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Category Archives: Animals

Tiger expedition to the Sunderbans

I’ve been coming backwards and forward to Kolkata for a long time and have longed to see the Bengal Tigers in the Sunderbans, just three and a half hours from the city. This trip I decided it was time for an adventure so booked a two day, one night stay through Tour de Sunderbans

The booking process was easy, transferring INR 2,000 to their account in advance and then paying the remaining INR 2,000 on arrival (£40 was not bad for an all inclusive weekend adventure). I was picked up at 9am opposite the entrance to Science City in Kolkata.

Top tip – if you didn’t get breakfast go to the other side of the street at the Science City entrance, near the dinosaur: there are stalls where you can get toast, chai and fried egg or an omelette for a bargain price.

I joined my fellow passengers in a tempo traveler for the three and a half hour bounce along the Basanti ‘Highway’ to Godkhali – the end of the road. Supplied with a two litre water bottle and a sandwich breakfast (the latter of which I declined as my mother in law had already made sure I was well fed on departure), we spent the next 106km dodging people, cows, dogs, rickshaws, autos, cars and buses, even a gaggle of geese – it was like being in a live computer game –one mistake on the behalf of the driver and you would lose your last life! If you are a nervous passage then close your eyes and take a nap – it’s not for the fainthearted! There was a tea stop on route and thanks to my guardian angels, I survived the journey. At Godkhali there was just enough time for some coconut water (INR 20) before we boarded the boat for Gosaber in South 24 Paraganas District of West Bengal.

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Looking at the overcrowded boat as it came into the jetty with people, luggage and even a motorbike made me think of the refugee boats coming to Europe.

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It certainly did not look safe, but then I’ve come to realise that safety is not a priority in India – you do what you have to do to survive. If I wanted to join the Sunderban Safari then I had to board the boat. Since there were no seats you either balanced crouching on the edge of the boat or you chose to stand. I took the former.

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Unfortunately I chose a spot right near the engine; this not only meant having black smoke  puffing at me for the 10 minute crossing, but also that I got to see the crew bailing out the water from the leaking boat…… I said it was an adventure but this bit was certainly not an ecotour!!

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Top tip – don’t sit in the middle of the boat by the engine!

When we arrived in Gosaber we trekked through the hustle and bustle of the market to our next mode of transport across the island.

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Top tip – travel light, you will need to carry your own bags and your water bottle for a good ten minute walk through the busy market area.

Next it was time for our ‘Harley Davidson’…. A motorbike rickshaw used for transporting goods and people. It bounced us to the jetting on the other side of the island. Bone shaker is an understatement. It’s certainly not advisable for anyone with a back problem. However, it’s how the locals travel so a good way to experience rural Indian life.

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Top tip – sit at the back so you can dangle your legs of the back and get the best view.

After our rattling ride observing village life from the back of the motor-rickshaw we arrived at the boat that was going to take us to the backpackers eco-lodge.  Just after 1.30pm we were shown to our mud huts.

If you want a luxury resort, this is not for you. It’s meant to give visitors the opportunity to experience life in an Indian village so it’s a no frills accommodation. The hut is clean and has an ensuite toilet and cold water shower. There is soap, a mirror and a comfortable bed with a mosquito net. Don’t expect freshly painted walls (I reiterate, it’s a mud hut) but it was clean with clean sheets on the bed and a blanket. There was also a fan (although definitely not needed in December I’m sure it would be beneficial in the summer months). There are lights and one electricity socket, although power only came on after dark and we were told to conserve it as the site uses solar power (although thought I heard a generator somewhere).

Top tip – essentials to pack for the trip include your passport, a towel, mosquito repellent (although I did not see many possibly because it was winter season), warm cloths for December and January, and a torch. If you like a sheet between you and your blanket (not common in rural India) then bring your own. In December/January it gets cold at night so warm PJs are advisable.

After a short rest we all came together for lunch, a feast of rice, dal, kerala (bitter gourd), mixed veg, fish, papad and chutney. Excellent traditional home cooked Bengali food. Then at 3pm we took a walk around the village. It was time of the rice harvesting so everyone was busy.

We then walked along the embankment which was built by the locals to protect their land. Unfortunately over the decades man has cut down the mangroves, which had provided natural protection against erosion. So as well as new planting of mangroves man-made barricades are also needed to protect their crops and their homes, especially during the summer cyclones.

As the sun began to set we took a boat across the waters to explore the mangrove forests by water. Lots of bird life, and hundreds of crabs stuck to the trunks of the mangrove trees.

Our guide, Om, picked up a crab unaware of the fear of the guy sitting next to him, who jumped up and jumped off our boat onto the one passing by, the shock causing one passenger at the back to lose his balance and he just managed to right himself in time to prevent falling into the water: a hilarious sight that had us all in hysterics – that would have been great for YouTube!

The man-paddled boat ride was so peaceful; we watched the sunset and the bustle of India washed away. We relaxed in serenity.

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Returning to shore we took jungle ginger tea and rested in our mud huts. At 7pm were joined by a few of the villagers who serenaded us with traditional music for an hour, which was followed by another Bengali feast, but with chicken instead of fish. Then it was early to bed, under the thatch, tucked into the mosquito net ready for our 6am start the following morning.  A perfect time to lie in total darkness, pray and reflect.

Top tip: if you want to buy some fresh honey (madhu) picked from the jungle then ask Om in the evening and he’ll make sure they bring some in the morning. It’s INR 350 a kg and will be provided in a plastic water bottle for you to take home. You can’t get fresher or more organic!

Om rapped on the door at 5.45am with the early morning wake-up call. Jungle chai and biscuits was available for those who needed something to get them going, then just after 6.30am we left (with honey and all our belongings) on the boat for the Sunderban reserve. It was a cold and misty morning, but the mist gave an aura of mystery to the place and provided some great photo shots.

At the entrance to the reserve Om, our excellent guide and tour organiser, took our passports and dealt with the necessary documentation and then we proceeded to the beauty of the Sunderban reserve.

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A few facts:

  • Sunderban means ‘beautify forest’
  • The Sunderbans house the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world, covering over 10,000 square km of India and Bangladesh, in the delta of the Bay of Bengal
  • It’s a UNESCO world heritage site
  • It’s the largest reserve for the Bengal Tiger with an estimated 403 man-eating tigers, who kill at least 30 Indians each year plus numerous Bangladeshis (these are official figure – in reality it’s probably more since many people are in the jungle illegally and therefore their deaths go unreported)

From our vantage point on board the boat and at the two watchtowers we saw:

Beautify scenery

White spotted deer

Monkeys

A monitor lizard

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Lots of  hungry crocodiles

Red fiddler crabs

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And plenty of birds

Unfortunately the Royal Bengal Tiger was rather elusive and we only got to see his footprints.  It would have been amazing to have seen one of these rare creatures with males weighting between 180-280kg and females 115-285kg.  Om last saw one about six weeks ago walking along the mudflats on the beach. They have a life expectancy in the wild of about 20 years, an average litter of 3 offspring and prey on white spotted deer, wild boar, rhesus macaque (monkeys) and occasional humans.

It was a really relaxing day on the boat, with puri and veg for breakfast and another Bengali feast for lunch, while looking at the wonderful view and listening to the sounds of the jungle.  It’s one of the best places I’ve been to in India for beauty and peace.

In the evening the cruise boat took us back to Godkalhi and then we braved the night journey back to Kolkata. In a rather rickety vehicle with no seat belt or horn I can certainly say this was more scary than jumping out of an aeroplane whilst waiting for your parachute to open.  I now know the value of a horn in India – it has the same importance as a brake in the UK! How we survived this rather hair-raising journey I do not know, but it certainly dragged me back into the bustle of life, arriving in Kolkata about 8.30pm.   The peace and beauty of the Sunderbans was great while it lasted and a great reminder of the amazing creation we are part of.  If you are in Kolkata – take a detour for the weekend, its worth it!

 

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A day exploring Pondicherry (of Life of Pi fame)

Pondicherry, it is believed, is a French corruption of the more ancient name of the town of Puducheri. The French were the fourth colonial power to reside on these Indian shores, following the Portuguese (16th Century), the Danes (c. 1616) and soon after the Dutch with whom the French battled for control in the late 1600s. Then they then were conquered by the British in the late 1700s and Pondicherry was eventually returned to them in 1816. French rule continued for another 138 years, with them clinging on to the territory even after the rest of India gained independence from the British in 1947. It was not until November 1st 1954 that Pondicherry finally became a Union Territory under Indian rule.

This Indian coastal city on the Bay of Bengal, 160 km south of Chennai, still has evidence of its former French colonial roots. Take a walk along the 1.5km promenade….

Promenade Pondicherry 210813

and you come across the French War Memorial

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 and Le Café

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side by side the 4.25m statue of Gandhi – just to remind you that you are still in India!

Gandhi (2) Pondi

Gandhi Monument Pondi

‘White town’ houses buildings with French Style architecture and tea rooms like ‘La Maison Rose’ where is it more common to hear French spoken than Tamil.

La Maison Pondi

In fact there are over 55 languages spoken in the 290km2 area with Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, French and English being the five official languages, many of which can be heard as you wander down the promenade, either during the day….

Icecreams Pondi

Or during the hustle and bustle of an evening….

Evening promenade Pondi (11)

Peace and quiet is not easy to find in Indian cities, streets are not only the domain of cars, bikes and autos beeping their horns, but also dogs, people….

Coconut sellers

And cows….

Cow street Pondi

Including those being milked on the street.

Milking roadside

It is no wonder that churches and temples are so common.

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Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (The Church of Our Lady of Angels), Pondicherry

Sacred Heart of Jesus Basilica Pondi inside

Temple close up

Temple corner Pondi

….places to try and escape the noise of the horns, traffic and chatter to concentrate on the divine.

Other spaces to escape the struggles of daily life and meditate on the Almighty or to spend time with the family include gazing at the waves from the promenade….

Family watching the waves Pondicherry 210813

or sitting under the trees in Bharat Park….

Bharati Park

Although even here your peace is likely to be disturbed by the caws of the House Crows

House crow Pondicherry 210813

and the squawks of the Common Myna birds.

Common Myna Pair Pondicherry 210813

If you are lucky you might get to see a Tawny Coster butterfly as you tuck into your ice-cream.

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There is no zoo in Pondicherry (despite what the Life of Pi may have led you to believe) so another option to try to escape the city noise and get back to nature is to visit the rather dilapidated Botanical Gardens.  A lot of it is overgrown, but if you are lucky you can get glimpses of Common Crow and Dark Blue Tiger butterflies.

Common Crow Butterfly 2 Pondi 180813

Dark Blue Tiger Pondi

And you might get green fruits landing on your head as the Rose Ringed Parrokeets pluck them and throw them from the trees.

Rose ringed parakeet Pondi 180813

Make sure you don’t get run over by the ‘Joy Train’ through.

Joy train Botanical Gardens

This mix of Indian and French makes Pondicherry an interesting stop on a trip around India.  Don’t miss drinking the juice of a green coconut….

Coconut Pondi

pleasing the children by taking their photo…..

Lads in the park

and exploring the stalls on the promenade in the evening….

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Evening promenade Pondi (10)

Evening promenade Pondi (8)

And as your roam the streets at night…. watch out for Bengal Tigers 😉

Then after a tasty Indian feast return to The Richmond, an oasis from the heat, noise and smells of this cross cultural city.

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Before sleep kneel down and thank God for blessing you with the wonderful luxuries you have compared to the many thousands of people, just outside your door, who have no air conditioning, limited food, no clean toilet and no refreshing shower in their makeshift homes or on the street.

Children in the street

We are truly blessed!

Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (The Church of Our Lady of Angels), Pondicherry Crucifix

 

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Windy Walk in the Fens

Its such a beautiful day today that I was really looking forward taking Buddy for a walk.  The wind was blowing but the sun was shining and the temperature was perfect for a walk in the countryside.

No sooner did I turn out of my drive then I met a bizarre sight…..  a purple balloon blowing in the wind…

Balloon blowing

The cat didn’t quite know what to make of it.  I’m not sure if it was more scared of the huge blowing balloon or Buddy the big golden retriever.

Cat

As we walk past the village gardens there are plenty of butterflies trying to shelter from the wind…. like this Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais Urticae)

Small Tortoiseshell

And Small White (Pieris Rapae)….

Small white

Soon the houses give way to fenland….

Field of Oats (2)

With beautiful cloud formations…..

Clouds

And plenty of butterflies trying to hide from the wind…

Butterflies clinging in the wind

Swallows swoop down across the corn fields…..

Swallow

And the Charm Tree rattles its chimes across the fens…..

Charm tree

A few Small Skippers cling on to the hedgerow…

Small Skipper

The fields of oats harbour a Large White (Pieris Brassicae)…..

Large White

And beautiful poppies…

Poppies

Oats stretch as far as the eyes can see and the sound of the wind blowing through them is so relaxing…

Field of Oats

The colour as the sun shines on them reminds me of the warm of steaming porridge..

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Buddy enjoys taking a short break as I admire the view.

Buddy and the oats

As we head towards home there is time for a last gaze out across the fields…

Crowland Fields

A moment to watch the Wood Pigeon taking a rest on the post….

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And then its time to head home.  How blessed I am to have such beauties of nature on my doorstep. It’s great to take time out to appreciate God’s creation.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2013 in Animals, Bird, butterfly, Landscape

 

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Sights of Zomba

Zomba in South Malawi was firstly the capital of British Central Africa, then Nyasaland, before the establishment of the Republic of Malawi in 1964, when it remained the capital until  Lilongwe took its place in 1974. The Parliament remained in Zomba even longer, until 1994. The city is best known for its Colonial Architecture and pleasant climate.  Its also the home of Chancellor College of the University of Malawi.

There were many beautiful birds at my place of residence… like this Dark Capped Bulbul.

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I stayed at Annie’s Lodge….

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And this was the view from my balcony, past the kitchen to the plateau…..

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Its a quaint hotel opposite the botanical gardens, a place not just for a peaceful walk among the flowers and trees, but also to watch the baboons.

Baboon

They were great entertainment!

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The gardens are a place to go back to nature, listening to the bees buzzing…..

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A great venue for an early morning walk…..

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Its just so peaceful….

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Couldn’t believe the size of these yellow flowers, they were 6-8 inches in diameter…. would love to know what they are called.  If you know, please comment.

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Loved the butterflies too.  I am told this is a Novice (Amauris Ochlea).

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Just a stones throw from Annie’s you can see the old colonial buildings.

buildings of zomba

Keep on walking up the hill through the forest and past the waterfall…

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and you come to some breathtaking views….

Zomba mountains

Zomba sunset

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If you are going to Malawi and want some chill time, then stop at Zomba! Its the perfect place to relax and be still with God.  He sure got my attention while I was there and the beauty of His creation was overwhelming!

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2013 in Animals, butterfly, Landscape

 

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Other animals of Liwonde

As well as elephants, hippos, crocs and birds, Liwonde was full of plants and wildlife.

One of my favourite African trees has to be the Baobab. The Baobab Tree is known as the tree of life, with good reason. It can provide shelter, clothing, food, and water for the animal and human inhabitants of the African savannah regions. The cork-like bark and huge stem are fire resistant and are used for making cloth and rope. The leaves are used as condiments and medicines. The fruit, called “monkey bread”, is edible, and full of Vitamin C. I even bought a jar of Baobab jam at the park office, not tasted it yet though 😉

Baobab

Exploring the bush brought lots of surprises……. warthogs scouring for food…

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Buffalo in the savannah….

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A yellow baboon licking his wounds….

Baboon inspecting his wounds - Copy

Beautiful, agile, impala….

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Impala females walking through the bush…..

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A proud male Kudu modelling for the camera…..

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Think this might be his wife…. 😉

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A cute looking Bushbuck…

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I just love the target on the back of the Waterbuck…. 🙂

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Which antelope is camouflaged?

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This last one is my pic of the day…… I love the elegance of impalas, but this one looks lonely….

Lonely impala

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2013 in Animals

 

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Happy Hippos of Liwonde

The sun is shining and my thoughts drift back to gliding across the waters of the Shire River in Malawi looking for hippos.  Love the elegance of the palm trees!

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And we were in for a treat; not just lots of hippos but also a baby!

Hippo baby landscape

Baby was so cute 🙂

Hippo baby 2

Hippo bank

Loved the way they snooze and then splash around….

Hippo fun

The way the oxpeckers sit on their back…

Hippo favourite

The way they pose for their portrait…..

Hippo portrait (2)

And the way they dive in the water… Ready?

Hippo landscape

Steady

Hippo splash

GO!!!!!

Hippo tsunami

That was like a Tsunami!!

Peeping hippo

Peepo 🙂

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2013 in Animals

 

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Crocodile Smiles

The first thing I was asked in the office today about my safari was “Did you see crocodiles?” Yes, dozens.  We had a great boat trip along the Shire (Shee-ray) river and saw some both in the water and on land.  Here are a few crocodile smiles 🙂

Crocodile smile

Oh what big teeth you have Grandma!

Pouncing croc

Watch out, crocs about!

Old croc 2

Basking!  Don’t forget the factor 50 or your skin will go all wrinkly 😉

Hippo n croc 2

Battle between the hippo and the croc – place your bets now!

Croc watch

Contemplating Crocodile….. What’s for dinner??

Croc watch (2)

Ready for dinner!

Croc ready for action

I spot it, ready, steady go!!

Croc pair

Pair of old crocs

Walking croc

Walkies!!

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2013 in Animals

 

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