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.

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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.

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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.