On a recent trip to Sunderbans, the sight of fishermen catching fish every morning by throwing nets into the river was a sight to see.
(Read more about Sunderbans here.)
On a recent trip to Sunderbans, the sight of fishermen catching fish every morning by throwing nets into the river was a sight to see.
(Read more about Sunderbans here.)
Tiger spotting in Ranthambore National Park, India
Yes, I have very bad tiger karma. Had. Not anymore. With innumerable safaris (I stopped counting after 40) under the belt, beating heat waves and sunstrokes and surviving the disappointment safari after safari, I had the odd-ball luck called the bad tiger karma. No tiger had decided that it was worth its while to give me a fleeting chance to witness the royal highness. Of late, I had become the butt end of jokes of my hardcore tiger enthusiast friends. Then everyone around, tiger enthusiast or not, started digging on my bad tiger karma. To be fair, all that didn’t start with jokes. In the beginning, there was sympathy and encouragement. ‘Oh, it was the wrong season, I guess!’ or ‘I think the tigers are all poached, no wonder you didn’t see anything.’ or ‘ The forest is dense, it is hard to see a tiger. Better luck next time!‘ Then it moved to incredulous disappointment. ‘What? 5 Safaris and you still did not see a Tiger even in Tadoba? EVERYONE sees a tiger there, on EVERY safari!’ or ‘What? Not even in Ranthambore? My mother’s neighbour’s uncle saw a tiger last week in Corbett, IN CORBETT!’. Then it moved to the wretched jokes phase. ‘Oh, you are going to Bandipur! The tigers are going to hide. Poor others going on safari this weekend.’ Or sample this: ‘Are you releasing some special tiger pheromones that makes them run and hide?’ Then 40 safaris and more later (I mentioned I stopped counting) when the jokes had dried out and there was no more to be created, was the phase of social shunning, rather safari shunning. ‘We can’t go with you. We wan’t to see a tiger.’ Do you know of anyone who has been as unfortunate as me?
But haha! I think my wildcat jinx was broken with my sighting of the snow leopard last year! Yes, no tiger, but I saw a snow leopard on day 1 of our trek. Read more here: Sighting the Grey Ghost. Armed with confidence that my karma was undone by the generous snow leopard that had decided to grace me with his presence, I was steeled myself to chance it with another 4 safaris in the sweltering summer heat this year. I was a last minute pile-on to my friend’s plan for trip to Ranthambore (I had self invited myself; I also mentioned that my friends had stopped planning any wildlife trips with me). This friend had gifted me a tiger picture he had clicked and insisted that I hang it on my travel wall (adorned only with MY travel pictures) only to serve as a cruel reminder of my befallen fate. Aside his cruelty, he had an excellent track record of tiger sighting and had worked as a volunteer in the park. He knew the best areas, had the right connections etc. So my hopes were high with the promise of the forbidden sight. I had the nervous energy, perhaps bordering on negative outlook of the outcome to keep me from being disappointed yet again, but somewhere deep down I knew that this trip would be fruitful. It would be the end of the cruelty unleashed on me. This was going to be THE trip.
DAY 1: A moving orange patch.
Morning safari in Zone 3
My friends and I boarded the late night train to arrive in Sawai Madhopur in wee hours of the morning. After a quick snooze, we were off on the jeeps to Zone no.3 inhabited by a Tigress named Arrowhead. Just in 5 mins after entering the gate, I spotted a Tiger! There was a large lake next to the entrance and our guide was scanning the edges of the lake with a pair of binoculars. The tigress was soaking its body in the cool waters of the lake to beat the heat. Slowly it emerged and started walking along the edge. The tiger was almost 100 mrs away so I couldn’t see it clearly with naked eyes. But heck! My bad luck had just come to an end. I had seen a tiger, albeit at a distance! I hi-fived my friend, jumping in excitement of seeing what was a moving patch of orange. The tiger slowly started walking and the guide made a snap decision to abandon this post and drive back to the gate to catch the tiger possibly crossing the road. But that was it. The tiger never came out from the dense vegetation along the lake side. We spent next 3 hours going up and down 100 mtrs on the road. But no luck!
DAY 1: Hide and seek in a cove.
Noon safari in Zone 6
The safari post lunch was an adventure in itself. We had an enthusiastic guide who strangely promised us to show tigers. As if the tigers were at his beck and call, his royal pets. But he did make good on his promise. After being convinced that there was a tiger hiding in a shallow ravine below the cliff we were on, we waited and waited for a clear view and finally managed to sight a little male tiger cub of Tigress Ladli which stepped out from the cove to drink some water.
DAY 2: Best sighting of my life.
Morning safari in Zone 4
This was the best safari of two days! This sighting had made good for all the 40+ trips I had done in my life. We got an exclusive sighting of tigress Krishna and her 3 almost adult cubs for almost an hour. We had taken a blind left turn in dense part of the jungle and braked hard to come to a stop a few feet away from the tigress crossing the road. It was a beautiful sight, perfect morning soft light was hitting the tiger’s fur and made it glow. Further commotion ensued in the jeep and I turned left to look at what a fellow occupant of the jeep had spotted. There were 3 cubs strolling on the left and were coming to cross the road. They followed the mother across the road and all 4 of them sat on a patch for a few mins for us enjoy their company. One cub got up and started playing and cuddling with the mother. Awww! A few mins later, they got up and went deeper into the jungle. Our guide took the jeep all the way around the hill to catch the tiger family crossing the road to go down a small ravine next to a stream. All of them immersed themselves in the water for almost 30 mins by which time all the jeeps and canters in the zone had heard about the sighting and had made their way to the spot to create a ruckus. The tigers got up and went deeper into the ravine.
Day 2: A dash and a backside dazzle.
Evening safari in Zone 3
The whole afternoon was dull and unremarkable but for a few birds. There were no signs, no sambar calls. Our guide decided to stakeout at a spot on the road where he thought the tiger would cross. There was just 30 mins left for the safari to end. So our hopes of making it a 100% success rate on this trip was getting crushed by the minute. Suddenly a jeep was zipping past us and the other driver hurriedly relayed to us that a tiger had been spotted by another jeep deep inside jungle. Then ensued a high speed dash to the spot, flying through the jungle. Following the pug marks, our guide took a few minutes to find the tigress Arrowhead walking inside the jungle. He took the jeep on the other side to catch the tigress walking on the road ahead of us. She wasn’t even bothered to turn around and look at us. We only saw the backside of the tigress and had to reluctantly give up the chase after a few mins as our time had run out and we had to report back to gate.
A fruitful trip and the irony of it all!
We boarded the night train to get back to corporate stoogedom on Monday morning and I happily announced the end of my bad tiger karma to anyone who lent me an ear.
As I reflected back on our weekend adventure, an irony dawned upon me. I had seen tigress Arrowhead two times on this safari, once as a moving orange patch at a distance and its dirty backside on the second time. I had never seen its face! The irony is that the picture of tigress that my friend had given me to hang on my travel wall was that of Arrowhead! Life is indeed cruel.
How to get to Ranthambore national park:
Easiest option is to board an overnight train from Delhi to Sawai Madhopur.
Where to stay:
Anuraga palace was a decent and affordable option. Rooms were luxurious and the service was excellent.
When to go:
Hotter it is, better are the chance to see a tiger around the watering holes. Otherwise the park is open from Oct – Jun.
How to Book:
We came across an excellent wildlife guide Nagendra Rajawat who also does wildlife trips and packages to Ranthambore. Connect with him on http://www.indiantourandtravel.net
Birding in Pangot, Uttaranchal
Pangot is one of the best places to do birding and is a birdwatcher’s paradise. The place has almost 250 species of birds, both resident and the migratory birds that come here. The best season for bird watching is from Nov-Mar.
How to get there: Pangot is about 15-20kms from Nainital.
Who to bird with: Hari Lama is one of the renowned birders in the area. http://www.harilama.in.
“Dear Emily, my only wish would be that you could make a trip over the great ocean. The land is golden and the people are so gracious and they have taught me so many things about kin and kindness. Hope it won’t be long until we see each other soon my dear. Love, Frasier.” ~ A postcard from Burma. 1st Feb, 1948.
A one week road trip to Spiti Valley via Manali – Kalpa Kinnaur – Nako – Tabo – Kaza- Key – Kibber – Langza – Hikkim – Dhankar – Lhalung – Chandratal – Manali
The beauty of Lahaul-Spiti valley is overshadowed by the interest in Leh, its flashy famous neighbour. Hence Spiti remains untouched by the millions of tourists who throng to Leh every year. Spiti means the Middle Land – the land between India & Tibet. A melting pot of Indo -Tibetan culture, splendid views of untouched natural beauty, stark barren landscapes dotted by green oasis of villages, picturesque old Buddhist monasteries perched on top of the hills, gorgeous blue lakes and clear skies for stargazing, a trekkers paradise; Spiti has all this to offer and much more to travellers. Continue reading “A road trip through the Middle Land – Spiti Valley”
Animal Spotting at Rumbak Valley, Ladakh
The Rumbak Valley in the Hemis National Park in Ladakh is known for the elusive Snow Leopard spotting. Besides the snow leopard, which of course we were fortunate enough to spot, the area is dotted with many other animal species. Even more elusive to spot is the Lynx, which we could sight only through a scope as the distances were large and our 600mm as rendered completely useless! Even the Red Fox and the Himalayan Wolf could be seen through a scope. Most common amongst the animals is the Blue Sheep or Bharal which is the snow leopard’s staple diet. From the same family, one can also spot the Ibex, Argali and the Urial. Smaller animals like the Wooly Hare and the Pika can also be spotted aplenty.
Observations from a bird watching experience to Sattal, Uttaranchal, India Continue reading “On why Birding is like watching a Bollywood multi-starrer and other notes”
A bird-watching trek to the town of Sattal, located in Uttaranchal, India
The lower Himalayas is home to a hundreds of indigenous birds of India. Adding to the local avian fauna are the migratory birds who make the lower himalayas their home every winter. An opportunity to see such a vast range of birds took me to Sattal. Sattal, the land of seven lakes, is in the lower Himalayan region in the state of Uttaranchal and is home to a vast variety of indigenous & migratory birds, approximately over 230 in number. Over one weekend, I got to see and click over 50 beautiful birds that one can never ever see over the metro skyline.
Where to go: Sattal & Pangot are popular locations for bird watching. Both are at app 300 kms from Delhi and can be accessed by road or rail that goes till Haldwani & Kathgodam.
When to Go: Nov-Feb is best time; the weather is good and the avian population comes to life in the North Indian winter.
“350 seediyan hai. Pehle neeche phir upar jaati hai, phir village aur bridge aata hai. Ek baar main gaya tha. Uske baad 2-3 din tak bimaar padh gaya. Seedhiyon se nafrat si ho gayi thi (It is 350 odd stairs that go down and then up to the village and the bridge. I did it once and after that , I fell in bed for 2-3 days. I hated the sight of stairs),” muttered Tapan, our driver in Cherrapunjee, once the rainiest place on this earth. From his sombre voice, it was evident that this was his attempt to discourage me from doing the trek to the village, based on his bad experience. The trek to the Living Root bridge of the Nongriat village near Cherrapunjee is not for the weak kneed or the faint hearted as I was soon about to find out.
The living root bridges of Nongriat village are one of the manmade wonders, dating back many centuries. The aerial roots of Banyan tree on opposite sides of the river are continuously twisted, given direction and woven together, till it can be shaped and strengthened into a sturdy bridge. This is the only means for the villagers to cross the raging water streams to reach the other side. There are two living root bridges in Nongriat, a single deck bridge and a double decker bridge.
Dismissing Tapan’s foreboding warning of things to come, I decided to embark upon the trek to the village the next morning. After all it was just 350 steps! What was he talking about! It couldn’t be that bad after all. After reaching the Tyrna village, the starting point on top of the mountain, I found a guide named Phil. Phil was a smiling young lad, right out of school, who was killing time and making some pocket money by offering to guide in the few months he had before he had to join college. The board at Tyrna village indicated a 3km hike to the Nongriat village and some mild alarm bells were set off in my head. 3km and 350 steps didn’t quite add up!
The path to the village is a cemented staircase in middle of a thick jungle, that first reaches the bottom of the valley and then after crossing the river, another flight of stairs upwards lands one at the village. Very casually, we walked down the flight of stairs, enjoying the beauty around. After about ½ hr of walk down the stairs, with knees beginning to become wobbly, I figured we must have actually done double of 350 steps that my driver warned me about. I asked Phil, how many steps were actually there? To my shock, he said 3500! Clearly Tapan didn’t count properly! Well, shoot me, I said. Phil smiled helplessly. How was I even going to get through it, with my knees already wobbling! Walking down was the easy part I figured. Walking up the steep and narrow flight of stairs could be a death wish! Never mind, I would crawl up. But it was a problem for later.
So we continued. The breathtaking hike through the forest was well worth it. The jungle was enveloped with clouds and the morning dew made everything look fresh and beautiful. We saw a few villagers coming up the stairs. One was a little girl in a school-dress, not more than 7-8 years, who was walking up the stairs to go to school! It was very hard to imagine that the young kids did this everyday! Just for basic things like going to school and getting a good education! Soon, we spotted two more villagers who were transporting local produce in heavy sacks strapped to their backs. To see & experience the hardships that the villagers faced day in and day out, was extremely heart wrenching. What made them go up and down the stairs every day? Why couldn’t government make more efforts for them to easily connect with the world outside, like making ropeway trolleys. But observing them gave me the impetus to complete rest of the trek without a whimper.
After the steep flight of stairs down, we arrived at a small village, from where the single root bridge can be accessed. We progressed ahead, arriving at a wobbly iron bridge at the bottom of the valley. Crossing it for the first time, gave me a good scare. While Phil languorously strolled ahead, with wind in his hair and spring in his step, here I was, sweating by litres, clutching the swaying bridge for my dear life and crawling ahead. I did not want to look down at the water stream 30 ft below, for I would have succumbed to my fear of heights and gotten fully paralysed. Miraculously, I survived, only to find another higher and longer iron bridge after a short walk ahead. History repeated itself as this also I survived. Phew!
After a short walk up on another flight of stairs, we arrived at Nongriat village. Nestled in the middle of the jungle was this quaint and clean village, freshly sprayed clean with the shower that had just started. The village is fully off the grid and hence has become a hotspot for trekkers who want to be engulfed by nature. There were a few homestays I found on the way where trekkers esp from abroad were relaxing. It is commendable what the villagers have done to encourage responsible tourism while protecting nature. They have contributed towards a community guesthouse for trekkers, have made large dustbins for collecting waste etc. They respect nature by keeping the village clean. It is a harmonious co-existence of villagers, nature & tourists. A short walk from the village, is the Living Root Bridge. The first view of the root bridge mesmerised me and made the arduous trek fully worth every drop of sweat and every ache in my body. It felt as though I had arrived in paradise. With chirping birds that began to emerge after the downpour, the double decker bridge in middle of a thick jungle, set right across a rumbling waterfall and over a gentle water stream, was a sight to behold. The double bridge was a masterpiece in itself, with intertwined roots made sturdy over centuries. The villagers are working on creating a third deck, by twisting and shaping the roots. Perhaps in a half a century, it would be fully made. The water was so clear, cool and fresh and it was enticing me for relaxing dip. I hadn’t got a change of clothes, so I just made do by sitting with my feet swaying in the water and periodically dipping my face in it. Mesmerized with the bountiful greenery around me, I thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the place amidst the slight drizzle.
Ahh, I so didn’t want to go back. It is quite natural to feel like this in middle of nature, completely off the grid, where one can unburden the stresses of daily life and try to find a rhythm between self & nature. I bumped into a foreigner who completely endorsed my sentiments. He, like me, had come for a day trek and decided to stay back after feeling enchanted by this place. My resort in Sohra doesn’t know where I am, he said very coolly. I wished I could have done the same. But I am a woman with proper plans and it would mean the rest of my trip would have gone for a toss. A small tea shop right next to the bridge was just perfect to have a cup of hot tea and steaming Maggi, before I reluctantly winded my way up.
The rains had cleared up the clouds on the way up and I could see the spectacular landscape of the valley, gasping in awe of how much we had walked. Slowly and steadily, I made my way up, not knowing what was sweat and what was rain drops on me. This time I had counted. It was 3500 stairs (app 5000 steps ) from the bridge back to the top which meant we had done 7000 stairs and total 10000 steps up and down. But it didn’t hurt one bit, for my body and mind had found a gentle rhythm to propel me further. I met an aghast Tapan at the top, for I had completed the trek in 4.5 hours which is quite an average time clocked for the trek. Thank god you didn’t tell me it will be a 7000 stairs trek, I would not have ever done it, I told him. The loss would have been only mine!
And yes, my body revolted at the sight of stairs for almost a week after that.
How to get there:
Tyrna village, the starting point of the trek is ½ hr drive away from Cherrapunjee. From there it will take a relaxed 1.5 hr walk down to the Nongriat Village and then a 2 hr walk up. Budget 4-5 hours including stops.
Where to stay:
If you want to do a day trek, stay in one of the Hotels in Cherrapunjee. However, it is recommended to stay at Nongriat village for a night or two to thoroughly experience the place. Serene homestay is a good option. Expect nothing fancy.
What to do:
Carry swimming trunks and a towel if you want to dip in the stream. If you plan to stay, walk around on other trails to nearby villages and take a dip in many waterfalls along the way. Also trek up for an hour to Rainbow Falls which is supposedly very scenic and highly recommended by all trekkers and locals alike. Chances of spotting an actual rainbow over the waterfalls are very high. It rains abruptly making the stairs slippery, so wear trekking boots and waterproof your camera and phones. Travel light.
Road Trippin’ through Mumbai – Bijapur – Badami – Aihole- Pattadkal – Chitradurga – Jog Falls– Konkan Coast – Goa – Ganpatipule – Mumbai
The idea for this 2500 kms of history, nature & leisure roadtrip originated when my husband and I decided to do something exciting around the already planned new year get-together at Goa with friends. We embarked upon a road trip through north Karnataka to see some of the major historic UNESCO heritage sites of the Chalukya & Vijaynagar empire at Badami, Aihole, Pattadkal & Hampi and then zipped down to Goa Continue reading “2500 kms of Road Trippin’ through North Karnataka & Goa”
Experiencing nothingness, infinity, silence, insignificance & purposelessness.
The Rann, they say, can’t be captured; it can be only experienced. Nothing else said could have been truer about Rann. Wanting to experience something offbeat, we decided to spend some time on a full moon night at the Great White Salt desert also known as Continue reading “A Moonlit Night’s Introspection at the Rann of Kutch”