A Travellerspoint blog

Climbing 6000 Stairs

First trip into Meghalaya in the Northeast of India

semi-overcast 28 °C

Sunset over the Khasi Hills, from Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort

Sunset over the Khasi Hills, from Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort

Cherrapunji

The Khasi Hills near Cherrapunji (Sohra in the local language) in the northeast state of Meghalaya are a wonder! Meghalaya means “the abode of the clouds,” and is estimated to have just over three million people at latest count, with over 70% of the state covered in forest.

We arrived after a seven-hour drive from Kaziranga to the Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort just before sunset. For most of the journey, the drive is quite lovely as it takes you through tea gardens and villages on the way back to Guwahati, and then off through the winding roadway via Shillong to Cherrapunji. Shillong is a major holiday destination for Indians, but on this quick drive-through, I didn’t feel the need to return. Still, tis called the Scotland of India for some reason, so never say never!

Man-made lake on the way to Shillong - called Barapani (big water!)  We stopped for a photo-op, but I ended up be the photo-op, so exit... stage left...

Man-made lake on the way to Shillong - called Barapani (big water!) We stopped for a photo-op, but I ended up be the photo-op, so exit... stage left...

The first thing we noticed at Meghalaya’s main border crossing, next-door to Assam’s city of Guwahati, was ramshackle shop after shop selling alcohol. The state of Meghalaya has very low tax on its alcohol, which was perhaps an early indication of how wonderful the state would prove to be? You can imagine the Assamese Wine Shops are not the most prosperous!

The highway, most of which was under construction, is the main artery between the states. We were definitely in the minority in our little car, surrounded by big, decorated trucks transporting goods to and from the region as we traversed the winding narrow road cut into the hills. Agriculture is the main industry here, though we also passed coal mining areas. The state is purported to be quite rich in minerals, which doesn’t bode well for that 70% forests I’m thinking. According to many agri-science-folk, this region may be the origin site for domesticated rice farming! Huge history, going all the way back to Neolithic (12-8,000 years ago) human settlements.

The road was filled with transport trucks, and a few industrious auto-rickshaws!

The road was filled with transport trucks, and a few industrious auto-rickshaws!


Taste of our landscape as we enter the hills.

Taste of our landscape as we enter the hills.

After checking in to the wonderful Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, we watched the sun set over the Khasi hills and valleys, with the twinkling lights of Bangladesh laid out below. This hotel is lovely, simple and superbly run. There are two buildings housing the resort’s rooms. The newer building’s Executive Rooms, a stone’s throw from the main structure, are more spacious and more expensive. The standard and deluxe options are in the main building and their doors all open onto the central, circular dining room, which would be great for groups and large families.

Most of the staff were women, which might be why it ran so well! A true family business, with helpful and attentive staff. Owned by a husband and wife team, we spent most time with Denis, who was very informative and passionate about the region, in perhaps the way only people from ‘away’ can be. Although his wife is from the region, Denis is from Tamil Nadu – about as far away as is possible to come from in India. Happy to arrange drivers, guides, maps, anything you might want, without charging extra. A true friend of the communities around the resort, working hard to have the success of their establishment translate into prosperity for the peoples.

They have created a truly unique place here in the clouds. Happy to share and have their guest’s share their experiences to enhance future guest experiences. Makes you feel a bit a part of the place, even when stopping for only a few nights. There is no shortage of outdoor adventures to have and a lot of resources to help point you in the right direction. Birding, hiking, camping, rafting, and exploring; or just sitting in one of the many concrete gazebo’s around the grounds, or a short hike away overlooking the valleys. Something for all fitness levels. You really have to try very hard not to absorb some of the place’s magic.

Oh yeah, food here is lovely, local, homely and affordable too! Ask for some of the local dishes, the staff was happy to set us up with their favourites. Wouldn’t stay anywhere else in these hills.

Nice old jalopy on one of our walks.

Nice old jalopy on one of our walks.


Wonderfully dressed up children in Nongwar Village

Wonderfully dressed up children in Nongwar Village


The loudest cicadas I've ever heard live here!  Seriously!  Way louder than any other place and finally got a glimpse of them... far, far away...

The loudest cicadas I've ever heard live here! Seriously! Way louder than any other place and finally got a glimpse of them... far, far away...

There are many interesting unique aspects to this region and the first to strike us was that virtually the entire staff at the resort were women. After remarking on it, we learned the Khasi’s are a matrilineal society, and while not exclusively matriarchal, Khasi women have a lot of personal power. Inheritance is to the youngest female in the family, and all family members take the mother’s surname. When the ‘heiress’ agrees to marry, the husband comes to live with the bride’s family. If the bride is not the inheritor in the family, the young couple can set up their own household. Marriages are not arranged and divorce is not at all difficult nor a particularly shameful occurrence.

We had three nights here and it didn’t rain once, even though Cherrapunji is oft named the Rainiest Place on Earth (a neighbouring locale has taken the honor the last couple of years). Nice really in the long run, because our hikes didn’t encounter the dread leech, which during the rainy season would be an inevitability. They’re not dangerous, just annoying so don’t let them scare you away!

The first few days we spent hiking through trails and villages to various vantage points on the ridge trying, often in vain, to glimpse the birds we could hear all around us. The people have hunted the area quite extensively so there isn’t much for wildlife and those we spotted were very shy. Fun challenge! When you walk through these forests, or overlook the valleys below, you can’t help but feel the otherworldliness of the area. Enhanced by the many local legends, which of course Denis and family had compiled for our reading pleasure!

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Another interesting sight was the number of churches in the area. Predominantly Christian we learned Welsh missionaries came to the region in the 1800s bringing their beliefs with them. Though I’m not personally a fan of evangelicalism, perhaps this was not an unwelcome change.

Passing through a coal-producing area, neighbouring a cemetery

Passing through a coal-producing area, neighbouring a cemetery

In the area by the nearby Daiñthlen waterfall (thlen is Khasi for Python), legend has it there was a large, evil Thlen that would devour half the people who passed through. When the people decided they’d had enough, they managed to trick the Thlen into swallowing a red hot iron ball, killing it. To stop it from coming back, they ate its flesh, but… and there’s always a but… one old woman kept a piece for her travelling son’s return, but forgot!! Uh oh… and the Thlen came back. It resided with the family and could change forms to all manner of critters, and it demanded Khasi blood! But, not with iron, since that was the way it was killed. The family then became the first Thlen keeper and had to provide Khasi blood to the Thlen whenever it required, or they would suffer great misfortune. The cult of the Nongshohnoh (meaning beater) was begun. The Nongshohnoh, would perform a ritual, get drunk, take his club and go searching for a victim on deserted paths. After clubbing the sacrifice to death they were ritually disfigured and blood collected in a bamboo vessel for the Thlen.

Historically, the Khasi’s were known to practice this snake worship and offer human sacrifices to it. After some time, the majority of the people decided to give up this practice, though there continued a few families who went underground to continue to follow the old ways… there’s always someone! Then the practice started to slowly spread again until the mid-19th century with the start of Christianity in the hills.

Every once and a while, the superstitions reappear and make the news, though it seems to be more often a case of killing suspected Nongshohnohs. A version of Salem’s Witch trials with similar mortal results for the hapless individuals caught by the mob. Long held cultural and traditional beliefs are so complex and so hard to leave behind no matter where you are in the world.

Not a dragon, but, a wonderful dragonfly in the forest.  Its intricate wings my inspiration for one of this year's fabrics, becoming a butterfly top for Cheeky Monkey by LiSa.

Not a dragon, but, a wonderful dragonfly in the forest. Its intricate wings my inspiration for one of this year's fabrics, becoming a butterfly top for Cheeky Monkey by LiSa.

Living Root Bridges

The Living Root Bridges only recently become known to the world outside this region and are one of the most spectacular engineered wonders I have ever seen.

The Khasi people made use of the ficus elastica tree’s incredible abilities to survive by rooting strongly in water, on rocks and on sandy soil. In a region where the intense rain and resulting engorged rivers quickly rot any wooden structure or wear away stone and concrete, the use of this tree was ingenious.

The method takes upward of 20 years to complete but lasts hundreds of years. The first step is to select and hollow out betel tree trunks, which are then placed across the river allowing the ficus’ secondary aerial roots to be trained and constrained across the river. Once they reach, the roots are allowed to grow into the bank and rocks. As the root system grows in, flat rocks are placed in any holes along the floor of the bridge, which the tree then wraps around and ‘cements’ into place. Side rail roots are trained to complete the structure. These bridges have spanned rivers over 100ft in length, can support 50 people at a time and have been purported to last 500 years!

Umshiang Bridge

Umshiang Bridge

We spent the first few days working up the courage to take on the trek to see the Living Root Bridges, far down in the valley below us. I knew I wanted to see them but having read more than a few accounts of the rather grueling trek was very uncertain cause y’all know haven't been the most fitness-centric person in a while. Denis, however, was so encouraging, that we finally decided to make the trek. He said it was simply a case of your mind. If you believe it, you can do it. Denis set us up with walking sticks (very helpful along some of the steeper, more uneven passages) and young local guide, and set us off on the journey early enough to allow us to return before dusk, which we did… barely.

To see these bridges, in particular the Umshiang Bridge, commonly dubbed the ‘Double Decker’ bridge, requires a 10 kilometre hike, starting from the village of Tyrna. The first section is down 2004 quite steep concrete steps (per the count made by Timothy Allen of the Human Planet) to the village of Nong Thymai, then over two suspension bridges, a smaller living root bridge and another 1000 stone steps leading the way across the valley, over a (relatively) small hill, and part-way up the opposite side of the valley to the village of Nongriat. Not too bad I suppose, but, then you have to come back! There’s a small, basic guest house set up in the valley near Nongriat. Would be a great place to base more explorations down in the valley.

Near the town of Tyrna at the start of our trek

Near the town of Tyrna at the start of our trek

We set off at 9am, electing to be driven to and from Tyrna and reached the top of those bloody concrete steps about 5pm. You can walk from the resort along an easy sloping road, which adds another 10 kilometres round trip. There was a wonderful and welcome surprise enroute; a water pipe system runs down the stairs and through the villages with many tap stations along the way. It’s above ground so the water was pretty warm as the day progressed, but, you can drink it!! Straight from the tap with nary a problem. Was an essential bonus since there was no way I could have carried enough water and returned home to write this blog!

More Steps!

More Steps!


Arriving at the bottom of the 2004 steep concrete steps and the town of Nong Thymai

Arriving at the bottom of the 2004 steep concrete steps and the town of Nong Thymai


Drying pepper in Nong Thymai at the bottom of The Stairs

Drying pepper in Nong Thymai at the bottom of The Stairs


Nice bit of shade where we stopped for lunch.

Nice bit of shade where we stopped for lunch.


My patient companions crossing the Simtung River on the 1st of 2 suspension bridges.

My patient companions crossing the Simtung River on the 1st of 2 suspension bridges.


An old, partial living root bridge upstream from the first wire bridge.

An old, partial living root bridge upstream from the first wire bridge.


The non-concrete stairs!  Called the King's Way and part of the vast betel-nut trading routes that run through the valley between villages.

The non-concrete stairs! Called the King's Way and part of the vast betel-nut trading routes that run through the valley between villages.


Wire bridge number two across the Umkynsan River

Wire bridge number two across the Umkynsan River


Crossing the 2nd wire bridge

Crossing the 2nd wire bridge


Wonder if the boulders disappear during the rainy season?

Wonder if the boulders disappear during the rainy season?


Wonderful streams and valleys, must be spectacular during the Monsoon!

Wonderful streams and valleys, must be spectacular during the Monsoon!


Crossing our first Living Root Bridge, just before Nongriat

Crossing our first Living Root Bridge, just before Nongriat


Stones laid down and 'absorbed' by the tree to create a super solid path.

Stones laid down and 'absorbed' by the tree to create a super solid path.


Children playing in the crystal clear water by the Double Decker Bridge

Children playing in the crystal clear water by the Double Decker Bridge


Looking across the bottom level of the Double Decker bridge

Looking across the bottom level of the Double Decker bridge


I felt quite tired, but surprisingly not overly given the exertion of the day. I’d managed to make it up the final 2004 stairs by focusing on taking 25 at a time, and briefly stopping, counting off my progress in my head. ½ way there… ¾ there… 100 more to go… Phew! The lovely Khasi villagers, who of course make this trek often, would often stop to smile at the red-faced foreigner and commiserate kindly. Lovely people.

The real fun came later... I have never had such sore muscles in my life! Both of us were hobbling along in a pretty amusing way. Following any similar experience with sore muscles I reassuringly and assuredly stated, no worries, will be worse tomorrow, but then we’ll feel fine! Uh uh! Took a week to be able to get off the toilet without crying! What? Too much info?

Villagers picking bay leaves by the stairs on the way back up from the valley.

Villagers picking bay leaves by the stairs on the way back up from the valley.


Another winged lovely in the forest

Another winged lovely in the forest


Got quite a few amused looks as I huffed and puffed my way along.  Lovely people the Khasi folk.  Very friendly and engaging.

Got quite a few amused looks as I huffed and puffed my way along. Lovely people the Khasi folk. Very friendly and engaging.

We met a couple arriving as we got to our car. They were about to start the trek down. We warned them against it, as they were not very athletically inclined and suggested perhaps they might want to go the next morning. Not sure if they followed our advice… they didn’t look like they believed us.

Beauty in Beauty

Beauty in Beauty


Back at the top again... wasn't sure I'd make it!

Back at the top again... wasn't sure I'd make it!

I’d like to close this portion with saying… DO IT! This is a superb place to visit. It left me wanting more, and to be more fit and able to see more, more easily. As long as you’re otherwise healthy, just take your time and don’t sit down along the way or it might be a bit tough to get started again. The day is long but there’s beautiful streams and pools to cool off in at the bottom, so bring/wear a bathing suit. If you have bad knees, there is another trek that is much shorter and without the many stairs to another smaller but beautiful bridge from the resort.

Yep! We really did make it down there!

Yep! We really did make it down there!

This small state is so different from the India most people in the west hear about. It leaves me very curious about the other northeast tribal states often referred to as the Seven Sister States. They are – Assam and Meghalaya (which I’ve now visited), Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. Travel to the latter five (except Tripura) long required additional entry permits, though as of this blog, with the exception of AP, foreign tourists apparently no longer need to get permits but must register within 24 hours of entering the state. This currently applies to most, but not all foreign nationalities, and like many bureaucratic issues in India, can change daily, so make sure you check before going.

Peering through the tangle of ficus roots

Peering through the tangle of ficus roots

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 12:18 Archived in India Tagged wildlife hiking forest meghalaya cherrapunji cherrapunjee khasi living_root_bridges khasi_hills root_bridges living_bridges Comments (1)

Kaziranga Days...

...Hoollongapar Nights!

rain 26 °C

The Silk Cotton trees make a wonderful backdrop at this time of year

The Silk Cotton trees make a wonderful backdrop at this time of year


Seems like I’m constantly playing catch up these days! Since my second visit to Kaziranga in late March 2013, I’ve since returned in late February 2014 for a third sojourn into the forest. This entry will combine the two visits!

Kaziranga's forests and grasslands

Kaziranga's forests and grasslands


When we last left off, we were wrapping up a short but beautiful stay at Nameri National Park in Assam. As we were leaving, we got word from the incredibly helpful Manju at Wild Grass Resort in Kaziranga National Park that the forest department had just decided it must do the annual rhino census! On the last weekend of the regular season of the park!!! Yeesh! Two choices here: be really upset about the meticulous and time-involved planning, not to mention the cost involved to make this trip to Kaziranga; or… make the best of it and have a fantabulous time! Guess which one I did? OK… I’m not a saint; I was pretty upset for a few hours. But, in the end it reinforced my desire to revisit in 2014 and provided unexpected and wonderful adventures I wouldn’t have experienced without this hiccup.

We left early in the morning for the rather short drive to Kaziranga, arriving in time to fit in 1 of the 3 drives we ultimately did (out of the planned for 9 drives).

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Wild Grass Resort

When I first made a rather simple query to Wild Grass, the very hands-on owner, Mr. Manju Barua, replied with such incredibly helpful detail, I was able to plan not only that trip to Kaziranga, but also the Manas, Nameri and Hoolock Gibbon Sanctuary excursions, all aided by the information and contact numbers he provided. Thus far, with my many travels and help from loads of wonderful people, he wins the award for providing the most informative exchange I’ve ever experienced… by a large margin.

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Anyway… I digress… quite a lot! My first, brief taste of Kaziranga was in 2010 and Wild Grass – the oldest and highly-rated resort was full. Even still, they arranged my safaris and stay at the more ‘upscale’ Iora Resort. I far preferred Wild Grass to Iora (should note Iora is nice and I could not find fault with it), but Wild Grass is a relaxed, comfortable, old-world resort set in sprawling gardens with Colonial-styled buildings and cottages – much more my personal style. The property is well-run and hugely popular, but despite the steady stream of guests, you somehow never seem rushed or treated impersonally. Many of the buildings are older, which adds to the charm for me, but things do breakdown. No worries, just let someone from the helpful staff know and they’ll be there to solve your problem as quick as possible.

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On the first trip, we opted for the more removed, and very affordable. Only caveat, that though you have your own bathroom, it’s in a separate stand-alone adjacent building. I was in the larger cottage, and it was large! You could easily sleep 8 people (2 king size and 6 singles), with loads of outlets for camera batteries, phone batteries, laptop batteries… Quite fun, and very quiet, and although there was no air-conditioning, the fans were absolutely sufficient in late March 2013, even under mosquito netting (which was available in one of the cupboards). This large cottage was in need of some repair. The rains had started and the roof leaked in some areas, but the beds were set up to avoid the leaks. If you are eight people it might have been more difficult to avoid.

My friend and long-suffering wildlife guide, CV Singh, was booked into another single cottage-room, but it was not as nice. Quite dark and small, although super affordable if you don’t mind this.

A wonderful entrance into the park, with a hog deer to greet us!

A wonderful entrance into the park, with a hog deer to greet us!


For our return visit at the end of February 2014, I was bringing along a lovely Norwegian woman, on her first Indian Safari! This time we stayed in the regular rooms in one of the two accommodation buildings. Very comfortable rooms with twin beds and loads of windows. Higher in price but correspondingly more value and still super reasonable stay. Assam is very affordable compared with other wildlife destinations in India.

I awoke to a big ruckus outside my room window at about 5am.  Three Oriental Pied Hornbills having a serious discussion!

I awoke to a big ruckus outside my room window at about 5am. Three Oriental Pied Hornbills having a serious discussion!


To top it all off, the food was great – far better than reviews had led us to believe! Nothing gourmet, but still good, plentiful and very reasonable. We opted for an a la carte stay, which suited us fine since the portions are very large, you really only needed 1 or 2 dishes. The staff is very good about informing you of the procedure as you must order your meal well before your selected dining time, so make sure you do! There are no frills here and no wastage, so order your lunch after you return from morning safari and order your dinner after lunch. For a personal choice, I don’t think I’d go elsewhere in this part of the country.

Indian wild elephant teenager

Indian wild elephant teenager


Safari Info

There is currently no restriction on the number of vehicles allowed into Kaziranga, so getting safaris last minute are much easier than in Central India. Jeeps with drivers can be hired at the gate, a few minutes before the park opens. The park is large and traffic resultantly minimal so you do not come across others very often. I say that, but… 2013 saw a new situation in the park.

One of the park’s notoriously shy and hard to spot tigers was becoming not so shy or hard to spot. Sightings were becoming so regular that as we were driving in that zone, enjoying what we were there to see – birds, rhinos, swamp deer, hog deer, monkeys… a jeep drove up and a woman loudly stood up and shouted ‘tiger?’ Very strange, a bit off-putting, and I think, a bit worrying. This was reinforced in the 2014 visit, when we actually had a brief glimpse of a tiger, amidst rushing and crowding to spot a tiger. If the bad behaviour continues there is bound to be more restrictions put in place, spoiling in a small degree, the experiences you can currently have as a responsible wildlife-loving citizen in the park.

Oh dear.... tiger tiger tiger...

Oh dear.... tiger tiger tiger...


The park has three tourist zones for jeep safaris: the western (Bagori Range); the eastern (Agartoli Range); and the central (Kaziranga Range). There is a 4th range (Burapahar Range) but no-one seems to go there, which means I must check it out next time. Jeep costs are based on how far away the zone is, due to the extra mileage travelled, the eastern being the furthest. The central range seems to be the most popular, due in no small part to the aforementioned tiger activity, followed by the western range, which is particularly good for rhino and water buffalo sightings. The eastern range has large water bodies and is very good for birding.

Classic Kaziranga grasslands, with rhino, swamp deer and hog deer grazing

Classic Kaziranga grasslands, with rhino, swamp deer and hog deer grazing


Since you are theoretically not chasing the big cats in this park, safaris start much later in the morning, though it is possible to pre-book one of two elephant safaris before the drives start. They last one hour, the first starting at sunrise. You sit astride the elephant here, unlike other platform ‘saddles’ where you sit sideways (a style found in most other areas of India). I find I actually prefer it, but would not the best for people with hip or flexibility issues.

We arranged our drives with Wild Grass, to ensure that we got a very good and knowledgeable guide, well-versed in driving photography buffs. As of 2014 the resort has updated their jeeps away from the side-bench vehicles to front-facing, which is a big improvement in comfort and visibility.

Flaming trees and golden fields... Sublime!

Flaming trees and golden fields... Sublime!


The Park

Kaziranga National Park was designated a Unesco World Heritage park in 1985 and covers 430 square kilometres. As one of the last areas in east India (at least easily travelled east India) that offers wide tracts of non-human-inhabited land, the park supports the largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses and Indian elephants in the world, as well as (apparently) the highest density of tigers. The park lies in a flood plain covered with beautiful wide grasslands, and a quintessential jungle-like tropical forest. Intensely green with swathes of fern, vines, orchids and trees.

So many ranger stations in the park, with fairly well armed rangers who are allowed to shoot first if coming across poachers in the park after hours.

So many ranger stations in the park, with fairly well armed rangers who are allowed to shoot first if coming across poachers in the park after hours.


Not only a home to the endangered rhino, it also supports other threatened mammals, including my new favourite the capped langur, my new new favourite the hoolock gibbon, sloth bear, Ganges dolphin, otter and wild buffalo. Also an array of wonderful birds, both endemic and migratory populations.

I find them strangely beautiful...

I find them strangely beautiful...


The Wildlife Moments

Late March, you are quite close to the area's rainy season. In 2013 that was certainly the case for us as we had a lot of overcast days and quite a few showers. Late February 2014 was drier in Kaziranga, though we did come from the unseasonably wet Manas that year, so really, who knows these days! Late Feb does have a larger population of migratory birds still hanging around than we experienced in March.

So much rain on this trip in later March, even the macaques were in bliss with a few rays of sunshine!

So much rain on this trip in later March, even the macaques were in bliss with a few rays of sunshine!


Finally some sun breaks through

Finally some sun breaks through


Our first drive was wonderful, and quite exciting as a male rhino charged our jeep, coming up remarkably fast behind us, but that was to be nothing compared with our encounter on the last drive! Note: foreshadowing!!

Hello!

Hello!


Hoolock Gibbon Sanctuary Sidetrip

In the dark forest, against the bright sky, the silhouette of the gibbons often looked like a strange man as they swung easily through the trees.

In the dark forest, against the bright sky, the silhouette of the gibbons often looked like a strange man as they swung easily through the trees.


After that first drive we had 3 days to kill! We joined a couple of Canadians and a US doctor on a day excursion to the Hoolock (Hollongapar) Gibbon Sanctuary, where we were lucky enough to watch a small family for some time and had fun tramping through the forests. You visit this small sanctuary near Jorhat on foot, hiking along mostly good trails.

One of the more easy trails in the Gibbon Sanctuary

One of the more easy trails in the Gibbon Sanctuary


Dad, checking us out!

Dad, checking us out!


Apes of another kind, watching their arboreal cousins in awe

Apes of another kind, watching their arboreal cousins in awe


Beware though; there are leeches in this forest, especially after rains. CV was even bitten through his sock! I was attacked while my intrepid guide led me off the trail into the forest to get a better angle of the gibbons. Leeches in this part of the world, while not my favourite creature, are not dangerous, don’t hurt and don’t carry any disease, so don’t let it put you off, these apes are fabulous and worth a shot at seeing any time you are here. So fabulous that we decided to go back and spend a night at the Sanctuary.

Wonderfully dew-laden plant in the forest

Wonderfully dew-laden plant in the forest


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Surrounded by tea estates, the Hoollongabar Sanctuary (also spelled Hollongabar) is a quite small, isolated reserve at just over 8 square miles (2098 ha). For such a small forest it supports a surprising number of primates – including the gibbon, stump-tailed macaque, pig-tailed macaque, eastern Assamese macaque and the Bengal slow loris. We were also lucky enough to see the pig-tailed macacque.

Pig-tailed Macacque coming for a visit

Pig-tailed Macacque coming for a visit

Fearsome teeth!

Fearsome teeth!


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The Sanctuary had a Forest Rest House with two, very very basic rooms. Perfectly fine rooms though not for the non-nature-enthusiast as the rooms are far from air-tight or luxurious. Construction was underway in 2013 for a new rooms complex – looked to be maybe 4-6 rooms coming up. I was happy to have CV there, not only for company and language issues, but because as a single woman traveller you are pretty isolated. Never actually felt unsafe, but might not have been as comfortable on my own here, and it turned out to be such a highlight. That trip we were with several construction workers, a very accommodating forest ranger, and a cook. Only the forest ranger spoke any English and it was minimal.

As we sat out in the evening (bring your mosquito repellant!) we were treated to an incredible display of fireflies that filled the clearing, drifting out of the trees and amongst the buildings.

The large and wonderfully noisy Tokay Gecko living behind a sign on our resthouse.

The large and wonderfully noisy Tokay Gecko living behind a sign on our resthouse.


Next morning saw us up early to see if we could find our gibbon family. And luck was with us again! We came across our friends as they were munching, swinging and playing across one of the pathways. Really is a matter of timing because once they’re into the forest, you’re out of luck. We were treated to a wonderful serenade from the gibbons in the morning as well. Family groups calling to each other across the forest. Almost as loud as the howler monkeys in the Amazon!

Mum and babe.  The babes are born grey but quickly change to black. Then at 6-7 years, they change again if female to the warm brown coat, and staying the same black colour if male.

Mum and babe. The babes are born grey but quickly change to black. Then at 6-7 years, they change again if female to the warm brown coat, and staying the same black colour if male.

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The Hoolock Gibbon is the only ape in India and has two species, the western and eastern. The gibbons in the Gibbon Sanctuary are Western Hoolock Gibbons and are listed by the WWF as one of the most 25 endangered primates in the world; the eastern gibbon is listed as ‘vulnerable’. They are wonderfully expressive and remarkably agile in the trees. Their long arms can travel six metres in one swing! In fact, they are rarely on the ground, eating fruits, leaves, flowers and shoots, all found high in the canopy. The males are very dark, with fantastic white eyebrows, and the females a golden tan colour. They have one baby every two-to-three years, and the youngsters live with the family for seven-to-ten years. Our youngster was quite young, but not sure how old that was.

Safe with mum

Safe with mum


Boat Trip on the Brahmaputra… source of Kaziranga’s Life and Endangerment

The other side trips we took was a boat ride on the Brahmaputra, which was nice, but not much to see in late March, mid-day. Could have been interesting though with the right guide, as this is a major source of the Kaziranga flood plains trouble.

During the rains, water enters the park through tributaries and this is a normal and necessary eco-cycle flooding, but when the banks overflow, the situation for the park and its animals becomes devastating, as well as for nearby villages.

This is happening at a frighteningly high level recently. These issues are occurring due to the eroding banks of the Brahmaputra; increased use and erosion of land by an ever increasing population; as well as changing river patterns and river management, not the least of which are the hydro dams added to the Brahmaputra River recently. As a state with one of the lowest GDPs in India, and a history of unrest and insurgencies, the focus on much needed infrastructure improvement and increasing development has been marching forward. This needs to happen, but as everywhere in the world, it seems to march forward with little regard or study on avoiding the ecological impact. All of this adds up to a very uncertain future for this unique and precious place on our planet.

Dry season!

Dry season!


Tea Garden Visit

Huge organic tea gardens with black pepper vines growing up the shade trees.  The ditches that run through the tea bushes for water run-off during monsoon.

Huge organic tea gardens with black pepper vines growing up the shade trees. The ditches that run through the tea bushes for water run-off during monsoon.


Also possible is a walk through a large organic tea garden near the resort. Good birding opportunities and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon if it’s not too hot. Don’t miss the retail store, in particular their organic black pepper, which grows off vines on the trees planted to shade the tea – it’s a wonderful, aromatic pepper!

Only the top bud and one or two leaves are picked, by hand, from the tea bush.  Picking is typically done twice a year.

Only the top bud and one or two leaves are picked, by hand, from the tea bush. Picking is typically done twice a year.


Back to the Kaziranga Drives

Pretty used to people and usually calm.  They have terrible  eyesight, so trouble can come if you surprise them.

Pretty used to people and usually calm. They have terrible eyesight, so trouble can come if you surprise them.


Finally the census was over, but the rhinos were pretty stirred up. One had charged an elephant causing a census worker to fall and break his collar bone! So with that news, we were off to take our final two drives.

We were happily driving along our track, when we came across a mating pair in the distance. We stopped briefly, but since they were a fair distance away, we started to slowly drive off. Seems Mr. Rhino was having none of that! And he charged full-bore for us! Our driver was unable to get into a high-enough gear to move fast enough to elude this shockingly fast prehistoric animal! Before we knew it, it was running along side us, and eyeing the best place to toss us over. He was so close and so loud, I was staring straight into his eye! Our guard tried the usual methods of shouting and banging on the side of the jeep to scare him off but it wasn’t working this time, so he had to quickly fire a shot over the ear the enraged beast (guards carry blanks in their guns on safari). That at last caused him to veer away. It was a close call, since they can easily tip a vehicle if they ram it side-on.

Last shot I took, before the rhino swerved to run beside our jeep!  You can see the jeep railing on the bottom right of the photo.  I dropped my camera shortly after this to hang on for dear life!!!

Last shot I took, before the rhino swerved to run beside our jeep! You can see the jeep railing on the bottom right of the photo. I dropped my camera shortly after this to hang on for dear life!!!


Although I had rather fearfully (or intelligently?) given up the chance of getting a shot, CV had the presence of mind to video it! at least to the point it came up to us. In the following footage he shot, you can see how incredibly quickly it moves! After we made our escape, nervous laughter filled the jeep and CV had to wipe rhino snot from his camera lens… yuck! It seemed even for the more usually jaded guard and driver, this was an uncommon experience – thankfully!

Other Photo Moments from Kaziranga

Wonderful forest!

Wonderful forest!


The Birds...

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Indian Darter or Snakebird, sunning among the Silk Cotton Tree flowers

Indian Darter or Snakebird, sunning among the Silk Cotton Tree flowers


Fish Eagle Miss!  Doh!!

Fish Eagle Miss! Doh!!


Pelican Sky

Pelican Sky

Open-billed stork, about to catch his favourite meal of escargot!

Open-billed stork, about to catch his favourite meal of escargot!


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Pelican in a tree?  Can't be a comfortable perch!

Pelican in a tree? Can't be a comfortable perch!


Spot-billed Pelican

Spot-billed Pelican


Wonderfully decorative Kalij Pheasant in the dark forest

Wonderfully decorative Kalij Pheasant in the dark forest


Energetic Red-breasted Parakeet couple

Energetic Red-breasted Parakeet couple


Sunbathing Beauty

Sunbathing Beauty


Wonderful slender-billed vuture about to take off

Wonderful slender-billed vuture about to take off


Fantastic wings!

Fantastic wings!


Pied Kingfisher catches the evening's appetizer

Pied Kingfisher catches the evening's appetizer


Black-necked Stork resting as the day comes to a close

Black-necked Stork resting as the day comes to a close


Can Never Get Enough of the Ellies!

Soulful Eyes

Soulful Eyes


Breaking the forest cover, we were being thoroughly checked out before allowing the babe to move forward.  Thankfully we were at a respectful distance!

Breaking the forest cover, we were being thoroughly checked out before allowing the babe to move forward. Thankfully we were at a respectful distance!


Lovely family came to visit

Lovely family came to visit


Mum and babe, covered in mud and dirt - excellent sunscreen!

Mum and babe, covered in mud and dirt - excellent sunscreen!


Sending us an unnecessary warning!  We don't get too close to the ellies!

Sending us an unnecessary warning! We don't get too close to the ellies!


Other Wonderful Citizens of the Forest

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Fun times watching an Indian Smooth Coated Otter family across the river

Fun times watching an Indian Smooth Coated Otter family across the river


Wonder what the silk-cotton tree flowers taste like?  Looks good!

Wonder what the silk-cotton tree flowers taste like? Looks good!


Assam Roofed Turtles, all in a row!

Assam Roofed Turtles, all in a row!


Interesting and large red bug -- if anyone knows what its name is, let me know!

Interesting and large red bug -- if anyone knows what its name is, let me know!


Hog Deer Hello!

Hog Deer Hello!


Even the wild buffalo use the mud as sunscreen!

Even the wild buffalo use the mud as sunscreen!


Curious hog deer fawn

Curious hog deer fawn


Dragonfly Beauty

Dragonfly Beauty


And of Course, More Rhinos!

Egret and his meal-ticket!

Egret and his meal-ticket!


Rhino's poop in a communal loo!  This fellow came up to illustrate that to us - lucky us!!

Rhino's poop in a communal loo! This fellow came up to illustrate that to us - lucky us!!


Mum and babe!

Mum and babe!


Next Up… the seven-hour drive to the Khassi Hills in Cherrapunjee, where, I walked 6000 stairs!!!

Wild buffalo heading across the river as the sun sets

Wild buffalo heading across the river as the sun sets

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 08:36 Archived in India Tagged birds wildlife india elephant tea gibbon rhino kaziranga vulture pelican assam asian_elephant hornbill otter hoolock_gibbon rhinocerous one_horned_rhino wild_elephant hoolock_gibbon_sanctuary red_breasted_parakeet hollongapar hoollongapar smooth_coated_otter wild_grass_resort wildgrass slender_billed_vulture Comments (4)

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 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 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 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)

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