Tuesday, January 24, 2012


January 23, 2012
Received a very nice letter from Compass in reply to our complaints. They admitted that the proper quality control measures had not been followed.

They offered us a generous refund, which we refused and 2 nights, 3 days, and a free car for those 3 days.

We plan to take advantage of the latter on our next trip.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sunday December 4

The flight left and arrived on time at Chicago. I slept most of the way rather well, apparently I can sleep better in an upright position in economy than in an almost horizontal position in spacious seats in Business Class.

The flight was uneventful and so was customs and immigration, can't complain.

How drab and boring everything looks outside, the sky is grey as well. What a contrast to India. Much as this is the best time weather wise, to go to India, it is the worst time to come back to the Midwest and face 3+ months of this.

Back to real life starting tomorrow.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Friday November 25 - Saturday December 3.

Friday November 25
Rang Arang - sari shopping
Lunch at South City Mall Mainland China.

Ran into a glass door at a shoe store and got a large bump on my forehead, sending the store personnel in a tizzy all the while Sudip pretended he didn't know me.

Got a very nice pair of high heeled sandals as long as I was there.

Sent Naseem to pick up Kaku from the airport. It is so wonderful that he is coming over to visit.
Jethima's House - huge political rally was going on in front of the house and it was very difficult to hear each other over the ruckus.

Went to Boro Kakima's house with Shakti - Minu my aunt (she and I are the same age) was there, a very nice surprise.
Cauliflower samosas cooked by Purnima, a special treat, then decided to skip dinner.

Saturday November 26
Lunch with Kaku at Zaranj
Bashi Pishi's house with Kaku

Sunday November 27
Lokkhu Pishi's House, was nice talking Androids with my nephew.
18/1 Fern Road
Shibpur, visiting with Chhobi Pishi and family. She had promised us a simple dinner and in reality it was an eleven course meal with three types of fish and one meat. We aren't complaining, everything was home cooked and fabulous, and most were Sudip's favorites. Sudip forgot his camera bag on the way back and realized it only after Mala, my cousin called. We turned around fortunately we had only travelled for around 10-15 mins.

November 28
Baruipur for the day - lots of good food and visiting. Mantu Kaka was there as well.

Tuesday November 29
Visited Dipti Pishi with Kaku and then went to lunch at Marco Polo. There was a 24 hour curfew on liquor sale at public places due to the elections tomorrow which was disappointing for Kaku since he wanted a beer.
Dinner at Mamata's house was excellent as always.

Wednesday November 30
Visited Shobha Pishi at Tutu's house
Went to Marco Polo with my cousins for dinner - a group of 20.

Thursday December 30
Visited and had lunch with Mohua's parents. It was a very good visit. Mohua's mother cooks very well and all the dishes Sudip loves.
Went to Oh Calcutta with Sudip's cousins - a group of 7.

Friday December 2
Last minute errands/shopping and packing.
Dinner at Mithu's House.
More Packing.
Saturday December 3
Checked out at 11:00 am and went to Mithu's.
Had a light lunch and left for the airport.

Arrived at the airport 3:30 pm Jet Airways 9W913 to Delhi - 737 - 700.

Flight took off at 5:50 pm (schd 5:35) Snacks and coffee or tea enroute.

Arrival 6:00 pm.Very long walk to AA departure gate.
AA 293. Started secondary security check and boarding at 11:15 pm.

We got the seats in the exit row and had lots of leg space.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thursday November 24

Today is Sudip's birthday, when I wished him this morning he had forgotten that it was his birthday.

Got a text from Sanjit with the birthday message as well.

The Lodge had our breakfast, consisting of poori & potatoes, toast and eggs and of course coffee. It was ready by 6:30am as we requested, the staff at this place is really helpful and goes out of their way to make the guests happy.

Left the hotel exactly at 7:30 and arrived at the airport around 11:45 am. We went over the Brahmaputra river bridge, it is a beautiful and wide river that i know almost nothing about. The next time i would like to found out more about it and take a cruise on it.

Piroshottam and Nayan called us and just kept saying sorry for all the things that went wrong. Of course the sorry did not make anything right. Our travel agent Compass had hired one sub in Guwahati, Puroshotham and he hired another sub Nayan for Manas. The problem was they were both inexperienced or more bluntly incompetent and would have ruined our stay in Manas had it not been for Bansbari Lodge management that helped change our itinerary and also gave as an experienced guide Umesh for nature walk the first day and for the all day safari the next day.

We got a call from the Compass rep as we were eating lunch and another one from her manager as we were about to enter security. So he is going to have to call us back later tonight. The security check was smooth and the personnel polite. We actually got to use the jetway, a first for me in India, flying a non Air India domestic flight. The flight left about 25 minutes ahead of schedule with a flying time of one hour and is expected to land in Kolkata early as well. The temperature in Kolkata is 30c/86f, that is warm for a November afternoon.

The plane is descending as I am writing this and the landscape is showing many streams and waterways and I am excited at the thought of being in Calcutta.
I couldn't get a satellite fix at all, it would have been nice to follow the path of the flight.

My brother Mithu, came with a Toyota Innova with Naseem as the driver, to pick us up. Naseem with his Innova will be ours for the duration.

We checked into the Guest House and went to spend the evening with my brother and his family. It being Sudip's birthday, Shusmi my niece, got a cake for him and we went to pick up some of his favorite dishes for dinner.

Came back to the guesthouse and retired for the night.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday November 23

Got up at 4:45 AM to get ready by 6:00. The plans had changed to a full breakfast of toast, eggs, and coffee prior to leaving for the all day jeep safari.

The Lodge gave us Umesh as our naturalist guide. He spotted many varieties of birds, the most memorable was the Great Indian Hornbill. Sudip got some lovely photographs.

We also saw one Makhna, a lone male without tusks and are considered to be unpredictable and dangerous.

We then took a short break near a guard station and got a good look and close up pictures of a rhino. All of a sudden I got flooded with text messages on my AT&T phone and realized I was getting cell signal from BT Cell which was a provider out of Bhutan.
This of course didn't last too long and it was back to "no signal" within minutes.

Along the way the road was blocked by a tame female elephant and no amount of coaxing by our guard or driver would make it move. The mahout then came over and led the elephant away, it was a funny and a neat sight, this huge animal meekly following her mahout.

Saw a peacock on a tree and got some nice shots.

We arrived at Mathangiri, the guesthouse was built on a high ground overlooking the Manas river with the Bhutan hills in the back. A beautiful, tranquil and unspoilt beauty.

We took a break and had tea and biscuits while enjoying this beautiful scenery. Sudip took a tumble on the climb back from the river but fortunately no harm done. We continued on to the Bhutan border, which was marked by a simple bolder and trekked inside for about a mile or so before returning back into the jeep to continue our safari.

At lunch time, we came back to the guesthouse and had a simple but tasty vegetarian lunch. After lunch sat at the riverside admiring the scenery and enjoying chit chat with one of the guests there who is from Bolpur. Started on our way back after an hour or so, rather reluctantly leaving this beautiful area.

More bird spotting on the way, not being a bird person and being acutely nearsighted, it got boring for me. The highlight of the bird spotting for Sudip was Scarlet Minivet, both male and female. It was a tiny bird but because of the male's brilliant red color I did manage to discern the pair from the leaves easily enough. The color of the Minivet is difficult to photograph as it changes due to the reflection of the sunlight. The female is bright yellow. Both are very beautiful.

More bird watching on the way back, Umesh spotted a leopard mother and cub and Sudip managed to get a glimpse of the cub as it disappeared into the bushes. Found out later that Sudip had actually captured the pair on his camera, though just briefly as a "smudge".

We also saw some wild elephants or more correctly heard the noise of branch breaking and shrubbery moving as they walked and ate next to the road in the tall grass.

There was of course the inevitable rhino on the side of the road, for such a large area with only 10 rhinos, they are sure easy to find.

Came back to the hotel tired, dusty, but happy.

The forest here is beautiful but the animals are rather elusive and hard to spot. Everyone told us we should be coming in Feb/Mar time frame when the grass is burnt and the animals easy to spot. I am a little skeptical and leery about this, to me the beauty of Manas is its dense and lush foliage, I hate to see a barren land instead.

The manager Mr. Dutta has gone home for the night again, apparently he vanishes when the lodge doesn't have too many guests. Tonight there only 3 couples.

Packing and getting ready for our flight to Kolkata tomorrow afternoon. The other guests had gone for a night safari and had seen black panther and also the two leopards that we just got a glimpse of. They showed us the pictures of the leopard caught in the spotlight looking scared or so I thought. Not sure whether I like this method of spotting animals by shinning powerful lights in their eyes and almost blinding them. I showed them my two tiger videos, one of the guides got interested in the butterfly
picture and showed his collection of butterfly pictures.

Dinner at 7:30 pm was simple and tasty as the other meals.
Retired for the night shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday November 22

The Lodge provided us with biscuit and tea or coffee at 5:45am, so we could leave on the elephant safari at 6:00, a nice touch.

It was a bigger elephant than the ones we rode before and was 50 years old and could accommodate 3 passengers. The mahout was very knowledgeable and helpful and tried to show us the birds and animals that the area is famous for.

We saw a solitary rhino, Hogg Deer, and birds.Apparently the main purpose of the elephant safari is to see rhinos. We decided to try and change tomorrow's elephant safari to another jeep safari or better yet an all day safari as suggested by Kishak Pathak, the assistant manager of the lodge.

After breakfast, the Lodge provided us the services of a naturalist guide, Umesh who took us on a long nature walk for bird sighting. He kept telling us that we would have seen many more birds if we had come early morning. The walk was very scenic and we saw several species of ducks. The best was the Brahmini Duck pair on the fork of Manas river, they flew out and got caught on Sudip's camera, that made his day. A beautiful sight and photograph.

The day warmed up quickly and ultimately got too hot for me to walk anymore, so we came back, freshened up and went in for lunch. The manager came back just prior to us going in for lunch.

The lunch was a tasty buffet and we were the only ones in the dinning room.Towards the end of our meal, an Austrian couple came in and a large group from Guwahati.The lodge is not stark or dusty as my first impression was. It is a rather well kept two story bungalow.

Yesterday I was thinking that I wish there were more guests in the lodge but the peace and quiet was wonderful and hope it will remain as such even with more guests. Nayan came with his Gypsye to pick us up and then we picked up our escort from the Forestry Service who carried a rifle and 5 bullets (as per requirement). There was a tiger cage in that compound. This Gypsye was going to be our safari vehicle today and tomorrow.

We went and spend about 3 hours and did not see anything beyond Hogg Deer. Unfortunately Nayan is not a naturalist or a guide and didn't know where to look for the animals or what the different kinds of birds were. This was rather disappointing.

It is a beautiful forest but rather frustrating. It got quite chilly at the end of the trip and I am glad I had my fleece with me. After we came back Mr. Dutta, the manager of the lodge suggested that he provide us a guide otherwise it will be a worthless trip again tomorrow. We readily agreed since we were concerned about driving aimlessly for a whole day without any sitings.
After much discussion back and forth with Compass and Puroshottam, we were finally able to exchange the two safaris for one all day jeep safari.

The plan is to have coffee and cookies at 5:45 and leave by 6:00 with packed lunches. We will be going to Methanguri at the Bhutan border and can walk across the border to Bhutan. Dinner is planned for 7:30 PM

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday November 21

Left Iora Lodge around 8:20 AM after a large breakfast. Aditya had made chicken biriyani and korma for us to take on the road, what a nice touch.

The lobby area had an interesting array of trusses, most of which were bamboo poles.

Mr. Guha said everyone was checking out today but there will be more guests coming in the afternoon. Everything and everyone was wonderful at Iora retreat except for the one unfortunate incident with the noise generated by the construction and the inability of the personnel to do anything about it.

The road to Manas went via Tezpur and we crossed the Brahmaputra. It is a huge river but there was patches of dry river bed in the center.

The road was under construction and had some really bad patches. We ate our packed lunch at a stop around noon. The road from the Guwahati turn off was even worse, it is under construction for a 4 lane highway.

We were running very late and decided to skip formal lunch and drive straight to the lodge. Nayan, our contact for Manas met us at the wayside were we were supposed to have lunch and briefed us on our itinerary. He didn't appear anywhere as enthusiastic or informed as Somnath.

We finally came to the Bansbari Lodge at 4:00 or so. It is located right at the entrance to the park where the elephant safari starts from.

My first impression was a stark, dusty and lonely building managed by a Mr. Dutta who was waiting for us and left for the night for his family home after making sure we would be properly settled in.

The staff appears to be very friendly and helpful. Khiru, was one such person ever attentive and always with a smile.

After a cup of tea/coffee we went for a short walk and talked with the guard at the entrance.

Apparently the Jeep safari is the best way to see animals since it goes way into the jungle and stays out after dark and spots animals by the spot light. I am looking forward to this.

Our Tata Docomo SIM does not work here anymore and of course I had figured out by this time that my AT&T SIM is not going to work anywhere in Assam. Manoj loaned us his BSNL SIM which is allowed to roam only on Cell One and the signal is extremely intermittent.

There is no wireless at the lodge either. A rather unique experience for me and a test of my ability to survive for 3 days without any Internet or cell coverage. I hope I make it, this is a first for me since I got my first GSM phone in September of 2003.

There is only two other guests in this lodge, it has 16 rooms. There will be 7 more rooms filled tomorrow. Similar to the Iora, all the guest except this one Danish couple checked out this morning.

It appears to be warmer here than Kaziranga and I expected the opposite being further north and closer to the mountains. We had an early dinner at 7:30 pm and retired for the night by 9:00 pm.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday November 20

Got up at 4:15 am to get ready by 5:00. Had cookies and coffee in the room and Manoj took us and Somnath to where the elephant safari starts from.

This morning we will be taking a safari into the Eastern Range. Today's ride was a 13 year male named Padman. The mahout was Monoj a helpful, informed, and friendly person. Tried his best to talk in Bengali with us and did a fine job of showing us many species of birds.

We saw a huge herd of swamp deer (Barasing), rhinos, buffaloes, Hogg deer, and wild pigs. I was a bit worried about having to straddle an elephant after my experience with the camel ride, but so far no ill effects. A very enjoyable morning indeed.

Breakfast was elaborate and scrumptious, showed our guide my two tiger videos. He appeared to be suitably impressed and asked many questions.

After breakfast we came back to our rooms, freshened up and I did some packing for our trip to Manas tomorrow.

After that Manoj took us to a tea plantation, something I have never seen before. It also had black pepper vines climbing the shade trees all over the plantations.

Lunch was again, specially made to order for us. Today being Sunday was a buffet lunch and since our lunch was special, they served us in the bar.

There is some construction going on in the resort and today the grinding, drilling, pounding appeared to be from just under our rooms and no amount of asking the front desk for an hour or so respite had any results. The noise continued until we had lunch and left for the afternoon safari. This was the only bad thing of our stay where everything else was great.

The jeep safari took us to the western range where we saw many animals including a monitor lizard and a fish eagle and another gorgeous sunset.

The guide Somnath and the driver Sunil were both very good and tried their very best to show us as much as they could.

Two great days at the Iora Lodge in Kaziranga. .

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday November 19

Got up at 4:00 am to get ready by 4:45. Had cookies and coffee in the room and Manoj took Somnath and us to where the elephant safari starts from.

This morning we will be taking a safari into the Western Range. We rode a 55 year old female elephant. It was a 4 passenger elephant and we had to wait for the other two to show up before we could start.

We were the last ones of the bunch but no harm done. We saw four rhinos including a mother and calf from quite close. Trying to take videos from top of an elephant is an adventure in itself.
We also saw a number of Hogg Deer, one with pretty impressive antlers although still in velvet. We also saw wild pigs and heard varieties of birds.

Came back and visited the 6 week old elephant calf, Visya with his blind mother. There were two aides, tending them and also keeping the over eager tourists at bay.

Back at the lodge and had breakfast, which was a buffet and a large spread including freshly made dosas and omellettes.

After breakfast, came back to our rooms to freshen up and then went to the bank for exchanging currency. Very pleasantly surprised by the friendly and helpful staff of the State Bank of India Manager. The young officer was pleasant and very interested in wildlife, so we had a pleasant chat.

We took some time to walk around the resort, it was sprawling and well thought out with lots of flowers and vegetation.

Had lunch, specially made to order for Sudip and mutton biriyani for myself.

Left for jeep safari at 2:00 pm and went to the Central Range. This was a private jeep and Somnath accompanied us. We saw wild elephants, several Hogg deer, rhinos, and many common birds.

On our way out we stopped to admire a glorious sunset behind a valley were several rhinos, buffaloes, and one wild elephant (probably a large bull without any visible tusks).

The safari was a little over 2 hours and it got rather chilly as the sun set.

At the lodge, went to have tea/coffee and decide on the dinner menu. We mentioned Aheli, a famous restaurant in Calcutta, and the wonderful restaurant staff prepared the most liked dishes from there. I am tempted to say it was better yet than Aheli's and of course the fact that was specially prepared for us made it even better.

Restaurant Staff:
Guha - Food Captain
Aloke Bhattacharjee - Restaurant Manager
Chef - Adity
All were just wonderful.

Retired for the night tired but happy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday November 18

Had the alarm set for 4:30 am but could not sleep past 3:30 and eventually got up at 4:00 am.
We had room service breakfast (eggs, toast and coffee). The coffee was excellent. Came downstairs and checked out, the hotel personnel were friendly and helpful and did everything with smiles.

Amenities - B
Service - B+
WiFi - Dependable.

Rahul, a Compass rep picked us up and brought us to the airport and saw us to the entrance beyond which non passengers were not allowed. Rahul asked me about the Bulls yet another Michael Jordan fan he admitted.

Check in and security was smooth with average wait. Boarded the bus to get the plane for Guwahati and the flight left at 7:45 am as scheduled.

Airline - IndiGo, A320 seats 1D and 1E. The flight was going on to Agartala after the stop at Guwahati. Our breakfast had been paid for and it was chicken Paratha served at room temperature and was surprisingly good. Unfortunately no hot beverage service was available and so no coffee.

The flight was smooth, the aircraft clean and the cabin crew friendly and helpful, and excellent, based on this leg of the flight I would highly recommend IndiGo. We flew past the eastern Himalayan Range, and we were fortunate to see this gorgeous sight clearly. I would recommend getting a seat on the port side, for an unobstructed view.

The flight descended to land and at about 100 feet went into to a steep climb, the pilot came on a bit later to say that he couldn't land due to bird activity and going around to try again.

Interestingly Sudip remembers the same thing happening the first time he came 40+ years back.

He was able to land at the second go around. The flight landed at Guwahati at 10:00 am inspite of the difficulty in landing.
My first impression of Guwahati was a pleasant surprise at the beautiful hilly surrounding, somehow I didn't at all expect this.

Puroshottam and Monoj met us at the airport. Manoj and his Innova will be with us until we leave for Kolkata next Thursday.

I turned my cell on and there wasn't any reception and even though a manual network scan showed about 10 providers, it was not allowed to register on any of them. Our Tata Docomo SIM worked fine in the Nokia.

I had heard before of a similar incident from a co-worker but didn't believe it could be true.

The only conclusion I can come to is that foreign SIMs are blocked, not sure if it is only in the Guwahati area or in entire Assam, I guess I will find out soon enough. This is a first, in all my travels in India and quite a bit around the world, I have never had a problem using my US SIM.

Stopped for lunch at a wayside Triptire Ahaz. The Asamese thali comes with any dish that is ordered. Sudip said the fish (chitol) was excellent. On the way to Kaziranga, saw some rhinos at a distance from a wayside.

Arrived at Iora resort. The room is very large, nice, and with a private balcony. Fixed up all the details of the safari for the next couple of days and met our naturalist guide Somnath.

There is free WiFi in the lobby and the restaurant. Went to have an early dinner and found out that the menu for our meal inclusive plan was not nearly as good as the regular menu. So we ordered from there and paid the extra.

Retired for the night since we have an early morning safari tomorrow.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday November 17

Watched The Spy Who Loved Me and From Russia With Love, it never gets old, no matter how many times I have watched them both.

There were good quality Bose headsets to use during the flight. The cabin crew were attentive throughout the night and asked anyone that was awake, if they wanted anything to eat or drink. Very unusual for any US airlines these days.

Breakfast was a choice of vegetarian and non veg. I had the cheese omelette, which was quite good but the accompanying sausages etc were not.

The flight landed at. 6:00 PM, not bad considering the 60 min delay in leaving Chicago. Temperature in Delhi at the time of landing + 27C/81F.

Jasmindar Aurora from Compass, our travel agents came to meet us to take us Hotel Visaya, on the way we stopped to refill our Tata/Docomo SIM and were told that it cannot be done. Ended up by calling my niece in Calcutta to call in a refill I found it funny that Tata can own Jaguar and Range Rover but doesn't sell SIMs in the capital city?

Checked in at Hotel Visaya room # 202, and was briefed about the itinerary and the details of the next day's events. I got a silk scarf and Sudip a good luck snow fall.The hotel had excellent WiFi in all the rooms and the price was very reasonable - 100 Re for one hour of use. There was a 6 hour rate as well but since we were leaving early the next morning, I didn't pay attention to the rate.

The lobby decoration was very nice and quite unique.

Freshened and went to dinner at the hotel. I had the lamb biriyani and Sudip the bhuna ghost.

Food - C
Service - B+
Price - high

The room was nice and large but unfortunately being in the front facing the road, we were subject to constant traffic noise specially trucks with their air horns, all through the night and I had a hard time sleeping.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday November 16

Got up bright and early, well at least early to finish packing and leave by 9:30 AM

Sanjit stopped in around 9:00 am to switch vehicles and wish us bon voyage, in hindsight we should have asked him to take us to the bus stop.

Left home at 9:30 am to take 10:10 bus to O'Hare. At the depot found out that the Acura right front tire was flat, Sudip went to take care of that and we missed that bus.

Took the 11:00 bus and arrived at 12:30 pm. Check in was smooth, and we were able to get upgraded to Business Class.

Enjoyed toasted panini sandwich and a glass of pinot grigio at the Admirals Lounge, however I missed having my staple of Chicago Dog.

AA 0292 Chicago to New Delhi. = 7477 miles
Aircraft 777-ER, seats 13e and 13g.
Departure. 4:35 pm, scheduled 3:50 pm.

The plane was completely full the captain announced that the weight calculations for take off were being verified causing the delay in departure.

Temperature in Chicago at the time of departure +41F
For dinner we wanted a signature fish preparation that caused some fracases due to the limited number available, we were eventually able to both get the item.

The flight was relatively smooth with patches of mild turbulence.