A Travellerspoint blog

November 2010

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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