Journeysmatter

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Category Archives: Nature

The Pench National Park

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An antlered spotted deer watching out attentively

We explored the intimate settings of the Jamtara wilderness camp in our previous blog. The camp hosts visitors who would like to enjoy a safari or two at the #Pench National Park in #MadhyaPradesh. The Pench national park is India’s 19th project #Tiger reserve and is spread over 758 sq km of area, out of which 299 sq km is considered to be the core region. At last count, it is said to house over 1200 species of flora and fauna.

Considering the number of visitors lining up for safaris, it is advisable to book your rides in advance via the property where you plan to stay. The three gates namely Karmajhiri, Jamtara and Turia from where safaris commence, have numerous hotels dotting them with Turia having more than 30 of them across various budgets. The hotels ask for a copy of your public ID which they use to book your safaris. Carry the same ID’s on you during your travel as they have to be produced at the time of entering the park for your first ride.

The morning rides commence from 630 AM until 11 AM. Afternoon rides commence at 3 PM and one has to exit the gates by 545 PM. The park is closed during the monsoon months of July, August and September. For the morning rides, the hotels equip the vehicles with a hearty breakfast which is enjoyed at a common point called Alikatta which has well maintained toilets. During winters, the safari vehicles are equipped with a hot water bag and a warm blanket to stay warm. Good to be well equipped. The safari vehicles start from their respective hotels with a naturalist usually at the wheels and are joined by a guide at the entry point. The guide is mandatory and are well aware of the park layout and the calls of various species. A tip of Rs 150 – 200 towards the end of the ride should serve as a good encouragement.

Winters bring in a lot of birds and summers draw out the animals to the water holes. All seasons are equally enjoyable and having an open mind helps. If one goes out just for sighting a Tiger, chances are that one may end up returning disappointed despite hearing a few sambhar warning calls or long growls of the tiger. Important to follow the park etiquettes and avoid noise while patiently waiting for a species. Children, until they are over 10 might find the long rides troublesome and might lead the vehicle to an earlier than expected exit from the park.

We stayed at the Jamtara Wilderness Camp during our travel and visited the park from the Karmajhiri gate. The ride from the camp to the gate took us close to 20 minutes and passed by a very well organized village whose residents were all from the Gond community. Presenting oneself at the gate on time is helpful to complete formalities before entering the park.

We sighted many species and not only sighting them but also watched them go about their activities which proved to be an experience in itself. Pictures were shot using a Sony a7III and a Sony G Master 100-400 mm.

The Common langur with its newborn
The common langur with its newborn maybe a day or two old as its head is still red in colour. The newborn was the center of attention in the flock and was being cared for by all the ladies
A tracking elephant with his mahout
The tracking elephant is used by forest guards to track Tigers within the park. The elephant is also used to herd deer if the park wants to shift some of them to another zone or even another park. The mahout gently taps the head of the elephant to steer him in the right direction
A gaur watches intently
The Gaur, a majestic herbivore and bovine appears in the afternoon along with its family and silently goes about its grazing but also acknowledging the visitors with a steely gaze
Picture collage of owls - Indian scops owl and jungle owlet
A couple of Indian scops owl are happy at not being detected while another one wants to be visible. A Jungle owlet awaits the descent of darkness
A Jackal walks around unmindful of hordes of visitors
A Jackal walks around unmindful of hordes of visitors
A Ruddy shelduck also called Brahminy duck
The Ruddy Shelduck also known as the Brahminy duck is a winter visitor to India and arrives from beyond the Himalayas. They are said to attain heights of over 6,800 meters as they migrate.
A white throated kingfisher
Widely present across Asia, this white throated Kingfisher is a picture of serenity with a small frown or focus however one may call it
An Indian roller
An extremely colourful bird found across many states in India. Roadside trees, open grassland and scrub forestland all offer excellent habitats for the roller
A group of male plum headed parakeets
A group of male plum headed parakeets found extensively acros India. Females have a grayish blue head
Red and Yellow wattled lapwings
A red wattled lapwing inhabits marshy areas near waterbodies where as the yellow wattled lapwing is seen only on dry scrubland.
Backside of a peacock readying to spread its feathers
A peacock readying to turn around and showcase its spreadout feathers
A peacock with its fully opened feathers
A peacock with its fully opened feathers towards sunset
An Indian grey hornbill
The Indian Grey Hornbill is a fairly common hornbill species found only in the Indian subcontinent. They play an essential role in the ecosystem as prime dispersers of seeds. In cities, we may find them feeding on fig trees like banyan, Goolar (a variety of fig), usually choosing old tall dense trees for nesting.

A wonderful trip to the Pench sanctuary came to a conclusion and left us with fantastic memories. Keeping aside the constant chatter of visitors in their jeeps asking a one dimensional question if we sighted the Tiger, the park is a delight and offers immense joy during moments of silence when one parks the jeep and pauses to listen to the sounds; the sound of a teak tree leaf falling too has its distinct impact.

Plan your travel in advance, choose a good place to stay and insist on a good naturalist to accompany you. Reach out to response@narmadaholidays.com for any questions.

The Jamtara Wilderness Camp

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The Jamtara wilderness camp and the Banyan treee where bonfire sessions are held

The Jamtara wilderness camp is a delightful offering that provides a fantastic experience staying in and sets one up for an enhanced experience while visiting the Pench national park. The Pench national park is India’s 19th project Tiger reserve and plays host to immensly varied flora and fauna. The Jamtara Wilderness camp in central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is a 3 hour drive from the well connected Nagpur airport in Maharashtra. 

The owner of the property, Mr. Amith Sankhala traces his affinity to sustainable experiences back to his grandfather Mr. Kailash Sankhala, one of the heads of the Project Tiger initiative in 1973 and to his father Mr. Pradeep Sankhala who built sustainable eco-lodges in Bandhavgarh and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh. 

The wilderness camp comprises of just ten tents and a star bed, thereby providing guests with very intimate and personalized experiences. The camp has been inspired by the villages and communities surrounding it and the staff at the camp are all from the local villages. 

The reception area – replete with 70’s art deco furniture once used by Embassies based in delhi, desks that belonged to Supreme court. This, along with interesting books and antiques provides a nostalgic experience
The reception area also serves up as a dining space on a rotational basis. Other than that, a cup of tea or coffee can be had while enjoying the ambience
A lounging area near the pool. The rope cots provide the perfect setting to bask in the winter sun or laze around after a swim
The pool and the banyan tree in the background. The banyan tree is a fantastic spot for evening bonfire discussions over a drink and a few snacks
The compact camp does not confuse you with many entry and exit points. Open windows provide a calming experience and the untouched forest cover makes it realistic. The fallen leaves are taken back by the earth over time
One of the ten tents at the camp. The tents are pulled down towards the end of the season or when the rains set in and are put up once again towards October. The floorings are from the decks of ships. The bathroom is the only permanent structure and the rest are dismantlable. Weather sealed with an air conditioner and heater to ensure comfort of the guests.
The room is perfect for a couple and there is enough room for an extra bed. Young teenagers find such experiences unique and enjoy them thoroughly.
Lounge outside the tent after a meal or a safari drive. Two layer zippered tents with enough natural ventilation.
The Star Bed is a unique offering of Jamtara – Set amidst lush green fields, the arrangement offers an unobstructed view of the night sky. Support staff are stationed on a neaby machan to attend to the needs of the guest in the middle of the night

A video that summarizes the entire experience at Jamtara Wilderness camp and the Pench Wildlife sanctuary

An expereience at Pench wildlife sanctuary and the Jamtara Wilderness camp

The camp opening coincides with the Pench national park. The only time they are closed is during monsoons when the park too closes i.e between July and September.

#India is slowly moving towards properties that are boutique in nature and offering unique experiences. This is where a travel agent / leisure travel specialists will have to make an effort towards identifying such properties, experiencing it themselves and later offering them to other customers. #Travel personalization will grow at a rapid pace.

#incredibleindia

#dekhoapnadesh

#mptourism

Traveling to East Africa – Tips, Sights & Sounds Part 1

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Mt Kenya during Sunrise

Did you read about The Migrations of East Africa? If not, read about it here. Let us now help you prepare for this once in a life time experience. Have a sit down session with your travel partner, inform yourself and carve out a personalized itinerary catering to your requirements and budget. Let us now cover health requirements and the Transit points.

Yellow Fever and Polio Vaccination

The Ministry of Health and family welfare has locations across major cities where Yellow fever and Polio Vaccination is administered. Access the list here http://www.mohfw.nic.in/showfile.php?lid=3642. In Mumbai, the center is located close to Terminal 2 Airport. Important to note that only 75 people will be able to receive the dose in a single day. People start queuing from 630 AM, write their names in an informal sheet of paper circulated by the first enterprising passenger and wait for the gates to open. At about 9 AM the officials start issuing tokens after verifying passports and a valid travel ticket; This is mandatory if one accesses this facility. The process inside is smooth and you walk out with a Yellow card for Yellow fever and a Pink one for Polio vaccine. Do savor the Vadapav and Pohe sold by a resident couple within the airport health center premises. Carry some water in case you plan to queue up early in the morning. There are no stalls close by.

Airport Health center Mumbai waiting queues

Passengers waiting to be administered the Yellow Fever and Polio vaccine outside the Airport Health center

Choice of airlines while flying in to East Africa

Kenya Airways is just a functional airline which focuses on just getting you from India and Nairobi;That’s it. If you are expecting pampering, better seating, in-flight entertainment and wide assortment of food, you should look at the gulf based options (Emirates and Etihad) or the increasingly popular Ethiopian. The service from Mumbai to Nairobi is on a 737-800 in a 3-3 seating. It gives you a feel of travelling in a domestic flight on an international sector. Limited leg room, Compact collection of recent Indian and long released international movies on the inflight system, one customary meal on the 5.5 hour flight and Non-alcoholic drinks complete the experience. At time seat allocation is random during full flights and the added prospect of leaving your luggage behind in case of a full flight. The last two are areas where Kenya Airways could do better with proper communication. Kenya airways was operating a dreamliner on this sector which was subsequently discontinued. Twice a day service to Nairobi is adequate for now and we will egg them on to improve Service Quality. Assorted traffic – Tourists, businessmen, MICE groups and a few religious groups as well. Affordable fares make this a popular choice.

Kenya airways Banner, Kenya airways flight and the drinks and nibbles on flight

Kenya Airways has a huge opportunity to become the Best Affordable Carrier to Africa

At the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)

Instead of walking straight in to the first currency/Mobile shop, just ask your guide to take you to the Annex building of this simple airport which houses a Safaricom shop and currency changers. Safaricom plans are cheap and start from 500 KSH upwards for a prepaid card. USD, CHF, UKP are the most recognized currencies. Indian rupee, though trades at 1.51 for a KSH fetches KSH only on a 1:1 basis. Travelling with USD is quite helpful and a pre loaded Forex card is welcome almost everywhere across Kenya and Tanzania. The immigration is smooth and the folks are welcoming. The airport, like its country’s airline, could do with better passenger amenities like better seating in common areas, multiple restaurant options and of course free WiFi. Passengers often have to endure long transit times in JKIA due to itineraries and international flights departing in the evening. JKIA will do well to make their airport experience a comfortable one if not memorable.

Joao Kenyatta International airport welcome sign and airport premises

The modest JKIA needs to do a lot more if it wants to be called the “Hub of Africa”

At the Isabania border crossing

If you have not opted for air transfers from Kenya to Tanzania, the best transit point is at the Isabania border crossing. Quite a streamlined process at the border. Just make sure that your travel partner is ready with the PAX manifest with all details filled in before exiting Kenya. Once done, just pass through Tanzanian security, present proof of your vaccination, pay your Visa fees and get your passport stamped. Get a glimpse of the no man’s land before entering Tanzania.

Isabania border crossing. Tanzanian immigration building

The Isabania border crossing. Tanzania’s wonderful road quality deserves a pat on the back.

Getting there – Kenya Airways is the only airline offering direct service between India and East Africa. They fly twice a day between Mumbai and Nairobi. Other convenient but longer connections are via Dubai and Abu Dhabi. One could begin their journey at Nairobi or from Dar Es Salaam/Arusha based on the type of activity one wants to undertake.

Staying options – Plenty, but choose wisely after consulting your travel planner and reading reviews of the properties. Budgets, location, amenities, themes are key parameters one should keep in mind while selecting staying options. The hotels offer safari trips of their own. But, if you have planned on your own tour partner it could give you a lot more flexibility and continuity throughout your journey.

 

 

 

Odisha – Jewel of India’s east

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Bande Utkala Janani……I adore Thee, O! Mother Utkal…..

Words written by Kantakabi Laxmikanta Mohapatra, when Odisha (www.odisha.gov.in) (Orissa till 2011) became independent on the 1st of April 1936.

Odisha’s etymology is “Odda Visaya” dating back to 1025 AD. It was historically also known as Kalinga which was conquered by Emperor Ashoka and also led him to take up a pacifist approach and ultimately embrace Buddhism.

Is Odisha the topmost travel destination in the country? Well, not at the moment but it is getting there. With Odisha tourism (www.odishatourism.gov.in) rebranding Odisha as a Scenic, Serne and Sublime destination, the state seems to be getting in to the “must visit” list of every discerning traveller. Mention Odisha and two things come to mind – The Jagannath Puri temple and the Konark Sun temple. Odisha offers a generous mix of religion, architecture, art, wildlife, food and of course a lot of beautiful beaches. Let us head to Odisha….

Bhubaneshwar is the capital and the most important Railhead on the east coast and a well-serviced airport. September was a pretty good month to visit Odisha; The scorching summer had abated and there was rain in good measure. Mumbai is well connected to Bhubaneshwar and preferred to take the Indigo connection. They had a morning service that would take us to the doorstep of our hotel, Trident Bhubaneshwar in time for a check in at 12 noon. The Bhubaneshwar airport is fairly large and quite clean. Our tour was planned by Narmada Holidays in collaboration with a local partner for logistics. We planned a visit spanning 4 nights and 5 days; ‘Longer duration trips can take you to the tribal hinterlands apart from the main highlights. Our vehicle for the next 5 days was a Toyota Innova which is a spacious SUV which can seat 5 people and yet have ample space for all the luggage. The ride to the city was on wide and extremely clean roads; comfortable and enjoyable at the same time.

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Day 1 – Check in done, it was time to get a good lunch for ourselves. Odiya cuisine offers excellent options for sea-food lovers and meat eaters alike. Being a coastal state the catch is among the freshest. For vegetarians, there is nothing to sweat as there are plenty of delicious options still around. We preferred a Santula (A vegetable stew with cumin and chillies) to go with our rice and Indian bread. A few hours rest and we were ready for our tour

Our first stop was the historical Udayagiri (sunrise hill) and Khandagiri caves. These caves are situated near Bhubaneshwar; Partly natural and partly artificial, the caves are of archeological, historical and religious importance. The archeological survey of India maintains the monuments; There are tickets to be purchased for foreign nationals whereas entry is free for Indian and SAARC nationals. There are a total of 33 caves within the precinct of the hills. The most important among these are the Ranigumpha (Rani – Queen, Gumpha – Cave) in Udayagiri, which is a double storeyed monastery and Hathigumpha (Hathi – elephant). The top of Khandagiri cave is a short climb and it offers fine views of Bhubaneshwar from its summit. Spend a couple of hours here refreshed with the cool evening breeze and a magnificent view of the setting sun.

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Evenings in Bhubaneshwar are either spent shopping or eating roadside snacks. A popular snack that we sampled was a cup of sprouted pulses, spiced up and garnished with onions, tomatoes, potatoes, lime and coriander. Cheap and nutritious, this one was quite a filler and gave us the energy to move around. Our guide got us to the Market Building shopping area which houses a lot of handloom and handicraft showrooms, book shops and other assorted shops. The local Handicrafts and handloom are promoted by a government showroom called Utkalika which has branches across the state. Priyadarshini, another handloom organization promotes traditional handloom of odisha – Tusser, Sambalpur and Ikkat. We window shopped and made enquiries to our hearts content. September is when the country celebrates Ganesh Chathurti (Festival of the Elephant god – Lord Ganesh). The streets were lined with finely decorated pandals housing the idols of the Lord. We were in time for the evening prayers following which Prasad was distributed among all the devotees. The Harekrishna Restaurant in Kharabela Nagar offers simple and excellent vegetarian fare, which helps keep you light before retiring for the day.

Day 2 – The nandankanan Zoo or The Garden of Gods houses a Zoological park and a Botanical garden. Located about 8 kms from Bhubaneshwar, the Zoo is a great outdoor experience for all ages. The park is well maintained and is a plastic free zone. We hired the services of a park ranger who was able to articulate the details around history of the zoo, the animals who are being reared in captivity and recent additions. The park ranger gave us valuable insights in to animal behavior, especially of the captive lions and Tigers. The Safari is not to be missed and one has to keep a watch on the timings for the same. Half a day well spent! Don’t forget to munch on a spicy cucumber sold on push carts outside the Zoo. Lunch on day 2 was at a place called Dalma, which offered local Odiya veg cuisine comprising of Dalma (lentil dish), vegetables, Indian bread and of course, Rice. Delicious and economical, it filled us up after a good 5 hours spent at Nandankanan on a hot and humid day.

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Temple time! Bhubaneshwar is a city of temples and there are over 50 of them and most of them are built to honor Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva. These temples are dated between 8th and the 12th century AD. It is said that King Ashoka developed a simple way of communicating with people of his kingdom. Rocks and stone poles were used to communicate his policy of Dhamma through edicts. Travel 5 miles south of the modern city to find a few of them. Standing out among these temples are the Parasurameshwar temple and the Lingaraj temple. The Parasurameshwar temple has stories carved all around it and it is worth taking the services of the temple priest to help you understand the finer details of the same. Make sure that your next stop is the Lingaraj temple, the largest and one of the oldest in Bhubaneshwar. Non-Hindus can take photos of the architecture from a machan like structure erected outside the western wall of the temple. Bhubaneshwar was also called “Ekamra Kshetra” as the deity Lingaraj was originally found under a Mango tree (Ekamra). On the whole, the temple is considered a guardian deity of the city. With enough time left in the evening, head out to shop for leather, handicrafts and other collectibles.

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Day 3 – The Konark temple beckoned us. Situated on the coast, this temple, a UNESCO world Heritage site, is approximately 65 kms from Bhubaneshwar. We had planned a good 2 hours to tour the temple complex with the help of an authorized guide. Konark comes from the combination of the Sanskrit words – Kona (corner) and Arka (sun); This temple thus is dedicated to the Sun god. An umbrella comes in handy during the tour. Make sure that you observe each of the 24 wheels, each telling you a different story. The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore says of the temple, “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of Man”. The road from Konark to Puri is dotted with pristine white sand beaches and rain trees lining the road. The temple town is one of the 4 holiest of places (char dham) in India and is home to the Jagannath temple and seat of the Puri Mutt (one of the four set up by the Adi Shankaracharya). The temple of Jagannatha is one of the tallest monuments in the entire. sub-continent of India and its height is about 214 feet from the ground (road) level. It stands on a ‘raised platform of stone, measuring about ten acres. It. is located in the hear! of the town and presents an imposing sight. The largest crowd in Puri is seen during the Car Festival of Jagannatha which takes place every year some time in June-July. The idols in the temple are made of the Margosa Tree (Neem) and they are replaced with a new Idol once in 14 years in an elaborate festival called Nabakalabera (New Body); Year 2015 is one such year. There are hotels to cater to every budget in puri and our stay was a comfortable one at the Hans Coco Palms. A good number of them are on the beach front and during heavy showers, the rain just lashes on the windows and doors, just right for you to order some pakoras and tea. The beach front also houses shacks selling fresh sea food and fried snacks. Apart from the temple, the alleys surrounding the temple house shops selling variety of knick knacks, milk based sweets and fresh milk based products.

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Day 4- The Chilika lake, world’s second largest lagoon is a day trip from Chilika. The brackish water lagoon is spread over 1100 sq kms and is home to over 160 species of migratory birds. The Irrawady Dolphin calls this place home and tourists set out in trawlers and catamarans to enjoy the marine fauna. Our trip to Chilika was cancelled owing to a fierce cyclone. Shrugging shoulders we headed back to Bhubaneshwar and planned to stop by at Raghurajpur, home to artisans skilled in Pattachitra. Everyday stories are handpainted on cloth and these families have been pursuing this art since the 5th century. The art has a Geographical indication thus protecting them from fakes. The street in Raghurajpur is lined with families on both sides and they welcome you in to their homes to show you live demonstrations and also offer finished work for sale. A little bargaining can get you some authentic and eye-catching work. More to come, the village of Pipli on the way to Bhubaneshwar is home to the Applique form of Handicrafts. The word Applique has a French origin and it involves placing one piece of fabric over a base layer and sewing it in place. The concept is used extensively in canopies, umbrellas and on the chariots of Jagannath temple. You can plan to pick up exquisitely designed bags, totes, umbrellas and other items, which are a nice gift to take back home. For those of you interested in unique things, pay a visit to the Bhubaneshwar Railway station, an important stop on the line to Kolkata. I am personally a fan of trains and train stations and consider stations akin to a cultural destination, a place where non-homogenous people converge. Retired after a good dinner at Hotel

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Day 5 – We still had one place to visit and that was the Museum of Tribal Arts and Artefacts. Tribes constitute about 22% of the state’s population (9% of the country) and as per last count, there are close to 62 distinct tribes of which 13 of them have been classified as “particularly vulnerable groups”. The local government has done an admirable job in curating arts and artefacts belonging to these tribes and presently house them in the Museum of Tribal arts and Artefacts. This must-do item helps one understand the state and India as a country and how it is trying to balance between preserving indigenous population against the need to industrialize. Hopping over to a few sweet shops to sample a local sweet called Chhena Phoda made of caramelized cottage cheese. With that sweet ending, we made our way to the friendly Bhubaneshwar airport in time for a check in for our flight to Mumbai.

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Odisha has thrown its doors open to the world. Are you next?