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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Ladakh’s Stakna Gompa as seen from the banks of the Indus River

Ladakh's Stakna Gompa as seen from the banks of the Indus river

This is a 16th century Buddhist monastery of the Drugpa sect in Ladakh. It is located about 25 kilometers from Leh on the banks of the Indus river. I am talking about the Stakna Gompa that is located at an altitude of 11,800 feet above MSL and that offers a fantastic view of the Hemis monastery and its nearby surroundings. The name ‘Stakna’, literally means ‘Tiger’s Nose’, because the monastery is situated on a hilltop and appears to be in the shape of a tiger’s nose. You can get a great view of this palace from the banks of the Indus river that runs parallel to the Thiksey – Shey – Leh highway.

Stakna Gompa and the Indus River, Ladakh

Do not miss to see this palace from the riverside when you visit the Thiksey monastery, Shey Palace, Chemrey monastery and/or the Changa la pass. The Stok palace is also located close by and you can easily couple both these attractions along with the other nearby palaces and monasteries for a fantastic day trip from Leh.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Trekking inside Parambikulam Tiger Reserve: A Thrilling Adventure

The joy of seeing wild animals while trekking inside Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, Kerala

The sheer thrill of being on foot with an apex predator like a tiger or a leopard prowling close by. Or the fact that you can come across a herd of elephants or gaurs during your forest walk. Trekking inside a tiger reserve is all of that adrenaline rush and more. Our forest department folks patrol our national parks and tiger reserves in this fashion and it is an absolutely sensational experience to explore the forest like them. But, most of the tiger reserves in India allow you to experience the jungle only from the safe confines of a forest jeep or safari vehicle. Only a select few offer the option to experience the forest on foot. Kerala’s Parambikulam tiger reserve and Tamil Nadu’s Anaimalai Tiger reserve that it is contiguous with are two gorgeous tropical jungles that offer the option to trek deep inside the jungle.



Parambikulam tiger reserve offers a variety of jungle treks. They offer 2 hour, half day or full day treks depending on the physical capability of its guests. Each trek is to be compulsorily accompanied by a member of the forest department who is well versed with the route, the dos and donts and knows how to react when confronted with a wild animal. The trekking routes might vary based on season, but usually they try and follow the same trail. Depending on the comfort of the trekking group, steep inclines can be opted to trek deeper into the forest.

Sambar Deer as seen during a trek inside Parambikulam tiger reserve, Kerala

During my time inside Parambikulam tiger reserve, I went on 3 morning treks and two evening treks, each lasting between two to four hours. While 3 of these were around the Parambikulam tented niche, two of them were on Veetikunnu Island, which is deep inside the Parambikulam dam. Unlike the jeep safaris, on a trek, you can experience the forest from much closer quarters. You can smell the plants and the flowers, you can see the animal footprints and pug marks more closely, you can catch the scent of the animals close by, you can see animal droppings more closely, you can soak in the aura of the jungle better and you can hear the animals and the birds just like they can hear you. And unlike the jeep safaris, you don’t have to breathe in the diesel/petrol fumes, you only hear the sound of the jungle and your feet crushing the dried leaves/twigs below you and if your group is quiet, you only get to hear the jungle sounds and of course you breathing and your heartbeat. You can also see the smaller life that survive on the base of the jungle.



Morning treks usually begin just after sunrise. You can have your morning tea/coffee prior to starting on the trek. A good pair of shoes, sunglasses, a bottle of water and a camera are all that you need while going on the jungle walk. In these early hours of the morning when the birds are at their most active self, you can hear the different bird calls echo throughout the forest. My favourite bird to hear in the morning hours is the Malabar Whistling thrush, which whistles its heart out in this tropical jungle. You can also hear the drilling sound of the greater flameback woodepecker reverberate throughout the forest. Other birds active in the morning are the Greater racket tailed drongo, brown headed barbet, common drongo, grey junglefowl, white-throated kingfisher, green bee eater, spotted owlet and malabar parakeet. The prettiest bird that I spotted was the black hooded oriole with its rich yellow coloured body. If you have a keen eye, a good pair of binoculars and oodles of patience, you might see well over 50 species of birds during these morning treks.

Elephants grazing at Veetikunnu Island as seen during a wildlife trek on the island

As the sun ascends in the sky, you will start noticing more of the larger creatures. You will see Nilgiri Langurs moving in the trees. You might also spot the malabar giant flying squirrel jumping from one branch to the other. You might get to see a common or a ruddy mongoose moving along the jungle floor. The call of the peacock will reverberate through the jungle and you might see them basking in the morning sun. The spotted deer and sambar deer who have been grazing might stop their grazing and look up at you to see who disturbed their breakfast. And the most thrilling time would be when you hear an alarm call ring throughout the jungle. It could be the alarm call of the spotted deer, the langur, the peacock or the junglefowl. Whosever call it might be, the news is that there might be a tiger or a leopard close by. Had you been in the forest jeep, you would have stopped, taken your binoculars out and started searching for the predator. But, when you are on foot, the reaction is much different. You look all around you to see if the tiger is visible. You wait for a while to see where the calls are coming from and pretty soon, you try to ascend or move in the opposite direction. This is to give some space between you and the predator. And all this while, you can feel your heart racing, your adrenaline pumping and some raw excitement flowing through your veins.

Nilgiri Langurs seen during an evening trek inside Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, Kerala

When we were trekking the trails of Veetikunnu Island, the thrilling adventure went up a few more notches. All throughout the trail, we kept seeing elephant dung, some of which was very fresh. This only means one thing that elephants are close by. For those who don’t know, elephants can run pretty fast and stay at it for long distances. And we all know about their strength and temperament, especially if there are solo tuskers or if they have young calves in their herd. Hence, seeing fresh elephant dung can get your adrenaline pumping. And you have to stay quiet too as elephants have excellent long distance hearing. Pretty soon, we spotted a large herd of elephants with some young ones a bit far away. Somewhere, I wished to see them at much closer proximity, but at the same time, I was aware of the dangers too. That dual feeling of joy and thrill together is what these Parambikulam tiger reserve treks offer. Along with these elephants, we also spotted crocodiles and spotted deer. And yes, more birds.

A morning trek inside Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, Kerala

The evening treks are even more adventurous as by the time you return to your base, it will be well past sunset. This means that you have to trek for close to 30 minutes in failing light. This is the best time to spot more wild animals as most animals start coming out of the deep jungle around this time. If the weather is cooler, you might see gaurs and elephants while returning. We heard a lot of alarm calls, but just missed spotting a leopard and a wild tusker. Apparently, other groups were lucky to see them at close quarters. What a thrill it must have been for them! We saw spotted deer, peacocks and even a barking deer during these evening treks.

A stunning view point seen during a trek inside Parambikulam Tiger Reserve and where leopards frequent

I was hoping to see some lion tailed macaques and great hornbills, but apparently, one needs to trek in a different part of the forest, where the altitude is much higher and the forest more dense and evergreen. Treks inside Parambikulam tiger reserve allow you to see the diverse nature of the forest, which includes the flora, fauna, the rich wildlife and the gorgeous view points that fall on your different trekking routes. If you wish to see a wild animal at a few feet from you without any safety net, these jungle treks are for you. It will allow you to appreciate and experience nature at a much deeper level.

Nilgiri Langurs sitting on the tall branches of the trees inside Parambikulam Tiger Reserve

Best season to visit:

Parambikulam tiger reserve is open all year round. If you can handle the heat, the best time to see wild animals would be the dry months between March and May. If you wish to see the forest in all its lush glory, the post monsoon months from November to February would be ideal. During the other months, you can see animals and birds, but it would depend on your luck. Monsoons happen to the season of mating, so may be, you will see the birds busier than usual and showing their best plumage.

How to reach there:

The nearest airport and large railway station would be Coimbatore. The nearest large bus station would be Pollachi. From Coimbatore, Parambikulam tiger reserve is about 120 kms away. Only four wheelers are allowed into the forest. It is best to hire your own vehicle to travel to Parambikulam as a lot of different places in Parambikulam are quite far away from each other. The route would be Coimbatore –> Pollachi –> Top Slip (Anaimalai Tiger Reserve) –> Parambikulam Tiger Reserve. If you have booked your accommodation at Parambikulam, you can show that booking voucher at the different forest entry gates.

Peacock Feathers shining in the morning sun at Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, Kerala

How to make the bookings:

Bookings can be made easily by visiting the Parambikulam tiger reserve website. The bookings include your accommodation, food, safari, treks and entry fee. Anything additional will be charged. There are certain remote places in the tiger reserve where you might need to carry your food supplies with you. This will be informed to you at the time of booking.

Where to stay and eat:

The only places to stay inside Parambikulam tiger reserve are the properties managed by the forest department. These include the tented niche, Treetop hut at Thunakadavu, Honeycomb, Peruvari Island Nest,Veetikunnu Island Nest and Tented Roost. All these places will provide you with food, though some places might need you to carry the food rations as they are totally remote and do not have a functioning kitchen.

Going on a wildlife trek inside Veetikunnu Island, Parambikulam Tiger Reserve, Kerala

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Anaimalai Tiger Reserve: Of elephants, gaurs, tigers and hornbills

2) Puthuthotham Estate: The hidden gem of Anaimalai tiger reserve

3) Kannimara Teak: The oldest teak tree in Parambikulam Tiger Reserve

4) The best place to see the rare Lion Tailed Macaque in the wild

5) Monkey Aliyar Falls, Aliyar Dam, Sholayar Dam and other vast water bodies

6) Pristine Vazhachal Rainforest highway: A special road trip hot spot

7) Valparai to Athirapally: One of the top tropical motorcycle routes in India

8) Poringalkuthu Reservoir: Nestled in the tropical rainforests of Vazhachal, Kerala

9) Athirapally Falls: The Niagara of Kerala

10) Valparai: The unsung hill station of India

11) Nallamudi Poonjolai: Velu saw god here

12) Udumalpet to Munnar Forest highway: Perfect route for your Neelakurinji holiday

13) Chinnar wildlife sanctuary: An offbeat wildlife heaven

14) The tea estates of Valparai and around

15) Eravikulam National Park: The Nilgiri Tahr lives here

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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Exploring Cambodia - Siem Reap to Battambang Bus Adventure

Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Are you up for a scenic trip through the heartland of Cambodia? Join us on an exciting bus journey from Siem Reap to Battambang in Cambodia to discover the captivating culture and picturesque landscapes.

A Tranquil Trip:
The bus travels from Siem Reap through Battambang and passengers enjoy panoramic views of Cambodia’s lush landscape. Enjoy the tranquil canals, lush rice fields and charming villages that are scattered throughout the countryside. This journey lasts approximately 3-4 hours and is a comfortable , affordable , and convenient mode of transportation for all travellers.

Convenient Online Booking:
Travelers can book siem reap to battambang bus tickets online to ensure a smooth journey. Secure your seat with just a few clicks and begin an unforgettable journey through the Cambodian countryside.

Ta Dambong Kranhong statue, Battambang, Cambodia

Exploring Battambang:
Upon arrival in Battambang, travelers will be greeted with a city rich in culture, history and charm. Immerse yourself in vibrant culture as you stroll through quaint streets decorated with elegant buildings. Battambang has something to offer everyone, from traditional Khmer dances, bustling markets to cosy cafes.

Best time to visit:
The dry period, between November and April, is the best time to explore Battambang. This season offers moderate temperatures and low humidity, making it ideal for outdoor activities like cycling, sightseeing and boat trips on the Sangker River.

Prices and Booking:
The bus fares between Siem Reap and Battambang vary from $10 to $12, depending on factors like seat availability and the bus operator. RedBus offers affordable tickets for your Cambodian adventure.

Must Do Activities in Battambang

1) Bamboo Train: Take a scenic ride on the Bamboo Train.

2) Phare Ponleu Selpak: Enjoy a performance by Phare Ponleu Selpak. This organization is dedicated to the promotion of Khmer performing arts.

3) Phnom Sampeau: Explore the caves and shrines of spiritual and archaeological importance on Phnom Sampeau Hill , as well as witnessing a stunning sunset.

4) Wat Banan: Discover the ancient temple complex at Wat Banan. It is perched on a hill, offering a panoramic view of the landscape.

Sangkae River, Battambang, Cambodia

5) Boat Trip:
Take a relaxing boat ride along the Sangker River. You will pass through rice fields, pools filled with lotus, and ancient stilted villages.

Travel Tips

1) Keep your passport accessible and safe.

2) For humid and dry weather, pack lightweight and breathable clothing.

3) Learn the basic Khmer phrases.

4) Check the baggage policy before you travel to avoid additional fees.

Battambang Townhouses

Summary:
Take a trip through Cambodia from the vibrant streets in Siem Reap, to the peaceful beauty of Battambang. Get your bus tickets now and experience the magic first hand. Cambodia offers something for everyone, whether you are a culture explorer, a nature lover, or if you enjoy history. Pack your bags, get on the plane, and start the adventure!

Note: Some of the pictures in this article are courtesy of wikipedia.org and have been borrowed under the creative commons license. Each photograph has been linked to its host page on wikipedia.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Unveiling the Beauty of Hampi - India's Ancient Ruins and Breath taking Lands

Ruins of Hampi and the rocky landscape

Hampi's temple complexes, stepped tanks and elephant stables alone are enough to showcase Vijayanagara empire's architectural prowess; yet its natural heritage is equally captivating.

Discover this spectacular world heritage site which showcases India's diverse culture through its beautiful temples, royal palaces, markets, pillared halls and water structures.

1. Virupaksha Temple


Virupaksha Temple complex and the Hampi landscape

Virupaksha Temple stands as the entryway into Hampi's numerous monuments, dating back to its construction in the 7th Century. Even then it was grandiose; but with successive rulers adding their unique touch over time it has come into its current state today.

Temples feature exquisite carvings on every pillar, but one stand-out example is the marriage mandapam that depicts different epics and stories.

2. Vittala Temple


Horse Chariot of Vittala temple - a photographer's delight

The Vittala Temple stands out as an architectural marvel that stands out among Hampi's monuments. Devoted to Lord Vishnu, this structure is famous for its musical pillars.

India is home to numerous astonishing phenomena and events that defy logic and science, such as these temple pillars that emit music when struck. Also, behold the stone chariot which makes an impressive sight!

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3. Hazara Ramachandra Temple


Baby Krishna on the walls of Hazara Rama Temple, Hampi

Hazara Ramachandra Temple or "Temple of a Thousand Ramas" is an incredible shrine dedicated to Lord Rama. Renowned for its exquisite carved panels depicting incidents from the epic Ramayana like Dasaratha's sacrifice for sons, birth of Lord Rama, exile into forest with Sita and abduction by Ravana and ultimate struggle between good and evil forces are depicted vividly here.

4. Krishna Temple


Sunset colors of Hampi as seen from the banks of the Tungabhadra river

The Krishna Temple in Hampi is one of the city's most iconic landmarks. Built by the Vijayanagara king to mark his victory over Ulkala Kingdom to the east, its construction became one of the hallmarks of victorious rule over its rival kingdoms.

The Krishna Temple stands as the centerpiece of the Virupaksha Temple Complex. With a vast tank and granary for storage purposes, its pillars depict Prahlada's story with Lord Narasimha.

5. Lakshmi Narasimha Temple


Ugra Narasimha monolith from Hampi, Karnataka, India

Lakshmi Narasimha Temple in Hampi is one of its most iconic structures. With a two storey tower that stands out among other structures, this two storey temple is said to grant any sincere devotee visiting with hopes that their wishes may be granted upon entering.

Lord Lakshmi Narasimha, an incarnation of Vishnu, presides as its primary deity at this temple and devotees from across the state come here for worship services.

6. Dhananayaka’s Enclosure


Hampi is a UNESCO world heritage site and was the austere capital city of the Vijayanagara empire (14th-16th Century CE). Although captured by Deccan Muslim sultanates, its many ancient artifacts remain an invaluable treasure trove.

Virupaksha temple features panels depicting events from dynastic history and Ramayana tales, with paintings showing transitions from Chola style paintings to more rectilinear ones with long eyes and compartmentalized bodies.

7. Mahanavami Dibba

While other structures in Hampi were damaged during the Deccan Muslim confederacy's destruction of Vijayanagara by Deccan Muslim confederacy invaders, Mahanavami Dibba was spared. While its exact cause is unclear, historians speculate that its grandeur and significance might have left an impression filled memory with them.

This massive stone platform displays intricate carvings of everyday life, exotic animals, ritualistic dances and musical processions from India's former rulers - a testament to their artistic brilliance.

8. Lotus Mahal


Lotus Mahal, Hampi, India

The Lotus Mahal stands out among Hampi's notable structures with its towering structure resembling lotus petals, symbolizing harmonious combination of various architectural styles during Vijayanagara rule.

Vijayanagara Empire's ability to adapt and incorporate various cultural influences is represented in Zanana enclosure, where this monument stands as a reminder. Built as an amenity for royal women living within this empire, Zanana pavilion was originally intended for leisure time usage by royal ladies within their empire.

9. Elephant Stables


Elephant Stables of Hampi remain one of its few remaining structures and remain one of its top tourist draws. Comprised of eleven chambers arranged around a central dome, visitors flock to this landmark structure.

The building's design pays homage to elephants' significance in Vijayanagara Empire as well as to incorporating both Hindu and Islamic architectural styles, reflecting its vibrant capital city nature. Metal hooks used to tie elephants can be seen on its interior roofs.

10. Queen’s Bath


Posing at the Queen's Bath, Hampi, India

The Queen's Bath is a magnificent structure once used by royal women of Vijayanagara to bathe. Today it stands as an icon of Hampi's glorious past and serves as an important reminder.

Hampi's ruins cover an expansive area. To maximize your sightseeing experience, it is advisable to hire a taxi, car or rickshaw and head out on an exploration. Don't forget to snap some beautiful shots of this UNESCO World Heritage Site!

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Monday, July 15, 2024

A Jungle Safari in Pench Tiger Reserve: A Wild Photo Story!

Lakshmi, the tigress from Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

A couple of weeks back, I was exploring the tiger reserves of Central India – Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra and Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh. I was visiting Tadoba after 5 years and Pench after 16 years and boy did I have a ball of a time. Over the course of this week and the next, I will be sharing my experiences along with the many gorgeous photos and videos that I clicked at these stunning wildlife destinations of Central India. Let me begin with a wild photo story from Pench Tiger Reserve, the land of Mowgli, Bagheera, Baloo, Sher Khan and Kaa. During a safari in Pench National Park, you will feel as if the jungle is coming to life. That is how I felt as I got to see the many different flavours of wild Pench is just two days. This photo series aims to share those different flavours with you. Hope you like them and do stay tuned for more photos and videos from my wildlife holiday to Central India.

Above photo: I saw my first tiger within the first two hours of my first tiger safari in Pench. Meet Lakshmi, a gorgeous tigress who was out marking her territory after some overnight rains in Pench Tiger Reserve. Only 2 jeeps got to see her and she silently crept right behind our jeep. No wonder, stealth is their biggest weapon.

A Jungle safari through Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: This is the view of entering Pench tiger reserve from the Karmajhiri gate in the early hours of the morning. Teak, mahua, crocodile bark tree, tendu, flame of the forest and other species make up these dense woods.

Leopard on his rock throne at Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: We saw this gorgeous male leopard within the first 30 minutes of entering the tiger reserve. He was quietly sitting on his rock throne and watching the world go by. After a lot of us jeeps noticed him sitting there, he moved on to the lake bed, thereby giving us unobstructed view of him for the next 30 minutes. A great and long leopard sighting.

Gorgeous breeding coat of a male spotted deer at Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: Spotted deer are one of the prettiest herbivores in the Indian jungle. This is a handsome male with large antlers and dark brown breeding colours. During the breeding season, spotted deer’s coat changes to dark brown or black and they grow antlers. Post the breeding season, their coat returns to their regular brown colour and they shed their antlers.

Monitor lizard next to termite mound at Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: This small monitor lizard seemed to enjoy feasting on the termites coming out from the termite hill. A great source of nutrition and protein for the monitor lizard.

Swastik, the large male tiger of Pench Tiger Reserve cools down and drinks water at a shaded pool

Above photo: This massive male tiger called Swastik came to this watering hole with a full belly. He cooled himself in the pool, quenched his thirst and then gave us a long and really close sighting. He was also seen snarling at all the forest jeeps as we has blocked his path. I have a full video of this encounter. More on this in another blog post.

In Mowgli's Land - Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: Pench is an absolutely pretty forest. It’s dense woods, diverse landscapes and water bodies make you feel like you are in a different part of the jungle almost at every third turn.

Beautiful Indian Roller bird at Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: This is the Indian roller, a gorgeous bird that shows its multiple hues of blue when it flies. When it sits like this in the picture, you see more of its brown plumage. It is the state bird of Karnataka, Telangana and Odisha.

The famous Ghost Tree of Central India at Pench Tiger Reserve

Above photo: This is the ghost tree or Sterculia Urens. It is one of those trees that requires very little water to grow, grows near rocky slopes and remains leafless for close to half a year. It’s main tree trunk and bark glistens in the night and that is what gives it its name as it is visible in the otherwise dark forest. It’s gum lets out a gum that is used as a laxative and a tablet binder in the medical world.

Gorgeous coat of a male rhesus macaque at Pench Tiger Reserve

Above photo: A lot of us see these rhesus macaques in our Indian cities and we try to protect ourselves and our food from their mischievous nature. The ones in the forest are also equally naughty and social, but you hardly see such gorgeous coats and chiselled body on the urban monkeys.

Stunning Crested Serpent Eagle at Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: This is a crested serpent eagle, a medium to large species of eagle that is usually found on empty branches of trees looking for its prey. Personally, I find its yellow eyes really captivating.
The gorgeous feathers of a peacock at Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: India’s national bird, the peacock, thrives inside Pench National Park. You can see and hear it almost in every nook and corner of Pench Tiger Reserve.

Changeable Hawk Eagle at Pench Tiger Reserve

Above photo: Another gorgeous raptor bird, the changeable hawk eagle or the crested hawk eagle is a large eagle that is slightly larger in size when compared to the crested serpent eagle. It’s large crest gives it its beautiful form and name.

The gaze of a Grey Langur at Pench Tiger Reserve

Above photo: This is the northern plains grey langur, another primate that is seen in large numbers at Pench National Park. The grey langur is a bit more shy when compared to the macaques, but they play a very vital role in the maintenance of the forest. They are usually seen alongside the spotted deer and form a symbiotic relationship when it comes to eating and alerting each other of the predators.

Gorgeous leopard at Pench Tiger Reserve
Above photo: This is the same male leopard that you had seen sitting on top a rock earlier. Here, it is walking along the boundary of a nearby water body and trying to find a place where it can peacefully quench its thirst.


Grey Hornbill at Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo
: One can also see a lot of hornbills during a safari in Pench national park. This is the grey hornbill. Also, got to see the Malabar pied hornbills, but unfortunately, couldn’t click any good photos as they tend to stay in the top branches of most trees.

Sub Adult Blue bull at Pench Tiger Reserve

Above photo: This is a sub-adult nilgai or blue bull, a type of antelope found in India. As it matures into an adult, its coat will turn dark blue to black and it will have a sheen to it.

Golden Jackals go for a stroll inside Pench Tiger Reserve

Above photo: Usually, I see a lot of wild dogs or dhole in the forests of Central India, but this time around, I couldn’t spot these pack hunters. Rather, spotted these golden jackals at multiple places. This is one such instance where they are exploring their territory and kept on criss crossing the jeep track in front of us.

Big Muscular Indian Gaur and his partner at Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: Indian gaurs are the largest bovine species to be found in India. They are very strong, muscular and can easily be spotted by the white coloured socks that they wear naturally on their legs. Here, you can see a large muscular male sitting with his female partner.

Gaurs grazing next to the jeep track at Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: Indian gaurs can be quite intimidating when you find them in the middle of your jeep track. These large creatures wearing more than a 1000 kilograms can overturn a forest jeep with their head. Usually, they are very calm, but they can become unpredictable especially when there is a young one in their herd.

A muscular gaur bull at Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: This is an alpha male Indian gaur. They are heavily muscular and can weigh anywhere between 2000 and 3000 kilograms. They look like a body builder and they usually have a short fuse. Which means, you should leave them alone if you find yourselves around a large male Indian gaur.

Bush breakfast inside Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

Above photo: Usually, the morning jungle safari at Pench Tiger Reserve starts at 5:30 AM and ends at 11:30 AM. This means that you get the opportunity to have a bush breakfast. There are lots of shielded enclosures within the jungle where you can have such a breakfast. This bush breakfast was arranged by Pench Tree Lodge, one of the top resorts in Pench. The driver and the naturalist help set this table in the forest and you can either have a quick and dirty breakfast in case you wish to explore more of the jungle or you can have a relaxed breakfast and share stories from your day so far.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Budget-Friendly Bucharest: Exploring the Romanian Capital on a Shore Excursion

Aerial view of Bucharest, Romania

If you are cruising to the Mediterranean in 2024 and want to experience something different, something truly off the beaten path, then Bucharest, the vibrant capital of Romania might be the answer. This unheralded but excellent city is rich in history and culture and has an edgy, alternative charm that makes it a brilliant choice for travellers looking for a change from the more popular spots.

Cismigiu gardens, Bucharest, Romania

Best of all, thanks to its status as a hidden gem, it remains incredibly affordable, meaning that you can plan a wonderful day trip or shore excursion without breaking the bank! So if you want something different from your next European excursion, here’s how to explore the wonderful capital of Romania on a budget.

Efficient and Affordable Transport

Central University Library, Bucharest, Romania

Bucharest’s public transport system is efficient and incredibly affordable. From buses and trams to an extensive metro network, getting into and around the city centre is a breeze. The metro is particularly useful, with tickets costing as little as 5 Romanian lei (1 dollar) for a round trip. It is worth checking with your cruise operator to plan a shuttle bus from your port to the city itself.

Historical and Cultural Attractions


Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest

Bucharest is full of amazing historical sites and interesting cultural attractions that will fill your day without emptying your wallet.

Start off with the bombastic magnificence of the Palace of the Parliament, a hubristic monument created by the dictator Ceacescu to be one of the largest buildings in the world. It is both impressive and extremely over-the-top, and a testament to the complex history of both Romania and Eastern Europe more generally. Entry isn’t free, but guided tours are available for extremely reasonable prices, and it is a great way to discover more about Romania’s history and politics.

Liscani Street, Bucharest Old Town, Romania

Next up, take a few hours to wander around the cobbled streets of Bucharest’s Old Town, with its combination of charming architecture, pretty churches, and excellent cafes and restaurants. Many of the most impressive sights, including Stavropoleos Church and Manuc’s Inn, are free to enter, and a great way to spend an afternoon is with a stroll through Cismigiu Gardens, Bucharest’s oldest and most charming park.

Inexpensive Culinary Delights


If hunger strikes, you can satisfy your cravings easily, deliciously, and inexpensively in the Romanian capital. There is a huge variety of budget-friendly local eateries to try, as well as some amazing street food options. Don’t miss out on traditional Romanian dishes like “mici” (grilled minced meat rolls), “sarmale” (cabbage rolls), and “ciorbă” (sour soup) at the sit-down restaurants, or grab a quick bite of “covrigi” (pretzels), “plăcinte” (savory or sweet pies), or “kürtőskalács” (chimney cake).

Free and Low-Cost Activities

Traditional wooden church at Village Museum, Bucharest, Romania

There are plenty of great activities in Bucharest that are either free or extremely low-cost and it is easy to dive deep into the history, heritage, and culture of the city without spending a fortune.

Free walking tours are one of the best ways to explore Bucharest, with expert local guides taking you on a deep dive into its amazing hidden gems and rich history. Of course, tipping the guides at the end is appreciated, but not mandatory.

Curtea Veche Church, Romanian Orthodox church at Bucharest, Romania

Museums and galleries in Bucharest are often free or heavily discounted on certain days, so check their websites and plan in advance if you want to save. The National Museum of Romanian History and the National Museum of Art of Romania are must-visits.

While many shore excursions in Europe are pricey, Bucharest is a wonderful option for a budget-friendly day trip and a true hidden gem. It is interesting, unusual, and affordable, making it a great addition to any European cruise itinerary.

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

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