Breaking the break!

My beleaguered blog needs some revival, its been a while I even looked at the blog, forget writing a post, consciously I need to now get back to regular posting and note down my travel experiences before I start forgetting them! I guess writing down is a habit and it is safe to say this time I am out of habit. Life has been way to eventful at times to actually sit back and soak it all in and summarise and hence the absence from the writing scene. I guess it happens to almost all of us. So many times it feels like the blog is dead and then somehow something inside me tells me to never give up on this idea, somehow keep it alive and sustain it and keep writing, whatever gibberish it may be, just do not give up!

 

At the very least remember to post travel stories! Although pretty much in a phase of life where I am not travelling right now, I must though ensure I tell you I did travel in January to the city of joy and then went tiger spotting in Sunderbans! 😀 😀

 

Yes bitches! I did, ate many Rosogullas and Kolkata Rolls and Mishti Doi’s and even went gliding down the beautiful mangrove forests! So whilst I am not telling you everything about the entire trip right away. I am atleast breaking the break from the blog and am promising to myself more than anyone else that I will be here more often! 😀 😀

 

I’ll leave you with one photo taken during our gliding around the the delta of Sunderbans, on a misty day when the horizon disappeared this boat broke the illusion that had been created! 🙂

 

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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.

 

 

 

Don’t you stand in my way!!

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As this hungry and angry male tiger was crossing the road, our driver and guide tried to intercept him, the growl was enough to bring both of them to their senses and they allowed him to quietly continue on his path!!!

He gave us some really scary growls before he went away, clearly he was not amused by the way the driver tried to go near him.

After the episode we asked our driver to keep a safe distance, in the exuberance of spotting a tiger and wanting to get a closer photograph many a times we cross the line and get too near to the beautiful animal, almost mesmerised. However, it must be always kept in mind that we must keep a safe distance. The tiger should be allowed his space in the jungle and we must click him from a distance without causing any irritation to him.

We learnt a lesson and also requested our driver to not again repeat this in the future.

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Stop! Tiger on Prowl!

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Early morning safari’s are blissful! Not only do you get to be in the woods early in the morning and take in the fresh air, but the slowly penetrating sunlight gives you a thousand sights that will fill your memory for all those days when you have to go to work! The jungle is fully alive first up in the morning, the birds in full flight and at their chirpiest best!

The visitors in the park even more excited at the hope of spotting animals and among all a tiger!

Then, 5 minutes into the park you see this beautiful young female cub walking all alone on the road towards you and you wonder whom do you thank for your luck today!

Oh she was awesomely pretty walking down towards us! We kept reversing our jeep as she kept on walking towards us, she refused to acknowledge our presence, spraying on the trees and marking her territory.

This cub is not yet an owner of a territory and will soon mature into a full grown tigress and make her own territory, she has started doing a bit of it. We were blessed to watch her from up close! 🙂

Tiger tiger burning bright!

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As the jeep rolled on the safari track in the ever green Saal Forest in Bandhavgarh, the conversations kept on going to the superb tiger spotting in the morning. The evening safari was probably in the wrong part of the jungle and so the focus was on capturing the landscape, the sunset, the reflections in the waterhole or probably capture the Malabar Pied Hornbill.

But then, when you least expect something, trust destiny to turn up with it.

All of a sudden our driver gestured to our right and exclaimed!

“Woh dekho Tiger!”

That was the first sight of this lonely male tiger who seemed to be actually almost slithering over the grass. He walked nonchalantly, gliding through the tall blades of grass, no prey in sight and no destination perhaps decided.

29th March was one heck of a lucky day in our lives, we spotted two male tigers in a day! Both so close that we could almost smell them!!! Life has turned a full circle I tell you. 🙂 🙂 🙂

THE TIMES OF FATHERHOOD

 

Being a father is a rather challenging job. At different stages there are different challenges, these days, my son is near his 5th birthday and has well and truly entered his question anything & everything phase and yes, question all the answers TOO ‘phase.

 

No matter what is happening, there always is a why ? When you reply there can be a WHERE ?, WHAT ?, HOW ? or a WHY again. When you are not able to reply again, or you don’t know there is again a WHY ? &  than when you refuse to answer you are told,

“Adha tamne to kai khabar nathi.” (dad you don’t know anything in Gujarati)

When you say Yes, I know nothing,

again,

WHY ?

and than

more questions ..

Didn’t you go to school ?

Didn’t you ask your dad questions ?

Didn’t your mom teach you ?

 

Impossible to beat him eh !

 

Than suddenly the attention will shift to lets do homework. This is one job that somehow I am blessed with, he writes his stuff very very neatly without stopping or pausing, even drawing keeps him occupied and he gets lost in it.

 

 However I am one father who never has any ambitions that my son would become a champ in his studies, I have hated studies all my life and I shall be more than happy if my son also dislikes studies. I don’t want him to come first in the class, ever. I think the first rankers are snobs and no arguments on this.

 

My inner wish is he become India’s fastest bowler ever, and he bounce each and every batsman of the opposing teams, injuring them and giving them the scare of their lives. I have had enough of opposing teams always bouncing our players and hitting them. (however the pitches these days scare me if taking up fast bowling is a wise option).

 

However so far I have not forced him to play cricket, it seems he doesn’t like it, coz when cricket comes he cannot watch his cartoons. This is one area where I and my son cant seem to agree. We fight over the remote, while he used to win always earlier, slowly but surely now he has started to allow me to watch cricket !

 

I at times am sure he will not become a cricketer as my Mom wanted me to study all her life and I never did, she wanted me to be a ranker but never after 5th grade I could manage being in the top 20. However whether he becomes a fast bowler (please son, India needs you) or a leg spinner is not in my hands but to fantasize about it is surely my right !!

 

However I sincerely hope he can be something that he will enjoy doing. Earn while doing something he loves & not something he loathes and I am sorry but it is beyond me how can a person enjoy stiching patients, or making audit reports, or fixing bugs in the computer or machinery or making presentations on excel sheets or by hosting dinners to sell cotton.

 

I am sure fun is in what Sachin, Veeru & Ishant do, in what Bryan Adams or Rehman do, in what Sonu Nigam or Kay Kay do, in what Zakir Hussain does, in what painters or photographers do. Surely fun is in jobs of Rajdeep Sardesai or that guy in the series Man v/s Wild on National Geographic. Surely Chetan Bhagat’s or Veer Sanghvi’s enjoy their work more than me, fun surely is in lives of travel writers, movie critics but it surely is not in offices where you reach after becoming a Doctor or CA or an Engineer.

 

God, I have a tendency of veering away from the subject. However, coming back to some of the few other challenges :

Son : Lets say ABC (alphabets)

Me : Ok, ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ (that’s easy we say it together)

Son : Adha, A says Apple. Me : rite. Son : B says Banana, C says Chikoo, D says… Adha, which fruit starts from D ??

Me : mmm Dry fruits !!

Son : That is not a fruit, there are so many dry fruits…

Me : Oh… who told you ?

Son : I know

Me : well D se…. (scratching my head) [ Wait dear son, so many people reading my blog, yes readers, will you tell me what fruit starts with a D and a E and a H and a Q and X and Y a Z please…. Urgently needed. ] I am at wits end. No dear readers, its not a for apple, b for ball, c for cat naah not so easy, its fruits starting from each alphabet… these new generation kids I tell you.. All we used to say as kids was  mango, orange, banana, papaya… we didnt even know kiwi fruits existed !  

 

You think a father’s life is easy, think again !!

 

& hey dont you think it ends with just fruits !

No no no…. its not just this…. You also have to name 5 animals/insects/birds with each alphabet. Fruits and vegetables starting with each alphabet.

 

Then ofcourse in between there is translation, wanna know what ???

 

 Ok

 

Son : Adha, What do you call a Hyena in gujarati ?

Me : Zarakh.

Son : Hindi ?

Me : Lakkadbagga.

Son : Kutchi ?

Me : Hriday, I don’t know. ( sometimes he takes, I don’t know as an answer )

Son : Adha what do we call a platypus in gujarati ?

Me : Platypus only, its not an animal found in Gujarat so it doesn’t have a gujarati name.

Son : Don’t just say anything, you don’t know anything.

Son : Adha, what do you call a Dinosaur in Gujarati ?

Me : Hriday, lets stop this, we will sing poems.

Geeee, my life is in an intelligence crisis. Dinosaur in Hindi anyone ?? Platypus in hindi anyone ?? There are more… Walrus, Dugong, Hedgehog ….

 

My parents were really smart to not introduce me to any other animals other than cat, dog, cow, goat, buffalo or lion, tiger, fox, cheetah, elephant… but those damn animal books me and my wife brought thinking of educating him…..

 

We forgot we weren’t qualified enough to get such books.

 

Than suddenly : Son : “Adha, when will we go to see Dinosaurs ?”

Me : Hriday, dinosaurs don’t exist, they all died years ago.

Son : Don’t lie.

Me : Really, one meteor came from the space on the earth and there was a big explosion and the atmosphere got very hot and they all died, now they don’t exist !

Son : waaaaaa….. sob sob…. I want to see Dinosaurs….. (weeping)

 

Boss is this a reason to cry ? Dinosaurs died years ago, what can I do ?? (no matter what, he has to see them he won’t stop wailing if you say the animal is dead.) I am going to kill this Steven Spielberg for making that silly Jurassic movie…. And the channels who keep showing that movie and all the dinosaur cartoons, the kid is obsessed with dinosaurs !!! I don’t know whats with this new generation kids and dinosaurs, can’t they be like us as kids just be happy with the puppy on the roadside or a cat ! If we saw a pet rabbit somewhere we would be as pleased as punch.

 

This new generation wants a T-rex as a pet !!!!!!! No matter what you tell him he will not stop, eventually ok ok, they exist in Africa and we will go to Africa and see them.

 

Son : When will we go to Africa ?

Me : Son, we don’t have a passport so we cannot go now.

Son : When will we get a passport ?

Me : Son, we have to go to Bharuch for that, our residence proof is there.

Son : But we live in Indore ! Me : But we have no proof that we live in Indore !

Son : Our Chowkidar will tell we live here !!

Me : Ohh… okk… we will get the pass port soon… ok…. Ok

Son : Dad… now we say Ka, Kha, Ga in hindi… Nahheeeeeeeeeee…… geee….

 While I learn Hindi Barakhdi….. its ta ‘da until next time buddies…. Like I said its really really challenging !!!! But I am going to overcome the challenges surely !

Btw how many of you can say Ka, Kha Ga fluently by heart ??? just to make me feel a lil better !! perhaps !!