A Travellerspoint blog

Magnificent Manas

+ Nameri ~ Adventures in Assam (and momentarily Bhutan)

semi-overcast 25 °C

A waterfall of orchids hanging from the trees in mid-March.

A waterfall of orchids hanging from the trees in mid-March.

I had been to Assam only once before. In April of 2010 I'd had a brief a 3-day visit to Kaziranga and although I enjoyed that trip, nothing prepared me for the wonder we experienced in this longer visit; which might just be the best overall wildlife trip I’ve taken, among so many remarkable ones. Manas in particular seemed somehow more ‘wild’, and so wonderfully tranquil.

This northeast state, known to the west primarily for its tea, is such a wonderful state, and relatively less-traveled when compared with many other wildlife spots in India. That alone makes it a nice respite from the frenetic tiger chasing of many parks in central India. For the wildlife traveller, it is also a much more affordable trip than other wildlife destinations – accommodation and food being often far more reasonable. The people you find here were without exception super-helpful in planning the trip, although the ability to use your credit card is even more rare here than India in general. This makes it a bit more challenging to plan without a local representative to help you, or expensive money transfers from overseas… unless you enjoy carrying a suitcase full of cash with you!

When I started planning this trip, a simple accommodation query to the venerable Wildgrass Resort in Kaziranga resulted in an email chock-full of information to help my planning – not just for Kaziranga, but for of the entire itinerary! Similarly, a query to the Field Director in Manas resulted in a response that was so welcoming and helpful for booking the remote lodge we stayed at.

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Onto the Adventures in Manas National Park!

But first, a brief description of this massive Park (over 2,600 sq. km), situated along the border of Bhutan. Designated a Unesco Site, the park’s wildlife and landscape are incredibly diverse. Rolling grasslands; dense, tangled forests with massive Silk Cotton trees; and, tumbling rivers winding their way from the Himalaya foothills. Most of the animals found in the more famous Kaziranga can be found here, plus many many more. The only caveat to that is that they are much harder to see. For me this is somehow more rewarding and special when you have an encounter.

Manas has seen a lot of turmoil and many people are still worried about travelling there. I had heard of devastating poaching and forest destruction stemming from the violence between the indigenous Bodo people and immigrating Bengali Muslims in the 80s and 90s. Problems do still arise, but it is mostly calm these days. Not knowing how empty the forest might be, we decided to visit for only a couple of days. We want more! There was much more wildlife activity here than either of us expected, and staying in the Mathanguri Lodge is the only place to stay! At least as far as I’m concerned.

River border between Bhutan and India.

River border between Bhutan and India.

We arrived by flight from Delhi to Guwahati on March 17 and stayed overnight at the affordable, clean and efficient Hotel Rialto, planning to head out before dawn to Manas the next day. The Rialto was a great bargain at 1200 a night and though the rooms were small, they were comfy, decently clean, and had AC that worked, albeit at arctic levels. The real surprise was the Hotel’s restaurant food. We had a hot and sour chicken soup that was to die for! Not like many I’ve had before – so much chicken! not very sour, and a good handful of cilantro – yummy!!! The Hakka chicken noodles were really good too, and the tandoor chicken (starting to cluck now) was good, if not great. I’d go there for that soup alone!
We met our driver Siraz the night we arrived as he popped in to arrange our departure time the next morning. What a lovely man he is! Professional, helpful and kind – it quickly became apparent that he was to be one of my favourite, of many, drivers in India. Barpeta Rd., which is the town at the entrance to Manas (and a rail station head), is about a 3-hour drive from Guwahati, through a rich and bountiful farmland. We passed incredible crops of vegetables and countless carts on their way to the marketplace.

Masses of veggies heading to market on our way to Manas.

Masses of veggies heading to market on our way to Manas.


... and more veggies

... and more veggies

Arriving at the forest office near the gate to Manas (we mistakenly carried on there instead of pre-clearing at the forest office in town), there was a bit of scrambling, but the Forest Officer was kind and wrote up an entrance ticket for us after phoning the Field Director. Then, walked across the road to the Immigration/Foreign Registers Office! I had to explain to the customs officer, set up at a wooden desk on a ramshackle porch that I wished to enter Manas for wildlife, and not for any nefarious Bhutanese activities! The border to Bhutan runs through the forest itself, and trucks of goods, and people cross over quite regularly.

Paperwork taken care of, and all documents appropriately stamped, we were off for the 1.5 hour drive to the Mathanguri Lodge. The drive to the Forest Lodge is a safari in itself. We stopped to watch dust-bathing elephants, trumpeting a warning (or “Hello”?) to us. Wild buffalo and Hog Deer popped out of the greenery to see what we were up to. What a spectacular place to spend my birthday this year!

Peek-a-boo with a Hog Deer

Peek-a-boo with a Hog Deer


A rather large Welcome to Manas from an Asian Elephant!

A rather large Welcome to Manas from an Asian Elephant!

Arriving at the lodge, our rooms were set up on a rock ledge, overlooking Bhutan with the Benki River running between us. Topped off by the beautiful soaring Himalayan foothills as a backdrop. The government-run lodge itself was much nicer than I expected. Spacious, but basic rooms, complete with mosquito-netted beds; a massive, relatively effective bathroom (though no hot water); and, a startling evening alarm call from what was described to us, as the Gecko Gecko – a large, shy reptile that lived in the buildings. We stayed in Rooms 4 & 5 but next time might try for the second floor rooms for the extra view. There is no fan, or AC, but it was still cool enough at night, though wouldn’t bet on it much further on in the season, at least for us foreigner’s averse to heat. We had a very strong wind storm our first night. Wonderful howling to fall asleep to.

The view from our forest home, looking into Bhutan.

The view from our forest home, looking into Bhutan.

Colourful beetle at Mathanguri Lodge

Colourful beetle at Mathanguri Lodge

Food no longer has to be pre-arranged and carried in to Mathanguri. They now have organized this themselves. It’s à la carte, and very tasty and fresh, but basic, fare. Plus, you get the extra added bonus of semi-feral kitty company at mealtimes! I miss my cat when I travel, so this is a good thing for me... cats being more popular here than many places in India. Power is only turned on for a couple of hours in the evening, which made the place even more fabulous to me, but be aware, can be tricky to charge all the gadgets we tend to carry these days. It is widely advertised to be on from dusk to 9:30pm, but was in reality turned off about 8. Kerosene lamps are provided in the evening, but I prefer to turn them off because of the smell. There’s no power in the morning before the dawn drive, so bring a good light with you.

If you are squeamish about critters (you are in the middle of the jungle) and/or want more luxury in your wildlife, there is the more expensive, full-service lodge (Bansbari Lodge) by the main gate.

The only downside we encountered here was the quality of the jeeps (loud and smelly) and drivers available to hire for your safari. We ended up using our own driver from Kaziranga for a few of the drives, taking the mini-van out instead. This isn’t ideal, but, was in reality a better experience overall. I’m sure there are people that are good, but will have to investigate further on a future trip, but with the park not hugely travelled, it might be difficult. Our forest ranger was young and inexperienced but completely accommodating and helpful. This wasn’t a big problem for me, since I had brought my own naturalist/guide along again on this trip, and CV spent as much time helping me get the shot, as training the ranger, who to his credit was eager to learn.

Fantastic trees, with loads of ficus (fig family) fruit for the creatures of the forest

Fantastic trees, with loads of ficus (fig family) fruit for the creatures of the forest

We only had two nights here and I want more! In fact, I hope to revisit Assam in the spring of 2014 so if you are interested in joining me, drop me a line!

The Capped Langur checking out what we were up to - a first sighting for me, in a trip of new primates.

The Capped Langur checking out what we were up to - a first sighting for me, in a trip of new primates.

On to the safaris and what they brought us!

One of the most wonderful creatures in this part of the world are the charismatic water buffalo. Listed as an endangered species, the buffalo in Manas are considered to possibly be the only pure strain of the species left today, all others diluted by cross-breeding with domestic buffalos. Their horns are quite distinct and impressive, creating a bit of a challenge walking through the brush, perhaps that's why they walk in such a posh and distinctive way, with their heads thrown back and nose in the air.
The wild water buffalo, walking in the peculiar way they do, nose in the air!

The wild water buffalo, walking in the peculiar way they do, nose in the air!


Time for a good nose-hair trimming!

Time for a good nose-hair trimming!

The bird-life here was quite fantastic as well and I was able to add many new birds to my 'list.' When we came across a pair of very large owls in the distance we had a bit of a laugh. Our 'naturalist' and our forest guide insisting they weren't owls! Now, I'm no vast expert on the avian varieties, but I think I can be relied upon to tell if a bird is an owl! We pulled out our bird book and identified the two, rare and impressive owls as spot-bellied eagle owls and showed our intrepid guides. Who then had a brief conversation and announced that they called them something different in that part of the world!

Jeuvenile (right) and adult spot-bellied eagle owls (or are they...). Very far off in the trees.

Jeuvenile (right) and adult spot-bellied eagle owls (or are they...). Very far off in the trees.


Great Indian Hornbill. These massive birds made an awesome sound when they flew, their wings displacing so much air.

Great Indian Hornbill. These massive birds made an awesome sound when they flew, their wings displacing so much air.


Outstretched, almost translucent, wings of the Great Indian Hornbill.

Outstretched, almost translucent, wings of the Great Indian Hornbill.


Scarlet Minivet... going, going, gone!

Scarlet Minivet... going, going, gone!


Asian Fairy Bird

Asian Fairy Bird


Always stunning, though rarely posing so nicely, Red Jungle Fowl!

Always stunning, though rarely posing so nicely, Red Jungle Fowl!

One of the creatures we really wanted to see was the beautiful and endangered Golden Langur, but when we arrived we were told that they resided on the Bhutan side of Manas Wildlife Sanctuary. Sometimes, we were told, you could see them across the river. Quite sad we were, till someone came to our aid. After waiting on the road to Bhutan for a bit, and numerous, high-level, walkie-talkie conversations, it was announced I could visit to quickly photograph them! So, smuggled down to a boat, under cover of darkness.... no, not really :-) But they did row me briefly over to Bhutan in a rowboat, then a short hike up to the trees where we were able to photograph a troop for 10 minutes. Such fun!

The beautiful, and aptly named, Golden Langur.

The beautiful, and aptly named, Golden Langur.


What's so funny? Do I have banana on my face?

What's so funny? Do I have banana on my face?

Another benefit of staying at Mathanguri Lodge was the ability to stay out past sunset! This forest was pretty magical at night as it lit up with a veritable swarm of fireflies. Little fairies dancing in the darkening wood. We also had another spectacular Moment -- sighting a black leopard! The sun had already set and there was little light left, when CV spotted the cat run across the road in front of our jeep's lights. I saw the shape run into the scrub beside us, where it froze for a couple of minutes, feeling safely out of our line of sight. Elated I still tried to snap a photo. Dialing up the ISO and opening my shutter, I took a few shots with different focal lengths and managed one clear shot of its back. Now, I know to y'all this shot is probably nothing special, being about as record as a record shot can be... but, for us - Wow!!!

the back-end of the our leopard!

the back-end of the our leopard!

Another denizen of this forest was the capped langur. It was another first for me, and one of my favourite creatures. I loved the perpetually startled look they seem to have - eyes wide open and hair going all Enstein. Although it was the most commonly sighted primate for our Assam trip, this langur is listed as threatened, due mostly to habitat loss.

The Capped Langur

The Capped Langur


Malayan or Black Giant Squirrel is listed as Near-threatened, due mostly to hunting for food - slightly smaller, and not as red a coat as the Malabar Giant Squirrel.

Malayan or Black Giant Squirrel is listed as Near-threatened, due mostly to hunting for food - slightly smaller, and not as red a coat as the Malabar Giant Squirrel.


Massive old silk-cotton trees throughout this fabulous forest.  Look closely and you'll see my intrepid guides spanning the trunk.

Massive old silk-cotton trees throughout this fabulous forest. Look closely and you'll see my intrepid guides spanning the trunk.

Nameri National Park

Beautiful Nameri with its imposing elephants

Beautiful Nameri with its imposing elephants

After saying goodbye to Manas, we were off for brief stop at Nameri before heading down to Kaziranga. The drive was about 7 hours long, and made longer by an unexpected stop. On our way we came up to a road block. There apparently had been demonstration in a Bodo village and the authorities were taking no chances. So, we were idling away in a line of traffic, waiting for our army escort to return and take us through the village. When we finally got going again, in the army escorted convoy, it was an eerie feeling as we made our way through the village. Not a soul could be seen. If you’ve ever traveled to India before, you’ll know how strange this is, in a country teeming with life.

Still, it was an uneventful drive after all, and we arrived safe and sound to Nameri Eco Camp, a wonderful collection of permanent tents and cottages. A large British Birding group was encamped, so we were put up in a bungalow designed for visiting scientists, naturalists, etc. Was perfect – two rooms on either side of a central kitchenette area. Can’t speak to the regular accommodation, but this worked well for us. Our hosts here were extremely accommodating and helpful, as we’d come to expect from our travels in Assam. A troop of capped langurs was seen in the camp throughout the day, and the resident puppy became a constant companion once it was discovered I carried dog biscuits with me! No, I’m sure it was because of my personality! Uh huh!!

Curious George? Capped langurs in our camp.

Curious George? Capped langurs in our camp.


Fabulous male Great Indian Hornbill, part of a nesting pair in a large tree at the Eco Camp. The female seals herself into a nest that is hollowed out of a tree until her chicks are ready to leave. The male makes trips back to feed her through the small hole left open.

Fabulous male Great Indian Hornbill, part of a nesting pair in a large tree at the Eco Camp. The female seals herself into a nest that is hollowed out of a tree until her chicks are ready to leave. The male makes trips back to feed her through the small hole left open.


Pigmy Hog, an endangered small wild pig, in the conservation centre in Nameri

Pigmy Hog, an endangered small wild pig, in the conservation centre in Nameri

Located in the eastern foothills of Himalayas it is quite close to Kaziranga (couple of hours drive), the nearest city being Tezpur. The Assamese portion is quite small (200 km sq) and wonderfully, you investigate the park by boat, or on foot. The forest is an excellent habitat for wild elephants, as well as host to many endemic and migrating birds. Apparently hikers have also come across the odd tiger! That would be a bit scary I’d imagine, though you are escorted by an armed forest guard, primarily for the elephant danger. We had a wonderful hike through the lush green forest, led by a young local boy with pretty impressive bird skills, arranged for us by the camp.

Hey! It's a Sensitive Plant! growing naturally all over the forest. Who remembers having these as a kid? Mimosa ~ called locally the 'Do Not Touch plant.'

Hey! It's a Sensitive Plant! growing naturally all over the forest. Who remembers having these as a kid? Mimosa ~ called locally the 'Do Not Touch plant.'


Verditer Flycatcher on wing.

Verditer Flycatcher on wing.


Loads of Wreathed Hornbills flying over the park. Our only sightings of these fellows.

Loads of Wreathed Hornbills flying over the park. Our only sightings of these fellows.

Our boat ride was lovely, though we went in the afternoon and was a bit warm for a lot of life. Still saw a lot of birds and people fishing on the Jai Bharali River. Was nice to be heading down the river on a raft too. So much quieter than the usual diesel-chugging tourist boats. The river has quite a few rapids to bump over, though at this time there wasn’t that much white water.

Fishing for the wonderful Golden Mahseer used to be a popular pastime here but has been banned for some time. Sadly, as in many other instances, once the tourism-driven anglers dissappeared, so did the fish. With nobody watching, it’s amazing how quickly poaching can decimate a species. At the eco-camp, they’ve started a fish hatchery and hopefully repopulation will be successful, along with a return to controlled and regulated sport fishing.

Fishing on the river with pretty cool-looking nets.

Fishing on the river with pretty cool-looking nets.


Heron Silhouette

Heron Silhouette


Brahminy Ducks or Ruddy Shelducks, depending on which edition of the bird book you have.

Brahminy Ducks or Ruddy Shelducks, depending on which edition of the bird book you have.

All in all, well worth the stop, especially if you are a birder. To be able to walk through the forest and to raft was a treat!

Massive Agenor Mormon male butterfly posing nicely at our camp!

Massive Agenor Mormon male butterfly posing nicely at our camp!

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 11.11.2013 13:42 Archived in India Tagged birds wildlife india langur assam manas golden_langur capped_langur black_leopard black_panther hornbil nameri Comments (0)

Tiger Tiger Tiger!

Fun in Kanha and Tadoba Andhari, with a first foray into Barnwapara

sunny 25 °C

Kanha is the best for streaming sunlight!  The trees are so tall, creating amazing filters for the early morning rays.

Kanha is the best for streaming sunlight! The trees are so tall, creating amazing filters for the early morning rays.

Kanha National Park

Had a brief trip to India last fall, so of course had to fit in some wildlife. Before I get out my final Turkey Blog instalment, thought it time to update some wildlife adventures! I had had such a great time in Kanha in April 2012, I decided to head back in November. This park is lovely and so large there seems endless places to explore. This time, we tried out Muba Resorts, a wonderful, natural spot at the Mukki Gate of Kanha. (I really should check out the Kisli Gate side one day!) Muba is set in an extensive and mostly natural property of trees and grasslands. The accommodation is large, comfortable and clean (though no air-conditioning, which might affect your comfort in the summer). A great value, the cottages are easily accessible yet remote enough that it is delightfully quiet at night. Except when the resident langur troop decides to have a party on your roof! The food was very good here and the staff incredibly responsive. While our safari driver was responsible and responsive his wildlife knowledge was not terribly strong. This would be the only thing lacking here for the serious wildlifer, but then again, this not unusual.

The head langur of the troop that jumped around on our cottage rooms

The head langur of the troop that jumped around on our cottage rooms

Kanha in November is very cold at night and I can only imagine how cold it gets as winter really sets in! The moist air, hot afternoons and cold nights actually created rather magical mornings. When I left my cottage in the dawn hours there was so much dew falling from the trees around us that it sounded like it was raining. Dewdrops were lying on everything in the forest, sparkling in the dawning light.

Fields of Glass

Fields of Glass

We had some really good tiger sightings this trip, far better than the summer visit, which only goes to show you the vagaries of tiger spotting. We had a fun sighting with a mum and her two adolescent cubs, who were so shy. One darted across the road to his calling mum, while the other paced in the jungle gathering his courage before making a run for it down the road from us. Much more shy in Kanha but more rewarding somehow. We came across the same mother early in the morning of our 6th drive as well. This time she was having some alone time. Sitting on the side of the road, happily grooming herself, before she stretched, got up and sauntered down the road. We literally stumbled upon her, my friend exclaiming in a loud whisper… tiger, tiger, tiger. That’s when I realized, spotting a tiger is never a single utterance. It invariably comes in three’s. Not sure why. Any other spotting seems to be a single utterance… “Leopard”, “bear”, “grey hypocolious” (yes, really!), but, not the regal tiger. Tis always an excited and loud whisper “tiger, tiger, tiger”

She looks just like my cat!

She looks just like my cat!

We’d had a few slow drives in the park, though still lovely for birds and deer, but when we took off for our 8th afternoon drive, that changed! The first few hours of the drive were also very quiet, so for the last 1/2 hour of our drive we decided to head to an area where a male leopard had been spotted near his kill the day before. We parked on the darkening track and sat quietly. Hard to do sometimes with others in the jeep, but we are old hands at it. Was lovely. The light was slowly dimming as the sun set, casting wonderful shadows on the tall forest and bamboo around us. Suddenly, we were startled by a peacock sticking his head out from the brush. He was seemingly just as startled, and let out a loud warning honk before disappearing back into the undergrowth. We started to laugh at the poor peacock’s alarm, stumbling across us, when we realized our error! Something else had startled the bird. A huge battle was taking place in the bamboo as something was chasing the poor peacock. He was running back and forth in the bush, honking his alarms as what we presumed to be a leopard, was in hot pursuit. After a few tense moments, it got very quiet, and then a sudden, even louder commotion arose and the peacock was caught. We were standing in our jeep and peering vainly into the bush, when our driver whispered loudly, “leopard!”

Classic pose

Classic pose

A large, magnificent male leopard sauntered out of the forest on the opposite side. I’m sure I held my breath, because my experience with leopards has always been for them to see me, and then quickly melt away. This boy was not so timid and very curious about the drama we had been witnessing across the road. Who would possibly have the nerve to come into his territory? Let alone hunt? He posed in the middle of the road, staring into the bamboo before turning and walking along the forest edge, right toward us!!!! I could not believe it. He came quite close, before finally entering the thicket. Then there was a brief snarling confrontation, and the intruder made a rapid exit. Maybe a female? Wow! Such excitement!! But we couldn’t linger, as we were already pushing it for making it out the gate, so filled with the Moment, we drove off. Such a Moment!

Coming straight toward us!  Seemingly unphased by our awed presence.

Coming straight toward us! Seemingly unphased by our awed presence.

We also had good bear sighting this trip, both on our first drive, and later on our penultimate drive. The latter being a really good one, rounding the corner, and there was a lovely ambling sloth bear, walking along the road, without a care in the world. So lovely.

Final sloth bear we were lucky enough to see in Kanha this trip.

Final sloth bear we were lucky enough to see in Kanha this trip.

We had a wonderful 10 drives and some fantastic encounters with our four-legged and feathered friends!

Barasingha caught mid-munch!

Barasingha caught mid-munch!


Oriental Scops Owls, resting for the day.

Oriental Scops Owls, resting for the day.


Had a wonderful time with this Grey Headed Fish Eagle, posing nicely, lah!

Had a wonderful time with this Grey Headed Fish Eagle, posing nicely, lah!


... and then taking a drive-by for fish.

... and then taking a drive-by for fish.


The mustard fields, and brilliant blue-painted village houses were wonderful.

The mustard fields, and brilliant blue-painted village houses were wonderful.


Butterfly in back of my cottage.

Butterfly in back of my cottage.


Who's the King of the Castle?

Who's the King of the Castle?


Lonely baby sambar who was very interested in us, crossing the road, back and forth.  Unusual to see without adults.

Lonely baby sambar who was very interested in us, crossing the road, back and forth. Unusual to see without adults.


Frolicking jackel pair.  Hadn't seen this behaviour before.  They were very affectionate, grooming each other and playing in the flower-filled field.

Frolicking jackel pair. Hadn't seen this behaviour before. They were very affectionate, grooming each other and playing in the flower-filled field.


Thousands of tiny dew drops lining the web, as well as the spider in the early morning.

Thousands of tiny dew drops lining the web, as well as the spider in the early morning.


Tough night?  Jungle owlets.

Tough night? Jungle owlets.


Fun frog on my door.

Fun frog on my door.


The landscape surrounding the Barasingha was a field of colour!

The landscape surrounding the Barasingha was a field of colour!

Barnwapara Wildlife Sanctuary

Beautiful mustard seed fields and interestingly shaped hay stacks!

Beautiful mustard seed fields and interestingly shaped hay stacks!

And then we were off for the 5 hour (more like 6) drive to Barnwapara Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh. We were staying at a sister property, Muba’s Machaan. Just 2 nights we had there. The Machaan’s are cottages set up on stilts and made entirely of wood. They’re set in a low forest and scrub property, with a lot of birds, which again was quite natural. Barnwapara was a bit warmer than Kanha, which would likely be a problem in the warmer months but it was quite comfortable at the end of November. The Machaan’s are also good for families, with each one having a large bed as well as a set of bunk beds. They are set quite far from each other though, so bring a good flashlight for night.

Purple-rumped Sunbird after his bath

Purple-rumped Sunbird after his bath

Barnwapara is a beautiful but rather sad forest, with a wide variety of habitats and good water. The forest reminded me a lot like Pench Tiger Reserve in MP, but, sadly, the amount of poaching that has occurred here is tremendous. The government is apparently serious about protecting the forest and bringing it back, but right now it’s a bit sad. We did see a large herd of gaur, wonderfully crossing the road and posing for us. Also saw a Nilgai, that barked continued alarm calls upon seeing us. We heard the alarm call of a sambar as well, but that was about it. Even birds were more of a rarity than I’m used to in the parks. It’s amazing how man can strip the resources of a place so thoroughly. The forest is beautiful though, so am hopeful they will be successful at reviving the wildlife of the area.

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Huge heard of gaur making their way through the forest.

Huge heard of gaur making their way through the forest.

Tadoba Anhari Tiger Reserve

A rest in the grass

A rest in the grass

Our final destination was to Tadoba. I had previously been there in the extremely hot weather of May 2011, so was curious to see the differences. But first we had to get there! The drive should have been relatively straightforward as a major highway went from Raipur to Nagpur. Yeah, that’s the story at least. An estimated 6 hour drive took us 12.5 hours! as our driver, in an extremely small and unsuitable-for-the-side-roads car, took a short-cut! Sigh… Lordy help me for shortcuts! There we were, after dark, trying to see on my Google Maps how the heck we were going to get where we needed to be, calling the helpful and concerned people at the Royal Tiger Resort. After stopping in a small village to get some village men to tear off a part of the car that was dragging into the wheel well, we bumped our way to get permission at a park gate to travel the last leg of our journey, through the actual reserve. If that had been denied, we'd likely have been another 4 hours. Assuming to additional shortcuts were applied that is. Actually turned out to be good timing, cause we came across a Russell’s Viper crossing the road… exciting!

Lovely pair of Yellow-footed Green Pigeons.

Lovely pair of Yellow-footed Green Pigeons.

We finally arrived, and thankfully the resort’s rooms were large, comfortable and had loads of hot water, warmed on the roof during the day’s heat, which was very welcome after that drive! Royal Tiger is located at the Moharli Gate right next to the jungle. We each had a deluxe room, which, for the price was exceedingly good value. The rooms were clean, spacious and as previous mentioned, loads of hot water. The food here was also very good, homely fare, and a similar good value. The folks running the resort were very helpful and accommodating as well. The only negative I’d have with the resort, was the incredible amount of bright lighting, everywhere. We tried to turn off as much as we could around us, but this was light pollution in the extreme. Unnecessary and really quite un-eco-friendly, especially when it’s set up right next to the park proper.

Lovely time with some Green Bee-eaters in a fabulous grasslands.  Our only non-tiger-chasing drive.  Loads of bird activity here.

Lovely time with some Green Bee-eaters in a fabulous grasslands. Our only non-tiger-chasing drive. Loads of bird activity here.


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Little bushchat stopping still for a second.

Little bushchat stopping still for a second.


Beautiful Red Avadavat.

Beautiful Red Avadavat.

We opted for our own arrangements for safaris, although I hear the resort’s arrangements are good. Following a detailed recommendation from a fellow Trip Advisor reviewer, we contacted Ishmail, a forest guide, who along with his driver brother Mubarak made our safaris quite seamless in a not-easy-to-organize park. Only thing to note for anyone interested in using their services is, their English is not fantastic, so would be tough to arrange unless someone in your party speaks Hindi/Marathi. Would be happy to recommend and pass on their contact information if anyone is interested.

Sambar in the lake

Sambar in the lake

Tadoba is actually fairly small, with the long main road running straight through it. After the Supreme Court ruling in October, this meant many of the smaller, side trails were closed to meet the percentage requirements of the core areas open to tourism. Other routes over the hill that I loved so much from last trip were also closed. Sadly it seemed to mean there was even more of a focus on tiger chasing, though happily, the majority of the travellers to the park seem to be far better mannered and more respectful of the wildlife than other tiger spots I’m used to. Good distances are kept when sightings are made, and there is no pushing or aggressive behaviour, that I witnessed in these 8 drives at least. Also unusual, foreigners pay the same as Indians for access to the park. Our guides told us, this increase in Indian fares cut down on the weekend partiers that would previously come from Nagpur and had increased the better behaviour we witnessed. Interesting if it can be verified. Certainly anecdotally I’d agree.

Long night!  Tigress in the wee hours of the morning.

Long night! Tigress in the wee hours of the morning.

Tadoba is one of the best parks for chances of tiger spotting that I've been to in India. And this trip did not disappoint. In fact, even during the monsoon, sightings are apparently very good. Being able to go into a park during monsoon is an unusual plus and I hope to experience it some day. Our first drive brought us upon a lovely female, part of a mating pair, as she relaxed in the grasses, then checked out the smells, and wandered around the jeeps. Even though people parked well back from her, she was completely unphased by jeep loads of people, and spent a long time wandering around, often very close to us, before sauntering back into the forest.

Now that smells interesting?

Now that smells interesting?


Hanuman Langur waiting for nightfall.

Hanuman Langur waiting for nightfall.


Green Bee-eater in profile.

Green Bee-eater in profile.

A young family was very active in one area a - mum and 3 fairly old cubs. We came across the three bold cubs, even with a forest ranger on foot directing the jeeps to allow photos for all. The unconcerned behaviour was very like the lions of Gujurat. All 3 of the cubs came out at one point, and then in another, 2 of the them wonderfully took turns sharpening their claws on a slanting tree, before climbing into it for a bit.

3 adolescents taking a stroll.

3 adolescents taking a stroll.


Young tiger, not even looking at his fans.

Young tiger, not even looking at his fans.


That feels good!

That feels good!


"You guys still here?

"You guys still here?


Again on our last drive, this time wonderfully away from the masses and at the end of the drive, we came across one of the cubs on a small track. He was alone and had been cooling off in a pond before heading back to his family we rounded a corner and almost ran into him. We had to keep backing up down the road as he kept coming straight at us, until we were able to pull over and allow him to walk off. A future King of the jungle!

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Bye bye lovely tiger!

Bye bye lovely tiger!


Thinking our drives were over, we were happily surprised by an offer to take us for a morning drive in the Buffer Zone. The forest department is developing it to allow more drives and variety of landscapes in the park. They're also creating some overnight rest-houses, set up in concrete stilts for another experience. This could be very good indeed! W woke up our forest guide from a local village and then set out. In October/November in many forests of India, you find masses of giant wood spiders, always in my past experience, high in the trees. Well, turns out they're high in the trees, because people clear paths through them at the lower levels! This drive, they were everywhere!!! Ishmail grabbed a big branch to clear (most of) them from coming directly into my face as we drove. Mostly it meant breaking the webs, but during the course of the drive, the branch ended up with a lot of spiders! And though most were caught, I still concentrated on dodging and weaving the stray web/spider, heading straight for me! Lynnie, for once, am glad you weren't there!

Counted over 20 babies on the branch after one drive down a route.

Counted over 20 babies on the branch after one drive down a route.


The beautiful giant tree spiders, not high in the trees after all!

The beautiful giant tree spiders, not high in the trees after all!


Purple Swamphen as we were leaving on our final day.

Purple Swamphen as we were leaving on our final day.


Not sure what they mean with a gate like this?  Ouch!! In the buffer zone.

Not sure what they mean with a gate like this? Ouch!! In the buffer zone.


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Too soon it was over and we were driving back to Nagpur for our overnight train to Delhi, dreaming of “tiger tiger tiger.”

Village before dawn, waiting for our guide to enter the buffer zone.

Village before dawn, waiting for our guide to enter the buffer zone.

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 21.04.2013 05:52 Archived in India Tagged birds wildlife india safari tiger forests kanha jungles tadoba tadoba_andhari barnwapara Comments (0)

Wonderful Wildlife ~ The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly!

...but mostly good!

sunny 35 °C

Green Bee-eaters all lined up in a row in Bandhavgarh

Green Bee-eaters all lined up in a row in Bandhavgarh

Final India Installment for Spring 2012 and it’s all about wildlife! This blog will be Photo-Heavy and Info-Lite since all the parks here are repeats for me and all of you intrepid readers. The last three weeks were pretty much spent wildlife-ing, with Sandra in Panna and Bandhavgarh, where we explored with Yugdeep and Bejoy. I ended up with what will likely be my final attempt to love, Ranthambhor and a quick visit to Kanha my indispensible naturalist guide, CV Singh.

Sirkeer Malkoha singing for a girlfriend in Panna!

Sirkeer Malkoha singing for a girlfriend in Panna!

Panna

Brown Fish Owl waiting for dark...

Brown Fish Owl waiting for dark...

...and then takes off at dusk

...and then takes off at dusk


Wonderful displaying Wooly Necked Stork

Wonderful displaying Wooly Necked Stork

So excited to be heading back into the forests! My return to Panna introduced me to my first jungle forays with Bejoy, a lovely naturalist from Kerala. We had wonderful drives in the park, although the vulture gorge, one of my favourite places to visit, was closed because Bithri (my first tiger) was staying there with her very new litter of cubs. I always love returning to Panna, especially to visit with friends. This trip, I brought out Canadian Maple syrup, Canadian bacon and flour (Indian flour doesn’t work very well with western baking) to make a pancake breakfast for the gang. They set up a couple of burners outside, which was a relief cause I’m sure I’d have melted if I’d tried to cook in the kitchen!

A family of Pied Kingfishers we watched for ages on the river.

A family of Pied Kingfishers we watched for ages on the river.

Pied Kingsfisher Acrobats!

Pied Kingsfisher Acrobats!


In the gorge of the falls.  Temples are carved into the sides of the gorge.

In the gorge of the falls. Temples are carved into the sides of the gorge.

Seems amazing given the times I've been here, but I hadn’t made a trip to the falls before. This was a real treat! We climbed down into a really beautiful gorge, with the falls only a trickle at this time of year, but still lovely. It was so lush and green with a rich deep pool filled with fish and feeling of serenity that was pretty amazing. It was obviously a favourite spot for bears, since the claw marks were evident all over the trees, some incredibly high up. I'd love to be able to stay overnight there and see all the activity that must happen in the evening. Panna is always, and most definitely on the 'Good' for me.

Grey Headed Fish Eagle deciding what to do

Grey Headed Fish Eagle deciding what to do


Fab dragonfly

Fab dragonfly


Langur at dawn

Langur at dawn

However, we had 'the Bad' towards the end of our stay. Another guest joined the jeep and he was pretty amusing. He had some very strong opinions – "look over there, a peacock is dancing!" Bejoy would point out. Said our intrepid companion, “I don’t like.” Uh oh… There was actually quite a bit he didn’t like, including drives that were too long. Too bad, cause we like ‘em! He certainly liked the pretty village ladies, and spent his time trying to get someone to introduce him to one! I’m thinking if you want to dally with an Indian lady, a village is not the best place to try to do so!! All kinds in this world!
Sunset in Panna

Sunset in Panna

Bandhavgarh

Sunrise in Bandhavgarh

Sunrise in Bandhavgarh

Panna was unusually wet for this time of year and that meant bugs! Which do not go well for poor Sandra!! So, heading from the more rustic Ken River Lodge, to the super luxurious Taj Banjar Tola in Bandhavgarh was just what the doctor ordered for her final stop. We met up with Yugdeep and like always, had wonderful sightings and experiences. He’s pretty great, both as a naturalist and as a friend and we had a fantastic time with him.

The new dominant male in Bandhavgarh's Tala zone - Bamera.  Was very excited since this was my first sighting of Bamera.  We saw him at the beginning of the drive, sleepy in a pool of water.  Yugdeep wisely said he'd likely be there a few hours before moving, so we left the 'hoard' and explored the rest of our route, before returning just before he got up and moved to sit and watch us.  So great having a good guide!!  We would have missed so much if we'd stayed watching the sleeping back of a tiger all afternoon.

The new dominant male in Bandhavgarh's Tala zone - Bamera. Was very excited since this was my first sighting of Bamera. We saw him at the beginning of the drive, sleepy in a pool of water. Yugdeep wisely said he'd likely be there a few hours before moving, so we left the 'hoard' and explored the rest of our route, before returning just before he got up and moved to sit and watch us. So great having a good guide!! We would have missed so much if we'd stayed watching the sleeping back of a tiger all afternoon.


Interesting way to clean out your nose?  Bamera's nose was damaged during mating with a tigress!

Interesting way to clean out your nose? Bamera's nose was damaged during mating with a tigress!


Green Bee-eater taking a drink

Green Bee-eater taking a drink


Common Hawk Cuckoo actually sitting still!  More commonly known as the brain fever bird

Common Hawk Cuckoo actually sitting still! More commonly known as the brain fever bird

We had some unusual sightings, including two Brown Wood Owls, which are not supposed to be there. Got a record shot only though. There was also a rather big fire in the non-tourist-zone, which was upsetting, especially knowing all the nesting birds at this time of year. All those beautiful chicks in the line of the fire would have had no chance. There was no word on the cause, but most likely people in the forest illegally. It was pretty smoky for a day in the camp, and at night, you could see the red glow of the fire from our terrace.

Black Ibis coming in to land!

Black Ibis coming in to land!


We call him Frank! A blue-eyed tiger in Bandhavgarh!

We call him Frank! A blue-eyed tiger in Bandhavgarh!


Came across this beautiful Changeable Hawk Eagle moment after catchin the hapless squirrel!  It was a bit uncomfortable because the little guy was still alive as the eagle started picking at him.  Yugdeep said playing dead was a strong defence instinct.  He'd known a jungle fowl to be picked almost clean of feathers by the Changeable Hawk Eagle, only to get up and escape when the eagle thought it dead and let go of it.  Maybe that happened to the striped squirrel too!  yeah, that's what happened!!

Came across this beautiful Changeable Hawk Eagle moment after catchin the hapless squirrel! It was a bit uncomfortable because the little guy was still alive as the eagle started picking at him. Yugdeep said playing dead was a strong defence instinct. He'd known a jungle fowl to be picked almost clean of feathers by the Changeable Hawk Eagle, only to get up and escape when the eagle thought it dead and let go of it. Maybe that happened to the striped squirrel too! yeah, that's what happened!!


Hello?

Hello?


Guarding a salt-lick cube from the troop!

Guarding a salt-lick cube from the troop!

Panna and Bandhavgarh easily, and expectedly were The Good part of this wildlife visit, as always! Wonderful luxury in the jungle and then back to Delhi for Sandra to catch her flight, and me to head off on the train to Ranthambhor.
Racket-tailed Drongo in the sky

Racket-tailed Drongo in the sky

Ranthambhor

Peacock diving off the fort wall in Ranthambhor

Peacock diving off the fort wall in Ranthambhor

Now, on to The Bad! You may remember that I’ve not been a fan of this park, more specifically the way it is managed and run. I thought I’d give it one more try, utilizing new contacts and information from the lovely Usha at Khem Villas. Ranthambhor has a lottery system for jeeps, which means, there are a large number of jeeps, and drivers (aka naturalists [sic]) get the same amount of work whether they are good or not. This also means that 9 times out of 10 you get a tiger-chasing driver (and I mean chasing – the speeds driven inside this park are criminal), with no knowledge of the park outside tigers. It also means that you are jammed 6 people into a jeep (if you’ve been lucky enough to book a jeep), which affords you no real ability to take photos or comfortably see the park. At this time of year, we were able to get cancelations for the days I hadn’t been able to book online (there are quite a lot of block booking scams that happen so a large number of cancellations also happens, and it isn’t the high season).

The peacock stood out so strongly.  It's vibrant colours against the dry brush background was lovely.

The peacock stood out so strongly. It's vibrant colours against the dry brush background was lovely.


Finally my first tiger in Ranthambore!

Finally my first tiger in Ranthambore!


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Incredible forest at Ranthambore

Incredible forest at Ranthambore

So, here we are, in Ranthambhor, comfortably set up, camera in hand, and… Tiger census was happening. I understand the need for an annual census, but, it would be nice if they could actually plan and organize this effectively, alerting visitors to this. I had only booked one month in advance, which should have been plenty of time for them to know this would be happening. Nope, that would be too efficient I’m thinking. Our morning safaris were an hour late starting because of this census, and then, a whole day of safaris was cancelled. No reimbursement, no switches, no nothing. Not even a head wag! Beware – in and around the full moon in May, do not go to Ranthambhor. [note: after writing a letter of complaint to the forest department, and having a friend forward the same letter to the Minister of Forests for Rajasthan, a reimbursement was paid, although no acknowledgement of my letter was made. I'm not sure which of the letters made a difference.]

Battling Rufous Treepies

Battling Rufous Treepies


Breeding plumage on a Great Egret

Breeding plumage on a Great Egret


Useful fishing platform!  Egret fishing from a Sambar

Useful fishing platform! Egret fishing from a Sambar


Thirsty Indian Hare

Thirsty Indian Hare

So, I saw my first Ranthambhor tiger, but still likely my last. Never say never, but I won’t voluntarily go back there. This is said with some sadness too, because the park itself is spectacularly beautiful. There is an abundance of birds and animal activity you notice as you speed by. The jungle, the ruins of the old fort and the rambling buildings taken over by the jungle are so atmospheric. So much potential here, but of all the parks I have visited in India (and that is a lot) for my money, it is hands down the worst-run park in India.

Quiet moment at the fort

Quiet moment at the fort


Langur surveying his kingdom up at Ranthambor Fort

Langur surveying his kingdom up at Ranthambor Fort


Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Asian Paradise Flycatcher


Peacock Pose

Peacock Pose

On the good side, finally made the hike up to the Fort, which was really lovely and offered the best photography moments. Also the pond out back at Khem Villas, which was sadly some of the best wildlife watching and where we were treated to a pied kingfisher fishing.
Pied Kingfisher diving for dinner!

Pied Kingfisher diving for dinner!

Pied Kingfisher. Missed the fish!

Pied Kingfisher. Missed the fish!

Resident Crocodile in the pond at Khem Villas

Resident Crocodile in the pond at Khem Villas

Spend a wonderful few hours watching a Pied Kingfisher hunt in the pond at back of our Lodge

Spend a wonderful few hours watching a Pied Kingfisher hunt in the pond at back of our Lodge


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Kanha

Quintessential Kanha!  Beautiful Barasingha at dawn

Quintessential Kanha! Beautiful Barasingha at dawn

The Ugly? No! not the park, that was wonderful, and such a contrast to Ranthambhor. For my money (and admittedly basic-knowledge), Kanha is one of the best-managed parks in India. The Ugly came on the overnight train ride to Jabalpur from Sawai Madhopur near Ranthambhor.

You’ll have heard me rant about ‘VIPs’ in India before, but this took the cake. It was easily the worst, almost comically and stereotypically-bad experience with VIPs I’ve ever had. We boarded our train and settled down for the ride, before stopping to pick up our cabin mates for the evening. A married couple by the manifest. Mr. & Mrs. M. were ushered in. He, a train bureaucrat, of middling importance I’m sure, but of massive importance to him and even larger importance to his wife. They entered the cabin (meant for 4 people) along with lovely little sycophants, who proceeded to spread out in the room and hallway, while Mr. M held court and they all nodded and laughed and smiled with great sincerity. The two servants travelling with them served the tea and snacks, weaving in and out of the throng. "Holy Crap", I texted CV sitting squished into a corner and avoiding the gesticulations of a hanger-on. "Holy Bureaucratic Crap", he texted back.

This went on till past 10pm, when they finally settled down to snore and snort through the night. No need for an alarm call though -- up at 6am, to make and receive calls... and of course the steady return of the entourage. Including a Mrs. Sycophant, who made sure Mrs. M felt equally important. Yeesh!!! Get me to the jungle!

Resting Barasingha before the day heats up.

Resting Barasingha before the day heats up.


Tree filled with so many honey bee hives! More than I've seen before.

Tree filled with so many honey bee hives! More than I've seen before.


Smallest baby gaur I've seen.  Very curious, and mum was pretty protective!

Smallest baby gaur I've seen. Very curious, and mum was pretty protective!


Right inside the Park ~ a man up a pole!  But, how did he get there?  No ladder, or pegs?  A mystery!

Right inside the Park ~ a man up a pole! But, how did he get there? No ladder, or pegs? A mystery!

After that wonderful night, we were thankfully off to the fabulous Kanha. We stayed at a lovely place - The Kanha Jungle Lodge, which was really remote and set in a rather dense forest. The lodge is run by the family of Mr. Kailash Sankhala, one of the founding people in Project Tiger in India. A real VIP! Someone who had done such wonderful things for conservation and the sometimes seemingly endless and frustrating fight for the tiger and India’s forests.

The only tiger we spotted this trip in Kanha & really far away, climbing a tree tho!

The only tiger we spotted this trip in Kanha & really far away, climbing a tree tho!


What a kid will do to get a drink!

What a kid will do to get a drink!


Poor one-horned Barasingha

Poor one-horned Barasingha

Our naturalist was very good, the drives slow and absorbing and our time wonderful. I will always be excited to return to this park. And that is that!

Seemingly endless quest to catch a good shot of a racket-tailed drongo in flight!

Seemingly endless quest to catch a good shot of a racket-tailed drongo in flight!


Fighting for the ladies can be hazardous to your Antlers!  Barasingha deer

Fighting for the ladies can be hazardous to your Antlers! Barasingha deer

I am hopefully returning in the fall of 2012 and then again in the spring of 2013, but for the first time in 4 years, I haven't committed to take with me. So, if you, or other friends/family are interested in photography, wildlife, culture, adventure, food, shopping… really the star’s the limit in India… let me know. I will take up to 6 people, and singles are welcome.

India is a daunting place for the first-time visitor, especially on a shorter time-frame. But one you go, and I bet you’ll be hooked! This has happened for everyone I’ve brought, most of whom had no desire to visit the country (this includes myself!) before hearing, reading and seeing about my adventures there.

Check in to the travel and photography website www.cheekymonkeytravel.com for some sample itineraries or contact me if you're interested. I’ve been to, and/or taken people to all the main tourist destinations of the country, and more interestingly for me, many of the less-touristed locations. If you have a small group wishing to explore India, any number of combinations can be arranged. My focus and passion is for wildlife and photography, but not to the exclusion of everything else that is so wonderful in India. Being open to the unexpected creates some of the most amazing Moments.

Turkey Blog is Next ~ not the Christmas dinner!

Namaste!

Full moon over Kanha National Park

Full moon over Kanha National Park

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 30.07.2012 09:11 Archived in India Tagged birds wildlife tiger full_moon egret langur sambar drongo pied_kingfisher changeable_hawk_eagle barasingha brown_fish_owl wooly_necked_stork grey_headed_fish_eagle sirkeer_malkoha indian_hare Comments (0)

Gone to Goa At Last!

Easter on the beach and explorations in Panaji and Old Goa

sunny 40 °C

Lady looking out to sea on Bogmalo Beach

Lady looking out to sea on Bogmalo Beach

After 7 trips and close to 2 years travelling in India, I have finally made it to Goa. At last I will be able to answer yes to the inevitable question from almost any Indian I meet – “have you been to Goa?” I knew it was a very popular destination and had a fascinating Portuguese and Christian history, but somehow it never made it onto my ‘must see’ lists. Maybe because I’m not normally a beach person, and I perceived the culture to be centred around that? Maybe because its reputation for partying and drugs no longer seemed to be so appealing to me? Maybe just because everyone went and I was being stubborn? Not sure, but regardless of reason, Sandra and I were trying to decide where we’d go for the Easter break when Laura and Colin, friends from the British High Commission, said they were heading to Bogmalo Beach, to the Coconut Creek Resort (http://www.coconutcreekgoa.com), and we decided to finally take the plunge.

Bogmalo Beachf from Joet's

Bogmalo Beachf from Joet's

With no AC rooms left at the lovely Coconut Creek, we opted for the cheaper – and right on the beach – sister property Joet’s Guesthouse. Bogmalo Beach is quite lovely, with wonderful crashing waves and waving palm trees. Each day we’d trek up the path to Coconut Creek and hang out by the pool with the gang, lazily sipping Mojitos, and then rolling into the pool to cool off.

Finding wildlife wherever I go - at dinner (but not for dinner) in Coconut Creek

Finding wildlife wherever I go - at dinner (but not for dinner) in Coconut Creek

We were so glad we opted for AC though! Many in our group had rooms at the resort without AC. The temperature was pretty high, but not crazy; however, combined with the sultry humidity, sleeping was not so comfortable for them. One of the girls told me they would step into the shower, nightclothes on and all, and then go to bed wet under the fan – apparently that worked quite well.

Streets of Panaji in the Latin Quarter

Streets of Panaji in the Latin Quarter

Joet’s Guesthouse has quite a good reputation for food, and the open-air restaurant, on the beach, is a wonderful spot. Unfortunately, we had dinner there with our group of 16 and probably because of that, we weren’t overly impressed. Still, one of the highlights in Goa was the fabulous, spicy and affordable seafood and we started our taste adventures here.

Heading to the capital ~ Panaji

Lovely orchid garden in our Panaji Homestay

Lovely orchid garden in our Panaji Homestay

After 3 nights and days just hanging out with the gang, we were off on a short drive to the capital city of Panaji (or Panjim). We stayed at an amazing little homestay on a leafy street in the old Latin Quarter of Fontainhas called Afonso Guesthouse (afonsoguesthouse@gmail.com). It was also only a 15 minute (albeit sweaty) walk to the downtown area. The rooms were insanely cheap, super clean and comfortable. The family running the property were so helpful and friendly, arranging transportation for us to Old Goa and making sure we knew how much to reasonably pay for things – very sweet people.

Beautiful bougainvilla in the Latin Quater of Panaji

Beautiful bougainvilla in the Latin Quater of Panaji

Our first day in Panaji, we set off to explore the winding streets, and sweat some more, cause the system needed to be cleaned out after all those Mojitos! Located on the Mandovi River, and backed by terraced hills it is a very pretty town, with an interesting mix of architecture.

San Sebastien Church from our rooftop breakfast patio at Afonso Guesthouse

San Sebastien Church from our rooftop breakfast patio at Afonso Guesthouse

History in a nutshell: Panaji has a history dating back to the 11th century and the Kadamba dynasty. Most of the visible influences now though are a mix of Indian and the Portuguese who arrived in the 16th century. In 1843 it was renamed Panjim and became the capital after the previous capital of Old Goa was decimated by plagues of malaria and cholera. The new name meant the land that never floods. In the 60s the Indian government was forced to invade Goa to make the Portuguese leave. Goa rejoined India and was named Panaji once again.

Maybe they didn't do well in English studies?

Maybe they didn't do well in English studies?

Finished in 1541, the Church of our Lady of Immaculate Conception sits at the head of the downtown core and overlooking the main square. This was the first stop for Portuguese sailors arriving from the home country. They would come here to give thanks for arriving safely before venturing further into the lush continent to Old Goa.

1541 Our Lady of the Imaculate Conception

1541 Our Lady of the Imaculate Conception

After traipsing around town, dripping steadily, and trying in vain to find a restaurant described by locals as the Best in town – the Ritz – we settled for the blessedly freezing, delicious, but not-Goan, Sher-E-Punjabi restaurant.

Who knew Bloomingdales had franchises in Goa?

Who knew Bloomingdales had franchises in Goa?

Day 2 and we took a car about 40 minutes away to the World Heritage site of Old Goa – that at one time was called the “Rome of the East” and had a population more than London or Lisbon. The drive was spectacular and reminiscent of Kerala. Beautiful, lush, dense vegetation on a winding road, with lovely little houses – some old Portuguese, others a whimsical mix of Indo-Portuguese.

Old Goa

Belfry of St. Augustine

Belfry of St. Augustine

Our first stop was at the very atmospheric ruins of the convent and Church of St. Augustine founded in 1572. A movie was being filmed there, so we watched that for a while, before they quickly packed up and we could wander at will. The only major structure left standing here at the massive site was the belfry tower. During one of the repressive regimes of the Church, many orders were dismantled, including the Augustine’s and the church was ordered abandoned in 1835, which started the neglect and decay of this massive building. The weather was bright but grey, which only added to the fabulous feeling of the place. We spent a long time strolling this magnificent site, and it was my favourite spot in Old Goa.

Ruins of St Augustine

Ruins of St Augustine


Beautiful forest surrounding St. Augustine

Beautiful forest surrounding St. Augustine

More ruins...

More ruins...


Across the road, and fronted by massive bougainvillea’s was the 1627 Church and Convent of St. Monica.

Across the road, and fronted by massive bougainvillea’s was the 1627 Church and Convent of St. Monica.

The most revered Church in Old Goa is the Church of Bom Jesus, which was begun in 1594. It was the first church in India to be made minor-basilica. Not sure what that means, but sounds important!

Basilica of Bom Jesus

Basilica of Bom Jesus

A nice baroque-style church, the most fascinating thing for us was the tomb of St. Frances Xavier, the patron Saint of Goa. It is rather strange to look onto the visible remains of the Saint, resting in the heavily decorated glass, silver and gold casket. All the remains except for his finger that is, which is kept in a crystal urn and taken out on December 3, the day of the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, to be displayed to the public. This is done once every ten years, the last being in 2004 and the next 2014. Until recently, people were able to actually kiss the feet of the remarkably preserved Saint at this festival. The exposure though caused a lot of damage to the body. Apparently one an overly-devout attendee bit off the toe of the Saint, and it reportedly gushed blood!

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St Francis of Xavier in his glass-fronted coffin

St Francis of Xavier in his glass-fronted coffin

The Saint’s remains are said to have powers of healing. This is rather ironic, since in 1554 he was also the instigator of the Inquisition in Goa by writing the Pope to request that the Inquisition come to India. It did come, with typically horrific results, but in 1560 after the Saint had tied in 1552 on the island of Sancian, awaiting permission to enter China. The Inquisition didn’t formally end till 1812 in Goa!

Se Cathedral in Old Goa

Se Cathedral in Old Goa

The Se Cathedral of Old Goa is the largest cathedral in India, and apparently Asia. The first building was built in 1510 and dedicated to St. Catherine. The 2nd building was begun in 1515 and gained cathedral status in 1538. The current structure was completed in 1564 and is the seat of the Archbishop of Goa.

Cross decorated with a marigold garland next to the Basilica of Bom Jesus

Cross decorated with a marigold garland next to the Basilica of Bom Jesus

After traipsing (and did I mention sweating?) around Old Goa, we made a stop at a spice plantation and then back to Panaji for a wonderful meal at Viva Panjim, one of the most recommended restaurants by travellers in Panaji and literally around the corner from our hotel. It had mixed reviews about the level of service, but we must have had a good night because if was friendly and relatively efficient. The outdoor seating is set up on either side of an alley, and we had to squeeze in as the odd motorcycle drove through the middle of the tables. The food was very good, and amazingly cheap, given its popularity with foreigners. The two of us had: prawns balchao (lemon, chilli curry), garlic calamari, chicken xacutti (spicy curry made with roasted grated coconut), rice, Kingfisher beer and for desert – bebinca, a dish baked in layers of flour, jaggery, ghee and coconut milk. Total bill? Under 500 rupes – $10! Yummy!!

Sculptures on an old Portugese house in Panaji

Sculptures on an old Portugese house in Panaji

The next day we were leaving in the afternoon so made another attempt to find the Ritz Classic restaurant for lunch… and we were successful! This was the best meal we had in Goa and were the only foreigners in the packed space. So amazingly good as we indulged in a mutton xacutti, a goan fish curry and prawns vindaloo. Great way to end the trip.

So we finally tasted Goa, and really, for us it was the highlight. Goa is very nice, and the history fascinating, but don’t feel the need to return I often feel in other parts of the country. Wouldn’t say no to returning, but just not overly enamoured. The best of Goa for me was the wonderful and affordable food. This, come to think of it, is a pretty compelling reason to come back actually!

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 13.05.2012 07:07 Archived in India Tagged goa panaji st._augustine bom_jesus francis_xavier old_goa bogmalo Comments (0)

Lions, Textiles and Art

Returning to Gujarat and Heading Further into the Kutch

sunny 36 °C

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When last I left you we had wrapped up a wonderful Rajasthani adventure and were heading to Gujarat. To get their we took a Volvo bus trip from Udaipur to Ahmedabad. I know it's not indicative of all Indian bus trips, but it was my first and wonderful! Very nice bus, 5 hours downtown-to-downtown, two Bollywood flicks - one good and one bad -- and only 300 rupees! Was fun to watch the movies and we were pretty much able to figure out what was happening through most of them even without subtitles. It was easier to follow the better drama than the pretty bad comedy.

On the Road: Mickey-Mouse-eared Buffalo enjoying the mud bath!

On the Road: Mickey-Mouse-eared Buffalo enjoying the mud bath!

Only had a night in Ahmedabad this trip, just a quick sleep at the very affordable and decent Accolade Hotel then off to Sasan Gir for 4 nights, with a quick but important stop in Rajkot for our alcohol permit and supplies! Funny how important having access to alcohol becomes when you are 'forbidden' to have it. As a friend pointed out, would probably drink far less if it wasn't forbidden. As it was, we picked up a bottle of whiskey, Hercules rum (yum), gin, cognac from duty-free and a mickey of vodka, plus 6 cans of kingfisher beer. For 3 of us over 10 days! Far more than we'd normally drink - honestly - and even had some left over despite our very sincere and impressive efforts (no leftover cognac though). Interesting to note that for this trip at least, it was far more pleasant to get our permits in Rajkot than the shame-laden permit process in Ahmedabad last November.

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On the way, we stopped at the side of the road in Jetpur to check out masses and masses of dried chillies grown in surrounding farms. They were lovely people, with wonderful smiles and fantastic lungs. We were coughing from airborne pepper dust as soon as we started the climb down to see their produce. All kinds and sizes of chillies, including one of my favs – Kashmiri.
Chilli Lady

Chilli Lady

Sasan Gir National Park

Snakebird takes off over the water

Snakebird takes off over the water

Finally arriving in Gir, the differences in the vegetation immediately apparent from last November. As expected it was so much drier, hotter and bare. The fallen teak leaves that formed a thick crunchy carpet were mostly gone, disintegrating into the forest floor.

Langur lunch!

Langur lunch!

This trip we decided to check out the Gir Birding Lodge. The setting was lovely with little cottages set in a large mango orchard. Lovely and quiet with just 6 cottages on the property. The only negative for the lodge was the lack of a dedicated jeep and driver, instead using a roster system of jeep drivers from town. This makes it the quality of jeep and driver uncertain and inconsistant. It's usually much better having one driver employed, or contracted by a lodge. It generally ensures a better quality of ride and knowledge as well; a consistent driver gets to know the client, what they are interested in and where they’ve already been, more likely ensuring a better experience. So while Gir Birding Lodge provided cleaner rooms, far better food and generally more helpful and consistent staff, Anil Farmhouse’s resident naturalist/driver Haneef makes it hard for me to decide which would win out for the best place to stay of the two. Next time will have to try a 3rd place maybe?

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Crested (formerly Changeable) Hawk Eagle

Crested (formerly Changeable) Hawk Eagle

But on to the important stuff – the animals! As always, they are the stars! We had some fantastic sightings, though not as many lions as last November. It was explained (though not sure if true) that the lion rangers that control the traffic around sightings actually regularly 'herd' the lions up to where they can be seen. While we were there, there was a leopard not far away that had been killing children and many rangers had joined the effort to track it. Still at the end of our first drive, we had a spectacular sighting, coming upon a lioness and her two young cubs. It was just us with her and we had quite a while as her babies checked us out. Such a high!

Posing for the paparazzi!

Posing for the paparazzi!


Hey, who's that?

Hey, who's that?


Damn flies!

Damn flies!


Checking out the scenery

Checking out the scenery

This visit was also memorable for vehicle mishaps. We had a flat tire in the forest, had to give our spare tire to another jeep and shortly after visiting with a couple of male lions, broke down by a small stream! The driver and forest guide tried in vain to get the jeep going again before settling down to wait for a rescue vehicle and mechanic to show up. Sandra got her iPhone out and we boogied to Boney M while we waited, hoping the lions wouldn’t amble over to the rivers of Babylon!

Langurs taking a leap

Langurs taking a leap

Bhuj and the Kutch

Salt farming in the Kutch

Salt farming in the Kutch


Beautiful colours and bangles in the Kutch

Beautiful colours and bangles in the Kutch

After Gir, we were off for a 7 hour drive to Bhuj and the Kutch. We stayed at the Kutch Safari Lodge, which has seen better days. It was pretty hot by now so wildlife was unfortunately not really on the table, but fortunately, the incredible crafts of the area was. We saw beautiful embroidery and textile work with incredible detail and art. Sandra picked up a vintage dowry bag, completely embroidered all over with geometrical and floral motifs.

Remnants of the earthquake of 10 years ago still evident everywhere

Remnants of the earthquake of 10 years ago still evident everywhere

We popped into the19th century Prag Mahal palace in Bhuj, which was strange in its very European architecture. The 2001 earthquake caused quite a bit of damage to the palace, and like other parts of area, you can still see evidence of this large quake that caused such devastation. The palace itself had some beautiful elements, but is in amazing state of decay, with roaming pigeons and rotting game trophys. Very atmospheric, but sad to see how badly it is being preserved.

Careful conservation in the palace

Careful conservation in the palace

Dining room in the Prag Mahal Palace

Dining room in the Prag Mahal Palace

During our explorations, we stopped in a village – Nirona – filled with artisans hand-making all types of crafts. Of particular jaw-dropping beauty was the Rogan (or Roghan) fabric painting done by the Khatri family. The last remaining family to do this particular art form. The ‘paint’ is made from castor oil that is boiled to a careful consistency over two to three days. It is then mixed with natural substances to create the colours. To get the right painting consistency, a piece of gum-like paint is worked and warmed in the hand, until a thin string of colour can be pulled smoothly with a metal stylus and laid onto fabric in precise and intricate lines. Once laid down, the fabric is folded and the pattern rubbed and duplicated on the other side. You have about 20 minutes to create the duplication before the paint is too dry to work,so not a quick process.

Rogan fabric painting

Rogan fabric painting

The art form has been done by this family for 8 generations and had nearly died out, because in its original form was a more basic patterned art to create saris. The painters couldn’t compete with the machine dyed fabrics and gradually disappeared. The Khatri family re-positioned the work as art, forming panels of increasing intricacy and difficulty. NO two patterns are the same and the only place you can get these pieces are from the family. So beautiful!
Phenomenal demonstration of Rogan painting

Phenomenal demonstration of Rogan painting

Making the copper bells in the Kutch - feet are very useful!

Making the copper bells in the Kutch - feet are very useful!

We also visited a fascinating demonstration of copper bell making by a lovely man with a wonderful face and brilliant smile. He deftly shaped, hammered, cut and formed the bells, proudly presenting us with the finished product.

Proud copper bell smith and his bell

Proud copper bell smith and his bell


Again the useful feet, this time turning wood

Again the useful feet, this time turning wood

Finally we stopped into a wood turner, creating spoons and ladles, which he coloured with resins held against the spinning wood, creating wonderful colourfast patterns. We barely touched the work in this area of unique, colourful and talented communities, and it left me even more interested in the area than before.

Village hut in the Kutch

Village hut in the Kutch

Mirror-work inside a Kutch village hut

Mirror-work inside a Kutch village hut

We couldn’t leave without a quick trip to the White Rann, a seasonal salt marsh in the Thar Desert. You have to get a permit to enter this vast, white area with salt pooling in every depression, and strong hot winds driving into us. During the summer monsoon time, the area is flooded, creating winter habitats for flamingoes, cranes and other birds.

Salt collecting in the tire tracks in the White Rann

Salt collecting in the tire tracks in the White Rann

After getting our permit from very officious and self-important police officials, and driving past the military post, where the soldiers waved and smiled at us in a stark contrast, we reached the edge of the White Rann. Sadly, this beautiful, alien landscape was littered with familiar garbage and plastic. I left vowing to bring a garbage bag with me if I came again.

CV and Sandra in the White Rann

CV and Sandra in the White Rann

This trip ended like so many -- far too quickly and we were driving back to head to Delhi for a quick laundry and pack for my inaugural trip to Goa. On the way back, we had an unexpected Wild Ass sighting. Straying from the sanctuary into fields of cotton, were happy asses, rolling around in the fields of cotton.

Wild Ass straying to the cotton fields in the Kutch

Wild Ass straying to the cotton fields in the Kutch

Chital speeding across the road in Sasan Gir

Chital speeding across the road in Sasan Gir

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 21:54 Archived in India Comments (0)

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