Thursday, September 29, 2016

The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal

Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 16 or 61, Pokhara always has her resources ready to satisfy your wander lust. Doesn’t matter whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or a nature lover, or even a lazy tourist, Pokhara has her means to delight you in every minute of your stay. Pokhara is another canvas-friendly valley on earth, with lush greenery, bubbly rivers and picture perfect lakes. Pokhara, being well connected to the rest of Nepal is a great travelers’ retreat from the hustles and bustles of city life. Pokhara is one of the major cities of Nepal with all amenities but at the same time devoid of artificiality and pollution which are distinctive features of cities. It is only in Pokhara you’ll find the most unique and majestic vista of 140 long kilometers of panoramic Himalayan ranges! Out of the 14 highest mountains in the world (popularly known as eight thousanders) having elevation above 8,000 meters, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Manaslu can be seen from Pokhara. Versatility is the hallmark of Pokhara as a tourist destination. How else do you think a hilly town sitting merely at 1,000 meters in central Nepal does capably lure lakhs of tourists every year?
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Pokhara has too many things to offer to its tourists. After visiting Pokhara several times I’ve gained quite a lot of travel information. So, here I’m summarizing what are the "must do" things in Pokhara to make the most out of your Pokhara travel itinerary:

Boating: You may sail your boat or, pedal it over Phewa or, Begnas Lake while catching the reflections of blue clouds, green mountains, snow-white peaks and golden sun on the gentle ripples of the lake. You can chitchat with your loved ones or lose your mind inside a novel after stationing your boat in the middle of the lake where the sound of the city fails to reach… can there be more relaxing moment than this?

Trekking: Owing to its prime location between the Great Himalayan ranges and Mahabharata range, Pokhara is a great trekking gateway for tourists visiting Nepal. Some popular trekking routes around Pokhara include Annapurna base camp (ABC), Annapurna circuit, Poon Hill, Machhapuchhre model, Dhaulagiri round, Jomsom, Muktinath, Upper Mustang etc. But remember trekking is not a game for everyone. It requires a sound health and endurance. If you’re not sure whether you’re game for it you may try a 1-2 days low altitude trek and then gradually ascend greater heights. Soon, I’ll be posting articles on technical challenges and solutions of trekking.

Hiking/Mountaineering: Pokhara has so many hills to throw challenges to enthusiastic travelers, like Sarangkot, Kaskikot, Kahun hill, Armalakot, Dhampus, Gharmi, Thulakot etc from where you can enjoy some breathtaking views and closest possible proximity to pure nature. You’ll be mesmerized by the sunrise/sunset, flora and fauna and last but not the least ethnic diversity! If you’re a skilled mountaineer then the peaks of Annapurna are sure to entice you.

Para-gliding: Sarangkot of Pokhara ranks among the top five para-gliding destinations in the world! You just need to have the high spirit to soar like a falcon to get the astounding bird’s view of azure lakes, pulsating rivers, scenic mountain villages and snow covered Himalayan peaks. Though November and December are best seasons to make the most out of your para-gliding experience, but still you can avail this chance anytime from September to February.

Mountain Biking: if you’re an avid biker or simply blessed with extra charged lower limb muscles then you must pedal your way through nature at its best, beating slush made by untamed waterfall, steep slopes, thin air and harsh mountain wind. Some of the renowned mountain biking routes include Dhampus, Dhital, Bharatpokhari, Old royal trek route, Jomsom etc.
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Rafting: If boating of lake water is too unexciting for you then get on your heels and raft down the Seti River. Due to its location, a lot of snow-fed untamed rivers run through Pokhara and its surrounding areas to test your rafting fortitude. If you venture out of Pokhara, rafting on turbulent rivers like Marsyangdi, Kali Gandaki or Trisuli can be a lot more exhilarating!

Village Tourism: To taste the rich cultural and ethnic diversity of beautiful Nepal you must make village tours to villages around Pokhara like Lwang-ghalel, Ghalegaon, Sirubari, Rivan, Dhital, Ghachowk, Lahachowk etc. Don’t worry of food and accommodation there… locals of those villages are fast developing community based cultural tourism to welcome you whole heartedly! You can also show some interest in traditional honey hunting practices where brave-heart honey hunters hang on a rope and slide down to the middle of the massive cliff just to collect honey!

Bird and Butterfly Watching: If you’re a passionate bird watcher then once again Pokhara is the right place where you can spot more than 500 avian species, especially in the month of October to March. Oh you know what? 11 out of 15 butterfly families are found in Pokhara area! So, do I have to say anything more?

Mountain Flights: If para-gliding was not high enough for you, you must book a domestic flight ticket to some higher destination from Pokhara (Jomsom can be a good option) to get a totally different ‘above the cloud’ perspective of those vegetation enveloped valleys and whitewashed colossal Himalayan ranges. Journey in mountain flights are inexpensive, thrilling and ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences!

Fishing: If you’re a storehouse of patience or simply an angling freak, you can readily hire fishing rods from lakeside road and contemplate on catching an eel or a catfish. Remember, the favorable months for fishing are June to August, yes I mean monsoon time.
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
As I talked about the “must do" things in Pokhara, now I’ll tell you which are the "must see" sites in Pokhara. As a first-time visitor to Pokhara, you’ll be better prepared with your local sightseeing itinerary if you know beforehand where to spend your time and where you can probably gallop. So here, based on the experience of my previous Pokhara trips I’ve aggregated the gems in the valley:

Nature at its Best: I know, you might be disappointed in seeing ‘nature’ in the top 10 things to see in Pokhara list but go through this small paragraph to understand why I gave it a place and that also the top position in the sightseeing list. Pokhara valley is rich with lush vegetation, swift flowing rivers and adorned with glittering azure lakes. Pokhara is the only place in the world from where one can relish glorious view of mountains having height above 8,000 meters while sitting below a mere 1,000 meters above the sea level. Out of fourteen highest mountains in the world (renowned as ‘eight thousanders’ due to their elevation of 8,000 plus meters), Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Manaslu can be clearly seen from Pokhara! Pokhara is the doorway to the world famous Annapurna circuit trekking trail. The largest rhododendron forest, Ghorepani, which has 16 species of rhododendron and 6 species of pheasants, is located near Pokhara. World’s highest lake, Tilicho Lake (4,919 meters) also lies in the vicinity of Pokhara region! As I mentioned in my last post, one of the 5 best para-gliding destinations in the world, Sarangkot lies in Pokhara. The reflection of snow-capped high mountains of Annapurna range and Machhapuchhre (fishtail) on the surface water of Phewa Lake creates unparalleled panorama for all tourists/travelers. Now you tell me can you just complete your Pokhara trip by visiting some temples, monasteries or boating on the lake, without mingling with these breathtaking natural elements of Pokhara?
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Lakes: Phewa Lake, the second largest lake in Nepal is the main tourist hub in Pokhara. All good hotels, restaurants, shops, cafeterias, ice cream parlors, Jazz clubs, bars etc are located by the lakeside road. You can very easily hire brightly painted wooden boats or sailboats to pamper you with the serenity and ‘picture perfect’ visuals. If you’re little less lazy you may venture to Leknath, few kilometers away from Pokhara and enjoy a more tranquil boating experience on Begnas or Rupa Lake. Other five lakes you’ll find at Leknath are Dipang, Maidi, Khaste, Neurani and Gunde. If you’re bored with your pedal boat you can still enjoy with other activities like sunbathing, fishing, bird watching, swimming, butterfly watching, kayaking or simply relaxing!

Sarangkot Sunrise: Sarangkot is the pristine hilltop, only about 5 kilometers away from lakeside, lying at a modest elevation of 1,592 meters, which offers an unprecedented view of sunrise and the majestic reflections of first rays of the sun on snow clad Annapurna range and Machhapuchhre while the peaceful picturesque Pokhara valley is yet to wake up from her goodnight sleep. You’ve to book a cab on the night before and get up real early to witness this charismatic sunrise view from the view tower of Sarangkot. You’ll see the colossal peaks Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre and Annapurna II as you gaze from west to east. Even Annapurna III, Annapurna IV, Lamjung Himal etc can be seen distinctively on a clear weather day. I would strongly suggest you to take your accommodation for a day at Sarangkot itself and enjoy its unspoilt nature as well as sunset which are equally enchanting.

Davi’s Fall: Locally known as ‘Patale chango’, Davi’s fall is the most famous waterfall in Pokhara, located 2 kilometers southwest of downtown. During summer and rainy season the waterfall takes its real form, with gushing water splashing and making its way through the rocks. You’ll find hollow sandy part and a heavy fall of water within its natural trench. There is a cave, Gupteshwor Mahadev Gupha on the other side of the road, which is popular for the different natural forms made from limestone deposits. Inside the cave Lord Shiva (Mahadev) is worshiped by Hindu devotees with great devotion. If you’re lucky you may be able to spot a rainbow formed by the rays of sun over the mist of water vapor, produced when the large volume of water falls on the deep rocky gorge in high velocity!
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Seti Gorge: Seti River takes its origin from the Machhapuchhre glacier and runs through the main city area in about 40 meters depth. The river provides a wonderful view of its outrageous rush before it disappears at Bagar into a deep gorge. The gorge is visible from the bridges in the city, Mahendra Pool, Ramghat, Prithvi Chowk area etc. The Seti gorge is indeed an inexplicable wonder of Pokhara!

Caves: There are many caves to explore in Pokhara like Mahendra cave, Bat’s cave, Crystal cave etc but for me the favorite one is always Guptehwor Mahadev Cave about which I talked of in the last paragraph. This cave is believed to be 5000 years old and enjoys the reputation of being one of the most wonderful and largest caves in south Asia! After entering deep inside the Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave you'll see an idol of Lord Shiva which has been formed naturally. Drops of water dripping continuously from the ceiling of the cave are its main attraction. Once you've passed through the tunnel, you find yourself in a huge open space which is really a huge cavern inside and full of enormous rocks. After few yards of scrambling through the darkness you find yourself on the edge of crystal clean pond from where you can see the awe-inspiring Davi's fall falling right on the top! If you have a poor vision or week joints then I would advise you to refrain from venturing into a cave as they can be quite dark, mossy and narrow (you may have to crawl like a reptile!) at times.

Museums: Like caves, there are also multiple museums in Pokhara. International Mountain Museum is itself situated in such a rare site from where you can view the peaks of three ‘eight thousanders’, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manaslu! In the International Mountain Museum you’ll get ample information on mountaineering, mountain cultures, environments, eminent personalities in the glorious history of mountaineering, geography, ecology and implied methods. It welcomes tourists daily from morning nine to evening five. Regional Museum showcases the lifestyles and histories of ethnic groups such as Gurung, Thakali and Tharu. You can visit Regional Museum any day between morning ten to evening four except Tuesdays and public holidays. In Natural History Museum (also called ‘Annapurna Museum’) you’ll find exquisite collection of butterflies, birds, insects, wildlife models and geological samples of various rocks. Go to Annapurna Museum any day between ten to five other than Saturdays and holidays. In Gurkha Memorial Museum you’ll see used uniforms, medals, photographs and miscellaneous articles used by valiant Gurkha soldiers during the first and second wartime. Except Wednesdays you can go any other day in between 8 am and 4:30 pm. Well, my personal recommendation, if you’ve to choose only one would be International Mountain Museum.

Temples: Among many temples in Pokhara I suggest you to visit at least two of them- Bindabasini Temple and Tal Barahi Temple. Located on a cliff top, Bindabasini Temple is the oldest and most famous temple of Pokhara valley. Tal Barahi Temple is situated on a small island in the middle of the Phewa lake which can be reached by a fifteen minutes boat ride. Now do I have to repeat again all those magical viewing prospects while standing in the middle of the Phewa lake?
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
World Peace Pagoda/ Buddhist Monastery: World Peace Pagoda is an enormous Buddhist stupa located on a hilltop (called ‘Rani Ban’) just above the Phewa Lake. This stupa symbolizes peace where the huge idols of Lord Buddha have been installed from Japan, Sri Lanka and Thailand. As the route to World Peace Pagoda is from lakeside by boat, you’re free to enjoy both boating and hiking at the same time! Remember, though it may sound very tempting, hiking up to the stupa by climbing those infinite steps can be really a tough task if you’re used to a sedentary lifestyle, so, you’ve got an alternative option of visiting the stupa on a taxi. Once you’re at the top you’ll be amazed by the vista formed by Himalayan ranges, lakes and the green valley! Little distant from lakeside, on a small hill surrounded by forest, lies the Karma Kagyu Chhonkerling Buddhist Monastery. Give that a try too.

Old Bazaar Area: This is a historical Newari market place in the heart of Pokhara and a protected heritage site where you’ll find old housings, temples, glimpse of culture and activities of Newari people.

How to Reach Pokhara: Being one of the greatest centers of tourist influx, Pokhara is located 200 kilometers west of Kathmandu, 78 kilometers north of Sunauli (southern border) and 72 kilometers south from northern border. Pokhara can be reached from Kathmandu within half an hour by air. Yes, there are plenty of flights running between these two tourism hubs of Nepal. There are also numerous tourist buses, regular buses and vans tripping between these two cities and they take 6-8 hours roughly. Likewise, there are regular buses from Sunauli, Kakadvitta, Birgunj, Nepalgunj and Mahendranagar. Now a word of caution for first time travelers- the moment you get down at Pokhara various taxi drivers cum ‘Dalals’ will approach you with appealing offers of accommodation. Just deaf ear them, take the cab for Lakeside where you’ll get plenty of options to choose one depending on your pocket. So it’s always better to know a few names of hotels so that you can pretend that your stay is already booked.
Pokhara The most Versatile tourist destination in Nepal
Hopefully, these "must see" and "must do" things in Pokhara could somewhat justify my bias towards this beautiful valley. You have to visit Pokhara to realize why it is the most versatile tourist destination in Nepal. I would most humbly appreciate if any fellow traveler wants to add something to this list. I’ll be back with more detailed travel guide on Pokhara when time permits, but if you have any query in the meantime please volley me your curious note.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal (Part 5)

A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
This is the concluding part as well as continuation of the fourth post on my motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal. Here I'll resume the story from my afternoon drowsy spell at Old Digha Beach. It was 2:15 in the afternoon… I got up from my position to find my brother licking on an ice-cream cone. In the Internet I had come across recommendations for the evening light/sound show ‘Jurassic Park’ in Digha Science Center, so purchased two tickets for the same on our ride back to our den. In my mind floated the memories of mesmerizing light/laser show in Hyderabad… Probably it won’t be that good, but how can it be much worse?... We reached the venue in right time to join some twenty other audiences for the next twenty minutes. It was the most horrible show for which I’ve ever spent any bucks. There was poor lighting, low quality sound system and above everything zero animation of their old model dinosaurs! Brother made fun of my decision and it was logical. Later we relaxed in New Digha beach till we finished the day with lip-smacking chicken Biryani.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Digha Railway Station looks quite unique in blue shades.
Is 13 an unlucky number? Well, for us apparently it was a happy day (13th September, 2012) that started late with the satisfaction of almost completing our trip and returning home. We checked out of hotel by 9:30 AM and rode out of beautiful Digha in no time. After reaching Contai, we took the road to Rasulpur to visit Dariapur. There waited some real bad road ahead to suck out our morning energy. After reaching Dariapur Lighthouse we found that the main gate was locked as visitors are allowed to climb up the tower only between 3-5 PM with entry fee. We missed the ‘might be superb’ aerial view but the lighthouse could be nicely photographed from out of the boundary walls in its full glory. Moreover we realized later that we didn’t have enough energy stored in our muscles to clear some thousand steps and then ride three hundred kilometers in a day (we didn’t even have idea of road condition then!).
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Dariapur Lighthouse.
Five minutes from the lighthouse, there waited the ruins of the Temple of Kapalkundala which had inspired the great Bengali writer Bankim Chandra Chatterjee to create his masterpiece work of literature ‘Kapalkundala’! I looked here and there but nowhere could I spot a temple inside the village till one veteran man directed me towards a skeleton of bricks half hidden behind the bushes and the remaining half by the cattle grazing before it… oh how could I locate that! Leave aside any expectation of seeing an idol there… no roof… no floor… some remaining walls… bleeding bricks and few crippled pillar.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Ruins of the Temple of Kapalkundala which had inspired the great Bengali writer Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.
I started my motorcycle with a sad thought that the structure won’t remain much longer for curious tourists like us if no messiah comes to its rescue. Again a ride back to Contai… some inquiry about the routes from bus ticket counter guys and we were ready for our final leap for home (obviously more sweet when you’re returning after completing your trip successfully). It was half past twelve noon when we left Contai. The road was nearly perfect and we reached Kolaghat as marked by its Kolaghat Thermal Power Station on the other side of the highway. From there our misery started… at first in the form of road and then the weather to force us to believe the unlucky potential of ‘13’!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Statue of the great Bengali writer Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, near the ruins of Kapalkundala Temple.
One truck driver suggested us to take the road to Bardhaman via Aarambagh. Few kilometers of four lane road stored in our ‘biker’s luck’ finished very soon along with a short and light shower caressing our clothes as we took a right turn to take the horrible potholed road to Ghatal. Another few kilometers of zigzag attempt with the handle to avoid those “Public graves intelligently dug and carefully maintained by State Government” and we realized the futility of our cautiously riding. It was around three when we felt the need for lunch. The tolerance of my butt started decreasing with every passing minute… we were taking more frequent breaks… little before sunset we could hobble into Ghatal. One bus driver smiled in negativity when I asked him the road condition till Aarambagh. There wasn’t really any dough-nut for us.

I always avoid riding long distances in dark hours as it gets more risky when the rider’s vision is obscured by the high halogen beam of bigger vehicles on the road but this time there was no narrow escape… our venture continued on wasted roads with aching butt (well transmitting to sacral region as well as back muscles) under the diffuse twilight sky. One kilometer felt like ten to me (Holy cow! Were we hallucinating too?). Our struggle with untameable path and blinding car lights continued for more than an hour. It was complete dark (seven O’clock I think) when the climax gave the finishing touch to our trip, almost eight-ten kilometers far from Aarambagh. It started raining cats and dogs and that too suddenly!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Kolaghat Thermal Power Station as visible from the highway.
A slice of fortune came to our rescue, there was a shop nearby… a cloth store… we became good refugees under their leaking tin shade. It was another experience smelling the smoke of bidis, listening to the amusing discussions of local men, passively watching our pony getting washed by the consistent downpours and doing a hopeful countdown for the nature to calm. The rain had controlled its flow but showed no sign of stoppage even after ninety minutes… we took out our raincoats for the first time in our trip and we were ready to go.

Another challenge stood up now. Big/deep holes were now filled with mud water and got camouflaged with the rain smacked road in dark. So, we were actually finishing our remaining distance meter by meter, mentally prepared to fall off anytime by virtue of any ditch with sufficient depth! Splashing a metric gallon of mud water we crossed Aarambagh to get into the lovely state highway up to Bardhaman. Soon we discovered the fun rain-riding on a fine ‘almost empty’ road under intoxicating charm of night and my wet shoes. One and half hours of wet riding brought us back to home by ten. Hurray… we finished our trip successfully!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
This is how betel leaves (Paan) are grown/cultivated.
Epilogue: All’s well that ends well. I was happy to had have broken my previous record of riding 768 KM… this time it was 1,026 KM with the same pony! You might be thinking how insensitive I’m to speak only of kilometers leaving aside the good memories. Well, journey matters to me more than the destination and each and every kilometer is a souvenir of the entire trip. I wanted to ride up to Gopalpur of Odhisa but time didn’t allow… there’s always a next time… the journey will continue (remember those famous lines by Robert Frost? “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep/But I’ve promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep")… If you want any info regarding the places/routes I’ve covered in my trip you can ask me anytime and I’ll be glad to be of any help. Keep traveling my dear friends… and if you’re a riding freak, ride safely with your Helmet on.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
If you've missed previous parts of this travel series, do click these links below:

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal (Part 4)

A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
This is continuation of the third post on my motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal and here we'll resume the story from where we left Gangasagar after our morning tea. In no time we cruised back to Kachuberia jetty and instantly got the waiting vessel… I was quite used to pulling my pony up and down a boat by then so it was just another event. Another half an hour journey over the Ganges took us back to mainland jetty and some quick riding helped us to reach Diamond harbor by noon. It was perfect time and place for finishing our lunch episode and I did it in style with local prawn dish! It was damn cheap… I wished it was canned prawn which I could take back to my home. Then we took the road to Raichak where we crossed the Hooghly River ferrying my pony for the last time in our trip, leaving the district South 24 Parganas to reach Kukrahati of East Medinipur.

The journey went almost uneventful after that leaving aside the pain at my back (only a true rider knows its precise location and intensity)… we crossed places like Chaitanyapur, Nandakumar, Contai (always pronounce as Kanthi before locals if you want to get the proper direction) etc to reach Digha only after sunset. The coastal town seemed to have developed much since I traveled there six years back… streets looked smoother, wider and shining due to properly arrayed lamps on both side of the main road all along its entire length… It clearly marked the small town’s status as a tourist hub (Bengal’s Goa?) and demarcated its ambiance from the previous coastal places I had rode in my ongoing trip. I had already talked with a hotel last evening by phone, so there was no headache of searching one (In most of the cases I avoid that headache by contacting a hotel in advance)… directly headed to New Digha and checked in Suman’s Hotel.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
The wheeler selling fish fries were in abundance and I settled for one with fewer crowds.
Obviously we were tired even after a quick shower… negated the counsel of hotel owner of walking along the beach footpath to reach Old Digha beach from the New one… simply took our motorbike to the adjacent beach and occupied a place amidst thousand lovers of the sea. I have heard people complaining of the congested beaches of Digha and speaking sweet words for Bakkhali. Well, every tourist has his perspective and liking… it’s rude to comment on that… what I can say is, I enjoyed the transition from the sea of tranquility to the sea of exuberance. If Digha is your American wife, Bakkhali ought to be the tinsel town beauty whom your mother had chosen as your future wife… yea, I know it is a bit funny, rather vague/stupid metaphor but I couldn’t come up with a better one instantly. Smelling the fragrance of honeymooning couples and sweat of experienced lots, while listening to my favorite play-list proved to be a fine pastime.

From some corner of the sandy area under yellow halogen came a whiff of mouth watering fresh fish fries… I had to find the source. The wheeler selling fish fries were in abundance and I settled for one with fewer crowds. My brother wanted me to taste a crab but I didn’t know how to eat it out of its shell… Bhetki (Oh its good name is Barramundi!) fish seemed decent for a try in the public place… the hard fried piece was truly scrumptious and the oil content in it delayed my dinner hour. While returning from the beach we noticed the off-season drought in the business of local restaurants and all had a staff of them outside to advertise their specialty and pull the guest in by acting like a local radio channel. We knew all of these, so entered one named Agniseekha and our intuition didn’t deceive us … the thali was quite palatable and next night when I tried their chicken Biryani it was even better!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Busy fishermen at Talasari fishing depot.
But the idea of ending the day without giving a peep to the Old Digha beach started hurting my throat like a sore tonsil… what could I do?... a quick ride to the old beach… replenishing our stock of mineral water for coming two days on the way… etc before we quited the day… You must be thinking why I didn’t bother to describe the Old Digha beach? Oh never mind, I was too tired by then to watch it from an energetic traveler’s angle… so kept the surveillance part pending for the following day.

Morning seven O’clock and we were out of our hotel premises… it was a sunny day! Before any regret of not ‘getting up in the eerie hours and running to beach with the camera’ could knock my free riding mind I justified myself- sunny sky on 7 AM doesn’t corroborate with its similarly cloudless status before daybreak. Oh it was getting more and more pleasant cruising through the beautiful road with light traffic heading towards our neighbor state Odisha (pardon me… I still prefer calling it Orissa). Crossing the state border and entering Baleswar district, our first stop was before Chandaneswar Temple. We weren’t really prepared for the smartness of those temple guys (staffs and priests) residing there and realized it only after they had casted their canning spell!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Chandaneswar Temple
OK let me narrate… the very instant we entered the temple complex a man occupying a desk (ornamented with donation book on it!) at our right detained us for some bucks. I was not at all unhappy to be of some help… after all, they need money to run the religious affairs for us as well as for themselves. Just after he gave me the donation slip he called up a young priest from nowhere and told him to guide us into the main temple. Oh my God, it meant we had paid for a Puja package as well… not a bad deal (eh ‘deal’ sounds mean inside a temple?). The tall young priest in clear Bengali asked us to get ourselves washed in the temple pond at the right side. The mini session of Puja started before the covert Shivalinga. Neither I was comfortable with Sanskrit nor was I religious enough to get into the habit of repeating priest’s uttered Mantras during rituals, so I was literally fumbling which our priest pretended to overlook.

In a minute he asked for another sum of money in the name of ‘Bedi-Daan’! As the demand for money persisted I was drifting away from spirituality for that moment and spoke out in frustration, “I paid outside, so why do I have to pay again?”
“No that was simple donation for the maintenance but this is the part of this holy process” he replied calmly.
I got that there was no point in argument and spoiling my mood… I also realized that it was not the Puja Package I was gifted for those bucks… I was cleverly diverted for this and as I was trapped by then, I had too options… either to walk out of the temple without any second talk leaving back all ongoing acts of sanctity or to resume the Puja. I took out a small note from my purse and gave it to the priest as ‘Bedi-Daan’.
“This amount won’t do… it’s not acceptable” he denied shamelessly.
“Does Lord look for devotion in His children or their potential to donate?” I was adamant but polite. “No please try to understand, donate some more to make it a bigger note… it’s very sacred... it’s the norm…” he continued his illogical but stern justifications. I was in a ‘never back down’ mood by then but my brother signaled me to finish up the nuisance. I fulfilled the demand unwillingly.

After the Puja, as we came out of the main temple, the priest recited of the high devoutness of the place… how the Lord broke out from the wood of a Sandal (Chandan) tree… how hundreds of people from faraway surrender them on the feet of the Lord with their varied problems etc. Then he asked for his fee for the ritual he performed for us! Well I better not extend the story of my repugnance… I came out of Chandaneswar Temple too apathetic even to show some compassion to the beggars outside the gate.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Bhusandeswar Temple
Our next destination was Talasari beach. Again there were stacks of fishes to be seen… fishes segregated by their types, were being auctioned in bulk. The place seemed to be dipped in the wine of business than tourism in the morning air. There was a boat taking ten-twelve people at a time to the beach which had been separated from the mainland by the rise of water level in monsoon, giving the Talasari beach an appearance of an island. The boat service looked erratic… the tea maker who served us breakfast in a stall told tourists usually reach the beach to find red crabs in abundance. But I had seen as well as photographed (played hide & seek too!) a lot of red crabs already in my trip, so preferred to ride for my next destination Bhusandeswar Temple leaving back the confluence of River Subarnarekha and River (or is it rivulet?) Sakha at Talasari. The road got narrower, meandering through picturesque villages, by the side of canals, fisherman localities and finally River Subarnarekha appeared in our frame in less than an hour as we could see the Bhusandeswar Temple from a distance.

The enormous Shivalinga inside was clearly visible from outside, moreover I was hesitating to enter the temple owing to my morning experience, so brother joined the other devotees inside the temple while I rested on a wooden platform outside ignoring the lanky ox interfering with my effort. Later brother had told me priests weren’t money minded there but it was OK for me outside. I bowed down once again before the Lord of the universe and restarted our return journey for Digha. On the way back we got down by the bank of river Subarnarekha to watch busy anglers managing three-four fishing rods each. We headed for Udaipur beach which is also in Odisha. There came the golden opportunity… a lottery for any avid biker/traveler… an offer I was hungry for… and the fortune that helped us shortening our trip by a day without missing anything! Udaipur beach had hard wet sand and tourists are permitted to enter the beach with their vehicle.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
The road got narrower, meandering through picturesque villages, by the side of canals and fisherman localities.
We rode over the wet sand letting the modest waves to kiss my pony’s wheels… initially we’re a bit vigilant of the hardness of the ground but as we kept going our confidence over the beach rose high and we kept riding to one end to the other of the Udaipur beach till we belched by the overeating of beach-riding. Even we could ride up to the Talasari beach if there hadn’t been some extra accumulation of water making the path inaccessible to vehicles. Then we left the pleasant part of rural Odisha and came back to Digha. Marine Aquarium was a worthy visit… I wished I had some more affinity for aquatic life. We were the only visitors in the entire hall. Seeing the camera bag hanging down my shoulder the security person came up from his seat of comfort and politely reminded me of ‘Photography is prohibited’ rule… Huh I knew it… I mean read it outside. After our visit he spread out his guest-book before me and I too performed the formality, ‘everything is cool out here’. We had our lunch at Purbasa Hotel where we had the same couple of times in our last visit to Digha and as per my expectation Thali was good.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Marine Aquarium, Digha.
The craving for the afternoon snooze had been enhanced by the intake of rice but I had already canceled our next day’s plan of going to Mandarmoni for enjoying beach-ride after taking the advantage of liberal Udaipur beach, i.e. this officially became our last day at Digha… so, returning to hotel room without knowing how Old Digha beach smiles widely under the sun definitely could be a crime… I was afraid to be a sinner… rode to the beach. Shops on the way to the beach were all closed (don’t know why)… few tourists were scattered providing reasonable space to one another… I sat on the concrete slope watching the furious waves hurling, curling and battering the stones/slabs on the shore… unknowingly I got drowsy by the rhythmic wave formation on the sea and the pleasant wind.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Sparsely populated Old Digha Beach smiling widely under the afternoon sun.

Do click here to know what we did after taking that post-lunch nap. i.e. the continuing part of this travelogue...

Friday, September 9, 2016

A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal (Part 3)

A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
This is continuation of the second post on my motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal and here we'll resume the story from the third day. The darkness cleared off eventually exposing a lighter sky above the Bakkhali Beach, but it seemed Apollo had something else in His mind! Gradually some more tourists gathered near me who didn’t look much bothered about missing the sunrise. I clicked the sea in different lighting conditions, clicked people around me, quadruped animals whoever strolled around and returned for my morning tea when I got tired of my unfruitful wait. The tea maker lady told that apparently there was no sunrise the day before as well due to overcast condition… Oh that means I didn’t really miss anything due to my sleep! We had plenty of beaches to cover in our trip… that meant many more opportunities to enjoy a sunrise over the sea… what a big deal?

We checked out of our hotel by 8:30 AM. The bread-omelet we had taken with morning tea was sufficient to let us skip our breakfast and reach Kakdwip quite soon. Few more kilometers from there, we reached Lot No. 8 of Harwood ferry point from where we had to take a vessel to cross the 3.5 kilometers of Hooghly river (Muriganga creek) to reach Kachuberia jetty (entry point of of Sagar Island).
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Southernmost tip of Sagar Island is called Gangasagar which is heart of religious interest to the pilgrims.
It took half an hour. We saw enormous electric posts/towers carrying electric supply from the mainland to the island. The large, densely populated island Sagardwip is a famous Hindu pilgrimage site where every year in mid-January (on Makar Sankranti) over five lakhs of Hindu pilgrims assemble to take a holy dip at the confluence of river Ganges and Bay of Bengal followed by prayer in the Kapil Muni Temple. By 10:30 AM we touched the island at its north at Kachuberia from where one can get plenty of cabs to hire or public bus service to travel 30-35 kilometers distance to reach the southernmost tip of the island called Gangasagar which is the heart of religious interest to the pilgrims.

We cruised along the well maintained metaled road (though full of speed-breakers) in between ample greenery of which bamboo plants seemed to have taken the lead role… crossed a number of villages to reach Gangasagar. We didn’t leave the main road till it ended into the beach area… it started drizzling and we didn’t have any backup information of accommodation options in the island. Suddenly I noticed an Ashram building on our right… Oh hurray, it was written ‘Omkarnath Panthanivas’, i.e. a sure shot lodging option! I thanked God for the instant help and entered into the Ashram compound. The Babaji in the office wrote my particulars in his guest register and handed me the room key and the donation receipt with a pacific smile. I had read before about the high incidence of snakebite in the island… but Babaji diluted our fear by confirming that a snake won’t usually climb up to the first floor where our room was allotted… What a consolation!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Seashore was dirty, full with dogs, crows, devotes, Pandits, remains of rituals and even fecal matter scattered diffusely!
There was no arrangement of food in the Ashram and one of the staffs told that he’ll be cooking dinner for us if more guests arrive by evening. We left our luggage, changed clothes and rode for Kapil Muni Temple. The actual format is to take a bathe in the holy water and then visit the temple but we did the opposite… after all it’s the ‘Bhakti’ that matters, not rituals (see, how nicely human beings justify their acts!). The Kapil Muni Temple was being renovated… so all what we could see were naked bricks and bamboos… luckily there was a priest before the idol where we could offer our Puja. Obliging some beggars outside the temple we marched towards the beach.

The seashore was dirty, full with dogs, crows, devotes, Pandits, remains of rituals and even fecal matter scattered diffusely. Dogs and crows are in abundance as devotes who worship on the beach feed them after their religious affairs. From the locals, later I came to know that they are disgusted by such ‘feeding animals & earning Karma’ policy of Hindu devotes as it causes unwanted interference of those over pampered creatures to their daily chores. The look of the sacred water changed my outlook about taking the holy dip and I refrained myself even from a head bath when a dog went few meters down the sea and completed his toilet work in a jiffy!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Presiding deity at the Kapil Muni Temple, Gangasagar.
I enjoyed clicking frames containing devotes offering prayers through priests or taking a dip with utmost devotion. While coming out of the sand we came across a beggar who was also the victim of polio. I wanted to take a portrait snap but from somewhere the feeling of ‘being from the same burial ground’ saddened my heart and left the place offering him a change… I really couldn’t afford the same luxury of a western shutterbug. We rode to see the lighthouse but the security guard informed that the entry of tourists is prohibited in the complex… what we could see was the dilapidated jetty and the security man there narrated the story of the furious waves who were the culprits for the scene. He pointed towards a ship distant away on the sea named ‘Ma Ganga’ who regulates the movement of other ships in that route.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
The right protocol is to take a bathe in the holy water and then visit the Kapil Muni Temple.
Our lunchtime had already got extended and we didn’t want to delay any farther, so rode back to Gangasagar and took meal with Ilish fish. There food options are really limited (unless it’s fair time) and basic, so you’ve to cope up with the supply. Again we turned into good cats and ran to our ashram for a nap. I parted with my bed somehow to catch the sunset in the divine land. The beach looked the same… just that crowd had thinned out a bit. Sun was till then bright enough to blind my eye on direct contact… slowly the intensity softened and I was getting ready with my gear for some long desired shots. The big ball was coming down, but instead of coming down to horizon it went behind a gray cloud like a coin entering the shirt pocket… all I could see and click were diffuse colors of setting (subject being vanished from frame!) sun and some silhouettes… I was disappointed, itchy but option-less.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
All I could see and click were diffuse colors of the setting sun and some silhouettes.
The day offered nothing much after that… tea in the roadside stall… sitting in our ashram balcony in the complete darkness of power-cut… listening to evening arati from far away and nearby temples… smelling some obnoxious odor of bidi smoke coming from the neighborhood balcony and getting hypnotized by the soothing breeze were all those followed. We rode to the bus park to finish our dinner and ended the day with a ‘feel good’ factor of sleeping in an island, listening to the sound of raindrops toppling on leaves and unknowingly dreaming about snakes!

The following day, it was five in the morning when I walked out of my room to find the ashy sky over the sea from our balcony… again there was no hope for any visible rising sun but I was getting used to it… it was high time that I realized the real shade of a post-monsoon trip… no expectation… no frustration… it got that simple! We walked down the beach before leaving the island. It was amusing playing hide & seek with countless red crabs who had dug countless holes in the sand and over apprehensive of us approaching them for innocent photography.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
It was amusing playing hide & seek with countless red crabs!
Walking to one extreme side of the Gangasagar beach we found a fleet of fishing boats anchored to the shore and soon it was easy losing my mind to the intoxicating wind and the cradling motion of the resting fishing boats. Oh, the raindrops broke the code of conduct to bring me back to my sense! We moved to a tea stall and cherished evergreen Parle-G with hot tea. We shared our biscuits with some common myna birds sheltered under the same thatched roof. There was a Hanuman Temple just beside our Ashram which we discovered after the tea session. I prayed Hanumanji for our safe ride and returned to our room for getting ready for the next destination.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
I clicked the sea in different lighting conditions, clicked people, animals whoever strolled around.

Click here to know where we headed after that. i.e. the continuing part...

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal (Part 2)

A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
This is continuation of the first post on my motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal and here we'll resume the story from the second day. The morning shows the day- we’ve been hearing from our childhood days… neither does this belief hold statistical basis, nor does the law of probability support it… but can we discard it so confidently? Well, coming back to my story… last day’s exhaustion denied us of the early riser’s spree… it was morning eight when I sprang out of my bed… Oh I had missed the sunrise over the Bay of Bengal for the day! Pulling the curtain of our window brought in a thick beam of sun rays which directly illuminated my sleeping helmet on the tea-table. Enough... we couldn’t afford to waste more time in our hotel room, so kicked start my machine to touch the road by 8:30 AM.

We crossed Frasergunj and entered Henry Island. Don’t get a wrong idea from the word ‘island’ here… you don’t have to cross any water body to get over there… it’s a continuous road and even motorable till the Sundari Tourist Complex Tower from the top of which you can view the dense mangrove forest, sea and part of Bangladesh (though far away). Another hundred meters ride towards the beach took us to a bamboo bridge which we had to cross on feet to walk up to the beach. The special ‘being in Sunderbans’ feeling endowed by mangrove vegetation marked by millions of pneumatophores piercing out of the swampy soil was reduced to half when we saw that the path beyond the bridge was filled with one foot (or more) deep mud till the beach area where a hand few tourists were holding hands with one another to achieve better balance and struggling to finish their mud-walk!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Tourists enjoying Mud-Walk at Henry Island.
I was in no mood to take that free luxury of nature, so kept myself content watching and photographing red, yellow, blue crabs and some baby fishes playing hide and seek in that saline ecosystem. The empty tubes inside my belly hinted me to run for breakfast… last day I wasn’t that satisfied with restaurants nearby our hotel or the beach at Bakkhali… wanted to find an alternative. Deepak hotel at Frasergunj looked cool for our purpose and ended up with some Puri-Sabji which was oilier and hence made us feel bloated even before our plates were empty. The guy in the reception while settling the bill offered me their rate leaflet and informed of their cottages under construction at the backyard… I found half a dozen of ducks swimming in the rectangular pool at their backyard, adding beauty to the location of their cottages. We came back to Bakkhali Beach to play with the waves till we got tired. One policeman was standing on the dry part of the sand and shouting at all over enthusiastic swimmers… he told me later that there has been a case of drowning just few days back!
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Colorful oyster shells on the sand were some treat to my eyes as well as my camera lens!
Like most of the beaches in our country, photographers (or should I call them cameramen?) were more in number than prospective customers on the sunny beach. We inclined for ice-cream… came to know from the ice-cream seller that there’s a sacred temple of Bonodevi, just a fifteen minutes walk over the beach. I badly fell for his suggestion and started walking for the temple. After twenty five minutes of walking when we couldn’t spot any sign of its presence it seemed wiser to take a U-turn. Colorful oyster shells on the sand were some treat to my eyes as well as my camera lens! The sparkle imparted by sun rays over the wet sand blended with continuous breeze and the tranquility of the Bakkhali beach in its major part are of immense appeal to any nature lover.

The moment you get into this beach you won’t find it vacant ‘exclusively for you’ type of beach which you might have read in different guides but once you walk ten minutes to your left along this beach, crowd will thin out and you’ll be left with yourself under the liberal clouds, on the silvery sand, with the timid waves of the Bay of Bengal! You can run, jump, whistle, sing, salt-water bath, sunbath or do anything (I believe you know that nudity or beach-sex is not allowed in any of the beaches of India) that doesn’t disturb the ecosystem. I found a motorcyclist taking advantage of the lonely status of the beach, which infuriated the desire in me to get upon my pony to ride over the foaming waves but conscience somehow knocked down that rule breaking devil in me… if someone isn’t reading the Government notice he shouldn’t be your idol… that’s what the good angel whispered into my ears! It was lunch time and I opted for Rohu fish this time.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
A mob of deer at Bakkhali Aranya Binodon Kendra.
Just beside the bus park there’s a nature park- Bakkhali Aranya Binodon Kendra. We entered there after our lunch and found two crocodile and more than a dozen of deer. It was a perfect post-lunch entertainment to sit on a bench and watch them playing around. How could I rest when I had my camera hanging down my neck… it was some click-click time till my patient brother got impatient and stood up from the wooden plank. The last evening Frasergunj fishing harbor seemed quite vibrant for my lens but as it got dark I couldn’t click as much frames as I wanted… another visit there was necessary… we zoomed out in no time to get cocooned by that same fishy air of the harbor. It was not just the air, something more was waiting for me! I kept clicking my east-west-north-south and the happy faces of fishermen and porters while getting shot encouraged me more. Then I saw a load of Ilish fish inside a fishing vessel which was being unloaded.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
Happy faces of fishermen and porters while getting shot encouraged me clicking.
I couldn’t resist temptation of getting close to the target from where I got a better view of the stack of fish inside the wooden chamber and pressing of shutter followed. Suddenly I sensed a hand pulling me by my shoulder… a healthy aged man I saw when I turned back and slangs were all I heard… what followed after that I’ve scribbled in the prologue! Well, my fault was I had kept one of my feet on the edge of their boat and I was with my floaters. Later I noticed that every professional in that harbor, either over or down the boat walks barefooted… because they worship the fishing boats… I was the sinner of hurting their religious sentiment. Yea that leader like man packed with hatred in his eyes could (rather should) simply have shouted at me explaining the reason and saving me from my ignorance… but I was not warned, simply punished for my first mistake!

Situation was really bad, getting slanged and punched on my cheek but from an optimist traveler’s point of view I feel I was blessed that it didn’t roll further up to a second jab or anything worse. May be the man wanted me to react and procure an opportunity to initiate a public assault but my backing down in the right moment saved us, my camera and of course our entire trip. I wanted to come out of the bad moment and staring eyes but wanted to pretend as if nothing had happened (is this the child of ego? Huh, human mind is the greatest inscrutable subject! ) as well, so moved few meters aside and continued my clicking venture till the curious eyes got back to their work again.
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
A frozen fish ready to be exported, at Frasergunj Fishing Harbor.
We went back to our hotel to get slice of slumber and be ready for sunset. Clouds got whimsical once again and left us with some magical colors of dusk sans the crimson sun over the beach… thus we realized that the morning had hinted our day… we lazily spent the evening reclining on the beach, tasting fast food and listening to Belafonte’s track- “But I’m sad to say/ I’m on my way/ Won’t be back for many a day/ My heart is down/ My head is turning around/ I had to leave a little girl in Kingston Town”.

Fortunately I turned out to be an early cock on the third day and rode to beach with my camera before the crack of dawn… I was desperate for the red round glow which would be climbing up the horizon painting the uneven sea like a painter’s brush! Among five-six stalls, only one had opened up its door and lit its coal fire… but I thought that sipping a cup of tea could get in the way of catching the sun at precise moment. No tourist could be seen on the Bakkhali beach apart from a hand few men whose professions had compelled them to stick to the coast at that unearthly hour...
A Motorcycling affair along the Bay of Bengal
I turned out to be an early cock on the third day and rode to the Bakkhali Beach with my camera before the crack of dawn.