does not stop talking about himself and showing me pictures of tigers taken by himself.
Let's see if I'm lucky, although by the look of the photos, they are very old. The tigers must have disappeared some time ago. The cruise lasts about two hours, and the temperature is pleasant, although the sky is very overcast. Upon arriving at the lodge, I go for lunch, which I enjoy after leaving my luggage in a nice bungalow.
After lunch I have an excursion scheduled upstream, to a wildlife observation tower. During a very slow and boring trip, in which I have time to take a nap. It seems to me that I will see little here, because everything is salt marshes, and the safaris are made in the boat. The only thing I see are fiddler crabs when we land to see the tower, and several species of birds.
I return to the camp to give me a well-deserved shower after the night on the train, but as expected, there is no hot water. After dinner, I go to sleep, exhausted.
Day 11 - Sundarbans National Park
Shortly before the alarm goes off, a knock at the door wakes me up and startles me. The breakfast has been served on the terrace of the bungalow. I'm going to spend a few hours going for tiger hunting, among the marshes. After a short while of sailing, I was served another breakfast on board. I see a pretty decent sunrise.
I see almost nothing of fauna, only birds and some trace of tiger in the mud of the borders. It is also raining. At mid-morning, we stop and go ashore, to another of the multiple observation towers of the reserve. In it I only see a bright green snake coiled on the roof of the cabin at the entrance, and from a distance a deer and a giant lizard.
Around the camp, I go to the dining room, which today is full of people. After lunch, I go for a walk to the nearest town, less than a couple of kilometers away, to see a local market. I see that they use solar energy to obtain electricity, since apart from the generators, there is no way to obtain it, since the power line does not reach here. I return happily to the camp because at least I have been able to walk a stretch, after so much surfing.
In the late afternoon I have tea and cookies. In the evening I sit sheltered by bonfires, where people offer a representation of local dances and songs in the center of the camp. I continue without hot water in the room. So I go out and ask for hot water at the reception so I can take a shower after all the day in the rain.
When it comes time to go to dinner, I think about it seriously due to the lack of variety in the menus. In the end I go and have rice with chicken curry.
Day 12 - Kolkata
In principle there should not be too much to tell about today. At dawn the roosters wake me up that run through the camp, and when I open the door I find a cup of tea and cookies for breakfast. I still do not have hot water and the last shower here will be again with cold water. Since I do not have much to do, today is a splendid day. I say goodbye to the staff of the place and embark for the last cruise, which will take me back to the boarding point.
During the voyage, I do not see tigers, but I do see traces that leave the water and go into the trees. So they tell me that, contrary to what I believed, tigers not only like water, but can swim great distances! Halfway through, shortly after 10, they bring me what is supposed to be lunch. When the ship docked at the jetty, a driver different from that of the other day awaits me.