A Travellerspoint blog

On Safari - Ranthambore National Park

Tiger Country...

We departed Delhi on an early morning train to Sawai Madaphur - close to Ranthambore. It was an interesting trip as it gave us an idea of what was ahead of us when we have our two overnight train trips.

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We had lunch on arrival at our hotel in Ranthambore and afterwards we had a walk up to the Ranthambore Fort which has existed since around 944AD. This was a very large fort and must have accommodated a sizable population based on the remains. We returned and had a lovely dinner, following which was an opportunity to catch a relatively early night after a hectic time in Delhi.

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The following morning, we went for our first game drive shortly after 6am, right on sunrise. We had been allocated an area to look within (Sector 4) and saw a mongoose (which was being attached by a large black crow), lemur monkeys, peacocks, deer and bush pigs. Shortly after 8am, a large male tiger (known as T28) was spotted in a gully below us and we tracked him for several minutes before he disappeared into the forest. This was a wonderful sighting on our first of three game drives and we were the only safari vehicle who saw a tiger during that game drive period so that was a real bonus.

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A little after 3pm, we returned to Ranthambore for our afternoon game drive. Our expectations of spotting another tiger were low as it was a hot day (mid 30's) and likely they would be seeking shelter. However, you never know your luck as within 20 minutes we saw a beautiful female tiger (known as T19) emerge from the forest and onto the track. Unlike our first drive, this time we had company - around five other vehicles so they were all competing for the best view for their clients. We tracked her for a time until again she disappeared into the forest cover. Our group were extremely pleased with our day's viewing - very privileged to see such magnificent and endangered animals in their natural habitat.

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Day three dawned and we did our third and final game drive. This was ANZAC Day and we paused before boarding the vehicle with a moment's silence - lest we forget. We didn't see tiger on our last drive (but then we'd had a day to relish the day before). There were plenty of monkeys, antelope, deer peacocks and other birdlife and the scenery at Ranthambore is spectacular.

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Once the drive was complete, we returned to the Ranthambore Safari Lodge for breakfast, packed our bags and drove to Agra - home to the Taj Mahal.

Posted by Chris White 20:05 Archived in India Comments (3)

Delhi

A Capital Visit...

We spent two days in Delhi where we were met and hosted by members of the local Indian Delhi 41 clubs. During the course of the first day, we were individually shown around various attractions in Delhi and on Sunday we had a guided tour around Old Delhi.

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Our first stop on the tour was to the Lodi gardens where we visited some tombs dating back to the 15th century.

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Once done, we transitted to the Jama Masjid Mosque completed by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1656 This is the largest mosque in India and during prayers can accommodate some 20,000 worshippers.

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Following our visit to the mosque, we had a guided walk through Chandani Chowk (the market district of Old Delhi).

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Our final visit after lunch was to Qutb Minar – a fascinating tower which was constructed in 13XX to celebrate the capture of Delhi. Sadly in 1981, 45 school children were killed in a stampede when there was a power failure and it has been closed to the public ever since.

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There was a Round Table Tour (Nevill Bullock Tour) in March 2013. The Delhi based Round Tablers hosted some of us who had met or hosted them in New Zealand to a wonderful dinner. The most bizarre discovery was that the house (which was quite lovely) will be demolished within the next few weeks and a newer and bigger house built on the property.

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We departed Delhi by train bound for Ranthambore National Park our first safari experience on the tour - tiger country…

Posted by Chris White 10:56 Archived in India Comments (0)

Amritsar

The Punjab

We now entered a different phase of our trip with a visit to the Punjab and to Amritsar, the home of the Sikh's Golden Temple.

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After breakfast, we walked the small distance to the Golden Temple complex which is enormous. There were many visitors to the temple and the wait time was around two hours to visit the temple so we walked around but didn't queue for the temple itself. We will likely visit the temple again this evening. We all had to wear a scarf to enter the Golden Temple.

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The Golden Temple is very beautiful and whilst very busy, had an air of relative tranquility. Whilst at the temple complex we visited the kitchen where people are fed. Quite incredible to get a sense of the size of the operation when we saw some cooking being undertaken in massive cauldrons.

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I took the opportunity to visit the Golden Temple later that evening and it was a very different experience than what it had been during the day. I was also able to visit the temple itself without a queue which was wonderful.

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Wagah Border Crossing Ceremony

We visited the Pakistan and Indian border to view the spectacle of the sunset ceremonial closing of the gates between India and Pakistan. This was theatre to the extreme and quite fascinating to witness.

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Posted by Chris White 02:00 Archived in India Comments (1)

Dharamsala

Home of the Dalai Lama

After departing from Dalhousie, we drove to Dharamsala, a drive of around six hours. The route was along some of the same roads we had encountered in the dark as we approached Dalhousie - really interesting to see in the daylight.

On arrival in Dharamsala, we proceeded to our hotel in nearby McLeod Ganj where we settled in for the evening.

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The following morning we visited a local Hindu temple Bhagsu Nag Temple and then left for the Dalai Lama's temple complex. On the way, our bus got snared in the overhead wiring causing a traffic jam and we left the bus and walked down the hill to the temple.

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Dalai Lama's Temple

The Dalai Lama's enclosure was very interesting and we had the opportunity to walk in the temple and around the Dalai Lama's throne. During that time, there was a steady stream of worshippers who were praying and bowing before the throne.

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We met and spoke to a Bhuddist monk who had been imprisoned for four years by the Chinese and was ultimately released with help from Amnesty International and made his escape across the Himalayas during winter. He spent three months journeying across the mountains, two of them in the high passes of the Himalayas. He had written a book and a number of us bought his story - a very humble man and it was a pleasure to have met and spoken with him.

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Norbulingka Institute

We headed to the Norbulingka Institute for lunch and a walk through the complex in which traditional Tibetan handicrafts are produced. The quality of workmanship was incredible - weaving, copperwork and woodwork were the primary outputs.

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St. John Church in the Wilderness

We then visited St. John Church in the Wilderness which was built in 1852 and was damaged by an earthquake in 1905. This church was where Lord Elgin (son of the Lord Elgin who took the Parthenon Marbles from Greece) was buried. He was Viceroy of India and had died after suffering from a heart attack nearby. Of interest is that during the winter months, the church and surrounds are regularly frequented by leopards and bears in the evening.

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The following morning we departed Dharamsala bound for Amristar - home of the Sikh's Golden Temple. On the way, we stopped and toured the Kangra Fort which was mentioned by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. An audio presentation was provided which proved to be fascinating - a very intersting place in Indian history with the various empires which engaged with this place.

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Posted by Chris White 19:01 Archived in India Comments (2)

Himalayas

Shimla and Dalhousie

Shimla

We flew to Chandigarh from Jodhpur via Delhi – two flights of around 2.5 hours in total flight time with an hour to wait in Delhi. Once in Chandigarh, we boarded a bus and drove for a little over five hours to Shimla.

We were accommodated in the Hotel Prestige – a hotel which certainly does not warrant such a title. There were a number of rooms which were quite dirty – literally and the morning after arrival the manager was instructed to have all rooms cleaned. The hotel (as many do) had WIFI but was inaccessible on arrival. The following morning there was an assurance that it would be available in the evening. However, to my surprise (not) it was not available. It turned out that the one and only person who had the WIFI password was out of town..!!

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Thankfully, after a call to KV our guide and a phone call from him to the absent staff member, we had the code. One of our group was given feedback unsolicited that the Hotel Prestige was dirty – no arguments there…!!

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Shimla Toy Train

We all elected to take a ride on the Shimla “Toy Train”, a railway (only one of two in India which are World Heritage Sites) which was built on a very narrow gauge (762 mm). The trip took us some 80 kilometers from Shimla to Solan and we had private transportation back to Shimla.

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The ride was an “out of India” experience with likely double the number of people standing in the carriage as were sitting. Amongst those standing on our carriage were a delightful bunch of young Sikhs from a school in Armistar who were on holiday with their teacher. The kids kept us all entertained along the way with many photographs taken and laughter throughout.

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Viceregal Lodge

We had lunch at a restaurant heading back towards Shimla and after arrival Shimla, we visited the former Viceregal Lodge, the residence of the Viceroys of India. This imposing building was where the British Viceroy resided for several months of the year as the government of India was conducted from Shimla away from the heat of Delhi. This was also the place where discussions over the partition of India and Pakistan took place and in one room the small table at which the split of the two countries was the centerpiece.

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Once we left the former Viceregal Lodge, we took a walk through the centre of Shimla and people went their own ways to have a wander through the shopping area.

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The following morning we departed Shimla bound for Dalhousie at 0700 for what was supposed to be an 11 hour travelling day. Sadly, this turned into nearly a 15 hour day with a stop for lunch and a few stops at local shops for a quick refresh and we arrived at our hotel at 2140.

For some, sleep was a good option during the course of the long day.

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Notwithstanding the length of the drive, the countryside was fascinating as was the driving and the state of some of the roads. Not quite the world’s most dangerous roads with 1000 metre drops but hairy in places nonetheless. The driving was generally well ordered but suffice it to say that there were some statistics in the making practicing their own demise. Our driver and his spotter pictured below were superb.

Our Bus Driver and Spotter

Our Bus Driver and Spotter


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A few of us laughed when we observed below us what we thought was the old washed out road - nek minute we hung a right and were driving on it...

The countryside is very interesting - at present the wheat harvest is just commencing and you can see it for as far as the eye can see.

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One thing we noticed from Shimla onwards was the amount of wild marijuana growing on the side of the road (used for medicinal purposes only I daresay...).

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Dalhousie

Dalhousie, our northernmost destination, is a former British Army garrison post and has some 3000 Indian Army personnel on station today (largely engineers). The town has grown since the British departed and has a number of hotels which are popular for Indians escaping the summer heat.

Dalhousie is beautifully situated high above rural small villages situated within terraced gardens.

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Our hotel (Grand View) was established in the nineteenth century and has been extended over the years. It was very comfortable and the owner was there to greet us on arrival with dinner awaiting us and the hotel was somewhat of a improvement on our Shimla experience to everyone’s relief. One thing which has been fascinating from time to time is to see how our luggage is transported from our bus to the hotel.

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We had a drive to a small waterfall – barely a trickle by New Zealand standards and then back to Dalhousie where we had a look at a local church and a drive through the old Army garrison area. Strictly no photography is permitted of the Army base. The local forests are very beautiful with Himalayan cedar, oak and pine trees throughout.

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In the afternoon after a large lunch at our hotel, we again boarded our bus bound for Dharamshala, the town in which the Dalai Lama resides. Time to explore Tibetan Bhuddism.

Posted by Chris White 20:11 Archived in India Comments (5)

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