Category Archives: Eco-journeys & Wildlife Tours

The magic of Bhutan – Savitha Subramaniam, The Wanderers

Valleys of Bhutan

Albeit a little late to sit down and pen my thoughts about Bhutan, I had no one else to blame but me – simply because Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragons still had ‘that’ effect – which had me at loss for adjectives about the place. That, and ofcourse, the post vacation hangover – which translates into getting back into the routine.

 

But as I sit down to pen this blog post, my mind is flooded with the images of Bhutan – The land of the Thunder Dragon; The country which measures the happiness of its citizens ; One of the claimants to the title- Shangri-la! Anyone who visits this tiny Himalayan kingdom nestled between the two Asian giants (India and China) would be blown away by its beauty, culture and serenity.

 

As someone who believes that travel is an experience, a journey and not just visa stampings I take a lot of efforts to plan my vacations. It’s important that the travel is enjoyable and appealing to the varied tastes of my husband, my two kids and myself. Vacations and destinations have always been very close to my heart – simply because I feel that it is escapism from the normal rigours and the highlight should be fun filled family time.

 

And, lo behold came Wanderers – who understand the kind of traveller you are, your expectations, budgets and adds their own expert advice to it. And in this case, I had Alifiya – my little vacation genie, if I could call her that! With the Wanderers, the destination holds a close thread to their heart. And the magic of the country begins from the moment they sit across and bring the country alive with their words.

 

Bhutan is awe inspiring from the moment you start flying over the Himalayas and land into a breathtaking valley. I felt like applauding the pilot for that amazing flight. The itinerary was not too rigid and we were ready to put our feet up and enjoy.

Butter paint - Taktsang Monastery

Due to weather vagaries we couldn’t do the hike to Taktsang monastery. But the trips to Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue, Bumthang and Trongsa exposed us to the beauty of this nation and their culture. And the view of Taktsang left us in awe! The hypnotic quality that the place possesses is something that the guide books could never do justice.

And of course, we had a fantastic guide and a driver – which made the trip all the more pleasurable. Extremely helpful and resourceful, they knew the ins and outs of the land and little quaint details which I’ve believed is very important to making your trip memorable. Excellent hotels and I would recommend the Kyichu properties which definitely gets thumbs up from us! Indian vegetarian food is available at most good hotels and resorts. And what helps is also the fact that the Bhutanese have lot of regards for Indians and it feels nice to see their warm hospitality.

 

Travel books, magazines, blogs and websites don’t do justice to any place. Because, if you have to feel the magic of the land, you need to pack your bags and head out. Let the country envelop you in its folds…let the magic of the monasteries and the snow capped mountains mesmerise you.

 

Simply put – you must visit the country to enjoy it.
Bhutan is a jewel in our neighbourhood. You don’t need a Visa to travel to Bhutan from India.  Between penning my thoughts and going back to the captured images, I’m promoting Bhutan as a destination to all my friends. And if a tailor-made trip is what you have in mind, then the Wanderers is your destination.

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Experiences of my Kenyan Safari, By Farah Bode

WILDEBEEST MIGRATION

No wild life documentary or anything you have seen on National geographic can truly capture a firsthand migration experience which I was fortunate to see and ‘hear’. The wildebeest are called gnus and they make a sound just like their name. I can imitate something very close to it :)

It was the last day in the Masai Mara. We had seen a vast herd just before our lunch and were hoping to see them do the river crossing. Post lunch to our good luck the herd had reached the river.  We were on one side and they were waiting on the other..restless must say.  Some of them had made it half way to the river but no one was taking the lead to cross it. We could see hundreds of them walking in single file, coming in from nowhere on the horizon, all heading for the river.

We inched closer. The disturbance caused by our vehicle sent them back and to our dismay, the ones that had come half way to the river suddenly started going back. Our guide, Ben, then relocated us further away. There were some zebra at the start of the herd. Ben told us that the zebras are a bad sign and the crossing won’t happen.

The Zebras are smart you see  and will not just go headlong into a crocodile infested river.The herd started following the zebras and moved down the river bank. We were quite disappointed but then our guide told us to watch for more signs. The herd that was coming in from the horizon was ready to cross. They were all grunting the ‘gnu-hmmm’ anthem and there was  a lot of shuffling as the herd was  restless ..

Suddenly they started crossing and it awesome an sight to see them plunging, swimming or lunging across the river and safely reaching the other bank. Suddenly we saw a thrashing movement..a zebra was caught by a crocodile. All I could actually  see with my binoculars was a huge crocodile with its mouth agape and the zebra thrashing and being sucked down into the water. An NGC moment! About a 1000 animals crossed while we witnessed what may have been the only zebra death that day at the crossing.

We couldn’t stop talking about the experience and all the locals we met thought that we were truly lucky to see the spectacle of an actual crossing, which despite the frequent ‘Animal Planet’ sightings on TV are quite rare in reality. Many of the locals have come and waited for hours at  the river bank and witnessed no crossing.

Giraffe at 6 oclock

Beg, borrow, steal but you must have your  own set of binoculars. I was lucky to have borrowed my own set and could point out giraffe at 6 o’clock and elephant at 9 ‘o’. Hence I was designated the official giraffe spotter for my vehicle. We were really lucky and saw giraffes, countless zebras, cheetahs (twice), the elusive leopard once and a pride of lions – twice. The beginner’s luck, they would have me believe!

Traffic jam in the jungle

The drivers are all contactable on the radio and can hear each other so if one car has seen a leopard then all the other vehicles will come to the same place and if you see my pictures you will get an idea on the traffic jam that happened over our leopard spotting. The feline then lumbered down the tree and the whole convoy of gawking tourists started following him and slowly but surely he just melted into the tall grass and was nowhere to be seen. Then he emerged on the other side and crossed right by the other groups vehicle and they got a real close up view of him.

Mofassa and me

We had just started our evening game drive when we were alerted to a sighting of lions. The male lion was sunning himself when we first spotted him. Our 4WD vehicle moved quite close to him. We  named him Mofassa, after Simba’s dad from the Lion King animated movie. We observed him and his family for long. The cubs playing around. The mothers keeping a close watch. Another NGC evening!

Croc meat is very chewy!

On our last night we were all set for the famous Carnivore restaurant which has a huge spit with all possible meats on it and the exotic list featured crocodile and ostrich meat. Ostrich meat was nice and tasty, but the croc was a tough cookie I was unable to digest. Every table has a  small flag, so when you are full and can’t gobble, munch, chew or gnaw anymore, you need to lay the flag down in a gesture of surrender! Just for your knowledge, Zebra meat and other exotic meat is banned since the last 3 years.

Shopping

Well, we all got ripped off and paid much more for everything except at the Masai market where we spent too little time. You will see souvenir shops during your ‘comfort’ stops. One really needs to bargain here. Start at 25% of the cost quoted. You will see at least one fancy souvenir shop at your hotel. Avoid, unless you are desperate and will not go to any mall in Nairobi which will have the same stuff at more reasonable prices. Last, but not the least, there is a Masai market on different days of the week at different malls . It’s the local Masais selling their wares laid out on mats in one area like a terrace in a mall. They sell directly to you for the best prices. We caught it on a Tuesday  at the Westland mall. For my rhino mug I paid 1300 at a mall shop. It was 2200 in the hotel shop, but I paid only 570 at the masai market for another one. So much for the learning curve.

Travel tip: The order of an itinerary should  be start with Mt Kenya National park followed by Lake Nakuru and its flamingoes, then Lake Naivasha and finally Masai Mara. The Mara experience can’t be bettered!


Blue Mountain Calling- Ooty by Abhik Dutta

Almost heaven, West Virginia, blue ridged mountains, Shenandoh Riverâ

Denver took hold of my senses halfway between Mysore and Ooty, somewhere in the middle of dense jungles of Bandipur. The forest whizzed past. It was around 3 in the afternoon but the canopy formed by the trees shut out the sunlight and allowed the passage of streaks of sunlight that formed an eerie image on the black stretch of forest road. This was a journey I was getting to love. It was a journey of the senses that had been screaming for help over the past year, wanting an out from the staid existence back home in Calcutta. The forest, the streams and the distant hills beyond, beckoned me. And sitting in the bus I allowed myself to zoom through a corridor of strained light right into the lap of nature at the other end. It was a meeting of lovers kept apart by circumstances. One, a confused youth from the city and the other a demure lass full of beauty and wisdom.

I needed this break as much as my friends. Calcutta had taken its toll. Sipping our tea in a roadside stall, we had decided to pack our rucksacks and head South. Over the last ten days the five of us had journeyed through the confusion in Chennai (then Madras), rode piggy back on my brother in law in Bangalore (till he wanted an out too), almost got crushed to death in a stampede on the parapet walls of the dam in Brindavan gardens and found relief in the green hills of Madikere in Coorg. Fresh out of college, no job in hand and a future as dark as the forest we were passing through, the five of us had decided to stray far away from our homes in Calcutta.

The girl seated across the aisle turned and smiled at me. I smiled back. She clung on to her doll tightly. I clung on to my dreams and watched the jungle pass me by. We were passing through the Bandipur National Park on our way to Ooty. The bus rumbled through the dense jungle. The others were sleeping. Amit with his head weaving over the aisle like a pendulum; Sanjay waking up sheepishly after every bump on the window sill; Bumba resting most of his 80 kilos on the thin old man seated next to him crushing him under his weight; Ashis snoring by my side. All presenting a picture of tired minds and bodies in need of rest. But I stayed awake with Denver for company. Sleep doesn’t come to me easily on such journeys. My mind wanders.

The sight of a large herd of elephants brought out squeals of delight from the little girl. The commotion woke the others up. The giant beasts were tied in chains next to the road. Bells dangled from their colossal neck and chimed with their movements. There was a gap in the thick foliage. A lovely clearing with some huts on the other side of a small stream held our attention. Then the bus roared around a sharp bend. Both the elephants and the clearing vanished from sight. It always saddens me to see elephants in chains. Somehow, I always think of these majestic animals roaming the jungles freely without care. Not sheathed in chains as beasts of burden.

..And then the climb up the Blue Mountains began. We turned and twisted up the ghat roads. The scenery took our breath away. By now the others awoke soaking in the splendour of the blue ridges of the Nilgiris. The setting sun created magic on these mountains and the ranges seemed to blush in delight at we watched her unabashedly allowing our minds to wander all over her beauty, wanting her like a long lost lover. Each turn showed us a different dimension of nature – every scene casting a spell on us, vibrating within us till our minds seemed to burst. Looking at our happy faces I realized that this was the closest I would come to feel Utopia on this trip.

Over the next five days we explored the town of Ooty. The quaint market place bustling with the post Diwali holiday crowd, the numbing cold of the evenings spent at the Botanical gardens and the boating on the lake; the excursion to Coonoor and our delight at seeing the botanical gardens at Sims Park with its wide variety of roses. We visited Dodabeta peak and marvelled at the breathtaking views from the place. But most of all, I still remember the wonderful after dinner sessions of animated conversation in the dormitory beds of the Youth Hostel; the carefree laughter of five disillusioned youths from Calcutta who found temporary Nirvana in the Blue Mountains of the South. And still the haunting strains of Denver kept me company in the cold, moonlit nights after the lights in the dormitory were switched off.

..Dark and dusty painted on the sky, misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye