Archive for June, 2011

Elf and Safety

June 9, 2011

Our architect friend, David, was telling us about the difficulties he has in conducting business in India. He has been interested in finding out his legal responsibilities when it comes to designing and building houses. He purchased a copy of the 1996 Act dealing with the construction industry.
Now, the total lack of basic ‘elf and safety norms’ on any construction site is staggering. Bamboo pole scaffolding against 6 story flats with no platforms, a rope tied round the ankle of a painter to stop a fall to ground, no shoes, no helmets, women carrying enormous rocks on their heads, the list is endless.
Yet 14 years ago an Act was passed based (stolen from) the EU or US Health and Safety laws. It covers everything from the bandages that should be carried in ambulances and maximum weights to be carried by women, to protective clothing, maximum hours blah, blah, blah.

Yet virtually nil observance of said regs are ever seen. Go figure.

End of Holiday: Odds and sods round up

June 9, 2011

Ranikhet-Goa
Road mending only takes place when top-level politicians are due to visit the area. The fact that there will still be a lot of poor roads when he arrives is easily glossed over. The police stop all traffic an hour before he is due to pass the crumbling highway. Uncomfortable journey.
Great Pizza place (totally out of place) at Kathgodam railhead.
Saturday night Delhi-bound trains are to be avoided.Too crowded.
Where’s Old Delhi Station’s nearest Metro station? 500 meters away through backstreets without adequate signage. Plus in the early morning you have to step over/round pavement sleepers. And it doesn’t run before 6.11am. We arrived at 5.15am.
Airport Express metro is brilliant, shame it doesn’t go to the domestic terminal (yet). But the plus is for Rs25/- the transfer bus is good.
It’s obvious that monsoon has arrived in Goa, just as we hoped. No sweat for four months, but hacked off after two.

Day 10 You cannot entirely forget you are in India

June 9, 2011

There have been a couple of incidents while we have been in Ranikhet to provide reassurance that we’re still in India.

We stopped to have lunch at a restaurant in a new hotel in the bazaar area. Now the bazaar faces the mountains and this was the day that we realised the mountains had come into view after rain. If you had a hotel facing the Himalaya, where would you put the restaurant? Of course, you’d design it to face the street, wouldn’t you? All that activity to watch: cars, buses, bikes, pedestrians, rubbish, lock-up shacks and the big plus of noise. Hell! Who wants to look over a beautiful valley and a fairly regular appearance of the High Himalaya, while one is dining. Can’t think of anyone, can you?

It reminded us of a story an architect friend in Goa told us. It concerned blueprints for a house being sent for duplication, which were returned inverted. The builders knew no different and built the house back to front.

Then there was pudding at the Club the other night. Alison likes gulab jamun (like a cross between a miniature dumpling and a doughnut, served in a rose-scented syrup). Usually you get two in one serving. So she was surprised to get only one, all on its own. Then a second one followed, also all on its lonesome. Keeps the washers-up busy we suppose.

A last look. That's Nanda Devi, just to left of centre.

The monkeys and Mr Masood’s lunch

June 9, 2011

No problem outsmarting humans

Khalid Masood, the owner of Norton’s, has lived in Ranikhet all his life and he’s now past 70, knows more then anyone about the property and hotel trade in the town, but he’s no match for the monkey’s when they are raiding his fruit trees. He had just collected his lunch delivered by his driver and was on the way back in through the front door when he spotted the raid starting. Bringing his son and Martin into the mix, the three of them set about throwing stones at the monkeys to get them off the roof and out of the fruit trees.

Alison emerges from the hotel to see one monkey surreptitiously examining the bag that Khalid has left by the door. With everyone else occupied with the commotion above, no one has noticed that this lone monkey is helping himself to Kahlid’s lunch. Out come the rotis (flat breads), then it’s dal (lentils), all over the concrete. Organised crime… who says it doesn’t pay?

Just in case Khalid is reading this, the story is true, but we are not sure if was really your lunch.

Day 10 More walking and sunshine

June 9, 2011

Whisper it but Ranikhet is very different to the rest of India. Someone had written in the visitors’ book at Norton’s a thank you for ‘giving him a vacation from his holiday in India’.

It’s peaceful, clean, fresh – as you walk around
you could be in many places, but real India, it’s not.

It was a clear night so we got up at 4.45am to see the Himalayas at daybreak. Not as impressive as sunset at this time of year, but you have to catch them early otherwise the heat haze starts to build and the clouds lower to obscure them. We have only had a good view of them because of the rain – endless sunshine and they don’t appear – there’s a metaphor for life there, somewhere.

Dawn. Mt Trisul far left

Not much to do here except stroll around getting lost on the trails, enjoying the insects and birdsong, the stop of a coffee every once in a while. 10 new birds identified, including a aerobatic nightjar and Oriental Pied hornbills. A few architectural curiosities and a temple, overburdened with bells. Bliss.

Bell temple

Day 9 Unexpected display from Nanda Devi

June 9, 2011

Above the clouds, but still no view


Early hours of the morning, woken by thunder and rain. The storms rumbled on from around 3am and finally cleared around 11am. We had to make a trip downtown around 8am, to try to book last minute rail tickets. So we set off in a break during the clouds at 7.30 to attempt our purchase.

We were successful, and returned for a well-earned breakfast. Once the clouds cleared and the sun came out, we set about exploring the trekking routes between The Mall and the bazaar. There was a map at the head of the trail we started down, however we soon got lost as the trails seemed to bear no relationship to the map (we’d even taken a picture of the map just in case).

One of four (all inaccurate and different) maps

. We guess that four abstract artists were commissioned for the work.

We did finally make it down to the bazaar, not where we expected to be. We found another map at the opposite end, however it did not match the map at the top end. Ho hum.

After lunch we set out to walk back up the hill and were surprised to see the high Himalaya appearing out of the clouds. We’d been told that from Almora and Ranikhet you could see the mountains, however given that at Kausani (much closer) we didn’t see anything during the day and not always much in an evening, we didn’t expect much here.

How wrong we were. As the mid afternoon progressed, Nanda Devi, India’s highest and not far short of Everest, Trisul, the ridge in between them, and Nanda Ghunta were increasingly clear. Beautiful but difficult to capture on camera. The human eye does much more justice to the scene.

At last! Mt Trisul,50 miles north.

Day 8 Entering the time warp

June 9, 2011

Norton's Hotel

Dawn in Almora meant more thunder storms and we escaped in a shared jeep. We took the scenic route to Ranikhet, arriving in a rather unprepossessing, grey Indian market, two hours later. The central road through the market was closed, we think due to the rain, so the jeep had to drop us at one end of the road and we walked about one Km up hill to find the taxies up to ‘The Mall’.

It’s another world. In most Indian towns ‘The Mall’ means the main shopping centre. Here in Ranikhet it means an uphill drive, leafy, lots of trees, few buildings, and (whisper this in India) very quiet.

We fetched up at Norton’s Hotel, a slice of Anglo India caught in a time warp. It’s been around since the Raj and feels it. Rather neglected now, falling down, crying out for a make over, nevertheless it’s charming. If you don’t mind torn lino, fading carpets and antiquated plumbing. We don’t. Our room’s warm (for room read two bedrooms, sitting room and en suite – all for 600/- per night, about £8). It is very dilapidated but comfortable. Huge lounge to sit in, lovely garden all around.

The weather cleared up as the day went on and we walked down into town and back (about 6km but all up hill on the way back). You can walk on the road, however there are lots of pathways criss-crossing the hill to give you a traffic free experience (of which more tomorrow).

In the evening, we did the Raj thing and went to ’The Club’. In this case, the Ranikhet Club. I didn’t mention earlier but one of the reasons Ranikhet is under developed is that it’s a cantonment town – home to the Kumaon Rifles, India’s most famous regiment. And the Club is/was the officers’ club. Outsiders can have day membership and use the bar, restaurant, billiards room and even stay there. We went for a drink in the nicest bar we’ve encountered anywhere in India, including Goa. Leather bar stools, comfy chairs, a proper bar with drinks displayed behind.

Bars are not all that common in India outside Goa and the metros, and they’re often nothing like as nice as this one, so it was a pleasant surprise to be able to have this at our disposal for the end of our holiday.

Day 7 Back to Almora for a little stormy weather

June 9, 2011

Almora Rainbow

Made our way back down to Almora today, for a stop to consider how to spend the remaining few days of the holiday.

We have spent the afternoon in our room, admiring some spectacular weather. We get rainstorms in Goa but we’ve never felt so much like we were in the middle of one before. At 1,600 or so meters, the town of Almora greets its storms at about the same height as the town. And we’re in the top floor room. So you watch the cloud advancing towards you at the same level that you’re standing at. The sound of thunder comes first, then the wind, then finally the rain. Terrifically exciting, and at the moment we have a rainbow as well.

It does mean we almost certainly won’t have a view of the mountains tonight. We’ve decided to head to Ranikhet tomorrow, which means we will have taken in all the major hill stations in this part of Uttarakhand. It’s supposed to be under-developed and very quiet up on ‘The Mall’. The perfect place, according to the guidebooks, to ‘take a break from India’. We shall see.

Day 6 out and about around Kausani

June 9, 2011

Don't add milk

Dawn arrived rather misty and foggy, and repeated looks out the window from 5am onwards suggested the mountains had gone into hiding again. However if you knew where to look, Trisul was visible from around 7am onwards.

We took a half day taxi ride out to the Bajinath temple. It’s not a particularly impressive temple compared to many we’ve seen, but the setting in the bend of a river was beautiful and the main shrine is devoted to Parvati (Shiva’s consort), which is unusual.

We followed up with a visit to the Kausani tea plantation, where they make a green tea. Various claims are made for its health-giving properties, including it being an anti-fever, -oxidant, -analgaesic (not sure that’s quite what they meant) and anti-heart problems. It’s delicious, anyway, although we would have liked chance to taste and compare a number of pickings and leaf sizes.

Onwards to a shawl factory. Kumaon is known for its wool and embroidery. And when you see the work that goes in, you understand why the shawls cost what they do. Some of them are works of art.

We finished up back at Gandhi’s ashram for some peace and quiet, and a view of the prayer hall which doubles as a Gandhi museum.

The previous day, Martin had ricked his back and was spending quite a lot of the time lying down, walking with a bent back or crawling on all fours. Although we hadn’t pre-booked anywhere in advance, his situation scuppered plans to head to villages lying immediately below the Himalaya. Too many bad roads and too many miles on them.
NB After four years, Uttarakhand is still Uttaranchal out in the sticks.

Day five – even further north to Kausani

June 9, 2011

Two of the Five Cooking Pots

Always good to start the day with a laugh. Today’s came courtesy of a delivery lorry to the workshop in front of our hotel. When driving into the yard under the sign for the shop, they’d failed to account for the fact that once unloaded, the rise in height of the lorry would stop it exiting under same sign. What to do? Much discussion and careful manoeuvring into the corner followed (guess what – the yard concrete floor isn’t level). The lorry just about exited, but not before the back left hand corner had given the sign a mighty clout. No wonder nothing lasts in India.
Onward, ever onward, this time the 40km ride to Kausani by taxi. Way back in 1929 Gandhi came to this hill station and declared that he didn’t understand why Indians went to Switzerland for their health when they had views and clean air of the Himalayas such as this little place affords. Of course Gandhi was perhaps not taking account of the fact that many of his fellow Indians didn’t have his energy or commitment. There was no road at the time, so he walked.

We took an easier route but it’s still a considerable journey as the roads deteriorate even more as you rise in height and the idea that two cars might want to go in each direction simultaneously has sometimes been lost on the road planners.

Nevertheless, we arrived and checked ourselves into the HimVadi, purportedly offering views of the objective of our journey- the High Himalaya. It’s supposed to be a honeymoon spot, with individual little cottages, although how I’d feel if I arrived on honeymoon there to find myself sharing the accommodation with a school party of 16 year olds from Kolkatta I’m not quite sure.

We were in an upstairs room with balcony but it was still pretty noisy when the teenagers were around. And still no view. Heat haze and clouds obscured the mountains beyond the foothills in front. Intermittent rain arrived during the afternoon, with one heavy downpour and lots of rumbling thunder. The skies cleared around 5pm, enough for a sunset with rainbow. And then, as if by magic as the sun descended, there was Trisul, and Nanda Ghunti, Nanda Devi (India’s highest mountain) and Panchuli (Five cooking pots). It wasn’t the crystal clear view you see on the tourist board brochures, however we suspect many of the pictures taken under blue skies are taken during winter, when the lower temperatures will keep the atmosphere clearer.
That’s the best photo we could get! Those mountains are nearly fifty miles away.