Awara Model 2011 aka Life Begins with Retirement


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Travel never ends. The return to headquarters is the beginning of another trip. This time to Bhimtal and then back to my friend's house in Paudhar

20 October 2020. Usual early 4 AM departure for Bhimtal. We were travelling in two vehicles. My grandson and I left early while son and family with small daughter were to follow.



Solar energy lighting up the wires?


Lots of cut timber near Rampur


Breakfast break before Bilaspur


Covid checkpost at Uttarakhand border


Just before the turn for Bhimtal


White-capped Redstart at Bhimtal lake


Pedal boating


Dahlia flourishing in resort premises


Comfortable room


Rest of family joined later so here are bro & sis enjoying the swing


Another round of pedal boating


Drove next afternoon to visit St Joseph's College, Nainital


A friend and family joined us the next day making the kids a threesome


Boating in Naukuchiyatal


Evening barbecue in resort


Wall decoration in resort dining room


Colourful spider waiting for prey



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Drove to Jangaliagaon. View from there


Drove to Sattal to do some birding. Greater Yellownape


Black-lored Tit


Chestnut-bellied nuthatch


Black-throated Tit


Bar-tailed Treecreeper


Red-billed Blue Magpies

The rest of the family returned to Delhi from Bhimtal while I drove to Paudhar to satiate my gluttony for Himalayan views


On the way


This sign is for winter driving


A well-appointed kitchen with gas, electric kettle, microwave. Since I was alone and didn't know how to cook, I stocked up with soups, ITC's Kitchens of India packets of different veg and non-veg ready to eat food, baked beans, muesli and cocoa apart from bread, tea and filter coffee powder. This also helped me to follow all Covid precautions and stay safe


During the day I walked around in the sun as much as possible and saw some lovely sights and scenery. Red chillies drying in the sun


I would wake up early to see the magical hues of sunrise day after day. You can never get enough of these views! Or of the melodious whistling of the Blue Whistlingthrush





And indulging in birding, of course. Long-tailed Minivet, female


Himalayan Woodpecker



Glorious sunrises followed by stunning sunsets!


Surrounding countryside


Almora in the distance


A game of cards in the sun


White-browed Shrike-babbler almost within arms reach


Black Bulbul gobbling up apple blossoms


Did I just gobble up a flower?


Nanda Devi and Nanda Devi East


The clouds obscured the moon rising behind the mountains so had to be contented with this shot



Magical sunrise with the clouds on fire


One of a pack of loud, noisy White-chinned Laughingthrushes


There was an atta chakki (flour mill) nearby so women taking home the flour

All good things come to an end so it was time to drive back to Delhi starting just before daybreak


Another magical sunrise


A bend in the road


Bad patches near Dhanachuli. Then an uneventful drive to Delhi before returning to Patna.

Did I say return to Patna? Well, as I mentioned, the end of one journey is the start of another so not Patna but back to the hills, this time to Himachal
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After Naldehra in October 2020, New Year's near Nathua Khan in Kumaon, March '21 in Atali Ganga upstream of Rishikesh, Kolakham in Neora Valley in September '21 (apologies for not posting trip reports as I was overwhelmed in some other work), it was time to try out the recently inaugurated 340 km Purvanchal Expressway from near Ghazipur in East UP to Lucknow.

On 7.2.22 I started from Patna at 4.15 AM, reached the Purvanchal Expressway at 8.40 AM, Lucknow at 12.15 PM and was in Greater Noida at 6.45 PM, 14h30m 1006 km. The Patna-Arrah-Buxar highway is under construction with many terrible diversions. What made driving even more difficult was the near zero visibility due to thick fog and very poor or absent signage for the diversions. Had to retrace the road several times. It took 4.5 hours to cover the 155 km from Patna to the Purvanchal Expressway entrance. Fog still persisted but with a 6-lane expressway, and almost no traffic I was able to cruise comfortably at 100 kmph. However, the usual problem of vehicles coming in the wrong lane so had to be alert.

The wayside facilities of eating joints, toilets and fuel pumps are still to be created. It's 340 km long so I filled the tank at Bhawarkol a few km before the start of the Purvanchal Expressway. Fortunately, two brand new toilets had just been completed, the first at the building complex at the start and the second about 100 km before Lucknow. The food stalls are yet to start functioning on this side though they were operational on the other side, that is Lucknow-Ghazipur. The toll gates are also not operational so it was a free ride all the way to Lucknow. There was a 10-15 minute hold up due to VIP movement in Lucknow. In any case with no proper ring road, it always takes an hour to cross Lucknow. After Lucknow it's a smooth ride with seamless connectivity between the Lucknow-Agra Expressway and the Yamuna Expressway.

Happy driving folks! I'm headed next month to the Seven Sisters and avidly reading all the North-East travelogues.


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Though I had been to some places in the North East, it was one area that I had not driven in due to reports of frequent disturbances there. However, with the improved situation and after reading some travelogues of drives in that region, I decided that I must cover as much as possible. The trigger was an announcement in our birding group, Nature India (one of the best in my experience), of a birding trip to Manas National Park in Assam. I had also wanted to see the Rufous-necked Hornbill in Latpanchar in North Bengal. Plotting the route I found various possibilities. After consulting my regular travel companions, the following Hop On Hop Off North East Odyssey (HOHONEO) plan formulated itself through crowd sourcing from them:

Patna-Gogabil wetland (Katihar)-Bagdogra-Latpanchar-Buxa Tiger Reserve-Manas National Park-Guwahati-Kaziranga-Kohima-Imphal-Hollongopar Gibbon Sanctuary-Dibrugarh-Miao (Namdapha)-Roing-North Lakhimpur-Ziro-Itanagar-Guwahati-Umiam-Dawki-Cherrapunji-Shillong-Guwahati-Manas again-Bagdogra-Patna (37 days, ~5,000 km)

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Day 1, 10 March 2022

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After the usual servicing and checkups, tank full, started from Patna at 4 AM towards Katihar via Mokama and Barauni. I had last driven on this road in February 2012 when several patches were in very bad condition so I was slightly apprehensive. However, this NH had been done up and, though single lane, the road surface was quite good almost throughout.

Crossing the Rajendra Pul, Mokama-Barauni

Double lane initially turned into single lane with good surface

Verdant green fields

Crossing Kosi Mahasetu

सोने की गुड़िया, चाँदी की डोड़
चल मेरी गाड़ी, गुवाहाटी की ओर
Yes, I too would be going there

Chai in kulhad (environment-friendly earthen cup)

After lunch at Katihar, I drove to Gogabil, a community-managed wetland. It's listed among the Important Bird Areas (IBA) of Asia. I knew that March was rather late for migratory birds but still went there to see the wetland. The connecting road was quite bad. The local community has a boat in which I took a short boat ride; not many birds but an enjoyable outing

Asian Openbill Storks

Oriental Darter

Ready to take off

It was dark by the time I returned to Katihar so a quick dinner and early to bed.


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Day 2, 11.5.22. Katihar-Bagdogra-Kurseong

A short drive to Bagdogra where 3 others were to fly in to join me

Katihar-Purnia road being made 4-laned so lots of construction (don't know why after repeated uploading it's turning upside down :))

Got it right this time!

Stopped at BP COCO Ghoshpukur for car & self refuelling but was very disappointed! Lone lady pump attendant was filling large drums of diesel with no one else to help. Air filling point was out of order. For breakfast I wanted puri-sabji (luchi-tarkari in Bengali) but was given a modified bhatura with daal instead. When I inquired I was told that daal is what they give for sabji!

Crossed lots of vehicles fully laden with potatoes waiting for their turn at the cold storage; didn't know that this region was growing so much potato



Car wash at Bagdogra

My friend from Kerala flew in and wanted to revisit his old haunts so we went to Kurseong via the narrow, twisting Pankhabari road and had the incomparable chicken cutlets and momos with fragrant Darjeeling tea in the West Bengal Tourist Lodge. They were as good as ever!







Bought some tea from the Makaibari sales outlet on the Pankhabari road


Returned to Bagdogra to hunt for spare battery for friend's Canon D77 and then called it a day
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Days 3&4, 12-13.5.22, Latpanchar
Two more of our group flew in to Bagdogra. After quick refreshments (chicken cutlets at Marina's Motel), the four of us drove to Latpanchar, famous with birders for its Rufous-necked Hornbills

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Passing through the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary

The road to Latpanchar branches off near Kalijhora with a steep climb through bad roads

This part, a steep, dust-filled road looked especially daunting but the Innova made it without any problem

Latpanchar has lovely houses adorned with beautiful, colourful flowers. Our homestay on left





The afternoon hide birding was disappointing.

Happy to see girls playing football

We left early next morning in search of the Rufous-necked Hornbill and spotted the female

Next a hike through the forests to see if we could spot any other birds or animals.
Malayan Giant Squirrel

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A local lady on the roadside

Our guide looking for the birds

After a long day of birding when we had given up hope of spotting the male Rufous-necked Hornbill, we stopped for tea at a shack.


Just then our guide, Sabir, got a call that the hornbills were moving up the valley. We put our half-drunk tea aside and rushed towards the road overlooking the valley. Sure enough, there it was!

With a sense of fulfilment we returned to our homestay. After dark we went for owl-spotting and were lucky to see
Mountain Scops Owl

Brown Hawk Owl

and Collared Scops Owl

before retiring for the night.

Another hide birding early next morning but nothing noteworthy

Red-billed Leothrix

Chestnut-tailed Starling

Our host's German Shepherd

A curious onlooker

Left for our next destination, Buxa Tiger Reserve, after breakfast.
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Saw this Orange-bellied Leafbird on the way

Again the stretch of bad road

The steep portion except we were headed downhill while a Mahindra coming up was stuck. Persuaded them to reverse and move out of our way

Crossing the Coronation Bridge

Smooth drive through tea gardens

Stopped at Roy & Cousin, Malbazar, for refuelling. Also had a sumptuous tea at the adjoining Tea Moments
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Nearing Raidak Forest House, Buxa Tiger Reserve


The decrepit kitchen (gas stove not in pic) from which Caretaker-cum-Cook, Keshab, conjured up delicious meals! Great end to the day!
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Days 5-6, 14-15.3.22, Buxa Tiger Reserve

Early morning safari towards Nararthali Bil (lake)




Siberian Rubythroat, a rare winter visitor

Saw many other birds including this Black-crested Bulbul

Afternoon safari to Bhutan border, "Bhutan Ghat". Crossed tea gardens on the way. The yellow strips around the lower tree trunks are coated with some sticky chemical that attracts insects and protects the tea plants from pest attacks




The multi-hued Bhutan hills, called Kalapahar, rise steeply across the river. The many hues of the rocks indicate the likelihood of volcanic activity associated with collision zones like the Himalayas. It was mesmerising






Saw several Great Indian Hornbills flying across. In our guide, Forest Guard, Pramatha's words, "Bidesh chole gelo" (gone abroad).



Our mobiles switched to Bhutan time

While returning saw this Barking Deer

Rydak Forest Rest House, completed in 1909, is the second oldest FRH in Bengal that has retained its original structure


Keshab again magically produced a delicious dinner from his decrepit kitchen


A satiated group slept very well indeed!
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Days 7-10, 16-19.3.22, Manas National Park

We were to join our Nature India birding group for Manas National Park. Nature India's birding trips are exceptional in quality. Our morning's destination was the Smiling Tuskers Elephant Camp near the sanctuary gate.
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We bade goodbye to our superlative cook, Keshab, and equally wonderful guide, Pramatha, and headed for NH. But first to cross those rickety bridges - the previous evening Pramatha had gleefully informed us that the bridges were indeed in need of repair

Roadside fuel for sale

Potato trucks and tractors lined up

Various examples of Indian driving on National Highways - they can come on the wrong lane sheaded straight for you from any direction, all shapes and sizes too!



Restaurants open only around 9 AM so a hungry lot stopped at the first available joint

Fortunately, service was quick and toilets were clean.
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Met the resident gecko, too

Crossed the IOC Bongaigaon Oil Refinery

Drove along the Beki river for the last bit

Reached Manas to join the rest of the group that had flown to Guwahati and driven from there. They reached just after us

Checked into our tents, had lunch and went for the afternoon safari


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Afternoon and morning safaris each day in the central zone except for one day in the eastern zone when we had lunch near the eastern zone gate and returned for the afternoon safari. Wonderful sightings thanks to our Nature India group leader, Mandar, and local guide, Bijoy. Good food, too!

Here are a few of the birds and animals and a sketch map of the Manas National Park:

Malayan Giant Squirrel

Indian Wild Buffaloes


Kalij Pheasant eating a Silk Cotton Tree seed

Elephants galore


Long-tailed Broadbill building its nest on a hanging vine so that no predator can reach it

Bengal Monitor Lizard



Great Hornbill

Smooth-coated Otters in the Manas River separating India and Bhutan

Capped Langur




Large-tailed Nightjar.While we were watching the Nightjar with both gypsies abreast and their headlamps on, a rhino strolled across the road! Wonder what would have happened if we had been driving and bumped into each other!!!

Black-breasted Parrotbill

At park entrance. We were in two gypsies


Forest watchtowers where we would stop for packed breakfast

India-Bhutan border so some of us crossed over without visas!

Horns of different animals (can't get it to be upright)

Forest patrol party

Manas National Park has 3 entrances - East, Central & Western. We skipped the distant Western Zone

Smiling Tuskers Elephant Camp. We were in the cottages on the left. There are tents on the right

Wild Buffalo trying to gauge our intentions

Waiting to enter

Lunch break at Eastern Zone. We saw the Bengal Florican during the afternoon safari
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Breakfast at a Forest Checkpost. All the trash was carefully collected and taken back
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Breakfast stop
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Last day. Buying handlooms from local women who make them
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Final goodbyes and then drive to Guwahati
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Crossing the Brahmaputra into Guwahati

Other family members joined there. We stayed at Baruah Bhavan, a heritage family homestay.

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Sunset Cruise on the Brahmaputra



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Dinner with wonderful local flavour at the nearby Michinga