Category Archives: Nature & Wildlife

The greenery awaits you as you make your way through the forest

Forays into the forest: Here’s why I love it!

I look forward to opportunities to travel to the different jungles and reserves in India whenever I can. We don’t realise it but we’re really lucky – there are so many (still) to choose from. Most states boast of such rich flora, fauna and reserved forests and I am still discovering many of them. I’ve written about my experience in Kaziranga, the amazingly beautiful sanctuary in Assam and home to the endangered rhino.

safari

Last December, I travelled into the dense and magical jungles of Kanha and came back mesmerised. What variety and beauty around every corner. Every trip into the forest was filled with surprises and delightful encounters. So what if I didn’t spot the elusive cat (well, that’s another story, for another day!) but I’ve loved every adventure into the forest.

Male spotted deer

This time, it was an opportunity to visit the Kali Adventure Camp, thanks to Jungle Lodges, and though the monsoons have set in, I still thought it would be a good experience. I was also lucky to be in the company of Supriya Sehgal, who blogs at Teafortravel and is a well-known author of several Lonely Planet guides. So I was in good company!

The green view from the cottage of the Kali River Camp, Dandeli

Here’s why I love my adventures into the forest…

A chance to take in the peace and quiet

I frankly much prefer the chirping of birds, the cacophony of cicadas or the call of a deer. We easily call it noise, but it’s more like sounds of the jungle. And I would rather listen to these sounds than the constant honking of vehicles in the city, where people are in a mad rush to reach Lord only knows where and create such a ruckus in the process.

Into the forest

The jungle on the other hand is the last refuge of a different kind of quietude. Some people call it “dull”. Some people don’t actually know what to do with themselves in a forest. There’s a stillness that can be a balm in our hurried lives. I think if you want to just step back for a while, and let a different kind of peace wash over you, the forest is the place to head to.

The anticipation of what’s to come

Arjun our guide on this trip has his ears and eyes attuned to everything; even the slightest movement catches his eye. It’s interesting to watch naturalists in their habitat and at work. They are extremely sharp and develop an innate sense of knowing when an animal is nearby. Their ears alert to even the smallest of sounds. I remember a time in Kanha, when we sighted a dead sambar on the roadside. It was definitely a tiger kill, and we thought he would come back for his lunch. So we waited there for nearly an hour.

Tiger kill

There’s nothing much you can do really but hope during this period. And anticipate. And try and predict which way the animal might appear from. Sadly, it was not to be. The tiger was in no mood to appease our hunger for a sighting. But a lot of the fun was in the anticipation.

You’re alert, you know there are many eyes watching you from behind the tall bushes and grasses. But whether you get to see them is a matter of your luck and chance! The animals are not going to give you anything on a platter for sure.

The thrill of the sighting

While most people think they’ll see a tiger the first time they go out into the forest, the chances are actually quite low. Arjun tells us that there are around 15 tigers in this massive Dandeli-Anshi stretch. Imagine the possibility of a tiger in your path just as you happen to be on a safari. You can just calculate and imagine the chance. It’s rather low. But there are so many other animals in the forest, that while you’re possibly looking to sight a tiger, it’s really interesting to see other animals in their natural habitat. Many endangered, rare and quite shy of any thing that resembles a human being. Arjun spots a pack of wild jackals in a far away bush. Something we would never have seen without his help. Jackals are shy (like most other animals) and we are lucky to sight 3 of them in a pack. They look at us too for a moment. It must be a better sighting for them I’m thinking. There are 4 of us.

Then there are the spotted deer who stare at us when we are quite a distance away. Or dash across the road trying to avoid us. But as soon as we approach, they skitter away.

The shy spotted deer looking at us before disappearing into the bushes

High up on a tree is the serpent eagle, regal and patient, waiting to spot his prey on the ground. Once he catches sight, he will swoop down and catch it, leaving his prey very little chance to escape. On another branch is the pretty peacock, exhibiting his feathers in a downward swoop and letting us admire him from afar. When he’s had enough, he disappears into the wild.

The thrill of a sighting can keep a wildlife lover in raptures for hours, days and even years!

It’s a lush, human free zone

There’s something I really like about the fact that the forest is lush, green and also an area where there are very few humans. The forest is one last refuge that we must guard strongly. Especially, in a country teeming with a billion and a half people, it’s absolutely refreshing to not sight another human. Though I was deeply disappointed when at the end of our safari, we encountered a jeep filled with loud tourists, whose group contained two women wearing yellow neon-coloured clothing and a few guys wearing the shiny multi-coloured sunglasses.

So, yes – there are those who have absolutely no idea about the rules of the forest and it’s sad that people carry their city behaviour and bad habits back to the forest. I wish there was a way in which such people could be banned from entering. They deserve to live only in the cities and not be let out.

But otherwise, the monsoons are a low peak season so not too many people venture to these parts. I’m glad we did though. Despite the showers, we did sight animals and enjoyed the lushness that the forest offers during this season. An an interesting fact to know: Karnataka’s forests are open throughout the year, unlike many others which close down during the rains.

The forest is lush and green and so beautiful during the rains

Just as we were exiting the reserve, we catch a glimpse of this beautiful guy with rippling muscles. The Indian gaur, in case you were thinking of a Bollywood actor. The gaur is a rather huge creature and with his impressive horns; you don’t want to be too close. He looked up for a bit to give us a pointed stare and then went back to his busy work task of chomping on something green. Was he scaring us off to say don’t come back too often?
Just after he went back to his meal of the day!
But, despite his word of warning, I know I’ll be back.

About Jungle Lodges
Jungle Lodges operates 16 resorts spread all across Karnataka including Bheemeshwari, Dandeli, Devbagh, Bandipur, Kabini, Bidar amongst many others. Accommodations varies from tents to rooms to independent cottages. Besides, there are 3 resorts operated on management contract. The company promotes eco-tourism, wildlife tourism, adventure tourism and various outdoor activities like trekking, camping, white water rafting, fishing etc., that are non consumptive components of eco-tourism and in general help in environment conservation.

Visit:
Jungle Lodges | Facebook | JLR Explore

Simple, but delicious food

How to cook a perfectly delicious meal on a houseboat

As we cruised the waters of the Vembanad lake, I went to investigate my most favourite place. The kitchen.

That’s where all the action is, after all.

Joji, one of the 3 staff members on the boat, was busy frying something that looked fishy. And he confirmed my suspicions by identifying it as seer (or king) fish. The rest of our lunch was already done.

Seer fish being fried by our chef

Seer fish being fried by our chef

Luckily, I took to Kerala cuisine, like a duck takes to water. On an earlier trip to Kerala (details shall be withheld to protect offending party!) we were so busy eating all kinds of delicacies, that we didn’t make it in time for our flight out (also the first time in my flying history, I’ve missed one!).

Fried seer fish for our lunch on the houseboat

Fried seer fish for our lunch on the houseboat

On another trip with my sister and mom we had some really delicious fare, especially on our houseboat ride. Even my very hard-to-please mother was satisfied enough to give the chef some brownie points.
An array of delicious fare including fish fry, dal, tomato/onion relish and karela fry

An array of delicious fare including chicken fry, dal, tomato/onion relish and karela fry (bitter gourd)

I also realised that I am quite easy to please since since I’m very fond of coconut. Lately, the sister (also a former chef) has been extolling the virtues of coconut oil. And telling the whole family to adapt to it. Considering ours is an Assamese family, and we are addicted to our mustard oil, you can imagine that convincing my mother hasn’t an easy task.

Needless to say, she hasn’t succeeded on that front, but I’m already swayed by the goodness of this pure oil. I haven’t really done much research on it myself (sis has done enough for the whole family), but some factors indicate that it’s better than refined oil and also good for health. And that people in countries populated by coconut trees and who consume copious amounts of coconut oil are healthier. Interesting that though I don’t have statistics.

Delicious coconut chutney. It's hard to avoid coconut in  your cuisine when in Kerala

Delicious chutney with pineapple and lots of garnish

You see, in God’s own country, you can’t really go more than a few meters without encountering a coconut in one form or another. It’s in your food, your oil, your soap, and of course, in every frame. Imagine what your friends would say if you went back from Kerala without those sinful banana chips fried in coconut oil.
A variety of different chutneys including a beetroot pachadi

A variety of different chutneys including a beetroot pachadi (extreme left)

There must be more coconut trees in Kerala than in the rest of the world combined. Though I was told that there are absolutely no coconut related deaths in Kerala – a local told me this confidently. And yes, I have my doubts about this one.

Coming back to our houseboat, we’re on a cruise – possibly the most relaxing time we’ve had in Kerala so far. The Kerala Blog Express team has been split up into several groups. I am with two lovely women – Roxanne (aka The Tiny Taster from Mumbai) and Stefania (Dutch, but now residing in Malaga, Spain), who writes about life from an expat’s perspective. Roxanne loves food as her blog name suggests and takes pictures of everything before we partake of the delicacies. We’re all happy to finally get an opportunity to let our hair down and just relax – this time was much needed since we’ve been on the move since we arrived in Trivandrum.

We are travelling in style. This is our dining area on the houseboat.

We are travelling in style. This is our dining area on the houseboat.

We sit on the deck of our boat enjoyed the cool air as we made our way through the waters. Watching life pass in slow motion in front of us. Someone is making their way across to the other side in a smaller row boat. Another one is loaded with a cycle. A lady whipping her clothes on the lake shore and finishing her daily dose of laundry. A little kid bathing happily in the waters beside her home. It’s like watching a different kind of TV – daily life TV maybe.

The houseboat lunch has to be the most delicious so far in this trip. It could also be because it’s the closest to home cooked food, which I usually prefer when I travel. Most of my sojourns include homestays (something I’ve missed on this trip) because that’s where I get to taste the best local food.

A simple but yummy cabbage fry with onions, mustard seeds and coconut (but, of course!)

A simple but yummy cabbage fry with onions, mustard seeds and coconut (but, of course!)

This is what we got on our plate for lunch:
– A long beans sabji (vegetable fry)
– A cabbage fry (with my favourite ingredient, coconut)
– Sambar
– Seer fish fry
– Red rice
Lunch is served!

So much food. So little time.

The stir fries are simple, and usually cut into small bits. Like the cabbage. And garnished with black mustard seeds and coconut. This style of preparation is called a “thoran“.

And since this post is about cooking up a delicious meal, here’s the recipe a cabbage thoran you can try at home. It seems really simple!

Before this particular culinary treat, we were actually treated to our first traditional meal on another houseboat cruise, organised by Hotel Raviz, Kollam. They had put out an elaborate meal as we cruised the backwaters and and these were some of the delicacies I remember:
– Fried prawn (really succulent and the best I’ve had so far on the trip)
– Thalassery mutton biryani
– Roast chicken (not sure which style, but was quite good)
Meen moilee (coconut preparation – loved it!)
– Loads of pickles/raitas and sides like beetroot pachadi, crisp fried bitter gourd, pineapple raita and other chutneys that I didn’t take note of
– Appams with vegetable stew
There were also a few traditional vegetarian dishes, which I didn’t pay much attention to since there was prawn and fish :-)

Eating our way through Kerala - it's a tough job, you know!

Eating our way through Kerala – it’s a tough job, you know!

I think I must have been a Keralite in my last birth since I can’t seem to get enough of coconuts. Curries, chutneys, water, drinks – bring it on! Except in my hair. I realised after two days of trying to wash it out after a rather relaxing Ayurvedic massage at the Kumarakom Lake Resort.

Anyway, I must admit that I haven’t gone as far as my sister though. She even cooks her pasta in coconut oil. And claims it’s really delicious. That’s not something I’m not ready to try yet.

END NOTE:
This is part of a 15 day trip across Kerala with 25 other bloggers, travellers, writers and photographers and a promotion by Kerala Tourism. Follow the gang via the hashtag #keralablogexpress on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook. You can also follow us through the website, Kerala Blog Express.

The houseboats were provided by: Lakeslagoons.com. Clean, well appointed and attentive staff in case you’re looking for a company to rent houseboats while in Kerala.

Follow me on Twitter: @anitabora; Facebook: Anita Recommends and Instagram: anitabora

Munnar and God's own country

Two weeks in God’s own country!

A month or so ago, I came across the Kerala Blog Express and on a whim, decided to give it a go. Why not, I thought? I have travelled quite a bit in Kerala, but a chance to go back is always welcome.

So, was quite pleasantly surprised, when the results came out and I was chosen to get onboard the Express, which departs on March 10. Two weeks going around Kerala with a bunch of enthusiastic, well travelled bloggers, who will converge in Trivandrum from different parts of the world (including a few from India) and then set out together.

Here’s to a different view of Kerala. More experiences, and many more pictures and stories!

(This photograph taken in Munnar a few years ago, on another trip).

South India

My top 5 picks in the south

Something I wrote a while ago, published by rediff.com.

The places I’ve listed (some of them are possibly pretty familiar to most of you) and yet I was surprised when a very dear friend today confessed that she has never been to Pondicherry. So there goes! I take it for granted that these are relatively popular places, but if you haven’t visited yet, now is a good time.

I’ve also listed some of my favourite places to stay in each of them.

My picks: Pondicherry, Tharangamvadi (though I believe even Tharangampadi is an acceptable spelling), Nersa, Goa and Havelock (in the Andamans). Not sure if the last one technically can be called south India, but it’s still the deep south.

Top 5 Must Travel Places in South India

Enjoy :-)

 

 

 

 

 

Spotted deer caught in the morning light

Tryst with nature: The Kanha National Park

In December 2013, I got the opportunity to spend a few days exploring the Kanha forests, and relaxing at the Kanha Earth Lodge, a comfortable haven for wildlife and nature lovers.

A trip into the forests of Madhya Pradesh is incomplete without a tiger sighting. Or so they say. Though it was something that was on my mind, I wasn’t really too stressed about it. My guide, on the other hand, was. He tried his hardest to make sure we sighted a tiger, but unfortunately, the two times we went into the Mukki and the Kisli zones, the tiger wasn’t in a mood to come out in public.

Early morning landscape
An early morning scene as we enter the Kanha National Park

The tiger is one magnificent animal and there’s nothing as memorable as seeing one roaming free in the wild. But with the dwindling numbers and the poaching reports, I am not very hopeful of this animal’s future. We’re definitely bent upon eliminating this majestic creature from the Indian landscape and doing a good job of it too.

But leaving aside the tiger, I still considered myself lucky to be ensconced in the lap of nature. To see beautiful creatures like the sambar, the spotted deer, the bison, the barasingha, and many different species of birds in their natural habitat.

Barasingha in the water
A barasingha takes a sip from a water body

As you venture deep inside, you feel how small and insignificant you are in the larger picture. The breadth and depth of the jungle is hard to really comprehend. And to think that only 20% of the area is open to tourists. The maidan (a huge area with long wild grass) could hide a few tigers easily. You would be hard pressed to sight one in the thicket even he (or she) slinks right past. And the adjoining hills provide a great place for them to wander, totally unseen.

Into the jungle
The morning safari into the forest

In my two forays into the forest with our guide, naturalist Chinmay Despande, I caught sight of the sambar, the spotted deer, barasingha, owls, many different birds including large birds of prey. Since we went in the morning and the afternoon, we got to experience different moods of the forest. And I highly recommend both the trips – the morning and the evening.

You looking at me?Bison by the roadside Male spotted deerThe male specimen of the spotted deer
Tiger killA large sambar lying by the road, fresh tiger kill LangurLangur, enjoying the morning sun

More pictures in the Flickr photo album

In the lap of luxury at the Kanha Earth Lodge

After that, it was back to our base for some rest and relaxation at the Kanha Earth Lodge, located around half hour from the Kanha gate. What I really liked about this particular property is it’s earthy construction. The exteriors and interiors blend with the environment so that nothing is glaring or a misfit.


The dining area at the Kanha Earth Lodge
The central dining area

Care for a swim?
Relax on a warm day by the poolside

Interiors of the Kanha Earth Lodge
Interiors of the lodge

One of the cottages
Your cottage: Earthy and comfortable

The main construction material is stone, which has been sourced from the area and sal wood, which is one of the primary varieties of wood available for building in this region. There are 12 cottages in all, 6 on each side of the central dining and living area. And this common area has 2 long dining tables to cater to a full house.

Looking out,
Enjoy the peace and quiet in your cottage sit-out area

This Pugdundee Safaris property became functional around 2010 and their other properties are located in Panna, Bandhavgarh and Satpura. There is a property in Pench under construction. Each property is different with the Satpura property topping the list in terms of location, with it’s beautiful view of the Denwa river.

The Lodge tries to encourage sustainability practices like sourcing vegetables from neighbouring villages. Setting up the villagers with seeds, supplies, manure etc. The harvest is then procured by the resort for consumption. Around three farmers are now a part of this program and Chimnay oversees this too.

A village ride
A cycle ride to the nearby village
Looking over his farm
A farmer looking out into his field

The staff is also mainly local, except the chefs, naturalists and senior staff. Some of the naturalists are from around the area – they are trained and some like Chinmay are from other states – he is from Maharashtra, Mahesh is from Nepal. Pugdundee has around 2-3 naturalist (12 in total) for each of their properties.

Though the Kanha property doesn’t boast of other luxuries like a gym, sauna/spa etc. it does have a swimming pool for you to lounge around, especially when the weather gets warmer. The Bandhavgarh property also boasts of tree houses, which remained on my wish list. The interiors too have won several awards, and the accolades are all displayed on a wall.

Locally made items
A wall display of traditional arms

Local handicrafts
Handcrafted metal lamp

A nice idea
A boat doubles up as a bar

Interiors of the Kanha Earth Lodge
A wall displaying local masks

All the mementoes, knick-knacks and handicrafts have been sourced from local crafts people from the state. I spy a wall of beautiful wooden masks (Bastar), wooden bow and arrow sets, a intricately carved animal stool and a tall metal lamp and beautiful cushions embroidered in a signature style.

Tiger, tiger… burning bright?

We’ve heard of a lot of numbers around the tiger, India’s national animal. In fact, after reading reports and statistics about the tiger in India, it’s not probably unusual to draw the conclusion that this animal is going to be extinct soon.

There’s something about the tiger. It elicits all kinds of reactions. From fear and respect, to admiration and obsession. There are many wildlife enthusiasts who visit every sanctuary in India just in the hope of catching a glimpse of the elusive tiger.

On a short trek upto the sunset point nearby, I chat with naturalist Chinmay Deshpande and Ashish Abraham (manager of one of Pugdundee’s new properties in Satpura) and they are surprisingly optimistic about the fate of the tiger. Working closely with wildlife, forest officials and the government, they feel that there are enough champions of the tiger and they will ensure that this animal will survive. I am not so sure. The numbers are already manipulated so much that no one really knows the actual number or anything close to it.

But I’m happy that these youngsters still feel optimistic about the tiger’s future. Who knows – maybe next time I venture out into the jungle, I might still see one?

(NOTE: This trip was made possible on an invitation from Pugdundee Safaris. The opinions expressed in the blog post, needless to say, are all mine.)

Naturalist Chinmay Deshpande about his passion for all things wild

Naturalist, Chinmay Deshpande, and his passion for all things wild

Meet naturalist and snake expert, Chinmay Deshpande, who decided that pursuing his dreams was worth sacrificing a career in IT and a desk job. You only have one life, says this young man. And we agree! This is his story.

Enjoying a peaceful and serene sunset

Enjoying a peaceful and serene sunset

He was hooked at a young age. A wildlife enthusiast and a naturalist at the Kanha Earth Lodge, Chinmay confesses he got interested in reptiles and snakes after watching a lot of Discovery and NG channel while growing up. He began to learn about handling snakes by watching and observing and soon in his hometown people started calling him whenever there was an issue. He began to learn and understand how to handle venomous and non venomous snakes. At the same time, he was also pursuing his studies and went into commerce, but his heart was always in wildlife and nature.

He conducted workshops and camps to educate children and people, especially those of the poorer economic class, who face conflict on a regular basis. Chinmay took on a part-time job as a swimming coach to earn some money, but continued to work with snakes. He says since he would offer his services for free, there were also a lot of people who would take advantage. Some would give him petrol money but others didn’t want to pay at all (sometimes they would rather kill the snake, than pay up). But he decided to persist.

At that point of time, Chinmay recounts that he had a life changing experience of sorts when he got bitten by a cobra he was handling. It was his own mistake and he knew exactly what he did wrong. He talks about how he took himself to the hospital (a government one, since he says that they are the ones who stock the anti-venom). It was a near death experience, but he survived after going through nearly 6 months of recovery. But it made him even more determined to continue his work in the field (rather than deterring him).

Chinmay leads us on a walk to the sunset point

Chinmay leads us on a walk to the sunset point

He was in a near coma and survived to tell the tale, but Chinmay saw this as a second chance at life. And he realised he’d rather spend his second chance pursuing his passion, than work in a dead-end job that he didn’t care about. It was refreshing meeting Chinmay, because it’s rare to see such passion in someone so young. I find it admirable that he was able to recognise and pursue his goals and aims at such a young age.

He continued his work and decided not to get into full time coaching. He also says that to pursue a vocation like swimming, he needed a piece of paper with a certification. No matter that he could do the job, in this country it’s the qualification on paper that’s important. Not ground experience. Sad, but true as many of us would have personally experienced.

But this is when Chinmay decided to pursue his interests full time. He looked at different career options. While researching online, he came across the posting for a naturalist. He decided to research this and also approached others in the field for advice on how to go about it. He studied about other species like birds and mammals (to increase his knowledge beyond snakes and reptiles) and built his knowledge base over a period of time.

As a career option, NGOs and other smaller organizations are not worth the time and effort he says, due to the meagre compensation. “Though our needs are basic and limited, what they offer is not enough,” says Chinmay. Soon, he was able to get a job as a naturalist and in the early years he worked in Panna and Pench. He then joined Pugdundee Safaris two seasons ago, at their Kanha property where he is now based.


Out on a nature and birdwatching walk with Chinmay

Out on a nature and birdwatching walk with Chinmay

He tells me how his parents initially were really confused and unsure about his job choice. “Yeh naturalist, kya cheez hai?” is perhaps their line of thinking and not surprisingly, since that generation usually recognises just 2-3 professions – doctors, engineers and IT. Then he brought his parents down for a visit to the sanctuary and apparently his mom now appreciates and understands his job a little more. Even his cousins and friends often want to hear his interesting stories, which probably spice up their otherwise routine lives.

He works with villagers and school kids nearby on increasing awareness about wildlife, snakes etc. whenever there is an opportunity. Chinmay points out that since educated folks go on and usually move to the city (or even overseas) for better opportunities, their contact with wildlife is limited. “It’s no point telling them about wildlife,” he says. On the other hand, it’s villagers and their children who come into direct contact (and sometimes conflict) with wildlife. It makes sense to make this segment of society more aware of dealing with conflict, appreciating wildlife and knowing how to handle a crisis situation.

Chinmay telling us more about the jungle over lunch by the riverside

Chinmay telling us more about the jungle over lunch by the riverside

The Kanha forests are truly beautiful and it gives Chinmay the chance to continue his work with reptiles and snakes. During our nature walk, he also familiarised me with the birds in the area, their migratory patterns and we also indulged in some bird watching. During our short walk we saw the black drongo, rufus treepie, the rose ringed parakeet, black hooded oriole, white throated kingfisher, egrets, pond herons, common stone chat, paddy field pipit, teeter (hindi word, grey fancolin), large grey babblers, southern coucal, common hoopoe, lesser whistling duck, spotted dove, red-vented bulbul and jerdon’s leaf bird.

Apparently, we nearly missed a tiger, which had strayed into the village just across the lake from where we were. The young male of around 4-5 years is still trying to define his territory and is often found roaming around, sometimes straying into the buffer zone. Today, he decided to sit outside one of the village houses for a while. We were very close but didn’t even guess all this was happening while we were birdwatching. We only found out when we came back to the lodge later.

With Chinmay & Ashish (manager of the Satpura property) at the Kanha Earth Lodge

With Chinmay & Ashish (manager of the Satpura property) at the Kanha Earth Lodge

I was impressed by the knowledge and the strength of determination of this young naturalist to trod his own path. Someone like Chinmay is also a role model for those who want to pursue their passions, rather than trod the usual well-laid down path and sends a clear message: go forth and live your dreams!

(I visited the Kanha Earth Lodge in December 2013, on an invitation by Pugdundee Safaris, who also run a few other properties in Satpura, Pench and Bandhavgarh).