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Posts tagged ‘tigers’

waiting for a tiger named godot ;)

As has likely become apparent by now, going on safari in India involves being constantly covered in a layer of fine dust, a lot of silence staring at nothing particularly interesting and considerable jostling for position should anyone manage to find a live animal in the wild… If you have always imagined yourself on stage in “Waiting for Godot”, this is your moment to shine 😉

You definitely need some patience and if you are a prima donna who doesn’t like getting dirty, it’s likely better to stay at a five star hotel in one of the major cities.  But it is absolutely worth the hours of boredom and giving up washing your hair because it seems pointless.  Even though I couldn’t get a beer, Tadoba was my favourite tiger reserve.  Since we went to FOUR, I was party to a lot of shop talk about tiger reserves.  Tadoba is definitely more under the radar and I gather it is a bit of a renegade park compared to the more established ones.

As noted earlier, the parks are divided into zones with separate gates.  Officially, you have to stay in the zone that corresponds to your gate.  Tadoba was my first park so I was still very naïve about this whole tiger tracking experience so these are not statements of fact, just deductions I made by eavesdropping on other conversations as the tour progressed.  I think our driver may have taken us out of the zone we were really supposed to be travelling in so that we could find tigers…

In any event, we DID see tigers!  Pretty much every safari.  I was completely spoiled by travelling with and beyond in Tanzania during the migration and seeing lions 10 times on 10 safaris so I quickly realized I had to dial my expectations back and be grateful if I saw a sole tiger for more than two minutes – and if it was close enough to get a photo where one could tell for sure it WAS a tiger.

tiger crossing road

tiger close up

As noted, our first day was more boot camp to see how you fared under duress and the tiger we spotted was underwhelming.  Day two, however, rewarded us with a close up of a tiger crossing the road.  Hard to get great photos but that was definitely a TIGER!

Things got a little light on the tiger front after that so the pressure was on when we set out on our final game safari at Tadoba.  In the lodge, I had read about a female tiger that had been born in the tiger reserve and was apparently nonplussed by groups of humans madly trying to take photos of her.  The article merely seemed to be a taunt.

Because I was growing tired of lemonade and there was a mini fridge in the room, the staff kindly provided me with a small container of milk so that I could take advantage of the chai I bought in Delhi.  It tasted so good I decided I should have a second cup.  I strongly advise you not to drink tea before you go on safari!

Tea is a major diuretic and I was now about to be subjected to three or four hours of being shaken silly in a jeep in a situation where hiding behind a bush might involve you being mauled by a random tiger.  Generally, bathroom facilities in India are challenging so I thought I could make it…   Of course, I should have said something to the guide instead of trying not to take the safari off-course…

I was surviving and knew I could make it back to camp but we still hadn’t found a tiger and Clemens was very disappointed.  By that point, finding a bathroom was a lot more exciting than finding a tiger so I was trying to send mind waves to just stop looking and head to camp.

But, no, that was not to be.  Instead, we went off on some Indiana Jones mission to a part of the park we

tiger spotting

tiger spotting

had not yet seen.  I prayed there would be no tiger so we could drive just as fast back to the lodge.  It was really close to closing time and I knew we had to get out there very soon.

that tiger

hey tigger pose for me 🙂

My prayers were not answered – but Clemens were 🙂  It was an incredible sighting.  I wish I could have enjoyed it more.  Not only was my bladder ready to explode but I ran to the end of my memory card so was frantically trying to delete photos so I could get some photos of the tiger.  So, let my bad judgement allow you to make better choices.  Limit your liquid intake BEFORE you go on safari.  Suck it up and use a yukky bathroom and stop the safari if you really need to.  And make sure your memory card is not almost full!

But even if you screw up like I did and you are in physical pain, seeing a tiger in the wild will be worth it.  Even if you don’t get a photo, you have SEEN it.  But I did get a photo –   I’m a tough girl… 😉

 

 

in the shooting gallery with the wildlife junkies ;)

India was not my first safari.  It was my first tiger – but I felt fairly worldly from a safari perspective.  I mean, most people don’t know where Botswana is, let alone its virtues as a safari destination.  But Svarsara Jungle Lodge attracted the junkies.  Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve is notable as Maharashtra’s oldest and largest national park.  Project Tiger was started in 1973 to conserve the Indian Bengal tiger.  It began by establishing 9 Tiger Reserves.  There are now 47 Tiger Reserves.  And there are some tigers in them!  It’s a bit controversial as to how serious India is about tiger conservation – and it’s a big, complex job.  There are a lot of people and not many tigers and too many people in China thinking consuming bits of tiger will make them more powerful.  No!  Just work on your self-esteem and learn to be more charming – leave the beautiful tigers in peace.

https://www.svasararesorts.com/svasara-lodge.html

http://www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/mtdc/HTML/MaharashtraTourism/TouristDelight/Sanctuaries/Sanctuaries.aspx?strpage=TadobaNPSanctuaries.html

pretty even without tigers :)

pretty even without tigers 🙂

Whether there are actually tigers in the Tiger Reserves or not, there aren’t a lot of tigers left in the world so India has done a good job of convincing you to come to India to see one.  A lot of people go to Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve.  It’s likely the most famous (we will get there too :).  It has plenty of lodges to stay in and plenty of publicity.  Tadoba is more of a hidden secret.  There is little accommodation and most people come on a day trip.  But you can stay at Svarsara Jungle Lodge – so we did 🙂

As previously noted, I was just tagging along so was like a little kid at the table while the adults talked about serious stuff.  I didn’t realize the parks were set into zones with different gates and you couldn’t necessarily move around the whole park.  That it mattered what gate you started at and that you would need to line up and wait for the park to open.  (I hadn’t even memorized the names of the parks we were visiting at that point… bad girl!)

Because of the storms the first evening we didn’t follow the normal dinner protocol – and didn’t interact with other guests.  The weather had cleared by day two so we met for drinks (i.e. soda pop :)) before dinner and were able to mingle with other safari guests.  We also attempted to watch a film about Indian wildlife.  We tried to watch it at least three times – but the power would always kick out before it ended and we got tired of watching the beginning so finally abandoned the project.

Clemens normally goes on safari alone so is good at interacting with other guests.  That night we met a Dutch

one of india's most famous birds

one of india’s most famous birds

couple who also went on safari pretty much every year and they talked parks, gates, animals, facilities, cameras, etc.  I’d already noticed that my very nice Nikon didn’t really cut it.  I felt a bit like I was in Afghanistan rather than India.  With all the safari vehicles lining up and then drag racing in the dust, it is a bit much so a lot of people have bandanna and scarves tied around their head and their mouth with only their eyes visible.  They are dressed in camouflage colours to not scare the animals.  And they are brandishing gigantic cameras with dust and rainproof covers that look like weapons.  I was clearly out of my league 😉

I quickly realized Tadoba was a bit of a hidden secret so attracted the wildlife junkies who had already been everywhere else.  Some had already seen tigers in other parks.  They all talked the lingo and knew all the park names and shared tips on the best gates from which you wanted to enter.  It was a fascinating new world.  I am a snob about lots of stuff (food, wine, literature) but I’m just excited to see animals.  I even like monkeys and deer!  Clemens refused to stop for anything that pedestrian for at least two days…

When we got to Kanha, it was even more fascinating.  I am pretty sure I overheard some people exchanging details so they could plan a trip to Ethiopia together.  Ever since a taxi driver in Amsterdam educated me on how fascinating Ethiopia is, I have wanted to go.  So I managed to work my way into their conversation.  It ended up being one of the highlights of the trip.  They invited us to have dinner with them so the six of us sat in the dark under candlelight being fed mysterious food we couldn’t see and drinking Kingfisher beer (the alcohol ban lifted in Madhya Pradesh).

Eddie sounded like he was from Michigan but his father had been one of the first people from discover the virtues of outsourcing from China so he had lived in China for a long time and ran a specialty auto parts supply company out of Shanghai and had tacked tracking tigers onto a business trip.  Philippe and Sonia were from Paris with charmingly accented English.  I think they were brother and sister but Eddie was the only person in India I could really understand clearly J   I am normally great with accents but had to really listen in India.  Whatever their relationship, Philippe was hilarious.  Clemens is pretty quiet but given that he is an engineer for Daimler, he could connect with Eddie.  To add another perspective to the table, we had the only female wildlife specialist I met during my travels.

baby monkey doing yoda pose for me :)

baby monkey doing yoda pose for me 🙂

It made for an evening of incredible conversation.  Even though I think the Americans’ attitude toward guns and violence is bat-shit crazy, I do love them.  It’s always dangerous to generalize about an entire national group but I have encountered so many Americans like Eddie during my travels – friendly, generous, gregarious.  He sat at the head of the table and really led the conversation and, between the two of us, we got everyone involved.  It’s not very often I feel like the most boring person at the table…

But it seemed like everyone had already seen gorillas (for sure three had, maybe four).  I was the girl who hadn’t seen a gorilla in the wild.  The girl who hadn’t been to Ethiopia.  For god’s sake, I haven’t even been to Kruger – which is apparently far too touristy! 😉  Big deal I’d been to Paris so many times I have completely lost count.

In this crowd, I was listening and learning.  I wasn’t jaded at all.  I still got excited when I saw a baby monkey!  It was refreshing to see there was so much more to see and experience in the world.  I have already booked to see penguins in Patagonia next year but incubating a plan for Zambia.  I am well on my way to becoming a wildlife junkie.  Now I just need one of those big-ass cameras to properly shoot in the gallery 😉

 

 

did I accidentally sign up for an ashram? ;)

India has been on my list for many decades but there are so many places on my list it is often an unexpected catalyst that compels me to actually book the plane ticket.  In this case, it was celebrating a milestone birthday with my ex-husband.  Yeah, a plot twist before the trip even starts 😉  But we have stayed good friends and celebrating milestone birthdays with friends is kind of the theme for 2015…

That is why you will see me running through India at a breakneck pace, eschewing culture in favour of tiger stalking and living in a bubble… It is a different travel experience tagging along on someone else’s trip, especially in the developing world, but it adds an element of surprise.  I might have been less surprised had I not been working every minute until I got on the plane and done a bit of research but all the essential elements had been organized by others so I could just show up and see what I had gotten into…

One thing I had definitely gotten into was very little sleep!  We were going on 17 game safaris, which started even earlier than in Africa.  But first we had to get to Nagpur.  There aren’t a lot of flights so we had to be at the airport around the time early risers are getting up.  I realize it seemed strange to the lady frisking me at the Delhi airport and stamping my boarding pass far more than seemed necessary that I didn’t know where I was going but I did pay enough attention to know I was getting off at the first stop.  Obviously the travel agent had been a bit sub-par and we weren’t sitting together on the plane.

But I got off at the correct airport and we were off on our first major car journey in central India.  They were all supposed to take copious numbers of hours per our itinerary and I am sure at some point the estimates were correct but we got lucky on our first go and had roads with a lot of modern infrastructure so we breezed along and got to the lodge in record time (according to the itinerary at least).

I would get used to the traffic patterns in India but our first leg was a bit disconcerting.  Mostly it was because we had a lot of decent roads so our driver could gun it.  It felt like the Autobahn although I know we were never going really fast by first world standards.  Of course, on the Autobahn you are not in a car juggling pedestrians, motorbikes, tractors, giant trucks, other cars and COWS!

The freaky part was that you had to stop for cows (and they knew it) and occasionally there was another car and no shoulders – or lines for passing.  If playing chicken is your thing, you will love India!

Eventually I started to relax.  I am certain there are accidents – and do NOT DRIVE in India – but, like in Africa, if you let a local handle the traffic, your chances of survival are high.  They have lots of practice and just seem to anticipate the right move.  No one is trying to get killed – and no one is actually going that fast – so they just all accommodate each other.  It is a little frightening – but also impressive – to watch.  You think you are about to be part of a head-on collision but somebody finds enough space to squeeze back into the traffic and you pass by as though nothing special has occurred.  We sheltered developed world types who waste all that space in the middle of the road where we paint lines…

Needless to say, though, arriving at the lodge felt very relaxing!  Especially as it was modern – not only did I have a good private bathroom, I had a mini-fridge and air conditioning.

We arrived in time for lunch.  I like Indian food.  I was excited.  Lunch was pretty good.  Cafeteria style so not amazing but better than adequate and we asked for more of the wonderful lemonade we had been welcomed with upon our arrival.

We explored the property a bit enjoying the questionable weather that meant less heat but potential thunderstorms.  My first Indian safari began a few hours later.  We met our guide, Shirag.  He was very personable and interesting.  It felt like my fond memories of safari in Africa.

the first tiger

it is an actual tiger in the wild!

In India, you are required to bring along a park guide.  They don’t generally do much except take up space in the vehicle but it provides jobs in the developing world so I am OK with it.  Clemens is a serious photographer so he set the game plan right away.  He would sit in the second row of the jeep managing all his photographic devices.  I would be left to deal with all the others who had to climb aboard 🙂

Most of the time this worked really well as I had the first row all to myself.  Unlike Africa, the Indian safari vehicles are pretty basic and there is little cover for passengers.  Safaris normally occur in the dry season and it isn’t much of a problem.  I had not expected it to rain in April in India and had to pack light.  I’d brought a rain jacket to Cambodia and never worn it so thought I wouldn’t bother clogging my backpack with unnecessary stuff.

Don’t follow my example!  It’s funny how memory manages to fade the edges from bad experiences.  At first it was fine, just a bit of a drizzle.  I was freezing as I expected it to be 40 degrees not 15… and had dressed for 40.  The game drive was scheduled to last three hours.  I could – and probably should 🙂 – have just wimped out and traded places with the park guide as he was sitting beside the driver where there was some shelter but there was a tarp so I figured it would be fine.

tadoba wild boar

our first wildlife at tadoba

What I hadn’t anticipated was how dusty it is in the dry season in India.  Tadoba is covered in red sandstone like the outback in Australia.  So I spent most of the three hours with a very dirty tarp dripping reddish water on me as I attempted to take photos.  I would have just given up and headed back to the lodge as the animals also didn’t have a rain jacket so they were not likely to be posing for photos.  But I sucked it up and was rewarded by actually seeing a real live tiger in the wild!  We weren’t too close and it was hard to get a great photo but there were still some tigers left in the wild in India.  I also got see gaur, sambal, chital, dhole and langur – and the landscape is beautiful.

spotting gaur

gaur are giant cows

I was really excited though to get back to the lodge, have a shower, put on more clothes and have a beer with my dinner.  That’s when I discovered there was no alcohol at the lodge.  I’d started reading about India before I began the trip and would read three books about it during the trip.  The one common theme seemed to be spiritual awakening.  Someone was always going to an ashram or seeking out a guru.

That is just not my thing.  So it was strange the first night to contemplate whether I had accidentally signed up for something with all the same hallmarks – no alcohol, very little conversation, lots of time spent in silence waiting for something to happen and contemplating one’s own thoughts (three hours frozen and being dripped on under a claustrophobic plastic tarp to see a tiger lying under a tree far away for five minutes).

The first safari was the hardest… I still don’t want to go to an ashram but at least I know I can survive accidental de-tox and meditation – and the lemonade was delicious 😉

 

 

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