Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday December 21 - Delhi to Chicago to home

It was around 1:00 AM and we were so hoping they would board us sooner than later.

We finally boarded, found our seats and settled in. The cabin attendant appeared to be more personable than the one for the flight coming in from Chicago, she wasn't rude or anything but this man appeared to be always taking the extra step.

The details:
Aircraft: BOEING 777-300ER JET
Duration: 16hours and 0 minutes
Distance (in Miles): 7484
Seats 9H and 9K

The flight left on time, it was very smooth and quiet. 4 hours into the flight we were woken up for dinner at 6:00 AM. I supposed it was dinner time in Chicago - 5:30 - 6:00 PM. All the dinner choices were good and as was the wine that was served before, during, and after the meal. Nothing wrong with a couple glasses of wine accompanied by an excellent cheese tray at 7:00 AM.

After dinner was over, the cabin lights were turned and it's back to sleep for a long time - it is a 16 hour flight after all.

A couple of hours before landing we were served breakfast, not sure if either 3:00 AM central time or 2:30 PM IST qualifies for breakfast, but it was good anyway.

The rest of the flight was uneventful and we landed early by a 45 mins. We cleared customs and immigration, collected our luggage and got on the 6:30 AM Wisconsin Coach Lines bus instead of the 8:30 as planned. This was all good except we had to get Sanjit up at 6:30 AM on a Sunday morning, to pick us from Racine two hours ahead. Actually "jolted out of bed" is the term he used.

He was waiting for us at the Racine stop and we were soon home catching up on the last 3 weeks events. After he left it was unpacking and laundry time.


It was a good vacation, the travel agent we used delivered on all that they promised. I don't believe I can classify this as a memorable vacation or even one of the best. There were parts of the trip like Rann, which We wanted to see, and might repeat but nothing much that I can think of that is worth repeating.

There were memorial events throughout the trip but classifying the total vacation as "good" is the best I can do.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday December 20 - Kolkata to Delhi

We needed to be leaving for the airport around 4:30 PM, so spent a rather lazy morning around the house and then catching up on a few phone calls, errands, and finishing up packing.

We had a late lunch and then changed into our travel clothes, which felt warm and binding even in these cooler temperatures.

Arrived at the airport and checked in without any incidence. Went up to the lounge where there was a big spread of rather tasty food, free drinks and most importantly free wifi. There was a good 2-3 hours before flight time and it was rather relaxing and pleasant to sit and catchup with the outside world with a excellent glass of Pinot Grigio in hand.

The time went fast and we were pretty soon boarding our flight to Delhi:
Duration: 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Distance (in Miles): 816
Seats 2D and 2F

The flight was on time, short, smooth, and a full dinner was served. What more can one I ask for?

Landed in Delhi and proceeded to do the lounge, we had a good 3.5 hours to kill. The wifi at this lounge was too slow and erratic so I decided to use up the remainder of my Roaming Data.

There was food and drinks available but having already had 2 dinners in one evening, decided to settle on a glass of wine instead.

Nothing much to do except wait for the boarding call.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday December 19

Our plans today included going out for a late lunch with my brother, sis in law, niece, nephew, and nieces's son. This was going to be Sudip's treat. We picked a couple of restaurants and were in the process of discussing which one to go to, when we got the news that a taxi strike was in place from 6AM to 6PM.

There were 6 adults and a 5 year old, brother's car holds 4 maximum, so we were going take the car and a taxi. So we started discussing the feasibility of doing trips but even the nearer of the two restaurants would be at least an hour round trip.

Finally settled on take out from Tero Parbon, a restaurant famous for home style Bengali food. The younger generation didn't care for this choice at all. First they wanted Chinese and secondly they didn't want to eat at home. We went ahead with the plan anyway due to the logistic issues.

My brother and I went to the restaurant and did the ordering, had a gala time ordering everything under the sun and more, so much so that the restaurant manager kept telling us that some things were redundant. Of Course we didn't listen to him. We probably ordered all our childhood favorites, things that our mother used to cook so well.

As we were waiting for them to put the order together it dawned on us that other than the cash Sudip gave us we didn't have any money between the two of us ( at least I had my credit card). Amazingly we came literally within pennies of that amount including tax and tips. It's always an adventure in Kolkata.

The food was very good and there were little to no leftovers.

The rest of the day was spend in picking up loose ends, visiting my oldest aunt, packing, eating a light dinner and then going to bed.

Our last night in Kolkata, always sad leaving behind my relatives, childhood friends, and the vigor and life that the city offers at every step.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday December 18 - Sunderbans to Kolkata

We got a bit of a late start this morning, probably a result of all the gabbing into the wee hours of the night. We quickly loaded up into the boat and was underway by 8:30.

They served us breakfast shortly followed by tea and/coffee.

Our guide narrated to us the folklore on which the play that we saw last evening was based. It is a neat story of good vs evil and as most folklore has it, the good defeats the evil.

We saw some common animals like deer, wild boar etc, I was more intrigued by the amazing root system these swamp vegetation have.

Passed by a small and extremely rural village, I believe it was a fishing village. The boat owners are two brothers and through them we learnt that most villages are self sufficient to the point where the only thing they buy is salt. They also said that previously salt was processed in the communities as well but now it doesn't pay.

Soon it was time for lunch and it appeared that they were trying to get rid of as much food as they could, and thus we had a variety of just about everything.

After lunch we passed by the village where the boat owners are from and their father came with his grandson to wave at us, a very pleasant experience.

We docked shortly after, unloaded and waited for our bus to appear. After waiting a good 30-45 mins, it appeared that there was some kind of a mixup and we hired another bus to take us back to Baruipur.

A quick hello to my Aunt, and a bathroom break and we were in our car back to Kolkata, to let off my cousins at the designated locations and drive home.

Sunderbans was a place I always wanted to go for many reasons. It was the swamp land connecting India and Bangladesh and the home of the Royal Bengal Tiger.
Those were two of the biggest ones. So was it all I expected, was it a success, and would I go there again?

It wasn't anything like what I expected, I expected dense mangrove forests on either side forming a tunnel like effect, much like New Orleans or even Kerala, it turned out we stuck to the wide open rivers. I am not exactly sure why. Did we take the wrong tour, was our boat too large, or are those areas off limits to the common tourist? There were an abundance of narrow channels, but our boat never turned into any of them.

It was definitely a success based on the great time we cousins had together like we used to when growing up, laughing at the silliest things and almost forgetting we weren't teenagers any more.

Will I go there again? Yes I definitely will but with different expectations and arrangements.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday December 17

We were greeted by steaming cups of biscuits and tea or coffee an 7 in the morning, a very nice touch indeed

We got ready to leave pretty much on time and were shortly underway, amazing no one left anything behind.

The wind appears to be little stronger today and getting a bit uncomfortable. We decided to have breakfast downstairs, breakfast peas kochuri and spicy potatoes, one of my favorites and of course followed by coffee.

We couldn't "dump" our guide soon enough, he was of very little help and violated s few rules which could get in trouble for.

We let me off the same place we had picked him up yesterday and picked up our next guide from the next stop, Shubhendu Bikash Jotder. This man appeared to be much more knowledgeable and pleasant to chat with.

There was a flotilla of 5 cargo ships behind us, and the guide informed us that they were going to Bangladesh (Dacca - where both sides of my family are originally from), carrying fly ash from India. We all kind of got quiet, remembering that we will probably never be able to see our ancestral home where generations before us had lived and died, a sobering thought for us.

We made a couple of stops, where there were observation towers, one of them had two tigers that had been wounded. They were in a very large area and quite a bit of place to roam around as opposed to the cages where wounded animals are typically stuck.

It was a long walk and took some but worth it see the care that was being put in.

We had a good lunch on board, and the guide kept narrating on sights along the trip. We came to out destination Dayapur, late afternoon and checked into the
Royal Bengal Hotel.

It was a small two storied spartan hotel but clean with all the basic necessities.

They had a few gazebos set up and we enjoyed our tea/coffee and snacks there. When it got colder some of us went in and continued ou discussion inside, while others kept sitting until it started to get too chilly.

There was an enactment of a very popular local folk lore by a group from the local village, they put on quite a show for all the guests.

After the show was over we went to our rooms to freshen up and get ready for dinner. The dinner was cooked on the but served in the hotel dinning room. Today was my cousin's wife's birthday and the boat had cooked her favorite - vegetable fried rice and chili chicken. It was very tasty and we all enjoyed the change from Bengali food.

Retired for the night shortly after, our last night in the Sunderbans although we do have about 6 hours of cruising tomorrow before we dock.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday December 16 - Kolkata to Sunderbans

The plans were to gather my cousins and nephews and meet at a another cousin's house in Baruipur. From here, the twelve of us would go to the boarding point Godkhali, about 2 hours away on a chartered bus.

Except for being about an hour late (not unexpected), we pretty much followed the plan and piled on the bus, with our luggage, the tour organizer, his two helpers, and all kind of supplies.

In about an hour and half we stopped at the last big town called Canning and the organizer went down to pick up fresh supplies like meat fish etc. We were stopped for almost an hour but time went by quickly as we chatted, and watched people and scenery.

A part of our group, did an animated "high level" discussion, standing by the side of the bus.

Watched a wedding processing with decorative floats.

With more supplies on board we arrived at our destination within the hour and boarded our boat. All the boats are pretty similarly set up with chairs on the upper deck and either dining or sleeping quarters on the lower deck. Our original plan was to spend the second night on the boat, so we had one with the sleeping quarters.

The organizers took one look at our group a decided that no way we could stay on the boat with its very limited amenities so he took it upon himself to book us into a hotel the second night as well.

At the entry point to the Sunderbans we stopped, paid the fees and picked up our assigned guide, Ram Chandra Biswas. He was somewhat of a dud or in Bengali "buddhu", idiot.

It was time for lunch and we all marveled at the tasty food and the number of fishes they they were able to cook on the boat and while it was underway at that.

So far everything was going well, the plan for us was to be in the forest part today and in the tiger part tomorrow. Truthfully I couldn't tell the difference between the two parts, but the boat ride was pleasant and we were having a lot of fun.

The wind started to pick and it got uncomfortably chilly, so most of us decided to go downstairs. It was also starting to get dark outside and we were surprised that we hadn't reached our destination yet since boats weren't allowed to be moving in the dark.

Pretty soon it became obvious that we were lost and not only did our guide not know the way, he didn't have any navigational aid with him, so it ended up by him asking me to turn the GPS on in my phone. Everyone was getting pretty nervous by this time, we eventually did reach our destination, the Bonnie Camp at around 9:00 PM.

We were shown to our rooms, one dormitory style long room with 10 single beds, 5 on each side and another smaller room tht sleeps 4. The dormitory was quite well appointed with electrical outlets over each bed, running hot and cold water and two nice size bathroom and shower combination.

The camp actually closes 9:30 but the they were nice enough to make an allowance for us, so we could go to the boat have our dinner and be back in.

We chatted a bit into the night and finally fell asleep, in our comfortable beds.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday December 12 -Monday December 15

The days were mostly spent on family visits and enjoying sampling various tidbits that relatives knew were our favorites. A rather enjoyable 4 days.

Monday evening, we stopped to buy a small suitcase to take to the Sunderbans. It was quite an adventure. The store was run my a msn in his mid 30s and his extremely overbearing mother, who would give him instruction on everything. I really did expect her to remind the som to go to the bathroom on time, yes it was that bad.

We finally walked out of there with a small purple suitcase and the last instruction of reminding her son to thank us.

Back at 18/1, that was juicy story at dinner time and so the ordeal was worth it.

We had an early dinner, packed our little suitcase and went to bed early.