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April in India - Is HOT


Rcfengen
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I have never written a trip report and always feel guilty when I read others, because I enjoy them so much.  So I am going to force myself to begin writing some trip reports to give back to the community.

My first trip report will be on a trip my wife and I took to India in April 2017, we spent virtually the entire month of April travelling through various National Parks in India, in search of Tigers and Rhinos.  I wanted to see both Tigers and Rhinos in the wild before that was no longer possible and so India was the logical choice for a trip.  We were very successful in seeing both Tigers and Rhinos and enjoyed almost every aspect of our trip to India.  During the planning stage I discovered that the “best” time to see Tigers was around April, as much of the foliage was dead and so they were therefore easier to spot.  Also since it is very hot in April, Tigers (as well as other animals) would be moving to water and so not just bedded down all day.  I can confirm that April was great for seeing Tigers, I can also confirm that it is hot, very hot and very dry.  We experienced highs of 40-45 degrees Celsius most days.  When we got to the far Eastern part of India in Assam the temperatures cooled considerably.

The heat was bad but the dust was worse, a fine layer of it was on everything constantly, we had to buy scarves to cover up our cameras as well as our noses and mouths.  I would not suggest changing lenses outside at this time of year.

On with the trip, we left Vancouver on March 30th on a direct flight to Delhi.  We have been to India before but this was our first time to Delhi.  Fun fact - New Delhi is actually a section of Delhi, for many years I thought the city was New Delhi, I have been corrected, the city is Delhi and there is an area of the city which is New Delhi.  We arrived in Delhi on April 1st.  We spent a few days in Delhi as tourists enjoying the Markets, Monkeys and the Mayhem. 

The highlight of Delhi for me was the food it was excellent, if you like good food you will love Delhi.  We had the best fried chicken we have ever tasted at a little stall in Old Delhi.  Of course there are all the well-known tourist attractions that one should visit and can be found in any book or on-line, I will add a couple of places to those lists.  First, the Spice Market area in Old Delhi is fascinating, it is actually hard to breathe in the area because of the pungent chilies.  You can climb up on the roof of the Spice Market for a beautiful view of Old Delhi and watch the monkeys scampering around on the roof tops.

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The other thing I recommend to do in Delhi is to take a ride in an Auto Rickshaw (Tuk Tuk) through Old Delhi, the sounds, the smells, the thrills it is as good as an amusement park ride.  My wife made a couple of videos on her phone of our ride and they are hilarious to watch.

Final comment on Delhi (and it applies to India in general) be careful with the stray dogs.  My wife loves animals and was going to pet a stray dog when a gentleman came running over and shooed the dog away.  He warned us that most of the strays are rabid and it is best to stay away from them, good lesson to learn on day one, thank you kind stranger.  Not sure why someone had painted this dog but it was interesting.

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On April 4th we left Delhi and drove to Jaipur, which is known as the Pink City.  The drive was crazy but nothing compared to what was to come further into the trip.  In the Western world we commonly look at a distance and expect we will average 100 kilometers per hour (or 60 mph).  In India on all of our drives (and we drove hundreds of kilometers) we averaged about 25 kph, it takes a long time to get anywhere in India.  The drive from Delhi to Jaipur was approximately 300 kilometers and it took us about 7 hours with a couple of food and bathroom stops.  This was the best road we drove on during the entire trip.

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There is a lot to see and do in Jaipur.  You should not miss the Amber Fort, it is truly spectacular.  There are of course the usual tourist attractions which you will easily find on line or in a book.  I again will highlight a couple that are not so well known.  The first is Jantar Mantar located right in the middle of the Old Town it is one of the first Astrology labs in the world, it is fascinating what can be studied here.   I highly recommend you go with a guide who understands what Jantar Mantar is and can explain to you what you are seeing.  A quick note on guides in India, simply hire one.  They are very inexpensive by Western standards and they are all very good in my experience.  We hired a guide (pre-arranged) in every city and they were all very good and knowledgeable.   The other off the tourist track recommendation is the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing.  Hand Printing or Block Printing is how the Indians decorated their fabrics for many centuries.  This museum shows how the dies are made by hand using wood, a craftsman is actually there making dies, for a small tip he will gladly give you one of his creations.  They also have a craftsman actually printing on pieces of cotton, which they will also give to you as a souvenir.  Not the normal touristy place but very interesting and an important part of the history of the region.

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The other thing that Jaipur is famous for is the show Monkey Thieves, if you have ever watched the antics of the monkeys on the show, you have seen Jaipur as it is all filmed in the city.  As you might expect there are monkeys all over the city and they do put on mini shows for the public.  I cannot get enough of watching the monkeys run around and wreak havoc.

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On April 6th we finally drove the relatively short distance to Ranthambore National Park.  The drive is approximately 160 km and took just over four hours.  The first half is on the highway that joins Jaipur and Agra and it is a good road.  Then you turn right off the main highway onto rural roads.  We passed hundreds of Combines which were on their way to Pakistan for the harvest.  Three men and one motorcycle hanging precariously onto each Combine as they passed.  The last 45 minutes of the drive is on a very narrow dirt road which will ensure everything in your vehicle including you is well shaken.  Finally we arrived at the Tigress Hotel our home for the next few days.

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One of my favourite photos of the entire trip is of the two guys carrying four goats on a motorcycle.  We slowed as we passed them so I could take the pictures and they gave me the look like, what are you looking at, nothing abnormal here…..

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Ranthambore National Park is the former hunting grounds of the Maharajahs, in fact Prince Phillip asa guest of the Maharajah, killed a tiger here back in the 60’s.  We hope that no one kills a tiger here ever again.  Ranthanbore is the closest place to Delhi where you can see a tiger in the wild and not much further from Mumbai, so it is frequented by many tourists, lots of Gypsy’s and Canter’s virtually everywhere.  The good thing is there is also a lot of wildlife everywhere.  Because of all the wildlife the crowds keep coming back.  Late in the afternoon on the day we arrived we were picked up by our guide and taken to Ranthambore Fort.  On the way to the Fort we saw hundreds of Langurs and Rhesus Macaques monkeys as well as Spotted Deer, Sambhar Deer and a Mongoose.  When we parked at the Fort the birds came out.  First you hear and then see the Peacocks and they were putting on some brilliant displays.  The locals had a feeding station for the parakeets and it was working well, there were hundreds of them.

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The climb up to the Fort is significant and it was hot, we took our time and stopped often to enjoy the monkeys who were literally running everywhere around us (within inches) and made it up to the top with no problems.  You can also pay porters to carry you up in a chair that looks like it was made for an Emperor, luckily I am not that old – yet.  The ruins of the Fort are amazing, but for me the Monkeys running around were far more interesting.

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When you get up to the top you are rewarded with a beautiful view

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If you like old architecture you will be spoiled by some of the sights and ruins

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My wife snapped this shot and immediately said, I just got the best shot of the trip, it was like day 6 and she was willing to commit.   I gave her a hard time, however after three more weeks and thousands of more shots she was proved right, a great shot.

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There was no shortage of photo opportunities.  The Guide we had for the tour of the Ranthambore Fort was actually the owner of the Tour Operator that we had booked the Ranthambore portion of the trip with.  He was as good as a Guide can get, I wished he could have stayed with us the entire time.  On the drive back to the Tigress Hotel the Guide twice spotted large Crocodiles and stopped so we could get pictures.  No one else was stopping.  He also stopped numerous times and scanned the cliffs looking for a leopard, unfortunately we were not successful in seeing a Leopard today.

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Back to the Hotel and dinner.  The food at the Tigress Hotel is a mix of Indian and Western, they do Indian much better than Western, no surprise.  You will find things to eat, but they are not going to win any awards for their food.

Next morning we were up early for our game drive in Ranthambore.  This was also our first game drive in India.  Let me offer some comments about Indian Game Drives for other first timers.  At Ranthambore you can either go in a Canter (bus) or a Gypsy (jeep) for a game drive.  Obviously a Canter is less expensive but has way more people.  We did not know that you could book a private Gypsy and so were sardined in with four other tourists, a guide and a driver in a Suzuki Jeep.  There are two rows of seats for the tourists and so two people are stuck in the “middle” seats, which are not great to either see or take pictures.  When we go back we will definitely have private Gypsy’s.

Now, I had done some research (it never seems to be enough) and knew that Ranthambore was very touristy and so we only planned one day and two game drives at the park.  Reading on Safaritalk (after I got back) I now know that you can take whole day drives in Ranthambore and have access to all zones, I think next time I would spend a few days there on the all day game drives, there are lots of animals and birds in the park.

So we get picked up at the Tigress Hotel by the Gypsy, the driver and the guide in the front and my wife and I each spread out over a separate bench assuming we are the only guests on the drive.  We have our cameras, binoculars and water out and are quite comfortable.  As we are driving from the hotel to the main road another Gypsy waves us down and tells us that there is a family of new born Jackals a hundred meters down the track.  We quickly take off and get to watch the family of Jackals playing around the mouth of their den.  Wow this is great and we have not really left the hotel grounds yet.

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So after watching the Jackals play for a few minutes we continue on to better things.  We make a 15 minute drive only to stop at another hotel, two more people join us.  No problem you get the front bench we will take the back one.  Not quite as much room for the cameras and such but we can manage, off we go.  Another 5 minutes down the road and we stop at another hotel, two more people are joining us. 

Humans are so interesting in how we react to certain situations.  It is like the whole elevator protocol of where the proper place to stand is for everyone who gets on the elevator.  Two people in the front and two people in the back already, so these two new people will have to split up.  However common courtesy says since they are splitting up they should not have to sit in the middle (which would split up the two couples already in the Gyspy) So in the end basically everyone gets a short straw.  Group 1 and 2 have someone in a middle very uncomfortable seat, which is difficult to see anything from.  And Group 3 is split up one in front and one in back.  No winners, unless you are a jerk and do not show common courtesy, luckily this is why I travel with my wife, she is in charge of common courtesy in the family.  So the adventure begins.

In order to get to the gate to enter the park you need to drive through (at least we did every time) the town of Sawai Madhopur.  I am not sure if this is a very dangerous town or if they dislike tourists but for some reason every time we drove through the town we did so at break neck speeds, very unsafe speeds.  Let me try to explain what a rural town in India is like.  First there are people, lots of people young and old and everything in between and they are everywhere.  It is no big deal to wander across any road at any time they just hope that the vehicles all have good brakes.  Then there are the vehicles and there are also a lot of them.  They too come in all shapes and sizes.  Of course there are cars and SUV’s, vans, trucks (very overloaded trucks) tractors (very overloaded tractors) taxis, Auto Rickshaws, Combines, motorcycles and various pushcarts, wheelbarrows and anything else you can imagine – sheer mayhem.  Now to that already bad mix, add the animals, they include in no particular order camels, cows (lots of cows), pigs, dogs, goats, sheep, elephants, cats, horses, chickens and of course monkeys.  So now add the fact that you are travelling at far too fast of a speed for any road, with all the hazards and you have craziness, hang on and enjoy the ride, Disneyland has nothing on this. 

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Every time we sped through the town we saw something that beat the last time.  The first time at a red light everyone was watching a husband and wife have a huge fight in the middle of the road.  The next time it was a bull fight, with two real bulls going at it on the side of the road.  My favorite was the 80 year old lady having her bath in a large basin on the sidewalk – yes fully naked.  Of course there were also very precious sights like the class of school children waving at us or the family of new born piglets all nursing on the side of the road.  We get to the gate to enter the park.  This was handled quickly and efficiently and we were off into the park.  The Langurs seemed like they were everywhere almost instantly.  Then, a little further into the park the Spotted Deer seemed to be everywhere, hundreds of them.  I asked the guide if they were tiger food, he said no too small for a tiger they prefer the Sambhar deer which are much bigger.  Soon enough we came upon 20 or so

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The Sambhar are big, like small moose, if this was the tigers favourite meal the tigers must be huge, let’s see one.  As we drove along the track there were langurs and Rhesus Macques everywhere along with the deer.  We came around a corner and there was the rather exotic looking Blue Bull or Nilgai.

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As we continued on we came upon what would best be described as the Spotted deer nursery, there were new born babies everywhere you looked, many were only days old, some weeks old but as cute as anything you have ever seen.

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Continuing along the Guide got excited as we came upon an Indian Gazelle, it would be the only one we saw on the entire trip.

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We continued along up a track to where a number of Gypsy’s had stopped to talk.  All of a sudden they all sped away, we were on their heels down the hill and around.  Everyone slowed down and we crept up slowly to where we were 20 meters away from the majestic beast.  She was laying there in the shade not caring that 6 Gypsy’s and more than 25 people had now joined her.  After maybe ten minutes she rose and looked straight at us, must have been a hilarious sight and the only real sound was the whir of cameras focusing and shutters being opened and closed.  She was silent but you could feel her power.  She stared at us for a couple of minutes and then started to walk down a dry river bed which was on the other side of a rise, we could no longer see her.

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The driver yells sit down and hold on and off we go, the driver and guide discussing where they think she is going.  They decide she is on her way to a water hole, we hurry to get a good position at the water hole, but she never arrives.  Finally we need to leave as it is almost time to get out of the park.  On our way out somehow the guide spots an owl in a burrow, how I will never understand.  After much repositioning of the vehicle the driver gets us in at the right angle to see the owl.  A few years ago in the Amazon I had a guide spot an owl in a similar fashion, I can only assume the owls are always in the same burrow and so the guides do not have eyes in the backs of their heads they simply know where the owls are going to be.  Takes a second to spot them even in these pictures, took much longer in real life.

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Then it was off to make the deadline for leaving the park and back to the hotel for lunch and a bit of rest prior to the afternoon game drive.  We are thinking , this tiger sighting thing is easy, one game drive one tiger, the next few weeks are going to be GREAT – (ode to Tony) for those old enough to remember.  Stopped to look for the jackal family on the way back but no luck.  We did have a Blue Bull wandering around near the hotel gate though.  I am not usually into the floral on these trips but found these Fire Trees to be interesting.  I think we were just a few weeks early for some brilliant spectacles from these, it must be beautiful when they are all blooming.  We saw these throughout our journey.

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The afternoon started much like the morning, except we were only 5 not 6 tourists in the Gypsy, but of course my Southern raised wife is way too polite and offers far too quickly to take the middle seat, which gives me horrible pangs of guilt, since she had sat in the middle seat this morning, guess who ends up in the coveted middle seat. 

Interesting fact, at least I found it interesting, our highly knowledgeable guide from the morning drive was now selling souvenirs at the entrance gate, $2 for a ball cap, guess I did not tip enough in the morning, and I thought I was generous.  It is a hard life for these people, always remember that, we are their guests and a little goes a long ways.  That said always be on the lookout for the scam, be friendly, generous and diligent.  Enough preaching. 

We enter the park for the afternoon drive, peacocks are everywhere, not sure if it was the time of day or something else but they were all over the place.

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The guide this afternoon was very outgoing and excited when he learns that we saw a tiger this morning in this very same zone.  We take the obligatory drive around the track and see some Sambhar Deer sparring with each other.

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We also check out a few water holes I think hoping to find a tiger, instead we found this fellow.

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Let me say a few things about safari in India and safety, while maybe just one thing, it is dangerous.  Now do not get me wrong nothing happened to us we came home safely, but it really is dangerous.  The Gypsy’s are open, nothing stopping any wild animal from jumping in to say hello and these are little Suzuki jeeps, two guys could probably lift it up would hate to think what a Tiger, Elephant or Rhino would do to them if they wanted to.  But the driver and guides have no problem getting scary close to very wild animals.  In this case it was a crocodile who had little interest in us, but he was less than 3 meters away, if he changed his mind it could get very ugly very quickly, thankfully he did not.  I love the feeling that you are so close to the wild life in these little open vehicles but sometimes my comfort level was very low, more on that when we visit Kaziranga.

Back to the drive, lots of deer, lots of monkeys but not what we were really looking for.  We did manage to spot this little guy who was not shy at all.  He just sat looking at us only a meter away.  No, I was not worried he was going to jump in the vehicle.

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We finally made it back to the top of the hill that we were on when we saw the tiger this morning.  This time there were six Gypsy’s parked off on one side.  So we drive over and get in line.  Everyone is looking and pointing and the guides and drivers are all talking but we have no idea what they are saying.  Of course we cannot see anything.  So we haul out the binoculars we have carried half way around the world.  We look through the binoculars and think maybe we see something or is it a tree branch, not sure.  So the guide says, give me your binoculars and I will see if it is a tiger.  So I hand him the binoculars, he stares at something for like five minutes and says I think it is a tiger lying down.  He instructs the driver how to better position us to see.  He looks again with the binoculars and this time gets excited.  He hands the binoculars back to me and I see the tiger as does my wife, we are quite happy, another tiger.  I look around the vehicle and the other three people have iPhones at the ready.  There is no way they are seeing this tiger without our binoculars.  So being the generous Canadian that I am I pass the binoculars around so everyone can have a look.  Then the guide needs the binoculars again for another five minutes.  Now it is pass the binoculars around the vehicle time again.  So everyone has had a few turns and I mention that we would like to get OUR binoculars back.  The young German gentleman tells me to just wait - remember what I said about a private Gypsy. 

Then our Tigress friend from this morning decided to rise up and go down for a drink.  She came out of her semi cave and walked down the dry river bed towards a pool of water.  She seemed to move in slow motion.  We were probably 200 meters from her and I did not have enough lens, I committed to myself right then, that will never happen again.  I had a 70-200 mm with a 1.4 teleconverter and it just was not enough.  She was more than enough and I spent as much time watching her as I did shooting her, I was spellbound.  As it was I probably took a hundred images of her.  I will include a few.

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Just as she was getting to the water which was just beyond our view out popped two little surprises, her cubs.  The Guide said they were 6-8 months old and they were about the cutest things we had seen  since the baby Spotter Deer earlier.  They climbed up on some rocks and played with each other.  We watched them for fifteen minutes and then they followed Mom over to the water hole.  We drove down the hill and tried to find another position to see them but we did not find them again.

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So as we were driving back to the hotel we are thinking, this Tiger spotting is; one great and two very easy.  We were right about number one.  The next morning we were up early for the drive to Agra, we were this close we needed to see the Taj Mahal.  The first half of the drive was the same road as the last half from a couple of days earlier, then we got back on the ‘good’ road into Agra.  We arrived just before noon and were picked up by the tour guide at 12:30 pm.  We told him that all we wanted to see was the Taj Mahal, he basically said that is all there is to see.  Not sure what I expected, had never really thought much about it, but it was still different than what I expected.  I guess I thought the Taj Mahal was a residence like a Palace, but it is really a tomb and thus much smaller than I expected.  It is spectacular and the gardens and the area around it are breathtaking but the actual structure is big enough for three crypts and not much else.

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Something that kept striking me as wrong at all these tourist destinations was how they treated the locals and international tourists so differently.  Below is a pic of a sign typical of the entrance of an attraction, the international tourists pay a much higher entrance fee, which I think is absolutely fair.  However what I do not think is fair is that the international tourists do not wait in any lines they are ushered through on the other side of the ropes right up to the front and the Indians all wait in exceedingly long lines.  This was most evident at the Taj Mahal where our side went straight in and the Indians waited in a line of many hundreds of people.  It is their country and their monuments they should not be made to wait, one man’s opinion. 

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Our next destination was Panna National Park.  During planning it became quite evident that most of our travel on this trip was going to be by vehicle.  Planes were not possible for most of our travel and there were very few routes where a train would work.  However, the journey from Agra to Khajuraho was one trip that we could skip the car and take the train, the punchline from taking the train - my wife will never take another train in India in her life.  We booked First Class and read on Seat61.com that food was provided on The Shatabdi Express from Agra to Khajuraho.  (If you do not know about Seat61 and you travel by train anywhere in the world, look it up)  We left Agra at 11 am expecting a lovely ride through the Indian countryside and having a delightful lunch in a dining car.  We were scheduled to arrive in Khajuraho at 6:30 pm.  Our private berth was filthy, dirty sheets on the beds and hot, air conditioning was pitiful and it was 44 degrees outside.  Now we had it better than the people in the other classes, but it was awful.  When we realized that no food was available we started timing how long we stayed at each stop, unfortunately no two were the same.  We could see that you could buy food (drinks and chips, peanuts etc) on the platform.  We decided that at the next stop I would leave the train and buy us some food and drink and then race back on to the train.  You can imagine the discussion, what if you do not make it back onto the train? A good question.  So, you keep the phone I will take my wallet, passport and some money you keep the rest of the money.  If I do not get back on I will eventually make it to the hotel in Khajuraho wait there.  We will communicate through our children back home should we be separated.  I race out of the train, run to the first stall selling stuff and just grab anything and everything that looked edible (all junk food) and sprint back to the train, I made the whole trip in about two minutes, fifteen minutes later the train finally pulls out of the station, I am sure no one else knew why the crazy foreigners were laughing so hard.

We finally made it to Khajuraho at about 9:30 pm a full three hours behind schedule.  The next morning we were picked up by a representative from Pugdundee Safaris who we had used to arrange the next three game park visits for us.  The first stop on the tour was the Chandela Dynasty temples, built between 950 and 1050 AD.  These were buried in mud for hundreds of years and only re-discovered a few decades ago.  Not many politically correct ways to describe the carvings on the temples.  I figure it best to show a few images and move on.  I do recommend a visit to the temples, listening to the very proper guides explain, dogs having sex with women and men having sex with horses, well I found it quite amusing.

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After the Temples we were driven to Ken River Lodge just outside the gates to Panna National Park.  A warm welcome from the staff and we were shown to our room.  When we came up to the main dining hall for lunch we discussed the activities for the rest of the day with the manager.  He informed us that we would be driven back to Khajuraho for a Laser Light show, we looked at each other and said in unison, that will not be necessary.  As we had lunch we both agreed that seeing tigers was way more exciting than a Laser show.  So we enquired if we could book an afternoon game drive, of course was the answer.  So we went back and got ready for a game drive.  Because this was last minute it would be a private Gypsy - hallelujah.  As we walked with the guide from the main area of the lodge out to the parking lot he pointed this out.

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Our only snake of the trip, this guide was good.  I had a feeling this afternoon was going to be great.  Into the Gypsy and I noticed that the driver/guide had a pair of binoculars, excellent he would not need mine.  Less than a five minute drive to the gate and we are ready for our first drive in Panna.  As we enter the park it is very different from Ranthambore, much more of a forest feel to it.  We see the Spotted Deer and large Sambhar that have become so common place and more Langurs than in Ranthambore.  We stop at a water hole and the Langurs are everywhere, hundreds of them, drinking, nursing playing it was great.  While we are watching the Langurs the driver points out a Kingfisher, my wife’s favourite bird (at least it was at that point).  We took probably a hundred shots of Kingfishers on this trip, not sure we got the one we were really after, another reason to go back.

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We continued along the track and came to the area of the domesticated elephants.  Earlier in this report I bit my tongue and just jumped over all the “working elephants” in Jaipur without any editorial comments and I will leave it to each individual to decide if they want to partake, we do not.  I will say it broke our hearts to see these beautiful creatures chained up and being hit.  Later on in the trip we were fortunate enough to see some wild elephants, that experience had my wife crying.  A little further into a meadow and we have everything, Spotted Deer, Sambhar, Wild Boar and lots of birds

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You could tell the guide was working hard and he was watching closely, he spotted this well camouflaged bird right next to the track which did not seem to mind us being so close.  Cannot remember what he told us the name was.

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We had a very enjoyable tour of the park and then he got a call on either his radio or cell phone and he yelled hold on.  We took off on the badly rutted roads at probably 80 kph.  We were flying and my wife and I had no idea why, we had a hope of why, but no idea.  Finally we came skidding to a stop right near the Ken River.  He said hurry hurry and we went running down and jumped into a waiting boat.  Our driver of the Gypsy became the driver of the boat and we took off at high speed in the direction we had just come from only this time on the water.  The rushing made everything much more exciting and the fact that we did not really know where we were going or what we were going to see made it exhilarating also. Finally he cut the motor and scanned the shore with his binoculars.  He spotted what he was after and carefully pointed it out to us.  We were probably 100 meters away from a huge male tiger.

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He explained that he would slowly move up and then stop and let us watch it and take pictures and then move a little closer.  We did this for probably half an hour at probably 10 meters each time.  Finally we were probably 20 meters away from this male giant.  He made the female from a couple of days ago seem very small.  

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Finally when we were about 20 meters away the tiger slowly got up and started to walk up the hill.  When he got to the top of the hill he turned and looked at us and showed us those huge canines – WOW.  Then he went about a meter into the thicket and lay back down. 

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We watched for a while longer and then took the boat back to where the Gypsy was.  We did go back to the other side to see if he might cross the road to go see his girlfriend but did not manage to see him again.  Back to the Ken River Lodge.  Ken River Lodge was definitely the most rustic place we stayed on this trip, it could use some updating.  But if you do not mind the monkeys playing on the roof of your cabin and seeing the tracks of lots of interesting things every morning it is an adequate place to stay.  Our second game drive at Panna the next morning we were joined by just one other person, so lots of room.  We were not fortunate enough to see any tiger, but we had gone three for three on our first three game drives so were due to get skunked.  We did see lots of other things.  One interesting thing was a group of male Langurs, the guide explained that this was a batchelor group with no females and would be made up of males who had been banished from their family group.  We watched them for a while, they were far more aggressive than regular groups of Langurs, we found it quite fascinating.  This one is showing us his teeth.

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In the afternoon we had two people with us and their interests were very different than ours.  They wanted to keep moving and about half way through the drive they decided there were no tigers and we should just go back to the lodge.  We are happy to listen to the guides and wait quietly for something to happen.  No tigers but lots of fantastic wildlife.

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The next morning was April 12th and we went for a canoe ride on the Ken River, the bird life was spectacular, as were the monkeys playing in the trees above the camp.

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Here is a picture of the Ken River Lodge taken from the Ken river.

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We were picked up this morning and driven to Bandhavgarh National Park, which was another six hour drive.  I have explained what and who you share the roads with, let me try and explain what the roads are like.  Some of them are worse than the tracks in the national parks, dirt with more potholes than smooth patches.  However in all honestly this is usually just at the beginning or end of each journey, the majority of the roads in between are paved.  However most villages (and there are a lot of villages) have taken it upon themselves to install homemade speed bumps through their village so vehicles have to slow down and not hit them, their children or their animals.  So the drivers go as fast as possible and then have to slam on the brakes for the speed bumps, or pot holes, or the animals.  On this particular drive we came upon a herd of approximately 100 camels walking down the road.  That many camels take up a lot of room and so we moved at camel speed for quite a while until we could get by them all.

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Worse than the speed bumps are the cows and dogs which like to sleep on the warm pavement instead of the dirt, makes sense who can blame them.  However, they do not see any good reason to move when a vehicle comes along and so they do not, you need to go around them.  It takes a long time to drive anywhere in India.  We finally arrived at Kings Lodge just outside of Bandhavgarh National Park just before dinner.  Had a nice dinner (best food at a camp so far) and then retired to our cabin, which was very nice.  Next morning we are up early and jump in our Gypsy and are off to Bandhavgarh.   It is a very lovely park and from what we saw full of Jackals.  We also saw lots of Monkeys, Langurs, Wild Boar, Spotted Deer and Sambhar Deer, the afternoon drive was much the same.

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The next morning was a repeat of the first full day at Bandhavgarh, driving from water hole to water hole looking for sign or trying to hear the noises associated with a tiger, no luck with the tiger but no shortage of animals and birds to keep us busy and satisfied.

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In the afternoon we had a different driver, maybe the Lodge felt bad we had not yet seen a Tiger at Bandhavgarh and decided to change things up a bit.  The new driver was very enthusiastic and was positive we would see a Tiger this afternoon, we were not going to argue and his excitement was infectious.  This driver really worked hard, very little sitting and waiting he was trying to make things happen.  Driving fast from place to place a few minutes listening and looking and then on to the next destination.  I never really seem to ever know what happens or how they hear but suddenly we were told to hold on and we took off far faster than we should of.  We came up to a group of probably ten Gypsy’s all pulled over, our driver talked to a number of them and then drove ahead and got in position.  He told us exactly where to look and the fact that a female Tiger would be coming out to go back and meet up with her three cubs.  True to his word she appeared a few minutes later and walked parallel to the road about fifteen meters from the road for a few hundred yards.  We would move up and she would follow this went on for probably fifteen minutes.  Then she was going over a crest of the hill and would have come out into a nice clearing.  The guide informed our driver we had to leave or we would not get out of the park in time.  I quickly suggested that I would be prepared to cover the fine for staying too long.  The driver and guide informed me that the penalty was not cash but that they would both be banned from the park for one year.  So we had to leave.

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As we are speeding to get to the gate on time the driver all of a sudden hits the brakes hard and points to the side of the road.  Standing about five meters away is a Sloth Bear, unfortunately the bear and the near darkness made a picture impossible and he did not stay around for long which was okay as we could not stay either.  So check off a quick rendezvous with a Sloth Bear and get to the gate.  For the record, we did not get out of the park by the appointed time but no one really seemed to care, I guess there is a grace period and no one took me up on my offer of a bribe.

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The next morning we had one last game drive at Bandhavgarh and then were driven to Kanha National Park and the Kanha Earth Lodge.  This was the third and final Pugdundee Lodge of the trip for us.  Kanha Earth Lodge is a very nice lodge with great people and good food, the issue for me was that it is a good thirty minute drive from the park on a pretty bad road, I would have preferred something much closer to where we were going to, twice a day.  We did have a nice dinner and a great sleep, always seem to sleep well after the long stressful drives through rural India.  The next morning was very early as we had a long drive just to get to the park gates.  Before we even arrived at the gate we saw a few Indian Gaur at a great distance.  Once we entered the park we were treated to a number of new sights.  A Monitor Lizard in a tree next to a water hole.  A lot more Indian Gaur which are absolutely huge and seem to be everywhere in Kanha.  

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As we were driving through a very open plain the driver stopped and pointed out a pair of Jackals.  He then explained that the Jackals were hunting a baby Spotted Deer.  A couple of minutes later one of the Jackals took off at full speed chasing the baby deer.  After a minute or so the other Jackal took over the chase, which was basically going in large circles.  To our surprise the rest of the deer did not seem to really care that the baby was running for its life.  The driver explained that the jackals would continue to tag team the chase until the baby literally was exhausted.  As my wife and I sat there mesmerized by the hunt she said I do not want the baby to die but at the same time I know the Jackals need to eat.  Alas the hunt ended unsuccessfully but was thrilling to watch.

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On the morning of April 16th we had our last game drive at Kanha.  The general manager of the lodge decided to take us out himself this morning.  When we got to the gate he hand-picked our guide then most of the drivers and guides came over to shake his hand, we were with a celebrity this morning.  We saw the usual for the first part of the morning, then we spotted two elephants with riders a few hundred meters away.  He set a course to intersect the elephants and had a conversation with the handlers.  He explained that each morning these elephants and their handlers came out and checked on the health and welfare of the tigers in the area.  So these guys knew where the tigers were.  They explained where they were headed and as became evident later, obviously set up a rendezvous for a short while later.  We drove around for a bit and then came back to where the elephants were.  The elephants went right into the bush and straight away a tiger came out of the bush and across the road, right in front of the Gypsy.  You can tell from the photo that we were not exactly expecting it.  I love the picture because it shows you are searching for wild animals and never know what is going to happen or when, this is not like going to the zoo.

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We went and thanked the elephants who then left to follow the tiger deeper into the jungle.

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The lodge manager was not finished for the morning though.  We next headed to a dry river bed and positioned ourselves so we could see up the river bed quite a ways.  Then we waited.  There was lots to see as we waited, many birds and a Mongoose kept us busy.

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After quite some time all hell started breaking loose, it seemed that anything and everything that could make a noise was making it.  The sounds were unbelievable and the driver and guide were getting very excited.  Suddenly the guide yelled, look and pointed to the road forty meters in front of us.  Out came a Leopard who very gracefully crossed the road at a trot and was gone down the other side, where the noise erupted yet again.  We had not expected a Leopard and felt extremely lucky to have seen one.  Our morning was complete and we headed back to the Lodge.

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We took a box lunch and drove to Jabalpur for our flight to Delhi.  Uneventful drive to Jabalpur except for the last three or four kilometers where for some reason the driver took an awful dirt road to get into the airport.  It was so bad I asked him a couple of times if this was the way to the airport, he assured me it was.  Once we got to the airport it was obvious that we could have stayed on the main road all the way.  I asked him again why he took the back dirt road but he would not say.  It is a mystery to me to this day, maybe someone who reads this will have a plausible explanation.  We flew back to and spent the night in Delhi.  Very early the next morning we were back at the airport this time heading to Guwahati.  We were met at the airport in Guwahati and driven the five hours to Kaziranga National Park.  This is the far Eastern section of India in the Assam region.  Very green and lush and much cooler than where we had been.

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We stayed at Diphlu River Lodge which is very nice (Prince William and Kate stayed here a couple of years ago).  The gentleman who runs the lodge makes a visit worthwhile.  We got settled in and sat on the deck of our room overlooking the water and were soon greeted by this guy.

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We later learned he makes a daily trip to the kitchen to see what he can steal.  The view from the deck was beautiful and when we were not watching the birds and animals we could watch the local fisherman, very relaxing afternoon.

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We had come up to Kaziranga because I wanted to see Rhinoceros in the wild and understood that most of the one horned rhinos left in the world were at Kaziranga, something like 80% of all of them are here.  We started early the next morning and were at the park gate in a few minutes.  We did not go more than a couple of hundred meters into the park before we saw our first rhino and even less distance until we saw numbers 2, 3 and 4.  They were everywhere and very close.  Kaziranga was the first Indian park we had been to that the guides actually carried rifles with them.  I struggled with whether I felt safer because they had the gun or less safe because they needed the gun, we never saw a need luckily.

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The rhinos are abundant and healthy, lots of babies everywhere you look.   There are rarely sure things on safari but if you want to see a one horned rhino in the wild, I can honestly not believe you could visit Kaziranga and not see plenty, we saw hundreds.

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We saw just a many very large Water Buffalo both in and out of the water, they are huge.

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There are a number of domesticated elephants in Kaziranga and we were not very interested in them, they were busy with the tourists.  But they also have a significant number of wild Elephants in the park, the first ones we saw (mother and calf) brought tears to my wife.

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I love this picture, the elephant appears to be laughing

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Still laughing

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For the afternoon game drive they took us to another zone, not nearly as many rhinos, although they were still present but much more bird life.  On the way to the new zone we had to drive down the highway for ten or fifteen minutes and it was starting to rain so the driver pulled over to put the roof on the Gypsy.  As he was dealing with the roof he heard something across the street and hurried us to the other side of the road.  Up in the trees hanging around and playing were a family of Gibbons.  We were not in a park or a protected habitat just on the side of the road driving to the park and watching the Gibbons play in the trees.

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On to the park where as I said the birds were great

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As we came up a hill the driver pulled over and pointed high up in a tree.  Four very large Horn Bills were having breakfast and making quite a racket.

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The weather was not great and the roads were getting quite muddy so we did not stay out too long.  For us after having such hot and dry weather for the last couple of weeks it was a pleasant change.   We went back to the lodge for a beer and some dinner and an early night.  The next morning was to be our last game drive in India for this trip.  This morning the old driver became the guide and he had a young kid who was learning to be a driver take the wheel.  I joked with the guide when we met him that Kaziranga was our fifth park on this trip and we had seen a Tiger in each of the first four parks.  We really had not come to Kaziranga to see Tiger but we had seen everything else so why not.  I asked him if he had ever seen the famous video of the Tiger jumping at the elephant in Kaziranga.  (As an aside the video on YouTube is amazing go see it if you never have, it is why I wanted to see Tigers in India).  He laughed and told me he was very aware of the video and that his father was actually on one of the other elephants when the video was taken.  He gave me the real history of what happened which was fascinating.  He assured me that there were many Tigers at Kaziranga, but because of the tall grasses it was sometimes difficult to see them.  Off we went in search of a Tiger.  We did see some signs that there were some of the beasts in the area.

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We heard various reports of something here or there and waited at a couple of different places for a while but nothing.  We left one place because of a hunch the guide had and just as we arrived at the new place he got a phone call that a male tiger was spotted right where we had been.  We took off and he was obviously very upset at himself for not being patient and waiting.  We got back to where the Tiger had been seen and drove past all the Gypsy’s (probably thirty of them) to the very front, we were now far from where the Tiger had been seen.  We were looking behind us on the passenger side of the vehicle to where the Tiger had gone into the tall grass and talking to the people in the vehicles behind us who had seen it.  Everyone was focused behind us, except the young driver who was bored and looking off into space.  Then he yelled TIGER, we all turn around and right in front of us the Tiger had come out of the grass and was crossing the road, if the driver had not been looking it would have crossed and no one would have ever noticed.  Now we were at the front of the long line of vehicles and had the best position.

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It turns out this was the female of the pair and she was in no hurry to move away.  She sat about twenty meters off the road for almost half an hour and then spotted something for lunch.  We saw her begin her stalk but she quickly went out of sight in pursuit of who knows what.  We had been blessed yet again, what an experience.

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We were driven back to Guwahati and flew to Kolkata.  Being back in the city was a different experience than what we had had for the past while.  Kolkata is a large city, approximately five million people, but like all Indian population statistics they really have no way of knowing how many people are living in the slums so the number quoted is always low.  We hired a guide to tour us through the city, we were pleasantly surprised that the guide turned out to be a husband and wife team, he drove and waited in the vehicle while she took us around the areas, the vehicle was always close by and cooled down, it worked out very well not having to find parking etc.  We managed to visit all of the Kolkata tourist attractions and went a bit off the beaten track to some art and craftsman areas.

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We also went down to the Ganges and then into the Flower market which was crazy.

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After a couple of days being tourists in Kolkata we flew to Bangkok for a few days.  My wife had never been to Bangkok and so I got to redo all of the tourist things I had not done for many years.  We visited floating and land based markets

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We also visited the famous train market where at pre-determined times a train runs right through the middle of the market.  It disturbs things for only a few minutes and then everything is back to normal.  I have seen these before and always wonder if they are just for the tourists.  There certainly was no shortage of tourists witnessing the train market.

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One of the highlights (other than the food) of Thailand for us was the day we spent in a fishing village.  You are driven a couple of hours out of Bangkok and then get in a long canoe and go out into the ocean.  During your ride you visit an area with hundreds of swimming monkeys.  You are given food to feed the monkeys and they are well aware that you have the food.  One got very comfortable with us in the boat.

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Once the monkeys were fed we visited the cockle farms and then the oyster beds.  Finally we were taken to one of the fisherman’s platforms and served a fresh seafood lunch.  There was enough food for ten and it was just the two of us, but it was so good.  A couple of cold beer fantastic fresh seafood in the middle of the ocean what a day.

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The next day we took a boat tour of Bangkok I always find it interesting the different perspective you get of a city from the water.  We live in Vancouver and if you ever visit I highly recommend that you go to Granville Island and rent a boat for a couple of hours and see the city from the water.  On the way back home we stopped for a day to see a friend in Shanghai and then flew back home.  We had been gone for the month and it was great to get home.  As I looked back through the photos I realized that luckily I did not get the perfect Tiger shot and so I would definitely need to go back.

So there it is a first trip report I will write a few others to catch up.  Toughest part is figuring out how much to tell and how many pictures to post.  We probably came back with 5,000 images on this trip, there are a few less than 200 in this report, obviously I could have put in many more.  The other thing I struggled with is since this site is called SafariTalk, do people care about non-Safari things.  I tried to keep the non-animal stuff to a minimum but hard to spend time in India and not come away with a few interesting things.  Hope everyone enjoys.

Final thought, thank you so much for everyone who posts trip reports, I now know how much time you have committed to the task.

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@Rcfengen thanks for your trip report! It must have been a colossal effort to put it all into one post; usually TR are divided over several posts. Anyway, you have had great trip and you did show us the beauties (and not only the beauties) of India. BTW yes, many out there do care about reading non-safari or non-wildlife oriented TRs. Not many but each one has received a warm welcome.

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Thank you for a great report, I very much enjoyed reading this. And I absolutely did enjoy the non-wildlife aspects. As you say, you cannot visit India without seeing some of the iconic sights. Really like your writing style, I felt soaked in in the experience. You had some great Tiger sightings, and how lucky to even see cubs. And Leopard and Sloth Bear, not too shabby. And isn´t that a Chousinga (Four-Horned Antelope) with the Jackals rather than a Deer baby? I´ve never seen one, that´s a rare sight.  You were also very lucky to see Gibbons in Kaziranga, great stuff. Interesting that you were accompanied by armed men in Kaziranga, that was not the case when we were there. Your well camouflaged bird is a Nightjar btw. I hear you about the train, we did it (from Agra to Bandhavgarh), and it was certainly not what we had expected - an interesting experience. 

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Fantastic report, and fun to read it all in one go in a single post--it sort of added to the breathless hectic-ness that is India! You had great luck with tigers! And a cub!! Seeing a tiger in Kaziranga is far from a given (well, its not a given anywhere, of course--but more likely in other parks)--although we did as well, and our guide told us it is getting more commonplace for tourists to see them there...not sure exactly why. Oh also...a tiger from boat must be an amazing experience! Wow!

 

Loved your descriptions of the roads and the chaos of driving...and the non-safari aspects as well. We return to India in a couple of months, visiting Ranthambhore with full day drives...so this was really great to read.

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A fascinating report with lovely photos. Thank you very much for posting.

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Just loved this report. I laughed so much through most of it- really enjoyed your writing style and sense of humor and adventure. I think trips encompass all aspects, not just the animals so really appreciated that you showed us pieces of everything. I will look forward now to any report you do- to anywhere. Thanks for this!!!  :)

 

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Pamshelton3932

Thank you for such a fun and informative read.  A safari in India has long been on my list.  Maybe this report will encourage me to take the leap.  

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@Rcfengen, I always love India trip reports. I would love to re-visit one day but not sure that Ill get the opportunity. You were very lucky with your Tiger sightings, good timing, although I do find those kind of temperatures a bit challenging.

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Thanks for the report. Monumental effort and excellent sightings. Not many foreign tourists brave the heat of April.  Hope you'll return to Incredible India soon. 

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The langur shot you labeled the best of the trip is indeed a winner, but you have lots of great shots.  Congrats on the tiger in Kaziranga!  Love those youngsters in Ranthambore.  Can you list your itinerary?  You had good luck with tigers, that's for sure.  April came through for you, despite the heat.  That intro shot hints of hot (spicy) food too.

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Sorry if some felt the post too long.  I simply followed the instructions and wrote it over time in Word.  Then when it was complete copied and pasted onto this site and added the pictures, which took no more than half an hour, found this much easier than putting it together in pieces.

 

We leave in four weeks for Africa (Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) for the month of February, looking forward to the gorillas and have upgraded all of our photography equipment so hoping for much better pictures.  Still working on a Amazon trip report not sure if it will be complete before we leave.

 

Here is a cut and paste of our India Itinerary for Atravellynn;

 

Day 1 – Thursday March 30

Vancouver – Delhi

Day 2 – Friday March 31

In The Air

Day 3 – Saturday April 1

Delhi

Overnight: Le Meridien Delhi    

Day 4 – Sunday April 2

Delhi

Overnight: Le Meridien Delhi

Day 5 – Monday April 3

Delhi

Overnight: Le Meridien Delhi

Day 6 – Tuesday April 4

Delhi - Jaipur

Overnight: Le Meridien Jaipur    

Day 7 – Wednesday April 5

Jaipur

Overnight: Le Meridien Jaipur

Day 8 – Thursday April 6

Jaipur – Ranthambore National Park

Overnight: The Tigress

Day 9 – Friday April 7

Ranthambore National Park

Overnight: The Tigress

Day 10 – Saturday April 8

Ranthambore National Park - Agra

Overnight: Radisson Blu Agra Taj East Gate 

Day 11 – Sunday April 9

Agra - Khajuraho

Overnight: Radisson Hotel Khajuraho

Day 12 – Monday April 10

Khajuraho - Panna

Overnight: Ken River Lodge

Day 13 – Tuesday April 11

Panna National Park

Overnight: Ken River Lodge.

Day 14 – Wednesday April 12

 Panna - Bandhavgarh

Overnight:  Kings Lodge
Day 15 – Thursday April 13

Bandhavgarh National Park

Overnight:  Kings Lodge

Day 16 – Friday April 14

Bandhavgarh National Park

Overnight:  Kings Lodge

Day 17 – Saturday April 15

Bandhavgarh - Kanha

Overnight: Kanha Earth Lodge

Day 18 – Sunday April 16

Kanha National Park

Overnight: Kanha Earth Lodge

Day 19 – Monday April 17

Kanha National Park - Delhi

Overnight: Le Meridien Delhi    

Day 20 – Tuesday April 18

Delhi - Guwahati - Kaziranga

Overnight: Diphlu River Lodge

Day 21 – Wednesday April 19

Kaziranga National Park

Overnight: Diphlu River Lodge

Day 22 – Thursday April 20

 Kaziranga - Guwhati - Calcutta

Overnight: ITC Sonar    

Day 23 – Friday April 21

Calcutta

Overnight: ITC Sonar

Day 24 – Saturday April 22

Calcutta - Bangkok

Overnight: Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit    

Day 25 – Sunday April 23

Bangkok

Overnight: Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit

Day 26 – Monday April 24

Bangkok

Overnight: Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit

Day 27 – Tuesday April 25

Bangkok – Shanghai - Vancouver

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Really enjoyed reading this report.  We visited India many years ago.  I don't  think you can describe India without presenting all the multitude of cultural things that surrounds you, even if you are primarily  doing a wildlife tour.  Our heads were constantly on a swivel  while traveling between game parks.  There never seemed to be a lack of new, interesting, or shocking sights.

I just recently was thinking about a return trip with Sri Lanka  as a combo.  Your report has given me a boost. We definitely  would enjoy seeing the rhino.  We were fortunate to see 12 different  tigers in 4 parks on our tour.

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  • 2 months later...

Excellent trip report. Thanks for sharing this.

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vikramghanekar

Excellent trip report.

@Rcfengen Explanation about horrible dirt road to Jabalpur airport:

The tarred road from Bandhavgarh to Jabalpur airport goes through the city of Jabalpur which, as you know, takes huge amount of time, passing through all the traffic. So most drivers take the dirt road that bypasses the city completely direct to the airport. It's much better than going through the city! 

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madaboutcheetah
30 minutes ago, vikramghanekar said:

Excellent trip report.

@Rcfengen Explanation about horrible dirt road to Jabalpur airport:

The tarred road from Bandhavgarh to Jabalpur airport goes through the city of Jabalpur which, as you know, takes huge amount of time, passing through all the traffic. So most drivers take the dirt road that bypasses the city completely direct to the airport. It's much better than going through the city! 

 


By and large, the only problem with Jabalpur airport is the reliability of that flight from Mumbai and the timing of it..........  That said, I haven't been in 3 years so my info might be out dated.  

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vikramghanekar
5 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:

 


By and large, the only problem with Jabalpur airport is the reliability of that flight from Mumbai and the timing of it..........  That said, I haven't been in 3 years so my info might be out dated.  

 The timing is still bad. You have to start at 0430 from Bandhavgarh to make it to the flight on time.

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