A Travellerspoint blog

Heading North, Surrounded by Cricket

Amritsar & Chandigarh

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Whew, lots to get through before heading off to 3 brand-new-to-me parks in Madyha Pradesh tomorrow morning at 5am. So, off to the first part of
last month.

My girls arrived safely in Delhi, and 1 hour ahead of schedule, late Friday night on the 25th. Took them on a whirlwind shopping tour of Delhi all day Saturday, followed by a Mongolian Barbeque at the Canadian High Commission that night. Sunday was a more laid back affair, with Champagne brunch and then a trip to see Mr. Mogha, our fav jeweller.

Early on Monday, we set out to Amritsar on the train – first time for Sandra, who has traveled with me to India once before. Traudi and Kathleen are making their inaugural visit. You forget how different everything is here after spending a lot of time in Hindustan. So much fun to watch their reactions to everything – rather like watching children discovering the world. This is a wonderful experience to have later in life. You forget how wonderful, enchanting, mysterious, and sometimes scary the world can be when you are in your familiar environment. Totally invigorating and enlivening.

This was my first visit to the Punjab, not really counting the brief stop in Pathenkot on the way to Dharamasala in 2008. You can definitely see the agricultural focus as the train meanders through lush green fields of wheat and other crops. Interestingly houses are often topped with massive statues of birds and soccer balls and occasionally airplanes. Apparently these are water tanks, with panache!

We stayed at a lovely hotel formerly a 250 Raj era house. Beautiful terraces, trees and gardens around every corner. There were so many secret spots to sit with our chai or drinks or just to chat it was fun to explore. Loads of birds too, as I tried to coach the girls to recognize the calls of a lapwing or brown-headed barbet and later astound the park naturalists  Who are reading this now, and the cat is out of the bag!

Pakistan (in black) and Indian (in khaki) Soldiers

Pakistan (in black) and Indian (in khaki) Soldiers


That evening we drove to see the comical posturing ceremony at the Wagah border – the only road border crossing between Pakistan and India. Of course we got added to a few Indian family photo albums leading up to the sunset closing of the gates and lowering of the flags. Before the main event, people would line up to take a huge flag of India and run with it up to the gate and back. Their faces were so full of excitement and joy, it made you smile. A really tall fellow in a white tracksuit was organizing the flag running, as well as leading the cheers and chants.
Running the flag at the Wagah Border Ceremony

Running the flag at the Wagah Border Ceremony

Just before the ceremony started, Bollywood songs filled the area and young girls began dancing in the centre pathway.
Finally the very good looking and crazily tall soldiers took centre stage. Starting with a soldier letting out a long note that he held as long as possible, while a soldier on the Pakistani side did the same, trying to outdo each other for endurance. Then two Bollywood-worthy beautiful women soldiers led the march to the gates – the idea being that India cares so little about Pakistan, that even their women are braver than the Pakistan soldiers. Wonderful goose-stepping, pirouetting, flag-line twirling extravaganza and the gates finally were closed.
Indians partying at the Pakistan Wagah border Ceremony

Indians partying at the Pakistan Wagah border Ceremony

We then tried to leave! Yikes!! First time I’ve experience the crush of a crowd like that. Reminded me again why I prefer a jungle if push comes to shove, and I mean that literally in this instance. Still managed a timely exit, stage left, and then rapid walk back to our car, which got us on the road before most of the masses, since Indians don’t generally tend to walk fast. We felt like we were cars in Delhi, weaving and darting through the crowd, often with millimeters to spare, seeking any opening to slip through.
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The next morning we walked to the Jallianwala Bagh. A sobering memorial garden that saw one of the most pivotal events leading up to India’s independence. What happened here not only outraged the country, but the world as well. In 1919, there had been many demonstrations against the increasingly restrictive British Raj. 2000 people gathered peacefully in this space, enclosed on nearly all sides with only a narrow alley way leading into it. General Dyer was sent to disperse the crowd. He ordered them to disperse, which of course they were unable to do, since he and his troops filled the alleyway, so he ordered the soldiers to open fire. At the end of the massacre, 380 lay dead, and a further 1500 were wounded.

The gold in Golden Temple

The gold in Golden Temple


After the gardens, we walked to the Golden Temple. The heart of the Sikh religion and an incredibly inspiring place. So beautiful glittering in the middle of a massive fish-filled sacred pool.
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Handing out thali plates in the Golden Temple kitchen

Handing out thali plates in the Golden Temple kitchen


Most amazing to me though were the kitchens. Anyone come here and eat for free here, regardless of race or religion. A meal of dal, veg, chapatti and chai, as well as rice and sometimes a sweet.
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Making Chapatis at the Golden Temple kitchen

Making Chapatis at the Golden Temple kitchen


Prepared solely by volunteers, they feed 40-500,000 every day, 24 hours a day. In one room, groups of men and women were peeling mounds of garlic and onions. In another, massive pots filled with dal and rice. Pickles gathering flavours in large tubs. Men using a hoe to stir rice; thali plates stacked for washing higher than the people washing them. Unbelievable coordination and operation. All Sikh temples have a similar, though smaller, set-up.
Raking rice in the Golden Temple kitchen

Raking rice in the Golden Temple kitchen


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Next day we were off to stay with my friend Sylvie in Chandigarh. Which was very lucky since unbeknownst to us at the time, we would not have been able to find a room at this inn anywhere. Pakistan was playing India in the stadium just down the street from us, in the World Cup cricket semi-final. The importance of this is hard to describe. The nearest I can come to would be to say US vs Canada in Olympic Gold Medal Game, times 100. Luckily India won, so the celebrations in the street were very festive and there were no major issues. The fireworks, firecrackers, drums and cheering were heard to the wee hours of the morning.

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We took a brief tour of this beautiful city, with 50s-style French Mediterranean houses and neighbourhoods, massive and beautifully gardened round-abouts and all laid out in a very structured sections. Then we spent a few hours gasping at every corner as we explored the imaginative Rock Garden, created by a civil engineer in his spare time.
Rock Garden Bangle Women

Rock Garden Bangle Women

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Nek Chand began the garden in 1958, building from discarded objects, working in secret. It was discovered in 1972 by workmen clearing space for city development and slated for destruction. Luckily though, the garden gained much support from the people and not only was it saved, but Nek was given a salary and workforce to expand the garden. Today it covers 10 hectares and continues to be developed and keep up to Nek Chand’s wonderful artistic vision.
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Back in Delhi for a fantastic and exhausting day doing a walking tour of Old Delhi. Along with Surekha Narein, our wonderful guide through the maze of alleyways in this part of the city, we started early to avoid the increasing heat. Jumping off the subway in Old Delhi, our first stop was joining an early morning Sikh service. The devotion and spirituality at all temples is inspiring. As we left, we received a blessing and a scoop of halva – a delicious semolina, ghee and sugar paste. Off to the Hindu temple next and finally a Jain temple. Was a bit startling to come face to face with 2 naked men as we quietly walked through the Jain temple. There are 2 main sects of Jainism, Svetambar and Digambar. Digambar literally means ‘skyclad’. They don’t consider themselves to be naked, but rather wearing the environment. A tad shocking in a country where nudity is taboo.

We then went off to the Red Fort, stopping for some delicious street samosas on the way. After all my cursing of VIPs, that’s exactly what we ended up being this day. Surekha was able to take us into areas closed off to the public. Under being repaired or closed because of vandalism – people are prising the semi-precious stone inlays out of many of the beautiful places here. Pretty special to get into the Pearl Mosque, King’s chambers and Hammam (or bathhouse). Exquisite workmanship.
Pearl Mosque in the Red Fort

Pearl Mosque in the Red Fort

After we left the Red Fort, Chandni Chowk was packed with people so we hopped onto a cycle rickshaw and threaded through the narrow pathways and streets. Constantly sure that we were going to clip someone’s ankles or toes. I’m not sure how we didn’t. We travelled through the wedding area – Kinari Bazarre, through the car parts market and to the silver market. Here we hopped off and darted down an alleyway that passed through someone’s house! to cut through to the other side and pick up another cycle rickshaw to go back to the Metro. As we approached, we got stuck in a traffic jam so we hopped off and darted our way through the people, goods, scooters, carts, dogs, cycle rickshaws and piles of stuff (some completely unidentifiable), until we reached the sanity of the very modern Metro.
Old Delhi Traffic Jam

Old Delhi Traffic Jam

A short ride later and we were serenely sipping, no, gulping, fresh lime sodas at the Gym Kanna Club, founded by the British in 1913. Rather surreal after our morning.

Exhausted and filthy, we returned to the relative serenity of Vasant Vihar for a hot shower and some quality puppy play time. Then off to have dinner that night at Olive Bar near Qtub Minar. Incredibly romantic place, with fantastic food. Where is Shahrukh Khan when I need him? And of course, India won the cricket world cup against Sri Lanka, so more celebrations and firecrackers filled the city. I think the girls’ heads are spinning a bit. Next trip, our 2-week tour of Agra and Madhya Pradesh.
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Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 08:58 Archived in India Comments (0)

Birthday Party with a Really Big Fish!

Corbett National Park

sunny 30 °C

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Arrived back in India on March 11, and Lynn’s house is filled with puppies! Beautiful little Miss Sookie Stackhouse was anywhere from between 2-5 months old and was rescued from the street by Lynn with a broken leg. She was understandably very timid at first, especially since her leg had to be rebroken to be set. By the time I arrived she showed no signs of her tough start in life. Sweetest little girl, so loving and filled with energy, running all-over and sliding down the hall in her cast. She loved toys and promptly took all the ones I brought out straight to her basket. She was also very good with the 5 other puppies here (3 weeks old when I arrived). But, when one of us would put a toy in with the puppies, who are just starting to figure out how to do something other than eat, sleep, poop and pee, Miss Sook would watch it so intently, and at the first chance, dive into the blow-up puppy pool and retrieve said toy, taking it straight back where it obviously belonged – her basket!

puppies at 4 weeks

puppies at 4 weeks


Typing this is so heartbreaking because while I was away in Corbett, Sookie very suddenly got sick, with what is thought to be an aggressive recurrence of distemper, that she must have picked up when she was on the street, and died two days later. It’s been a week now, and so far the puppies all seem healthy, but knowing how contagious it is, we are very nervous for them.
Miss Sookie Stackhouse

Miss Sookie Stackhouse

All in all, a lovely first weekend in Delhi: off to Ahujason’s to pick up a couple of pashminas for the cooler Corbett nights (yes, I do need more!); a fantastic brunch at the Hyatt’s TK; and, of course a visit to Mr. Mogha and the beauty parlour at the Meridian. Spent the rest of the time hanging out with Remy and dashing about town before finally heading to the jungle on Wednesday – Corbett National Park, about 6 hours north of Delhi.
Northern Zone looking across at our tented camp

Northern Zone looking across at our tented camp

Stayed at the Hideaway’s Riverside Lodge for 3 nights, which was wonderful and the food fantastic, but the trip River Retreat was the real adventure into the heart of the northern zone of the park. The lodge was a beautiful little tented camp where we were the only guests for the first night, so spoiled royally by the attentive staff. There’s no electricity in the camp, which made the night sky stunning, even with the full moon lighting the camp. Our ‘Commander’ Agam, who runs the camp, was so hospitable and interesting. He’s worked in a number of wildlife places and including a stint as a wildlife photographer. He spent 5 months photographing snow leopards for National Geographic (5 months, but as he said, was 5 months waiting, with a last minute lucky sighting and photography session). Over a billion people in India, and he was an alum of the same college as CV Singh, the wildlife guide I was travelling with, as well as many of the naturalists and lodge owners I’ve become friends with over the last few years. Small world!
Chital Stag

Chital Stag

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Our drives in the park were good, but no exceptional sightings, though with CV's help, managed to check off a load of new birds. Did see a lovely large herd of wild elephants and had fun watching macaque monkeys at one rest-stop. One youngster had stolen the rear view mirror off a jeep and was endlessly fascinated by his reflection. They are generally not-so-nice monkeys and can be very aggressive, unlike the langurs, but still fun to watch. The young ones especially have such funny old faces.
Naughty Macaque

Naughty Macaque


Fed up baby macaque

Fed up baby macaque

Hanuman Langur

Hanuman Langur


The langurs here are different from central India, something I didn’t notice on my first visit 2 years ago, being an Indian jungle newbie then. They’re much lighter in colour, with a large ‘mane’ and a flattish head. Also tons of barking deer this trip. Quite small deer, with a curious set of canines, leftover from the Jurassic period? They aren’t man-eating deer… I hope!
Male Barking Deer

Male Barking Deer

Strangler vine around a hapless tree

Strangler vine around a hapless tree


I love the old growth Northern Zone of Corbett. It meanders down steep valley sides, through weird and wonderful twisted strangler vines wrapping around massive trees, over rocky streams before reaching the Ramganga river valley. A beautiful Pallas Eagle nest with an almost grown fledgling sat on top a lone tree in the river stream path. Our tents were set overlooking the valley and beautifully quiet. You don’t realize how much noise electricity and modern appliances/air conditioners/heaters make till you experience the absence.
Palas's Fish Eagle

Palas's Fish Eagle

Palas Fish Eagle in Nest

Palas Fish Eagle in Nest

We took an elephant safari one morning, which Agam gifted to me for a birthday present. So kind. But the piece de resistance was fishing for the Mahseer in the river pools below our camp. Our fishing guide Raju led us down the often steep shale pathways (wasn’t looking forward to climbing back up, no longer being in the Incan shape I was in SA!) to two spots that were deep enough for the larger fish. Mahseer have a fearsome reputation among fishermen. They are really good fighters, especially the golden mahseer, and these certainly lived up to their reputations. They reminded me a bit of fishing for salmon in the Pacific, the way they would run the line, rest and then run again, just when you thought you’d finally be able to land it. They are also very smart fish. Our guide kept varying our bait, casting angle and numbers of hooks to keep them biting. Even so far as making our visibility on shore different. Really interesting, because each time something was changed, they would go straight for the bait, but the second time using the same method, you could see the fish milling about the line, nibbling away, but no good bites.
Indian Roller

Indian Roller

Golden Mahseer

Golden Mahseer


As we approached dusk, we had successfully landed 4 smallish golden mahseer, about 4-5 lbs, when the big one took the bait! Wow, what a difference! It took me 42 minutes to bring it in, and at one point almost all the line was in the river so we had to follow it along the rocky shore to keep it within line distance. As I was bringing it in closer to me, a wild goat (goral) and her baby appeared on the cliffside above us. Was a surreal moment, playing the line, and trying to get a glimpse of the goral, at the same time trying to set my camera up on automatic mode CV to take pictures of the fish, the goral, me… yikes! Completely spent, the poor fish was finally close enough to heave out of the water and grab a few pictures before releasing back into the river. Poor bugger! He just lay there in the water for a while, and I was a bit scared for him, but he finally got the energy to drift into the deeper pools. Such a beautiful fish! And apparently good eating, though boney. Every year I seem to say the same thing… but I think it will be really hard to beat this birthday!
Golden Mahseer catch n release

Golden Mahseer catch n release

Holi in the jungle

Holi in the jungle


It was Holi on the 20th, so nice to be away from the festival chaos in town, and there to take advantage of the full moon, which peaks on Holi. After our elephant safari, the staff included us in their Holi celebrations. Painted with wonderful colours and having Bhang, a very tasty Holi drink made with almonds, sugar, milk, masala and cannabis! Yum! Then, along with other snacks, pakoras of potatoes, spices and cannabis leaves! So smart, taking care of the munchies all in one go! Not too much of a ‘bhang’ tho – sadly I think they gave me the ‘tourist-strength’ version.
Himalayan Bulbul

Himalayan Bulbul

I think next time I come to Corbett, I’d head straight to this bit of paradise.
Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters having a heated discussion

Chestnut-headed Bee-eaters having a heated discussion

Back in Delhi and the arrival of Kathleen, Sandra & Traudi. Did a whirlwind tour of Delhi and now on the train to Amritsar. Popped into a local ATM to get money for this trip and at the conclusion of the transaction was given the choice: “Get Money” or “Get Advice and Get Money”. Unsure I chose Get Money. Turns out Get Advice would have given me the receipt…. And maybe a little note? I could just see it… Lisa, do you really need to buy that pashmina? :-o
Corbett National Park, Northern Zone

Corbett National Park, Northern Zone

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 09:47 Archived in India Tagged birds fish wildlife safari langur macaque corbett chital barking_deer chestnut_headed_bee-eater himalayan_bulbul mahseer Comments (0)

Panna Nat'l Park & Wedding in Rajasthan


View India ~ 2010 Part B on LisaOnTheRoad's travel map.

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Back in Toronto and freezing my a$$ off!! I’m happy to be home and hanging out with family and friends but missing India, and hanging out with friends. Why can’t we have everything all the time? If anyone hears about a job, that’ll need me in India every few months, that would be good too!

Brahminy Starlings

Brahminy Starlings


So, onto the bloggy stuff! When last I left you, I was heading off to Panna National Park. The people at Ken River Lodge are among my favs in India, as is the park. It was one of the first places I visited on my first trip to India and many of these people have become good friends.

Chinkara couple

Chinkara couple


I hadn’t arranged for a car to pick me up this trip. Feeling rather cocky and seasoned, I decided I’d just pick up a cab at the airport. Not the best idea in Khajuraho as it turns out! First the displayed government set rates were as expensive as the arranged nice car from the lodge, and the airport is rather removed from the city, so you can’t really walk outside the airport to get one off the street. The cab I ‘luckily’ ended up with was a decrepit old Ambassador that looked like it rolled off the assembly line during the British Raj. It almost managed a rocking 20km per hour too! As we approached the temples that I had assured my driver’s ‘manager?’(also riding along in the cab) repeatedly I wasn’t interested in visiting (a 4th time), I asked if the car had a hyper-drive or would we arrive at Panna the next morning. No problem Madame, I was switching to a new car! Huh… The new car was, I think, the buddy of the ‘manager’. We transferred to this ‘new’ car, but, the drivers were very concerned with the front tire, which I gather had a slow leak. A detour to add some air into it, and we were off again. Periodically stopping, allowing the driver to get out and inspect the tire a few times.

Nilgai Antelope and Rufous Treepie

Nilgai Antelope and Rufous Treepie


We finally reached the turn-off for Ken River Lodge, or rather reached about 10 yard from the turn-off, when it was decided the tire must be changed after all! Had a fun time with some kids, in the growing crowd of people coming along to watch this interesting affair, and we were back off to the lodge again. I was never so happy to arrive somewhere! Went up to see everyone and have a drink, when the driver followed me up to give me his card… so I could call him to return to the airport when I was done! Yep, kept that card!!
Baby sambar with leopard wound on its shoulder

Baby sambar with leopard wound on its shoulder

Wagtail chasing frogs out of the way

Wagtail chasing frogs out of the way


Happily this visit reunited me with Jennifer Buxton, a wonderful woman from England that I met last March. For those who haven’t already heard me talking about her, Jennifer is a wonderful artist (www.tigertigerburningbright.com) who has been coming to Ken River and Kings Lodge in Bandhavgarh for over 7 years, and who, together with Bhavana (who owns the lodge with her husband), have started a school in Panna that now has 150 students. Most of the work they do here stems from the idea that if the benefits coming from tourism actually make it to the village level, the locals will have a vested interest in keeping the forests healthy (and thereby the tigers).

Indian Vultures

Indian Vultures


Many of these villagers were displaced by the government following a western-style idea of keeping all people out of the forest. Not necessarily a good thing, because these people, who had previously lived well and harmoniously in the forest, had to eek out a living in very poor conditions and in a way completely unfamiliar to them. It is a tremendously complex situation that only seems to be more complex the more you start to understand it, but Jennifer, Bhavana, Vinnie, Shakhar et. al. still work to try and make a difference and are very inspiring.

Sambar deer

Sambar deer


The park itself was remarkably green this trip given the lack of monsoon rains in the summer. However, even though the plants were so lush, the water levels were incredibly low – lower than I’ve seen, even during April visits. I think the animals are going to have a tough time this summer.
Shikra

Shikra

Plum-headed Parakeet

Plum-headed Parakeet


Had some wonderful sightings and some unusual ones. On the way back from one drive we saw a rusty spotted cat dashing across the road from brush to brush. A very shy nocturnal cat and the smallest in India. There were of course tons of parakeets making sure they’re noticed (loud little buggers!) – both rose-ringed and plum headed. Saw a black-shouldered kite in a death spiral with an Indian roller. Loads of white-eyed buzzards and massive crocs basking in the warmth of the sun. One croc was showing off teeth so bright and white, he could vie for a Crest Whitestrips commercial!
Toothy Croc on the Ken River, vying for Crest White-strips commercial

Toothy Croc on the Ken River, vying for Crest White-strips commercial

Small Indian Mongoose

Small Indian Mongoose


One afternoon we went into the nala (valley) behind the lodge to track a large snake the boys had cornered. It was a 5-6 foot checkered keelback snake. Beautiful and really fast. It was hiding in the brush and Trigun flushed it out with a large stick. It came speeding through the brush, causing everyone to jump so quickly out of its way I was sure it must be poisonous, but nope. Good to know the big brave nature boys jump like a city girl when startled too! You’d have thought it was Lynn spotting a spider on her tent! Didn’t get a shot, but pretty exciting. Did get a picture of a tiny little worm snake though. Maybe 8-10 inches with no visible eyes. Its forked tongue was so cute and tiny.
Worm Snake

Worm Snake

Red, Orange and Blue ~ so many dragonflies here this trip, they often filled the sky in the park.

Red, Orange and Blue ~ so many dragonflies here this trip, they often filled the sky in the park.


My flight back to Delhi was 3 hours late, and the airline sent SMS updates to my phone. Yay – extra time! Off we went in the canoe and got some beautiful bird pictures. Including a nesting Eurasion Eagle Owl and elegant open billed storks. Couldn’t put it off any longer and 5 days and 8 drives later and I was too rapidly heading back to Delhi.
Eurasion Eagle Owl on its nest

Eurasion Eagle Owl on its nest

Wedding time in Jaipur! Friday evening after I had returned to Delhi, I got a call from Yugdeep to let me know the wedding was back on. However, because of the unexpected death of his father’s elder brother, the ceremonies were scaled back and most of his immediate and all of his father’s family were unable to attend. So I booked a car and was off to Jaipur Sunday morning. I had found out from friends that wearing colours other than yellow or red-based is considered inauspicious for weddings. Although these days people are more apt to wear all colours, given the sensitive nature surrounding this wedding, I left my blue sari at home and raided Lynn’s collection for a red one.

Garima getting Yugdeep ready

Garima getting Yugdeep ready


I arrived at 1:30 and met Yugdeep and his lovely and super-capable sister Garima. We followed them to the Forest Training Centre, where we were all to stay, and where all the preparations for the groom’s side were now to be held. I was sharing a room with Vibha, a school friend of Yugdeep’s and together with a few other friends, and a couple of maternal uncles, we were the only people there from Yugdeep’s side. Sadly even his parents could not attend. The shortage of people though did allow me to see and be a part of the preparations far more than I would have been able to if the whole family had been present. Although not what they had hoped for, the wedding was still beautiful and lovely… and long!

Vibha and Garima getting Abhilasha ready

Vibha and Garima getting Abhilasha ready


Yugdeep’s sister ran the show, and boy was it a lot of work. Not only was she organizing and helping Yugdeep, but since the bride was not from Jaipur and unfamiliar with the style of dress, she prepared her. Everyone was wonderfully explaining what was happening as the ceremonies progressed, and I’ll try to describe them here. Any mistakes I make here are mine, and do not reflect what my hosts told me. The whole preparation started at about 4pm with a ritual cleansing of the groom and puja performed by the priest. His outfit included a wonderful coat; tight fitting churidar pants; thick gold ankle bracelet; and a gold belt to carry his family sword, which was 250 years old. An uncle came to wrap his saffron-coloured turban, which was then decked out with all sorts of pins and sparkle.

Wedding Trousseau

Wedding Trousseau


Looking fab and like a Rajput prince, Yugdeep proceeded to a room where more pujas were performed and the reading of the family names. The Barat Nikasi, or departure of the groom was to have seen him depart on an elephant, but that was changed and the men left in SUVs for the wedding venue. We then left for the bride’s place with a huge trunk filled with the trousseau, or palla dastoor – saris, sweets, nuts and the bride’s entire wardrobe. Her elaborate red outfit of a beautiful sparkly skirt, tunic (kurti) and veil was also included: ivory bangles; nose ring; rings; Rakhdi tied to her forehead; heavy thick gold neck hanging called an AAd; gold arm bands (or baju) tied on above her elbows; the sheesphul or headgear; and the pajeb anklets. So elaborate and incredibly uncomfortable looking.

Vibha and Garima in beautiful Rajput style

Vibha and Garima in beautiful Rajput style


After dressing Abhilasha, it was back to the Forest Centre to get dressed and off to the dinner and wedding ceremony, which actually began about 10pm and concluded at about 2am, with the walk around the agni, or sacred fire 7 times. You’d think that was it, but nope. We luckily got to head back to go to sleep but the bride and groom were up all night completing other puja ceremonies, returning at about 8am and finally getting to shed the outfits. Abhilasha looked completely wiped poor girl. They then had to head out to the family castle to introduce the new bride to the villagers. And, the whole thing would have been far longer if not for the unfortunate tragedy cutting it short. So lucky and thankful to have been able to be there for Yugdeep and to have experienced this time with him.

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A quick drive and I was then back in Delhi and running around with friends, and getting ready to cook the Christmas dinner for 10 at Lynn’s place. Finding a turkey was a challenge, especially since the US thanksgiving was the previous week and all turkey in Delhi had been gobbled up! We finally sourced two 8lbers at the Cdn High Commission’s restaurant. The ham at PigPo looked a little suspect, so we chose a roast pork instead. We did all the traditional trimmings – stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, beans and corn; and traditional deserts – minced pies with rum hardsauce, Nanaimo bars, whipped shortbread and rum balls. Huge success and hugely stuffed!!! The party wound up at 3:30am, leaving me nicely wiped out for my departure less than 24 hours later at 2am.

And just like that, 24 hours later I was back in Toronto… freezing my ass off!!! Time rushes on and this chapter comes to a close… till next time India.
White-bellied minivet couple

White-bellied minivet couple

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 12:09 Archived in India Tagged animals birds wedding park india national rajasthan Comments (0)

Tripping through Bentota, Chhatra Sagar and Kanha

Head-wag, smile!


View India ~ 2010 Part B on LisaOnTheRoad's travel map.

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Diwali is crazy in Delhi. Fun to experience... but having done that, I was happy to escape, stage left, to avoid the traffic, noise and smoke from the gazillion firecrackers that are set off constantly over that weekend. We ended up taking a last-minute deal vacay to Bentota Beach in Sri Lanka. Or more aptly, the Hot-Young-Beach-Boys-For-Middle-Aged-White-Women beach. Seriously, it is crazy! All the hotels and restaurants are staffed with 20-something boys, with long hair and buff bods. Apparently it’s the thing, especially with married German and Russian women. Actually ended up being a bit annoying. I would not so subtly talk about my ‘boyfriend’ who was a jealous licensed-to-kill secret agent… but it didn’t matter. Apparently most of these women are married anyway, so not so much a deterrent.
Water monitor lizard

Water monitor lizard

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Our first night started off wonderfully at the Wunderbar hotel/restaurant, where Lynn had stayed the previous year. We went down to the beach with a couple of the boys she had met last year to release a few baby sea turtles into the ocean. They had hatched the day before in the breeding program the hotel supports. Watching them scramble into the water, just like in documentaries on National Geographic, was pretty fantastic. I was a bit worried for my little babies since I know their chances of survival are almost nil, but I’m sure they will beat the odds! After all, they were mine! Then, it was drinking the local tonsil-stripping drink Arak, and Lynn having fun with her boy… and me removing hands, talking about said killer-boyfriend, and finally saying ‘back the fX$% off’ to no avail to boy #2. Long night!
Fisherman on the Black River

Fisherman on the Black River

Baby crocodile

Baby crocodile


Took a cool boat ride up the Black River the next day, and into beautiful mangroves. Lots of birds, water monitors and locals living along the river. Flying foxes were flying and roosting above the trees, similar to the sight we had seen last year in Rajasthan, but not so many.
Green Bee-eater

Green Bee-eater

Flying Fox bat

Flying Fox bat


Was a fun weekend – lots of sun, sand, rain, seafood and drinks, plus hanging with Lynn is always fun! Had a bit of a hassle coming back into India on the visitor visa, despite my apparent preparations to avoid this issue in Toronto and Chennai. Every official seems to have a different interpretation of what the rules are. So fun. Happy I was travelling with a diplomat though!

Our tents on the dam from the fields across

Our tents on the dam from the fields across


My next stop was the lovely Chhatra Sagar. A beautiful tented camp on a dam, southeast of Jodhpur in Nimaj, run by 3 brothers and their families.
One of many butterflies in the fields

One of many butterflies in the fields

Butterfly outside my tent

Butterfly outside my tent


It was such a peaceful place to be, whether sitting on my patio outside my tent watching the life on the water; having drinks around the fire pit; or, walking through the grasslands of the property. There were more birds in such a small area here than I’d seen anywhere else.
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Saco and Me

Saco and Me


The family has several dogs and a cat to play with. Saco, a Great Dane pup who thinks he’s a lap-dog, would accompany us on our walks and on the way back from one, he caught a hedgehog. Nandi, the bird-enthusiast brother, pried his mouth open and I grabbed it up. Sooooo prickly – ouch ouch ouch! but had to get it up before the dog realized who had it. He’s certainly big enough to take it away from anyone he wanted. The gang took off to lure the dog away, and I put the little critter back on the ground. I waited till the sun set for it to open up, but it was too scared. So, with what sounded like a GIGANTIC wild boar grunting right next to me in the dim light, I left him on the trail, all rolled up and walked quickly over to where Nandi was waiting for me.
Scared hedgehog curled in a ball

Scared hedgehog curled in a ball

Purple Sunbird on a milkweed

Purple Sunbird on a milkweed


The area had had a record 4-days of heavy rain over the time I was there, which is highly unusual at that time of year in Nimaj. Still, hard to beat waking up to rain on a tent roof, even if it meant the morning village trip was cancelled. Instead, I got to hang out under the canopied dining area with the family and guests, and got to play with 2 cute one-month-old Jack Russell puppies. So much fun but too a short a trip, and another place to add to the ‘return to’ pile.
Rose-ringed Parakeet couple sitting by their nest

Rose-ringed Parakeet couple sitting by their nest

River Tern

River Tern


Back in Delhi for the weekend and then off to Kanha on the Sunday, or so we thought!

I’ll have to preface this next long story with a description of the Indian head-wag, or bobble so non-Indian readers, and non-been-to-India readers will understand. This wonderful, ubiquitous form of expression has many meanings. It is accomplished by wagging your head from side to side, almost in a subtle figure eight motion. It is very difficult to do properly, and has subtle variations almost indiscernable to the western eye, but I find myself starting to unconsciously use it now and again. A few of its meanings can include: a form of greeting; a general agreement; a way of underscoring a statement; a way of answering a question in the affirmative, but really saying “you can, but I wouldn’t” or ‘OK, but I don’t think it will really work very well’; and, in the case of the following story, “I can’t help you anymore, very sorry” but to us hapless foreigners under stress can seem more like “that is that, you’re S.O.L.”

Misty morning in Kanha

Misty morning in Kanha


Here we go… at Sunday morning, we got up to be at the airport for 4:30am, only to find that the airlines had switched terminals… and we didn’t know. We weren’t the only ones! So, at the domestic terminal early enough for the flight, but by the time we were shuttled to the international terminal (for our domestic flight), we were 5 minutes too late for the 45min shut-off time. No one seemed to know what to do – it was absolute chaos. Finally got a woman to check into alternative flights for us. She looked, typed, then looked up at us and smiled – yes, there was a routing through Mumbai! Yay! But wait… it’s sold-out… smile, head-wag, silence. Brilliantly I ask, “so, what can you do for us?” “Nothing ma’am.” Smile, head-wag, smile.

Cormorant catching the sun

Cormorant catching the sun


We had teamed up with a lovely young Indian girl, Rashi, and between her Hindi, and our completely unfair ‘foreigner’ leverage, we progressed through a variety of options, none of them viable, but all of them requiring a minimum of 3 people to determine that, till finally getting the OK for a ticket reimbursement. We then rushed back over to the domestic terminal, because I’d found an Air Indigo flight leaving at 9am with seats. The three of us jumped into a cab and raced over. I ran in to the ticket counter while the girls handled our bags. “3 tickets please” say I. “Oh, I’m sorry ma’am (smile – head-wag), I just sold the last 4 tickets.”

Out comes the laptop again, and we find a routing through Mumbai and Aurangabad, that would get us to Nagpur at 7 in the evening. The Mumbai portion was business class, so ridiculously expensive, but our Taj safari stay was already ridiculously expensive, and we didn’t want to throw that away without trying all options. So, back into a taxi and back over to the International terminal, because the Kingfisher counter at the domestic terminal was no longer able book tickets. They were just able to sit behind the ticket counter and tell us that they couldn’t do anything. Rush up to the International Kingfisher counter. “Oh yes Madame, we have business class seats, but the flight is late.” Smile, head-wag. “How late?” say I. “5 hours Madame…”

Village children outside Kanha

Village children outside Kanha


That was it, we gave up. Back to the Jet Airways counter, to rebook the Nagpur flight for the next morning. But uh oh, we had approval for a reimbursement now, so a rebooking was no long approved. It would cost 20,000 rupees. After almost crying at the counter, she allowed that since Ms. Chopra (the only person at Jet that morning that seemed to have any clue) had approved the reimbursement, she could also reverse that and reapprove the rebooking (still with me?). But, they didn’t know where she was and I’d have to re-enter the terminal and find her. But, say I, “security won’t let me in the terminal without a valid flight ticket.” “Oh yes”, says she, “show them your old one and they’ll let you through”. So, off I go, to security. Surprise, surprise, “you can’t enter without at ticket” (imply you silly foreigner here) “you must go back to the ticket counter.”

Back to the Jet ticket counter and to another woman and re-explain my recent transactions. “You can’t enter the terminal without a valid ticket Madame” says she. Sigh…. I politely suggested she (the supervisor) might want to train her staff on that very procedure. After which, she paged Ms. Chopra :-s Ms. Chopra arrived, approved the change, we got our tickets, which were handed to me along with the warning that the next day we “might want to make sure we get to the terminal on time tomorrow”.

Okay, I think I’m a relatively calm person, but that was the icing! Finally out of there and got home at 11am, ready to start the whole thing all over again the next day! Smile, head-wag…

Gaur

Gaur


We did the only thing we could do after that, called Remy and Matti and met them at the lovely Japanese restaurant Ai for a long, long and liquid brunch!!

The next morning we were back at the International airport for our domestic flight at 4:30am and, we made our flight! Yay!! And then the Taj offered to let us stay an extra night at no charge to make up for our lost night! We were finally in the park and driving with our friend Yugdeep.

Barasingha, or swamp deer

Barasingha, or swamp deer


Self-avowed city-girl Lynn’s first experience in the forests of India was a success, regardless of what she might tell you! The large wood spiders may have been a bit daunting, but aside from an uncanny knack of spotting every single one of them on our drives, she remained calm for the most part. I had to herd a few of the cute little critters out of the way for her… one in the lovely sort-of-outhouse-type-loo in the forest, that seemed to be guarding the entrance and waiting for her; and one on her tent door. Funny how that works – I had no sight nor sign of any creatures in my tent, yet city-girl had a gecko, 2 spiders and a “huge cockroach” on her outside patio area.
Wood spider

Wood spider

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At the end of our first drive we saw a tigress! So exciting and lucky at this time of year when the forest is dense and green – and in Kanha, which is a large park for them to hide in. We saw her again the next morning, this time from elephant back and yep, Yugdeep got Lynn on an elephant! The fear on her face not-withstanding, I think she loved it ;-) Was most impressed with him (and her) for getting her up there and so close to the spiders too! She said he didn’t give her much of an option – put foot here, then here, then up – and she was on her way.

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We had some lovely drives and some beautiful sightings, including an elephant-back sighting on the last day of a mother and her two 10-month-old cubs.
Tigress with a 10-month-old cub

Tigress with a 10-month-old cub

Grooming gaur

Grooming gaur


Loads of gaur, with one group grooming each other rather like monkeys. Had no idea they did that. The barasingha, or swamp deer, at this time of year had wonderful antlers, and the males have them draped with grasses and moss to attract the ladies. Had never heard of that before either.
Barasingha stag with decorative grass on his antlers.  The ladies like it!

Barasingha stag with decorative grass on his antlers. The ladies like it!

Changeable Hawk Eagle

Changeable Hawk Eagle


But the best, Lynn learned to look up birds in the bird book – we’ll make a wildlifer out of her yet – next time Panna and Bandhavgarh.
Gaur at sunset

Gaur at sunset

Back in Delhi on the weekend and off to the Marine Ball held by the US embassy, which was fun but loaded with pomp and ceremony – the US does this almost better than the Brits I think. Had some tense moments during the speeches, when Lynn and I got the giggles, and then during the guest speaker’s recollection of war-time food, and spam. Spam with eggs, spam with milk, spam with… and lord help us, all I could think of was Monty Python’s “spam, spam, spam, spam….”
Me, Lynn and Jennifer modelling Marine headgear!

Me, Lynn and Jennifer modelling Marine headgear!

Next up, a trip to Panna National Park and then to Jaipur. We had got word that Yugdeep’s wedding had been cancelled because his father's elder brother died unexpectedly. But, as of late tonight we have found out it is back on, albeit in a more subdued and quiet way. So off to Jaipur on Sunday for his wedding.
Lilies in Kanha

Lilies in Kanha

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 12:19 Archived in India Comments (1)

Fun in Delhi and Rajasthan

...and the sari stayed on!

sunny 30 °C
View India ~ 2010 Part B on LisaOnTheRoad's travel map.

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Back in Incredible India! This is my 4th trip in 2 years and it's a very different visit for me, being shorter and more socially-driven. With sightseeing not being a focus, I’m finding it a very relaxed trip so far.

I arrived ridiculously late on the 19th of October with a mission. Find the perfect sari for the Canadian High Commission’s biggest social event of the year – the Thanksgiving Ball. This would be my first attempt at wearing the fantastically beautiful garment that Indian women wear so easily and gracefully throughout the country. While men in India have largely adopted western attire, many women still wear the sari. Tied in different ways depending on regional areas and traditions, and made of a variety of fabrics and colours. Sparkled, painted, patterned and plain, the women add an incredible array of colour to the landscape in India. Whether walking the streets of the bustling cities and markets, working on the roads, construction sites, fields or home, it is done with incredible grace and beauty in the sari.

So... all of you who know me, can understand my nervousness at doing the same – grace and beauty not being the first 2 adjectives that come to mind! Still, I don’t often let fear stop me from trying something new. So, off to Sarojini Nagar to shop with Sabrina, my friend Lynn’s housekeeper. This sped things up considerably, since she was able to quickly tell if the shop didn’t have the very specific colour I had in mind and I didn’t have to spend 20 minutes as shopkeepers pulled out every colour and fabric type completely opposite to my requests, all the while nodding and assuring me they did indeed have that colour/fabric… “one moment madame”... before ultimately throwing their hands up in frustration at the foreigner who quite obviously didn’t know how to pick the right colour/fabric for the sari she wanted to wear.

So that was Wednesday. Thursday saw me heading to SouthEx and Ahujason’s to pick up a shawl for cooler Rajasthan nights, as I was heading to the parks on the following Monday. Then the embassy to get my guest pass set up and of course Hanuman Mandir, to my favourite bangle stall, to get the bangles to complete the ball outfit. After a Friday at the spa, a stop at Mr. Mogha’s in the Meridien to pick up some suitably sparkly rings, Lynn and I were off to a pre-Diwali party hosted by an embassy client.

On Saturday, we went to DLF mall and the Inglot store to have our make up done. As someone who prefers a more natural look with make-up (read too lazy to deal with cosmetics), I was a bit leary but figured I could always wash it off and start again. I was in luck – the young man who worked on me was an artist! Using colours I never would have picked in a million years. I think that I must keep him with me wherever I go from now on, the results were almost unrecognizable.

Wrapping a sari seems so complicated and precise, but the lady who came by to wrap us made it seem so simple and I was bundled up in a matter of minutes. Panic started to set in tho when I realized that she put in only 2 safety pins – one at the shoulder and one to keep the front pleats together. I kept asking if I should put more pins in, like every inch or so, only to be reassured that it wasn’t necessary! Oh boy!

Lynn, Remy, Vrinda and me

Lynn, Remy, Vrinda and me


All done up and off to the High Commissioner’s house, where the ball is hosted. So beautiful! The tables were set up throughout the garden, fairy lights strung through the trees, the air warm and sultry. And to top it all off, a full moon pushed valiantly through the Delhi smog to add a glow to the glittering guests. Of course, a complete turkey dinner crowned the evening. We danced and laughed till 1, then moved to the Taj’s nightclub and finally a house party in Vasant Vihar. Back home at 5am, feet a tad sore, but sari still securely on! Major mishaps avoided and what a fantastic night.

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Sunday was spent doing absolutely nothing, resting up before heading out on Monday for a wildlife fix. This time of year starts off a bird migration period in India, so I was excited to visit the UNESCO park, Keoladeo Ghana National Park. Had a comical drive from Delhi, with a driver who couldn’t seem to go anywhere without getting lost, even with specific instructions. He had a seemingly uncontrollable urge to take “short-cuts”, whether he’d done it before or not/ whether it was shorter or not/ and whether it was even heading in the right direction or not. Funny… after the fact!

Painted Storks greeting each other

Painted Storks greeting each other


We stayed at a wonderful lodge, run by a highly respected Indian birder, The Bagh. It was set in a 4-hectare former royal orchard and was so lush and filled with trees that you often couldn’t see beyond the next building. The naturalist provided by the lodge, Mr. Rajveer Singh, was similarily exceptional.

Cool looking bug eating fruit in the park

Cool looking bug eating fruit in the park


I love the wilder areas of India, and look forward to exploring them, but in most cases, the naturalists are not of a dependably high calibre. So, I decided to hedge my bets and try something new – I hired my own naturalist/guide for this trip. It made such a difference. Rajveer was unexpectedly great, but Sarkiska guides were what I have come to expect. Mr. CV Singh, from Udaipur, is one of only 2 exceptional naturalists I’ve been lucky enought to travel with in my many park visits within India. Luckily for me he began private guiding this year and he immeasurably improved my experience on this trip. In addition to the wildlife aspect, I was able to experience places, foods and insights that I would have completely missed out on without his wonderful company. Helped with our direction-challenged driver too! He was similarily impressed with Rajveer, which says a lot more than my good opinion.
Monitor Lizard

Monitor Lizard

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Keoladeo is a relatively small 29 sq km sanctuary made from diverted water by a former Maharaja’s desire to have a ready hunting ground. There is a plaque in the park, which highlights the shooting successes of that bygone time. For a duck, not so much a success. One listing, in November 1938 saw over 4000 ducks shot in a single day.
Green Bee-eaters

Green Bee-eaters

Little Egret

Little Egret


The area constantly battles to gain access to water these days, which needs to be diverted from a nearby dam. Competition from local farmers and villagers and the highly unpredictable monsoon rains make the park’s water levels virtually non-existant some years, putting the UNESCO designation at risk. Luckily this year the park has water and was lush and green, but the last few years has seen the park dry, which has greatly damaged this important bird breeding ground.
Painted Stork

Painted Stork

Indian Pond Heron

Indian Pond Heron


With no motorized vehicles allowed in Kaleodeo, we actually got to walk most of the time, which was such a treat! Can also rent bikes to explore. How wonderful to walk through your safaris. The big excitement in the park while we were there was the tiger! Yep, you heard right! A tiger had wandered over from Ranthambore national park and settled into one of the areas. Must have seemed like paradise to him – loads of deer and antelope, and no other competition! It really was all everyone could talk about. At one point, CV planted some pugmarks on the side of a path to add to the excitement. I knew that’s how those pugmarks got there in all those parks I visited without seeing a tiger! Hah!
Brown Fish Owl far off in the trees.

Brown Fish Owl far off in the trees.

Soft Shell Turtles

Soft Shell Turtles


So a wonderful 2 days in this park, with loads of birds, massive turtles and the lizard, and we were off to Sariska Tiger Reserve a few hours away. Our driver had received detailed, direct instructions on how to reach the Alwar Bagh resort, so of course we went another way… and got lost…

Beautiful cliffs in Sariska

Beautiful cliffs in Sariska


Alwar Bagh was a lovely, family-run hotel and our hosts were so welcoming. The resort is adding a new more luxurious building, built of beautiful pink sandstone, so the resort was quite empty with construction to be completed this month. Lovely peaceful grounds to relax during the afternoon and have evening drinks, filled with trees and surrounded by the Aravelli hills. A bit of a trek to the park (about 30 min drive) but didn’t become tiring as we feared it might.
Flameback Woodpecker

Flameback Woodpecker

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Sariska – wow! This park is so beautiful. From the towering, stark Aravellis hills and cliffs; the brilliant greens of dense, old-growth forests; plentiful water holes, streams and lakes; and patches of open grasslands. The beauty of simply driving through it was spectacular.

Chital reaching for a particularly good leaf!

Chital reaching for a particularly good leaf!


This park is wonderfully quiet and less travelled, which I loved. Sadly farming and cattle are strewn through the park as well, which doesn’t bode well for its future ecology. After being wiped out a few years back, there are now 5 tigers reintroduced into the park. The absense of tigers helped to make the population of leopards high, and there were pugmarks everywhere. We had a dramatic tracking one evening, following the warning calls of sambar, chital and langurs, accompanied by the very loud growls and calls of a leopard. It seemed only a few feet away hiding in the dense vegetation, but unfortunately remained hidden from us.
Langur posing in the sunlight at the Hanuman Temple

Langur posing in the sunlight at the Hanuman Temple

Beautiful little jungle cat at dusk, posing for us

Beautiful little jungle cat at dusk, posing for us


Lots of animal action here, but no big cat sightings. Tho did have a beautiful sighting of a jungle cat as were racing out of the park at the end of the last day. Also had a dramatic face-off between 3 Indian mongooses – is that mongeese? – and red-wattled lapwings as they searched for eggs for dinner. Also had a fab sighting of an Indian hare – but missed the shot! followed by the comment that I’d never get a chance like that again :-S Had such a wonderful time on this trip, and loved, loved, loved this park. Oh yeah, and I finally learned to eat curry and rice with my hand! sort of...
Mongoose being confronted by anxious Lapwing as it searched for eggs

Mongoose being confronted by anxious Lapwing as it searched for eggs

Sadly this adventure closed, it was back to Delhi for the Halloween party and to relax with friends before heading out to Sri Lanka for the Diwali weekend.
Halloween party in Delhi.

Halloween party in Delhi.

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 06:25 Archived in India Tagged people parties birds india halloween safari forest birding tiger langur balls mongoose sari jungle_cat Comments (0)

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