Travel Journal (OCT, 2011)

On 6th October 2011, I left Toronto to Delhi, India. From Jameson Avenue, Toronto to Pearson International Airport cost $50 by Taxi. Air India flight was $1400. I reached Delhi on the 7. Reserved a room from Toronto at Himalayan House(ph:91 112 381 3488), Majnuka Tila(MT), Delhi, and asked them to send a car to pick me up at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Car was waiting for me for pricy- Rs900. Hotel non AC was Rs 550/day. Mobile network does not work in MT. Network works from those rooms that are facing Yamuna River at the rear end. Exchange rate for US dollar was Rs 48. MT is Tibetan Colony and very safe place to be. Early morning, soft Tibetan breads are sold for Rs 7 each on the MT narrow Street. It works quite well with Tibetan tea for breakfast. Sometimes, I ask for a cup of boiled water and make a coffee for myself. I bring Instant Coffee from Canada.

Safe water
Safe water and food for a tourist is vital. Day or two in bed or hospital is waste of money and precious time. Drink only boiled water, if possible. When water is boiled, it kills virus, bacteria and other microbes. Next best choice is buy bottled water from restaurants or hotel and never from street. I saw few, at railway station, fill up empty bottles with tap water and sell it. Railway booth vendors also sell fake bottles. If seal of the bottled water is broken, it is not safe!

Travel safe
If you are unaccompanied or family of 3 or less do not hire a taxi. It is not safe. There are incidents where taxi driver is involved in kidnap or murder for money. However, it is safe to hire taxi through brick-and-mortar agency or hotel or lodge. If that is not workable then book a taxi and take it to the nearest police station. Give police your destination, taxi number, driver’s name and your passport number.

Never leave sight of your luggage unless train is in speed. Use toilet when the train is in speed. Keep your luggage within your eye sight. Luggage that is behind or above your head is as good as lost when train is at station and crowd aboard or leave. Never eat anything offered by fellow passengers in a train or a bus. Refuse it with polite. They mix plant extract or sleeping pill in food that “knock out” nervous system, immobilize and steal valuables.

Bring along a metal chain and extra locks and keys. In case luggage needs to be chained to a non-movable object. All Cloak rooms demand your luggage be locked and ask for a copy of passport too. Valuable are not safe in cloak rooms! I had my luggage zip ripped at Gauhati cloak room.

Left Delhi on the 11, 1pm to Gaya by train. Reached Gaya on the 12th about 1pm. From Gaya it took 1 hour to get to BodhGaya by Taxi. I took a RickShaw in BodhGaya to look for a room. I would send in the RickShow driver to enquire about a room and stay back myself with luggage. I would book a room for a day wherever I can. After a shower, meal and rest, I would look around and enquire a better or cheaper room. This way, I save and get better deal. I never leave my valuable like laptop, camera and passport in the room. They are always with me-Inconvenience but very safe.

At railway stations if I had to use toilet, since I am alone, I hire a Coolie to watch my luggage. I pay him and note down his license number. This way he is paid and my luggage is safe. Most Railway stations have First Class Waiting rooms with AC and toilet facilities inside. These facilities are for ticket holders only. However, it does not mean ticket holder is not thief either!

BodhGaya was typically hot in October. Rent an AC room for Rs1300 per day. Adjacent was a non-AC and cost Rs300 instead. Heat was unbearable for me.

BodhGaya(tib: VajraSana)
Although BodhGaya is under Archaeological Survey of India(ASI), unlike other ASI managed monuments entry is FREE. Street Shoes are not allowed inside the gate. Camera is allowed but Video cost Rs300. There are SEVEN spots Buddha meditated for 7 days on each spots. They are marked by ASI clearly. Buddha meditated for total of 49 days, after enlightenment, at these hallowed spots. I did meditation at these seven spots as much as I could. One spot was in the middle of a lake and I could not reach it. I used my camera to capture every area within the enclosure for posterities.

This site is accessible for public only between 6 AM and 10 PM.

There are many free wooden boards for those who practice prostrations. I saw someone serving free tea and bread for these practitioners.

One evening, I think it was 14th oct. 2011, Burma’s President, the military junta, was here in BodhGaya to pay his respect at this holy place. For security reason no one was allowed in or out. The next morning too was his visitation time and public were not allowed to enter the holy site until 9AM.

Vulture Peak(VP) or Rajgir
On the 15th went to visit Vulture Peak(RajGir) and Nalanda. VP is quite a steep hill to climb on foot. It is accessible by paved trail path, no road for any vehicles. It takes about 2 hours from BodhGaya Stupa if traveled non-stop by taxi. On the way to VP, there are other historical places like the” Famous Merchant ” who become a devotee of Buddha; a prison compound of Ajatashastru who imprisoned his own father, BhimbiSara, who was devotee of Buddha and died in captivity. GE location is (25° 0'6.53"N 85°26'47.86"E).

At VP Buddha gave the second sermon, “Emptiness or Heart Sutra”. This doctrine gave rise to Mahayana Tradition which is followed in India, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Tibet, Mongolia, Japan and Thailand. Shri Lanka and Burmese Buddhist(Theravada) will not visit VP as they do not believe that Buddha ever gave “heart Sutra” teaching at VP or Buddha ever set foot here.

Danger:
Since we went by Car and we were only four, we had to plan our Vulture Peak tour with another bus load of Taiwanese pilgrims. VP is desolate, covered in thick forests and ravens surround it. These winding paths are frequent by beggars, Mala vendor and picture post Album sellers who are young and strong. Some tourists, if single, would become easy target in this thick forest.

Path is paved and very easy to climb. Comfortable shoe and bottle of water will help. Wheel chair access is possible with Arial car to Japanese temple and way down the hill to VP. Be warned that there are numbers of steps to climb the hill besides being steep.

It is good idea to reach VP before 10 am when the sun is not at its peak. VP is on a lower hill adjacent to Japanese Temple is here(25° 0'16.18"N 85°26'40.39"E) which can be reached by Aerial Rope Way. I did not explore this route.

Nalanda
Nalanda is just an half hour drive from VP in the opposite direction ie away from BodhGaya. It is in a cozy town and very safe compared to VP. Since Nalanda is under ASI, there is entry fee of Rs5 for local and thai people. All foreigners are charge Rs100. Video is charged Rs30 extra. GE location coordinate is (25° 8'7.21"N 85°26'35.84").

Nalanda University (NU) was established in 1st Century BC according to Hiuen Tsiang(634AD). A passage from The Life of HT, page 112 reads, “The priests dwelling here, are, as a body, naturally (or, spontaneously) dignified and grave, so that during the 700 years since the foundation of the establishment, there has been no single case of guilty rebellion against the rules.”

Sravasti
Today is it called Shrivasti, Balrampur, UP, India. Tibetans call it uL NyeUod.

Left Bodhgaya on 16 Oct. 2011, to Shrivasti by car, alone, it cost Rs 11,000. I wrote down Car agent’s office phone number, his name, Car type, license plate number, Drivers phone number and his name. I gave all of the information to a friend of mine who is staying back at BodhGaya and ask him to call police if he did not receive any call from me by mid-night, the same day. This arrangement was well informed to Car Agent too- in case he has some hidden agenda.

I left BodhGaya at 5am in the morning and reached Shravasti by 10PM. It was a bumpy ride. Route is BodhGaya to Varanasi to Gonda Junction to Balrampur to Shravasti. There is a Tibetan Stupa, which is closed for the duration I was there. I saw grass growing on top of the Stupa. Adjacent was a SherChen Stupa(http://www.itibetan.org/srpctrustsw.htm), Nyingma. This Stupa is one of the eight Stupa built at eight different locations in India. There are 24 resident monks. Although they don’t have a guest house, they put up a bed for me in their office. My room is also shared by two tiny toads. Every morning, I had to cleanup their droppings. Except for the 4 teachers rest are kids age from12 to 19. Stupa is about a five minute walk from the main archaeological Buddhist site. All of the resident monks are non-Tibetan. They are Bhutanese, Gurung, Tamang and Nepali. Their Tibetan language skills are good compared to people living in Sikkim, Kalimpong and Darjeeling but not workable. I had to speak either in English or Hindi. I do not speak Nepali. I joined their common kitchen for meals. Vegetarian food -rice, Dal, Thukpa and Roti.

There is frequent power shutdown. Shriwasti is small village. Monks had to memorize texts by candle light or Flash light. I had to do something and donated Rs. 32,000 for an inverter, 2 deep-cycle batteries and installation cost. Inverter gave them power for about 4 hours for 6 CFL bulbs, 1 TV and 1 laptop.

The main site
Sakyamuni Buddha lived for 25 years in Savathi/Sravasti now called Shravasti. There were 57,000 families and 80,000 villages during Buddha’s time. Buddha gave 871 sutra teachings in Shravasti. GE location of Jetavana is (27°30'29.69"N 82° 2'19.74"E).

Buddhist ruins are enclosed and entry fee is Rs 5 for local and Rs100 for foreigners. There is no day pass if you intend to do meditation! There are about dozens of ruins inside this compound. This is something Buddhist cannot comprehend. Buddha and Buddhism flourished for more than 100 years in Shravasti and just a dozen of ruins! Most of these ruins are about 5 feet high without any recognizable structures- temples or statues. There are no prominent structures either like Buddha’s statue. However, there are more ruins on the left side of the paved path, as you walk in from the gate. Many are still under earth. There is a pond 400X 400 feet. As you walk in from the gate, first thing you will find is the TREE. Story is like so. Ananda asked Buddha to leave something personal(in those days slipper) for his followers to worship or put flowers at when Buddha is not in the vicinity. Buddha told Ananda to plant a Bodi Tree and Buddha would meditate under it for blessings. That Tree or its sapling is fenced and public can access it. For photo visit my photo journal at (http://www.itibetan.org/phototrip2011.htm).

Many Bus load of Shri lankan, Thai and other Buddhist visit here, except Tibetan. To me, Shravasti is the “most sacred Buddhist place” as Buddha had spent most of his monastic life here with great dedication, glory and height of his wisdom. To me Shravasti is the most sacred land in India for the Buddhist.

Note: From Delhi there is a overnight direct bus that leaves to Balrampur(578km from Delhi). From Balrampur it is 30 minutes by auto; Shared Auto cost Rs 15 only. Bigger Railway Junction is Gonda Junction which is another 20km away from Balrampur.

Anguli Mala(Garland of Thumbs):
Anguli Mala(whatever his real name was) was a strongest of all human; he was misguided by his teacher. Story goes like this. Angulimala was young Brahmin; tall, handsome, strong and was every women’s heart throb. He was naïve and lacks worldly wisdom. His Guru, physically feeble but cunning had a beautiful wife who loves Angulimala. Since Anguli Mala had great respect for his Guru, he did not see her that way. One day she lied and complained to her husband that Angulimala had molested her. Guru cunningly told Angulimala if he performed a ritual of killing 1000 humans, Guru would teach him the secret Mantra he was after. Anguli Mala killed 999 humans and kept their thumbs as evidence. Buddha was his last trophy but he failed. Buddha subdued him; made him realize his sins.

Anguli Mala cave is outside the main ruins. Do not enter the main Gate. Exit the main gate and take the East road. It is about 15 minutes walk. It is small earth mound with iron gates. GE location is (27°31'4.17"N 82° 2'57.96"E). Sudatta’s house in nearby.

The Debate or Miracle
Buddha took part in the famous debate. It took place on a small hill-top about 9 storey high. It is about 15 minutes drive on the way to Balrampur. Buddha won the debate. Performed many other miracles and colorful lights were seen, like Aurora, in the day. GE location is (27°30'0.54"N 82° 3'8.40"E).

Asoka Pillar: Enigma
Further down the road and into a winding village, 40 minutes Drive, I saw a Shiv Linga which is broken. Although ASI claim they did not find Ashoka’s Pillar in Shravasti, but this Shiv Linga looks more like a broken part of a Pillar. GE location is (27°30'33.67"N 82° 3'14.54"E).

Shravasti, today, is a small spot in middle of nowhere. There are very limited Hotels. There is a Shri Lankan guest house outside the main gate. On the way to Balrampur, there is Korean temple followed by Tourist Bungalow (27°30'12.36"N 82° 2'26.59"E), Tibetan Stupa and a 3 stared Lotus Nikko Hotel. That is all.

Nearest town is Balrampur. There are many hotels in Balrampur which is almost 1 hour drive from Shravasti. GE location is (27°25'56.84"N 82°12'28.43"E). From Shravasti shared Auto to Balrampur cost Rs15. Walk 100 ft from the main gate of Jetavana toward west, there is the main road to Balrampur where many shared taxi will pick up passengers.

Lumbini:
Lumbini, royal garden, was the spot where Sidhartha Gautama was born. Sakyamuni Buddha was prince of Kapilavastu. Lumbini GE location is (27°28'10.64"N 83°16'32.83"E).

I went to Lumbini via a back-road with 6 monks of SherChen. It cost Rs. 1500 upto Indian border by reserved taxi; walk 1 minute on foot to cross into Nepal border; hire another taxi for Rs 500 to Lumbini. Lumbini is about 30 minutes by taxi from Nepal border; Had a breakfast at Lumbini; breakfast for 7 people cost Rs 400. Lunch was bit pricy at star hotel; Lunch for 7 was Rs 4000/.

The original Tree under which Siddhartha was born is suppose to be inside a huge white (color was red in the past)building! I did not see any tree there. Instead I saw many pillars, bricks and security personnel. There are reports that the Tree was sold to the international highest bidder by the late King of Nepal. It is also rumored that Japan has the tree, now. Anyways, soon afterwards King and his whole families were killed. For a brief, Nepal had another King. Photography is not allowed inside the building either. Ashoka’s Pillar is still standing outside the building. At about 100 ft. from Ashoka Pillar, there is a pond and a huge Tree in the open.

Kusinagara: Buddha passed away under a Tree in Kusinagara; Present Kushinagar, UP, India. GE location coordinate is (26°44'21.71"N 83°53'24.13"E). Sakyamuni Buddha was offered a spoiled food by Chundha, a black smith. Watters wrote that it could be “Tree-fungus” which was known as “sandalwood-ear”. He further narrates how a Buddhist monk refer to mushroom as “monks’ flesh-meat”. Since Chunda was known to Buddha and his Sangha, he did not cook meat but a delicacy of mushroom which was accidentally contaminated with poisonous mushroom. Ref. Watters. P.28. Sakyamuni Buddha’s ashes were divided into 8 portions for the eight kingdoms. He passed away here between two trees.

Left Shrivasti on 22 morning at 4 am to Kushinagara, where sleeping Buddha is, via Gonda junction. From Gonda junction train leaves to Gorakhpur and reached around 10am next morning. I left my luggage at Cloak Room and left to Kushinara by public bus. It took almost one and half hour and cost Rs.30. There is a Namgyal Monastery, Tibetan, branch and other temples such as Thai. I did some photo shoots and left early back to Gorakhpur to catch my 11pm train to Siliguri which is night’s journey. I was advised by local not to hire taxi back to Gorakhpur for security reason.

Bus coming from Gorakhpur will drop off on the main road but wrong side of the Kusinara gate. From there walk about 5 minutes and to the left there is yet another small gate which will lead to Sleeping Buddha. Main gate to Sleeping Buddha is on the other side.

Sleeping Buddha is kept inside a small house which is surrounded by pond, garden and few ruins.

To catch bus from Kushinagar back to Gorakhpur, first walk to the main Road to the north. Catch a shared Auto to Bus Stand(terminal) from the other side of the road in the opposite side-to the east. It cost Rs 5. It takes about 10 minutes to Bus Stand. There are many public and private Buses that go to Gorakhpur which is to the west.

I was back in Gorakhpur around 5 pm. Train was late, as usual, and reached NJP, next day 3pm. Took a shared taxi to Darjeeling. Normal fare was Rs 200 but I had to offer Rs1000 to leave early without waiting for other passengers to fill in. We are already 4. Although Darjeeling is only 60km from NJP, road is so bad, it took almost 4 hours. We reached Darjeeling around 8pm. Stayed at Capital Hotel for 550/per night after a bargain. It has hot shower, toilet seat and good view of mountain in the distance.

NJP Thugs
As NJP railway platform exits, people yell Darjeeling , Kalimpoing, Sikkim and so on. I told I am going to Darjeeling. Since I don’t have set destination, I could have gone anywhere but somehow I like the sound of Darjeeling. GE location coordinate of NJP is (26°41'4.22"N 88°26'34.26"E). There is at least a gap of 100 feet between the Railway platform and Taxi Stand. As soon as I was handed over to the taxi driver there was commotion. I learned later that gulf of 100 ft wide territory is in the hands of hooligans. Taxi drivers cannot cross this gulf and negotiate directly with passengers. NJP thugs make money out of thin air. Police, in such cases, usually end up making profit for themselves.

Darjeeling
Scenic beauty of Darjeeling, fresh, clean and crisp air of Darjeeling is sadly missing. It is just another busy city on mountain top. Every space is packed with taxi; there are more taxi then road can handle. No place for walk. Chowrasta, a small open area on hilltop with few benches on perimeters is holding Darjeeling up. There is a Pony ride available. It is the only place away from honking taxi. I bought few books and Darjeeling Tea from the Oxford Book Store. Yes, they sell Darjeeling Tea too. Darjeeling ChowRasta location coordinate is (27° 2'41.39"N 88°16'5.93"E).

Tibetan Central School is just one minute walk away from ChowRasta to the right facing the hill.

Toy train is still alive and kicking. Darjeeling is famous for its Tea, tea garden and sunrise view. I saw few tea garden on the way to Kalimpong.

Darjeeling can be saved only if number of taxi is drastically reduced!

Kalimpong
I dragged my two luggage on its limping wheels to Kalimpong Bus terminal which is a 10 minute walk down the hill. It was a difficult walk through the narrow lanes and vertical concrete steps. Ticket office was buried deep inside a long, dark and dingy corridor. I had to use by handy flash light to navigate my way in and out. I was first allotted a seat in one taxi and later ask to switch to another taxi.

Left Darjeeling on 25th morning around 7am. Bus (looks like jeep) fare was Rs 90. It was 3 hours drive to Kalimpong. Road condition was bit better. I reached Kalimpong about 1 pm. Stayed at Kailash Hotel and paid 450/night. GE location is (27° 4'3.08"N 88°28'14.05"E).

Kalimpoing is also a victim of modernization; congestion, pollution, noise and far too much taxi on such narrow road is killing Kalimpong slowly.

Historically, Kalimpong was the business hub for Tibetans when Tibet was free. Kalimpong was gateway to Tibet. All sort of Tibetans throng to Kalimpong, Business people, travelers, pilgrims, renegades, exiled victims and revolutionaries like Gundun Choephael. It is known for Phing(Rice Noodle), Khata(welcome scarf), Tibetan Incense and Tibetan long Boots.

I will not recommend visiting both the hills.

I was about to buy ticket back to Siliguri/NJP when I met another tourist lady. We are having conversation and Sikkim came up. She thought that since I am this far, it will be a shame to miss Sikkim. She was right!

Sikkim: Special Permit required
Left for Sikkim, the next day-28th. Taxi fare was Rs 90. I had to carry my luggage and walk quite a distance to bus stop. Special permission is required to enter Sikkim. Tourist are recommended to cross border when office opens ie 9am. Get a form, fill it up with passport number, visa number and a photograph. Special Permit paper-work is done in less than 15 minutes. It was so easy. Sikkim is a different place unlike any other place in India.

Here is my account how it unfold for me. Day I left for Sikkim was a festive day and holiday. That means less taxi to anywhere and Sikkim is no exception. It was day after the Holi festival. Nepali call it “bahena Rakhi” an occasion to celebrate “sister-brother” kinship. Taxi driver to Sikkim warned me that Sikkim border office will not open till 9am and driver would leave me at the border as he cannot delay other passengers for me. I agreed to his decision. I did not see any other taxi ply that day. As he had told me I reached Sikkim border at about 8pm. Driver pointed in general direction where the office was and drove rest of the passenger to Sikkim without me on board, of course.

As I was looking for any office staff to show up earlier, sooner than 9 am- Something, unthinkable in India. As expected, none was there. Morning was quite and chilly. It is almost November. Office was in fact a hotel and a show room under one roof. At a distance, I saw a man brooming the steps and its landing area. I searched quite far and wide for a while for any sign of human but to no avail. My patient is running out fast. I thought cleaning man might throw some light on where and when office staff would show up. To my utter dismay, he was the office in-charge who was doing the cleaning. He thought I was just another tourist lodged there in the hotel. He helped me fill up the form and stamped it. I was beyond word. What a man, I thought. He deserves Padma Bhushan award for his service “beyond the call of duty”. No officer in Indian state will ever pick up a broom and do cleaning!

I took the paper down to the border inspector. Border inspector was also a kind man. He stopped few cars and asked them to take me in and finally a private bus did.

Reached Gangtok, Sikkim around 12am. Gangtok is beautiful city on a hill top. Its GE coordinate location is (). Since I am tired, I took a lodge near where I was dropped off. It is Siliguri Taxi Stand which is quite a distance from the main market. Second day, I move to another hotel, Modern Central Hotel(ph: 035 922 4670), near MG Marg for Rs 450 per night. Hotel location is (27°19'46.07"N 88°36'45.12"E). it is where the MG Marg begins. MG Marg is the main attraction and hangout place in Gangtok. Actually, MG Marg saved Sikkim from the rest of its neighbors like Kalimpong and Darjeeling. Population, taxi menace and honking is Indian disease for which there is no cure. From the other end of the MG Marg there is Aerial Ropeway(Rs. 70 for round trip) that goes down to Tibetology and Tibetan Stupa. I used the same ticket to go down, make tour of the Tibetology and returned to MG Marg. H.H. the XIV Dalai Lama laid its foundation in 1954. Tibetology entry fee is Rs 10; View from Cable Trolley down the valley is breadth taking! GE location is (27°18'57.03"N 88°36'16.99"E).

Rumtak, Karmapa’s Tibetan Monastery, is also in Gangtok. Rumtek Monastary is here at this GE location(27°17'18.95"N 88°33'41.93"E).Flower show, Gangtok King’s palace are other few attractions.

A Strange Observation
Originally Sikkimese speak a language similar to Tibetan but different-like Ladak and Spiti local do. Somehow, Sikkimese or Indian government help them forego their own language. In its place Nepali was adopted. Nepali is language spoken by Nepal not India. Funny part is Sikkimese are Buddhist and Nepali are Hindus. Sikkimise, strangely, did not want to give up Buddhism either. To learn Tibetan Buddhism, Sikkimese should either learn Sanskrit or Tibetan text. Unlike Ladakhis, Sikkimese had to learn Tibetan language first and then Tibetan text. Ladakhis are very fortunate, language wise.

My plan was to stay in Sikkim till 5 Nov. but my Sikkim Permit expires on 2. Previous day was cold and misty. I bought a electric Kettle for Rs 300 and 1kg of Barley Tsampa for Rs 90. Every morning I boil cup of hot water and make coffee; take 1 cup Tsampa and my Breakfast is done. I am ready to do the days tour anywhere!

Officer at IB reassured me that Permit Extension was easy, but somehow, cold weather is not for me. So I head for Siliguri. MG Marg to Siliguri Taxi Stand was Rs 70 reserved taxi. Gangtok to Siliguri shared Taxi was Rs. 150 and it was 6 hours drive. In one taxi, they squeeze 12 people. There is no room left for breath. Ride was dusty and bumpy as rest of India.

Siliguri vs NJP
Siliguri is the old city with all the history and smell. There is a Tibetan Community in Salugara ( 26°46'4.40"N 88°26'53.21"E), Rs 15 shared taxi from Sevak Moore.

Yesterday, I went to see City Center Mall a grand shopping mall ( 26°43'27.16"N 88°23'41.85"E) which is bit out side Siliguri in a shared Taxi for Rs 10 from Market. Only one part of complex is open. There are about 40 shops spread over 4 floors. Merchandise range from Nike to Indian brands such as Mustash- whatever it means.

Cosmos ( 26°44'19.28"N 88°26'1.38"E), yet another modern Mall, is quite near from the Siliguri main Market-Rs 5 from Sevak Moore. It is on the way to Salugarah. I had 2 plain Naan, mixed Veg, a cup of tea and bottle of water and it cost me Rs 350.

HongKong Market (26° 42' 53.57" N 88° 25' 28.75" E) is yet another busy market where all fake, original and in-between exchanges hands. CDs, movies Dvds, LED gadgets, Pen drives, keys chains and nail clippers, jeans, shirts. Most likely pen drive won’t work at all!. Buyers beware is order of the day. It is dusty, smelly and noisy. Take care of your wallets.

I had to wash my Jockey, tee and socks. They smell in heats. Detergent powder for Rs 2 sachets are good enough. Bought about 10 packets and did my laundry in a bucket that is available in every bathroom in India for shower.

NJP is modern and main Railway station( 26°41'4.22"N 88°26'34.26"E). Shared auto charges Rs 15 from Siliguri to NJP. There are quite a number of hotels near NJP. I stayed at Tirupati lodge(phone 964 114 4244) which is walking distance from NJP railway station. Location is ( 26°41'8.08"N 88°26'41.33"E). It is really clean. I paid Rs 400 per night. It is clean and new hotel but iphone power socket failed on me. A fan was enough to cool the room at this time of the year.

Café-Coffee is self-service and found in Darleeling, Sikkim and Siliguri. No wifi service though. Cup of coffee cost Rs 70. Nice place to sit and relax.

Varanasi
I left for Varanasi on 6th by RajDhani Express. Raj Dhani train ticket includes food. The ticket was for Rs 2115/ . Raj Dhani does not go direct to Varanasi but to Mughal Sarai Junction which is an hour drive from Varanasi. Shared tempo cost Rs 25 but reserved taxi will charge about Rs 300 and more. Mughal Sarai is the dirtiest railway station I ever came across in India. It was 1AM in the morning. I did not go outside the station until it was 5AM for safety reason. Station is infested with Mosquito in November. I left station in a shared tempo with other passengers. It is safer this way. I stayed for a day at Hotel Malti, Varanasi, ( 222 3878) Rs 600 per day.
Room was spacious with hot water. GE location coordinate is (25°18'34.05"N 83° 0'34.59"E).

I took tour of the Varanasi city, Ganga and burning Ghaat. Burning Ghaat is the cremation ground for Hindu devotee. Some of the flames that ignite the Pyre are as old as 1000 years old, they claim. Older one will cost more. Camera is not allowed. Police blame media and media blame police.

I left for Saranath which is 15km from Varanasi where Buddha gave his first sermon. It is Rs 200 in a reserved auto.

Sarnath
Sidhartha, Buddha’s name, after enlightenment in BodhGaya, came to Sarnath where he gave his first sermon “law of Cause and Effect” in the form of “the four noble truth”. Sarnath sermon gave rise to Buddhism. Buddha met here his five long lost friends. They were his first five disciples. Entry is Rs 5 for local and Rs100 for foreigners. There is no day pass! GE location coordinate is (25°22'51.28"N 83° 1'28.06"E).

There is a huge Dhamekh Stupa built by King Ashoka and other ruins. All Buddhist visit this place. There is also a small zoo; birds, alligators and deers. Nominal fee is charged too. Varanasi is famous for Brocade, Silk Saries, Paan and Tibetans like Varanasi Tea and Yogurt.

I stayed at PG’s place who is staff member of Central University of Tibetan Studies(CUTS), Sarnath, UP, India. CUTS is quite near from Dhamekh Stupa. It is Rs10 by Rickshow and is on the way to Varanasi. GE location coordinate for CUTS is (25°21'54.61"N 83° 1'16.64"E).

Vipasana
I joined 10 day, live-in, Vipasana Course. Vipasana Centre, Dhamma Cakka, Sarnath(ph: 0542-320-8168), Village Kharagaipur, Sarnath, UP, India. GE location coordinate is (25°24'40.32"N 83° 2'44.52"E). Their website is http://www.cakka.dhamma.org/ . Rickshaws [three-wheeler taxis] from Sarnath Museum will take you to the Vipassana centre for Rs. 60.

Vipasana Course curriculum is FREE and is a Meditation Boots Camp which deserves its own full page writing. Anyway, short story is thus. Morning begins at 4 am; 12 hours of meditation throughout the day; vegetarian food is served for lunch; Dinner is just a cup of tea and a small fruit; 9 pm is bed time. No communication; no smile; no laugh; no eye contact; no Books; no Mobile; no TV; no Computers - absolute silence for 10 days. There is no AC.

For me it was the most rewarding experience. Since such programs are available in the West, I will not recommend foreigner to participate in India. There is no 911 facility in India if something goes wrong. Vipasana has strict schedule, climate, food; absolute silence and without dinner can have a huge impact on health. Participant can abort the program any day, though!

Haridwar
I left for Haridwar on 1st Dec. about 10AM. It took a day to reach Haridwar by train.

Haridwar is a place for Hindu devotees and a tourist spot. It is said that drops of Amrit fell here. Haridwar Railway station was very clean. Just opposite to it was Sachin International Hotel (phone 0133 422 2455); it is off season and rate Rs. 600 per day was very reasonable. GE location coordinate is (29°56'41.07"N 78° 9'54.78"E).

6PM Puja was spectacular at Ganga site. Hindus consider Haridwar Ganga water more Holy than Rishikash.

Rishikesh
I left for RishiKesh the next morning on 3rd Dec. it was only 16km away from Haridwar. Usually Shared Auto cost Rs50, somehow I managed to get for Rs 100 as it was off season and not many are visiting Rishikesh. Weather is bit chill. It is December. I managed to get a Hotel for Rs.600 per night. Since the Vipasana, I get up around 4AM every day. My day is long and I can almost cover whole city by 6PM. There are plenty of yoga centers and white folks. There are two suspension bridges for human traffics only. Bridges are narrow, shaky, swings and found many cracks. Cows, bike, Sadus and tourist share it. A boat ride cost Rs 15 which takes about 2 minutes. GE location is (30° 7'24.09"N 78°18'52.24"E).

Dehra Dun
From Rishikesh DehraDun is Rs33 or 2 hour drive by bus. Hotel was Rs 500 and stayed for 2 days. Went to see Mussoorie, another tourist hill spot and where my old school is. It is 35km on a hill top. It cost Rs.100 in shared taxi. I found Mussoorie is bit cold and had a deserted look. I had a cup of tea at famous Tea Stall at Library Bazaar -Nostalgia. Saw two lady staff of THF at the tea shop. They somehow, avoided me. Anyway, I was too busy taking photos of places of interest and walk from Library to Landour Bazaar. I want to do a photo of Landour Clock Tower, a landmark, but it was gone. I was too late. I met another 3 male staff of THF at Landour. I know 2 of them well. We talked and walked way back to Picture Palace Bazaar and had tea. There, I saw those two ladies again! I did not communicate much with the ladies, this time. Tibetans love tea. They(male) came all the way to Bus Stand to drop me off. That was the last of Mussoorie.


Delhi
Left Dehra Dun on 6 Dec. by Shetavi Train. Shetavi Train ticket from DehraDun to Delhi was about Rs650 for single seat AC that includes food and water. Shetavi Trains route short distance unlike Raj Dhani which covers long distances. Shetavi is seat only and AC is available. From DehraDun to Delhi it is 6 hours journey. Sitting upright for 6 hours is not very comfortable journey. Somehow munching Railway’s frequent supply of snack was some distraction.

Reached New Delhi Railway Station on 7th morning at wee hours at 12am midnight. Stayed back at the station’s First Class AC Waiting Room until 6am. Hired a prepaid taxi to PaharGanj. It is walkable distance from New Delhi Railway Station but for my luggage- bags.

Pahar Ganj is not a safe place to be. I did not know this until I had firsthand experience. There are plenty of thieves targeting foreigners. I was followed by bag snatcher on two occasions. They are friendly, talks in broken English but use the right words. All the while they watch your hand if it is covering your wallets or give away its location. They are well dress and clean. If you change direction from east to west(180 degree), someone else will catch upto you and follow you or try to have a conversation. If that happens you are dead sure, you are targeted. Thieves work in team with efficiency and split the loot fairly! Escape for you is to enter a hotel(any) or catch an Auto.
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I was saved by my hotel as I went inside. Local people knew these thieves and their operations well.

Hotel where I stayed seems to be no different from these thieves, anyway. Although I stayed for 2 days but I was charge for three days by that crook manager of hotel Jindal international, Pahar Ganj, New Delhi(phone: 2 354 0845;email hotel_jindal_international@yahoo.co.in). Rate was reasonable Rs500 per day.

Booked a Bus seat to Agra tour for Rs. 500. It was fun but very tiring. There is the original Red Fort(Agra Fort) to see. Entry fee is Rs 20 for local and Rs 750 for tourist at Taj. I asked our Bus driver to give his mobile number and wrote down our Bus license Plate number. In case, I am lost, I can give him a call. At Agra Fort, a guide is provided by the Tour organizer. He gave brief history of Taj, when, where and at what time passengers should be back. Bus also stops at various shops and hotels for shopping and meal. I bought a marble Taj Mahal replica for Rs 550 and Camel jacket for Rs750. Agra is known for its sweets in a box. My replica Taj Mahal is made from marble and colored. Base, towers and main shrine can be taken apart and packed. There is a small hole at the bottom for electric bulb. When it is lighted, it looks remarkable. I took great pain to bring it to Canada. Before I could buy a suitable bulb for which I took several rounds to Dufferin Mall, my wife, inadvertently, broke my Taj replica. Since I did Vipasana, my big mouth opened little too soon, I had to swallow my anger and end the matter philosophically.

As for the Camel leather coat, it is collecting dust, somewhere! Everyone, including neighbors “aeawoooe” it when they saw it. Color, stitch, zip and everything seems not right when I am back home.

Taj Mahal, the real one, is closed for public on Friday! For Christian, it is Sunday and for Muslim is Friday. For Buddhist, we have no holidays rrrrr!

Taj Mahal is beautiful, majestic and one of the wonders of the world. Time allowed here, for us, did not do any justice. I recommend at least two days for each historic places, Agra Fort, Taj Mahal, Virandavan and Agra City if not more. There is no way to enjoy these beautiful monuments in a day and travel back to Delhi. Delhi to Agra is about 4 hours drive. Take into account Traffic Jams and delays in Delhi and Agra City.

Yes, Taj Mahal has four gates-Eastern, Western and so on. Remember the gate name you entered if you intend to exit the same gate. They look alike. Street Shoes are not allowed within the Taj Mahal monument. I notice some visitors wore Shoe-Cover sold at the premises. That was a nice way to save time and worry, I thought. No food or drinks allowed inside the Gate. Security checks and ID checks are in place. Just bring along a camera and camcorder. Leave everything else in the Bus- not your wallet and passport. Bus Driver is with the Bus all the time!

Virandavan, the birth place of Krishna and resident of millions of Indian Widows who throng this city and waste away their life, falls on our way back to Delhi. Hindu do not allow widows to remarry. There was another Guide. He cautioned that tourist must stick together and return to the Bus safely. Virandavan has thousands of temples and hundreds of look-alike narrow streets. People get lost frequently. It was almost 10PM and dark. I did not venture out. That was end of my tour of Virandavan- Window glance in the dark!

Our Bus broke down on way back to Delhi. One tire was punctured. It was about 12 Midnight. Single Tire shop was open. It was a boy who barely has strength to crank start a compressor. We gave hand and after many misses, it fired up. Since our Bus driver was on the wheel since 6AM, I was bit worried. He was driving us for almost 14 hours and still 3 hours drive to Delhi. Indian Tire are not tubeless type. Fixing tire is very time consuming. I asked the bus driver to catch some sleep while tire is repaired. He agreed. Our bus starts rolling one and half hours later.

I am back to my hotel by 2AM. I am almost dead!

Moved to Majnukatilak on 9th. Met few old friends and enjoyed my stay without any fear of thieves or managers who cheat his own customer.

From New Delhi, there is a special Metro to international Airport. It is fast; there is a luggage check-in facility too but it is closed by 8pm; Metro is 24 hours service though. It saves money, time and Delhi Traffic. This special Airport Metro has lots of luggage racks and very clean. Better looking than TTC Metro of Toronto!

Took a car from Majnutilak to New Delhi International Metro; Rs. 400/. New Delhi International Metro fare was Rs80. It took less than 30 minutes to reach International Airport. Shops inside the airport accept Indian Rupees too. Airport is as good as any airport in the world.

Left Delhi on 12th Dec. 2011 for Toronto by Air India. It was Delhi to Toronto direct flight. They call it, point to point instead of hub to hub. It took almost 16 hours of flight. I took TTC from Toronto international Airport basement or ground floor to my home. It cost only 4 dollars.

Visit my photo Journal at http://www.itibetan.org/phototrip2011.htm