Apr 06 2008

India Revisited

Published by at 5:30 am under India,Travel Club

Just back from an amazing adventure in India with our friends Anne and Fred Fisher – both pro photographers. Kenya Airways flys direct from Nairobi to Mumbai so very convenient for us, while the Fisher’s flew Continental direct to Mumbai from Newark in New Jersey, giving all of us the chance to take a few days to acclimatise. The hustle and bustle of Indian cities, so alive with colour and history make a wonderful contrast to the wildlife. First stop on our safari was an old favourite Kanha NP for four nights staying at Tiger Corridor. Our choice was two-fold; the vehicles are more photographer friendly with much more comfortable seats than most of the short wheel based jeeps you see in India’s wildlife parks, and the accomodation is in large air conditioned tents. We love Kanha, particularly the meadows and the bird life is always an added attraction in the daily search for tigers. Dont expect the
concentrations of game you see in places like the Masai Mara, but if you take your time there is plenty of new and interesting sights to photograph. Indrajeet, our naturalist-guide for the second year running does a superb job. We spent time on elephant back and ended our stay with a breathtaking encounter with a male tiger (the brother of a young male we had photographed the previous year lounging at a waterhole). There is an excellent new interpretation center in the park, and new toilet facilaties which are a pleasing revelation – the old facilities attracted swarms of wasps making for an interesting pit stop!

Next was a four night stay at Bandhavgarh NP, India’s premier tiger reserve for tiger sightings. We stayed at the Taj/CC Africa lodge Mahua Kothi, which is expensive compared to other Indian hotels and lodges but offers a number of benefits to offset the price. The lodge is impeccably run by Mr Gill the General Manager and his staff – the food is exceptional, along with the service, and the larger four-wheel-drive vehicles are a real bonus to photographers offering plenty of room for tripods and long telephoto lenses, and Harry our driver was excellent. We had been rather disappointed in Bandhavgarh during our first visit to the park in 2007, hardly surprising when one considers the hype this park attracts for its tiger sightings. But this year we had a superb visit and really appreciated the beauty of the park with its stunning rocky hills and ridges, sunlit meadows, and sparkling streams winding their way through luxurious undergrowth. We had barely driven into the park on our first morning when our guides spotted a huge adult male tiger, shortly followed by a good sighting of a younger male. Later during our visit we had wonderful views of another adult male resting in a stream bed and occasionally drinking from a clear pool of water. We followed the male on elephant back as he moved around his territory once the sun began to cool, and only then could we appreciate the sheer size and power of this beautiful cat as he ambled confidently along pausing once in a while to roar or scent mark, letting other tigers in the area know of his whereabouts. The tiger is more like a leopard than a lion in much of what it does, harder to see than their social relatives, but when fortune shines on you and a tiger appears out of the sunlight and the shadows you know you are in the presence of a creature that has struck awe and wonder into the hearts of humans since time immemorial. There were other sightings too, but more than anything all of us were daunted by the enormity of the challenge facing India’s Forest Reserves if the last remaining tigers are to survive.

We then took the train from Katni to Agra – always an adventure, reminding us a little of when we use to take the overnight train from Nairobi to Mombassa. Agra is home to the Taj Mahal which has continues to fascinate us – always challenging photographically and somewhere you just have to keep coming back to. A reflection of man’s incredible artistry and ingenuity, and a place to try and capture a little of its magic. We chose the Oberoi Hotel group for our visit to Agra – and for our four day visit to Jaipur in Rajasthan. The Oberoi hotels offer wonderful food and impeccable service – and the rooms are just so comfortable. Having spent many years of my life living in tents, where even a bed seemed a luxury compared to a sleeping bag, this is heaven!

India for Angie and myself is as much about the people and monuments as it is about the wildlife. In fact the chance to photgraph the architectural delights combined with the infinite photographic opportunities posed by the people in their colourful traditional costumes adds something very special to every visit.

You cannot travel to India without shopping, and once again we headed home with carpets and Buddahs, cushion covers and marble dishes, candle sticks and bedspreads – and much more besides. Having been a Buyer for a chain of shops in East Africa, Angie finds India as irresistible as I do, and our house is full of reminders of our travels around the world, memories that we cherish and help keep us planning for the next trip to one of our favourite destinations.

We will keep you posted on details of our 2009 trip to India.

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