June 2016 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Tale of the Tadoba Tigers

Gabbar and Matkasur had a fight today near 97. May be, they were fighting over Maya, the region’s prettiest female. Because of this fight, Bhobda is not to seen at all. Choti Tara is also missing in action. These are the conversations that happen inside Tadoba Tiger Reserve and all these characters are tigers and tigresses. This is the land of the tigers and all you hear are their tales.

The beautiful face of a Royal Bengal Tiger at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Last week, after many years, I embarked on a relaxed wildlife holiday (my favorite kind of holiday). The destination was Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, a large tiger reserve, located just south of Nagpur in Maharashtra and one that boasts of an increasing tiger population and of amazing tiger sightings.

The king of Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Most of us Indians and international tourists as well associate great tiger sightings with Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Ranthambore, or Jim Corbett tiger reserves, but if you talk to hardcore tiger lovers and wildlife enthusiasts, they will say that Tadoba is possibly the place where you can script ‘The Jungle Book’ in today’s era. Such is its rich wildlife action.

A healthy male spotted leopard has just spotted its prey at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

As soon as I stepped into the Bamboo Forest Safari Lodge, my luxury home that is located a short distance away from the Kolara gate entrance, I became one with the tiger tales. Be it the black board at the entrance, the security guard, the receptionist, the chef, the jeep drivers, the waiters, the room service personnel or the naturalists, they all spoke one language, the language of the jungle.

The mighty strong canines of a Tadoba wild dog, India

Maya and her cubs are doing well. In fact, the cub population of Tadoba is increasing. Indian Pitta has recently arrived into the forest and has started building its nest. Gabbar, who used to live in the core region of the tiger reserve has now moved into the tourism zone and thus altering the dynamics of the tiger population in the tourism zone. Off late, leopard and wild dog sightings have improved tremendously. Due to the extremely dry weather, tigers are sighted near water holes pretty regularly.

A Tadoba Tiger Reserve Wildlife Jeep Safari Experience

You can sense a certain passion and frenzy as you hear these tales. As this was my first time visiting the Kolara Gate of Tadoba, I took a while to adjust to the names and to make the right inferences. I am pretty sure, you too must be wondering what is going on. Let me help you with that…

A Tadoba wildlife jeep safari leopard road crossing experience

Maya is possibly the most photographed tigress in the world. The people at Ranthambore say it is Machili, while the ones at Tadoba say it is Maya. She has 3 healthy cubs whose father is Bhobda (he is called that as he has lost one of his canines). Gabbar is the biggest male in the region and he is never shy of picking up a fight with other male tigers. In fact, one of his fights was so bad that he suffered a lot of serious battle wounds and had to be treated by the forest department. Matkasur is another big male who is still young and possibly the one in line to Gabbar’s throne. 97 is one of the popular watering holes.

The arrogant and mean stride of a big male tiger from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

I hope you are getting the drift. Jungle tales, tiger tales, cub stories, territory invasions, fights, mating rituals, kills and so much more. Without even stepping into the jungle, you get to know all of this and it piques your interest so much that you want to see all this with your own two eyes.

The spotted leopard look, Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Well, I didn’t think any different. I avoided the weekend as I wanted the forest to myself. The last thing I wanted during my safari were picnicking crowds and loud families with kids. I booked myself one evening safari and 2 morning safaris. The evening safari was slotted for Monday. There was no safari on Tuesday owing to the weekly holiday. And my morning jeep safaris were slotted for Wednesday and Thursday.

Indian Pitta - Front from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

My first safari from the Kolara gate landed me a sighting of the injured Matkasur male tiger who apparently got into a fight with Gabbar over Maya. His injury made him so tired that he showed no interest in the large herd of sambar deer that came next to his watering hole. He didn’t move an inch in spite of the sambar deer giving alarm calls continuously.

Alpha male and female wild dogs from Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra, India

After spending a good time waiting for Matkasur to get up, we were rewarded with him staring at us, walking towards us, cooling himself in the watering hole and then disappearing deep into the bushes. The rest of the safari was full of wild boars and pigs, spotted deer, sambar deer and langurs, but no more predators.

Red Wattled Lapwing in front of a Tadoba Tiger

My next safari into Tadoba was an absolute bonanza. It seemed to rain rich sightings all through that morning session. It had rained the previous night and most of the forest wore a green and fresh look. Due to the rain, you could hear consistent bird chatter in an otherwise quiet forest.

Injured Matkasur Male Tiger relaxes by the 97 waterhole at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

As soon as we started our morning safari, we spotted 2 brown fish owls, one on either side of the road. Shortly after, we rain into 2 alpha wild dogs, a male and a female. Then, we met Matkasur again…this time at a different watering hole. As soon as he left, we left onto the Panchdhara area, and ended up spotting a handsome male leopard. The sighting was possibly my best leopard sighting till date. I got to follow this Panchdhara Male (as he is referred to locally) for 20 minutes and that too including 3 lovely road crossings.

A beautiful male leopard from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

While I was being treated to these gorgeous leopard sightings, some other groups who had opted to stay at the 97 watering hole got to see the mating of Maya and Gabbar. News travels pretty fast in the Indian jungle and as we were heading back to the 97 watering hole, we bumped into Choti Tara, a very beautiful and big tigress. She was so big that you can easily mistake her for a tiger.

Collared Scops Owl from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

In between all of this predator action, I spotted the ruddy mongoose, spotted deer, barking deer, sloth bears, sambar deer, crested serpent eagles, a juvenile oriental honey buzzard and much more. As you can see, this morning wildlife safari was a true wildlife extravaganza.

Tadoba Sloth Bear standing on its hind legs

It felt like the jungle gods and goddesses were showering their blessings on me. According to my naturalist, such rich sightings are usually seen once every week. And to have a good leopard sighting in it is truly extraordinary.

Yellow footed green pigeon - the state bird of Maharashtra - seen at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

A rich wildlife sighting gives you immense happiness. You should have seen me beaming from ear to ear. I am usually stingy with tips, but I was so happy that I was keen on tipping everyone who shared my happiness.

Gaur crosses a jeep track at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

My 3rd and final safari was not an extravaganza like my second one and I didn’t end up seeing the tiger or the leopard.

Gaur mother and calf grazing at Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

But, I did end up seeing 2 insanely grunting sloth bears including a quiet sloth bear road crossing, a pack of wild dogs devouring a kill, another larger pack of wild dogs on the prowl, a large herd of gaur who seemed to be grazing peacefully, the yellow footed green pigeon, which is the state bird of Maharashtra, the very rarely seen collared Scops Owl roosting in a hole of a tree, the beautiful Indian Pitta that was busy collecting twigs and leaves for its nest, many Indian Rollers, many paradise flycatchers and lots of birding action.

Sloth bear roams the jungles of Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

By the end of my 3 wildlife safaris into Tadoba Tiger Reserve, I had ended up seeing all of Tadoba’s Big Five (Tiger, Leopard, Sloth Bear, Wild Dog or Dhole and Gaur). I think that was a sweet achievement. My naturalist also told me that I definitely did have a great and lucky 3 wildlife safaris.

Barking Deer from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Not only did I see the Big Five, but I got to see the burgeoning population of wild boars, nilgai or blue bull, sambar deer, spotted deer or chital, barking deer and other prey that are the main reason for a healthy increase in the number of predators.

Pack of wild dogs ready to go on the hunt at Tadoba

I might not seen any tiger cubs (which I am aching for as I have never laid my eyes on one) or seen the mating of the region’s biggest male and the prettiest female, but I did return an immensely happy man. May be, the next time, I will see tiger cubs playing in front of my camera or may be something more extraordinary. Who knows? Such is the aura of the tales of the Tadoba Tigers. You have to be one with the jungle to truly understand its true inner beauty!

An alpha male white dog from Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Which Gate should I opt for?

Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve has 6 gates – Moharli, Kuswanda, Navegaon, Kolara, Pangdi and Zari. Moharli and Kolara are the ones that allow the maximum vehicles to enter and have many hotel properties located near by. Personally, I have entered via Moharli and Kolara and prefer Kolara for easy access to excellent wildlife sighting opportunities.

Female Sambar Deer at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

How to make safari bookings

Maharashta Forest Department allows individuals to book their wildlife safari online. All you have to do is choose your date and gate. I prefer to let the hotels do the needful as they know the latest rules and regulations.

Matkasur Male tiger walks to a watering hole at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

How to Reach Tadoba

Nagpur is the closest domestic and international airport. Chandrapur is the closest rail station. It is best to reach Nagpur and then take a car from there to Tadoba. Depending on your choice of gate, the typical distance is between 120 and 180 kms and the typical duration is between 2 and 3 hours.

Brown Fish Owl at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

Best Season to Visit

Like with most of Central India national parks, the summer months are best for sighting owing to scarcity of water. But, as Tadoba is one of those tiger reserves that is open all year round, it gives you the special opportunity to see a tiger reserve during the monsoons, especially activities such as mating rituals, nesting, birthing, etc.

Big Healthy Matkasur Male Tiger of Tadoba

Places to Stay

The only true luxury option at Tadoba is Bamboo Forest Safari Lodge. They are located near the Kolara Gate and this is where I stayed at during my recent trip. The Maharashtra tourism run hotels on Moharli gate side offer a simple and decent budget option. Serai Tiger on the Moharli side is a mid luxury option on the Moharli side. I have stayed with all of them on my previous visits to Tadoba.

A pack of wild dogs on the jeep track inside Tadoba Tiger Reserve, India

Things to keep in mind

Tadoba is unusually dusty and warm. Hence, it is advisable to carry some water and a piece of cloth that can help you cover your head, neck and nose. May be, find something to protect your camera too.  And the key thing to keep in mind is that Tadoba is closed every Tuesday.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Top 9 Off-Beat Holiday Locations in Indonesia

The largest archipelago on planet Earth and one that spreads across one-sixth of the earth’s diameter, Indonesia, is one of my favorite countries to explore just for the sheer diversity of riches that it offers to its visitors. From Sumatra to Papua and from Kalimantan to Sulawesi, this archipelago nation offers stunning sights that is missed by most mainstream holidaymakers. To most Indians, Indonesia is Bali. Others are slightly better and know Jakarta, Borobudur, Prambanan, Komodo National Park and Lombok.

Indonesia is so much more. From stunning rainforests to active volcanoes and from coral biospheres to an amazing tribal culture, wonderful Indonesia offers so many unbelievably vibrant and special experiences that you can spend a year in that country and still not scratch its surface.

Below are 9 of my favorite off-beat holiday locations in Indonesia that you could potentially explore on your next trip to Indonesia.

1) Tana Toraja

Traditional Tana Torajan houses at Kete Kesu village

I love Tana Toraja for its unbelievably special tribal culture. Located in the central highlands of Sulawesi island, Tana Toraja is one place that celebrates death. There is more action during a funeral here than during a wedding. It’s lush green countryside, its rock-cut tombs and spirit guardians, its terraced rice plantations and its unique traditions make this place a stunner of a destination.

2) Kawah Ijen

A Kawah Ijen Sulphur Miner with traditional headgear

The world’s most acidic lake, Kawah Ijen is the story of the sulphur miner’s hard life. Located on the eastern end of Java island, it allows you to experience one of mother nature’s amazing creations and get to experience the trying conditions where the sulphur miners of this region eke out a tough living for a measly sum.

3) Bandung
An extremely popular destination with the locals, Bandung is much cooler than most other Javanese cities and is known for its universities and food circuit. Nicknamed as Kota Kembang or Flower city, it is home to many beautiful colonial buildings and the famous Burangrang Street Culinary that is a must-experience for all foodies. Lembang, located uphill is great for relaxation. More or less all the attractions are located close to the Grand Hotel Lembang. It is best to make easy online hotels booking before planning a holiday to Bandung. In addition to Bandung and Lembang, Kawah Puith crater, the tea plantations, Mt. Tangkuban Perahu and Kawah Domas make for great day trips, thus adding to the overall experience.

4) Karimun Java

Ever heard of a place where you can swim with baby sharks? Well, the small equatorial islands of Karimun Jawa is one such amazing place. Tucked amidst the rough waters between Java island (closest city being Surabaya) and Kalimantan, Karimun Jawa is home to powdery white beaches and beautiful coral reefs. This is the kind of place where you stay with a local family in their home and enjoy a relaxed holiday. Scuba diving and snorkeling are the most popular activities on the water, while jungle trekking is quite popular on the island.

5) Gunung Merapi

First view of sunrise from Gunung Merapi, Central Java, Indonesia

Ever climbed an active volcano and seen the hot lava bubble inside it? Well, Gunung Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano goes up every 4th year like clockwork and the eruption is usually so heavy that is drenches the UNESCO world heritage sites of Prambanan and Borobudur in a ton of ash. The trek to the top of this active volcano, negotiating the sea of slush, seeing the fast moving river of hot lava in the middle of the night and watching the amazing sunrise over the volcanic mountain landscape is an unparalleled experience.

6) Kintamani

The tiered roofs of Bali's Pura Ulan Danu Batur Temple

Everybody knows Bali for its beaches and temples. Well, did you know Bali has a hill station called Kintamani that is located around the Batur volcano and caldera. This picturesque place is also home to the very beautiful Pura Ulan Danu Batur temple. Go here for nature, a rich temple experience, cool weather and a lush green countryside experience in Bali.

7) Gunung Sumeru

The out of the world scenery at Bromo-Tenegger-Semeru National Park

If you are planning a holiday to Indonesia, I am pretty sure that you might have looked up Mount Bromo, which is known for its burst open smoking caldera and its spectacular sunrise pictures. Towering over Gunung Bromo is Gunung Sumeru, another smoking volcano, but one that requires a trek deeper into the volcanic forest. Considered as Maha Meru or the ultimate abode of the almighty, this trek takes you through pristine rainforest and through scenes that you can’t see or experience anywhere else.

8) Sumbawa

Bali is extremely popular among all vacationers for its surf breaks, but if you love surfing and wish for a quieter place than Bali, then Sumba and more particularly Sumbawa is the place for you. Just north of East Timor in the East Timor Sea, Sumbawa offers a heady concoction of beautiful surf breaks, deserted stretches of gorgeous beaches and an experience that Bali might have offered 50 years ago. This place is for the ultimate off-beat beach lover.

9) Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park

A tropical rainforest heritage of Sumatra island, the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park is home to endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran elephant and the Sumatran Rhino. An UNESCO World heritage site along with Gunung Leuser National Park and Kerinci Seblat National Park, this national park is located in a very sparsely populated and very remote part of Sumatra. It is also practically unheard of as a destination in the tourist circles. Go here for stunning nature, endangered wildlife, a hike to Mount Kerinci, Sumatra’s highest peak and Muaro Jambi, the largest temple compound in the world.

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Top 5 Things to Do in Riviera Maya, Mexico

This is the land of amazing white sandy beaches and gorgeously blue waters. It is home to rich ancient civilizations. It is also the go to place for lots of adventure, theme parks, fantastic nightlife and a gourmet experience. Located along the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, this land is called ‘Riviera Maya’ and is one of Mexico’s top tourism destinations.

Aerial view of Cancun

Whether you are planning a romantic getaway to the Mexican Caribbean coast or luxury Riviera Maya Vacation Rentals, whether you are planning a family vacation to its famous theme parks or simply wish to enjoy a relaxed holiday full of adventure, history and delicious food, Mexico’s Riviera Maya provides interesting holiday options for all kinds of travelers. Here are 5 top things to do on your next holiday to Riviera Maya.

1) Discover the Magical Subterranean World of Rio Secreto

The Sink Hole at Chichen Itza

Stalactites, Stalagmites and a myriad of geological formations amidst a clear subterranean river is how one can explain Rio Secreto at a a high level. At a deeper level, it is one of mother nature’s best natural wonders that is millions of years old and that has quietly existed below pristine nature reserves of this vibrant part of Mexico. Apart from exploring this stunning piece of nature from deep inside the bowels of mother Earth, one can indulge in caving, cycling through the nature reserve, bird watching and other adventure activities.

2) Be Mesmerized by the Ancient Mayan Ruins

Chichen Itza - one of the new 7 wonders of the world

Yucatan Maya is full of ancient archaeological sites that are bound to captivate the imagination of every history lover. From one of the new seven wonders of the world in Chichen Itza to the only Mayan city built on the coast in Tulum, their mythical Mayan culture is bound to fascinate one and all. Tulum is located on a cliff overlooking the gorgeous Caribbean Sea, Chichen Itza is possibly the best restored site, Coba is an ancient city that is known for its immense size and the list keeps going on. If you wish for an off-beat experience, you can go deeper into the traditional villages and get a first-hand experience of the local culture, traditions and food. For those who seek a bit of comfort, check out the eco-archaeological theme parks of Xcaret and Xel-Ha that shelter some great Mayan ruins and offer a variety of other attractions and activities that range from swimming with dolphins, swimming at safe private beaches, a regional wildlife farm, a marine turtle conservation program and so much more.

3) Dive into Belize Barrier Reef

Experiencing the rich Belize Barrier Reef

The second-longest barrier reef system, the Belize Barrier Reef begins at Cancun and extends all the way to Guatemala. Like the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, it offers an opportunity to get closer to the rich marine life that it supports. From sea turtles to colorful schools of fishes and from sharks to creepies and crawlies, the turquoise waters and rich coral ecosystem is perfect for all those scuba divers and snorkelers. Cave diving, swimming in cenotes (or sink holes), deserted white powdery beaches and virgin islands in the nearabouts are just an icing on the cake.

4) Explore the Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve

The cliff city of Tulum, Mexico

An UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is an area of natural beauty that is home to many unique flora and fauna and about 23 known archaeological sites of the Maya civilization. From coastal wetlands to shimmering lagoons, from stunning brain corals to rare species of animals and from mangrove forests to fascinating Mayan history, Sian Ka’an is a heady mix of pristine nature, a rare ecosystem and rich Mayan culture that exists right in heart of the Yucatan Peninsula.

5) Indulge in Adventure and Relax in the Mexican Caribbean

The powdery white sands of Tulum, Mexico

Riviera Maya is home to 80 miles of white powdery beaches and turquoise waters. Throw in stunning limestone cliffs, pristine jungles, amazing cenotes or sinkholes that are unique to the Yucatan Peninsula, a great dining scene and fabulous nightlife and you have an amazing beach holiday destination. During the day, the adventure lovers choose from a myriad of activities that include cave diving, sink hole swimming, scuba diving, zip lining, sailing, horse riding, cycling, snorkeling, jungle trekking and/or kite surfing, while the ones who wish to relax find solace in a book, a relaxed swim and sun bathing session, a pampering spa and lots and lots of rest. During the night, there is quite an active party scene that is coupled with an amazing dining experience that specializes in both local and international cuisines.

Note: The photographs in this article have been borrowed from wikimedia under the Creative Commons License. Each photograph has been linked to its host page on wikipedia.org. 

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Four European Legends That Will Stir your Interest While Travelling to Europe

Verdant greenery, ancient sites, amazing cities, and a vibrant culture – what else could describe the continent of Europe? From the stories of great kings to those of gladiators, there is a lot to explore in this gracious territory of the mighty. And while you traverse from city to city, province to province, just like a wanderlust seeks an adventure away from the craziness of everyday life, why not get acquainted with the locals.

And when it comes to mingling with the locals, conversing in their language, trying their food delicacies, and of course becoming a part of their culture, why not turn a keen ear to some local legends. Yes! You heard it right, Legends that will interest your mind, tickle your curiosity, and leave you with great conversations. So, before you head out to European holidays, buying the valuable foreign exchange, and booking the right accommodation, do take a look at these impressive legends.

Portugal – The Cock of Barcelos

Rooster of Barcelos

Ever heard of a verdict in a murder case given by a cock. Then you should surely go to Barcelos and spot the rooster who saved the life of an innocent man. Legend says that long time ago a murder was committed, and a Galician pilgrim was blamed for it. Mysteriously, the roasted chicken that was placed in front of the judge for dinner came to life to prove the pilgrim’s innocence.

France – Broceliande Forest

Merlin's Tomb - France

King Arthur and his advisor Merlin are quite popular in Europe. But did you know Merlin had a secret lover, Viviane. Legend says that Merlin taught her everything about magic, and she imprisoned him in nine invisible rings of air prison. These air prisons kept him back from returning to Arthur. Till date, the locals believe that Merlin’s tomb hides this prison of air.

Norway –Selma

Seljord Lake - Norway

Zoology has listed millions of creatures, but some of them still continue to be a mystery. One such creature is Selma, the 30 feet long serpent that is spotted by a very few. Legends say that the creature was first spotted back in the 1880s. Legend also says that the creature is spotted by very few on dusky evenings near the lake Seljordsvatnet, close to Telmark, Norway. While many stories describe it as a harmless being, still something strange popping out of water in the middle of a wonderful evening will surely terrify you.

Netherlands- Flying Dutchman

Flying Dutchman - Netherlands

Popular among sailors, the Flying Dutchman is a ghost ship doomed to sail the oceans forever. In 1795, a Dutch ship captained by Bernard Fokke got lost in the storm. Legend says that if anyone spots the ship, a streak of misfortune hails him and his family. However, very few people have spotted this ship, so there is no need to worry.

With several such small and big legends spurring around different provinces in Europe, we are sure that your Europe trip will be exciting and filled with amusement and fun. And when you are returning back from this alluring region, make sure to collect some souvenirs to remind you of the amazing trip.

And when you are left with excessive forex, you can surely convert the Euro to INR through various forex services. Or keep it back for another exciting tour to this wonderful region.

Note: The photographs in this article have been borrowed from wikimedia under the Creative Commons license. Each picture has been linked to its host page on wikipedia.org.

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