Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tips for Travelers in Bihar who know No better

Kesaria Stupa-Bihar
Originally uploaded by Shubh M Singh
Well, first things first. I really love Bihar. I mean I have been there once and I think its one of the most beautiful parts of the country. And I do believe that it deserves less of the bad press it has got recently. Well, I started off with a book that I downloaded off the net that dealt with a Chinese traveler by the name of Hiuen Tsang, all of us have read about him in long forgotten history books. The problem is that his travelogues make for fairly exciting reading and most of it is about India. Once I moved to Lucknow, I knew that I had a chance to travel around a bit. So I made up a bit of a project that I would see most of the Buddhist sites within striking distance. So I thought I would do a bit of Alexander Cunningham and a bit of Hiuen Tsang and a bit of Fa Xian as well for good measure. Well, Varanasi and Sarnath were easy, it was a trip paid for in course of a conference that I was invited to, Sravasti is within easy driving distance of Lucknow, I simply hopped on a taxi and made it back by the evening.
That left me with the tough cookies of Sankissa, an idea I have given up for the moment, Bodha Gaya and Kushinagar which I plan to do sometimes soon and the Kesaria, Vaishali, Nalanda and Rajgir.
I will not bore you with travelogue type entries here. Thats not the purpose, I simply wish to record certain facts that I took for granted and were disproved rapidly.
1. Trains have started to run on time in Bihar. They have not started to run on time. I believe things have improved but not quite. The problem is this that each train has to stop at every station and if it does not stop, there is every chance that it will be burnt down, so it stops. And because it stops at every small station, therefore it gets late. Not much, but a couple of hours is a safe estimate. And this is at day time. Thats when people have to travel, at night time this reduces to a large extent. That leads to many potential complications that I will come to later. I took the Sapt Kranti express which ran exemplary times until the time it passed Gorakhpur. Thereafter it got more and more late until I reached Chakia about 2 hours late which is really not too bad.
2. There is no problem regarding public transport in Bihar. I think the problem is one of lack of cheap and good public transport. Buses in Bihar are cheap but they are in awful shape and the biggest problem is that if you miss one, you are gone. I got down at Chakia and went on a bus to Kesaria, after a couple of kilometers I got down at the stupa, it was about half past twelve. I was told at the stupa by the caretaker while leaving that I had just missed the last bus at 1 in the afternoon and now was effectively stuck in Kesaria for the rest of the day unless I did something special. And being in the heart or rural Bihar, alone, obviously alien was something I did not relish. As a result, I had to pay through my nose to hire a ramshackle vehicle that took me to Vaishali. There the same story repeated itself. I missed a bus at 4.30 pm, and I waited at the bus stop for about 1.5 hours before i finally took some local transport and reached Patna after changing 3 buses and after 4 hours. All for a paltry distance of 55 kms. A taxi driver came up to me and offered to take me Patna for a thousand bucks. I told him to fuckoff. Advice: Arrange for transport unless you have a lot of time to kill or a lot of money to spend. In fact it is better to make Patna the base and then go wherever has to be gone, at least a taxi can be hired.
3. The question of Money. It starts getting tiresome after a while. Everyone gives the impression that he or she is out to fleece you, contrary to expectations, prices are high, prices are higher than in Lucknow for instance. And that includes most significantly, hiring a taxi. Then all the drivers I ran into seemed to be a whiny lot talking about and triyng to wheedle around some tip or baksheesh even above what had been promised already. Finally I got annoyed and gave a bit of tongue lashing to the driver that I hired to take me to Nalanda and Rajgir. I do not have a solution for this one, but try to fix up everything before hand, down to the last detail. That includes not just the cost but also how long the driver will remain with you. Nothing is more irritating than a driver who wants you to get over with it and says so that he can go back and get another customer.
All in all, its difficult to be a solo, unsupported obviously alien traveler in Bihar. Have a thick skin and you will be fine. Maybe Hiuen Tsang had a better time and more hospitable hosts.

1 comment:

Shalini said...

This is priceless information! We've been planning a family trip to this area and I'll be sharing this info with them. Thanks!

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