Posted by: tim ellis | November 8, 2017

India – Wednesday November 8th 2017

Greylag Goose//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js 

Back to packed breakfasts – we just grab a coffee at the hotel and then head back into the park for our last rickshaw safari heading for the watchtower where we can get breakfast while watching the geese in the morning light.  We also get a close view of a young Nilgai, a greater spotted eagle and some final scops owls amongst others.

Nilgai//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

After lunch we catch the train from Bharatpur back to Delhi and a return to the Holiday Inn where we started our trip where we say goodbye to Eddie.  We are collected in the middle of the night to transfer to the airport for our 3 AM flight.

Indian Darter//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We arrived at Delhi airport to be told our flight would be 5-10 minutes late (depending either on which check in desk you went to, or possibly which class of ticket you had – David had paid for an upgrade and was given a shorter delay than those of us at the back in “World Traveller” class… We were all ready to go, and the flight deck announcer told us that although we would be slightly late leaving, there was plenty of slack in the flight plan, and they expected to arrive on schedule. This was followed by a call for any doctor on board to make themselves known…

Sometime after that another announcement confirmed that there had been a “medical emergency”, local medics were involved as were the BA doctors at Heathrow, – and, obviously, if it was necessary to remove the passenger, they would also need to remove his bags. There was another long delay – then a further announcement – a second, unrelated, medical emergency had occurred, and both passengers had now been removed from the flight, along with their travelling companions and all related luggage, so we finally took off 2 hours late…

Greater Spotted Eagle//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

My National Express coach from Heathrow T5 to Birmingham left about 2 hours after we were due to land…

In the middle of the night, I woke up and decided a trip to the toilet was in order, and started to make my way towards the rear of the plane – I’d only gone a couple of rows back when a steward appeared (Mr Ben Shopkeeper style!) behind me, and said would I mind going to the toilets in front of where I was sitting as they had someone collapsed at the back of the plane. When I had returned to my seat it turned out to be a girl who was sitting diagonally in front of me who was walked back to her seat on a portable oxygen cylinder, sat down, threw up and the collapsed again. I confess I fell asleep again at this point (There were obviously more than enough people who knew what they were doing to deal with her, so I felt offering any help would only be getting in the way. In other circumstances, obviously I would not have just ignored the situation!)

Having (another!) Medical emergency on board did mean we got a priority clearance to land, but also meant we had to wait for the Paramedics to board and deal with her before we could disembark (I assume they had moved her nearer the front, as there was no sign of activity at the back) Fortunately Immigration was not busy and I had my choice of electronic passport readers. Unfortunately I was at Heathrow, where the Electronic passport readers have never yet accepted my passport. I had to try three booths – with the official on duty applying the passport to the reader from the adjacent booth the final time before they accepted this and sent me to the manual desk. So I got to the baggage carousel with about 25 minutes to go to catch my coach – there were a couple of bags already going round. I waited and watched and 5 minutes later the same to bags went round again…

Alan, Carol and David all arrived at the carousel at this point, as the initial 2 bags made a third appearance, followed, at last, by some new ones. Normally, I am lucky at baggage reclaim and don’t have to wait too long for my bags to arrive. Today of course, now down to about 15 minutes, my three companions’ bags all turn up first (and pretty much together)!

Fortunately, my own bag is not too far behind them, (in fact I catch them up just after we leave the terminal) and as I head for the coach stop I can see there are a number of coaches already in. I ask the National Express Lady standing near the back of the line of coaches “Coach to Birmingham?” – She doesn’t seem to understand the question. I repeat it “I think it’s one of these” she helpfully informs me. Despite this aid, I do manage to locate it and manage to make my seat with about 4-5 minute to spare!

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Posted by: tim ellis | November 7, 2017

India – Tuesday November 7th 2017

 Sarus Crane//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

The luxury of a lie in and Breakfast in the hotel (at 6:30) before we head out by bicycle rickshaw for the Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary, which is almost next door, and is home to a truly magnificent number of species. The highlight are the Sarus Cranes- the world’s tallest flying bird – there are apparently only 6 pairs in the reserve, and our first sighting is of a pair quite a way off. Not long after we have seen them, we see another pair much closer, initially feeding, but we also get a brief display of their “dance”.

On the way back for lunch, we come across a family of Rhesus Monkeys playing in a body of water (I’m not sure if it was a stream or a pond) searching for food, but also jumping in from overhanging branches.

Rhesus Macaque//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

After lunch back at the hotel, we head back in to the park with the aim of seeing geese, but we get distracted by common and pied kingfishers and Indian Darter (or Snake Bird). We see one of the latter swimming, which they do with their bodies fully submerged with just their long (snake-like) necks sticking out of the water.  Consequently the light is going by the time we reach the geese, who are quite a distance from the path, although there are a huddle of spoonbill closer preparing to sleep.

Pied Kingfisher//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Posted by: tim ellis | November 6, 2017

India – Monday November 6th 2017

It is noticeably colder this morning and still very misty.  The minibus takes us directly to the boat this morning – though we do see the long legged buzzard sitting in the same place on the shore, then he flies to the same perch on the fence he flew to yesterday – he obviously has a routine!

Jungle Cat//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We have only just set off when a Jungle Cat is spotted on the bank. It walks out into a clear view, then races up the bank out of site. We start to continue upstream, but when we hear what can only (and accurately) be described as caterwauling we go back to investigate, and searching with binoculars reveals a second jungle cat. Our original one was a female, this one is a male, and they are (noisily) mating.  They are too well hidden for photographs, but Eddie records them on his phone (could make for an interesting ring tone!)

Painted Stork//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We continue upstream finding more muggers, gharials and river dolphin, alongside assorted birds (I manage some nice shots of painted storks in flight).  The Bonelli’s Eagle we saw yesterday is obviously rebuilding or extending its nest as we see it carrying branches back across the river.  We also find a large soft shell turtle sunning itself on a rocky island mid-stream.

Bonelli's Eagle//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

My nose was quite congested this morning, and by lunch time I am not feeling at all hungry, so I mostly doze on the bus as we transfer to Bharatpur – although I do notice the traffic jams in Agra, caused this time by a visit from the King of Belgium.  Just soup for dinner and then to bed in th hope of a full recovery for tomorrow’s rickshaw safari.

Posted by: tim ellis | November 5, 2017

India – Sunday November 5th 2017

Gharial

The luxury of a 5:45 wake up call for a 6:15 coffee before departing for the boat safari. The boat is about a 20 minute drive away through a couple of villages and some “bandit country” ravines. Once we arrive at the river we get out and walk a short distance to the boat, in which time we have already started to build up an impressive list of new birds, including a long-legged buzzard. Once in the boat the list climbs even higher, including osprey, Bonelli’s eagle, Egyptian vulture and many waders, including the Great Thick-knee – which is the name of my room at the lodge.

Mugger//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We also see both Gharial and Marsh Crocodiles (Muggers) as well as Ganges River Dolphin.  The crocodiles are happy to hang around for photographs, but the dolphins are too quick and erratic.

Osprey//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We breakfast in the boat, then travel back down stream and return to the lodge for lunch. A bit of a rest in the afternoon, then a nature walk around the lodge – lots more birds including a spotted owlet and Eurasian hoopoe and a couple of mammals – Flying Fox and Nilgai. (David also spots an Indian Hare, and manages to get a photo to show the rest of us what we missed!).

Bats!//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

It’s not the end of the day’s activity either, as we take a further sort night walk after dinner, successfully finding the promised Palm Civet, along with an Indian Toad and an Indian Bullfrog.

Posted by: tim ellis | November 4, 2017

India – Saturday November 4th 2017

We are due to arrive in Agra at eight o’clock, but delays overnight mean it is actually nine o’clock by the time we disembark and are transferred to a minibus. (While our bags are again carried manually. I do see some porters here cheating and using handcarts). We are taken to a hotel where we have breakfast (a cooked breakfast with bacon!) before going to change and freshen up.  As before we have two rooms, and Roy and I fail to spot David has taken a diversion to the reception desk to get the Wi-Fi password, and someone follows us into the lift and sets it in motion before we can stop them.  Reasoning that David knows the room number and may be in the second lift with the others, we go down to the room.  I keep an eye out for him, but when the others arrive he is not with them, and since you need a room key to operate the lift, I go back down to look for him.  Predictably therefore, he has managed to get into a lift with some other guests while I am on my way down, but eventually we all end up in the right place! (Apparently he was held up as rather than just giving him the Wi-Fi code, they took his phone and entered it for him…)

Agra Fort

Changed and refreshed, we return to the minibus and our cultural guide for the day, who tells us that a state visit by the president of Armenia means the Taj Mahal is shut for three hours this morning, so we start out with a visit to Agra Fort, an impressive red sandstone fort built by the Mughal emperors who ruled form Agra as their capital.  Only a part of the fortress and palaces are open to the public as it is still used as an Army base today.  The fort is about a mile and a half from the Taj Mahal, which (despite the hazy mist) can be seen through some of the windows.

Our next stop is lunch in what is (accurately) described as “a very nice restaurant” – The food is good, and we are each given a litre bottle of water, which seemed a bit of an overabundance – then we discover that the water is billed separately (the food is covered but drinks are not included) – so we make sure we take them all with us!

The queue for the Taj Mahal The queues at the Taj Mahal are tremendous – being closed has not reduced the number of people visiting, just given them less time in which to do so.  Only ladies with “High Class” tickets seem to avoid having to queue, so Wendy and Carol avoid waiting in line, in favour of waiting on the other side of the entrance for the rest of us anyway.  While in the grounds we keep up our nature watching – there are cormorants, storks, heron and ducks on the river, black kites soaring overhead and palm squirrels running around the grounds. Taj Mahal

Our tickets include 500l of water (and shoe covers, which must be worn close to and in the buildings) so when we get back on the bus we have even more water!  Originally we were supposed to visit the little Taj (the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah) as well, but a combination of the late train, the horrendous traffic and the long queues mean we are out of time, and we are soon saying goodbye to Roy, Mark and Wendy, who are taking the new superfast train to Delhi to fly back to the UK while the rest of us stay on the minibus to drive to Chambal, where we are greeted by the calling of Jackals.

Posted by: tim ellis | November 3, 2017

India – Friday November 3rd 2017

 Tall Grass in the early morning light//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

It seems mistier this morning as we head for Maghdi, so we stop to take some scenic photos of the grass and mountains as the sun rises – only to here alarm calls, which sends us heading back in the hope of finding a final tiger. No such luck – in fact we find very little of anything – there are spotted deer, langurs and peafowl, but none are any better sightings than we have seen before. Evidence of this is that when we leave the reserve I have no wildlife pictures of anything with less than six legs (A butterfly and a pair of marsh-glider dragonflies). We do, however see a nice Golden Jackal on the way back to the lodge.

Dragonfly//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We have a late lunch today to give us time to pack, settle our bar bills etc. before leaving for a return to the delights of Katni Junction station and a repeat performance of two porters carrying eight cases.  We arrive in good time, so wait for a while in the 1st class air-conditioned waiting room – which is on a par with most ordinary waiting rooms in the UK, except with a ceiling fan and a couple of power points where people are charging phones.

Golden Jackal//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

It has been decided to put all the cases in one compartment for ease and security, so we all wait in one compartment while this is sorted.  It appears we have two sets of two beds in two different first class compartments, and two sets of two in two separate second class carriages.  Roy and I end up in one of the first class compartments – but no one ever arrives to take the other two beds.

Posted by: tim ellis | November 2, 2017

India – Thursday November 2nd 2017

Common Stonechat Both trips today are in Maghdi. This morning turns out to be a bird trip with a number of new species – A common stone chat in the tall grass quite close to the bus, a Hawk Cuckoo (another bird that can’t make up its mind what it wants to be), a Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Greater Egret, Pond Heron and several Teal.  Also some nice views of species we’ve seen, or at least glimpsed before – Black and Racket-tailed Drongo, Adjutant Stork, Red Jungle Fowl (which Roy is disappointed to discover look just like chickens!) and some Alexandrine parakeets busy making  more Alexandrine Parakeets Common Hawk Cuckoo

We are slightly late this afternoon, apparently the official in charge of giving out the tickets was late, so everyone is behind, but as soon as we are in the jeep Ayan is raring to go.  Our last two trips with him as our driver we have been as close as we could be to the tiger without actually seeing one, so he is determined to find one for us today.  It’s not looking to hopeful to start with – we do find some mammals, but they are only wild pig.  More birds follow including a bush chat and a white-naped woodpecker that keeps flying behind another tree every time we spot him.

Solo - Bengal Tiger

Then, just as the light is starting to go, a tiger is spotted going down to a waterhole. The water (and, when we arrive, the tiger) are not visible from the road – but we have a good position for when she (it turns out to be a young female who has been named Solo) emerges.  She heads away from the road into the jungle, then turns left and crosses over a (closed to the public) road.  We are able to track her back and be ready in position as she approaches another source of water closer to the road. Eventually she leaves, and so do we, at speed, as the evening gates now shut 15 minutes earlier (at 5:45) since 1st November.

Posted by: tim ellis | November 1, 2017

India – Wednesday November 1st 2017

The park times change for the winter on the 1st of November, so we get an extra 15 minutes in bed (but that means 15 minutes less safari). Wednesday is also “half-day closing” – so we only get a morning safari anyway today, and is our last visit to Tala zone.  There is suspected Tiger activity near where we saw the Brown Fish Owl yesterday.  We take up a position to watch, and almost immediately see a sloth bear back in the forest.  It moves quickly away from us and disappears before anyone can get a photograph. This is followed by the presence of a Black Redstart flitting around close to the road, but no tigers.  We make a plan to go and check one other area, then, if there is nothing happening there, go for an early breakfast so we can return here to see if the tiger comes out for a drink when the sun gets a bit warmer.  However we have only gone a couple of hundred meters when we hear the elephants are coming to look for the tiger, so we decide to hang on in case they flush him out – but they don’t…

Black Redstart  We return here after a quick breakfast, but all is still quiet, so we go to look at the vultures instead – back at the field we saw them at the other day. Most of the vultures are Indian vultures, but there is a Gryphon vulture amongst them and a Red-faced vulture up in the trees.  We manage to get some nice views of the vultures coming down to the lake to bathe. Indian Vulture

We had been promised a trip to the statue of Vishnu at Shesh Shaiya  within the park, but after spending time with the vultures, it is suggested we are out of time. A couple of minutes later though, it is decided we can probably squeeze it in, so we drive up a twisty mountain road, then climb a short flight of steps to the statue, which dates from the 10th Century.  Our three jeeps are the only ones here, so we have an obligatory group photo in front of the statue, before a quick drive back to the gate.

Sheshshaiya With no game drive this afternoon we are free until 4:30 when we take a short nature walk just outside the resort.  The birds we see are small and distant, but we do find a nice grasshopper. It is then a short drive to the local village with its public water pump outside the school. We are invited into the home of one of the local families – three generations of villagers, plus their cows and goats (including a new-born kid) Birdwatching

Back at the camp we meet at 7pm to do the checklist and watch a short film on Tiger Conservation, during which a constant supply of snacks is produced, to the extent that some people are surprised that we still have dinner to follow.  This is billed as a Barbecue, although it is possible that only the chicken has been actually “barbecued” in any sense…

Posted by: tim ellis | October 31, 2017

India – Tuesday October 31st 2017

Brown FIsh Owl Another clear morning, and another visit to Tala zone.  It seems livelier today than it was on Sunday, and we see some new bird species including and Orange-headed Thrush and a Brown Fish Owl, which, typically, flies off just as Roy has managed to find him, but, unusually to a better position! Working Elephants

It is a case of “All Creatures Great & Small” with several elephants & their mahouts in evidence all over the park this morning, to grasshoppers at central point when we stop for breakfast.  However, despite hearing several alarm calls, and much travelling back and forwards in the jeep, the tiger continues to elude us (unlike the spotted owlets at the entrance, who are still in the same tree).

Grasshopper Back to Tala again in the afternoon – Alan, Carol and David have the best tally of mammals, with fox, tree shrew and mongoose. We only manage the more common deer and langurs, along with some wild boar, and on our way out, some gaur. Grey Langur

We have another camp fire tonight, although food is served in the dining room rather than outside

Posted by: tim ellis | October 30, 2017

India – Monday October 30th 2017

We've found the Tiger....

A clearer sky this morning as we return to Maghdi.  We must be slightly later today, as we are still completing the paperwork when the gates open.  The plan is to head straight for where they believe the tigers to be, stopping for nothing en route. However, we soon encounter a traffic jam as a sleeping tiger has been spotted and every jeep wants a turn looking at it!  It is a bit chaotic as the drivers and guides attempt to ensure everyone gets a chance while trying to hold on to the best spot for themselves. We take our turn looking at the sleeping tiger, then move forwards and wait to see if he moves. I admit I am slightly sceptical that we are wasting our time, as with all the vehicles jockeying for position it seems highly likely that if he does move, we will not be in a position to see him clearly.  To prove me wrong, we end up right in front of him when he rolls over, then gets up and heads towards us.  He turns left into the forest, and strides off with an escort of jeeps in hot pursuit down the road, trying to get to a position where he can be seen through the trees.  We reach a small clearing, where, if he keeps straight on, we will have a perfect view – but he doesn’t, going deeper in to the forest and disappearing, leaving us with only the Hornbills and Rollers for company. Bengal Tiger

After lunch we return to the same zone, this time with a new driver (although the jeeps are allocated from the central pool, some drivers won’t let anyone else drive their vehicles).  Again the gates are open while we are still completing the paperwork. (By “we”, I mean the drivers and guides – we just produce our passports on demand, and let them handle the complexities). – Although this does at least mean we are not covered in the clouds of dust produced by the convoy of jeeps on the dirt roads!

We are finding more birds when we get a message that a tiger has been seen “near the water”. Since time is getting on, (and the light is starting to go), we have a high speed drive along the bumpy roads until we reach the melee of jeeps. We don’t appear to be any (visible) water, and the tiger is (again) asleep – this time partly obscured by a tree on a small escarpment. To be honest I am not convinced I actually saw it, so I am glad we had such a good view of this morning’s encounter.

Camp Fire

Back at the lodge, we are told to meet at 7:30 rather than 8:00 as they are lighting a fire in the fire pit and we will be dining outside.  We are also given a demonstration of how to bake naan bread in a tandoor oven – it is made to look easy, and tastes delicious.

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