Road Trip – South Africa

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Ever since I have come back from South Africa, I cannot stop raving about the amazing road trip we had there. The feeling of being cock a hoop is not leaving me. The country has amazing panaromic views all around, the roads are in top notch condition and the traffic there is absolutely nothing, especially for a guy who lives in India! After driving around about 4050 kms in the country and spending 12 days there I am quite adamant that anyone that goes to South Africa has to do a road trip.

 

For someone who had not driven in any foreign country before there were a lot of apprehensions and doubts let alone half the known world here telling me it was a horrible idea, that in South Africa after dark people are just waiting to mug me or rob me. Let me tell you, nothing of that sort happened, we infact in our 12 days trip did not ever encounter any of those scary experiences. The thrill of self driving in a safari in a bush full of Elephants, Rhino’s, Giraffe’s and what not has to be experienced and soaked in. Once you complete the trip it seems all chilled out and I wondered what the fuss about it was.

Okay lets first give some information for you guys if any one of you plan to drive in SA :

 

1.) Indian driving license is valid in SA as long as your driving license is in English. However, we had read on the internet that car hire companies could demand an International Driving Permit and so we actually got one and spent money on it, but it was never asked or checked!

2.) In South Africa like in India they have a right hand drive, so its almost no adjustment for us Indians. They do follow rules though, which might be a little tricky for us Indians 😛 However, if you just drive carefully and watch around, there are plenty of signals and signboards and they are all in English and so once you get a hang of it you are sorted.

3.) Budgetcar.co.za was the car rental that we used and believe it or not for 12 days and 4050 kilometers for two drivers it cost us just 20k. How cool is that? Yes we paid for the fuel and toll (which was at very few places)

4.) We did actually pay around 2500 extra for road side assistance (included in the 20k) however we never required it.

5.) When we left we had booked a Volkswagon Polo, however they gave us a ford fiesta. Which was a pretty similar hatchback type car.

6.) For Safari, ideally you want to hire a jeep or a higher vehicle. We made a slight mistake and didn’t opt for the higher vehicle.

7.) Dropping a car and hiring was very easy and whilst picking up it took us some 15 mintues while dropping the car it took us hardly 2 minutes.

 

See it is that easy and hence I recommend you do a road trip in SA and never opt for any other option. If you are weary of driving a very long distance, which we are not, you can drop a car at an airport and pick up another one from another airport. Its easy and no hassles.

The people here even when driving communicate a lot, while we were driving around in Kruger National Park almost every car that would pass us would wave or flash a light to say ‘hi’!! On the highways when you let a car pass, it would switch on its parking light to say thank you and we would flash our light to say welcome! Seriously almost everywhere this was the norm! In the city of Cape Town though all that disappeared but then I guess folks in a big city are always too busy and in a hurry. It used to amuse me though when our host in Cape Town warned us of traffic on the way to the airport, for someone who comes from India the traffic in SA was an absolute non issue, they simply dont have that many cars or people. There were very few two wheelers and that is half the problem solved.

Having our own vehicle in a national park doing safari was something I was most apprehensive about, how do we find routes, how do we identify animals and birds, what if we encounter big animals on the road? If you are just a little sensible with the animals and keep a distance, the animals were fine, most of the time they kept their distance as well. Kruger National Park has amazingly clear sign boards for a park that is spread across 28000 square kilometers! Riding there and tracking animals or finding a waterhole and spending hours waiting there was so amazing that I cannot quite describe it! We have always complained that in Tiger parks in India they do not let us spend enough time inside the park, here from morning 6 to evening 6 you are free to roam in the park track animals or sit at spot and wait for animals. Can you imagine 12 hours of being in the wild looking for animals and birds? I could not before this trip! We bought one animal identification book in the park and it was great to spot birds and refer the book!

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An Impala walks patiently for us to cross before it crosses! 🙂

The most amazing moment was when we encountered was when we saw a family of Cheetah, the parents were teaching their kids to hunt, the kids were pretty inept and could not stalk at all and would always alarm the Impala and Zebra before they could get near enough to chase. We spent an hour with that family and eventually left that family to perfect their art. It was like the first time that we got to see a wild cat for such length of time! We spotted a pride of lions when we were driving and there was no one else around, just us and the lions! One night we got delayed and drove in pitch darkness in the park and encountered wild dogs, Elephants, Rhinos sitting on the main road! Oh I can go on and on about our 3 day drive in Kruger National Park.

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They were more curious about the cars then the Impala’s!

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The usual traffic jam in Kruger! We looked forward to such traffic jams, which clearly meant some good sighting was happening! We used to rush in the midst of all traffic jams! 😛

 

After Kruger National Park we went on a drive on the Panaroma Route and the route is named totally aptly! The views on that drive were amazing, SA generally has less trees and small buildings so the visibility is amazing, you can see far and wide and the landscape is absolutely stunning. There are so many waterfalls on the route that we didn’t know which to visit and which to skip. Overall we felt we should have given ourselves a few more days to properly explore the Panaroma Route and the Drakensberg Mountains, but perhaps that would be for another time. Here are some snaps from the Panaroma Route.

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The drive upto the Three Rhondavels View Point is amazing and the reward at the end of it equally stunning!

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We found loads of maple tree’s near Graskop where we had the best Pancakes ever!

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The Golden Gate Highlands National park is straight out of the wild west or Texas! We were pleasantly surprised to see it!

 

We absolutely loved the Garden Route, picture this : Green Mountains on a side, the top being full of clouds on one side, the ocean on the another and you are zipping about on a tip top highway! The country is amazingly beautiful and one way to see a lot of it in a short time is to take a car and drive! There were innumerable view points, the amount of stops that we took to take photographs would drive any other driver mad, unless ofcourse if the driver and the photographer are the same person!

 

Here are some more pictures of the Garden Route, a full travelogue comes next and then our experiences of our encounters with locals there!

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I told you green mountains with their tops in the clouds on one side!

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The ocean on the other!

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when clouds descend on the garden route!

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Thoda to style maarna banta hai!

 

 

 

 

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Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary

So the last weekend of the year we travelled to Jamnagar for a road trip, I had spent 4 years of my life in that city and ever since I left it as a kid I had not returned there, with junior camping in the vicinity we thought spending two days in that city would be quite okay. Wife was drooling at the prospect of buying the famous Bandhani’s from Jamnagar and I was thinking of seeing my old school and eating typical Jamnagar food. Alongside we had decided to spend some time in Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary since it was winter and migratory birds would have surely come here.

 

I had heard a bit about it, however, I must confess we did not go with too many expectations, infact one gentleman told me that 20 days back he had met someone who had gone to Jamnagar that this year very few birds have come. That did not deter me as we wanted to check it out first hand but it did tone down all expectations. I had read somewhere that some 300+ species come there and infact when legendary Bird expert Dr Salim Ali had visited Khijadiya in one day he had recorded 104 species!! However, when you go with minimal expectations you always end up with much happier moments.

 

We left for the park at 6.15 from our hotel in pitch darkness to reach the Sanctuary by sunrise, its about 25mins drive from the city centre, we got our tickets from the counter. They charge Rs. 40 if a person is going to walk, if he is in a car then its 500 per vehicle, doesnt matter how many people in the vehicle. They also charge 200 for a camera. The ticketing was smooth and the guys were pretty courteous, you can also hire a guide if you like but we didn’t hire one and decided to have some own time.

 

It is pretty rare that they allow you inside a sanctuary alone, in your own vehicle and I quite liked the idea. I know many people misuse this freedom and break the limits however, I just wanted to be there on my own waiting for any bird or animal at my own patience and whim and at the same time have peace and not get into unwanted conversations that many times keep happening when you are on safari in National parks with a guide and a driver giving you information that many times you already have.

 

We drove about stopping and spotting birds, they had arrived in plenty, we even saw more than 1500 flamingos, over 30 cranes, heron, ibis, black ibis, spoonbill, mallard etc were so many and so scattered its difficult to put a count on it. The place is blessed with birds and its difficult to list them all here, over all I think we spotted more than 35 species in about 5 hours that we spent there.

 

The place is quite and serene, surprisingly no littering around was spotted by us, there was so much peace with few visitors and the park authorities have kept things simple, they have made roads near the water bodies and put benches under tree’s so that you can go sit there and quietly wait for the birds to slowly figure out that you are not a threat and come closer. I loved the whole concept, we were short on time other wise I thought spending a whole day in a park by just paying 700 from 6am to 6pm is a steal. There is no food or drinks available inside the park so when you do go, go prepared, carry loads of water and fruits and a picnic hamper there are so many places inside where you can sit and enjoy and bask in glorious winter weather.

To be standing together in a frosty field, looking up into the sky, marvelling at birds and revelling in the natural world around us, was a simple miracle. And I wondered why we were so rarely able to appreciate it.”
Lynn Thomson

The more patient & silent people will probably get the birds more closer to them. I actually think that a trip simply to Jamnagar can be made with just visiting this park on the agenda. I found the place so good. The freedom, the silence, the whole place that was so full of nature kind of perked my spirits up. It seemed like a nice place to go on long walks and rejuvenate I say. People who love the peace, quiet and serene nature alongside bird watching are bound to fall in love with this place.

 

Here I have a few pictures I took there, hope you like them! 😀

 

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The park has two parts walking about would be for the supremely fit as it is a pretty huge area, taking a bicycle would be the best bet, infact the next time I go, I am taking a cycle on this park’s visit!

Common Cranes flying about

Common Cranes flying about

 

A crested lark struts about royally

A crested lark struts about royally, in its own tiny world this tiny bird is a king! 

Godwits are here in loads and loads of numbers!

Godwits are here in loads and loads of numbers!

Then at this far off place we saw so many flamingos

Then at this far off place we saw so many flamingos

This bunch was a little more nearer and more accessible, like me they didnt care for photo's they just kept their heads down and kept eating!

This bunch was a little more nearer and more accessible, like me they didnt care for photo’s they just kept their heads down and kept eating!

Even these folks are here in plenty and they come nearer and pose!

Even these folks are here in plenty and they come nearer and pose!

Although I have seen the Hoopoe many times before this, this is the first time I have got a proper shot of one!

Although I have seen the Hoopoe many times before this, this is the first time I have got a proper shot of one!

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Painted Storks were there as well to perk up the surroundings!

Hundreds and hundreds of Rosy Starling, Many many White breasted Kingfishers and Black Drongos were also to be seen everywhere!

Hundreds and hundreds of Rosy Starling, Many many White breasted Kingfishers and Black Drongos were also to be seen everywhere!

We even managed to spot one male and 6 female Nilgai's (bluebull) grazing about

We even managed to spot one male and 6 female Nilgai’s (bluebull) grazing about

Bird watchers are a lovely bunch, I like them, quite and unobtrusive, immersed in nature and always fancying their binoculars they all revel in places like these!

Bird watchers are a lovely bunch, I like them, quite and unobtrusive, immersed in nature and always fancying their binoculars they all revel in places like these!

This is just one spot, the park has many many spots like this, where in you can decide to sit and become a part of the surroundings, sleep, take a picnic lunch and spend time letting the birds come nearer and soak in nature

This is just one spot, the park has many many spots like this, where in you can decide to sit and become a part of the surroundings, sleep, take a picnic lunch and spend time letting the birds come nearer and soak in nature

Welcome to the Mangrove

So we went on a river safari on Madu Ganga, as many mangroves as we have and as many failed attempts I made to visit the Sunderbans, this was my first visit to the mangroves, excitement was palpable between the two of us. A journey into something unknown, something new always is looked at eagerly with a lot of nervous energy at most times.

 

To beat the crowd our host suggested we go as early as 6 am so that we would not have a lot of crowd which usually pours in after 9am. The early morning trip meant a lot of quiet, peace, easy to grab a boat as the boatmen were eager and free and offered a discount. All that done we hopped onto a boat and we went on our way onto the beautiful Madu river. Our boat guide constantly talking to us and keeping us engaged and informed about the surroundings and from time to time making sure he yelled for us to keep our heads lower as we passed under some bridges that criss crossed the river.

 

The river is pretty huge which did not seem like when we started, but as we went on we discovered many small islands, some with temples, some with small settlements of people in the river. Some of the islands are connected by bridges and some are only connected by boats and yes they have people living there. There are some cinnamon plantations inside, apparently some of the best cinnamon in the world comes from here.

 

We spotted a lot of water monitors, monkeys, kingfishers, brahminy kites in just 10 mins on the safari. It being so early in the morning meant poor light and that meant poor pictures, however, the whole experience was wonderful, a lot of nervous energy gave way to elation of spotting so many creatures going about their life early in the morning. With no visitors apart from us meant we would keep things quieter and wait patiently and slowly glide closer to the animals as they lay about or fished or ate some fruits.

 

We even visited one Buddhist temple on the river that is some 200 years old and I saw the largest squirrel I have ever seen there!

 

The high point though was this picture below, entering into this darkness, the branches and the leaves that don’t allow the sun to enter, the being so close to the branches so little space to run if something were to come onto you, no it was not spooky but for the first few minutes we were nervous and excited both at the same time, apparently I have learnt that this is still a pretty small version of what you could see in the Sunderbans and hence my goal to visit it for sure and soon. The feeling inside the mangroves was something I have not experience, a part of this planet that is so different from others that I have seen, a thriving eco-system to boot. We absolutely loved the little time we were inside.

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This in particular is a part of travel, discovering something new, experiencing things you have not experienced before seeing new things is what keeps us all going ain’t it?

 

Here are a few more pictures!

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At day break we were off on our journey into experiencing something new! 🙂

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Probably the smallest island on the river!

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A water monitor lazing on a tree, he didn’t even blink an eyelid on seeing us! He was almost saying Go away… the tourist time is after 9!!

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There are many foot massage parlours and the labour involved in the massage literally eat your dead skin! 😀

Road trips

Travel was a bug that had bit me probably whilst I was a very small kid, however, the effect of that bug started showing its true colours pretty late in life. Earlier the penchant to travel was to be fulfilled only with fantasies or books, finally last few years it is starting to become a bit of a reality. I learnt driving also pretty late, infact 3 years back when I bought a car I didn’t even know properly how to drive. Thankfully as my wife says to me I have taken to it like a fish takes to water!

 

It was always ingrained in my brains that I want to drive my car to all remote corners of this world, more so to the Himalayas, stopping where I liked, taking in all the sights, photographing any peak I found pretty or screeching my brakes at the sight of an unknown bird! I did want to do it and no other driver could tolerate the number of breaks I keep taking to click a pic or to buy some fruit being sold or take a piss or smoke when I found a pretty view which had to be soaked in.

 

The first trip to the Himalaya’s was quite tentative with every loved one giving me loads of advice to be careful as they all wanted me to go and come back safe to this year, my third road trip to the Himalaya’s all self driven I have come a long way.

 

The thing about road trips are, they are most comfortable, you can plan your schedules without any other criteria but your own comfort, you decide if you want to drive 400 kms a day or 900, if you want to drive in the night or day, if you want to suddenly change your destination you can, impromptu decisions infact make them even better I say.

 

Selecting a place to eat is a major event for me on Road Trips, tips from friends, internet or simply places that look attractive to me all kind of fill up the activity chart along with driving all day. In the Himalaya’s stopping at a random Dhaba for tea that has a splendid view is something I really heart. Talking to folks who are amazed that you have driven all the way from Gujarat kinda swells my small ego like anything. I feel proud almost! 🙂 Suddenly sighting someone selling some berries or someone pasting fruits with salt and masala and you can bet I will be stopping around to pick up something.

 

Watching how the topography changes as you keep changing states and regions is quite amazing, how when you are about to reach a Tiger reserve the forests start swelling and how the population starts to dwindle is quite dramatic. In the Himalayas when you are driving you many times wonder how some of the most steep and remote mountains have a house or two on them, wonder how do people select these places. Wonder how they manage their day to day resources living at such remote locations but then I guess many people prefer a good view, silence and peace to most other things in life! 🙂

 

As far as safety is concerned, what I have learned from my little experience of driving around Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, UP, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal, Goa& Karnataka is that most of the places are pretty much safe. We generally try not to drive a lot in the night, trying our best to reach our destinations before dark on most occasions. If you are just a tad careful and don’t be rash, frankly there are not so many terrors as people would have you believe on the road. Generally people drive safe and all want to live so don’t worry, be careful you don’t bump into anyone, most of the other drivers don’t want to bump into you as well. The fact that I am on a holiday kind of makes my driving a little more patient than say when I am driving for work!

 

As I make a road trip after another, I keep falling in love, not so much with driving but with the idea of moving about all the time, going to new places and navigating my own way.

 

Here is a picture of me whilst on my way to Jauljibi from Munsiyari where we crossed a bridge into Nepal. This place thrilled me, what a wonderful place to stop aint it?! You stop your car on a hot day, open the door and walk two days and you are into a chilling waterfall. How cool is that!? These places do exist in India and many a times there are so many pretty places you encounter on the road which are not mentioned on any travel site or included in any travel package.

 

So here’s to more road trips in future! 🙂

 

 

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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!

 

Sarafa Bazaar – Indore

Caution : Do not read if on empty stomach. This post contains harmful photo’s and details if you are on a diet!

 

There are markets and malls and then there are Sarafa Bazaar sort of markets, the one in Indore tells me just how much I love window shopping as well, just the right products need to be advertised! Cliche’s all I tell you that say only women love window shopping. There is just so much food available in the Sarafa Bazaar in Indore that you cannot imagine the kind of orgy my mind indulges in each time I visit it. I have to concede I have not seen any Sarafa Bazaar of this scale. My mind is unable to make a decision what to eat and what to leave for next time. There is just such a huge variety of food available that even my epic appetite has to select what desires to satiate.

 

Per se, Sarafa Bazaar, means a Bullion Exchange, however, this bazaar for me has nothing to do with Gold. Indore’s Sarafa Bazaar becomes even more throbbing, happening and crowded ones all the Jewellers close shops. This is when the food stalls make their entry, as all the jewellers go home, their shop verandah’s and the whole street is littered by food stalls. Now, I have seen a lot of street markets, indulged in them, yet, this one stands apart. Two things, for me that separate it are one the fact that they are not selling the overly popular dishes, the major dishes here are not easily available everywhere else, you just have to come to Indore for them, like Bhutte ki Kees, Garadu, Sabudana Khichdi(nowhere else you get it like here), Jalebo(imarti) etc and secondly I have not seen any place where so many sweet stalls are put out on road, temporary ones at that!

 

There are a few popular fixed shops that run day and till late in the night like the Mittal Kachori/Samosa wala, Vijay ki Petis and Joshi ke Dahiwade but them apart a majority of them are temporary stalls that come to existence after the goldsmith’s have gone home after minting money. The stalls come to mint money and people make a beeline not seen during the day by the goldsmith’s.

 

Let me just list a few things you never want to miss out on if you are there :

1.) Bhutte Ki Kees (my personal favourite, I prefer it extra nimbu maarke)

2.) In winters never miss out on Garadu

3.) Joshi Ka Dahiwada – The man is a showman, the way he will feed you is completely unique. He is on youtube too if you want to see him . 

4.) Vijay Chaat ki Petis – This is divinity I tell you! hat

5.) Aloo Tikki Chat

6.) Jalebo – A sort of a jalebi/imarti that is as fat as your thumb! One piece does it for 5 people!

7.) Rabdi with Malpua.

After having eaten all these if there is still space in your belly, there is Sabudana Khichdi, Samosa’s, Kachaudi’s, Kulfi’s, Kala Jamun’s(hot), GulabJambun’s (hot), MoongDaal Halwa(hot), Gajar Ka Halwa(hot & seasonal), Pizza, PavBhaji, Cheese Faafda’s, Dosa’s, Fruit Chat, Chinese, Pani Puri and Chats & Bhel Pakodi’s and what not, the list really is never ending!

 

But yes one thing you will need before you do any of this is drink a Jaljeera first! 😛

 

The sheer scale of food that is available in this small market of that you can walk through in a matter of 3 minutes, that is if you can beat the crowd, is surely going to flood the place with your drool!  This place opens at around 8-9 in the night and goes on well till about 2 am in the night. When you are there you cannot comprehend how many people are eating at this ungodly hour! The market is throbbing and bustling with gluttony in the middle of the night! You just have to go there to see and believe what I am talking about.

 

Indore is called the food capital of Central India, I don’t think anyone can contest that, I mean apart from the Sarafa Bazaar there is another such crazy hangout zone called ‘Chappan Dukaan’ (meaning 56shops) obviously of food all lined up. The highlights are just unending you know, be it Laal Balti ki Kachaudi or Johny ka Hot Dog or Daal Baafle, the Indori’s are one crazy foodie bunch I tell you, from morning Poha Jalebi or Poha Ussal’s to the Malpua’s late in the night! The amount of Namkeen, Sweets, food these people consume is stuff of legends. These folks have my respect I tell you!!

 

If ever you happen to be going to the Hindustan Ka Dil, Heart of Incredible India, as MP tourism dept puts it make sure you are spending atleast 2 days in Indore for just indulging a bit. 🙂 😀

 

Here are a few pics of the foodie heaven of Sarafa Bazaar from a couple of days back when I was passing through and I stopped specially for this.

Perhaps start with a Paani Puri

Perhaps start with a Paani Puri

Thodi Bhutte Ki Kees extra Neembu Maarke ;)

Thodi Bhutte Ki Kees extra Neembu Maarke 😉

Aloo Tikki and Bhutte Ki Kees vendor at work

Aloo Tikki and Bhutte Ki Kees vendor at work

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Aaj Kya loge ji? Kalajamun? Gulab Jamun? Ya Rabdi ke Saath Malpua!? 😛 😛

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Jalebi to gareeb log khaate honge.. Indori’s eat Jalebo! 😛

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The sheer amount of Ghee and Tikki’s that are eaten is awe inspiring!

If you want, we are ready with Gola's! Sirf Flavour bataiye!

If you want, we are ready with Gola’s! Sirf Flavour bataiye!

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.

 

 

 

Dudhsagar Water Falls

Disclaimer : This is the non adventurous, touristy way of reaching the falls!

 

When Aamir Khan flew that plane over Pangong Tso in 3 idiots we all loved it, infact I felt finally some Indian films were finally actually exploring India’s most beautiful places. Little did we imagine that the very next year there would be traffic jams on the road to Pangong and there would be packets of Lay’s wafers and Bisleri bottles floating in the waters of Pangong! The curse of Bollywood if you may call it now, not their fault mind you, but our people (tourists) and our govt who fail to see the coming number of people and do not prepare adequately to arrange for the trash that we will bring along.

 

A few years later, a Deepika Shahrukh Khan starrer makes another such wonderful natural location of India famous, Dudhsagar Falls, result : flocks and flocks of Indian tourists arrive on the scene. What was once a place were only a few people went is now flocked with people. The result should be good, more people get to see the beautiful place, the rain forest can be protected from being cut as it now suddenly generates revenue, the locals also suddenly have a source of employment that they had not forseen.

 

I hope in a while from now that will be the case. As of now I must confess though at my surprise the forest is still pristine and clean, no plastic, no bottles, no dirt anywhere, not that we spotted. The crowd is huge, they have now limited the admittance into the park to 225 jeeps, each jeep carries 7 people charging Rs. 400 p/p from Collem plus the driver into the Dudhsagar Falls, they have made life jackets compulsory for all to avoid any mishaps, there were people around the waterfall to ensure no one was at a risk of losing lives, some volunteers were even clearing water bottles from the water on a surf board which were dropped by a few irresponsible tourists.

 

Inside the park its awesome, the jungle is super dense, absolutely like you would imagine a rain forest to be like, the route that the jeeps drive through is adventurous, super bumpy and awe inspiring, the water is clean, albeit a few too many people at the main pond below the falls with everyone wanting to bathe, the dip is every bit worth it as I went in, the scary part for me was my feet didn’t touch the bottom, I can’t swim and the fact that fishes as big as almost 2-3 feet swam about around me, not that they harmed but they kinda scared me, when I look back now I find that super cool and wonderful to be able to swim with fishes! The fishes are all friendly and actually tried to keep away, accidentally sometimes they would brush your leg or stomach and to me it gave chilly creeps. I am a total waste I know, some people tried to catch them but the fish were pretty agile for them! All said and done, with the life jacket you need to take that plunge in that pool! The swim is amazingly soothing!

 

The only two drawbacks I felt were one, the jeeps should be open gypsies not closed jeeps, the viewing could be so much better and second the queue to get in, it is as chaotic as it can get, almost driving some people to wanting to return from there without visiting. My advice, be patient, bear the pain and enter the park, once inside its calm, peaceful, beautiful and fun. Amazingly its not littered up despite so many people visiting which is a tribute to the people visiting and the local officials.

 

On our way back we also saw some people trekking the route our jeeps plied and I was devastated to learn that you could actually trek and I had opted for the jeep. I am not aware how you get that permission, but do look for it before going for the jeep like an idiot which I apparently was. Walking takes 2.5 hours one way, drive is 45 minutes one way. Walking in a rain forest would certainly be a most wonderful experience.

 

From what I learnt is the trek through the train tracks has been disallowed, although some people still do undertake it, if spotted by railway officials you could be fined. I guess Indian ways would certainly work anyways if you are wanting to go through that way regardless.

 

Here are a few pictures of that place, few coz we were more busy bathing than clicking! 🙂

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whilst the trees and foliage across the road is cut for easy access, the jungle besides is so dense you need to see to believe!

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Thats just one of the 3 water bodies that you cross on the way! 🙂 Fun eh??

 

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Whilst we saw one monitor lizard on the way, the closed jeeps don’t really allow you to look about a lot, what you cannot miss though is this fella! They are in thousands!

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They keep falling throughout the year! Four tiered water fall it is!!!! The sight is to behold and soak, a passing train makes the whole scene kinda unreal!

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I think this is said to be India’s 5th tallest Waterfall!

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Bathing here is one thing you do not want to miss out on! Even if you can’t swim, put on the float jacket and go in the water! Take my word for it!

 

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Now you know why they call it Dudhsagar don’t you?? Totally foamy milky falls!

 

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Thats me splashing happily 🙂 🙂 🙂