Chhattisgarh tour – the story in black and white

 

When we take active vacations together, we tend to push our limits, and we have more fun. We meet and connect with other adventure seekers, and at times make friends for life. Tarique and I have almost always taken active vacations (Yes, a wildlife  safari counts as an active vacation)

It had been long, and a holiday was long overdue. Cycle Safari announced a tour de Chhattisgarh from 26th to 30th January 2018, and even though I was not fit enough to cycle long distances; and Tarique was recovering from an injured knee, we decided to go for it for two reasons.  Chhattisgarh was a place that had been on our list of “to visit” places for very long and this was a fully supported tour, we had a choice of cycling for a part of the distance and travel in the support vehicles. I also decided to take our DSLR along, and it was a wise decision.

Despite not being in a great physical shape I ended up cycling the entire distance of 82 km on the first day but cycling such a distance after almost a year’s gap sprained my left iliotibial band.

Took a day off to rest on day 2 and put my SLR to good use. The rest helped me recover, and I could cycle on day 3 and day 4. On an aside, just before we got on our bikes on day 3, I slipped and fell down injuring both my knees. But that was hardly a deterrent.

What we brought back were tons of beautiful memories and lots of photographs.  After reaching home Tarique and I were browsing and processing the pictures taken during the trip on the iPad when I realised that black and white brought out the mood of the trip much better than colour pictures.

Tarique has written a more detailed journal entry, you can read it here.

So here’s the story of our cycling vacation through the beautiful state of Chhattisgarh in black and white pictures.

Click on the thumbnails of the pictures to view them in higher resolution.

See more photos on my facebook page.

 

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

Here she comes now...
Tigress approaching waterhole.

This was one vacation I was really looking forward to specially after the fiasco of plans to spend a weekend in Pench.  17 years of togetherness, friends and jungle – nothing beats the combination and we did have whale of a time. NH7 was a pleasure to drive and I averaged 60km and covered 180 km distance in 3 hours. That meant driving at 140km/hr for some distance but then the roads were clear and smooth and Innova lends itself wonderfully to highway driving.

We were at the park in peak summer and the heat was unbearable (mid day temperature was about 44° C) and there was very little water available -so most of the wild action was at concentrated around the water holes.

A tigress came to the water hole with four of her cubs to quench her thirst and cool herself down while down the same road  another water saucer, made by the forest department saw a barking deer patiently waiting his turn to drink water while the bigger grazer, a Sambhar deer quenched his thirst.

In smaller puddles birds frolicked in territorial displays and fought with each other while the butterflies that were mud puddling became meals of the fly catchers. We saw one handsome orange headed thrush in an extremely bad mood shooing another one of his own species till a white-browed fan-tail fly catcher got better of him and claimed the place as his own territory.

Barking deer, waiting for his turn to quench his thirst.
Hierarchy : Barking deer waiting for his turn.

Not far away was another family of tigers, two adults, a male and a female with two cubs frolicking in mud and playing tag on the bund of a small water body.

Continue reading Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

Gorukana

View from the cottage
View from the cottage

We are resolved into the supreme air,
we are made one with what we touch and see,
with our heart’s blood each crimson sun is fair;
with our young lives each spring impassioned tree
flames into green, the wildest beasts that range
the moor our kinsmen are, all life is one, and all is change.

— Oscar Wilde

I could not have put into words more appropriately than this what I felt when we reached Gorukana on the winter morning after saying goodbye to FOSS.IN/2010.  **Gorukana (pronounced goru-kana; meaning a web) is a community based tourism initiative which involves running a wildlife resort unlike any other. Nestled in the beautiful web of trees in the forest of BR Hills, south of Bangalore, karnataka; this picturesque forest refuge was conceived by Kalyan Varma and is very lovingly tended to by Shilpa Sequeira. Gorukana is run and managed by the local tribesmen, Soligas and the money raised through this initiative goes back to their own community. Continue reading Gorukana

Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

After the morning game drive at Manyara national park, we proceeded towards the Serengeti National park which is about 200 kms and 4 hours of drive through the beautiful Ngorongoro caldera rim.  Serengeti gets it’s name from the Masaii language word “seringitu” which means endless plains. The Serengeti plains are formed because of the volcanic ash strewn by the Ngorongoro volcano when it was active and are full of sulfurous salts, thus no dense forest here.

Early morning Serengeti scape.
Early morning Serengeti scape
Umbrella acacia
Umbrella acacia -trademark serengeti

Rajai (our driver and guide) told us that before the Government of Tanzania declared Serengeti as a national park, it was home to two tribes; the Masaii, Datoga and *Hazabe Bushman tribe who were constantly clashing with each other over land and cattle. After the formation of the park, Masaii were given rights to live near the Serengeti while the Hazabe settled near Lake Eyasi.  The Hazabe bushmen are hunters and eat the meat of wild animals (sometime even raw meat). The only animal they don’t eat is a Hyena as it is considered unclean. The Bushmen and speak the “click language” by clicking their tongue, teeth and palate**. The Datogas make ornament by melting iron, they are also adept in making spears and other hunting instrument which they sell to the Hazabe bushman in exchange of meat or money. Today under government protection while the numbers of Masaii are increasing, and they are even being schooled; the Hazabe bushman and Datoga are uneducated, culturally backward and their numbers are fast shrinking perhaps also due to genetic defects because of inbreeding which is very common, often within families too.

Ngorongoro Crater
Ngorongoro crater from the rim

Oldupai
The Oldupai plant

While Rajai was briefing us of the local Masaii culture, we couldn’t take eyes off the scenic beauty of the Ngorongoro Caldera rim which we had to cross to reach the Serengeti plains. The caldera rim at it’s highest was 2400 meters above sea level and the entirely covered with clouds. As we descended, we went by the 48 km long oldupai (also called as olduvai)  gorge***. The fossiliferous  gorge is named after the Olduvai plant, Sansevieria ehrenbergii, used by the Masaii as an antiseptic as a natural bandage and for stomach ailments. They also use it to make ropes, baskets, roofs and carpets. An Agave family plant, it is also a favourite food of Baboons, elephants, etc for it’s water content.

Continue reading Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania

Our plane was about to descend and I caught my breath as I saw a peak, completely covered with snow  rising above the clouds. It was Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. As we touched down and taxied we spotted a few Zebras grazing along the runway (we later learned it was a private farm) and several raptors. Our 9 day sojourn in the African wilderness had begun. The drive from Nairobi, Kenya to Namanga, Tanzania Border, and then to Arusha was bumpy as most of the roads were under construction but we were not complaining. The country side was green, cool  and fresh; the deep blue skies, a welcome relief. We proceeded to Arusha, a sleepy Tanzanian town for lunch and from there straight to the Manyara National park for a game drive.

Giraffe - mother and calf.
Giraffe with calf

Nairobi to Manyara National park is a 7 hour drive, we reached in time to the park gate for a short safari. Part of the Manyara lake is still outside the national park area and is used by the locals for fishing specially by the residents of the village Mto wa Mbu.. Mto wa Mbu means Mosquito river and the village is named after the river by the same name that flows near the entrance of Manyara National Park.  Baboons and other bolder animals regularly stray into the village for food (specially Bananas) and water.
Continue reading about Manyara. Has more photos.

Kenya Airways – Harrowing experience

On 23rd May, 2010 I and Tarique were booked business class to fly from Nairobi to Mumbai. We took our boarding passes, and went to the lounge. The lounge itself was cramped and stuffy, but we endured. Around 4 PM we went out to check out the duty free shops and we heard boarding announcement for our 5.45 PM flight. We returned and found out that the announcement in the lounge was completely different. The receptionist told us that our flight KQ 202 to mumbai has been delayed by an hour. We relaxed, thinking there is still time for boarding. She said that the boarding announcement for business class passengers would be made around 6 PM and we can relax till then. After an 8 hour drive from Ngorongoro to Nairobi on terrible roads, we were really looking forward to a relaxed flight back home.

At 5.45 PM the receptionist called me and Tarique and told us that we have been downgraded to economy class as two pilots have been allotted our seats. When we protested we were told to meet the duty manager at the boarding gate. The duty manager told us a different story. She said that yes, the pilots are there but we are not being downgraded because of the pilots but because the seats allotted to us were not serviceable and they did not know about it. I raised my voice and asked for a senior person from Kenya airways. While I was talking to the duty manger, Tarique heard the other person on the desk giving  order to offload our baggage. All this, while Aasim who held a valid business class ticket was already boarded and was waiting for us.

He frantically told the person not to offload the baggage and that our son is already in the craft. The duty manager coolly looks at us and says you only have one choice if you want to travel today – go economy class, there wont be any refund, and got us to sign some paper which according to her will allow us a free business class upgrade on our next KQ flight.  All this was happening while the craft was already preparing to take off without us. Given a situation with no choice, we ensured that out baggage is loaded back and boarded the plane On our way we found out that all the seats of the business class were fully functional and occupied. The duty manager had lied to us about them being not serviceable. Feeling cheated we proceeded to our seats.

An hour after take off, dinner was being served. When the hostess reached us, I asked for a chicken meal, only to be told that it is finished and if I need to eat I will have to make do with rice. The hot meal had nothing else but rice served along side a croissant and some salad. Needless to say it was totally inedible, but eat I did as my sugar levels were going low and I needed to eat something before I got completely hypoglycemic.  Asking for water after I finished eating was another nasty experience. The hostess told me that she was occupied with serving coffee and water will come when it will. I saw her 2 minutes later standing on the aisle talking to another hostess. She stayed there laughing and talking for 10 minutes before I got off my seat went to her and asked for water again to which she pointed towards the serving area and said very rudely “go take it from there”. Kenya Airways treats it’s passengers very shabbily. Makes our own Indian Airlines/Air India look much better in front of them.

Unfortunately for traveling non stop to Nairobi from Mumbai there is no option but this horrid airline. I am already dreading my next flight with them.

Coastal Kutch : Naliya Mandvi and Motwa

Fisher folks at Motwa beach
Fisher folks at Motwa beach

Very close to Banni grasslands is a place called Naliya, also called as Kutch Bustard Sanctuary, one of the very few places in India where the Great Indian Bustard is still found. While we did not get lucky to spot the GIB, the beautiful black partridge numerous raptors satiated our birdwatching appetite. After scouring the Naliya grasslands, we drove further west to a beautiful coastal town of Mandvi.

Traditional Ship Building Center, Mandavi, Gujarat
Traditional Ship Building Center, Mandavi

This 16th century town was once a summer retreat for the Maharaja’s of Kutch. The old city was inside the fort the ruins of which can still be seen. The city also houses a 400 year old traditional ship building center. It is said that the ships, built completely of wood would sail to far off lands and were much in demand. The center still makes ship the traditional way.

Spot billed Duck
Spot billed duck

We passed the town of  Mandvi stopping only for lunch as our destination was the Motwa beach, south of Mandvi where we were going to see and photograph coastal birds. Motwa is  a fishermen village and the beach is untouched by tourists and thus has a loads of birds. By the time we reached the beach the fisher folks were returning home,  sun was setting in the ocean limiting the photography opportunities. We too decided to take a long drive back armed with loads of memories and some stunning photographs. Continue reading Coastal Kutch : Naliya Mandvi and Motwa

The Banni Grasslands of Kutch.

After a complete SWOT analysis, we selected to visit The Rann of Kutch (greater as well as little) as our holiday destination and I must say it was a decision well made. The place is a must see not just for its avi-fauna but also for its cultural and geological importance.

Featureless plains of Banni
The Featureless plains of Banni Grassland

Gujarat is a colorful state, and perhaps Kutch still retains most color. People here are simple, helpful and very courteous, their attire enticing, their language sweet despite the hardships they face.

Our first destination was the Greater Rann of Kutch. We stayed at CEDO, Moti Virani Village. CEDO, the Center for Desert and Ocean is a trust run by one of the most knowledgeable persons about the region, Mr. Jugal Kishore Tiwari.  Nearest to CEDO is the Banni Grassland where we spent a lot of time.

Continue reading The Banni Grasslands of Kutch.

Work hard Play harder!

Three days worth of business trip, three weeks worth of shopping and fun. This time going to Thailand was different.

6 AM sea side walk, meetings from 8.30 AM to 6.30 PM and shopping in the evening, that pretty much sums up our time at Pattaya where our client is based. But Bangkok was a different play field altogether.

Bollywood mania in Thailand – I saw Devdas dubbed in Thai being sold in stores and what took my breath away was a Thai girl singing “Dhoom macha le Dhoom” and perfectly at that – this was in the hotel lawns for some party. It seems the locals know the song very well – everybody was singing and dancing to Dhoom!

Ever since Tarique returned with his Patpong experience (2 years back) I have been wanting a redux and I got my chance in this visit – Patpong is not just famous for its flesh trade, but also for its night bazaar – you get everything there – right from local woven silk purses to international brands – and what fine imitations, right out of the spam mails!! “madam -authentic Gucci at 50% discount” “Authentic Rolex at big discount” are the phrases you keep hearing as the pavement shopkeepers try to woo you to at least have a look at their goods, and once you have looked, you are hooked 😉 I bought several items from the bazaar – a Thai silk purse, a lovely painting on Thai silk, a huge folding fan – I almost bought a Gucci purse indeed a 100% authentic imitation right down to the stitch details

While we navigated the bazaar and went inside a different type of whispers and calls beckoned- “Madam, ping pong show ”, “Sir, come inside, have a look and don’t pay if you don’t like the show” every step you take, there were men and women asking you to peep inside the dance houses and sit if it pleases you. So we went inside one of the dance house – the nude shows are never held on ground floor they are always on the mezzanine or first floors of these dance bars – I had a good idea of what to expect there so it did not surprise me – there were of course nude girls dancing and doing the acts they are famous for, but it was more of a circus than a dance show. There were several women watching the show, men falling over the dancers and the bars owners making money. In short it was crude, somewhat funny and amusing but not titillating to the least. I got bored pretty soon and had it not been for an Indian making a perfect fool of himself, I would have moved out earlier. This gentleman, was summoning girls and playing with them – throwing money at the girls and the girls asking for more and more money without obliging him – he was drunk, being had and he did not know. He looked like a novice (or may be he was not) but I was so tempted to whistle and shout some advice in Hindi! This too got monotonous after a while and we left… May be there are better shows somewhere but got the feeling that they were mostly the same every where….

Some observations: The tourism industry of Asia is really on a down swing after the series of consecutive disasters – SARS, Tsunami – the sex center of Asia – Patpong is now less than half of what it was (comparison by Tarique since his last visit). I noted the same about the Chatuchak market – Bangkok’s most famous and biggest weekend market where one gets *everything* – the shops were barely starting to open at 8.30 AM on a Sunday and the shopkeepers were disinterested – the items on sale were not appearing new, the people walking around were mostly Thai youngsters who had nothing else to do on a weekend. The range was not as vast as it was since my last visit to Chatuchak two years back. However, we did manage to get quiet a lot of stuff for ourselves and Aasim – some fossils, shells, dried star fish, Black and Decker sets, table lamps, no clothes – clothes and T shirts were of extremely bad quality in Chatuchak this time unlike my previous visits. The best of clothes we bought at Central Plaza – branded stuff at low prices.

At Central plaza, we also had best of food – I stuffed myself several times with grilled Salmon steak. We successfully refrained ourselves from getting into MacDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC and experimented with various cuisines. Tried Japanese, did not like it perhaps MK (A famous chain of restaurants which also serves Japanese) is not a good place to start the Japanese experience. Most traditional Thai dishes have too much lemon grass for my liking.

Our return was as eventful as this entire trip. We were due to take flight to Nagpur on Monday morning, but on reaching Domestic Airport and being told that the airport transit rooms were full, we were wondering what to do for next few hours when I noticed that the evening flight to Nagpur was delayed and due for departure in 40 minutes. Ran around a bit, got ourselves two seats and we were on our way to Nagpur within two hours of getting off the plane from Bangkok. We did not get to sleep much in the night as Aasim was too excited but it was well worth spending more money, wasting the apex tickets and reaching home.

This morning Tarique started to write an LJ entry but left it half way – here’s what he wrote before giving it a ditch.

“She was sick with my cribbing about not having time for fun on our trips and decided that it was time to fix it. To start with the tickets were booked for as nearly connecting flights as possible and did not waste a complete day sitting at Mumbai. The client had suggested that we do not meet the very next day, in consideration that we will be tired but we said *No*. We reached Pattaya via a 2 hour cab ride. We were put up in a nice sea facing room at the Hotel Asia Pattaya. and were at the Client’s office at 15:00hrs. This aggressive schedule set the mood for the entire trip. We shut our mind to the physical tiredness, being in good physical condition helped, and concentrated on doing what we wanted to enjoy, pursuing fun with the same *has to be done* attitude as we usually apply to our work. So from meeting it was straight out to shopping for few of our favorite things. Another thing that we had firmly decided that this we will not eat at any of the fast food brands. KFC/McDonald/Pizza Huts were out!”

Kahna II

It was after 10 years that we took a holiday to Kanha and it was a very rewarding experience in every way.

Not only did we see the wild life so closely, we learnt a lot of lessons on a personal level as well.

Visit to the jungle made us respect its laws. Mankind no longer belongs to the jungle, he has been alienated from the jungle much too long to even decipher them. It takes a while to realise that it is the tiger who is giving you a privilege of sighting him – so what if you are on an elephant back – one leap and the tiger can reach you at 10 feet. One slap of his paws and a man can be disemboweled. Its when you realise that you can be on the menu of that beast you start to respect him. That he did not even roar at you is his privilege. Tigers in the jungle can not be compared to those kept in the zoo. These beasts of the jungle live their own lives at their own terms and quiet a few have been known to turn into man hunters (if not man- eaters).

Like any other species, each animal has a character, out of a population of 128 tigers of Kanha, about 8 or 10 are show-offs they make themselves visible and pose for our photographs! How we capture them is our skill as long as we respect the space they demand. You cant get down from the elephant, set up a stand, wait for the sun to shine brightly to photograph wild animals. When it comes to capturing the wild, its your skills with the camera that matter –À mauvais ouvrier point de bons outils. To prove the point there are compositions which Aasim has taken with a 1MP camera which are better than any of ours.

Talking of blaming and pointing fingers, says here that he was disappointed and pointed fingers at the guide for not showing us anything. Why, the same guide showed brainz a sloth bear and a leopard the very next day and the same jeep driver who was with us on first day evening went with Uncle Stevens to show a tigress on mud road and tracked her for more than 45 min. When we are in a jungle, the beasts we see are the ones that willingly come out and show themselves off. Animals and birds are far more sensitive to sight and sound than us, I am sure that scarlet minivet sitting on the tree top spotted us and allowed itself to be photographed, so did the peacock that almost posed for us and I am humbled at the thought.

Another incident that I now feel ashamed about was directing my disappointment towards our tour guide whose vehicle broke down while we were returning -it wasn’t his fault, there was no way he could have anticipated that, I knew it, but at that time, I did point fingers and again a talk with Uncle Stevens made me realise how wrong I was. We, in a fit of anger, and disappointment, find it very easy to point fingers and blaming everyone else for what we think as wrongs done to us – this not only is a sign of immaturity but also that of a weak person, a loser!! never do we introspect and rationalise.

Both above incidents combined also put in perspective how we most of the times tend to focus on the trivial details and lose out on the much grander bigger picture – À bon entendeur, salut.

This jungle trip taught me to be more patient practical and put the perspective where it belongs – In wide angle

::

Kanha – I

May 21st, on our way to Kanha National Park, we also saw a rare celestial event, occlusion of Venus by the moon, Aasim was the first to notice and pointed it out to us and we saw the entire phenomenon – moon coming closer and closer to Venus, and nearly eclipsing it, Venus appeared as a bright white dot just below moon, as if the moon developed a wart!!. I wish we weren’t so much in a hurry…. we did not take any pictures

We got out of the vehicle that took us to Village mocha, 16 kms from Kanha which was to be our abode during our stay there, we were greeted by Mr. Denzil A.G Stephens, Resort Manager, Tigerland Resort. Uncle Stephens was introduced to us by our tour guide, Mr. Arjun Dhanwate, as an expert in Wild life and a naturalist with keen interest in Tigers.

A thorough gentleman, Uncle Stephens had many stories to tell us, we sat and listened in awe as he spoke and just as he was speaking, he whispered to us, turn back slowly and don’t make any noise, he pointed his torch light and there was a wild spotted deer (axis axis), right inside the resort garden. It galloped back as we shrieked in excitement.

Spotted deers and leopards are a pretty common sight, Uncle Stephens went on to tell, a leopard regularly comes to sit on the rocks adjoining the resort. The resort had no brick wall to guard it from the jungle, just a small bamboo fence, that even a deer can break, we stayed in the midst of jungle, woke up every morning before sunrise to the chirping of hundreds of birds and for the first time witnessed the expanse of milky way which gets so lost in the hustle bustle and lights of city life.

The crisp and cool morning air was refreshing as we sipped our morning tea sitting out in the open, looking at the jungle corridor that joins Kanha (located in the Malkal hills of the Satpura hill range in mandla district of Madhya Pradesh) to the other forest belts. Animals, specially the herbivores, we were told by Uncle Stephens, keep migrating from one place to another from Bandhavgarh which is 250 kms north to Kanha to Kanha and Pench which is about 200 Kms south of Kanha.

With herbivores, even carnivores move, forever extending their territories. It is a good thing that their numbers are rising. In Kanha itself, there are about 40,000 spotted deers and 128 tigers, about 35 Indian sloth bears, several leopards and jungle cats which co-exist with about 250 varities of birds and hoards of Jackals, wild boars, Bisons, Barasinga (the only surviving species of barasingha is in Kanha) wild dogs, langurs… and so many more animal species. A place to witness the biodiversity in fullest, it only takes a second to be surrounded by hundreds of butterflies. We were absolutely awestruck when our elephant stepped into the indri river bed – I have never seen so many varieties of butterflies, each one more beautiful than the other and I was told this is not the butterfly season. To see them in resplendent colours and even greater numbers one should visit in the spring time during the months of February – March

Animals blend so beautifully in sal and bamboo forest of Kanha, it takes and expert eye to spot the tiger sitting on the road side under a bamboo bush. almost missed spotting a leopard even though it was very close to their jeep.

We enter the jungle at sunrise and see few Bisons peacefully grazing, deers grazing, galloping, and keeping a watchful eye a couple of jackals playing with each other in distance. Lets turn left, our guide tells us, and we find out that a sloth bear has just crossed, the tell tale signs of its foot prints on soft sand.

Each animal has a tale to tell, and we heard the jungle whispering tales – birds giving alarm calls, male deer tapping their foot and grunting giving rattling calls to their would be mates, peacocks meaou meaou filling the jungle and suddenly a hare lept across the road. We spotted a tigresses pug marks -she is on a kill. Looking up we saw vultures sitting waiting for the tiger to hunt and finish eating so that they can come down and feast on crumbs..

We weren’t really looking for the tiger, we went upto the river bed and returned to take another route. When we came back to the resort, Uncle Stephens told us, he was there in another jeep ahead of us by about 10 minutes he had decided to cross the river bed, to look for more fauna when a tigress was spotted, perhaps the same one which was on the kill and the we had heard the entire jungle taking.. She was there on the road side, she waited and with a calculated gait circled the jeep in which Uncle Stephens was with some other tourist, after a few minutes of inspection she walked on the mud pathway and the jeep followed her for about 45 minutes. We missed out this opportunity…. it happens very often uncle told us, each tigers has a character, some are playful, some shy, some grumpy and some flaunt themselves, just like people do.

He spoke of one tiger named Charger, in Bandhavgarh forest, Charger, he was a naughty one and was named so because he loved chasing jeeps full of people and scaring them. He was huge but one could almost see him smiling after his little game said Uncle Stephens.

He has many more tales and those are an experience in themselves, we intend to keep going back to Kanha and other forest reserves -its addictive!!! took many interesting pictures which he will post in his journal, will do the same.

The first picture is up and can be seen here