A few photos from the last days of our India trip back in March, as we explored the opulent palaces of the maharajas in Jaipur.
Archive for the “India” Category
Apr 03 2012
After many hours travelling down a single lane dirt track and watching our driver narrowly dodge trucks and oxen, I told Adrian that we were going to be spending the next two nights in a tent. He told me he was worried about sleeping on an inflatable mattress and finding the toilet in the dark. I said that he shouldn’t worry, that when I go camping, I do so in style. We arrived at Khem Villas, and we were met with porters to take our bags, waiters to offer us a cool towel and a glass of lemon water, and the manager to take us to our tent.
We rolled up the canvas blinds and stepped inside to find a queen-sized bed and writing desk, with a canvas panel separating a bathroom with spotlessly modern amenities. We were told that hot water was solar powered and would be available only in the morning and the evening. There was even enough room for Adrian to set Hayden up in his travel cot and he seemed to settle in happily to his new surroundings.
We took a stroll around the camp, which includes an open-air dining area, a nature walk, a wellness spa, and a small shop selling hand-made items. In the common room we listened to a presentation by Usha Rathore, the owner of Khem Villas, about the work that Tiger Watch is conducting to reduce poaching by ensuring that the locals can find sustainable living in harmony with the wildlife. For dinner we ate some delicious vegetarian food, sourced from produce that they grow on-site. As the sun set we settled down for an early night so we could wake up at dawn for our first safari.
The air was a little chilly as we set out towards the park, yet it was a magical time of day. As our canter wobbled its way over the bumpy roads, we saw that the inhabitants of the park were already peacefully grazing, and we were surrounded by dozens of spotted deer, Sambar deer, and Indian gazelles, and even a juvenile crocodile enjoying the morning sun. The guides listened for warning calls from the animals to alert them to a presence of a tiger, but all the prey animals seemed very relaxed.
We stopped under a tree while little Green Bee-eaters and Rufous Treepies flitted around us. Our guide told us that the treepies were very friendly. Friendly and indeed a little brash, they swooped down to share the sandwiches that our companions were eating for breakfast.
Hayden seemed very contented as he drank his morning milk while overlooking a deep tranquil waterhole.
As the sun rose in the sky and the temperature began to soar, we were told that the tigers would be retreating into the shade to sleep, and we headed back to the camp for a simple English breakfast of eggs and bread. Some of our breakfast companions shared tiger stories from that morning, and I hoped that we would have more luck in our afternoon safari. I wandered up to the Age Veda Spa for a soothing head and shoulders massage while looking out over the dry wind rippling over the grassy desert plains.
The heat escalated in our tent and the three of us collapsed on the bed together for a sweaty but satisfying nap through the hottest part of the day. Still full from breakfast, we skipped lunch and only awoke for a cold shower before our afternoon safari. We bought a tiger t-shirt and hat for Hayden from the vendors outside the gates, and he quickly returned with a tiger postcard as a gift “for the baby”. This encounter was symbolic of our time here in India, a small gesture filled with kindness and generosity.
Adrian asked the driver to stop so that he could snap a few photos of Grey Langur monkeys and their babies sitting together in the afternoon sun. We were sharing a canter with some locals who mocked us for making such a fuss over such a common animal.
We took another long drive for the park, and the ruminants were now mostly resting in the shade and watching us impassively. As we were nearing the end of our tour, the guide heard a warning call for a tiger, however the other people in the canter told him they had a train to catch, and we had to leave the park without so much of an Indian tiger.
I wish that we could have stayed here for a week. Not only to see a tiger in the wild, but also visit some of the various Tiger Watch initiatives, such as the women’s textiles collective, the school (free for girls from small families), the hospital, and to support camel rides and nature walks run by families of rehabilitated poachers.
At breakfast on our last day, we watched a pigeon industriously trying to set up a nest on top of the roller-blinds that enclose the open-air dining area. It was such a pathetic sight. Firstly, every single one of the dozens of twigs immediately fell off, leaving a pile of twigs on the ground and none up on the ledge. Secondly, the blinds are pulled down every night for dinner, so even a successful nest would not survive until the next morning. I had to eventually ask one of the staff members to come and unfurl the blinds because I couldn’t bear to watch the poor bird wasting so much effort on such a bleak enterprise.
All too soon it was time for us to pack our bags and leave the camp, and it was quite hard to say good-bye to this place. In my opinion, Ranthambhore is up there with the mountains of Georgia, Uluru in Australia, and the wilderness of Iceland as truly sublime locations on this fragile planet. These wild and semi-arid plains touched my heart, and I dearly hope to be able to return here when Hayden is older, and perhaps share with him the magic of discovering a tiger in the wild.
Mar 30 2012
We arrived in Bharatpur, and happily, so did my luggage. I was overjoyed to be reunited with my hairbrush and clean clothes and shampoo and emergency medicine. It was also reassuring to be able to pop Hayden’s bottles in the steam steriliser every night (I had previously been sterilising them by filling them with boiling bottled water) and to use nappies from home. After sunset there were quite a few mosquitos in the hotel restaurant, our waiter spending his time in between courses vanquishing them with an electrified tennis raquet, and I was glad that we had all been taking Malarone to prevent malaria, especially as we had chosen not to use any mosquito repellent.
When we first arrived at the hotel, we noticed that they had several peacocks and peahens. At first we did not take much notice, as we had assumed that the owners had imported them and clipped their wings, as is common in Australia. It was only when we saw one of the peahens take flight that we recalled that the birds are native to this area and we had just seen our first wild peafowls.
The next morning we gathered at sunrise to take an early cycle rickshaw through the world heritage listed Keoladeo National Park, which contains artificial marshes first installed in 1763 by the Maharajas to improve their duck-hunting experiences. Since 1982 it has been a haven to 364 species of birds, and is an important breeding site for herons, storks and cormorants. We saw dozens of bird species during our hours in the park, along with some ruminants and a pair of Indian grey mongooses (but sadly no fishing cats).
Our naturalist pointed out a male jaçana bird following its baby. He told us that the bronze-winged jaçana birds are a species of waders, and it is the males who take responsibility for the care of the young, even carrying their offspring between their wings and body. He smiled and said to Adrian “just like you”.
We learned about the Intermediate Egret, identifiable by its yellow bill and black legs. I felt a bit sorry for the birds with such a demeaning name, and I thought that they were probably a bit jealous of the cute Little Egret and the impressive Great Egret.
With this adventure under our belt before breakfast, we returned to the hotel feeling quite accomplished. We said farewell to Kim who was flying back to Belgium, and prepared for a long dusty drive to Ranthambore National Park.
Mar 28 2012
Over the next several days we visited two beautiful world heritage listed Moghul mausoleums – Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi (built in 1562) and the Taj Mahal in Agra (built in 1653).
The tomb of Mughal Emperor Humayun (one of the many places in India termed the “Baby Taj”) is surrounded by a symmetrical and tranquil Charbagh (quadrilateral) garden, the first of its kind in India. We were lucky enough to be able to stroll past the fountains bubbling away in the reflective ponds, which were restored only 9 years ago after over 300 years of neglect. Instead of a mosque, the only other structure inside the complex is the tomb of the Emperor’s favourite barber.
The next day we drove to Agra and toured the Agra fort, then to the Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) to see a mausoleum built by Humayun’s great-grandson – the Taj Mahal. I had a little bit of a melt-down as I climbed out of the car while unsuccessfully attempting to juggle all my belongings. I was exhausted after a long hot and dusty day, I had been wearing the same clothes for three days, and I felt hemmed in by the various street vendors who had gathered around the entrance. It was rare in India for me to feel invisible or anonymous, and every time I struggled with something I felt like the whole neighbourhood was silently, curiously, and intensely watching me fail.
We paid the entrance fee and I was slowly able to relax as we ambled past the rows of trees and towards the same Yamuna River that flows past Humayun’s tomb. This garden forms part of the Charbagh gardens that surround the Taj Mahal, and provides a spectacular and calm place to view the structure, especially at sunset. The decline in the water level of the river was immediately evident, and I later learned that it is decreasing at a rate of 1.5 meters per year, potentially destabilising the foundations of the mausoleum. We sat together on the ruins of a brick wall and watched the white marble reflect the soft orange glow of the sunset. It was so peaceful and serene, I felt so lucky to be able to sit and quietly absorb the beauty and majesty of the Taj Mahal in the cool crisp air of the evening.