June 2020 - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Arunachal’s Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary: Birdwatcher’s Paradise in the Himalayas

White Tailed Nuthatch at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, India

It is one of India’s best birding hotspots. It is an integral part of the elephant corridor in the Eastern Himalayas. One can see the most surreal sunrises of the Eastern Himalayas here. I am talking about the extremely off-beat and hidden Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary that is located in the Himalayan foothills of West Kameng district, Arunachal Pradesh.

Jeep track inside Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary

Made up of sub-tropical forests, evergreen forests and bamboo forests, shrubs and thickets, the beauty of Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary lies in its wide altitude range (500 m to 3,250 metres). This diversity in altitude range gives birth to a wide variety of flora and which in turn attracts many birds, herpetofauna, mammals and butterflies. A part of the Kameng Elephant reserve, it conjoins Sessa Orchid sanctuary to the north-east and Pakhui Tiger Reserve across the Kameng river to the east.

Stripe Throated Yuhina at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh

It’s call to fame was a new bird species that was discovered here in 2006 by amateur birder and astrophysicist Ramana Athreya. This bird was named Bugun liocichla after the Bugun community that lives in this forest. But, for me, Eaglenest is more than just one bird. To me, it is surreal Himalayan sunrises, pristine Himalayan forests, colorful small birds, vibrant butterflies, giant flying squirrels, stories of marauding elephants and plenty of birding walks through bamboo thickets and forests.

Rufous Vented Yuhina at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary

With at least 454 species of birds here, birding is the major attraction here. If you are patient, you will spot birds that you will not come across anywhere in India except in the color palettes of birding books. Nuthatches, Pittas, Yuhinas, Milnas, Trogons and Sibias give you company as you make your daily walk through this forest. In addition to these small bird species, Eaglenest has the unique distinction of having three tragopan species. If you are lucky, you will spot giant flying squirrels, Arunachal Macaques, Gaurs and Elephants during your birding expeditions.

Changing colors with changing seasons at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary

Apart from birding, one can study butterflies here, see rhododendrons during the spring season, see the vibrant fall colours in November, enjoy waking up to the sun rising over the snow capped mountains of the Himalayas or huddle around the campfire on chilly nights while listening to the stories of the land.

Stripe Throated Yuhina at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh

Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary is an absolute joy to the senses and a treat to the eyes. It doesn’t matter whether you are a birdwatcher, wildlife enthusiast, herpetologist, lepidopterist or a simple nature enthusiast, this remote wildlife sanctuary of Arunachal Pradesh will blow your mind with its riches. I recommend it with many thumbs up!

Sunrise over the Eastern Himalayas

How to get inner line permit for Arunachal Pradesh:

If you have made prior bookings at either of the campsites at Eaglenest, they will help you get the inner line permit.

If you wish to get the permit on your own, you can either apply online at the government website or visit in-person to the Deputy Commissioner’s office at any of these cities - Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Shillong, Tezpur, Dibrugarh, North Lakhimpur, Jorhat and in the capitals of other NE states.

Sharp shot of Chestnut Tailed Milna at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, North East India

How to reach there:

The nearest airport would be Tezpur (150 kms away), but the nearest airport with the best pan-India connectivity would be Guwahati (about 355 kms away or 9 hour drive).

The nearest railway station would be Bhalukpong (around 94 kms away).

If you are traveling by road, the best option would be to hire your own mode of transportation. The route would be Guwahati –> Tezpur –> Tenga –> Eaglenest campsite. The route from Tenga to Eaglenest campsite is usually in bad condition.

If you wish to opt for public transportation, you will have to make do with multiple bus and shared jeep rides till Tenga. After that, you will have to hire a vehicle to take you to Eaglenest campsite.

Beautiful Sibia at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh

Best season to visit:

The rhododendron season of March and April are the best months to visit to see the birds. But, this is also high season and bookings need to be made well in advance.

If you don’t mind cold weather, mid-November through February is a great time to visit too. This is also the time when the mountain views are clearer and the sunrises are magnificent.

Eaglenest wildlife sanctuary is closed during the monsoon months of June through September.

A bird book with proper color palettes is essential here

Where to stay:

The only options to stay at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary are at tented camps. Lama Birding camp,Bompu Camp and Sessni camp are such campsites run by the Bugun welfare society. Lama is the oldest camp. Both camps are basic, but offer fantastic location and views.

Sharp Shot of Golden Bush Robin (Female) at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, North East India

Where to eat:

There are no restaurants here. So the only place to eat is at your place of accommodation, which is bound to be basic. If you have any specific needs, it is best that you carry them with you.

A walk in paradise

Other nearby places for birdwatching:

1) Nameri National Park, Assam – about 113 kms away

2) Sela pass, Arunachal Pradesh – about 160 kms away

3) Manas National Park, Assam – about 275 kms away

4) Orang National Park, Assam – about 130 kms away

5) Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, Assam – about 135 kms away

6) Hoolongopar Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam – about 290 kms away

Silhouette of Green Tailed Sunbird (Female) at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Sela Pass – A 13,000 feet high beautiful mountain pass in Western Arunachal Pradesh. Known for its high altitude lakes and winding roads.

2) Nameri National Park – Located at the foot hills of the Eastern Himalayas, this national park is home to tigers, elephants and the great hornbill. Also, its rivers were once famous for angling.

3) Bomdila – Home to the Bombila monastery, this Buddhist town can make for a great pit stop before heading towards Tawang.

4) Dirang – A scenic pit stop enroute to Tawang from Guwahati.

5) Sangti valley – This beautiful valley is known for its pristine forests, stunning mountain views, fast rivers, fruit orchards and interesting culture.

6) Tawang – A 10,000 feet high hill station that is home to the largest Buddhist monastery in India.

7) Jung Falls – A beautiful pit stop enroute to Tawang.

8) Kaziranga Tiger Reserve – A UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the one-horned rhinoceros. This Brahmaputra swampland is home to elephants, tigers, rhinos and many other wild animals.

9) Jaswantgarh war memorial – A war memorial commemorating the soldiers who fought in the 1962 Indo-China war.

10) Penga Teng Tso Lake – A beautiful high altitude lake north of Tawang towards the India – China border.

11) Tongpen La view point – An absolutely stunning view point enroute to Bumla pass.

12) Sangetsar Lake – A religious lake where many Bollywood movies have been shot.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

People Photography from the Cultural Trails of Madhya Pradesh

The sadhu who got snapped while asking for money, Orchha, Madhya Pradesh

In one of my recent posts, I spoke about the 8 heritage destinations you must visit in Madhya Pradesh. Now, I wish to bring to you street photography and portraits from these cultural and heritage trails of Madhya Pradesh. These pictures show us the colourful and vibrant shades of the people of Madhya Pradesh and gives us a glimpse into some of their traditions and culture. These photographs span the entire gamut of cultural trails in Madhya Pradesh ranging from UNESCO World Heritage sites to some of the lesser known places. Hope you enjoy this photo essay.

Above photo: Near the Raja Ram mandir of Orchha, a sadhu baba decked in vermilion and ash heads towards me asking for money in exchange for the photograph that I have clicked of him. Even though he was quite far away, he spotted my zoom lens and headed straight for the catch.

Location: Orchha

Listening to famous archaeologist Mr. KK Muhammed at Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: This is the place to visit if you wish to understand the evolution of the pre-historic man. This group is listening to the facts from Professor KK Muhammed, a renowned archaeologist. Bhimbetka is not just the pride of India, but the pride of the world as it tells us how mankind’s cranial capacity evolved since 100,000 years back.

Location: Bhimbetka Rock Shelters

A pundit of Bhojpur Shiva temple

Above photo: He is a pandit (pujari) at the Bhojpur Shiva temple. Built, by Raja Bhoj in the 12th century, this lesser known temple is home to the largest Shiva linga in India. Even better is the rustic appeal of this place and you can always see the smiling faces of the locals.

Location: Bhojpur

The massive Parsvanath Temple, Khajuraho

Above photo: The Parsvanatha temple attracts far lesser visitors than the Western group of temples which are more known for their erotic art, but it is in no way smaller in sculpting or size. You can gauge the size of the temple by taking a look at the 2 people who are posing in front of it.

Location: Khajuraho

All eyes on the phone - a sadhu baba and puppy moment, Orchha

Above photo: The Ram Raja temple and the Chaturbhuj temple of Orchha attract a lot of Sadhus who are colourfully decked up in colourful sarongs, vermilion, sandalwood and ash. This is one such sadhu and his puppy checking out their photo clicked by a foreign tourist.

Location: Orchha

A golgappa moment from Orchha, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: Madhya Pradesh and lip smacking street food go hand in hand. A lot of local action can be found at such street food stalls. This is one such stall in the bazaars of Orchha that sells golgappa or pani puri. One can taste the authentic thing at such small towns.

Location: Orchha

A portrait of a local at Taj-ul-Masajid, Bhopal

Above photo: The man with a colourful beard at Taj-ul-Masajid, one of the largest mosques in Asia. Dressed in traditional clothes, his beard stood out in the shining sun thus prompting me to ask him for a shot. And he obliged with a smile.

Location: Bhopal

A wealth of information on the toranas of Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: My friends pose in front of the iconic toranas of Sanchi Stupa, an UNESCO World Heritage site and the pride of the nation. Dating back to the 1st century BCE, these toranas are the first of their kind in the world.

Location: Sanchi Stupa

A tropic of cancer street moment in Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: Fresh organic guavas on sale at the Tropic of Cancer line in Madhya Pradesh. These juicy guavas were grown just near the Tropic of Cancer line, a bit away from the highway. And they made for delicious snacking on the Madhya Pradesh culture and heritage road trip.

Location: Tropic of Cancer line

Local ladies in colorful sarees walk towards Orchha fort and the palaces

Above photo: Local ladies decked in colourful sarees head to the temples on the banks of the Betwa river at Orchha to offer prayers. These temples are located right behind the fort and the palace. In this picture, the ladies are crossing the moat and are heading into the fort enclosure.

Location: Orchha

Local market scene at Orchha, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: Early in the morning, the streets near Ram Raja temple are full of vegetable action. This is the time when you can see all the locals shopping and bargaining for a fresh produce of vegetables. The action only lasts a couple of hours, but it is enough for some people street photography.

Location: Orchha

Chilling next to Badal Mahal, Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: Locals beat the afternoon heat under an ancient structure near Badal Mahal. Badal Mahal is one of the many heritage sites in and around Chanderi, one of the lesser known heritage destinations of Madhya Pradesh.

Location: Chanderi

A moment from Jama Masjid, Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: The caretaker of the Jama Masjid of Chanderi walks in front of the intricately carved doorway to the mosque. People know Chanderi for the saree, but it is home to many heritage sites such as the Jama Masjid.

Location: Chanderi

A portrait of a Chanderi saree weaver

Above photo:
A traditional artisan designing a Chanderi saree at a handloom centre in Chanderi. With 700 years of history, the Chanderi saree is a traditional handloom icon of India and is much sought after in the modern saree shops across India.

Location: Chanderi

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Saturday, June 06, 2020

Jehan Numa Palace Hotel: Bhopal’s Royal Boutique Address

Lovely Jehan Numa Palace property, Bhopal

Staying at a palace hotel has its own charm. It oozes a lot of character and is packed with history. And when it has a cosy home-like feel and is surrounded by lush greenery, it becomes a must-experience. One such place is the Jehan Numa Palace Hotel, which I call as Bhopal’s royal boutique address.

A portrait of the begum at Jehan Numa Palace, Bhopal

It is a beautiful mix of British Colonial, Italian Renaissance and Classical Greek architecture that is located amidst an intimate green surrounding full of vibrant floral hues. Each hall, corridor and seating area in the Jehan Numa Palace Hotel tells stories of its glorious past through portraits, photographs and design elements from the era gone by. It speaks of the rich legacy of the famous Nawab begums of Bhopal who ruled Bhopal for over a century and who gave birth to a cosmopolitan culture in Bhopal encompassing both Muslim and Maratha heritage.

Jehan Numa Palace - a great boutique luxury hotel in Bhopal

Unlike other palace hotels, Jehan Numa Palace hotel is more like a luxurious home with clean and crisp design elements, well thought through spaces tucked amidst a lovely green setting. This luxurious boutique hotel has all the amenities of a luxury hotel. Service can be a bit slow at times, but I feel that is the charm of staying in a palace hotel. It is that kind of place where you can allow time to stop at your own convenience while learning about the rule of the begums of Bhopal and their life and while enjoying the delicious food and beverages served by the hotel kitchen. I see it as a perfect relaxed getaway after your business meetings or your tourism day outs.

History on the walls of Jehan Numa Palace

It doesn’t matter whether you are on a business trip, short trip to Bhopal or on a long culture and heritage trip across Madhya Pradesh, Jehan Numa Palace hotel is bound to appeal to you. It’s warm interiors and lush exteriors are bound to make any one feel at home. I would love to stay here once again hopefully during a monsoon holiday to Madhya Pradesh.

Jehan Numa Palace hotel is famous for its gardens and home like atmosphere

The place is great. Their food is fabulous and they are very reasonably priced for palace hotels. All fantastic reasons to stay here on your next trip to Bhopal. And if you wish to stay a bit far away from the city in the middle of nature and wilderness, look up their Jehan Numa retreat property located just a few kilometers outside of Bhopal. Both properties are fantastic places to stay during a trip to Bhopal. If you have time at hand, try spreading your stay between these two properties for the best of both worlds.

The rich history of Jehan Numa Palace and its begums

How to make bookings:

Bookings can be made either through Jehan Numa website, Rare India (who handle all their booking operations) or any of the online booking platforms like booking.com, agoda.com, tripadvisor.com, makemytrip.com and goibibo.com.

Their prices usually begin from INR 6,750 per room per night. And they do offer discounts for advance bookings and for extended stays.

Jehan Numa Palace - a great place to unwind in Bhopal

Tourist attractions to see in Bhopal while staying at Jehan Numa Palace:

1) Taj-ul-Masajid: one of the largest mosques in Asia

2) Upper Lake: A Ramsar site and one of the largest  man made lakes of India

3) Van Vihar National Park: A modern zoological park near the upper lake

4) Bharat Bhavan: A multi-arts complex and museum

5) Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum: A heritage museum showcasing the tribal cultures of Madhya Pradesh

6) State Museum: Home to cultural and historical artefacts from the state

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Friday, June 05, 2020

Planning a Trip to Europe? Think Again

Planning a trip to Europe

The novel coronavirus pandemic started in China, then spread to other countries - Asia, at first, then Europe, and now its focal point seems to have jumped continents again, raging in the Americas as we speak. Many countries are slowly easing their lockdown measures, some of them opening up their borders to foreigners as well. Not all of them, though. Lockdowns are still in force in many countries, confining people to their homes. Depending on your country of origin, your European vacation may be tricky - or not happen at all.

Opening borders - selectively

If you have spent your time in lockdown playing all the live casinos India has to offer and you’re eager to go for the real thing in Monaco, you might have to wait longer than you had expected.

Tourism is an important contributor to many European countries’ revenues, and the livelihoods of entire populations living in coastal areas, for example, rely on tourists coming from abroad spending their money there. This is why many countries are eager to reopen their borders, declaring the first wave of the pandemic to be over to save as much of their tourist seasons as they can.

Most of them, in turn, will only open their borders for tourists coming from specific countries. Greece, for example, has announced that it will only allow tourists from 29 countries - most of them in the EU, with similar epidemiologic profiles - to spend their vacations there, and other countries often open up to even fewer.

Safety first

The health and safety of tourists are vital to any country ready to receive foreign visitors in these trying times. Preventing flare-ups or even a new wave of the epidemic can be tricky in the case of the novel coronavirus because many of the infected show no symptoms at all but can spread it without knowing. To prevent this from happening, all countries reopening to tourists will enforce strict preventive measures.

Social distancing will be the most obvious. The tanning beds and umbrellas on the beaches will be placed several meters apart, and in some places, barriers will be placed between them. Bars and restaurants will run at a greatly reduced capacity, and also with strict social distancing rules in place.

Hotels will also focus on their patrons’ safety. Here, too, the capacity will be limited, rooms will have to be disinfected or kept empty for at least 24 or 48 hours before the next inhabitant can occupy them. Human contact will likely be reduced to a minimum - think receptionists behind glass walls, no bellhops, a limited number of people taking elevators, and no bellhops carrying your bags.

When will things return to normal?

According to many specialists, things will return to normal eventually - but don’t expect it to be this year. While scientists are tirelessly working on finding the right cure for the disease and - ideally - a vaccine, we can’t expect results in the short term. With the situation still fluid in many countries, and no way to predict if and when the epidemic returns, the sensible thing would be not planning a trip to Europe this year. Maybe next...

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