A tiger in the woodland area of Ranthambhore National Park A Fascinating Indian Wildlife Tour

Wildfoot Travel's Simon Rowland Reporting From his wildlife safari in India
Wildfoot Travel’s Simon Rowland took a trip to India recently, exploring wildlife parks and other areas of interest to make sure we give our clients the best possible advice and put together the most rewarding wildlife adventures in this beautifully compelling and endearing country.
Here is his day-by-day account of the trip which provides useful insight and inspiration for those considering a visit to India.

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9 year old dominant male tiger Harsh Vardhan – Wildfoot Ambassador
Two male Great Indian Bustards facing wind mill threats in India's Gujarat

Two male Great Indian Bustards facing wind mill threats in India’s Gujarat

Pioneering Indian conservationist and wildlife expert Harsh VardhanPioneering Indian conservationist, wildlife expert and good friend of Wildfoot Travel, Harsh Vardhan is coming to talk at the Rutland Birdfair this August.
Ahead of his trip, we caught up with him and asked him a few questions, to find out exactly what he’s been up to and what his plans for the future are.

If you are coming to the Birdfair, make sure you don’t miss Harsh’s talks:

18 Aug Friday 2pm ‘Great Indian Bustard’ – only 90 left in the world, what’s next for this amazing iconic bird.

20 Aug Sunday 2pm ‘Indian Tiger population increases’ – a good news story. But do tigers have a place to go?’

After the lectures Harsh will be on the Wildfoot Stand to meet anyone interested in visiting India.


1.     At what age did you start to feel that something had to be done about conservation and wildlife protection within India?
A: In 1969-70, when the IUCN General assembly met in New Delhi and the crisis over Tigers erupted . India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi banned Tiger hunting in 1970 all over India. So emerged Project Tiger. “An impossible project” we all thought!
As it rolled on, I tried to attend most meetings. I read all about wildlife and as a journalist I commenced reporting wildlife conservation.
I covered the visit of Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands to Ranthambhore in 1974, at the time he was President of WWF – International.
My news item went round the globe within hours and the die was cast.
Prince Bernhard observed a Tiger and a leopard sharing the same kill at 10 pm in the park in the peak of winter and we all shivered as we watched the scene through torch lights fixed to the engine of a jeep!
 
2.  What are the most important conservation and wildlife issue in India today?
A: The needs of our population creates a huge amount of pollution. The natural habitat is disappearing and finding a solution seems to be a low priority. Things are improving but only at a snail’s pace thanks to layers of bureaucracy (a legacy left by the British).
 
3.  You are a major force and campaigner for Indian birds and wildlife, what is the good news to come out of India at this time?
A: Science has been a priority in conservation for the past two decades. Tiger Conservation is an iconic success for India in the eyes of the world. There has been global cooperation from WWF, BirdLife International etc., which has helped us to gain ground.
Yet all this is simply a drop in the ocean, the force of Indian non-government organisations (NGO) is fierce. Each one keeps a vigil over wild species and each on is willing to take a stand against authorities who are in the wrong. These organisations are spread all over India, though not networked yet they are doing a very good job individual.
I myself am an NGO.
 
4.     We know you will be giving two lectures at Rutland Bird Fair this year in August, one on the Ranthambore Tigers and the other on The Great Indian Bustard looking at the future for both species.
Can you see a positive outcome for the survival of the Bustard Harsh and the growth of the numbers of Tiger in India?
A: Bustards: India started its conservation in 1979-80 when I successfully prevented Arab Sheikhs from carrying out illegal falconry in the That desert.  
The Bustard conservation was started and inviting overseas experts, we held the first ever international symposium on Bustards in Jaipur in 1980.  We produced a book “Bustards In Decline.” But the bureaucracy and the damned  forest officers paid little attention, so the Great Indian Bustard was driven to the brink of extinction. The population has plummeted from 1,300 in 1980, down to only 90 today!  

Hue and cry has been our lone defence. 2017 saw a meeting in Jaipur attended by experts from  Britain and  Spain to decide on captive breeding of the species in the Desert.  I  attended the meeting but a strong section of the government did not want me to be included. They thought I was too harsh and too critical, so they tried to keep me out but I went to the meeting anway . 

We live in hope.  The habitat has been better protected for the past 4 years in the Desert, by the same set of forest officials who were doing nothing earlier, so officials can improve.

 A. Tiger: Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve is overflowing with cubs. Nine females have cubs at present (July 2017)  or about to become adults or are pregnant.
We have nearly 68 Tigers compared to only 14 in 1994.
They are moving out of the park. Adult male cubs go out, as the dominant males do not allow them to remain inside (psychologically not letting them mate with own mothers too).
They go out and live in scrub areas with no natural prey. So they prey upon cattle, which makes the villagers unhappy . The forest officials have no plan to deal with the excess tiger population. They say it is a success but we say ‘yes it is a success but the excess population is getting decimated in areas where there is no Tiger Management’.
 
 
5.     You have edited, co-written and authored various wildlife, birding and conservation books in the past. You are working on about an Indian tribe called Bishnois – Can you tell us more about the book and its subject?
A: More than 500 year old success story .
Bishnoi Sect (not a tribe), were born in the desert and live by 29 principles, nature conservation being one of them.
Of the million people on earth who are Bishnois, one fifth of the them live in Jodhpur, the gateway to the desert.
They give away their lives to protect gazelles and black bucks and what do they receive  a double column piece in the daily newspaper!
I’d like to revive the spirit of the Bishnois and make it as widely acceptable as possible.
Flora and fauna both are for humanity’s welfare, and should not be confined to one community or a single country. The Bishnois were the first ‘Hug The Tree’ movement starters. In 1730, 363 men and women gave away their lives at Khejreli (near Jodhpur) when the prince wanted to cut trees to burn lime for a new palace to be built. Four such self sacrifices have occurred around that area since.
We all should take their exemplary examples forward. The book is to outline all this in a broader context including other communities across the world involved in similar initiatives. There is a long way to go.
 
6.     How can our wildlife and conservation community from all over the world support Indian wildlife campaigns especially the ones you are involved in right now?
A: By joining hands together, arriving at consensus and assuming the lead role in fields. Not merely as academics, or confined to face-book items and pep talks over dinner. Together we can make a difference.
Look at Wildfoot Travel’s and Simon Rowland.  We were unknown until a year ago Today, Simon is taking the the lead and putting us on the map. Now we need a thousand more Simons dotted around the UK.
 
7.     Your love of wildlife has no doubt rubbed off on your children and also your grandchildren and I know you are very close with them. Do you feel there’s a growing wildlife and conservation movement within the youth of India today?
A: It is Incredible. 21 years ago, inspired by my first visit to BBWF when Tim Appleton MBE (One of the founders of Rutland Bird Fair) took me around Rutland in a golf cart, my eyes were opened and I decided to have a Birding fair at Man Sagar lake at Jaipur to conserve it.
The Officers laughed at me, some laughed and said – ‘he has no money but he talks big!’ The Birding Fair will be 21 in Feb 2018, incurring a few million rupees expenditure.
I knew people s would not join it, so I lured students-teachers community.  Not an exaggeration, we have a quarter million constituency of students-teachers  who support conservation. At each walk, some one says hi to me, so I ask them who they are, they answer “sir I attended 5 or 7 birding fairs, now I am an engineer or a doctor!”
Lake restoration was our biggest success. People had to use a handkerchief by 2006-07 as they would walk by this 1.5 sq. km lake, But not today. Thanks to an eco system, based approach the heritage lake got conserved but the same lake is once again getting degenerated – the government, has different ideas.
I am currently pitted against the present Chief Minister, she is imperious but I am willing to go to jail if she can pronounce a sentence from her side, which she cannot! 
 
8.     Simon tells me you are a very modest person Harsh, you are always committed to highlighting “the cause” rather than yourself. You have been associated with fierce & sometimes overwhelming conservation struggles within India. What’s next for Harsh Vardhan and what’s close to your heart right now?
A: I have handed over leadership to the next generation and I am trying to ensure they do better than I could.
We had  no volunteers 20 years ago. Today there are about sixty volunteers and a core team of ten. They provide technical inputs, leadership and support.  
So the ‘White-naped Tit’ work is led by them. I take a back seat. This bird is rarely observed and only in 6 – 7 places in arid India. It is found about 15 km away in the hills from where I live.
Writing a book on the Bishnois, a profile of wetlands etc. are high on the agenda for me, hopefully they will progress nicely.
The Oriental Bird Club, run by Krys, a Brit, will soon mention the White-naped Tit. Krys informed me yesterday as I introduced Sajal Jugran, next in command here with me, to join hands with Krys. Why just me alone, they should all be involved. 
 
9.     What are your five “must see” wildlife locations of India?
A: Of a total 50 Project Tiger Reserves in India designated so far (2017), only 5 can actually show you Tigers. Ranthambhore, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench and Tadoba.
Others are not well managed and are facing problems from terrorism or do not offer basic facilities to vsitors
It is difficult to single out a must see five. I am more emphatic on habitat conservation, I have never been a botanist but my emphasis for the past decade has been more on vegetation, edible and non-edible grasses. if cattle are fed well, there will be less pressure of grazing on forests so forest species shall survive better. 
 
10.  We are hoping you will be expertly leading small groups for us in the next 24 months, with a focus on the Indian Tiger, Leopard, Asiatic Lion, Birding, off the beaten track India and also with a little culture thrown in.  What can we expect from these unique itineraries and what exciting spectacles do you have in store?

A: India has limitless attractions. There are few people who have the skill and knowledge to make sure you get the most out of an indian Wildlife experience.
I can offer A mix of Tigers, Birds, Bishnoi and Culture within two weeks. Visitors need authenticity, simplicity, no show business, and an easy pace with plenty of time to observe the target species. 

Check out  this captivating video of a tiger shot by Harsh’s son and fellow Wildfoot Ambassador Manoj Varhan.

Indian Adventure 16

Simon from WILDFOOT enjoyed a wildlife adventure in India earlier this year and kept a diary of his travels throughout the summer. Over the last month, Simon’s adventures have been serialised on the WILDFOOT blog, and today he concludes his journey.

Part 16

Finishing my Indian adventure in Guwahati, Assam, I take the time to reflect on my experiences. I have been lucky enough to spot some of the world’s most endangered and sought-after wildlife, and I have also immersed myself in the local culture and learned a great deal about India in the process.

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Concluding my journey in Kaziranga National Park has been a real treat. Despite being off the beaten track – a three-hour flight from Delhi and a five-hour journey from Guwahati Airport – this destination has allowed me to spend some time with the beautiful wildlife that India has to offer.

If you hold a dedicated interest in the one-horned rhino, this is the park for you. Although other regions can be reached in less travelling time, Assam is a beautiful place, and combining your trip to Eastern India with a visit to Bhutan can open up even more possibilities for observing wildlife.

If Simon’s adventures have inspired you to consider a wildlife getaway, please don’t hesitate to contact the luxury travel agents at WILDFOOT today. With a range of exclusive destinations available across Africa, the Americas and Antarctica, we are the number one choice for nature lovers who want to try out something new and make memories that will last a lifetime.

 

Indian Adventure 15

WILDFOOT’s Simon spent his summer on a wildlife adventure in India and kept a log of his journey for you to find out more about on our blog. Today, Simon spends another day in the Kaziranga National Park and spots over 50 species of wild bird.

Part 15

As I spend another day in the Kaziranga National Park, I find out more about this fascinating part of the world. This region holds the highest population of tigers in the entire world, but because of its rich vegetation, there is very little chance of spotting them.

Birding, however, makes for some great sightings. With the opportunity to spot over 250 species, I manage over 50 during my day without looking too hard. A guest at the hotel I stay at was lucky enough to spot a tiger – only fleetingly, but it was a sighting all the same.
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The Kaziranga National Park is closed for six months of the year because of the monsoon season, and the massive expansion of the Brahmaputra River, which takes over any lowlands it may.

Unfortunately, this is also a time when a small number of rhinoceroses are drowned, but this is considered natural wastage by the government, and there is little that can be done to protect them.

In his final update, Simon will reflect on his Indian wildlife adventure and spend more time in the Kaziranga National Park. If you are considering a wildlife adventure of your own, contact the luxury travel agents at WILDFOOT for assistance. With decades of experience of organising trips across Antarctica, the Americas and Africa, we should be your number one choice for your next getaway.

Indian Adventure 14

Simon from WILDFOOT spent part of his summer enjoying an Indian wildlife special holiday, documenting his journey throughout so that you could find out more about it on the WILDFOOT  blog. Today, Simon travels to Guwahati and takes in the sights of the Kaziranga National Park.

Part 14

As the team here at WILDFOOT always endeavours to be a little different with its itineraries, I fly from Delhi to Guwahati, which is the largest city of Assam. The journey is short and comfortable and a similar distance to that between London and Rome.

Kaziranga National Park is too unique to miss out on. I take a diversion to this interesting, diverse region covering some of the world’s most important grasslands and the monsoon flood area of the Brahmaputra River.

The river is one of the world’s longest and most important to the environment and the surrounding natural world. This park is also home to two-thirds of the world’s endemic one-horned rhinoceros.

You will also sight wild elephant on safari plus many other species in this National Park. Birding is amazing by the way. Tigers are prevalent but because of the foliage, very difficult to see so don’t come here hoping for big cat sightings. This region is known for its tea and you will see miles of tea plantation as you travel to the national park.

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While this poor animal is poached for Chinese meditational reasons, numbers are increasing despite a huge 48 lost to poachers in 2014. In the last two years, the Indian government has pulled out the stops with 24/7 park guards shooting to kill anyone who will risk their lives for a piece of horn, which most people know to be of no medicinal use whatsoever.

A guard with a loaded gun is always sent out with each jeep, which is apparently for our safety and to protect from potential attacks, as well as for the general security of the park.

Next time, Simon continues his adventure in the Kaziranga National Park and spots some exotic birds. If you would like to start your own wildlife adventure in India, contact the luxury travel agents at WILDFOOT today. With a range of exclusive destinations and itineraries, we can offer a unique travel opportunity that allows you to make memories and explore some of the world’s most beautiful natural surroundings.

 

Indian Adventure 13

WILDFOOT’s Simon spent time on an Indian wildlife adventure earlier this year and documented his journey for you to peruse on the WILDFOOT blog. Today, Simon travels to the Tiger Den and finds out more about the predatory nature of local tigers and leopards.

Part 13 

This is my last day in Ranthambore and I’ve had excellent sightings of Tigers, one leopard and many other wildlife and birding species. It’s been an amazing visit.

Tigers and leopards are seen on many occasions in this area. After the staff finish their shifts at 10:30pm, the tigers and leopards are known to sit on the walls or in the trees and climb over the eight-foot wall of the park to get into the village.

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These predators are driven in by the various free-roaming animals that are readily available in the town – the roaming cattle, pigs and dogs are all easy pickings.

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These regular visitors are all well and good for a tourist, but their visits can also end in human deaths. Last month, a local lady was killed by a leopard and in 2012, a young boy was killed just off the road by a tiger that he disturbed at six in the morning.

Leopards are more likely to stalk a human, while tigers will only attack if they are provoked. It’s clearly not the big cats’ faults, as nature dictates, but those that do kill humans are captured and taken to a zoo so that other human lives are spared.

The forestry commission has decided to take action against the predators, and is creating a wildlife corridor, known as the Keladevi wildlife corridor, within the next six years. Driven by these incidents and the death of Hash Vardan, who was one of India’s best-known and most influential wildlife campaigners, it is hoped that an additional wildlife park will bring the whole area to over 1,000 square kilometres and make the surrounding areas safer for residents and tourists.

This solution will provide comfort for the next decade, and it will be interesting to see how it is implemented in the coming years. The Indian government wheels turn slowly, but it is better late than never.

Next time, Simon travels to Guwahati and takes in the Brahmaputra River. If you would like to start your own Indian wildlife adventure, get in touch with a luxury travel company like WILDFOOT today. We’re on hand throughout the week to answer your questions and put together an itinerary that works for you and your family.

Indian Adventure 12

Simon from WILDFOOT enjoyed an Indian wildlife adventure this summer and documented his travels for you to peruse on the WILDFOOT blog. Today, Simon spots a tiger in the Ranthambore National Park.

Part 12

Very exciting morning as it is my first Tiger Safari across the Ranthambore National Park in search of a tiger. After a short time driving across the beautiful landscape, we spot a tiger just 30 metres away from our truck, giving me an excellent opportunity to take some photographs for my friends and family.

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The Ranthambore National Park covers approximately 400 square kilometres and offers 10 different safari routes. This is particularly useful for those who want to explore different aspects of the park, or who want to try their luck at spotting some of the wide variety of wildlife on offer.

The Forestry Commission highly protects the area, and one of its responsibilities is to ensure that routes take an equal amount of safaris using six-person jeeps and larger vehicles called canters, which carry around 18 persons.

WILDFOOT recommends that you take a jeep option over the canter options in every case. Although a jeep costs more, it offers increased opportunities for wildlife observations. WILDFOOT pre-books these excursions, so don’t for one minute expect to turn up and book on the day. Instead, make sure that you plan way in advance.

Due to the success of the immense tiger protection over the last few years and vertically zero poaching, there are now close to 65 tigers across the National Park, which is up from just 26 in 2007. The Park may sound like a large enough space at 400 square kilometres, but the territories are aggressively fought over by tigers, so jeep safaris are meticulously planned to avoid getting caught up in the action.

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Great success has brought a problem of sorts – a natural one of tiger territory. The tigers are pushing out because of territorial issues with each other into villages, farms and settlements, so it will be fascinating to see what happens in the coming years as tiger numbers continue to increase.

In his next update, Simon will discover more about the tigers and leopards that reside within the Ranthambore National Park. To find out more about taking part in your own Indian wildlife venture, don’t hesitate to contact the luxury travel agents at WILDFOOT today.

Indian Adventure 11

This year, WILDFOOT’s Simon spent time in India, documenting his wildlife journey throughout. We are serialising Simon’s travels on the WILDFOOT blog. In his latest update, Simon arrives at Ranthambore to begin a three-day mini-adventure.

Part 11

The Ranthambore National Park is world-renowned for being a place where one can observe the tiger in its natural habitat. Only four hours away from Agra and about the same from Delhi, I don’t understand why anybody would miss out on this wonderful region when enjoying a wildlife holiday in India.

It is only a 10-minute ride from the train station to our lodge, which is called The Tiger Den Ranthambore. The accommodation is a good 3.5 stars in quality, but the location is peaceful and far enough out of the town to be a haven for good birding opportunities around the property.

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There’s a pool, large attractive lawns and rose gardens here. The staff are very helpful and friendly and Patrick, the hotel manager, is amusing, friendly and runs a tight ship. All of the food is served buffet-style, and there is a delicious range of options from which to choose.

The view of the landscape from our accommodation is magnificent. The area offers a diverse range of terrains, from flat deserts to large red hills, which are some of the oldest in the world.

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Diverse, too, are the wildlife offerings. Most visitors travel to Ranthambore exclusively in hope of spotting a tiger, but it would be a lost opportunity not to embrace the other rich wildlife and reptile opportunities. Leopards, sloth bears, hyenas, wolves, mongoose, porcupines, spotted deer, sambar deer, langur monkeys, wild boar and crocodiles can all be spotted – not to mention various species of snake and lizard, which are very hard to find most of the time.

Bird species number up to 230, so visiting Ranthambore is essential for any keen birder. The travel experts at WILDFOOT recommend at least three or four nights in Ranthambore, so I decide to spend three days here exploring everything that the area has to offer.

In his next update, Simon will explore the Ranthambore National Park in search of a tiger. If you would like to find out more about enjoying your own Indian adventure, get in touch with the travel experts at WILDFOOT today.

Indian Adventure 10

Simon from WILDFOOT spent his summer taking part in an Indian wildlife holiday. Throughout his journey, he recorded his highlights for you to peruse on the WILDFOOT blog. In this update, Simon finishes his adventures in Keoladeo Park and boards a train to Ranthambore.

Part 10

As I finish my day at the Keoladeo Park, I soon look forward to my accommodation. Laxmi Vilas is a mid-standard property and close to the National Park. There are two parts, an older original part which has been built on to in recent years whilst keeping the same Heritage style.

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The property was once a haveli – a kind of local manor house for heads of the village or area in years gone by. Some of these turn to ruin because of a lack of funding, but some are turned into small and quirky guesthouses and hotels like the Laxmi. This haveli is particularly attractive due to the National Park on its doorstep, and I am pleased to spend the night here before I awake for my journey to Ranthambore.

The next morning, I embark on my five-hour journey. There are air-conditioned seats and beds, which are particularly useful for those wishing to travel overnight. I have enjoyed all of my train journeys in India so far, as I find that each one is a real social occasion offering the chance to meet diverse Indian personalities.

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The journeys are also an opportunity to share food and discussion if the language allows. On more than one occasion, passengers have wanted to share whatever local delicacy they have been enjoying, so I take my seat and await my next culinary experience on my journey to Ranthambore.

In Simon’s next instalment, he will explore the Ranthambore National Park. If you are interested in following in Simon’s footsteps and taking part in your own Indian wildlife holiday, rely on WILDFOOT, the luxury travel company, to arrange everything you need for the adventure of a lifetime. In addition to organising flights, accommodation and transfers, we work closely with our partners around the world to deliver authentic, intimate wildlife experiences for you to enjoy.

Indian Adventure 9

This year, WILDFOOT’s Simon took part in an Indian adventure. He documented his journey throughout for you to read on the WILDFOOT blog. In his latest update, Simon spends the day at the Keoladeo Ghana National Park.

Part 9

After spending the night in Agra to see the Taj and the Red Fort, we travel by road to Bharatpur, where I took the train to Ranthambore. We stop at the Keoladeo Ghana National Park. The Park attracts a huge amount of UK and worldwide birders every year, so I am keen to get inside and explore for myself.

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After a short journey to the National Park, we meet our birding guides, who spoke very good English on the whole. If you are a keen birder, this activity is a must – even more so if you have two or three days to spare. The park is open throughout the year, including during the monsoon season, while the peak breeding period is between August and October.

I was particularly interested in finding out more about the Siberian crane, but unfortunately, the last sighting of this species in India was in the winter of 2002. The migratory paths for this species included Afghanistan, where it is thought that these birds will have been hunted. As well as that, Keoladeo Park has experienced terrible droughts in the recent years, and it is thought that this was another factor as to why the birds chose not to return.

On a more positive note, you will find around 350 species of bird at Keoladeo and if you are a keen birder, the WILDFOOT team recommends that you enjoy at least a two-night stay here to take in everything on offer. There are many routes within the park, including boat trips around the shallow lake that takes up over a third of the 27 square kilometres of the park.

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The park is open from 6am to 6pm, and it is very easy to hire a good guide at the entrance of the park. Of course, on my journey, a guided tour was organised by WILDFOOT for my convenience, which made the outing all the more enjoyable.

In the next instalment of Simon’s travels, he will spend a night in a hotel close to Keoladeo Ghana National Park, and then begin his journey to Ranthambore by train. To find out more about taking part in your own Indian adventure, get in touch with the WILDFOOT team today.

Indian Adventure 8

Simon from WILDFOOT spent his summer enjoying a trip across India. He recorded his travels to give you an understanding of Indian culture, and we are serialising his adventure in a series of blog posts on the WILDFOOT blog. Today, Simon spends his night in Jaipur and learns more about the fascinating Bishnoi religious tribe.

Part 8

As part of my Indian big cats adventure, I spend the night in Jaipur and enjoy an eventful evening at Manoj’s family home. I experience a delicious authentic Indian evening meal with all of the family around the table.

Harsh sits with me and discusses the wildlife that we have been lucky enough to observe so far.  I’ve already read a few pages of the copy that Harsh has written about a religious tribe whose focus is on total conservation. What surprises me about this sect, called Bishnoi, is that they were founded in 1486 and therefore formed the earliest conservation movement ever.

The sect is still prevalent in certain areas of India today, and abides by 29 life rules such as ‘be kind to all living beings’, ‘green trees not to be felled’, ‘no meat to be consumed’ and ‘clean firewood before you burn it so you don’t kill insects’.

This Hindi tribe have given their lives to protect green trees and made several sacrifices throughout the centuries, including in 1604 when two ladies chopped off their heads to protest against the felling of Khejri trees. It’s still remembered to this day by the Bishnoi and is a main inspiration of the movement.

Similar brave sacrifices have since followed, including in 1730 when a major protest against the felling of trees to build a fort in Rajasthan saw men, women and children hug trees as axes fell. One can only imagine the blood spilled by brave souls from over 84 surrounding Bishnoi villages. By that time, 363 Bishnoi lives were spent.

Harsh follows some of the sect’s 29 rules and holds dear to his heart similar conservational principles to the Bishnoi. Harsh has undertaken great research on the movement and is now working on a book centred on the religious principles of the Bishnoi people. Watch this space!

In Simon’s next installment, he travels to the Keoladeo Ghana National Park. To find out more about taking part in your own Indian wildlife holiday, don’t hesitate to contact WILDFOOT’s experts today.

Indian Adventure 7

This year, Simon from WILDFOOT went on an Indian adventure and documented his journey for you to read on the WILDFOOT blog. In this update, Simon makes a journey to Jaipur by train.

Part 7

I travel to Jodhpur station at 5:30am for my 6:10 am trip to Jaipur by early morning train. Built in the 1900s, Jodhpur was one of the most important railway inclusions for the British rulers in Victorian India. The Indian railway system was started in 1857, and the first line was Bombay to Rajkot in southern Gujarat, so it is great to be here and to take in some of the history.

We have individual seats booked in an air-conditioned carriage, but take a peek at the unreserved non-air conditioned carriage. We imagine sitting in the carriage in the midday heat of 43 degrees today. During the height of the summer, the temperature is likely to top 50 degrees, so we are glad we opted for an air conditioned carriage to make our journey!

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Comparing my journey to UK trains, I am surprised to note that train doors are generally left open and passengers are free to lean out of the door regardless of speed. Manoj, my travelling companion, reminds me that there are no full stops in India, referencing the title of a book by author Mark Tully, who has written prolifically about India. In other words, India is a never-ending surprise and around every corner, there are scenes and experiences delivered as if on cue!

I’ve not scratched the surface in my comments as to the unique Indian culture surrounding you everywhere you turn, but my wildlife tour of North West India has kept me highly entertained and educated so far.

As we take our seats on the train, we see that two ladies are eating food in front of us. They insist that we share with them, so we enjoy authentic Indian cuisine on our journey to Jaipur. Shiva Rathi is an industrial and engineering student from Jodhpur, travelling with her professor and mother Rashmi Rathi. The journey demonstrates the exceptional kindness of the Indian people, especially on Indian trains. We decide to offer them a cup of chai when the chai wallah comes through the carriage by way of thanks.

In Simon’s next installment, he will spend a night in Jaipur and learn more about the Bishnoi religious tribe. If you are interested in finding out more about your own possibilities for an Indian wildlife adventure, get in touch with the WILDFOOT team today.

Indian Adventure 6

Earlier this year, Simon from WILDFOOT enjoyed an adventure across India. He recorded updates throughout his journey for you to read on the WILDFOOT blog. In this update, Simon travels from Bera to Jodhpur and spots some bar-headed geese.

Part 6

Today, I travel from Bera to Jodhpur by road. We already know that northwest India offers rich and diverse birding and wildlife, and we stop en route to see some bar-headed geese, demoiselle crane and blackbuck, which are an endemic breed only found in certain parts of Rajasthan.

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The demoiselle cranes are smaller than the common crane, with a height of 90cm compared to a huge 120cm with the other species. Demoiselles are migratory visitors to India and enjoy the north-west region particularly for the arid and stony habitats. We found a group of around 500 on a manmade wetland area 40 minutes outside Jodhpur, which made for great photographs.

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The blackbucks are very timid creatures but manage to creep to around 100 metres of us before they become jittery. There are around 12 in total, including four males.

I know little about this endemic species, but tomorrow night I’m lucky enough to be visiting Mr Harsh Vardhan. He had a tremendous influence on the Indian birding and wildlife conservation movement in the 1970s, and his advice to the government had a major influence on the creation of the original National Parks, including Ranthambore.

Harsh is positively known in conservation circles and his name has come up everywhere we have travelled up to this point. I am looking forward to meeting him, especially as he is the father of my travelling companion and WILDFOOT’s wildlife specialist partner in India, Manoj Vardhan.

In the next instalment of Simon’s adventure, he travels from Jodhpur to Jaipur by train. If you would like to find out more about starting your own Indian wildlife adventure, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the WILDFOOT team today.

Indian Adventure 5

Simon from WILDFOOT enjoyed a wildlife adventure holiday in India this summer and recorded his journey for you to peruse on this blog. In the latest part of the series, Simon enjoys a birding walk through the village and finds out some welcome information about a local wildlife reserve…

Part 5

This morning, in what I feel is unquestionably good news, I discover that a piece of land has been successfully pulled from the open clutches of a surface mining company, which had previously been ‘assisted’ by a corrupt government official, who is now resting behind bars contemplating a lengthy spell.

At lunch time, I visit the site and see that it is now a rural camp that has just been completed and opened for those in search of wildlife encounters. The rich landscape is home to leopards, but also hyenas, wolves and a whole host of birds, with several endemic species to be observed.

There are five twin and double bungalows built within a spacious location, a stone’s throw away from the recent epic sightings of my trip.

The couple behind this eco project are Shatrunjay and Katyayani Singh, who are also thankfully wildlife conservationists and two more worthy champions of the local wildlife. As well as setting their sights on leaving a legacy of wildlife protection, the couple are looking to encourage self-sufficiency with local goat farms and are investigating creating a local gastro cheese making initiative that can hopefully be introduced by local farmers offering support and know-how.

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Shatrunjay is an accomplished photographer for National Geographic and an expert in wildlife and bird guiding. He also knows the regions exceptionally well and has a great command of English, so he is an excellent source of useful information during this part of my Indian wildlife holiday.

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Not only does Shatrunjay offer twice a day safaris to view the local leopard, but he also takes small groups of guests on birding walks in the scrub, looking for endemic species as well as animal activity and movement on foot.

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The accommodation is the best quality around, offering a bungalow twin and double room come large lounge with two shower rooms. It is well appointed and tastefully done, which makes settling down after a busy day of sightseeing all the more enjoyable.

In his next blog post, Simon travels three hours to the city of Jodhpur. If you would like to find out more about what it takes to embark on your own adventure holiday, simply get in touch with the India travel experts at WILDFOOT.

Indian Adventure 4

Wildfoot’s Simon spent his summer in India as part of a wildlife adventure holiday, and recorded his journey for you to peruse on the Wildfoot blog. Below, Simon explores the village of Bera that is packed with wildlife and has been ‘frozen in time’.

Part 4

This morning, we head out on a safari at 5.30am to establish where the leopard family has moved to during the night. We initially drive to a new area hoping to see a large leopard male, and we are hooked. We can’t wait to see more leopard action, perhaps in a different part of the National Park.

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While we are here in the village of Bera, we are staying at a unique heritage home-stay style accommodation called Bera Castle. The Castle offers a distinct style of stay that is most unusual, with authentic surroundings in both the rooms and communal areas.

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The dining room walls of the Castle carry fascinating antique images of the owner’s family history and that of the rulers with whom they were closely connected. Bera Castle was built in the late 1800s and is still owned by two brothers of the same family, one of which is Mr. Baljeet Singh, a champion of wildlife conservation and wildlife and birding enthusiast.

While the guest house is not everyone’s cup of tea, it gives us a true opportunity to experience life within a typical Rajasthan country village, which appears to have been frozen in time. In-between the leopard safaris, one early in the morning and one late afternoon, a friendly guide from the guest house takes us on several walks in and around the village, which allows us to get closer to the locals and experience what it would be like to live here.

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A different accommodation option is the Bera Safari Lodge, which is equally comfortable, but more intimate. This lodge is in the countryside and consists of three independent cottages – leopards and wild dogs are often seen from the cottages themselves! It is a great alternative, especially for keen birders as well as those looking for leopards.

The village is rarely visited by outsiders because most visitors to Bera are in search of the rich but sometimes elusive wildlife, like the leopards, hyenas, birds and wolves, which are enough to encourage anybody to visit as part of a wildlife holiday in India.

The outskirts of the village welcome another kind of tourist during the nighttime. Leopards regularly make the most of the local cattle and even village dogs on an evening. Those who lose cattle this way are nominally compensated by the government for their loss, but it doesn’t make the event any easier. Monkeys, peacocks and other easy-picking wildlife are also at risk from the leopards, which makes spotting the beast during daylight hours all the more thrilling.

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During my time in Bera, I see that the villagers seem to co-exist with the wildlife. However, as ever-curious wildlife enthusiasts continue to find out about the rich offerings in Bera, and indeed take advantage of the Indian wildlife adventure opportunities offered through Wildfoot, I hope that it will assist in the creation of a new National Park.

The protection of this unique area is essential and as we hear plans for a new hotel building project on the outskirts of the village, I hope that the local and national conservation crusaders don’t leave it too much longer.

Those visiting Bera cannot miss the village life experience which, right now, is authentic and a ‘must see’ part of India for any adventurous spirit or wildlife enthusiast.

In his next blog post, Simon continues his journey through Bera and enjoys a birding walk through the village. If you are interested in finding out more about how you can retrace the steps of Simon’s adventure, simply get in touch with Wildfoot’s travel experts today.

Indian Adventure 3

Wildfoot travel expert Simon enjoyed an Indian adventure this summer and recorded his journey for you to enjoy on our blog. Below, Simon travels to Ahmadabad and spots a family of leopards.

Part 3

After a seven hour drive to Ahmadabad, an overnight stay and then another five hour trip to Bera in the south of the state of Rajasthan, we arrive.

There are quicker ways to get to south-west Rajasthan, such as through a direct flight to Bombay and then a three-hour road transfer, but this is a wildlife holiday in India, so I appreciate the journey as it allows me to spot wildlife and take in the beautiful scenery.

The first safari of the day proves extremely promising, with sightings of a leopard mother and two small cubs in the late afternoon. Although they were a great distance away, we can clearly observe them. First, we see the mother on a light brown granite stone, moving at a slow pace for over an hour. While camouflaged in some cases by the various shrubs, other times she is completely in the open, which allows me to capture some great photographs.

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Suddenly, out of the blue, we see two cubs next to her. It is clear that, where she has been carefully hiding and resting, she has been trying not to alert anyone to her precious offspring that are 400 metres away on the hillock. Watching the little cubs run and frolic is a special experience. As dusk comes and visibility is low, we head to our accommodation for the evening and reflect on an adventurous day.

In the next part of our Indian adventure series, Simon will explore the wildlife-laden village of Bera. If you would like to find out more about reliving Simon’s adventure yourself, please get in touch with Wildfoot, the luxury travel company, today.

 

 

 

Indian Adventure 2

Throughout the summer, WILDFOOT’s Simon enjoyed an Indian adventure and kept a diary of his travels for you to read. Today, Simon continues his trip to the Sasan Gir Forest National Park.

Part 2

After enjoying our morning safari, our guide takes us for a stroll outside Lion Safari Camp by the river. Amid overbearing midday heat, we enjoy a huge list of water birds and other species, spotting green bee-eater, pied kingfisher, black winged stilt and red wattled lapwing.

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The afternoon could not be a better follow on from this morning’s wild fest, as we observe white spotted fantail, Indian nightjar (the same one as this morning), Tickell’s flycatcher, blossom-headed parakeet, crested serpent eagle, cattle egret and another 20 or so other species.

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There are seven routes in the Sasan Gir Forest National Park, all of which are very different. The 30 or so jeeps that leave every safari are split into differing routes to keep congestion to a minimum. What we endeavour to do here at WILDFOOT is keep to the back of the group of jeeps, so that those travelling with us can enjoy the peace and tranquillity of not having other vehicles behind, which also allows for improved observations of the surrounding wildlife.

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As the sun lowers, we are treated to the best sighting yet of a mother Lioness and two eight-month-old juveniles at one of the many manmade watering holes in the park. After a short wet, they settle down in the last of the warm lingering sunshine while we take all of the snaps we need. This light seems to be ideal for the purpose and lends a certain character that you just don’t find at any other time.

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The Asiatic lion used to exist in south-west and north Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. By the 19th century, it had been eradicated from Turkey and even up to 1944, the last corpse of a lion was found on the bank of the River Karun in Iran.

In 1963, the last Persian pride were ruthlessly hunted and killed in Iran. At the time, the local press praised this event as a success, which seems absolutely shocking today knowing that the Asiatic lion is now endangered and survives in Sasan Gir Forest National Park.

You will be pleased to know that these remarkable creatures are now flourishing quite nicely along with the Indian leopard, due to the major understanding of the government with influences from a handful of conservationists who have fought exceptionally hard for this day, even with their near loss of life in some cases.

We leave this park and region with a huge respect for the hard working guides and rangers of the region. We have got to know the very experienced guides in the first couple of days of our Indian wildlife holiday, and their sincere love of the region and its wildlife, not to mention birding, is very evident.

Next time, Simon will travel to Bera village in south-west Rajasthan in search of Indian leopards. If you are interested in discovering more about the Indian experience offered by WILDFOOT, get in touch with the wildlife travel experts today.

Indian Adventure 1

This summer, Simon from WILDFOOT went on an Indian adventure and recorded the highlights from his trip for you to enjoy. Below, Simon travels to India and begins his journey.

Part 1

My flight to Delhi takes around eight hours from London. When I arrive, I check into an airport hotel to sleep for a few hours before my domestic flight to Ahmedabad the following morning.

The flight to Ahmedabad from Delhi took just over an hour, after which it was a seven-hour drive to the region and safari camp. There are easier ways of getting here, like arriving via Bombay and taking a short domestic flight, but this journey allows me time to relax and enjoy my surroundings.

As part of an experience much like WILDFOOT’s India Wildlife Special package, we are staying at the Lion Safari Camp, which is tented accommodation consisting of around 20 twin and double suites. Each of these tents comes with its own a toilet and shower, which is great for those who want to relax privately on an evening. The suites share a reception and restaurant area for engaging with fellow travellers.

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We set out at 5am for the nearby reception centre. Every safari starts here and unfortunately, your guide has to go through the same rigmarole every time you go out on safari, which seems overly red-taped! However, if you visit yourself, our Wildfoot travel guide will assist and do most of the legwork, so that your day can begin at 6.30am rather than 5am.

Our experienced guide Jitendra speaks good English and is a dedicated and knowledgeable birder, as well as a general wildlife naturalist. He comes with a professional driver and a Suzuki Gypsy and asks us to spot a rare tiny bird at 30 metres in camouflage undergrowth before the sun rises.

 

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Most of those who come to this region are in search of the Asiatic lion and the fantastic birding opportunities the Sasan Gir Forest National Park offers.

The park is only open from December to June and closes during the monsoon weather period, as accessibility would be impossible in a jeep. Within 30 minutes of entering the park, we see a young lioness, but she is walking away from us, so it’s not the best of sightings.

Monitoring her are allocated national park guides, and each lion or pride is carefully watched and guarded to ensure its welfare and safety. The state is very careful with these creatures. These lions only number 530, including 210 females, so their continual safety is paramount. The lion guide signalled us to approach and take a good view of her from around 50 yards.

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The morning is exceptionally good for us, as we manage another three lion sightings and spot an array of other wildlife including spotted deer, blackbuck, grey langur monkey, Indian palm squirrel and over 30 species of birds. The woodpecker, purple sunbirds, large green barbet, red-vented bulbul, rose-ringed parakeet, Indian nightjar, grey wagtail, golden backed woodpecker and collared scops owl are all sighted by us, making it an even more unforgettable morning.

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In his next blog, Simon will continue his journey through the Sasan Gir Forest National Park, and talk about the history behind one of the country’s most celebrated nature reserves. If you would like to retrace Simon’s adventures for yourself, please get in touch with the luxury travel agents at WILDFOOT today.