The trail to Mesar Kund

Yes driving in the hills is fun and something I love but even more appealing is to shun your car and walk up into the woods. That is one even more appealing thing about the Himalaya’s. Unlike walking in a city and bumping into someone here you mostly are alone walking all the way and even if you actually come across someone you don’t ever have to make way plus you always get a smile and a Jai Ramji Ki or Namaskar greeting you.

 

Add to that the fact that you are under the shade of tree’s and the temperature is always brilliant to walk in plus the air is fresh, pollution is miniscule, there are interesting birds hopping by and if you have an aware local with you along than you will get to taste a lot of berries and fruits that you otherwise wouldn’t dare to pick up.

 

So one early morning in Munsiyari we decided to shrug off our laziness and after our morning tea and breakfast we started walking up to the home of the lady who had arranged our stay, Mallika Verdi, she is a retired mountaineer who has settled here since 1992 and has a wonderfully lovely place. Apparently she is the one who has helped all the local ladies to set up a homestay and ensured that this income is paid in the hands of these ladies. We were told that there was a Yoga session at her place which is beside a meadow, incidentally a guy from Bangalore had also come to stay just like us and was a Yoga instructor and so she had arranged a few sessions for all locals to take part and learn yoga.

 

Honestly so far I have always loathed yoga but we thought why not go and see and even maybe click some pictures whilst these people are at it. So we began our stiff climb from our place in Shankhadhura to Mallikaji’s house. Mornings in Munsiyari are ethereal with sunrise in summers happening at almost 5 am from behind the Panchachuli peaks. We soaked in the view and sipped our tea with Parantha’s, about the view, well…

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Actually giving up a position that is comfortable, where you can order food all the time and sit with views like this and walking is a task, but we had decided and off we went.

 

It was a good one hour stiff climb to reach Mallikaji’s place, others might do it in maybe 45 minutes but with us panting and clicking pictures basically to conceal our panting took our sweet time to reach there.

 

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The panting and sighing never stopped on the road too as through the woods from time to time the majestic mountains playing with the clouds would appear and wow us.

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The meadow near Mallikaji’s house

The place that Mallikaji has is beautiful beyond words, woods, a meadow, a pond with loads of fish, ducks, geese, cows, dogs, spectacular views and a lot of love and warmth to boot!

 

We were welcomed with tea and we sat about talking about our trip so far and her place and got to know each other a little bit. She was wonderfully charming, calm and a very likable person as it was evident from our talks with our host and her husband and all the locals that had come there for Yoga. The way they all mingled and joked and laughed with each other was so heartening to see. She was as much a local as any local could be, they all called her Didi out of their affection and respect for her. There was great camaraderie between the people who had all gathered there. Men, women and children all alike joked and pulled each others legs, the environment amongst them was a thing to behold I am not sure I can describe it.

 

Photography didn’t really happen much as we mingled and got busy with Yoga ourselves and actually loved the whole encounter. Everyone helped each other to accomplish the most difficult Asana’s the Bangalore boy taught us.

Men and women had never seemed more equal than I saw them at this place on this day! Honestly this is no exageration.

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During the Yoga session it did drizzle in between, a short shower and we would all carry our mats and rush to shelter and come back to the field again when it stopped. It was fun and we didnt even realise we spent around 3 hours there. Eventually we were told to hang around for lunch. Apparently there was Sambar rice, Lemon Rice and Potato subzi being made by Ram who also belonged to Bangalore and stays here. The invitation was pretty tempting and we were thinking of aborting the trek but then we learnt that it would take another 2 hours for lunch and I thought to myself we could rush up and down in that time and make it by lunch! 😉

 

So off we went to Mesar Kund, which was another stiff climb that took us 1 hour, this time it was just the three of us on the route, no human crossed us or met us on the way, there are no residences here and no one seemed to be coming that way. The three of us had to stop quite a few times to rest and catch up our breath. It was tiring but well worth the effort.

 

Here are a few pics we took :

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Walking through foliage that dense is something I love dearly!

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Encountering flowers on the way!

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Catching up breath was pretty important!

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Finally our destination!

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Mesar Kund!

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The tranquility of the place was something else the peace you could feel here was unbelievable, ideal place to sit and take deep breaths, the place was pristine and fresh and you should take in as much oxygen here as you can!

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Far away from the maddening crowd, beneath the Oak tree, gathering your thoughts! 🙂 Thats the prize you get for climbing and panting your guts out. You own places like this, there was no one but just the three of us here.

 

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From one end the view of the Panchachuli was something like this! 🙂

 

We munched about apples sitting here and watching the place and soaking the tranquility in, we didn’t bother with our packed lunches that our host had packed for us as the Sambhar Rice was playing on our minds. We hung around for around an hour at this place before the clouds threatened. We rushed but not before the rain fell on us and almost drenched us, thankfully enough we reached just in time for the Sambar Rice.

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Not the best picture, taken by mobile, however, make no mistake, this was one of the yummiest meals we had on our 15 day trip to Uttarakhand. The simplicity and yet amazingly wonderful Sambar Rice made by Ram were a highlight of this trip.

 

Amazing aint it to have authentic South Indian food cooked and served up so high North in the country and that too not in a restaurant but cooked in a camp! We emptied plates I tell you the three of us!

 

Its evident na, why I am smitten by the Himalaya’s and the people there and how I have encountered so much goodness so many times there that I just cant stop singing praises and making return trips. Not a believer in God, but if God did exist than I am sure he lived in these parts for there is still so much goodness left here! 🙂

 

A sunset

The fun thing about road trips is that you have to make halts, several halts at that, to pick up a cold bottle of water or to take a leak or to pick up some nice looking guava’s from the road side or sometimes the crowd around a Kachori wala hawker attracts you. These are some of the reasons I love road trips. You can converse all the time, you can do as per your whim all the time. This time round, instead of going to Jaipur directly from Bharuch enroute the Himalaya’s where we usually take our first break, we started a day early! Yes, that is one more perk of taking a road trip, I didn’t have much work and so we started early and we thought we would book a hotel with a pool and beat the heat.

 

So we selected Udaipur and reached there by noon, we took a dip in the pool and after that decided to stroll about the Fatehsagar lake as for us Bharuchi’s that weather that day in Udaipur was certainly pleasant. We walked about camera in hand on the many stalls of Fatehsagar lake wondering where to eat. What I didn’t know is that the place has an absolutely gorgeous setting for a sunset! Its straight out of the drawings we used to do as kids. Mostly we would have a water body, behind the water body some mountains, a sun setting or rising and maybe a few birds in the sky, a boat in the water and a few people standing by. Well I guess if I have built up an image in your head… here goes!

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There, aint it the one we, who were poor in drawing always paint this type of scenery? DSC_0297

Even junior loved the setting and kept gazing!

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As you walked about it showed different shades! Snapchat-2325227793258955769

Tea in a kulhad with such a view was a blessing I tell you! DSC_0277

Sigh… I did fall in love with this sunset!

 

 

Kasol Diaries – 1

Every time I have visited the Himalaya’s I have been awed, apart from being awed at the sheer magnanimity and vastness what has always fascinated me are the small houses and settlements I would see on some pretty steep mountains, I would always wonder, why on earth was someone living up there and why not somewhere lower, perhaps they liked the view or perhaps they liked to stay away from the noise and dust of the lower altitude. Why on earth would someone live up so high where he/she would have such a task taking and bringing things down.

So this year instead of trekking to meadows or cliffs where there was no one, we were trekking to the many little hamlet’s in the lap of Parvati Valley. We were actually looking forward to getting a closer look at the lifestyle of the locals, see them whilst they carried out their daily life, the villages where you couldn’t drive to but had to undertake stiff climbs to reach.

What soon struck me when we stayed with a local in Lapaas was how simply calm they were. Oh yes they were courteous, knew about the world, internet and all that but the simple relaxed frame of mind they all seemed to be in. They never were seen rushing, they would carry on the work in their apple orchards or paddy fields or cutting grass for their cattle in the most easy manner. Whenever I would stop panting for air during my climb and if someone would be crossing us, there would be a “Namaskar” or a “Ram Ram” or an even more concerned “Thak gaye kya”greeting always around. They were always ready to have a chat till you had caught your breath and were ready to resume climbing again. Off they would go on their merry way. Wonder if we city folks would ever have time for others like this.

Coming back to our stay in Lapaas, apparently our friend Amar had told us that he has told one family that we would be coming to stay at their place. When we reached there, we delivered some of the biscuits we had brought for them from the shop at the road below and we were served with Hot Chai with even better biscuits that they already had! Resourceful! The family we stayed with was of 4 members, of which the daughter was not around as she had gone to Kullu, the remaning three Mother, Father and son greeted us with utmost humility and welcomed us. The house was a little away from the main settlement of Lapaas which pleased us a lot, also it had a location to die for, describing it is a little difficult as I lack the vocabulary to describe its serenity & grandness thats where my photography comes in handy. Here are a few pics of that place.

The home where we stayed was perched aside on this hill with valleys on two sides and beyond the valley were snow peaks.

The home where we stayed was perched aside on this hill with valleys on two sides and beyond the valley were snow peaks.

That picture I think tells you about the location completely, at the bottom is the house and the terrace outside the house was where we would sit all day soaking the sun and talking no end!

That picture I think tells you about the location completely, at the bottom is the house and the terrace outside the house was where we would sit all day soaking the sun and talking no end!

Sigh, how I miss the place already. The family we stayed with served us with endless cups of tea, loads of talk about their life, the son was pursuing his 12th and was planning to do B.Tech after that. We wondered if he liked the city life (he studied in Kullu) and the  answer was a negative. He was actually fond of living here, he said he would like to do some proper study and see if he gets some career near by so that he doesn’t have to go to far from his home.

The one thing that struck us was, whilst we may wonder why are people living so high up, its like they have always been high up there. Thats home for them since many generations, its as natural as it can be, they never ever come to the question of climbing a slope for something or not. Yes, modernity has invaded their spaces too, they too have mobiles, internet and tv and whilst maybe say 50-60 years back they never needed anything from the town, now they do need a bit of supply from the town. Perhaps they are not as independent as earlier when they managed to get everything they needed without going to the town, yet, home it is for them.

We walked about the village of Lapaas in the evening visited their temple, which is again located in a superb place, apparently next day there was a mela to happen in Lapaas and the family kept insisting we must not go without seeing the mela. The gent in the family also told me it will make for wonderful photography opportunities.

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We had already committed to attend another mela in Buhad, a slightly bigger settlement which promised an even bigger gathering but we thought we could still stick about till noon and see and immerse in a bit of the festivities the next day.

 

As night fell we returned to our house and in the moonlight the snow peaks looked absolutely ethereal.

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Long shutter click of the night view from Lapaas

As chilly as it was our hearts were warmed by the sheer humility and the glee with which our hosts were talking with us. Chatters we all were till we all realised it was time for dinner. We were served an amazing meal of mutter paneer, aloo gobhi, rajma chawal and salad! Sitting and eating with them was a moment that will stay with me. Not only was the food delicious but the way the hosts went out of the way to make us comfortable and ensured that we all ate to the full was unbelievable.

The hospitality they were indulging in was beyond us city folks, complete strangers, invited to live in their house, sleep in their beds, eat in their vessel and all with genuine smiles and affection.

We slept with our tummies full in this traditional wooden house which was amazingly warm compared to how cold it was outside.

 

The diary continues….

 

Oh Parvati!

A love story yet again begins….

 

Finally, after hearing about you so many times, from so many people, watching your pictures on the internet, jealously liking friends pictures posted on FB in your lap, reading the many stories about you, wondering if all of those were real, you do have some fantastic stories told about you, I must tell you that, eventually we had to meet and what an embrace you had in store for me! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Many a tales I have heard about you have amazed me, mystified me, geeked me up, glorified you, made you into a maze that I was sure I could never find my way out of. As the first fling happened, I must confess you had me at the first sight, there could be doubts in your mind, but let me quell them, I have fallen for you, absolutely, deeply and forever. The early misty spring morning when I first laid my eyes on you, I was transfixed, all the tiredness of not sleeping properly for two nights disappeared in an instant. The pristine pine trees, the shining peaks, the verdant valleys, the grating blue magpie all seemed to be enticing me into this wonderful world of yours.

 

For long I had heard many tales of small dwellings on stiff slopes in remote areas, about the warmth of people in these villages, that people here didn’t travel to visit mall roads but to discover new, small villages and then living with the villagers. This appealed, appealed a lot really, I always wanted to be one of the many among your lap, wanting to see you from up close like the cherished few of your own do, wake up to the first light and keep gazing till the last star disappeared and yes, for a few days I managed to do so!

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I must confess, whilst all describe you to be a mystical, unbelievable tale, which invoke the words like, really?, couldn’t be!, seriously!!!!, I must confess I was taken it by the simple acceptance of truth that exists in your lap more than anything. No pretense, the simplicity of the locals, the laid back, happy air the whole place has got is surreal.

 

I want to walk on every single trail there is, lie down in every meadow you nurture, gaze whilst gaping at all of your valleys, soak up the sun whilst I eye the snow clad peaks, graze along the Gaddi’s, get lost in you forever if thats possible.

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Until we meet again, I am thankful I atleast have some pictures and memories of you to last till I can come again to see you!

 

Mandu -A conglomeration of cultures

Indian history is so vast and diverse that studying it in one lifetime perhaps is not possible, the records of such a long time are available and the fact that it is such a vast country and there is so much diversity makes it an interesting subject no end. Whilst I was taught history in school, honestly, I was not that fascinated, for in exams that would ask which year who defeated whom and all that and remember the AD and BC and all that seemed a super headache. Perhaps the system of testing instead of narrating stories was what killed it. Whilst the class would invariably be interesting, the exams would be dreaded by all of us.

 

What the history classes did not achieve was ultimately achieved by ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ 

 

Reading these books whilst growing up is one of the highlights of my life and also a stark reminder that history always fascinated me. Especially when narrated well nothing can beat the stories from the past. So during this road trip to Pench NP, we decided to drop anchor at Mandu for a day.

 

Mandu, previously known as Mandavgadh, is an amazing location, ideally to be visited in Monsoon, is an amazing conglomeration of cultures and tells you so much about India’s diverse history. The story of invasions, prosperity, art and culture booming, eventually cultural invasions and most spectacularly even architectural conversions!!

 

As our guide narrated, originally founded by Raja Bhoj, Mandu was once a prosperous town, well populated and pretty educated and liberated society. It is said even the then lowly considered weavers would be able to write shloka’s in Sanskrit back then, that high was literacy during the times of Raja Bhoj in the 11th century. Eventually as the centuries passed, it was won over by the Afghans, the Ghuri dynasty was established and began Mandu’s golden age. (source : wiki)  The subsequent take over the the Khilji’s and during the reign of one of its most colourful king Ghiyas ud din who buillt a harem of almost  women to equal the number of wive’s Krishna had (as per our guide) tells you how many tales this place holds.

 

The most popular story, which has been told a lot and even has had a popular hindi film made on is of the romance between Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. The tale as narrated by the guides here is stuff of so many unbelievable happenings and makes you wonder as to how the people of that generation thought. The entire truth again is probably lying somewhere in between. How a Muslim king and a Hindu princess fall in love, their palaces which look to have been  built for practicing and performance of music and dance, the Rupmati pavilion built for her to worship the Narmada river before she ate anything overlooking the Narmada valley tells you of splendors and whims of the rulers of that era.

 

Mandu today has several World Unesco Heritage sites, its architecture from the days gone by tell you of the engineering that might have been used in those days. The swimming pools, to hot water showers, to sauna’s, numerous escape routes, the music rooms that involve telephonic technology almost are a delight to view and soak in. Do hire a good guide and do take in all the story he tells you with a pinch of salt, history they tell you might be distorted a bit, the narration however, helps build a more interesting experience. The architecture of the place as the guides show us has several traces of so much diversity Jain, Hindu, Muslim and Farsi influences are clearly visible telling you that each one came in and tried to leave their mark on history.

 

Although I visited it in March, a relatively dry and barren time of the year, ideally visit Mandu during Monsoon, not for nothing did the Mughal’s including Akbar treat this as a monsoon retreat. It is a pleasure that must not be missed. The Jahaz Mahal during the monsoon is a visual treat you do not want to miss.

 

Here are a few pics from our trip there :

On the far right is Jahaz Mahal, the entire area is flooded during monsoon, it also has a lake on its back side and appears like it is a floating palace in the monsoon. A sight you do not want to miss.

On the far right is Jahaz Mahal, the entire area is flooded during monsoon, it also has a lake on its back side and appears like it is a floating palace in the monsoon. A sight you do not want to miss.

The Jahaz mahal is said to have been a harem that housed some 16000 women, in the monsoon I am sure the Sultan boarded this ship till the rain's gave up! ;)

The Jahaz mahal is said to have been a harem that housed some 16000 women, in the monsoon I am sure the Sultan boarded this ship till the rain’s gave up! 😉

The Hoshang Shah tomb made of marble that is said to have inspired the architect's of Shah Jahan who were responsible for the Taj Mahal

The Hoshang Shah tomb made of marble that is said to have inspired the architect’s of Shah Jahan who were responsible for the Taj Mahal

The walking path in the Rani Rupmati Pavilion

The walking path in the Rani Rupmati Pavilion

This used to be the swimming pool in Baz Bahadur's palace, amazing is how they managed the water cleaning system and all.

This used to be the swimming pool in Baz Bahadur’s palace, amazing is how they managed the water cleaning system and all.

Hindola Mahal, the place where the women kept in the harem would entertain themselves on swings.

Hindola Mahal, the place where the women kept in the harem would entertain themselves on swings.

The hindola mahal from inside, said to have had huge swings in its time.

The hindola mahal from inside, said to have had huge swings in its time.

A perspective of Jami Masjid in Mandu

A perspective of Jami Masjid in Mandu

Mandu is a delight for any photographer! A must visit place

Mandu is a delight for any photographer! A must visit place

The wanderlust in you will love this place over looking the Narmada Valley!

The wanderlust in you will love this place over looking the Narmada Valley!

 

Pench National Park

I am sure most of you are aware that The Jungle Book is being remade and being released in April by Disney. Rudyard Kipling‘s imaginations about Mowgli, Bhageera, Sherkhan and Baloo is what most of us Indians have grown up on. I doubt there maybe any people of my generation that wouldn’t be aware of this story. What fuelled the imagination of Kipling were the jungles of Pench. Even the most famous documentary Tiger : The spy in the Jungle by BBC was shot here, which again I am sure most of us would have seen on TV.

 

Pench National Park derives its name from the river Pench, it can be best accesed via the Madhya Pradesh Side of Seoni and Chhindwara districts. The forest is a dry dedicious forest and sheds all leaves by March making it an excellent time for viewing during summers. We have made a pact as a family to spend atleast 2-4 days looking for a tiger in march every year and so this year it was the turn of Pench after we had visited Ranthambore, Kanha, Bandhavgarh & Melghat. The jungles of central India which many decades ago were all one are pretty diverse, whilst Bandhavgarh and Kanha side are sal forests which are evergreen, Melghat and Pench are dry deciduous forests with loads of teak trees.

 

The jungle was pretty dry when we went, there was a carpet of dry leaves all around the forest as the trees had shed them and were not yet ready with new growth. This is a great advantage if you want to spot birds, less leaves, less foliage always aid in great viewing of animals and birds.

 

Pench has its own charm, at the outset you might even feel the jungle can’t hold enough life as it seems so dry, however, only a small matter of about 35000 spotted deer, over 8000 sambar survive, making it a perfect place for Tigers to live and thrive. We did most of our safari’s via the Turia gate and the area in which we were searching for the tiger some 4 tigress’ lived and all of them were with cubs. This news brought us all great happiness, for we are yet to witness a full family of tiger in one frame. I have always seen tigers who are alone, it would be great to watch a group of them, playing with each other.

 

Anticipation was ripe as we started our first morning safari at the crack of dawn, the weather was cold and a nip in the air, we needed a pull over for the first two hours of the safari. The bird life viewing was excellent, within an hour into the park we had spotted a Pied Malabar Hornbill, Mottled wood owl, spotted owlet, jungle owlet, racket-tailed drongo, Indian Roller, Wooly necked Stork, Rudy Shelduck, Painted Storks, Great Teat, Flameback woodpecker, Vultures of two species to name a few!

 

Bare(bear) necessities was the song on my mind all the time, the jungle seemed just enough for the wildlife to thrive without being lush in greenery or water. The waterholes were all full of activity, after about two hours of driving and no calls or any clue about the Tiger’s movement we decided it was better to sit at a waterhole and wait. We selected a waterhole that the guide told us was the Baigan Nala Tigress’ favourite spot. She had 3 cubs and that sounded like music to my ears.

 

We spent about an hour and half at that waterhole, during which we got an inkling of life in the jungle, as we reached the waterhole we saw an egret and a wild boar drinking water, whilst an Indian Roller dived around for insects that only it could see, there was a white breasted kingfisher who stood transfixed in its spot, two cormorants were drying their wings in the sun after a dip in the pool and a bee eater hunting about as well. As we waited we saw the Boar disappear after a while and a group of langur’s came to drink water, after they departed a group of spotted deer came to quench their thirst, they drunk water in a peculiar manner, the fawns and females all drank leaving space in the middle where the antler came and took position and drank to its hearts content, Rhesus macaque followed the deer and then it was the turn of the sambar to take a dip.

 

Life around a waterhole was so busy, I had once read a book whose name I forget, written by an english lady who spent about a month in Dudhwa National Park, she would go to a waterhole everyday morning where her Mahaout would drop her and she would sit all day like a wood log observing and soaking in the jungle till sunset when her elephant would come to pick her up. I had loved reading her experience back then and it was good to have a slight insight into that this day.

 

The calmness, the activity, the sounds of nature, the way life moves about sitting and watching, talking less and just soaking does it for me. It gives me a kick that I doubt anything else would. The jungle is there to soak and I tried my best to soak as much of it in as I could.

 

We didn’t get to see the tiger this time around, however, the jungle was still pretty hustling with a lot of life and that kept us busy. I was fortunate enough to witness a Peregrine Falcon sitting on a far off branch and then taking off leisurely. For those who might not know, it is the fastest diving bird and one of the fastest members in the animal world. When it makes it scoop to hunt it can reach a speed of 350 kmph. Go tell that to Ferrari folks, now thats a standard to match up to! Just imagine it for a second, the bird hunts parrots in mid air, parrots are pretty swift flyers themselves!

 

Our luck with the Tigers was overwhelming in Bandhavgarh last year and so this time around we were not lucky enough to spot one however, I still have fallen for this jungle as it makes for excellent viewing of animals, the dry trees and low foliage are an advantage which many green forests at times though far more beautiful do not offer.

 

I will leave you with a few pictures of the sights of Pench NP. Hope you like them!

A herd of Sambar cross the road

A herd of Sambar cross the road

A Grey Hornbill

A Grey Hornbill

A Changeable Hawk-Eagle awaits its turn at the waterhole

A Changeable Hawk-Eagle awaits its turn at the waterhole

A family of wild boar run about

A family of wild boar run about

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A shikra keenly keeps an eye on proceedings

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The head of the herd takes the prime position for a drink!

Pench River Bed has maximum greenery for the deer to graze, boars to dig the dirt, jackals stalk them, peacocks strut about, the Vultures await an opportune moment!

Pench River Bed has maximum greenery for the deer to graze, boars to dig the dirt, jackals stalk them, peacocks strut about, the Vultures await an opportune moment!

A mottled wood owl didn't seem to amused at spotting us in their territory!

A mottled wood owl didn’t seem too amused at spotting us in their territory!

This handsome dude wanted to pose..

This handsome dude wanted to pose..

Finally a near good shot of the Greater Racket Tailed Drongo after 3 years!

Finally a near good shot of the Greater Racket Tailed Drongo after 3 years!

In the jungle, where ever you go, whatever you do, remember someone is watching you at all times!

In the jungle, where ever you go, whatever you do, remember someone is watching you at all times!

Machli Jungle Ki Rani Hai

Once upon a time, there was a boy, who was fascinated by story books, comics and tales by his Naani. He lived in that fantasy world of so many characters and stories. One day, whilst he lived in Mumbai, came a movie opposite to his house, The Jungle Book, an animated movie, based on the book by Rudyard Kipling. The boy starry eyed went for the movie, during the course of the movie they also were selling the comic book with the same name. Fortunately, the kids parents bought one for him.

 

All of a sudden, the Indian jungle was alive in front of his eyes everyday, Kaa, Bagheera, Baloo, King Louie, Col Haathi, Mowgli all would dance around all day in his imagination. He would re-read that comic endless times. Somehow, the negative character in the movie, for this kid, Sher Khan was also a hero. Some fascination for the mighty, arrogant, cunning lord of the jungle kind of remained in his mind.

 

As life progressed, for a brief period, this kid was left at his maternal uncle for about 3 months time in Baroda, interestingly, that phase was a very good one. His uncle had made an arrangement with their office help Pandubhai to take this kid to the local zoo(Kamatibaug) everyday. So sitting on the little seat on the rod of the huge Atlas cycle this kid would everyday lap up the chance to go to the zoo and see his favourite animals. Apparently, retold by Pandubhai, the kid would daily sit in front of a tiger cage, the tiger’s name was Vitthal, for almost an hour talking to Vitthal. 

 

Time flew and the kid grew, his life was more involved in studying and trying to escape from studying both which didn’t quite work out well. Amazingly even though he always loved the woods and read books about the jungles and forests and saw programs on Nat Geo or Discovery, this kid actually never made it to the jungles. He did get one chance during a school trip to Gir but that was a 2 hour routine and nothing more.

 

Eventually the little kid grew up into a man and decided to marry, when you marry atleast you get to go for a honeymoon, so as luck would have it the kid’s lass and the kid planned a honeymoon in Uttar Pradesh(Now Uttarakhand) and as luck turned out one of the two places that they were visiting was Jim Corbett National Park.

 

The kid and his lass both were actually having their first real fling with the jungle. Little did they know it was a triangular love affair. The forest around Dhikala in Jim Corbett National Park has never left the kid’s memory till date, 14+ years have passed, but he swears he still remembers the smell of the jungle. The tree’s so tall that he had never seen before, the introduction to Jim Corbett’s book (Man Eater’s of Kumaon) happened then and that kind of increased the whole fantasy game even more. No, they didn’t see a tiger there, they didn’t even spot herds of Elephants, as far as sighting was concerned it was kind of poor, spotted deer, sambar, barking deer, wild hogs, a hornbill, a few parakeets was just about all that they spotted yet the jungle, sorry the experience, left a lasting effect.

 

For many years they didn’t travel much and life’s other routines took over, then once again a trip was scheduled to a tiger reserve in Ranthambore. By then that kid, that is me had a kid who was 8 years old. 🙂 Time flies I tell you.

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Ranthambore has got many relics mingling with the woods and vegetation that is growing all over it. All this adds up to the viewing experience.

 

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A full grown adult male spotted deer

 

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A Sambar baby looks us up!

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A pair of wooly necked strok were busy feasting on an algae infested pond

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A crocodile soaks up the sun on a cold morning.

 

The wait to spot a tiger in the wild was just getting longer and longer. For those who have never gone to spot a tiger let me just describe the whole fervour.

 

Apparently, most tigers are not social unless during mating season, tigers are usually alone. Female tigers have smaller territories depending on its strength anywhere from 6-14 square kilometers. Male tigers have even bigger territories of 15-25 square kilometers and there might be some 3-4 female tiger’s being in the vicinity of the male tiger. Apart from some very rare instances most of the times the male tiger and the female tiger are never together apart from a few weeks when they are mating.

 

So challenge no.1 is to locate one tiger, unlike lion’s who are in a pride you have to search for one tiger who has a significantly large territory. Usually these animals are nocturnal and move more during colder periods of the day rather than during hot periods. So either your chances are good early morning or late in the evening before it gets so dark we can’t see.

 

The tracking is usually done by drivers and guides who take you on a safari and whilst in the early morning they might be guided by pug marks more often than not they depend on a call by a langur or a deer. Now this is a very interesting way of spotting a tiger. The guide hears a call and raises his hand signalling everyone to be quiet. Everyone stops, the jeep also is shut, everyone tries to listen, the sound of the jungle reverberates in your ears. Pin drop silence, fresh air of the jungle, a small chi chi by a bird somewhere, a fly buzzing by your ear, the rustle of dead leaves as the deer walk on them, you can hear the jungle come alive!

 

Cooo…

 

You whisper to the guide

kaun hai?

us taraf ped pe se koi langur awaz de raha hai..

Apparently, when the tiger is on the move, a langur or a deer who ever spots it keeps giving an alarm call to all others alerting them that the Big Boss is on the move. The whole experience of keeping quiet, listening to that one hoot from a distance, tracking that hoot and seeing which direction it is being relayed is by what the guides gauge the location of the tiger. This whole exercise when there is pin drop silence and you actually absorb the jungle just by your eyes, ears and nose is what makes the whole experience quite fascinating and unreal for me.

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Mornings be so wonderful in the woods! Dawn at Ranthambore

Okay so back to my story, after the first safari was unsuccessful, the second day’s morning safari was pretty eventful as we managed to actually spot a leopard of all people. Amazingly, there was no alarm call, there was no evidence we were going to see it and all of a sudden it was me who thought he saw a deer walk and asked the jeep to stop and we realised it was a leopard. Early morning the leopard seemed to be walking back up the hill, as the guides would generalise, leopards spend the day in higher ground away from the tiger ground. This fellow was quietly walking away, he crossed the road whilst we stood there transfixed, he paused for a second looking at us and then as if we didn’t matter kept on walking on his merry path.

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This fellow posed just for a second! Terrible shot I know, but the excitement of having spotted a predator!

No tiger, but hell a lot of excitement, Bagheera’s fair cousin after all 😀

 

The next safari we got into a zone that was special, it belonged to the legendary & the most famous tigress of the country and apparently she had killed something in the morning and our guide and driver excitedly took us to the spot. Machli, the tigress, is probably the most photographed and most well documented tigress amongst all Indian tiger’s not just that but infact a  report says that India had earned about USD10 million per year due to tourists attracted by the tigress for the last ten years!!!!  She has stories galore, they call her the Park ki Naani as she was 17 year old then in the last stage of her life and many of the powerful tigers in Ranthambore were her kids! So we stood at that spot where she had been seen in the morning for an hour, I was transfixed and did not want to move even if that meant 4 hours of waiting. Eventually, whilst we were busy shooting a mongoose some movement was noted below a banyan tree it was dark and far she was moving, she was spotted, but, as most tiger’s are, she was lazy and in the noon at 3 pm she was in no mood to move she actually lied in some nullah (waterbody) where we couldn’t see it.

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The first sighting!!!! Albeit quiet far and zoomed up!!!

After so many years, so much of a wait, a glimpse from miles away, I didn’t want to go or give up but my driver and guide took me around teaching me to enjoy the jungle and all other aspects and not be crazy about the tiger. They were right, but, it was my first time! Sigh… after about 2 hours of zipping about we came back to the same spot hoping that now that it was a bit of late evening and considerably cooler she would probably make a move. The fact that she had some kill around there made our chances bleak. As the time went by, the exit time was nearing and most of the other jeeps started to go, I was feeling gutted, I didn’t want to go. We were the last jeep and I requested by driver, last 5 mins then we will go away.

 

Just as my driver’s patience was wearing thin and late exit fine looming on us our guide excitedly gushed in a whisper….

woh hili

woh hili… 

jhadiya hil rahi hai….

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Finally she emerged! Her snooze was perhaps over! Yay… she was moving!

Those two minutes when you try to spot the movement are like crazy, you feel you are blind, then eventually we saw her moving, she was still quite far, but she came out of the bushes and climbed a rock and sat down, we could see her in full but she was quite far.

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She sat down at a vantage point, probably eyeing her kill and whiled a few minutes before flies ensured she didn’t stay there!

We gaped, looked in our binoculars and soaked the feeling of watching a tiger, free and on its own, not a care or worry in the world she sat there, yawned, shook her head to get rid of the flies, gaze about and allowed us for a minute to understand what her world was like.

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For a minute she looked into my lens! Zoomed image but boy she looks magnificient doesn’t she?

The most powerful beast was all alone actually, every one stayed miles away and yet as she again got up and made a move Cooo went a langur, for a change, human’s had spotted it before the monkey’s! As she moved down from the hill the langur shrieked harder. The jungle suddenly seemed to be coming alive as she moved and then it struck us, it was moving towards a road crossing.

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Some how in this image she looks quite short and actually like a long lost kitten!

Our guide took us to a spot where he reckoned the tigress would come out, for a few anxious minutes we lost it, we wondered if we might not see her again and then a few bushes moved, and like the cutest of kitties, she emerged, cutest she looked from a distance, but, as fast as lightning it dawned upon you, as she walked and walked towards us, decreasing the distance to about 6-7 feet of our jeep we actually experienced how enormous and how terrifying the feeling can be. She never for an instance indicated or even took notice of us apart from a casual two moment glance. No even an iota of threat was issued by her, we were a total non event for her. Perhaps she was so used to having camera’s chasing her for so many years she stopped taking notice. But boy when she came really near our jeep, before it crossed it, this was not something we were used to and it was certainly a first for all of us, we had frozen, I had stopped clicking and grabbed by son close to me. DSC_0238That moment was indescribable, fear, joy, ecstacy, excitement, nervousness everything in one and you dared not shriek at that moment. Something that you have wanted to experience for so long in your life suddenly happens like a blur in front of you and you don’t even know how to react!

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That blur of a moment is still alive in my eyes, she went a little away from our bushes and lazily plonked herself on the floor again. In those 5 minutes of activity it had given memories of a lifetime to a few people. The beast as some would call it was beautiful, graceful, light footed, arrogant but above all was free to its own will! Yes, this wasn’t a tiger in a cage, it was in its own free world, where she could sleep all day or walk miles if she wished. Yup that was my first tiger in the wild.

 

Machli I guess was worth the wait of 35 years! The queen of Ranthambore, Park ki Naani, Lady of the lake are some of the names of her but none appeals to me more than Machli. Apparently Machli was the trigger point for many more encounters in the future to come, which I am all going to recount in the next few posts. Here are a few pictures of the most picturesque Ranthambore, for a reserve in Rajasthan you will be surprised by the number of water bodies it has and all of my pictures are from March!!

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Nothing and I repeat nothing can compare to this experience of stalking the biggest stalker of them all in his own backyard! Yes spotting a tiger in its natural habitat is an experience one can only comprehend once they experience.

 

 

 

Paragliding at Khajjiar

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This very popular meadow near Dalhousie, Khajjiar is sometimes a turn off due to too much crowd, however, it still is a magical landscape to photograph. On a cloudy day the sky turned magical for us to shoot some stunning photo’s of the place and the sky, which was marred with some paraglider’s who must have been having an unbelievable view I am sure!

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Whew!

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Ominous clouds above him! 🙂

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I am sure the flyers are enjoying a hell of a time!