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Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in Travels

2010, like 2009 and 2008, blessed me with extraordinary travel opportunities. From tropical islands, to tropical rainforests, to snow capped Himalayan peaks to the central plains, I got a chance to be there in 2010. This year has been really special for me and I feel appropriate in highlighting some of my travels this year in honour of the Year ‘2010’. And it is doubly special as this also coincides with the ‘500’th post on ‘BE ON THE ROAD’.


January
Unlike the other years, I spent the first month mostly in town. But, I could sense a change in the pattern. May be, something big was in store for me.


February
I was on a cruise to the Lakshadweep Islands (Kadmat, Kavaratti and Kalpeni) in the Indian Ocean. I had great fun both underwater and on the surface. Then, I was enjoying the old coastal life of Cochin in Kerala. Then came the backpacking expedition to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (Port Blair, Ross Island, North Bay, Viper Island, Baratang Island, Marine National Park, the supremely beautiful Havelock Island and the tsunami affected Little Andaman).


March
I was reliving my underwater memories of the tropical Islands.


April
This month saw me go on a parasailing trip with my friends to Hoskote, a town near Bangalore.


May
I went on a hot summer trek to Chandrayana Betta near Bangalore and nearly got lost. Then, I was off to Chennai for a family wedding and some get together with close friends.


June
I was on the road the entire month of June as I was chosen to be the official travel blogger for the road show of Tata Motors – ‘Tata Nano Superdrive’. This month long trip took me across 9 states and 18 cities in the West-Central-East corridor of India. I really loved this trip in spite of the fact that I was living in temperatures that were consistently above 40 degrees Celsius.


July
A motorcycle trip took me to Shiavanasamudra falls and Talakad temple ruins in Karnataka.


August
Cometh the monsoons and the trekker in me wakes up. Trekking trips took me to Chembra peak, Banasura Sagar Dam, Soochipara Falls in Wayanad, Kerala. Then, there was a drive to Auroville and Pondicherry. After sipping some vino, I made way to a friend’s wedding at Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu. Then, I passed by the temple town of Chidambaram and onto the submerged Danish beach town of Tranquebar on the east coast of India.


September
With the monsoons in full flow, I climbed the Thadiyendamol peak (highest peak in Coorg, Karnataka) a fifth time. With the same monsoon spirit, I trekked to Nalnad palace, Nilakandi Falls and Honey valley in Coorg, Karnataka, India. All the while, soaking in the aroma of coffee in the ‘Scotland of India’. The next few days saw me camping by the Emerald Lake in the Nilgiris and then off on the Nilgiri Toy Train to Coonoor and then to Kotagiri, the oldest hill station of the Nilgiris. On my way back, I dropped by Ooty too.


October
As the rains let up, my motorcycling buddies and I went on a long ride to Kolli Hills in Tamil Nadu. This place is famous for its 70 hair pin bends. Then in the latter half of the month, I got invited by Club Mahindra to go on a trip to Sikkim in the Eastern Himalayas along with a group of elite travel bloggers, writers and photographers. The final few days of October saw me riding to the Malgudi days town of Agumbe in the Western Ghats of Karnataka.


November
The beginning of this month was spent at Agumbe, a series of treks and rides around made it a great trip. The middle of November saw me go backpacking to North East India, the only place in India where I hadn’t left a footprint. This backpacking expedition took me to Meghalaya and the Cherrapunji circuit, trekking and birding in the Eastern Himalayas of Western Arunachal Pradesh and doing wildlife photography at Nameri National Park of Assam.


December
This month saw me continue the backpacking expedition of November. I got the opportunity to get close to the Indian Rhinoceros at the grasslands of the Kaziranga National Park in Assam. Got a lot of wildlife and bird photography opportunities. At the final leg of the trip, I paid a visit to the Hoolock Gibbons (the only Apes of India) at the Hoolock Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary near Jorhat in Assam and did some silk saree shopping before flying back to Bangalore. The latter half of December saw me getting back to the corporate world after a 26 month travel break. But, work doesn’t seem as boring as before as I have rich travel experiences to live by. But, I still need to keep travelling…Right?


Here’s Wishing you all a very Happy and Prosperous New Year! Let 2011 bless us all with great travel opportunities! Cheers!!

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Birds of Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, North East India

Last month, I was at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary to do some birding and boy, it was a fantastic birding experience. Though, I have to inform you that it was tough going for me as these birds were small and hence either super elusive or very restless.

White tailed Nuthatch

They were hardly stationary and kept themselves busy in undergrowth or in dense thicket. It took me three full days, close to forty (40) kilometres of trek, a couple of jeep safaris, a sore neck (as I kept looking up), biceps in pain (as I was holding my 3 kilogram camera + lens without a tripod) to come up with..if I may, a super rich haul.


Stripe Throated Yuhina

I covered quite a few birding routes from the Lama birding camp. These included: Sundar View (Alpine and Montane Forests), Chakku (Tropical Montane Forests), Bhampu (Bamboo Forests) and a couple of routes that went both uphill and downhill from Lama birding camp.

Golden Bush Robin (Female)

And to see these birds in action, I covered a variety of altitudes varying from 6,000 feet above MSL to about 10,000 feet above MSL. And braved bitter cold temperatures. You can imagine my plight holding my camera steady at close to freezing weather and tracking the bird through my view finder. Next time, I will remember to carry a good pair of camera gloves.

Rufus Vented Yuhina

But, as we all say, all’s well that end’s well. Here is a detailed birding report of my three days at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary.
 
Chestnut Tailed Milna

My rich catch of birds include (though not in any order): Whiskered Yuhina, Striated Laughing thrush, Fire-chested flowerpecker, Chestnut headed Tesia, Black Bulbul, Rufus winged Fulvetta, Verditer Flycatcher, Black throated Tit, Mrs Gould’s Sunbird, Stripe Throated Yuhina, Chestnut Crowned Laughing Thrush, White throated Laughing thrush, Black faced Warbler, Ashy throated Warbler, Lemon rumped Warbler, Green backed Tit, Darjeeling Woodpecker, Rufus Gorgetted Flycatcher, White throated fantail, Slender Bill (only calling), Striated Bulbul, Chestnut Tailed Milna, Green Tailed Sunbird, Rusty Fronted Barwing, Beautiful Sibia, Streak breasted Scimitar Babbler, Yellow Cheeked Tit, Rufus vented Yuhina, Ferrigunous Flycatcher, Hill Partridge, Khalid Pheasant (Female), White Capped Water Redstart, Ashy throated Warbler, Yellow Throated Fulvetta, Orange Bellied Leafbird (calling), Rufus necked Hornbill (calling), Great Barbet, Yellow billed Blue Magpie (calling), Grey Striated Laughing Thrush (calling), Yellow Browed Tit, Paddyfield Pipit, Common Ketrel, Bay Woodpecker (calling), Rufu capped Babbler, White tailed Nuthatch and Golden Bush Robin (Female).

Beautiful Sibia

Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary is situated on the Western border of Arunachal Pradesh. It has Bhutan to its West and the town of Tenga to its East. It is located in the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. Lama birding camp is the only place to offer any sort of accommodation in the near-abouts.

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Panoramic Green Canyons of Meghalaya

There are quite a few things that impressed me when I backpacked to Meghalaya, but one of the things that really stood out was the massive and wide canyons of Cherrapunji.


These canyons are an integral part of the East Khasi hills and are the main reason for the plummeting waterfalls and fast flowing rivers that drain into the neighbouring country of Bangladesh.


All the views from these canyons are extraordinary, but the best views come when you are located on the cliff edge of the opposite side of these canyons. That way, you get to admire their sheer size especially in terms of the area that they cover and the sheer drop below them. Such a drop can give anybody goose bumps.

 
And if you happen to visit these canyons just after the rains, you can be awarded with a dense green blanket cover that nearly covers the entire canyon.


Such is the beauty of this place that one can just sit on the cliff’s edge and stare into eternity. Don’t miss the sight of these canyons when you plan to visit Meghalaya and the Cherrapunji circuit in particular. They are simply stunning!

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Stripe Throated Yuhina at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary

Last month, I spent 3 days at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary as part of my backpacking trip to North East India. The idea was to do quality birding at this remote location of Arunachal Pradesh. Birders primarily come here for the small birds and boy, these guys are really pretty.


Here is a teaser. Stay tuned for more updates from Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Crystalline Mawsmai Cave, Meghalaya, North East India

There is something about caves that appeals to me. May be its their weirdness or their complex forms inside or the sheer thrill of crouching on your stomach to move from one part of the cave to another.


The Mawsmai cave of Meghalaya is no different. In fact, it is a beautiful combination of all of the above. Situated close to Cherrapunji, the Mawsmai cave is one of the more popular tourist destinations of Meghalaya.

 
This limestone cave is in great shape as it has been preserved well by Meghalaya Tourism. The stalactites and stalagmites here very special as they are covered with bright crystals, which glitter in the artificial light. As I have said before on other caves, the various forms created by these stalactites and stalagmites are reason enough to let your imagination run wild.


The opportunities to see various shapes, forms and figurines are endless. The entire tourist corridor of the cave is well lit with eco-friendly lights making for a great exhibition for the traveller. One can even spot life forms that manage to live inside these caves. Meghalaya tourism has thoughtfully put up boards at the entrance helping the tourist understand the various plant, algae, moss and insect species that call this place their home.



Surprisingly, the Mawsmai cave has decent head clearance most of the way. In fact, if I remember right, I only crouched a couple of times, which is amazing given the bruises that I have endured during my visit to other caves across India.

 

The only sad part is that though the caves are long and winding, only a small portion is open for the tourists. But then, keeping safety in mind, I think it is a sensible option. This is a must visit if you happen to tour the North Eastern state of Meghalaya in India.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Scenic Landscape of Cherrapunji

Meghalaya as a state can offer you the view of some vibrant and varied landscapes. At some places, dense green forests span the entire horizon. While on the other end, you have barren looking grasslands or jaw-dropping canyons.


In this case, I was surprised to see a desert like setting by the main highway road. It was only when I got down did I find out that it was the dry bed of a small stream flowing nearby.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Duwan Sing Syiem View Point, Sohra Circuit, Meghalaya, North East India

The Sohra circuit of Meghalaya is known for its waterfalls, caves and view points. One of the more famous view points in this district is the Duwan Sing Syiem view point.


You can find this view point right after an old bridge on the road that connects Cherrapunji to Shillong. The wavy green hills and valleys, the dense forests, the meandering river and the clear blue skies make this view point a spectacular setting.

 
There are a couple of ways to enjoy this scenic setting. One can either see this right from the road or can take the flight of steps and a short dirt trail to reach the other end.


Both points provide picturesque views of the valley. Such is the beauty of this place that all photos look top class.

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Wakaba Falls–The Canyon Waterfall in the Cherrapunji district of Meghalaya

Meghalaya (land of the clouds) as we all know is home to the wettest place on the planet and hence it is no surprise to know that it hosts a whole bunch of waterfalls. And the Cherrapunji district situated in the East Khasi Hills is host to some of the more famous ones.


When I was in this district sometime last month, I happened to visit the Wakaba Falls, which I refer to as the ‘Canyon Waterfall’. The entire piece of land around resembles a canyon and the waterfall falls from that into the deep gorges below.

 
The best part is that when you view this waterfall from the opposite end, you end up getting a near 240 degree view of the canyon and the plummeting waterfall in the middle of it.



And all around it was dense greenery. Since I was there during the non-rainy season, the waterfall was a faint trickle, but I can imagine its gigantic sight during the monsoons.



But, even in the dry season, the aura of this canyon waterfall can completely captivate you. It will only make you want to visit this place in the rainy season, which I am sure I will do some day soon.

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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Lama Birding Camp: The den for birdwatching in Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, India

The Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary is one that is not well known among the tourist circle. Named after the Indian army post ‘Eaglenest’ bordering Bhutan, it is situated on the western end of Arunachal Pradesh in North East India.

Covering a wide range in altitude, this wildlife sanctuary bordering the famous Pakhui Tiger Reserve is famous for its bird life. It is home to a lot of small birds that include the family of yuhina, laughing thrush, flowerpecker, tesia, fulvetta, flycatcher, nuthatch, sibia, slender bill, warbler, tit, sunbird, milna, babbler, hill partridge, khalid pheasant, Satyr Tragopan, bush robin and others. In fact, some of the species can be hardly found any where else. Many birders come here in search of the ‘Beautiful Nuthatch’. The Bugun Lev Chikla is a bird that was christened here.

One can access the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary from the town of Tenga that is situated on the route to Tawang in the Western Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. A steep 22 kilometre dirt track takes one to the Lama Birding Camp that is the only accommodation currently available in this wildlife sanctuary. The Sessa Orchid sanctuary is to the south west of Eaglenest.

The Lama birding camp offers simple tented accommodation that is set up on wooden stilts. The facilities here are pretty basic with no electricity, a common dining hill and common washrooms. Though this place lacks in facilities, it makes up in sheer natural beauty. One can catch stunning views of the snow capped peaks of the Eastern Himalayas by just looking out from their respective tents. Even better when you can wake up to the melodious songs of the laughing thrushes.

The Lama Birding Camp equipped with very knowledgeable birding guides will take you to all kinds of terrain depending on the birding of your interest. Terrain varies from thick bamboo thickets to high altitude alpine forests. Commute varies from hiring a jeep to your own pair of reliable legs to go deeper into the forests. The best part about this place is its remoteness and hence offers you an experience that cannot be felt elsewhere.

The best way to explore this wildlife sanctuary would be to stay at the Lama Birding Camp for at least for three days, though a week is the best way to do some quality birdwatching. That way, you get to cover all the various spots within this wildlife sanctuary. And if you get lucky, you will spot some of the mammals like elephant, leopard and red panda that are  known to inhabit these jungles.

This place is run by Mr. Indi Glow (locally known as Indi Babu), an ex-forest department employee who himself is a very passionate naturalist and is evergreen in lending a helpful hand to the tourists. I was at the Lama birding camp last month and was very happy with my experience there. Khandu Tamang was my birding guide there and I found him to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful.

If you are interested in visiting Eaglenest Wildlife sanctuary and wish to stay at Lama Birding Camp, you can reach out to Mr. Indi Glow at +91-94362 51508 or phuarung@gmail.com.

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Sunset Moments from Agumbe

One can never get bored of a Agumbe Sunset. It is quite a special sight. Tourists from all over visit this small village just to catch a good glimpse of its famous sunset from the 14th mile point.


Here are some of those pristine sunset moments that makes this place special.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Surya Namaskar

One goes to Agumbe to see rustic life and greenery at its very best, but what one can also see here is the deep-rooted culture that has existed here for centuries.


To cite an example, one can see well dressed (in traditional attire) elderly ladies and gentlemen chant hymns and offer their prayers to the sun as part of their ‘Surya Namaskar’ ritual every Friday at the famous sunset point of Agumbe. They believe that the more beautiful the sunset, the better the effect of their prayers.


When I saw these events unfold in front of me, I was left totally stunned as this was the first instance that I saw people offering prayers to the sun at a famous tourist spot. Coming from a Brahmin family, Surya Namaskarams and reciting the Gayatri mantra three times a day is quite normal for me.


What was quite refreshing for me to see was that each hymn (read Surya Namaskarams) was sung in the right way and annotations. And such was the energy in their recitals that other locals and tourists alike joined them in their prayer making it a mass event.



I thoroughly enjoyed these cultural moments. I was so engrossed in it that I missed to capture these moments in either a video or through a large set of photographs. Luckily for me, I took a couple of photographs that depict this scene at a high level.


Seeing this cultural exhibition unfold along side a fabulous sunset is an amazing experience. You should definitely try and experience it at least once in your lifetime.

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