A Travellerspoint blog

Coronavirus ends our Trip

Day 55

sunny 29 °C
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Our last road trip. Taxi ride from Ramnagar to Hauz Khas, Delhi which is a 5 hour journey.

Returning to our comfortable Hotel, Villa 33, we plan to enjoy the last full day here until our flight to Larnaca on Tuesday morning.

On Sunday evening, the full extent of the Coronavirus crisis kicks in. Friends in Cyprus start messaging us with emergency new legislation measures that have been announced by the President of Cyprus in Nicosia, which will affect us. Also the virus is now becoming a very real threat here in India. The majority of people now wearing masks, people looking at us two westerners suspiciously. It is no longer a safe place to be.

We could write a whole chapter and verse about the nightmare 48 hours that ensued, however, we prefer to advise that by Wednesday evening we are safely ensconced at a Family member’s home in Essex, England for the forseeable future, having been unable to return to our beloved home in Cyprus.

This isn’t how we planned to pen our closing blog entry, but the uppermost priority is for safety and prayers that this virus can be overcome with as few mortalities as possible.

Thank you for reading. Best Wishes to all and keep safe.

Delhi airport

Delhi airport

Posted by KellyDevlins 01:33 Archived in India Comments (0)

Ramnagar with Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve Safari

Days 52, 53 & 54

storm 14 °C
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Thursday/Friday & Saturday

Spend Thursday and Friday familiarising ourselves with Ramnagar town, which includes a visit to the railway station. The ever-worsening situation regarding Coronavirus has resulted in flight cancellations. Gulfair have once more cancelled our flight out of Delhi to Larnaca, via Bahrain. Having cancelled our booked flight for Wednesday, offering Thursday, a further email cancelled Thursday and offered Tuesday. So far, it’s still likely to be Tuesday, fingers crossed.

Thursday

Travel plans again thrown into chaos. Our attempts to re-schedule rail tickets between Ramnagar and New Delhi are unsuccessful. The daily service between these two places are fully booked in AC Chair Class and have waiting lists of over twenty on both of the dates we are trying to book. Cattle class is not an option. The ticket reservation staff are not terribly helpful so we return to our hotel and spend an hour or more cancelling our train reservation, fiddling around on the Indian Rail Booking site, and eventually are able to confirm the information given to us earlier. Train travel is definitely out of the question.

Email arrives confirming flight details for Tuesday, but subject to change probably. Next, we go looking for taxi quotes for the journey we need to take on Sunday morning. £60 seems to be the going rate for this 257kms/5 hour ride, both at the taxi rank near the bus station, and through our hotel management team, so we ask our hotel to arrange. Apart from walking around Ramnagar town, it is a quiet day. Weather hot and sunny, but likely to change.

Friday

A forty minute walk brings us to the Jim Corbett Forestry Offices in Ramnagar town. Although we gained an entry permit on-line months ago for a safari trip on Saturday afternoon, we still need to hire a driver and gypsy vehicle to take us, and a ranger guide, which are mandatory. This is arranged and will cost £30 in addition to our pre-paid permit. Very much looking forward to our safari and hope it will be memorable.

We are taking breakfast and evening meals at our hotel, mostly in our spacious bedroom. Mainly because we are the only guests (again) and it is a bit weird sitting in a large dining room on our own. With all the hyperbole about Corona virus there is a distinct lack of Western tourists generally, in fact we haven’t seen any in Ramnagar, and consequently, getting used to the constant stares we receive from the locals. It does feels to us that we are in a bubble of self isolation, minus the threat of illness. Incidentally, there are currently no recorded cases of the virus in Utteranchand.

The afternoon undergoes a change in weather and we have thunderstorms, leaving us isolated in our comfortable room, again watching cheesy Hollywood films and dinner in front of the T.V. It is starting to feel like a wind down as we approach the end of our eight week trip.

Saturday

Up early, it has finally stopped raining. We are keeping our fingers crossed for this afternoon’s Safari. Conditions are not ideal for spotting animals in a National Park, but we don’t exactly have a Plan B.

As we leave for Delhi fairly early tomorrow, we settle our hotel bill at lunchtime and thank the young manager Surendra for his hospitality and compliment him on the comfort we have enjoyed, and the hospitality shown by all of his staff.

Pleased with our praise, he then insists on showing us around the two hotel extensions, currently under construction, which will turn this 8 Bedroom Party/Wedding venue into a 180 Bedroom luxury Hotel and banqueting venue, with fantastic landscaping and a large swimming pool in the 6 acres of gardens, completion due last quarter of 2020.

It is very impressive and we are certain it will fill a gap in the market here once it opens in October. And it will have a bar!

Meanwhile, our Gypsy and Driver, Shamshad, arrive on time, but our worst fears on the weather front are realised. The sky is overcast and there is a distant rumble of thunder and sheets of lightning. Paula’s favourite weather (not). Luckily we have our waterproof clothing, purchased in Almora a week ago, which is just as well because the Gypsy pull-over canvas roof is for midgets and we would have found it impossible to see anything, and risk damaged necks while scanning the Park for wildlife. We choose fresh air and very cold rain, but dressed as we are, remain relatively warm and dry in our waterproof jackets and trousers.

We park at the gates, pick up our guide for INR 700 (£7.50) and a pair of binoculars for Inr 200 (£2). We are the first first into the Reserve when the gates open, and off we go at speed. Sitting in the raised rear seat we are feeling like royalty as we bump along the trails into the Bijrani Zone of Jim Corbett National Park. This Park was created in 1939 by a British chap, called Jim Corbett, of course, who was born here in Utteranchand. It boasts all species of wildlife, but what visitors really like to spot are TIGERS!

In view of the weather conditions we don’t hold out high expectations, but the three and a half hour ride offers thrilling driving and spectacular views of the area. In total we saw: three species of Deer, Mountjack/Barking deer, Spotted deer and Sambar deer. Also a Hoopa, Peacocks, Bee eater birds a myriad of others we could not identify. We also saw Grey Langurs, Rhesus monkeys and a Jackal that runs across the path in front of us.

Sadly, we didn’t see one of the reputed 17 Tigers in the tourist section of Jungle but we were very close. Our guide noticed that some of the Sambar deer were agitated and we heard a Mountjack barking a warning. A Tiger was on the prowl nearby,for sure. Two of the guides glimpsed it in the distance but it went to ground, and although exciting at the time, we tourists never gained a sighting.

There are many elephants in the reserve both semi tame and wild, but although we saw fresh signs of their droppings, again it was a no show. We conclude that these animals dislike the weather as much as we do and were keeping dry deeper in the Park.

Apparently, so our Guide tells us, there are around 50,000 deer in the Park and over 200 tigers residing in the 1,318sq kms along with 600 elephants.

Our Ranger Guide, Brem, has excellent spoken English and his knowledge and experience makes for an enthralling afternoon. We feel lucky to have randomly chosen both an excellent Guide and Driver.

6pm and we are delivered back to our hotel, just before dusk, having thoroughly enjoyed our adventure. Made our dinner reservation and retired for the evening, reflecting on the day.

Waiting at gate to Bijrani Zone

Waiting at gate to Bijrani Zone

Bijrani Gate

Bijrani Gate

Leo with binoculars

Leo with binoculars

Leo ready for animal-spotting

Leo ready for animal-spotting

Tiger claws marking territory, Jim Corbett NP

Tiger claws marking territory, Jim Corbett NP

Gypsy, our transport in Bijrani Zone

Gypsy, our transport in Bijrani Zone

Banyan Tree with termite mound in foreground

Banyan Tree with termite mound in foreground

Samba Buck watching us

Samba Buck watching us

Vista with Deer herd grazing

Vista with Deer herd grazing

Young Spotted Deer on our track

Young Spotted Deer on our track

Spot Leo Animal-Spotting

Spot Leo Animal-Spotting

Deer hiding in undergrowth

Deer hiding in undergrowth

Spotted Deer

Spotted Deer

Bijrani Forest floor with resting Samba Deer

Bijrani Forest floor with resting Samba Deer

Spotted deer

Spotted deer

Grey Langur Monkeys

Grey Langur Monkeys

Spotted Deer

Spotted Deer

Last night at our hotel

Last night at our hotel

Posted by KellyDevlins 20:26 Archived in India Comments (0)

Binsar to Ramnagar, via Ranikhet

Day 51

overcast 14 °C
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Wednesday 11 March

Woke today at 6 am, warm under a hundred weight of blankets and extra duvets. Outside it is a lot cooler and damper than yesterday. The Himalayas completely obscured by cloud. So lucky we have had two days of brilliant clarity.

We enjoy our usual routine at the Government rest houses, Tea at around 7am, followed by breakfast of Omelette and toast with more tea at 8 am. Very civilised and most welcome.

After breakfast we are soon on our way to Ranikhet, a town two hours further South. As it is lower down the mountains, we hope warmer. After hours of winding roads and a ten minute stop for Chai at a roadside stall, we reach the town.

We were not aware that it was a Military base with Soldiers and barracks everywhere, even the Golf course, (the only one we have seen in India), had a live fire-range close by.

Our intended destination, the Chevron Ranikhet Club, advertises a Bar and free Wifi, (two items on our wish list today). However, when we arrive, this ex British Colonial building is now used as a Private club for Indian Officers, but is a little tired and devoid of any human presence. Although disheartened, we still ask to see a room and check on facilities. It is cold, the rooms are not well maintained and to top it off, as a military area, all Wifi and phone reception is blocked. We thank the receptionist and return to our car.

We are pretty disappointed at this stage, and having passed through the main town of Ranikhet, distinctly unimpressed. Another snap decision. Let’s carry on and travel the extra 92kms to Ramnagar, which is our ultimate destination in Utteranchand, before our return to Delhi for our flight home next week. Vinod is happy to continue. Bearing in mind that travel on these mountain roads mean average speeds of between 25 and 30kms per hour, it is a long drive.

Finally, we arrive in Ramnager at 4pm, we then have to persuade the Management Team at the Blue Orchid Hotel to honour our 4 night pre-paid booking, albeit two days from now. Remember, having cancelled our planned trip to Munsiyari due to bad weather, we are now ahead of schedule.

To our delight and relief, the Manager takes all of 20 seconds to reassure us that our booking can be transferred. The hotel is pretty luxurious compared to the TRH accommodations and we cannot wait to hit the bathroom!

It is a real Hotel. Satellite TV, Integral A/C-Heating, freshly laundered towels, toiletries and clean throughout. We drop our bags and go in search of a western style restaurant. After an hour walking around , we realise that Ramnagar is pretty much the same as other Utteranchand towns - still Low budget Indian Cafe/ street food, or Bars that you wouldn’t want to step inside.

We cut our losses and Flag down a Tuk-tuk to a sophisticated looking wine shop, which boasted a fine selection of wines and spirits at reasonable prices. To Leo’s delight, they also stock Pringles and Cadbury’s chocolate bars - fantastic! We then return to our Hotel.

We give our Driver Vinod, the rest of the day off after his mammoth mountain drive and realise that we no longer require his Services. He should be a happy man as he can go home to Rishikesh two days earlier than expected.

Dinner is ordered and taken in our Bedroom, as the main Dining hall has a kiddies party on, balloons and Unicorns swaying everywhere. So we spend our evening watching cheesy American films and enjoying our best Indian/ Asian meal since we reached the mountains. With a tipple, and chocolate, very nice.En route to Ramnager

En route to Ramnager

Mointain route to Ramnagar

Mointain route to Ramnagar

The highway ahead

The highway ahead


The Blue Orchid, Ramnagar

The Blue Orchid, Ramnagar

Hotel main entrance

Hotel main entrance

Posted by KellyDevlins 21:26 Archived in India Comments (0)

Binsar

Day 50

sunny 18 °C
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Tuesday 10 March

A knock on the cottage door at 7 10am brings a flask of steaming hot Cardamon tea. Most welcome, thank you.

A further knock at 8.10pm brings a tray with hot omelettes, buttered toast and more tea, minus the Cardamons, which we prefer. Paula throws the leftover uneaten toast to the family of Macaque monkeys, who greedily devour it, but then scale the high wall looking for more, forcing her to chase them away.

Another clear, hot sunny day forecasted, but it will remain cool until around 10am, so our little heater is on again.

We call our Driver and ask him to take us to another temple, 6kms away, around midday. He seems a bit reluctant and suggests we leave immediately, explaining that today is a "crazy Holi day when most men are drinking the wine and throwing the paint".

However, he agrees and we set off along a rough narrow road towards the village. Within five minutes we have been pelted with yellow paint so make a hasty retreat. Back to our room. The TRH staff tell us to stay in our room for the remainder of the day, telling us to keep safe.

The sun is warming nicely, so sitting on our terrace is not such a chore. However, after a couple of hours of inactivity we are a bit bored and decide to venture out to find a hotel or restaurant offering wi-fi, if such a place exists in this beautiful but remote village. Strolling along there is very little traffic, it would appear that the Holi celebrants are all partied out and the road is very quiet.

After about twenty minutes, we discover a quaint-looking roadside Cafe called Mohan's Retreat. Venturing inside we are pleasantly surprised to find a modern restaurant boasting free wi-fi. Set amongst mature gardens with options of dining inside or out on the terraces below. We decide to order lunch. Toasted cheese sandwiches with french fries, a very tasty change from our recent fare. Then finally, we get our outstanding blogs published.

We pass a comfortable couple of hours, enjoying the ambience. There are many other diners and nice Reggae background music. There are promising Trip Advisor reviews plastered on the Reception walls and we ponder over whether we should book up a room for tomorrow night. There are two very good reasons not to do so:

1. The dismal weather forecast for tomorrow
2. Booking.com confirms their room rate, with taxes, a whopping £65pn

There is a lot more cloud gathering as the afternoon wanes, and soon the chill wind sends us back to our room to put on extra layers of clothing. The weather for the next couple of days promises cloud, rain and a sharp dip in temperature. The overhead grey clouds confirm the forecast.

Tomorrow we are off to Ranikhet which at lower altitude is supposed to be warmer than here. We hope this will be the case. We also wish for internet facilities and a local Pub would be nice.

Sun sets just after 6pm, so inside, fire on. Dinner presented to us at 8pm, in our room, a Paneer and Veg curry, steamed rice, lentil dhal, chapatis, and yes more tea!

Ladies dancing, enjoying Holi celebrations

Ladies dancing, enjoying Holi celebrations

Clouds gathering, cooler weather ahead

Clouds gathering, cooler weather ahead

Late afternoon from balcony

Late afternoon from balcony

Mountain range - what a difference a day makes

Mountain range - what a difference a day makes

Crisp bag showing signs of our current altitude

Crisp bag showing signs of our current altitude

Posted by KellyDevlins 08:12 Archived in India Comments (0)

Binsar & Holi Festival

Day 49

sunny 22 °C
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Monday 9 March

A clearer morning, promising a good day with blue skies, sunshine and temperatures forecasted to reach 20deg. Late morning we leave Almora, heading to Binsar, another hill station, only an hour’s drive away.

If we have a goal today, it is to avoid the Holi Processions who parade through the towns and villages banging drums, shaking tamborines and singing. Not to mention the throwing of copious amounts of red and yellow dye at each other. The Holi festival celebrates ‘friendship’, what a nice occasion.

Our Hotel is a Government run tourist rest-house, and as with most of these establishments they are situated in prime positions, always in fantastic locations with spectacular views. Unfortunately, they are mostly tired and in need of refurbishment. There has been no investment in these tourist houses since they were built, it seems, which, judging by the condition of them, could easily be in excess of 30 years. However, the Employees, from Managers through to luggage carriers are excellent and the food, if hot is generally O.K. The Deenapani Rest House is no exception. Charging £20 per room per night inclusive of Government and Service Taxes, Dinner, Tea & Breakfasts, great value for money.

We have a cottage, with a raised terrace overlooking the full Hiimalayan range. It is warm with a clear blue sky and we are happy. Settled in, we walk to the top of the hill, about 6,000 ft above sea level, we have a panoramic view of about 180 degrees of the Himalayas and Panchchuli range about 300 km in spread.

Photos taken, we return to our room to disrobe. It is sunny and over 20 deg. We had been told by our driver that the temple 3 km away was well worth visiting, it’s name is Kasar Devi, he said it was famous but couldn’t tell us why. We decide to find out.

Our route takes us through groups of white clad boys and men covered in dye, all happy and banging drums. The women are also celebrating but in their own gardens. Large groups singing and dancing. Very colourful and melodic. We manage to navigate through them by keep wishing everyone we meet ‘Happy Holi’, thus saving our clothes from the dye.

We reach the Temple entrance and climb steeply to the actual temple where a holy man blesses us and anoints our head with, yes you’ve guessed it red and yellow dye. The notice board tells us that this area was visited by the Hippie poet Alan Ginsberg and thus became part of the Hippie trail pilgrimage and there are still signs of it today. Also, interestingly, it lies on the Van Alan belt and is supposed to contain positive electro-magnetic energy, one of only three sites on Earth, Stone Henge and Machu Pichu being the other two, although we have to say we never felt the effect.

The afternoon is spent on our balcony, book reading and soaking up the atmosphere, with the Mountain range constantly changing in hue and cloud formation in front of us. We are also entertained by many Macaque Monkeys foraging for food below, and sometimes climbing onto our terrace. We also see two Condors majestically gliding on warm air currents above.

Dinner arrives on a tray at 8pm prompt. Once the sun dips behind the mountains, the air temperature plummets to around 1deg. Time to engage the one bar portable electric heater and close both doors. Better to eat here in our room than in the large freezing cold communal dining room in the main hotel.

Our feast consists of hot tea in a thermos, steamed rice, lentil dhal, and a mild egg curry. Simple but tasty food, but getting a bit too repetitive, we hope for more varied fare when we travel to Raniket on Wednesday. We are also looking forward to finding wi-fi as we have had no reliable connection anywhere for a few days. Not critical, but we have little knowledge of the outside world.

Maybe not a bad thing?

Kasar Devi Temple, Binsar

Kasar Devi Temple, Binsar

Statue with Holi paint

Statue with Holi paint

Kasar Devi Temple, Binsar

Kasar Devi Temple, Binsar

Himalaya range

Himalaya range

Himalayan Mountains

Himalayan Mountains

Walking near our TRH Deenapani

Walking near our TRH Deenapani

TRH Deenapani, Binsar

TRH Deenapani, Binsar

Incredible Himalayas

Incredible Himalayas

Anazing Himalayas

Anazing Himalayas

Posted by KellyDevlins 02:12 Archived in India Comments (0)

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