Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In Madhepura at last!

7: 38 am: Whatsapp message: The kids bounced out of bed this morning,  took one look at this beautiful campus, and Anand declared,  "I think we are going to have an exciting time here!"

And so, just like that, our roadtrip ends in our new home! Vellore to Madhepura....

Our sturdy SX4 has held up well. God has been good! The trip-ometer says we have done around 2677 kms. 

2677.3 kms. Well done, Maruti SX4!

I think this has been one of the best trips we have made.

Here are the Roadtrip related blogposts:

Lessons learnt: 
What we did well:
1. This was not all about getting to our destination. Instead, we enjoyed the journey, and made this a trip to remember.
That reminds me of Michael Card's song, "There is a joy in the journey!" 

I wish we could remember this everyday. Life is not just about the heaven to come in our future. Instead we can experience abundant life in the Kingdom today. There is, indeed, joy in the journey!

2. We planned our journey in small bites, travelling about 300-400 km everyday, so that we had plenty of time for breaks and picnics.

3. We left early everyday, while the children were still asleep. This meant that we could usually do about an hour's worth of driving before they woke up for breakfast.

4. We spent the evenings with friends. We thank God for the many friends who opened their homes to us. Visiting with them and enjoying their hospitality has been very special and meaningful.

5. We packed the car with stuff for the children to keep occupied. Exam boards, plenty of paper and color pencils and crayons, books for Anand to read, puzzles and ideas for indoor games. All carefully packed into a organiser that hung from the back of Arpita's seat. In addition, we had a lot of stuff downloaded and ready on our iPod. The children especially enjoyed the storytelling of Jim Weiss, and the music of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann

6. We had great company. It was a real privilege to travel from Vellore to Bhubaneswar with Arpita's sister, Ashita

7. We had a great bunch of friends (and, of course, our families), who kept us in prayer and kept cheering us on, keeping us going. They kept in touch over Whatsapp and Facebook, and it was such an encouragement to us to get their messages and experience their love and concern throughout the journey.

8. We had a great car. The Maruti SX4 exceeded expectations. A smooth comfortable ride on the highways, and the ability to take the rough with the smooth. Great music system and air-conditioning. Plus, ample storage space for our luggage. It was always a surprise to see how much stuff could actually fit in the boot!

What would we do differently next time?
1. I think we were slightly overpacked, which meant that Ashita and the children in the backseat were probably a little cramped for space. Next time, I would try and ensure we did not have any luggage inside the sitting space of the car.

2. Next time, I would be a little less trusting of Google maps! It worked well most of the time. However, when it goofed up, it did so spectacularly!

27th October: Day 7: Pakur to Madhepura

10.24 am: Whatsapp message: We had a good rest, and started at 7.30. We have decided against taking the ferry over the Ganga and have instead decided on Farakka, Maldah,  Dalkhola, Purnea,  Madhepura.  It is about 270km, and mostly through WB, so that we can avoid driving through small Bihar roads especially during this election time.

We have done well so far. We have just crossed the Ganga at the Farakka barrage. ...quite a beautiful and impressive sight, and we went through very quickly without much delay. After yesterday's misadventure with Google maps, we are talking more to local people and combining the information they provide with the directions from Google maps. Hopefully we should reach Madhepura by evening

Our sturdy warhorse! The SX4 after our misadventures on Jharkhand roads

Breakfast stop

Breakfast stop

Travelling together through Bihar

And finally, just like that, we were there!

21:22pm: Whatsapp message: We have reached Madhepura πŸ˜€πŸŽΆπŸ’₯🌟πŸ’₯

We stopped en route to meet Alex Philip and look at the hospital in Purnea. We met a missionary from Madhepura there, Sambhu,  and he travelled with us from Purnea to Madhepura,  helping us to find the way without any difficulty. 

Now the next chapter begins......

After a refreshing visit with Dr Alex Philip, at the Christian Medical Centre in Purnea (of the Nav Bharat Mission), we did the last stretch of the journey with Mr Shambhunath (a missionary working with NIEA).

As we finally entered the beautiful Madhepura Christian Campus, we were welcomed by Dr Timothy Chelliah, (the medical superintendent), Mr Nothaniel Misra (nursing superintendent) and Mr Ramesh (maintenance supervisor).

We were finally home!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

26th October: Day 6: Kharagpur, West Bengal, to Pakur, Jharkhand

(Editorial note: Up to this point, we had been travelling relatively happily along AH 45, the 6 lane highway that connects Chennai to Kolkata. From Day 6, however, we were going to move onto smaller state highways, many of them single roads without the road divider.

In addition, because of elections in Bihar, we had opted against taking the obvious, shorter route to Madhepura via Bhagalpur, which would have involved a fair amount of drive through Bihar. Instead, we had decided to drive through West Bengal along the Bihar border, stay the night in Pakur, Jharkhand, and then enter Bihar on Day 7 for the final leg of the journey.)

Sunrise on the way out of Kharagppur

6.04 am: (Message on Whatsapp) We are on the road again . Started at 5.30. Thank God for the rest at Kharagpur and the home that was opened up for us there. We will finally today be exiting the Golden Quadrilateral highway, and will be driving through West Bengal on smaller state highways and plan to finish at a place called Pakur in Jharkhand. Please keep us in prayer.

We then made a series of decisions that, in retrospect, were not the wisest!

1. Seeing that we were going to be driving close to Kolkata, we decided to make a quick detour into Howrah to show the children the Howrah bridge. As usual, we trusted Google Maps to take us to the bridge. Instead, it led us through some narrow roads to a small bridge over a drain....we turned disappointed, and returned to the highway.

2. We then got stuck in a bad traffic jam with merging traffic on the Kolkata-Delhi highway.

3. After driving along the state highway away from Kolkata, we noticed a sign that Rabindranath Tagore's Shanti Niketan was just 40km away. We decided to drive there!

4. We did a little bit of shopping (khadi clothes) around Shanti Niketan, then had a late lunch and set off again to Pakur.

All this time, we had no reason to expect the mishaps which were yet to come. We were quite sure we would reach Pakur before nightfall.

22:17 pm. (Message on Whatsapp): We've just reached. The journey took much longer than we expected.  Google maps led us along the state highways....but neglected to tell us that many parts of the highways have not yet been constructed. 😳 They were just mud roads, very uneven with plenty of loose rocks and gravel. I will need to look over the car tomorrow in the morning light to see how well or badly it has done. 

Anyway, here we are, Jharkhand,  on the border with Bihar and Bengal....Tomorrow we will, God willing, enter Bihar and reach Madhepura by evening. Please do continue to remember us in prayer. 

On the road through West Bengal and Jharkhand

On the road through West Bengal and Jharkhand
On the road through West Bengal and Jharkhand
On a yet-to-be-constructed highway in Jharkhand!

This stretch along the yet-to-be constructed highways in Jharkhand was something we will never forget. Mud, loose rocks, gravel, and plenty of knocks on the under-carriage of the car. And all this through Maoist territory. The children finally began crying when we were stopped by policemen in the middle of nowhere, who wanted to make sure we were not Maoists ourselves.

But we were delighted to finally reach Pakur after 10pm in the night, and find the beautiful family who were going to host us for the night. Prof Chacko, from Kharagpur, had contacted Alex Sam, Sunita Marandi and family, and once again, we were guests in the home of a wonderful Christian family who had never met us before. What a wonderful thing it is to be so related in the family of God!
Sunita Marandi and Alex Sam, our gracious hosts for the night!

Monday, October 26, 2015

25th October: Day 5: Chilika Lake to Kharagpur

We left from Chilika quite early on Day 5, because we knew we had a long drive ahead. It was beautiful to drive along the lakeside in those early hours. We made only one great risk to life and limb, I chivalrously agreed to stretch over the water to pick a water lily for my lady love. There was an unexpected bonus. The children were delighted when I was also able to find for them an empty, yet completely intact shell of a snail. They spent a little time over the next hour, drawing these wonders in their nature study books.

This was also to be the day when Ashita left to complete her journey on her own. It had been an unexpected blessing to have her travel with us, but it was now time to drop her off at Bhubaneshwar. We had a delicious South Indian breakfast, idlis, dosas and uttapams, at an Andhra restaurant next door to the hotel in which she was going to stay.

The rest of the day passed like the ones before......
1. Tender Coconut water by the side of the road.
2. A picnic lunch by the side of a picturesque canal, where we were entertained by a couple of schoolkids and a toddler. These kids, returning from school, peeled off their uniforms, and jumped into the canal to cool off! They swam very well, back and forth, diving, splashing on each other. The toddler wanted to follow as well, stripping off his clothes and moving dangerously to the water's edge, but had to be held back by his grandfather.
Picnic by a canal
Off AH45 between Bhubaneshwar and Kharagpur
3. A cow with epistaxis.
4. And finally the border where we entered West Bengal.

That night, we were welcomed into a home on the IIT Kharagpur campus.

Christian hospitality continues to be something that amazes me. We have never met Prof Chacko Jacob and family, but they had been contacted by some mutual friends of ours, who had asked whether they could arrange some accommodation for us in Kharagpur. They did, and how!

Prof Chacko and his family were away in Kolkata, attending a UESI conference. However, they left their home keys with a student, and left their entire home available to us, with a detailed note containing information about everything so that we could be comfortable. He had also helped us find a home to stay the following night in Pakur, Jharkhand.

I ask myself if I would be willing to do this for guests whom I have never met, and who I do not know at all.......

Sunday, October 25, 2015

24th October: Day 4: Satapada, Chilika Lake

Day 4 was planned to be a rest day at the Chilika lake in Odisha.

Friendly contacts who worked with an NG0 in the Chilika area had made all the arrangements - they had booked our stay at the OTDC hotel in Satpada and 2 of them had made themselves available to show us around.

The time at Satapada was definitely one of the highlights of the trip and something the kids will remember for a long time.

Since this is a travel blog I must write a little about the OTDC hotel in Satapada.This is the only hotel in this tourist town and has the potential to be a really special place.Instead, the facilities are quite run down and shabby. In our room, the flush tank, geyser and AC were not working, but the hotel staff made arrangements to get hot water for us from the next room.

We, however, had a great time together . The Chilika lake is one of the largest saltwater lakes in the world.We did a 3 hour boat trip, saw flying/ hopping fish and the famous Irrawady dolphins, and travelled to an "island" called Rajahamsa which has saltwater lake on one side and the Bay of Bengal on the other. As you can imagine, we had a great time. One disappointment was that we were a little early to see the migratory birds. The birding season begins once temperatures drop - from November to February.

Picking a boat 
All aboard!
On the Chilka Lake
Fruit Juice never tasted better!
Nature study
Drawing cormorants sitting on poles
Fishing poles on the Chilika Lake
The Rajahamsa beach, Chilika
The Rajahamsa beach, Chilika
The Rajahamsa beach, Chilika
The Rajahamsa beach, Chilika
Tired, but happy!
Seabreeze in our face
Trying to spot birds

As recommended by one of our friends on FB, we had ordered seafood at one of the beach-side shacks before leaving in the morning, and it was such a delight to return to a piping hot and tasty meal.

We slept well in the afternoon, had another lakeside picnic in the evening and another great seafood meal for dinner.

All in all, a good restful break of journey in an excellent location - a great decision all around.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

23rd October: Day 3: Vizag to Satapada, Chilika Lake

We had spent the night in Havilah's home in Vizag, and woke up early, feeling rested and refreshed. After packing our stuff in the car, and saying our goodbyes, we were discussing which would be the best route out of the city, when, quite impulsively, Havilah offered to show us the way on her two-wheeler.

She did. Straight to the Vizag beach! We had not realised her home was so close to the Beach! And what fun we had!

The Vizag beach is one of the more beautiful beaches I have seen. As we drove down the Beach road, the sight of Kailash Hill sloping down gently into the sea is one that will remain with us as a lasting memory of Vizag.

Early morning at the Vizag Beach 

A retired submarine at the Vizag beach

Residual damage after last year's cyclone

At 6am, the road had been closed to vehicles and was full of early morning walkers and joggers . We enjoyed looking at a retired submarine . We could see some of the residual effects of last year's cyclone.  We were told that the sea level in Vizag is rising every year, which has led subsequently to some great conversations with the children on global warming.

So, all in all, a tremendous experience.  Thanks, Havilah, for this great early morning surprise!

The drive to Behrampur was very good. Excellent roads. A great picnic - breakfast off the highway just beyond Vijaynagaram, beside a brook where we even found a water - snake. We reached Behramapur by 12.30pm.

Early morning dew on the grass

We actually found a water-snake at our breakfast stop

Breakfast stop somewhere between Vizag and the Orissa border

In Behrampur, we were happy to be able to visit Love the One, an NGO started by Catherine Morris and Mary Cusack, two British paediatricians who have been working in India with slum children for the last 5 years or so. They had spoken at Shiloh 2014, and it was a real blessing to be able to visit and see for ourselves what they were doing

Love the One strikes me as a very comprehensive attempt to work with these disadvantaged  children, one child at a time. We were shown around by Cat Morris, who told us the story of LTO, and a few of the children they have been working with. We saw the EPIC centre (early paediatric intervention centre), the new school that has been started, the small clinic,  the child sponsorship program and heard about the hub and spoke model that is developing. Mary was away in Hyderabad with 6 children needing major cardiac surgery.
Fun in Love the One, Behrampur. Announcing the Spot the Dheeraj contest!

Spotted on the wall in Love the One, Behrampur

Cat Morris and the EPIC centre staff

 We visited their home, and were introduced to their dogs, Molly, Daisy and Asha, and cat, Gizmo, whose stories I have been following on Facebook. It was inspiring to hear of all that is happening.  Please look them up on Facebook and have a look at their website. I think they would be really interested in building up a pool of committed Indian healthcare professionals, educators, and child welfare activists who could act as resource persons, and help them with locally relevant ideas, suggestions and staff training programs from time to time.

Hard at work on the drive: AH45
Hard at work on the drive: AH45
Hard at work on the drive: AH45
When the time came to leave for Chilika, we found an unexpected problem had cropped up. We had planned to use the ferry to get us and our car to Satapada, but found there is no ferry after 4.30pm. Useful information for our next road trip!  Anyway, to cut the long story short, we took the longer route around Chilika Lake to Puri, and from there to Satapada,  which included a disastrous shortcut suggested by Google Maps as a bypass to Puri (the road had not yet been completed, and was therefore in terrible condition. To make matters worse, this segment of the trip was made in pitch darkness). We finally reached our destination by about 8.30pm,  had a quick dinner, and I crashed out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Friday, October 23, 2015

22nd October: Day 2: Vuyyuru to Vizag


David's animals and organic vegetable garden.


Day 2, and almost 950km completed. Everything so far has exceeded expectations. Thanks be to God

After a good breakfast at Vuyyuru, we tried to avoid meeting Mr Modi by taking a somewhat circuitous route from Vuyyuru to Hanuman Junction (a town on the National Highway), via Gudivada. This road was bad in stretches, and even the NH seemed somewhat poorly maintained until Rajahmundry. Also, we could hardly find picnic spots which had not been spoilt with plastic papers and waste, and human and animal excreta. We were left feeling saddened at how this beautiful country of ours has been spoiled by human beings. It seemed to me to be quite symbolic of the lack of 'Shalom' we have been thinking together about over the past few months....of how human beings have messed up this beautiful world that was entrusted to our care.

Fellow travellers on AH45!
Watching buffalo, goat, and herdsman bathe together and wanting to join in the fun
After lunch and Rajahmundry, things started to look better. I think the stretch of highway between Rajahmundry and Vizag must be one of the most beautiful drives I have ever made, and I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the journey. We finally reached Vizag by about 4.30pm.

A large statue of Swami Vivekananda atop a hill
Beautiful India!

We first went to the home of one of our new friends, who has decided to move with his family to the Arukku valley to work among the tribals there. They plan to start a new school there. Ashita and Arpita engaged this couple in a freewheeling and animated discussion on education, homeschooling, choice of language medium (vernacular vs English/ Hindi), community ownership of the school, documentation and preservation of some aspects of local culture, promotion of Health, Shalom and abundant life (and not just treatment of symptoms) and so on. It was a great conversation.

We have just had another fabulous dinner with Havilah and family ( Havilah is my batch mate and foster sister) and James Adams and family (Arpita's batchmate). What a privilege it has been to meet and be hosted by these friends on this journey!
Dinner with Havilah, James and their families

Tomorrow we enter Odisha. Sounds like that is going to be great fun as well.