A Travellerspoint blog

Mini Trip to Rajasthan's

Lesser travelled places...

sunny 35 °C

Bhainsrorgarh Fort

Bhainsrorgarh Fort


After an entire month in Delhi (the longest time I’ve ever spent in the city at one go) I was so happy to escape to somewhere you can actually and regularly see the sky! Flew at mid-day down to Udaipur for a quick trip to some lesser travelled places. Rajasthan is a major tourist destination and the state has done a good job making it that way, but on a 2-3 week trip to India, you usually end up doing a ‘regular’ travel route and missing some of the more beautiful and quieter, less-tout-filled spots so I was excited to expand into this area.
Lake Palace Nahargarh

Lake Palace Nahargarh

Our first stop was to the newly made Lake Palace Nahargarh, just outside of Chittorgarh on the road between Udaipur and Kota/Bundi. It’s a great and easy stop on a well-travelled route that lets you experience a Lake Palace at a much more affordable price than the heritage Lake Palace of Udaipur. Still, clean and spacious rooms with window seats over the lake large enough to sleep in and with screened windows on either side allowing the cool desert air to breeze across… at least in winter! and wonderful food.
Lake Palace Nahargarh

Lake Palace Nahargarh


We hopped back into the boat to head off for a nature hike in the forest sanctuary surrounding the hotel. A pole in the middle of the lake was filled with a mass of streak throated marten nests. The construction was fabulous and looked almost like a giant wasp nest, with myriad tunneled nests created of spit and mud. On our way past we noticed a fledgling that was trying to stay afloat in the water. We rescued it and it laid gasping and shivering on our boat bench. Seemed to have most of its flight feathers, and disappeared shortly after we docked, so hopeful it has survived.
Fledgling rescued from the lake

Fledgling rescued from the lake

Bring food for the babies

Bring food for the babies


Baby martens waiting for food.

Baby martens waiting for food.


The hike was invigorating, if a little frenetic. Lovely scrub scenery, with shale and rock to clamber over. I was, what locals refer to (lovingly I'm sure!) us foreigners in the Indian heat, a walking tomato! And even if not, completely true!!!
Moon rising over the Lake Palace

Moon rising over the Lake Palace

[/i[i]]Rajasthani colt coming in for the night - this one's for you Barb!

Rajasthani colt coming in for the night - this one's for you Barb!


Lake Palace Emu

Lake Palace Emu


Also nearby was the Bassi Wildlife Sanctuary that we visited in the early hours. Nice to be in a forest again, and saw some pretty birds and lovely water spots.
White Throated Kingfisher

White Throated Kingfisher


Dawn rising over the lake

Dawn rising over the lake


Next morning we took off early for Bhainsrorgarh Fort, which is a heritage boutique hotel run by Rajveer and his lovely wife Madhu, as well as his brother. First though, we stopped at one of the lovely temple complexes you find all over India. This one, the Menal Temple had exquisite carvings, along the lines of Khajuraho, but less sophisticated.
Temple at Menal

Temple at Menal


The temples are for Lord Shiva and date back to the Gupta period from the 10th century. Wandering on behind the complex, we came to a steep gorge, with water trickling down the sides to a green pool, surrounded by lush greenery and raucous parakeets cavorting across the valley below. The 12th century ruins of the mountain retreat palace of Raja Prithvi Raj Chauhan lay across the gorge from us.
Lion stepping on an elephant!

Lion stepping on an elephant!


Back on the road again and we arrived at Bhainsrorgarh to be greeted by our host, Rajveer Singh. After settling in to our rooms, we picked our way down to the river in the afternoon for a boat ride around the Chambal River, past the eerie and beautiful cenotaphs belonging to the family. This spot is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. Small, and shrouded in trees, with stone cenotaphs rising from the sloping slides to the river. It was so atmospheric and filled with a sense of mystery and times past, I felt like just sitting there. It’s hard to describe places like this. For friends I’ve taken to India, it reminds me of the feelings the area of the reclining statue of Vishnu in Bandhavgarh – Shesh Shaya brings. As well as others like Machu Picchu at dawn. Places that pull you out of the moment and fill you with peace and introspection. Also, a great spot for a movie scene Chris!
The beautiful and serene family Cenotaphs

The beautiful and serene family Cenotaphs


Our boat was a handmade affair, with rough-hewn planks nailed together to form a wide, flat-bottomed boat. This seemingly unwieldy vehicle took us around, powered by two small Indian men, with oars made of well-worn flat-plank paddles attached to relatively straight tree branches and held to the boat by twisted rope loops. A hell of a job!
Fishermen on the Chambal.

Fishermen on the Chambal.


CV tried his hand at fishing, but in vain. Although he did lose a lure to what must have been the biggest fish in the river! So big, he had to cut him free! Biggest fish EVER!!! After my Mahseer last spring that is.
On the Chambal River

On the Chambal River


Saw lovely river birds and while casting for fish, a huge croc came up from under the boat, startling the oarsman on my side. It surfaced then quickly disappeared again. Saw him coasting through the water across the river later on. Also a tree filled with the large fruit bats we had seen on the way to Ranakpur a year ago in Rajasthan.
Fruit bats as interested in us as we were in them!

Fruit bats as interested in us as we were in them!

Bhainsrorgarh Fort was built in 1741 by Rawat Lal Singh and lies 50kms south of Kota and 235 km north east of Udaipur. It’s easily reached by train to Kota, or flight to Udaipur and then a couple of hours drive. The Fort is filled with history, trophies, paintings and photos of the family from years past. There are currently only five rooms, but a few more are being built in a newer addition that fits beautifully with the original structure.
Beauty everywhere you looked

Beauty everywhere you looked


My room was beautiful and comfortable with a lovely stone terrace that overlooked the Chambal River, and was lit up by the lights of nearby cities reflected in the water. The air was sultry but cool, the constant chirp of crickets and frogs serenaded me, while the full moon (well almost full) crested the fort roof. Everywhere you look here a photograph begging to be taken. Beautiful landscapes framed by cupolas, vegetation laden ruins, archways and cenotaphs. Bliss.
Moon over the Chambal, from my balcony.

Moon over the Chambal, from my balcony.


Village at Bhainsrorgarh Fort

Village at Bhainsrorgarh Fort


Our dinner was set up on the roof and the food delicious. All family cooked and family recipes, with dishes I hadn’t had before. A cool papadum curry, interesting vegetables and a wonderful barbecued pork rib that fell off the bone. Madhu oversees the kitchen, but is a vegetarian. Luckily Rajveer is not, and the barbecue was his domain.
Bhainsrorgarh Fort

Bhainsrorgarh Fort

My gracious hosts, Rajveer and Madhu

My gracious hosts, Rajveer and Madhu

Leaving Rajveer and Madhu, we were on the road, stopping at the nearby Baddoli temples. 4Baddoli4.jpg
It was so pretty and detailed. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, Vishnu and Ganesha, the temples were built during the 10th and 11th century. The carvings were incredibly detailed and in very good condition.
large_4Baddoli1.jpg
4Baddoli2.jpg
Finally, the minibreak was over and it was off to catch my flight back to Delhi. But….missed my flight back home, because it was overbooked and a tour group had beaten me to a seat! Sorry Madame, smile, head-wag… Sigh, c’est la vie! Decided to stay overnight at the interesting and overprices (2500inr) Rupi hotel next to the airport since Udaipur is an hour away, and my new flight left at 8am. A broken bathroom window had me propping the bathroom door closed (since it didn’t latch) to keep creepy crawlies out. The front door’s lock was none to secure either, so resorted to the old standby of putting my suitcase against it. Comfy bed tho so all good. Was interesting to get a knock on the door at about 10pm though. “Room service Madame?” Uhhhh, “no thanks” say I through the door, not wanting to scare the poor guy since I was already ready for bed. I'm sure he responded with a "head wag!"
Bhainsrorgarh Fort

Bhainsrorgarh Fort

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 23:23 Archived in India Tagged temples rajasthan bhainsrorgarh_fort lake_palace_nahargarh bassi_wildlife_sanctuary menal_temples baddoli_temples Comments (1)

Delhi Days

Exploring Delhi... and Gurgaon

sunny 27 °C

Lovely old terrace in Pahar Ganj

Lovely old terrace in Pahar Ganj


It's been an interesting time this trip so far. Spent a lot of time exploring Delhi and taking my friend Remy's father-in-law, Eero, around town. We revisited some of the places I've been before and many new spots.

This trip, I've been staying in a sattelite city of Delhi, Gurgaon. Gurgaon is a modern, rapidly growing city, where planning and growth-pace seems often to deny logic. Massive apartment buildings everywhere with constant construction of office, living and mall spaces that seem to spring up overnight. The journey into Delhi from Gurgaon is also an adventure with traffic amongst the worst I've experienced, all bottle-necking at a big toll booth with no apparent order, attention to traffic lines or respect for the 'pass only' lanes. It often seems like most people in the 'pass only' lane are paying cash however.

The toll lanes are probably about 1 km across, and to get to the very popular Ambience mall beside it (and pick up our friend Tam) you need to do a U-turn into the lanes coming into Gurgaon, and then somehow make your way across all those lanes, in an almost direct, perpendicular line. You also need to dodge the trucks and cars that inexplicably stop and park anywhere, without trying to pull over to the sides at all. This morning, a truck, pulling another truck with a rope, just drove straight across said lanes, without slowing, to get to the other traffic direction flow. Very interesting study in traffic flow!

Me and my girls (with Remy and Lynn) at the Canadian Thanksgiving Ball

Me and my girls (with Remy and Lynn) at the Canadian Thanksgiving Ball


Anyway, I digress... the first big event of the trip was the October 15 Canadian Thanksgiving Ball. Eero arrived early that day from Finland and relaxed after the overnight flight, while Matti, Remy and Lisa were off to the Ball. Was just as wonderful as previous years, and even better because of the cool evening. The weather had started to turn cool early in Delhi and it is quite wonderful, if very smokey. Lynn flew in from Damascus to join the festivities so had a wonderful reunion.

Night bug swarm at the British High Commission - crazy at this time of year, every 3 or 4 days, swarms of these tiny fly-like things swarm towards light, dying en-masse by the next morning.

Night bug swarm at the British High Commission - crazy at this time of year, every 3 or 4 days, swarms of these tiny fly-like things swarm towards light, dying en-masse by the next morning.


The plan for Eero's visit was to explore the wide variety of sights, peoples, foods and adventures that contributes to making Delhi such a vibrant, interesting and colourful city. Even when blanketed in a gray haze! Our first adventrue was to Old Delhi, stopping first at Ashish's jewellery store. The old laneway his store is in, dates from the Mughal period, and still shows the beautiful painted decoration from those days. Eero went exploring and met a cute girl, happily posing for him on a cycle rickshaw.... and only 10 rupees for the photo!!!

Spice Market in Old Delhi

Spice Market in Old Delhi


From Ashish's shop, we hopped into a couple of cycle rickshaws to take us to the Spice Market. It was even more chaotic than normal because Diwali was approaching and the shopping was approaching a Christmas-like frenzy! Still, we got there, and wound our way, coughing from the pepper-laden air, to climb up some old stairs to wonderful panoramas of the market and Old Delhi.

Looking down at the spice market in Old Delhi

Looking down at the spice market in Old Delhi


Old Delhi rooftop, from Spice Market building roof.

Old Delhi rooftop, from Spice Market building roof.


Next up was a drive to the west-end to visit the Toilet Museum. Yep, that's what I said! The Founder of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, was a Gandhi follower and after his death started this organization inspired by Gandhi’s desire to make 'Untouchables" an inclusive part of India’s peoples. Cleaning latrine pits were one of the unsavoury duties by 'Untouchables,' who are at the absolute bottom of the Hindu Caste System. The museum is a pioneering non-profit voluntary organisation (NGO) in the field of Sanitation in India, and has consultative status with Economic and Social Council of the U.N. Now Sulabh is operating and maintaining more than 5,500 community toilet complexes in 1075 towns across the country.

Interesting stuffed toys at the Sulabh Toilet Museum

Interesting stuffed toys at the Sulabh Toilet Museum


We had an assigned guide for the entertaining museum, but his boss, dubbed the Toilet Nazi would quickly jump in and take over. Very serious about his work he was! Even posed on the various displays for us to photograph... complete with emotive facial and body contortions!

Our guide at the Sulabh Toilet Museum

Our guide at the Sulabh Toilet Museum


What they do with human waste here is amazing. The Society converts the gasses to actual usable gas for lighting and cooking and generating electricity. They compost and dehydrate solid waste into useable garden fertilizers and turn water waste to useable and sanitary water. Not for drinking, but cooking, washing, etc. Pretty cool.

Paharganj vegetable seller

Paharganj vegetable seller


Another thing I've wanted to do for a while was next up, a street walk with former street kids of the Salaam Balak Trust through the streets of the inner city of Pahar Ganj around the New Delhi Railway station.
Durga tile in Paharganj - tiles of Gods are placed in alleys and areas to discourage public urination!

Durga tile in Paharganj - tiles of Gods are placed in alleys and areas to discourage public urination!


In India, all Gods are respected and revered, whether they are in their own personal religious group or not.

In India, all Gods are respected and revered, whether they are in their own personal religious group or not.


Our guide, Iqbal, was abandoned in a market at five years old by an abusive father, after his mother left the family with his sisters. He was taken in by an equally abusive couple finally running away and making his way to New Delhi. He has brothers and sisters, but has no idea where they are, or even what village he first came from. Now he is finished high school and hopes to continue on to be an engineer. He started guiding for Salaam Balak to get over his shyness talking to girls! which doesn't seem to be a problem now!

Main Bazaar scaffolding in Paharganj

Main Bazaar scaffolding in Paharganj


The trust provides a shelter and medical services for street children, trying to talk them into either returning home or joining one of their shelters and attending school. Iqbal also works as a mentor for these kids, trying to convince them to get off the street. They have 5 shelters in Delhi housing between 50-80 children each. Along with the 7 drop-in centres, the trust serves 3,500 children each year. There are an estimated 100,000 street kids in Delhi alone.
Old wall in Paharganj

Old wall in Paharganj


The street kids earn money in a variety of ways, including collecting recyclable garbage to sell to the rag picker depots and selling bottles of tap water to the 3rd class train passengers. Since the money they earn will be stolen when they sleep they need to spend it each day. Food is covered usually by the free food served at the Sikh temple kitchens. One of the ways they spend money is on video games. These games though are a long way from our kids' DS and gameboy machines! Drugs, glue-sniffing, and alcohol are unfortunately a predictable purchase as well.
Paharganj video parlour

Paharganj video parlour


The Festival of Lights (Diwali) was coming up, so Main Bazaarr road was strung with lights and street vendors were selling Dia's. Terra cotta dishes you fill with mustard seed oil, then lighting a wick laid at the rim. The fireworks and firecrackers were pretty spectacular for Diwali in Gurgaon. There is a push not light them since the polution they contribute to is pretty incredible, but this has only really reached the middle and upper class families. These classes only makes up roughly 25% of the population, so there's not noticeable reduction - at least to my ears. May be bad for the environment, but like a sunset, is very pretty!
Diwali fireworks in Gurgaon

Diwali fireworks in Gurgaon

The fall is filled with all kinds of events, mela's (craft sales) and balls. One of the ones I went to this year was the New Caledonia St Andrew's Day Scottish Ball. It was wonderful! Started with getting our make-up done with the marvelous Akash, and then arrived amidst the very interesting bagpipe exertions of a Sikh band. After dinner to a modern cover band, the Scottish Highland band started, as did the Cielied dances - for those not in the know, it's a kind of a Scottish square dancing. Wasn't planning on it, but somehow we ended up stumbling through the far-harder-than-they-looked dances. And in a sari, which was quite the feat let me tell you! There was even a Canadian Barn Dance, which stumped all the Canucks at the ball. Have y'all hear of it? Probably those from down-east might know it? Still, we put in a valiant attempt... not pretty, but still... an effort :-)

Shima, who cooked our wonderful lunch!

Shima, who cooked our wonderful lunch!


Another Delhi highlight this trip was lunch with my favourite bangle boys in Hanuman Mandir. They'd been trying to make a meal for me for a while now, and they finally pinned us down - November 3 at the market. We arrived, unsure as to whether they had remembered our date, and stocked up on bangles for the ball and for presents etc. When we were getting ready to leave and go eat somewhere else, I picked up the word khana in the conversation around us (English is very limited). And yep, they'd remembered.
Aziz, Shima and some of their kids after feeding Tam and I with a wonderful feast.

Aziz, Shima and some of their kids after feeding Tam and I with a wonderful feast.


We were led to the back group of go-downs in the market to Shamu's tatoo shop, where they'd set up stools and cushions for us. Aziz's wife Shima had cooked us a feast! Chicken Biryani, chicken korma, a super-thin type of roti, that was so thin you could see through it, naan and a meetha paratha (sweet paratha). All washed down with Limca - a grayish lemon soda, that's really quite good. The food was spectacular! Aziz and family are muslim, so biryani is a specialty. It was so good I couldn't resist Shima as she ladled three helpings onto my plate! No more eating for us that day! Business continued as usual as we were guests of honour in the little shop, only clients now sat on a stool outside the go-down. A man was getting his neck tatooed as we dined... kind of a dinner floor show!

Monkey guard at the Gurgaon condo - She is employed to scare away the more agressive and troublesome macaque monkeys.  Seems to work too! And a pretty good bike rider!!

Monkey guard at the Gurgaon condo - She is employed to scare away the more agressive and troublesome macaque monkeys. Seems to work too! And a pretty good bike rider!!


Other interesting experiences in Delhi this trip? Went to one of two brew-pubs in the greater Delhi area, and apparently the better of the two. At the Galaxy Hotel in Gurgaon is Howzatt Bar. Had a free tasting flight before settling on their dark beer. Which was more of a light-dark beer, with shades of a porter taste, but more lager-like. Really quite drinkable and encouraging on the Indian beer front.

Making Christmas cake at the Gurgaon Crowne Plaza

Making Christmas cake at the Gurgaon Crowne Plaza


Then, last weekend we went to the Crowne Plaza in Gurgaon, where we joined the Christmas Cake and Pudding get-together! Masses of nuts, spices and fruits, mixed with bottles of rum and kingfisher beer. We got hats and aprons, donned gloves, then dove into the mass, helping to mix the wonderfully smelling concoction. It will go to make 1500lbs of christmas cake and pudding for the hotel. Then we took a break from our hard work with some mulled wine and sampling of batches cooked earlier for the event! Sureal India Indeed!

Will post on a fun mini-Rajasthan break to some lesser-traveled spots later this week, and am off on a two-week trip to Gujarat tomorrow!
Looking down Chandni Chowk at the Red Fort from the Spice Market in Old Delhi

Looking down Chandni Chowk at the Red Fort from the Spice Market in Old Delhi

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 08:41 Archived in India Tagged fireworks delhi diwali balls gurgaon sulabh_toilet_museum spice_market old_delhi salaam_baalak_trust hanuman_mandir bangle_market Comments (0)

Bandhavgarh, Wonderful Once Again

... and a Spectacular Finish at the Canadian Official Residence

sunny 45 °C

Rajberah meadow, complete with a bunch o' vultures

Rajberah meadow, complete with a bunch o' vultures


My final couple of weeks in India for this trip and what could be better than hanging out with my friend Yugdeep in Bandhavgarh? Not much!! and what a wonderful start our first drive brought!

Peacock posing

Peacock posing


The private courtyard outside my hut

The private courtyard outside my hut


This was my first time staying at Taj Safaris in Bandhavgarh, and was there because it was where my friend and naturalist Yugdeep was currently working, and because at this time of year, it’s actually a bit more affordable! Mahua Kothi lodge is spectacularly lovely. Spacious and luxurious mud-style huts, with large courtyards piled high with pillows and various seating areas, and all set out in thick bamboo thickets. Taj hospitality is typically wonderful, and I think I got the best room in the house, and the best butler – Vishnu from Nepal. A next-door neighbour to another naturalist friend at Ken River, Shukra as it turns out.

Serpent Eagles in synchronized mating flight.

Serpent Eagles in synchronized mating flight.


So off into the forest I went with Yugdeep. Just he and I, which is another luxury of this time of year. April and May are stinking hot in many parts of the country, but for wildlife: cost, smaller crowds and spectacular photo ops, you can't beat it.

Macaque family

Macaque family


I had had such wonderful tiger sightings in Tadoba earlier with CV, that my immediate tiger thirst was a little quenched, so we decided to avoid 'the Horde' and meander the forest. Which, happily, you can do again in Bandhavgarh! They’ve broken up the Tala zone and removed the route system. So no more centre-point check-ins - back to roaming at will, chasing alarm calls, or sitting quietly waiting for the action to come to you.

Chital in mid-leap

Chital in mid-leap


The park gives the appearance of being much emptier this way, since the majority of the vehicles are tiger chasing and sitting at the sites of a more ‘sure-thing’ sighting. They’ve also opened up routes within the zone that have not been opened for a while. I’m cautiously optimistic about the park, having arrived believing it might be my last visit here, to thinking I’ll definitely have to come back. They’re also talking about opening walking zones in the park, and opening up a separate gate and area next year. Fingers and toes are crossed! Might throw in a few eyes too... two at least.

Indian Pitta calling for a girlfriend

Indian Pitta calling for a girlfriend


But, I digress! Where was I? oh yes, meandering the forest. About 20 minutes in, we were driving through the Barua Nala area, when chitals started to sound the alarm and broke from the undercover, darting across the road. Curious, we slowed down, and looked into the nala (valley) to our right and “tiger”!!

Vanvai

Vanvai


A beautiful girl, about 4-5 years old and referred to as Vanvai. Yugdeep had last seen her a couple of weeks earlier, heavily pregnant and now she wasn’t. She may have left the cubs to get a drink, or maybe try to make a kill since she was panting very heavily and with the way the chitals ran from the nala, this was likely the case. Regardless, she was walking straight for us!

Vanvai catching her breath

Vanvai catching her breath


She is apparently a normally shy girl, but we were the only vehicle there, and pretty quiet. She seemed quite calm and unphased by us as she settled in a nearby thicket. What a sighting!

Vanvai looking sweet

Vanvai looking sweet


We spent almost an hour with her, as she sprayed, wandered, sat, rubbed up and down trees, walked on the road and sharpened her claws in a dead stump, not 10 feet from us! Unbelievable! And the whole time, no one joined us.

Vanvai marking a tree

Vanvai marking a tree


Finally she started to walk back down the nala, and then must have heard something, since she started running. So fast, the ground she covered. Then she broke through the bamboo, and ran across the road and up into the hill. There was intense growling and thrashing about that sounded so close I was actually nervous for the first time, as was Yugdeep. We wondered if she had heard her cubs call, or sensed a predator. Some boars broke cover and moved out of the thicket. Soon the noise died down, and peace swept over the nala again. So exhilarating!

Vanvai scratching into a log, with great concentration!

Vanvai scratching into a log, with great concentration!


After this long encounter, we moved out and continuing our original meandering plan, coming across 'the Horde' gathered around a female tiger far in the distance and exited the park. Bandhavgarh is back! Please please let it stay!!!

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher


Langur playing peekaboo

Langur playing peekaboo


Tuesday morning was a quieter one. Not too much activity happening for the most part, but some lovely birds and explored a newly opened area. Wonderful to photography trees and monkeys that I haven’t been able to do during the last few visits racing around at top speeds.

The Horde, waiting in vain for Bokha to appear.

The Horde, waiting in vain for Bokha to appear.


Came across 'the Horde' gathered around Bokha, who we couldn’t actually see, deep in a thicket. We left to spend time in the forested stream area near the entrance to the Tala zone, looking for racket-tailed drongos and other birds, when the tigress who killed Chorbhera this year sauntered down the stream, just like Chorbhera had done for me many times before. She has a bad eye, from the mortal fight she had with poor Chorbhera. A nice, but quick sighting, before she settled well out of sight in the cool stream.

New tigeress, who vanquished Chorbera

New tigeress, who vanquished Chorbera


Langurs hanging out

Langurs hanging out


The old boy himself - B2

The old boy himself - B2


That afternoon we happily caught up with the park’s patriarch, B2. He was sitting in a water hole for quite some time, then slowly hauled himself out and started grooming, before stretching out for a nap. B2 looks fabulous, heavily muscled and strong, but his movements looked so slow and painful. Not sure if it’s arthritis or a recent injury or strain as Yugdeep thought, but sad to see him move so painfully.

Langur inching his way down to water while B2 naps

Langur inching his way down to water while B2 naps


Was funny to watch a desperately thirsty langur slowly inch his way to the water. He'd move about a meter, then sit for a few minutes watching, before repeating the performance, over and over, for about 20 minutes. The langur finally, and oh so cautiously grabbed mouthfuls of water.

Langur finally grabbing a drink - one eye on B2

Langur finally grabbing a drink - one eye on B2


Monitor Lizard

Monitor Lizard


Wednesday morning was the morning of the monitor. We saw 3 monitor lizards, having never seen one before in Bandhavgarh and loads of wonderful birds. Saw paradise flycatchers at a waterhole, along with a black-naped monarch. Then in the entrance nala saw a blue bearded bee-eater, a painted spurfowl couple, a serpent eagle, brown fish owl, sprangled drongo and black-hooded orioles. Also the tiniest baby wildboar I’ve seen to date. At first I thought it was a group of partridge-type birds around the adult, but nope, teeny tiny little striped babies.

Teeny tiny baby wild boar

Teeny tiny baby wild boar


Loving the park again, and loving that I’m loving it!

In the aft, it poured buckets! Including on us, when we went to the village. On the way to Rancha, past Kings Lodge, we chatted with a couple who have a home here. Yesterday they saw Vanvai moving her cubs to a new location. Rancha village is very prosperous, tidy and lovely. Smelling especialy wonderful, as is the forest, with the rain. Got nice and wet, and drove back to the lodge holding umbrellas over us. Very funny looking I’m sure.

Beautiful and wild-eyed chital stag

Beautiful and wild-eyed chital stag


Met a lovely French NBA basketball player at the lodge -- Boris Diu, who's also a wildlife nut and amateur photog. He apparently plays for Charlotte currently and was briefly (30 minutes) traded to Toronto last year. He’d love to play for Toronto since he’s a big fan of Canada, and of course the proximity to Montreal and Quebec. And boy was he tall! Yugdeep told me they had a couple of young US girls at the lodge that weekend, who didn't have any tiger sightings, but weren't upset at all, cause they were so excited to see Boris.

Brahminy Skink

Brahminy Skink


Thursday's drive was quiet throughout the park after all the rain. No sightings that we heard of, but new to me was a brahminy skink, yet another monitor lizard, a mating pair of Serpent Eagles flying acrobatics above and finally caught a greater racket-tailed drongo in flight, though not to well. Also only had one racket-tail. Oh well, good to have goals to keep working towards. Yugdeep and various forest guides have been working hard trying to get them for me, but they’re so friggin fast and easily scared away.

Racket-tailed Drongo, minus the racket-tail

Racket-tailed Drongo, minus the racket-tail


Curious langur baby

Curious langur baby


On our last drive we traded in our Tala tickets for the Mugdi zone. Saw some beautiful lillies that come out briefly after the rains. Heard the brain-fever bird everywhere – it’s the common hawk cuckoo. So sad to end my stay here, and had such a wonderful time with Yugdeep. He let me drive the Taj jeep back to the lodge too! The jeeps are massive, and the sun was setting. Took about twice a long to reach the lodge, and was pretty funny seeing the double-takes from other drivers and folk on the road. Fun fun fun!!!

Beautiful lily following the rains

Beautiful lily following the rains


And then back to Delhi for my last week with Lynn and Remy. Lynn looks after the Canadian High Commission dog when the family is away, and we moved into the Canadian Official Residence! which was kept low-key while she was staying there. Was a pretty wonderful experience to live here. So beautiful and very different from the only other time I'd been there during the Thanksgiving Ball.

Official dog - Cleo

Official dog - Cleo


Backyard of the OR

Backyard of the OR


So now I'm busy planning the next trip, and working on 'officially' taking people on escorted tours. My focus is obviously wildlife, but, have managed to visit pretty much all the major tourist sites in India over the last three years. In late November I'm planning to visit Gujurat and try to see the lions of Gir -- the last population of Asiatic lions in the wild. As well as go birding in the Rann of Kutch, and of course visit Panna and Bandhavgarh again. The rest is still in the planning stages. So exciting!

Bandhavgarh plateau

Bandhavgarh plateau

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 07:35 Archived in India Tagged wildlife bird safari tiger bandhavgarh Comments (0)

Wildlife Adventures in Central India

With a sidebar in Kerala

sunny 44 °C

Sunset on Kumarakom Lake

Sunset on Kumarakom Lake

Kerala Easter Break

Always seem to be playing catch-up this trip! Next up I’m heading to Bandhavgarh for a week with my friend Yugdeep, so more wildlife photos will be coming! Getting tired of them yet?
Indian Pond Heron in breeding plumage

Indian Pond Heron in breeding plumage


When last I left off, it was approaching the Easter weekend, so, with a long weekend free, weary expats were looking for some rest and relaxation. Off Lynn, Paul, Simon & I went for said RnR to Kerala.
Little Girl and her kitten in Kochi

Little Girl and her kitten in Kochi

Quick flight to Kochi and then 2-hour drive to our resort, which was fabulous. Our Villa's deck opened out onto a long pool that wound its way in a meandering path through the resort. Ours was at the end, which also overlooked Kumarakom Lake, which the resort was named for.
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Perfectly relaxing time for over-worked embassy folk! We swam, drank, ate and of course being in the birthplace of Ayurveda, took advantage of the spa. I had a lovely 4-hand Ayurvedic massage. Very relaxing, but a tad different from what my western-friends and family might be used to. You get to wear wonderfully flattering little disposable underwear, and then get massaged all over. And I mean all over! Really nice once you get used to it...
Purple Heron

Purple Heron


Keralan Houseboat in a lake filled with water hyacinths

Keralan Houseboat in a lake filled with water hyacinths


We also took a lovely lunchtime houseboat trip around the lakes, with all kinds of fascinating sights.
Boat o'wood

Boat o'wood


The larger houseboats don’t get down the more beautiful canals that we’d canoed through on my previous trip to the backwaters, but was still a nice way to spend the afternoon.
Wacky palm in Kerala

Wacky palm in Kerala


Keralan Gent

Keralan Gent

Wildlife Roadtrip Extraordinaire!

Tadoba Tiger

Tadoba Tiger


After Easter, I hit the road for a 10-day, spectacular wildlife trip, to three parks that had been on my ‘list’ for some time. My friend, and naturalist extraordinaire, CV Singh, also came with, so I was once again able to fully take advantage of the parks, in particular the wonderful birds of the area.

Satpura National Park

Gaur in Satpura Landscape

Gaur in Satpura Landscape


Our first stop was to Satpura National Park, and a lodge that is a wildlifer’s dream – Forsyth Lodge. Ecologically aware, and designed for people who love wildlife, the lodge also has, what I’ve not come to expect, excellent naturalists. David Raju was our naturalist for the visit, and he was exceptional. Showing us not only the beauty of the park’s creatures, both large and small, but sharing his obvious love for this special and unique spot with us.
Wacky trees

Wacky trees


Lonely camera

Lonely camera


Satpura covers an area of 524 km² and joins up with the Bori and Panchmarhi Sanctuaries to become part of a larger Central Indian park area of 1427 km². The park is reached by boat across a river and strictly limits the number of vehicles allowed to enter each day, which is a wonderful thing both for the forest and for the experience of the people allowed in. The terrain is stunning, with beautiful forests, meandering streams, massive boulders, rocky gorges and grasslands.
Dawn in Satpura

Dawn in Satpura


Famous for the density and sightings of sloth bear and wild dogs, we of course saw none of these! But as I have often experienced in India’s parks, I tend to not see what I’m told I will, where I’m told I will, so I’ve come to expect the unexpected with my sightings.

Giant Malabar or Indian Squirrel

Giant Malabar or Indian Squirrel


Satpura had some wonderfully different animals. Isolated populations of creatures far from the normal ranges they're experienced normally, like the Giant Malabar Squirrel. They’re the largest squirrel in the world, measuring over 3 feet long, including the tail, and are really beautiful.
Changeable Hawk Eagle we watched hunting.  He was so intent, scanning the forest for movement and likely lunch!

Changeable Hawk Eagle we watched hunting. He was so intent, scanning the forest for movement and likely lunch!


We also visited a tusser silk worm breeding farm.  Was fascinating and the cocoons and moths so large.

We also visited a tusser silk worm breeding farm. Was fascinating and the cocoons and moths so large.

Pench National Park

Pench pond filled with wildlife

Pench pond filled with wildlife


After Satpura, we were off to Pench National Park, part of the forest system Rudyard Kipling wandered as he wrote about Mowgli, Sher Khan and Baloo. We stayed at Tiger N Woods in lovely rustic raised wooden rooms called Machaans. The setting was lovely, but the park experience not so great. Tiger chasing is not what I go to the parks for, and although we repeatedly said this, we unfortunately did a lot of tiger chasing. I’d give the park another chance, because I’ve heard good things from other wildlife-focused people and the landscape looked lovely, but probably wouldn’t make a special trip.
Langur on a vine

Langur on a vine

Learned a good lesson here though. After schlepping shampoo around when I travel, only to use supplied products at the various hotels, I didn’t bother this trip. At Tiger n Woods we were supplied with lovely little packets of Black and Shiny shampoo!!! Yup! And it was actually black! I quickly lathered up and rinsed at super speed! Not being too certain about the listed products that promised to make my hair black and shiny! You know you’re off the typical foreigner tourist trail when…
Jackal mid leap

Jackal mid leap

Had a really lovely time on our last afternoon when we met up with an old friend, Dharma, from Kings Lodge in Bandhavgarh. He drove us around some buffer areas and villages surrounding Pench, which provided us with proportially larger photo oppurtunities for this stop. And all of the new bird sightings (referred to as lifers apparently) for me.
Indian Courser

Indian Courser

Tadoba Tiger Reserve

Paradise Flycatcher diving for a drink

Paradise Flycatcher diving for a drink

Our final park was Tadoba Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. And what a fantastic park it was! This park is not typically on the non-Indian tourist list, and is not very well serviced. This makes it doubly useful to have a local guide to help, especially if you don't speak Hindi. The place we stayed at is one of the only full-service lodges in the park and was pretty great. Tiger Trails is also focussed on wildlife people and set out in massive grounds with look-outs, water holes and machaans to explore, many of the waterholes set up with motion-tripped cameras that operate at night as well as the day. Unfortunately for us, it was so friggin hot, we would retire to our rooms in between drives, where I would plant myself directly in front of my full-blast AC.
Sambar chorus line

Sambar chorus line


Large male in Tadoba

Large male in Tadoba


Fortunately for us, it was so friggin hot! giving us amazing sightings from animals frequenting the refreshing waterholes. Each drive brought us something new, along with at least one tiger sighting. A mother with 3 cubs was spotting a few times -- with cubs and without. A wonderful extended sighting of a massive young male tiger, coming out and sprawling in a water hole to cool off his bits.
Young male paradise flycatcher

Young male paradise flycatcher


The birds were spectacular, in particular the paradise flycatchers, which were new for me and so showy. They were also super-fast, so hard to capture, but we tried a lot. I think our driver thought we a bit crazy with our bird-focus -- he'd have a lot in common with my friend Lynn! Probably half my photos must have been of these lovely birds.
Young Langur playing at sliding down the roof

Young Langur playing at sliding down the roof


Crested Serpent Eagle

Crested Serpent Eagle


On our last drive, CV spotted a mating pair of sloth bears. They were too far for good photos, but not too far for a good and interesting sighting as they played, chasing around a tree before realizing we were watching and melting into the grasses.
Langur mum on mum's day

Langur mum on mum's day


We came across an Indian nightjar that we spooked by stopping to photograph it. The poor thing flew straight into a clump of bamboo, getting stuck! It then just hung there and froze, in an attempt to do the usual and be camouflaged. Pretty funny! When we returned on the circuit it was sitting on a tree branch, nicely extricated.
Indian Nightjar stuck in some bamboo

Indian Nightjar stuck in some bamboo


Tadoba is now on my list to return to and check out during the cooler months. See it in different seasons, which are all apparently good for tiger sightings, though maybe not as frequent.
Indian Pitta, saw one, at the start of their migration to the park, then they were everywhere!

Indian Pitta, saw one, at the start of their migration to the park, then they were everywhere!


Knock-kneed Barking Deer

Knock-kneed Barking Deer


Heading into this trip I thought it would be really long – 10 days of early mornings continuous jungle drives. It went so fast! Faster than the usual week of such trips. Freaky how fast time flies these days!
Indian Roller taking a dust bath

Indian Roller taking a dust bath

Ananda Spa Decadence

Overlooking Rishikesh from our balcony at Ananda Spa

Overlooking Rishikesh from our balcony at Ananda Spa


And now, just back from pampering ourselves. Lynn and I went up to Ananda Spa, set high in the foothills of the Himalayas, above Rishikesh and the Ganges. I’d been here once before with Christa, and it doesn’t lose anything the second time around. Had a wonderful time in the clean mountain air getting wonderful spa treatments. Pretty sure I must look at least 10 years younger now!
Himalayan Bulbul from the balcony

Himalayan Bulbul from the balcony


On the way back down the mountain, we passed all sorts of cautionary signs on the curvy, steep roads. One struck me “life is full of fun, don’t end it now,” which was particularly interesting given a vedantic book I’d scanned at the spa about reaching my potential and spiritual growth. It was mostly quite interesting and a had a fair bit of good advse, but in one section it said, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘playing toys as child is expected; as an adult is disgusting’; and ‘passion in a young man is normal, passion in an older man is disgusting.’ Hmmmm.... Pretty sure I’ll not achieve said enlightenment... and pretty sure I don’t mind all that much. I've discovered my chosen path in life is not so much Eat, Pray, Love as it is Eat, Play Love!

Happy trails! Off to the park tomorrow and then moving into the High Commissioner’s House, cause Lynn is their dog-sitter!
Peacock starting to take a break from a long, fruitless, female-enticing dance.  Poor fellow.

Peacock starting to take a break from a long, fruitless, female-enticing dance. Poor fellow.

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 22:09 Archived in India Tagged birds wildlife india tiger kerala Comments (0)

Touring with the Girls!

Agra & MP Adventures

sunny 35 °C

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This be the Chronicles of the long road-trip taken with Kathleen, Sandra and Traudi. Starting of course in Agra. This is my 6th visit to the Taj Mahal, and still not tiring of looking at this lovely lady. I did however, take a page from my friend Christa’s book, and beg off a 4th visit to the lovely Fatephur Sikri and Agra Fort. So I let the girls go off with our guide, meeting up with them for a wonderful Mughal style lunch at Peshwari’s. Nice relaxing day for me!
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The next morning began with a dawn visit to the Taj Mahal. My favourite time here is after the official tour. Just wandering around, watching the play of light off the semi-precious inlay and seeing the marble gradually become whiter and whiter as the sun’s intensity increases through the morning.

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After visiting the Taj, we were making an overnight stop in Gwalior, to visit the ducky Fort and the extravagant palace. We were staying at the Taj’s hotel here, which was the guesthouse of the Palace itself. Incredibly luxurious, especially after we got a room upgrade – yay!!

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Moving on to Orchha’s Bundelkhand Riverside hotel, with rooms and balconies facing the Betwa River. The place was fantastic: rooftop views of the river, countryside and Orchha’s temples and palaces. Since our balconies faced the east, we got up to watch the dawn crest over the hills and river.
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Orchha Fort with Bollywood Junior Artistes

Orchha Fort with Bollywood Junior Artistes


Orchha was founded in 1531 and remained the capital of the powerful Bundelas Rajput kingdom till 1783. We had hoped to stay in the atmospheric palace complex itself, as we did in 2008, but it was fully booked. When we arrived to tour the ruins, we found it was booked to a Bollywood movie house, and a big production was filming in the palace – a Hollywood/BWood joint venture film, Singularity. The palace was all dressed up and coordination of a battle scene was being filmed on the ramparts. Will have to check out this movie. Apparently a time-travel type flick starring Josh Hartnett, Bipasha Basu and Abhay Deol.
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Leaving Orchha we made the drive south to Khajuraho and the World Heritage Temples there. The girls were pretty excited about seeing them, especially since Kathleen tells us she really likes erotic art! Oh my!
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We arrived there in the heat of the day, so was super-hot walking around. There is always something new here, even on a 3rd visit. The artistry in the figures carved on these fabulous Chandela temples, built from 950 to 1050 AD, is so stunning.
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Eurasion Eagle Owl on the Ken River

Eurasion Eagle Owl on the Ken River


That evening we stayed with my friends at Ken River Lodge, which was a welcome retreat after cities and temples. We went out for the sunset paddle on the Ken River before gathering around to hear the latest and greatest gossip over a bottle, or two, or …

Common Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher


A really cool development here since my last trip – we could enter the park at 5am! Fantastic on the wildlife end, as we saw a civet cat and loads of night-jars flying everywhere; not so fantastic for the getting up at 4:30am! Yeesh, I love wildlife, but really!!!

Peacock starting to head down the gorge

Peacock starting to head down the gorge


Something to remember to tell people when I start bringing them on safaris – a sports-bra is very useful! I always forget, but am quickly reminded as we race around the rocky terrain and trails. One member of the group, who shall remain nameless, resorted to wearing two bras in an effort to protect the ‘girls’!

Great Thick-knee mama

Great Thick-knee mama


Spent a day visiting the park, and then a dawn boat-ride before grabbing a car to Bandhavgarh. The girls were wiped out by the super early morning the day before and decided to sleep in, so it was just me and Trigun out on the river. Came across a really anxious great thick-knee, which was understandable when we saw its two little chicks. They were absolutely still, no matter where we moved to around them. An effective defence mechanism I imagine. Took a few pics and then left to relieve the mama’s anxiety.
Great Thick-knee chicks

Great Thick-knee chicks

Fledgling Eurasion Eagle Owl

Fledgling Eurasion Eagle Owl


When we got back, Trigun took me out back to a cabin a short walk away. He had been quietly taking care of 4 Eurasian eagle owls, taken in after their parents were killed by villagers. Unfortunately the illegal trade in live owls and use in black magic have endangered many owls in India’s rural areas. Trigun had found these 4 when they were about 1 week old, becoming their surrogate mother and father, and bringing live prey for them to learn to hunt.

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This day, the oldest was ready to be released. It was an incredible moment when he walked out with the fledgling in his arms. It stared intently at me, then hissed a warning as I tentatively touched its very soft feathers. Trigun put him up in a tree, where he looked at me, then off into the forest, before taking flight. A surprisingly emotional and beautiful moment. He would release the remaining 3 fledglings over the next three weeks as they got big enough.

Black-shouldered Kite on a Flame of the Forest tree

Black-shouldered Kite on a Flame of the Forest tree


We arrived in the chaotic tiger-chasing Bandhavgarh Park, and the wonderful Treehouse Hideaway. Our rooms were built up into the trees on the edge of the park itself. We could hear the alarm calls of the chitals and sambar from our rooms, which was rather eerie. You could imagine the tigers prowling right next to the walk as we navigated through the dark to our treehouses.

Indian Roller

Indian Roller


Also had a fabulous thunder and lightning storm on our first night. Some incredible light shows and a wetting down of the dust that was very welcome. Had some lovely sightings racing around the forest, when we got the word that a tiger had been spotted, so we raced to the area. Got there to manage a brief sighting of one of the 3 Mirchani cubs, way way way in the distance. I didn’t see, but the 3 girls did and they were very excited to catch a glimpse of the elusive tiger. These cubs are close to 2 years old so quite large, and about to head out away from their mother.

Crested Serpent Eagle

Crested Serpent Eagle


At the end of the drive, we again heard about a sighting and Bhanu raced back, super speed, to the area. This time, another male cub had just killed a pretty big Sambar and was struggling to drag it into the brush to feed quietly and away from the gawking tourists. A pretty good sighting, if brief, so elation was high all around. Last moments, last drive, and the luck was with us!

Cave Paintings in Bhimbetka

Cave Paintings in Bhimbetka


Next was a drive to Umaria to catch the overnight train to Bhopal, and an early morning visit the World Heritage site of Bhimbetka. These prehistoric caves, set in the craggy, dry hills south of Bhopal contain paintings of the peoples who have lived there through many ages. Some 1000 caves have been discovered to date, but only 15 are accessible. They cover a period dating from 10,000 BCE to medieval times, some paintings overlapping others of different eras. Wonderful place, but we really would have liked to spend more time wandering through the area without guides. Next time!

Bigggg Chapati!

Bigggg Chapati!


Bhopal itself was a surprisingly lovely city, with loads of gardens and a large central lake. The city is largely Muslim and was about to celebrate a festival so preparations were taking place for the evening’s festivities. We saw the biggest chapatti I’ve ever seen being made and were invited to come back for dinner. Our tres early start the next day decided us against it though.

Eastern Gateway, Sanchi Stupa

Eastern Gateway, Sanchi Stupa


Next morning, on the way to Maheshwar and the finale of our trip at Ahiliya Fort, we stopped to see Sanchi, another World Heritage site. Sanchi is a major Buddhist site, founded by the Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE. Ashoka was the first Emperor to unite most of India. More than any other until Akbar and the Mughals of the 15th century. After walking through the slaughter of a battlefield in what is now Orissa, Ashoka was so disturbed, he converted to Buddhism. He wrote the first charter of rights for animals and children and became a peaceful and remarkably enlightened ruler given his bloody beginnings. His emblem was adopted by the newly formed India as a sign of peace and goodwill. After Hinduism absorbed Buddhism the site slowly lost importance, until it was rediscovered by (you guessed it) the British in 1818.

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Ashoka built the main stupa on the site, which was later enlarged. The stupa is built over relics of Buddha and is a major Buddhist pilgrimage site. The fabulously carved 4 gateways surrounding the stupa were erected around 35 BC. As we walked the site, we were followed by beautiful chanting from a group of pilgrims.
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Below the main Stupa are the remains of a monastery and dating from a later period. Was wonderful to walk into the cells and imagine the monks living there so many years ago.
Colourful locals in Sanchi

Colourful locals in Sanchi

Leaving Sanchi we took the long drive down to Maheshwar and Ahiliya Fort, sitting high over the sacred Narmada River. When we arrived, the city was packed! Streams of people coming to the ghats on a traveling pilgrimage. First in were mostly the women, with bundles (their suitcases) on their heads. They were setting up along the ghats, laying down their blankets and getting ready for the evening meal. The men came along later.

Pilgrims on the Narmada River from Ahiliya Fort walls.

Pilgrims on the Narmada River from Ahiliya Fort walls.


Beautiful prayers were called out throughout the evening and lighted candles (dias) set out on the water. Dancing and singing all along the river by some, while neighbours lay down to catch a nap. Then, by 5am, everyone was gone! Moving on to the next holy stop on the pilgrimage. As Kathleen pointed out, only in India could that many people gather as a regular occurrence without a problem. She was relating it to the now cancelled Swiftshore celebrations in Victoria. She’s right. Every once and a while you might hear of crowd problems in India, but when you consider over 100 days of the year is a festival somewhere in India, you realize how little you hear of problems.

Mandu Fort

Mandu Fort


The next day we were off to Mandu, a hilltop fort known as the City of Joy with excellent examples of Afghan architecture. It was founded in the 10th century and remained important, passing through several ruling hands till the 15th century when the capital shifted.

Water Cooler chat in Mandu

Water Cooler chat in Mandu


Back at the wonderful Ahiliya fort, and partaking of some massages and relaxing in the pool before heading back to Delhi and then off to say bye to the girls as they sadly left to go back to Canada.

Seen on the road… sign for Vacational Training. Now that’s a school I could get into. Surely I qualify for professorship by now?
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Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 22:43 Archived in India Comments (1)

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