Travel report

In medias res
It is midnight;arrival at the airport of Mumbai (Bombay). Endless queues - time seems to play absolutely no role. After our successful passing of the passport control and the very first changing of traveler checks into bundles of Rupees, we start searching for a taxi, which should bring us to Pune (Poona). An Indian friend has told us previously about something called "Cool Cabs". They are supposed to drive between the two cities for a very small fare. Unfortunately, we could not find any of them. The normal fare for a taxi (2500 Rs, about 75 CHF) seemed to be too expensive, considering that we were in India. So we ended up driving to the Dadar train station. The Indian way of driving is somewhat special. First you have to get used to it. There is one rule, which is followed more or less: "drive left" and there is one unbeatable rule: "the stronger and louder can go first". Light is normally not used, pedestrians are in danger.
The station looks strange, too. Even during the night, there are lots and lots of people there - they sleep on blankets on the ground as well as on goods, which are standing around. In the meantime, it is half past two and the counter, in front of which we have settled, is opening. We buy for very little money a ticket and move on to a bench, watching the nightly actions around us. People are standing around, talking, spitting on the ground or standing in front of balances, which look like one armed bandits. After another three hours we sit rather tired in the train to Pune.

At Pune we check into the hotel National. It is like a green oasis of silence in the center of the hectic center of the city. We look around the city using motor rickshaws and buy some useful stuff. We get as an example a railway atlas, which will help us later on to plan our travel. On the next day Silvia calls up Mr Kulkarni. She met him three years ago during her exchange year in India. Mr Kulkarni is in the city at that moment and wants to be with us "in ten minutes". That is how we learn, that a minute consists of about 180 seconds ;-). Mr Kulkarni invites us to the restaurant Ram Krishna. Since this meal we ask each other, if ever we will get something as delicious as this food again!
Another friend of Silvia is Gauri. We spend the afternoon and evening with her. We decide to visit with her the Parvati temple early next morning, which is built on a hill in Pune. Unfortunately, we do not meet her in time and we decide to climb the hill without her to see the sunrise. Citation of Silvia's diary:
"We were aloud to see an all color sunrise. Beside this, it was fun to look at the morning gymnastics of the Indians. People in Switzerland are jogging, those of Pune are walking to the temple and perform some push-ups :-)."
After three days, we leave Pune in a night bus. Who is associating "night bus" with "sleeping" will learn better now: The first two hours there is loud Hindi music played for all passengers. Wilu, who has only heard Silvia telling of this music before, was quite surprised to realize, that he likes the tunes. He would have preferred to drive on like this all night long. But at midnight the loudspeakers are put off. But we don't want to sleep anymore and so we are listening to our music for the rest of the journey. The landscape in the moonlight is fascinating! The journey ends at seven in the next morning at Kerwadi. Dreamland, a home for destitute children, is situated here. Is has been built up by Mr Kulkarni 24 years ago. Fifteen boys are welcoming us full of joy. They almost fight about the right to carry our luggage or to hold our hands. So sweet!

Since Silvia's last visit three years ago there have been quite a lot of changes. New buildings were built, some were enlarged and the eating site has been paved. Of course there are also new children and employees, others have left the orphanage. Nevertheless it is a reunion with many a well known and loved person for Silvia. But Wilu is welcomed with lots of smiles, too. We are getting an own room to sleep in. Only few meters above it, runs a power cable. It gives us the unique opportunity to watch bee eaters! We are really fascinated of these birds, which are represented very often in our photo albums.
The children do not know any fear of us. We do not have many quite minute... The presence of foreign visitors is - especially here in the countryside - a special event. As guests we enjoy a lot of attention and privileges; but actually we do not really enjoy the latter ones. We would rather be "on the same height of eyes" with the people. But this is difficult. An example: Silvia starts to wash her clothes. As soon as the woman in charge of the kitchen learns about it, she comes to our room and takes this work away from Silvia; resistance is without any chance. As we are now talking about the chief of the kitchen, Soru moushi: we liked her especially a lot! Although she talks only Marathi, which doesn't make the conversation much easier, we understand each other very well.
Dreamland is not the only project of Mr Kulkarni, but it is part of the Socio Economic Development Trust (SEDT). Belonging to SEDT is for example also the Women Development Center (WDC), which is situated about one kilometer from Dreamland away. The local community can profit there from various programs, which help them to enhance their means of life. We are also aloud to join two meetings of the Income Generation Program. They were held at two remote villages. We get some unique impressions of the very difficult lives of some villagers. As "normal" tourists we probably would never had had this opportunity. After the meeting, the chief of the village invites us to drink a chaha (= chai = tea). The richest family of the village together with "high" visitors, that means about: tea with very little water, a lot of milk and heaps of sugar...

Even more Dreamland
One week we spend together with the people of Dreamland. One really gets to know a lot of things there! We visit for example a village, where some college classes hold their practical. There were some important people talking on a stage. And so are we! We have to admit, that it was not really our free will though: the chief of the village just told us to say some words to the students.So, there we are, telling them about who we are, where we come from, what we like and what we dislike in India. Afterwards the students are aloud to ask some questions, before we start thinking about going home. But we are actually far from that. First there is a meal served on leaves of some kind of tree for all the adults who have had some part in the practical. While we soon are satisfied, the Indians are still eating a XXL portion of rice. It is always difficult to convince an Indian that we do not eat as much as they do. And this although Silvia has taught Wilu the most important words in Marathi very soon: thora thora and baas - a little bit and enough.
On a sunday, we are told that we would go "to the field with Dada". We think, that the grand father (Dada) wants to show us some kind of field work. But we realize soon, that we are invited to a picnic. Most of the employees of Dreamland join the party and we eat newly cut wheat, Jwari and chickpeas with a chutney. Soru Moushi is boiling the tea.
Once Wilu makes a small tour by bicycle. Like this he can be alone for some time and move out of his own power instead of being driven everywhere. He cycles to the next village and back. There he meets Silvia and together with some boys they drive in the other direction. It was Wilu's wish to take a bicycle like that to Switzerland. Therefore some words about it: brand Atlas (an Indian product), one gear, bar-breaks, way too low saddle (so that also the kids can drive it) and veeery heavy. In short: a bicycle like it was fashion 60-70 years ago. But there was one difference; the Atlas-wheel has "semi rickshaw tires for longer life". Nevertheless Wilu has to push his bicycle the last few meters because of a wheel break down. For the reparation we go to the WDC. Wilu wants to repair it himself... Citation of his diary: " At least I was aloud to help. Repair kit: two screw drivers a big (!) tube of vulcanization liquid and an old tube. Because of the sharp edges of the screw drivers there was soon more than one hole and I just got a different bicycle for the return journey."
Of all the other things we see and do in Dreamland, there is one special: We decide to make a drawing and handicraft competition. It is our goal to sell the incoming things in Switzerland during one of our slide shows and like this collect some money for Dreamland. The children were divided into three age classes. Within each class there are fife winners. They were aloud to choose first and take one of the 60 items, mainly teddy bears and small cars, we had brought for them. Afterwards all of the children get a random number and following these, each of them can also come in front an choose a thing to play with. The joy in the faces of the children is great and many of them decided long before it is their turn, which item they would like best. Mr Kulkarni, who arrived with his wife the same morning, says: "some of the boys probably never owned a game before".
The time in Dreamland was so nice, that we feel a sad to say good bye on the last day of our visit. We spend all of the day together with the people there. As a matter of course we make some photo sessions, for example with Sarang. In the evening we finally sit in the jeep. All members of Dreamland are standing around it, everyone is waving and shouting "good bye" and "see you again". We hope too, that we will meet these friendly people again.

Let's go on
In the evening we are driven by jeep to Nanded. If there is a car coming from the other side, the driver changes from dim light to long distance light - different countries, different habits. From Nanded to Nagpur we use a night bus (with TV!). At Nagpur we change to the train in the direction to Jabalpur. After we have found a hotel, we use a rickshaw to reach the restaurant Zayaka.It belongs to the hotel Rishi Regency and provides us with the second best dinner of our travel (paneer tikka and nan). Even the price is fantastic - 212 Rs for both of us. To say it differently: in India a very big and exclusive meal for two costs about three quarter of a Big Mac Menu in Switzerland... The waiters like Silvia's Sari and our mehndis, which some women in Dreamland had painted on our hands. There was a TV in the restaurant. And TV means cricket - the world cup of cricket is taking place in South Africa at the moment. Firstly we did not much like this game. But after two weeks in India, even this attitude has changed. We do not really understand all the rules of this game, but it is nevertheless fun to watch.
Near Jabalpur we find Bhedagat. Here, we first visit the nice water fall. Not only the huge amounts of water coming down stream, but also the people washing and bathing in the floods are fascinating us. But - we do not stay invisible ourselves; too many of the Indian tourists want to take a picture of us with them... Finally, we manage to escape the crowd and visit the nearby temple, which is found - needless to say - on a small hill. The temple is surrounded by a circle of walls ornamented with beautifully carved figures. We allow ourselves a short break and watch the squirrels and langurs playing nearby. Then we hit the road again. Our destination is the end of the short canyon, which starts just after the before mentioned waterfall. From the lower end of the canyon it is possible to get a seat in a big rowing boat. We enjoy the ride with 18 other tourists (all Indian), marveling at the different shades and forms of the Marble Rocks. The two oarsmen have to row with all their strength against the current. One of the tourists starts translating the most important explanations of the guide into English for us. About in the middle of the canyon the leaders of the boat tell us, that our tour is "officially" at its end, but if everyone is paying an additional fee, they would continue to row further up... After a short arguing the others decide to pay 10 Rs (~0.30 CHF) more and so do we. Back on the mainland, we stroll through the market. There are endless souvenirs made of marble, even a telephone! We can not withstand and buy some souvenirs and gifts before we return to Jabalpur.

Travel to Kanha NP
There are some moments, when one would wish to have a little bit more comfort as a back-packer. One fine example is on our way to the Kanha national park. The bus doesn't look better or shabbier than the others - just an elderly bus. Short citation of Wilu's diary:
"The horn of the vehicle was fabulous; however, the power of the motor, comfort and space per passenger was not quite so. On a flat road the bus drove about 50 km/h, but as soon as there was a slight rise it slowed down markedly."
At eleven o'clock we depart in time. In front of us there is a bus with the same destination - but not for a long time. After half an hour this bus breaks down and most of its passengers try to get into our bus. It's becoming that much tight that it is definitely no more possible to move. Here we need to mention, that in general the personal integrity zones are much smaller in Indians than in Europeans. At mandla there is an official one-hour stop. The time is used to screw around at the engine. Luckily, most of the passengers moved out at Mandla and the space to sit increases again. But before we leave the town, our bus stops. At least it happens just beside a garage, which facilitates the mending a lot. Again the engine hood is lifted. It lies inside the bus just beside the driver. A thread is damaged and a fluid is therefore leaving the engine. After about five quarter of an hour the damage is mended and the travel goes on. At seven instead of five in the evening we reach Katia, the village at the entrance of the national park. Actually we are heading for a specific lodge, but we end up at an other one in the end. An Indian named Bafati organizes a room for us. We only pay 150 instead of 250 Rs. It is the best room we had so far. The best thing is the WC-bowl - a combination of the Indian style privy and a western style bowl.

Kanha NP - kingdom of the wild beasts!
Together with an English couple we get up early the next morning. Bafati is driving us at 6 o'clock to the boarder of the protected zone of the national park, where the "Jungle Book" of Rudyard Kippling is playing. Here we pay the entrance fee. Additionally the official guide enters our jeep. He costs 200 Rs and his only job seems to just "be there". So he sits all day through in the car and doesn't say anything...
Soon we see the first animals in the early morning light. It was a group of sambar deer. Typically: the male with huge antlers quickly vanishes while the females let us observe them a rather long period. The animals easily find protection in the thicket of bamboo. But the national park also has open steppe vegetation, which is the favorite place of other species. As mentioned before, the guide of more or less decoration. However, Bafati our driver did a terrific job! He knows the animals inhabiting the park very well, birds included. Even while driving he is spotting the smallest birds on the top of the tries. We usually stop and consult a bird guide if needed. This let's Silvia's heart bounce up to the canopy or higher. Beside a good variety of birds like vultures, eagles, peacocks, kingfishers and bee-eaters we also see monkeys, wild-boars and many spotted deers.
Emilie and Tom, who share our jeep, take a short elephant ride for 300 Rs. The attraction is not the elephant itself but a tiger in the thicket, which they can observe from the top of the elephants back. For us, this is too "sensational" because the tigers are tracked down every day to present them to the tourists. Therefore, we do not use this opportunity. At noon, our trip is over and we lie down to rest. Towards the evening we are getting a little bit more active again and visit the visitor center. We especially like the bats that are flying around. The house was built in a way that a colony of these fascinating animals could lodge there. The exhibition of pictures and text about the park is informative. We also join a group of tourists watching a documentary film about elephants. The second film about tigers we cannot enjoy because of a power cut... This time it is an "unusual" power cut. Normally there is 4 hours of power cut every day at the same time.
At sunrise of the next morning we are sitting again in Bafati's jeep. This time we are the only guests and the tour last a full day. We get a guide, who is a bit more active than the last one, and who spots some animals from time to time. When we just enter the park, we see two jackals. We spot many animals throughout the day, especially during the morning. Sometimes, we can hear alarm calls of monkeys, peacocks and other animals, which means that a big predator is nearby. We do not see a tiger, but Silvia spots a jungle cat. During the lunch break (the park closes down between twelve and four in the afternoon), Silvia accompanies Bafati to a river where working elephants are taking their daily bath. During the afternoon, on our tour back to Katia, some alarm calls of two spotted deer let our heart beat faster.
We search the meadow intently for any sign of a tiger. Unfortunately we do not see any. An unexpected encounter with this marvelous animal would have been much nicer than an arranged one. Nevertheless, a highlight still awaits us at the very end: during dawn, we suddenly spot a herd of the rare Indian bison! After the tour, Bafati invites us for a chai and we spend a comfortable evening. To show our thankfulness for the two nice trips, we present him a small bottle of perfume for his wife. He is very happy about the perfume and the fact that we do not present him a Swiss army knife (he has already a whole collection of them).

Back in Jabalpur
We believe that the first bus back to Jabalpur leaves Katia at eight. A quarter of an hour earlier it departs just before our unbelieving eyes. At half past eight the next bus leaves, but it doesn't reach Chiraidongri early enough for us to catch the train. Initially, we wanted to avoid to take the bus again for the long trip back to Jabalpur. But this time we were luckier with the vehicle - faster, less people and no break downs. But on this trip, Wilu looses Silvia's keys for the small locks that protect our luggage against pickpockets. Silvia has additional keys for three out of four locks, so we need to break open one of them in Jabalpur. After that we rent a room in the hotel Rahul (the one with the fine view), before we buy some Fuji film rolls in the Kodak-shop (because in the Fuji-shop they had only Kodak film rolls).
While the stomach of Wilu revolted during the time in Kanha, it was Silvia who feels somewhat bad in Jabalpur. But at noon, she feels better and so we again visit the restaurant Zayaka and eat a marvelous dish with naan.
In the afternoon, we want to get rid of the metal box with our souvenirs and surplus luggage. But the counter for parcels has already closed. First, someone important looking tells us, that we can just leave it and they would send it the next day. But suddenly the facts change against us and we are facing a journey, where we can carry with us an around 8 kg tin can.

Bandhavgarh NP
On the next day, we get up at a quarter past four in the morning. Outside, it has finally got quiet, the traffic has ceased. We had not thought about the fact that it would be difficult to find a rickshaw at that time. After some searching we finally find a cycle-rickshaw. The speed of travel in this kind of a vehicle is obviously not very high and we fear to get late to the station. But first of all we reach in time and second it is the train that arrives late.
At Umaria, we take a rickshaw to the bus terminal, after having no success in getting rid of our parcel at the local post office. But as the bus is going to leave late in the evening, we decide to take a jeep ride to Tala. We pay 75 Rs per person to reach the village, which is situated at the border of the park. Citation out of Wilu's diary:
"We probably over-payed for this ride, as an American showed us afterwards, who drove for 50 Rs only. Anyway, we departed from Umaria - Silvia, me and our luggage in the back part - in the direction of the NP. They put in more and more people in the jeep that soon became full. We were driven over the bumpy street with about 80 km/h. The driver reached his steering-wheel only from far away - no wonder with a jeep load of up to 17 adults, 5 kids and a sweet little dog!"
Later, we will be told that it is possible to put even more people into a jeep. We check in the Kum Kum Lodge, the room we get for 150 Rs - we love the off-season! On the next morning, we sit together with John, the American, in a jeep. The driver as well as the official guide neither know English very well nor do they know much about the animals in the park. Only one animal they are professionals with: "tiger, tiger!". Although there is a sign at the entrance of the park that requests the visitors not to be focused only on this big wild cat, it is actually exactly this and nothing else what our guides are. As soon as they get to know from other guides that there was a tiger sighted somewhere, we dart off towards this place without any respect from loss resulting from the bumpy roads. Finally, we can spot the heavily searched animal for a short moment. Now, the "must-see"-program is over and thereafter we drive in a comfortable pace through the marvelous, very divers landscape.
One thing to mention is something, which we learn through many joyful shouts and fire works: India has won against Pakistan in the cricket world-championship. An Indian has told us once that Pakistan may become world-champion, but that they would never beat India...
The second day proceeds in about the same pattern as the first. But this time we are very lucky and find the tiger after the necessary rally in the early morning. A total of 17 jeeps gather in the close vicinity of this animal. Did we already mention that we are in the off-season?!? After this happening, we enjoy a great day and even drive to some very remote part of the park. We can observe for example a Lesser Adjutanted Stork, a hoopoe and a rhesus monkey.
Conclusion of the two national parks: the landscape in Bandhavgarh is more interesting than that of Kanha. The high density of tigers in this park leads most of the tourists and guides to be too much focused on them and neglect the other beautiful animals. In both parks we realized how important a good guide or driver is. If the two of them share your attitude towards nature, it is possible to have a terrific day out in the field. If this is not the case, unfortunately, it is also possible that you are disappointed by the end of the trip. In the small park of Bandhavgarh, with its high density of tigers, the officials try to mediate the feeling that it is very unfortunate not to see a tiger. On the other hand, in the larger park of Kanha, the official's attitude is, that you are very lucky if you can spot this beautiful cat. That's why we prefer Kanha.

Continuation of the journey
We leave Tala by the hotel jeep. Luxurious: only 6 passengers and about 50km/h. At Umaria we change to the train to Katni. Wilu settles himselfe on the luggage rack (which is built solidly and with lots of space, as if they knew how it would be used). He is able to watch the other men on the neighboring rack playing cards. At Katni we immediately search for the post office. There, two hours of pure fun await us. First we sew our metal box into a peace of cloth. Actually, we only have to sew the top peace on, because the rest was already done by a sewer at Jabalpur. After this, the custom documents were awaiting us. One peace for the post office, and three had to be sewed to the cloth of the parcel. Next, all the visible seams had to be treated with sealing wax. Well, now it's the turn of the stamps. The parcel costs 1325 Rs, which means almost two entire sheets of 15 Rs stamps and one 5 Rs stamp on top. Finally: solemn delivery to the postman, who was helping us through the whole procedure.
After this post adventure, we continue our journey by train. This time, both of us sit on the luggage rack. From below and from all sides, many eyes are staring at us for two hours. Staring back leads to short time success. This situations we know since three weeks, but today we are not in the mood for such little games. Even the countless rickshaw drivers that are trying to convince us to drive with them aren't getting any reaction from us. Our moods get a little better at the hotel India where we are enjoying a candle light dinner (thanks to a power cut).
The room temperature is hot even during night time. Therefore, we do not sleep very well. But in the morning, the weather is foggy, windy and quite cold. At the bus stop, we meet two people, we already know from the Kum Kum Lodge. Our luggage is put on the bus. Positive: each sitting row is built of two benches for two persons. This means there is enough space for us to sit rather comfortably. Negative: we sit just behind the rear axle. At the first bump we are jumping into the air and it is not for the last time during our journey in this bus that we loose our "grip to the ground". And two rows in front of us, a man makes unbelievable wrenches to get a look at Silvia...

Translation of this chapter is coming sooner or later...