March 2011 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sunset Moments from Agonda Beach, South Goa

Agonda Beach is a beautiful beach that is located close to Palolem beach, but it is no way close to Palolem in terms of infrastructure development, facilities and tourism. Instead, it offers a very laid back holiday to the beach vacationer.

Unlike the Palolem Beach, Agonda Beach doesn’t have a lot of beach shacks. May be a couple here and there, but the speciality of Agonda is its row of houses that run parallel to the beach. These row houses give the tourist the ideal opportunity to soak in the pristine beach and Goan sun for a very reasonable cost.

The other thing special about Agonda is the river that joins the sea at one end of the beach. This estuary is a fabulous place for an evening walk with plenty of mangrove forests dotting the banks. This estuary is also a happening place during early morning and late evening for the fishermen.

The sunset at Agonda is also very scenic as it offers variety in landscape. At some places, it is just open beach and blue waters. At other places, it is a river and its estuary. Then, at one corner is a small hill.

Thus, if you take an evening walk across Agonda Beach, you are bound to see the sunset in various shades and forms. Each mood and is surrounding landscape is pretty in its own way.

The sunset views at Agonda are as great as any other beach of South Goa! But, the experience is unique and very special. I recommend that you try it out.

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High Pollution levels in Madurai

During my umpteen visits to Tamil Nadu, the one thing that I keep noticing is the increasing pollution levels in this state. Take this for an example. On my recent visit to Madurai, the famous temple town of Tamil Nadu, I noticed heightened pollution levels in all departments.

Vehicles horns were blaring loudly. During my all-India motorcycle trip, I realized that the people of Tamil Nadu honk the most. And that too their horns come with the highest decibels. Loud speakers were blaring in many parts of the Madurai city. And the best part was that no one was even close to it. Only god knows why they need to play such loud speakers when no one is there to listen. In terms of land pollution, garbage can be seen strewn everywhere. Most of the times, garbage cannot be found in the garbage dump, but all around it. Plastic is one of the main contaminants of ground water in Tamil Nadu. Every state in India has plastic menace, but I guess Tamil Nadu stands right up there on the pollution list.

Then, let’s come to the topic of water pollution. All the rivers and canals seem to be garbage dumps and hence it flows like a sewer. The Vaigai river and the other canals bear testament to this fact. The famous Cooumm river of Chennai is possibly the grandfather of all sewers. And then air pollution…there is dust everywhere. All public transport vehicles bellow such dark fumes that can blind a person.

I feel bad saying all this coz I am a native of this state, but the government has to do something and something very soon before things become irreparable. These are great cities that we are destroying on account of growth and development. At least us people should begin a clean trend and set the right example.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Upcoming Travel: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka was nowhere on my travel map till Shrinidhi Hande told me about the attractive flight fares to Colombo from Chennai. Initially, I didn’t give it too much thought, but slowly the travel plan started to grow in my head. Finally, it was decided that a short 4 day trip would be ideal to sample the beauty of Sri Lanka and also make use of the great flight rates to Colombo. And personally for me, this presents me with the opportunity of visiting the country where I had spent 2 years of my early childhood.

Nearly all of us in the group got our flight tickets at 4,440 rupees for a round trip. When Shrinidhi told me first, it was about 4,000 rupees, but then the slight increase was hardly a pinch. The offer seemed interesting to a lot of folks and thus there are 10 people in this group who will be headed to Sri Lanka in a couple of days. This is not a backpacking trip, but instead a fairly comfortable and relaxed budget trip.

The plan is to go visit Nuwara Eliya, the tea capital of Sri Lanka in the central highlands, Yala National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and leopard paradise in South Eastern Sri Lanka and soak in the Sri Lankan life at Colombo. In between, we might drive by some of the beaches on the South-Western coastline. Further, there are some temples, monuments, other sightseeing and shopping in the bucket list. For this short trip, we have hired a 12 seater van and booked all of us in bungalows that are more like our Indian homestays. The entire planning, local bookings and a whole bunch of other help was done by Heminda Jayaweera, my Sri Lankan friend. Apart, from being a fellow nature lover and trekker, Heminda is also an ardent cricket buff like nearly all of us Indians.

I am so looking forward to the first 4 days of April, when I will be exploring the island nation of Sri Lanka. Once I am back, I hope to share all my travel experiences and with loads of photographs. I hope you will all be excited to read about my Sri Lankan experiences.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Cola Beach–The Private River Beach, South Goa, India

A remote beach, a calm river, a lovely lagoon, brilliant sunshine and pristine blue seas is how I would describe the Cola beach surroundings. This is a great place for people who seek privacy. At best, you can see thirty people on this entire beach. The reason being this beach is set against a cliff and entry and exit is not a well paved path and hence avoided by the general tourist.

Even though, the Cola beach is best for folks seeking privacy, it is also great for the holidaying family. The beach is fairly safe, the lagoon offers great opportunities for swimming, fishing and kayaking, the beach offers great options for sports and the surrounding rocks offer a little bit o adventure too.

In terms of accommodation, there are only a couple of options, but they are either log huts or tented accommodation that face the sea or the river. And all these huts and tents are set amidst coconut trees and casuarinas.

The Cola beach is located in the Canancona district of South Goa and is situated between the Palolem Beach and Cabo De Rama Fort. It should be about 15 kilometres from the Palolem Beach. The final mile is a steep un-cobbled path that descends to the beach.

In terms of food and accommodation, one has to rely on the 2 hotels that exist here. But, the best part here is that you can setup an open air barbecue right on the beach after your successful fishing expedition. This is the place if you are looking to soak in the sun, the beach and the water at Goa. If you are interested in such vacations, then do check out these cheap family holidays.

A great value for money place that is ideal for backpacking couples and families travelling on a budget, but those who do not want to sacrifice on natural beauty.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Wildlife Series from Kaziranga National Park, Assam, North East India

Recently, I spent a full week at Kaziranga National Park with a minimum of 2 jungle safaris per day. These safaris were either on the open jungle jeeps or from on top of an elephant. My wildlife experience here was so rich that I would rate Kaziranga as one of the best National Parks in the country. The wildlife and birding experience is unbelievably rich and it is no wonder that Kaziranga is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is an important component of ‘Incredible India’.

The One-Horned Rhinoceros – A Mirror Image

The first thing that comes to mind about Kaziranga are its Rhinos. In fact, it is these Rhinos that make Kaziranga so special. It is the only place in the world to see the One-Horned Rhinoceros. It is here in the swamps of the Brahmaputra basin that these Rhinos have found a new lease of life. They exist in such huge numbers here that as a wildlife lover, you are bound to see at least one Rhinoceros during any given safari.

Seeing a Rhino from atop an Elephant

During my multiple trips to the jungle, I saw innumerable Rhinoceros and that too in different poses, positions and in different groups. I saw Rhinos grazing; I saw Rhino fights; I saw Rhinos mating; I saw baby Rhinos; I saw swimming Rhinos; I saw Rhinos snorting; I saw Rhinos crossing the jeep track; I saw Rhinos at 5 feet away from me; I saw fully grown adult Rhinos (male and female) and the list just goes on. This was the first time that I saw the One-Horned Rhinoceros and at the end of the trip, I came back a very satisfied man.

Asiatic Wild Buffalo Stares on from the Jungle Track

Now, let me give you an idea of the Kaziranga landscape. Kaziranga is about 500 sq. km in terms of area and is a heady concoction of elephant grass, swamp land and tropical moist forests. The mighty Brahmaputra river skirts one side of the park and the national highway connecting Guwahati to Jorhat nearly cuts the national park into half. One side of this highway is elephant grass and swamp land, while the other side is tropical forests and hills. Every year during the monsoons, the Brahmaputra is known to swell and flood the entire national park till the highway. The forest department have markers that show the flood levels for each year. This is the time when the national park is closed to the tourists. This time is also the mating season.

Asiatic Wild Buffalo and its mighty Horns

The main tourist season begins in November and lasts till April, though the final dates are dependent on the effect of the monsoons that year. The first half of this tourist season, November to January, is when the national park is totally green and one can see 10-20 feet high elephant grass on the plains. Come January, the forest department burns the grass and create a barren atmosphere. This burning of grass helps in rejuvenating the soil and also helps in better wildlife sighting. So, if you are going to Kaziranga for great wildlife sighting, then February to April is the best time to go. If you prefer greener environment, then November to January would be ideal.

Asian Elephant amidst the mighty Elephant Grass

But, it is not just the One-horned Rhinoceros that makes Kaziranga special. Kaziranga also has one of the highest density of Royal Bengal Tigers in the country. The green terrain does make it difficult to sight a tiger, but then you never when the elusive cat decides to bless you with its presence. I got lucky in this department too as I saw one Royal Bengal Tiger during my week long trip in spite of the extremely green surroundings. Unfortunately, for me, the tiger was too far away for photography, but then its sight was simply enough to make me glow with happiness for days.

Male Barasingha (Swamp Deer) and its lovely antlers

The Kaziranga elephants are also very special. It is here that one gets to see them in huge numbers. I was lucky to see herds of 20 plus elephants more than a couple of times. And it was heartening to know that their numbers are healthy as I saw a lot of young elephants in that herd. Now, do you know why the wild grass growing in Kaziranga is referred to as ‘Elephant Grass’. Well, this is my two-pronged theory. One, the elephants consider this type of grass as a delicacy and can be seen feeding on them extensively. Second, you would hardly notice if an entire elephant herd were grazing within the grasslands. Such, is the size of this grass. In fact, there were many instances, when we had to crane our heads and see if an elephant was hiding in these grasses.

Wild Boar

The other mammal that is synonymous with Kaziranga is the Asiatic Wild Buffalo or the Wild Water Buffalo. I am sure you would have gaped in wonder on seeing the African Wild Buffaloes on National Geographic, Animal Planet or Discovery. Well, the Asiatic Wild Buffaloes are much larger than their African counterparts and are blessed with even bigger horns. The horns on an adult male is just a work of magic. It is the perfect weapon if the wild buffalo decides to defend itself head-on. Again, I saw these wild buffaloes in huge numbers.

Three Generations of the Elephant Family

Apart from the One Horned Rhinoceros, the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Asian Elephant and the Asiatic Wild Buffalo, I also saw the Barasingha (Swamp Deer), Jungle Cat, Wild Boar, Smooth Coated Otter, Hog Deer, Common Monitor Lizard, Indian Python and the Makhna (Tuskless Male Elephant).

One-Horned Rhinoceros crosses the Jeep Track

This place is definitely a wildlife delight. But, don’t leave the birds behind. I had a rich birding experience too. Though, that requires a dedicated post just for itself.

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My experience of the day Earth shook Japan–Guest Post by Amitava Biswas

I am sure you all know about the devastating earthquake and Tsunami that battered Japan earlier this month. Either you would have read about it in the newspapers or seen it on the TV or the internet. Or in some cases you would have faced it live. This was the strongest earthquake (8.9 Richter scale) to ever hit Japan and it has taken the lives of more than 10,000 people and has affected the lives of millions of people living in Japan. The entire country is still struggling to come to terms with the damage. My heart goes out to the entire nation and my deepest prayers for those who lost their lives in this natural calamity.

My childhood friend, Amitava Biswas, who lives and works in Tokyo saw and faced this natural disaster up live. He shared his experience of this tragic and eventful day with me. I was so moved by his experience that I asked him the permission to share it with you all, ‘my readers’. And I am very happy that he agreed. Coz, the entire country of Japan needs our prayers and financial support. Even if each one of us contribute a wee bit, it will go a long way in resurrecting the entire country.  Here is Amitava’s experience of that day in his own words…

My Experience of the day Earth Shook Japan
The day started as normal. Waking up at 6 AM, I was in office by 7:30 AM. In what would have been just a regular work day for me but for the events that unfolded that afternoon. I returned from a late lunch and was discussing a few things with my colleagues in my office at the 31st floor of one of the most modern buildings in Tokyo (Roppongi Hills Mori Tower) when it all started. Slowly, we could feel the building shaking and within 5-10 seconds the shaking became extremely violent unlike anything I have experienced before in Japan. Loud speakers in our office started blaring..."There has been an earthquake and if people are in the elevator they should exit at the nearest floor." My first reaction was panic simply because the shaking was so violent that it was difficult to stand without support. The best way to describe it would be the deck of a ship caught in a severe storm.

As my worst fear struck me that the building might collapse, I rushed for the exit, towards the stairs going down with the intention to evacuate.  My colleagues, panic stricken started to evacuate as well. Coming down the stairs  I prayed to the Lord briefly to save us all. Although most earthquakes  subside in 20 to 30 seconds, this one seemed to become stronger in intensity every second that we were coming down the stairs. People from the other floors had started evacuating the building through the stairs as well. Few people were colliding against each other as they were evacuating because the building continued shaking. Some of the Japanese who seemed to have been trained for this event were wearing helmets and carrying the survivor kit bag on their backs. After I had come down to about the 5th floor from the 31st floor, in what must have taken more than 5 minutes, I felt the shaking subside. I quickly hurried outside to see a huge crowd of other people who had evacuated as well. Catching a few conversations I realized that it was not only me but my Japanese colleagues as well who had never experienced such an earthquake in their lifetime.

Without doubt most of the people found the earthquake quite scary and fears were heightened when we received a strong aftershock of 7.0 within 30 minutes. Me and my colleagues decided it was best to leave the office campus and go to the proper evacuation location that we had been told to go to if such an event happened. The streets were crowded as people from other offices and buildings had evacuated as well and had come out to the streets. Suddenly we heard loudspeakers warning of Tsunami across a residential area where we were while heading towards the evacuation zone. I tried to call few of my other colleagues whom I had not seen but the mobile network was not routing my call. My data connection was fine and as I reloaded the bbc news webpage I saw that the government had issued the most serious warning of Tsunami ever. I also learnt that the quake we felt was 8.9 in magnitude and it was the largest that has ever struck Japan in recorded history. We finally made it to the evacuation zone, stayed there for around 40 minutes and then decided to make our way back to the office.   It was 5 pm already and lot of my colleagues had decided to go back home.

Some of them decided to get back  to the office to  get their jackets and coats before leaving for the day. Although I had taken my Jacket when I had evacuated, I decided I had to go back to my office because I had some office work outstanding which I had targeted to end that day.

The elevators having been shut down, I started climbing up the stairs and realized that never again should I take the luxury of having an elevator for granted. It was a tiring climb. Eventually I made it. I saw few of our staff present but the scene hardly looked normal as people were anxiously chatting with each other, trying to call friends and family, watching live coverage of the destruction that the tsunami was causing on the television screens. From our office we could see at a distance, a building in flames. As we watched the flames just blow up in what seemed to be an enormous explosion and later it engulfed the entire building. It was surreal for us to be watching this.

I opened my office email to finish my pending work, but found out that the work deadlines had been pushed out because of the earthquake!  Shortly, we received another strong aftershock. The loud speakers starting blaring again.."there has been an earthquake". I decided I had had enough for the day and decided to go back home climbing down the stairs again.

The main transportation, Tokyo metro, was shut down. Very few buses were plying and there were long queues of people to get on them. Long queues were seen in front of public telephone booths as well as people tried to reach their friends and family. The streets were full of people as everyone was  making their way back to their homes.

I also decided that I will walk my way back to my home after a few attempts to catch a taxi proved futile. The city was unlike what it used to be as huge crowds of people flooded the  streets all trying to get back to their homes albeit in an orderly manner. After a long and  arduous walk  I reached my home and saw my cupboard had fallen onto my study desk with my books  on the floor . My wall clock had fallen from the wall and it had stopped at around 2 minutes into the earthquake. After having cleaned my room  and after having a quick dinner at a nearby restaurant ,I  called my parents to let them know that I was fine and decided to go to bed.

Woke up the following day to see the devastation the earthquake and tsunami had brought to Japan. Best described by a Japanese ex-government if someone had stabbed Japan and Japan was bleeding profusely. I was horror struck to see the devastation the tsunami had caused to the north-eastern coastal towns which were simply erased from the map. All that remained was destroyed houses, mangled remains of buildings, vehicles, ships , trains, lamp posts, traffic lights and other structures that were barely recognizable and were all crushed together in a debris of destruction and devastation unmatched by anything mankind could have done  himself. Entire population of several coastal towns were missing. The catastrophe this caused - 27,000 people missing or dead. People had lost their families their friends, their livelihoods, their houses, their belongings...their everything.

Putting myself in the position of the victims to get a feel of their misery and loss I realized that abyss is unfathomable. It renewed my faith in the divine, gave new meaning to everything in my parents, my family, my friends, my health, my belongings, my workplace...everything seems to hold so much more meaning now, so much more to be valued, loved and cared for.

May the divine Lord rest the soul of the deceased in peace and give courage and strength to the surviving victims to overcome this catastrophe which has befallen them.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Art of Balance

Have you ever been on an elephant safari? Have you ever tried taking photographs from on top of an elephant? Well, I have and have to say that it is not very comfortable as you have to try keep your balance especially when the elephant moves or even shakes its trunk or starts feeding.

Having said this, I was gaping in wonder when I saw this elephant mahout standing on his elephant at Kaziranga National Park in Assam, North East India. And that too when the elephant was in motion. This is what I call the ‘Art of Balance’. The mahout must have had tons of experience, but you can say that he has indeed perfected this art.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple–A Change for the better!

As a kid, I used to visit the Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple (also known as the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple) at least once every year. During those visits, the temple and surroundings were never really taken good care of. All the four entrances to the temple used to be very crowded and dirty. During festivals, visiting the temple used to be a pain as the crowds used to be unruly. The temple interiors itself used to be no better. All the pillars and walls used to be grimy and dirty. The temple pond wore a ugly green colour those days.

But, during my recent visit to the Meenakshi temple, I found out that tons of changes had been made and things were really looking great. All four roads (North, South, East and West Entrances) leading to the temple were closed to traffic. People could only walk on these roads. I guess the government finally realized that vehicular pollution can also cause serious damage to this pride of Tamil Nadu. Shops were designated defined areas to sell their merchandise. I hardly saw any mobile hawkers peddling their wares. There were no beggars around the temple, which totally freaked me out as I am so used to seeing beggars in front of all monuments and temples in our country. The ticketing, the footwear collection system, the queue system was all very well defined and implemented. The temple pond was totally clean and dry. The insides of the temple was unbelievably clean. Each pillar and all the walls seemed to have gotten a facelift. The queue system was exemplary. There were no unruly crowds and I got to the main sanctum in 30 minutes flat from the temple main entrance.

I was so happy with these changes that I started appreciating the rich temple architecture, its history and the mythology behind this temple, which I never used to do earlier. The only sad part about this visit was that I wasn’t carrying my camera with me. And after seeing the temple so unbelievably clean, I was so livid with myself that I  was kicking myself for not bringing my camera and tripod. To cover this blip of mine, I have mentally decided that I will visit this mighty temple with my photography gear at the next available opportunity.

You too should see the changes in this temple for yourself. If you are interested in visiting this temple when it is all decked up and when it is totally happening, I would recommend that you pay a visit during the Chithirai Thiruvizha festival (April 13/14/15). This also coincides with the Tamil New Year and it is also during these days that lakhs of devotees throng to the Meenakshi Amman Temple to offer their prayers.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Scarlet Minivet

The Scarlet Minivet, both male and female are very pretty. While the male shines in a bright scarlet colour, the female dons a striking yellow.

I spotted this female Scarlet Minivet while searching for the primates at the Hoolongopar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary near Jorhat in Assam, North East India.

Though, I did not manage to get a close shot of this pretty bird, I somehow feel the surroundings make up for the lack of closeness. Thus making is a striking photograph. What do you think?

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Beach Cricket!

Given that we are in the middle of the knockout stages of this ICC Cricket World Cup, I thought I should may be write something about cricket and that goes with the season’s theme.

I may not have watched any match live in the cricket stadium this world cup season, but I sure did get a chance to see live and also take part in the game of beach cricket that had captured everyone’s attention at Patnem Beach in South Goa.

When the match began, only local goans were there, but soon the interest caught on and foreign nationals and other Indian tourists like me joined in. Soon, it was a fantastic extravaganza. The tennis ball was perfect on the hard floor of Patnem Beach. And when the ball went towards the water, we got a chance to get wet and splash around making for an all round workout. And the best part is that, once we were all tired after our games, we could plonk our backsides on the beach and sip some cold brew.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tenga Valley–Tucked amidst the Eastern Himalayas

Tenga valley is a small town situated in a valley of the Eastern Himalayas in Arunachal Pradesh. It is an important landmark for those travelling to Tawang in the Western end of Arunachal Pradesh. This small town, which also doubles up as an important army check post is blessed with some splendid Himalayan vistas.

Tenga valley is situated at an altitude of 6,500 feet above MSL and is covered in thick green vegetation. It snows here only for a couple of days in the peak winter season. But, if one were to climb towards Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, situated about 22 kilometres away, then the entire snow capped Himalayan vista comes into view.

I took this picture when I was making the climb from Tenga to Eaglenest.  Tenga town looked like a speck to me. May be, my vision was intimidated by the mighty wavy peaks of the Eastern Himalayas that totally surrounds this puny town.

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If you wish to be a birdwatcher...

Is bird watching a hobby or upcoming passion of yours? Do you see yourself studying and admiring birds? Do you wish to indulge in bird photography? If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘YES’, then you are bang in the middle of the birding lane. And, if you have not already, you might want to pick up a bird book that helps you identify and understand the behaviour of the birds that you come across.

There are quite a few bird books available in the market, but the one that is really helpful to both the amateur and professional birder is the ‘Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent’ by R Grimmett, C Inskipp and T Inskipp. This book is a field guide that covers the species found in India and the subcontinent. 153 colour plates illustrate 1300 species including some juvenile plumage and sub-species differences. The accompanying text summarizes key identification features and indicates habitat. The other book that I also recommend is ‘The Book of Indian Birds’ by Salim Ali. This is the perfect beginner’s book and its strength lies in its descriptive text, which gives meaning to birds and bird watching in India. In addition, there are several other books that are location specific like Western Ghats, North India, South India, North East India, etc. These books can be purchased if in-depth details are sought.

Note: I have personally used both the above mentioned books from the time I began birding and still use them religiously for all my birding expeditions.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Capped Langaur from Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam, North East India

The Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary near Jorhat in Assam is the place to be if you are interested in seeing some of the rare species of primates in India. As the name suggests, this place is famous for India’s only ape, the Hoolock Gibbon. But apart from the Hoolock Gibbon, one can also see the Capped Langaur, Pig-tailed macaque and stump-tailed macaque.

During my visit here, I saw the Hoolock Gibbon, the Capped Langaur and the Pig-tailed Macaque. I tried very hard to sight a stump-tailed macaque, but this primate seemed to elude me.

Capped Langaur in Flight! Photo looks like a Oil Painting

The capped Langaur like the other Langaur species seen in India (Nilgiri Langaur, Common Langaur, Hanuman Langaur) is a fairly large mammal with a tail that is bigger than its body. It’s mighty jump between trees is a very pretty sight.

This species of primate is always seen on the higher branches of deciduous forests and seldom descends to the ground. It feeds primarily on leaves, flowers and fruits. Let’s hope that their numbers increase in India.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nameri Eco Camp–The Angling, Birding and Wildlife Den at Nameri National Park

Thirty years back, a group of Anglers discovered the rich bounty in the Jia-Bhoroli river and thus came across the Nameri National Park in Assam. They were so happy with the treasures of this place that they started frequenting this place very often. Shortly after their regular expeditions, they started the Bhoroli Angling Camp, which today, has morphed into Nameri Eco Camp.

The Nameri Eco Camp is situated about 45 kilometres from Tezpur and about 1 kilometre from the banks of the Jia-Bhoroli river. It offers the shortest route into the Nameri National Park. The entire place is set amidst dense green surroundings. In terms of accommodation, they offer the tourist the options of luxury tented cottages, simple tented cottages and dormitories. Food is served at a common dining hall.

In terms of price, the tented accommodation costs about 1,800 rupees per cottage, while the dormitories cost about 250 rupees per head. Breakfast is offered complimentary for those staying at the tented cottages and lunch and dinner are charged at 250 rupees per head. All three meals are served in the buffet style, but the kitchen is open to taking preferences from the guests.

So whether you are an angler, a birdwatcher or a wildlife enthusiast, Nameri Eco Camp offers you the ideal platform to explore Nameri National Park. During my 3 days here, I totally admired their staff, forest guides and forest guards all of whom were extremely cooperative, knowledgeable and supported nature whole-heartedly.

In terms of activities, they offer the services of a rafting team for either birding or Angling on the Jia-Bhoroli river. Rafting trips can be day long or can last just half a day. For full day trips, they provide for camping lunches. If I remember right, full day rafting trips including food costs about 2,500 rupees while half day rafting trips cost about 1,200 rupees. For the rafting trip, the team travels about 25 kilometres upstream by jeep and then travel the same distance downstream on the inflatable raft. A lot of migratory waterfowl can be seen during this trip and if lucky, one can even spot the Royal Benal Tiger and the Elephant on the banks of the river.

In addition to rafting, Nameri Eco Camp arranges for supervised jungle treks in the company of knowledgeable forest guides and armed forest guards. These jungle treks are an adrenalin rush as it allows you to get real close to a wild elephant. These treks are also a great way to spot the rare species of white-winged wood ducks and the great hornbills. In terms of cost, there is a small forest fee for entrance, trekking and for photography. The guide and guard charges are separate, but extremely nominal. You might want to tip the guard and guide depending on your satisfaction. These guys earn very less from the government and hence appreciate any amount of tip.

Further, elephant safaris are also organized, but only when the ground is not wet. While, I was here the elephant safaris were suspended and hence am unable to add details.

My overall experience at Nameri Eco Camp was fantastic. You can just sit outside your tented cottages and do some quality birding from right within the camp. The evening campfire get-together sessions also brings you in touch with like minded souls. I would definitely want to go there again.

If you are interested in visiting Nameri National Park and are looking to book your stay at Nameri Eco Camp, you can contact the office at +91-3714-292644.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

High Altitude Winding Himalayan Roads

It was a very cold day and I was on my way to Bumla pass, the India-China border that can be approached from Arunachal Pradesh in North East India. I had just crossed ‘Y’ junction, an important army post enroute, when I came across these snow covered high altitude winding roads in the Eastern Himalayas.

The roads, though were not in great shape as perceived from the pictures. Instead, it was a bumpy and slippery drive. But, in my mind, having roads in such unforgiving conditions is itself a boon and credit should be given to the Border Roads Organization of the Indian Military for paving the way.

In spite of the foul weather, it was a magical sight as I crossed pristine high altitude lakes one after another. And all across I was skidding on these winding roads. It was a memorable experience indeed!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Travel Photo: Buddhist Student at Tawang Gompa

The Tawang Gompa in Western Arunachal Pradesh offers so much to the discerning global traveller. It has rich culture. It is set amidst the mighty Himalayan mountains and thus offers a pretty setting. It has vibrant colours. It offers a rich learning experience both to Buddhists and others. And, you feel at peace in its spiritual perimeter.

As I was walking through the large Tawang Gompa campus, I spotted this young Buddhist monk deeply engrossed in his book.This moment was too difficult for me to pass and hence I captured this learning moment.

In this photo, the Buddhist monk is standing next to a clothes line on the terrace of the monk quarters inside the Tawang Gompa. It was only when I stood there clicking his picture for a long while, did he raise his head. But, he went back to his book after throwing a shy smile at me.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Great Cormorants from Nameri National Park

The Great Cormorants are very strong and pretty fishing birds that can be found near coastlines, lagoons, estuaries, lake and freshwater sources across many parts of India during the winter months. You can trust them to be there at places that are well supplied with fish.

They typically stay in large groups and can be seen flying in large groups of ‘V’ in the sky. These birds are very strong swimmers and it is an interesting sight to see them catch their prey. They are marginally bigger than the lesser/little cormorant and can be easily recognized by their longish tail and yellow throat patch.

It is said that these great cormorants can guzzle 15 to 25 kilograms of fish per day. After a heavy meal, these birds are known to get onto dry land and spread their wings wide to dry them and to prevent infections.

Here are some more photos of the Great Cormorants I saw during my visit to Nameri National Park, a great birding and wildlife destination in Assam, North East India.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Your search for India’s only APE ends at Hoolongopar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam, North East India

The Hoolongopar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary is possibly one of the best wildlife sanctuaries I have visited in India. The reason is plain and simple. It is one of the few places where you can see India’s only ape – The Hoolock Gibbon.

Female Hoolock Gibbon poses for my camera

The Hoolock Gibbon, its chatter, its singing, its mad swinging, its one arm leaps and everything around it is a teaser for your senses. They are truly special. Apart from the Gibbon, one can also see the Capped Langaur and the Pig-Tailed Macaque here, both of which are rare and endangered species of primates.

Adult Male Hoolock Gibbon

For those who are thinking of visiting this sanctuary, it is situated about 30 kilometres from the popular tourist town of Jorhat in Assam and about 7 kilometres from the stolen goods town of Mariani, a popular shopping destination for imported goods in Assam.

Adult Male Hoolock Gibbon stares on…

And if you want to couple this visit with your visit to Kaziranga National Park, then you can say that the Gibbon sanctuary is about a three hour drive from Kaziranga’s central range.

A Leaping Male Hoolock Gibbon
In terms of accommodation, you can either make Kaziranga as your base or stay at more basic forest guest houses near the Gibbon Sanctuary. The forest department has knowledgeable forest guides who will ensure that your wildlife experience here is special.

Female Hoolock Gibbon with baby
Here are some more photographs of the wildlife I saw at the Hoolongopar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary.

Capped Langaur

Malayan Giant Squirrel

Hill Myna

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A Large Family

In today’s era, no one wants to even dream about a large family, while a couple of generations back, a large family was quite the norm. Personally, I find such large families interesting, but I guess that that phenomenon would not happen in the human world anymore. Thankfully, large families still exist in the bird and animal world.

It is such pure bliss to watch the young ones follow their parent(s) and learn the tricks of the trade. In this case I spotted quite a large number of young chicks staying close to their mother hen near the forest office inside Nameri National Park in Assam.

These chicks obediently followed their mother, but kept feeding continuously as if in a deep feeding frenzy.

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