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Tag: Wildlife

River Wild Along Kinabatangan

As the sun peaks over the horizon and the mighty Kinabatangan river catches the first rays of sunlight, my three-year old son, Seth keeps his gaze steady scanning the river…

As the sun peaks over the horizon and the mighty Kinabatangan river catches the first rays of sunlight, my three-year old son, Seth keeps his gaze steady scanning the river banks in a hunt to find the herd of Pygmy elephants that were last spotted a day ago grazing at the river banks. Our guide and spotter Jamil knew how much Seth wanted to see elephants and readily agreed to the elephant spotting hunt when we set off from Sukau Rainforest Lodge just before dawn that morning.

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The mist lifted from the face of the river and the riverine forest came to live. Egrets took flight in the air and the colourful stork-billed kingfisher awoke for a catch. The forest echoed a symphony of tunes from the low hum of the cicadas to the chatter of playful macaques. Then, we spotted the majestic hornbill flying overtop before perching on a faraway tree. Truly, this was the best wildlife playground for any three-year old – especially, for Seth who is crazy over animals!

The mighty Kinabatangan river stretches 560kms, starting from the Crocker Range in southwest Sabah and ending at the Sulu Sea southeast of Sandakan. It is the longest river in Sabah and is incredibly rich in biodiversity. It is perhaps the most sought after destination in Sabah to spot wildlife – more notably the Borneo Big 5; the orang utan, Pygmy elephant, proboscis monkey, crocodile, and hornbill.

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The best way to enjoy the river and her wild inhabitants is by boat. Every morning and evening we set out on safari trips in groups no bigger than 10 people. Small vessels with very quiet electric motors were used to explore the river as we snake into narrow waterways and into mangrove forests. We had cameras and binoculars ready at all times.

Our guide and boatman with laser-sharp eyes pointed to a dark speck on the big tree and through the binoculars, we saw a wild orang utan having his morning snack. Another time, our guide steadied the boat and pointed to the glistening eyes of a small crocodile. I caught a glimpse of it before it swiftly disappeared into the water.

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Traveling with a three-year old toddler and a three-month old baby was an adventure on its own. One time while on an evening safari, we felt a light drizzle starting. Within minutes, the drizzle turned into light showers and I found myself hiding under a raincoat with Seth at my side and Enya, my three-month old on my lap hiding from the rain. We waited patiently for the rain to pass and soon after we were rewarded with a scene of swinging proboscis monkeys and long-tail macaques who came out to play after the shower.

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Back at the lodge, we explored the jungle by foot on the 1,500 feet boardwalk in search of insects and small mammals. We waited for the resident orang utans to make an appearance and to our delight, we sighted two different orang utans during our stay. Our meals were served on an al fresco deck overlooking the river. It was also where new friendships were made as we exchanged notes with other guests on the day’s findings.

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In the dark of the night, after dinner, adventurous guests were given the option to go on another safari treat. It was too good to pass and Seth was eager as ever for another wildlife spotting hunt. The gentle motor boat sputtered on the shadowy river and our boatman scanned the jungle with his spotlight. We saw a kingfisher, a green paddy frog and a family of proboscis monkeys retired for the night. Yet, the most spectacular sight was when the boat came to a halt and the jungle stood still. The star-studded skies twinkled above as we trace our fingers across the milky way. I looked down and little Enya was fast asleep, lulled by the peaceful harmony of nature and the gentle rocking of the boat.

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After three days and two nights in this beautiful riverine jungle, we found it hard to say goodbye. Seth turned me as we were just about to leave and said, “Mom, I don’t want to go home. Can I stay?” There was good reason to stay as we did not see the elephants. In my effort to convince him, I told him – we will be back next time and hopefully, we will be able to see the mighty beast.

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Getting to Sukau Rainforest Lodge:

Treat yourself to a fine holiday at Sukau Rainforest Lodge, a member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World. Fly into Sandakan airport and you will be transferred to the jetty where you will take a two-hour boat ride to the Kinabatangan River. This boat ride is a prelude to the adventure that awaits you. Wildlife spotting starts the minute you reach the river mouth. You will pass through small village settlements, oil palm plantations, mangrove and palm forests. The sight of proboscis monkeys is almost a guarantee.

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A Closer Look: Yea Or Nay To Elephant Rides

It was a thrilling experience as I sat bumping along from side-to-side on a tailor made basket fitted on the arch of the elephants back. The gentle giant paced along…

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It was a thrilling experience as I sat bumping along from side-to-side on a tailor made basket fitted on the arch of the elephants back. The gentle giant paced along sure footed as ever over the wide open plateau, passing through endless forest covered hills and down incredibly steep slopes. The hilly landscape of Mondulkiri, Cambodia’s eastern province is beautiful yet unforgiving.

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I dodged the occasional menacing branch that came head on as the elephant continued along the path where sounds of the rushing river roared. It was about 45 minutes into the ride and my bottom was starting to get sore from the bumpy ride. My knuckles were a certain white from the mighty grip I kept along the exhilarating journey. The adventure was just beginning, for the elephant, that is. Poun, my elephant was taken into the rushing river for a bath. It looked fun as he splashed around and enjoyed the free scrub by his mahout. All of this sounded rather picture perfect for a wildlife experience. But as curiosity warrants, I gathered some answers to some probing questions that make the Case of The Elephant Ride.

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You see having been involved in the business of sustainability, I have been trained to ask questions. Questions that most tourists would not ask. These questions helped me make informed decisions on whether tourism has leave a positive or negative impact for communities and the environment.

The Elephant and His People

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Poun belongs to Mr. Hong, a native Bunong (Pnong) man. The Bunong tribe are the indigenous peoples of Mondulkiri. They are animistic in their beliefs and therefore have incredible respect for animals, trees and all living creation. Mr. Hong bought Poun from a shaman when the elephant was 10 years old. There was no money exchanged, instead it was a barter trade – 30 bulls for 1 male elephant. Mr. Hong had to bring together livestock from a few families to ‘purchase’ Poun.

Mr Hong tells me that the shaman is the only person capable of luring the elephant from the deep forest. Poun was a baby elephant when he was taken out. He was intentionally separated from his mother and left to wonder. The shaman conducted some spiritual rituals and was successful in leading the baby elephant out of the forest into the village. Poun then spent many years with the shaman where more spiritual rituals were conducted and the elephant was finally tame enough for a human master. It was then that Mr. Hong ‘bought’ Poun.

Elephants are a big part of the Bunong culture and lifestyle. Mr. Hong considers him more than just an animal, in many ways, Poun is part of the village community.

The Elephant and His Work

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Since the age of 10, Poun has been used as a ‘transporter’ for Mr. Hong and his family. Poun would take them on his back into the deep jungles to forage for food, cross rivers and carry bamboo and logs. Poun did a marvellous job, according to Mr. Hong. The elephant brought them to places where otherwise would take days to get to. Undoubtedly, it was also hard work for the elephant – steep terrains and heavy loads.

Today, Poun is used as a ‘transporter’ for tourists. He works up to 3-4 hours a day with meal breaks in between. The labour is probably not as intense as before but he still gets growled at by the mahout. During my elephant ride, I was quite disturbed at how the elephant was coerced to walk and move. My mahout, a young lad held a hard whip made of bamboo with a hard rubber ball hanging at the end. He was constantly threatening to whip the elephant if the animal did not respond immediately to his loud grunts and growls. There were moments where I thought it absolutely unnecessary for the mahout to be as demanding as he was. I watched carefully to see if the whip did end up on the elephant. Thankfully, I witnessed no whipping, but the rude commands were unsettling. I am no veterinarian to comment on the state of the elephant, but I personally did not see any wounds or bruises.

Poun’s working environment has been such for the last 20 odd years. He is 33 years old now.

The Elephant, Money and Well-being

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Poun helps provide for the family. With every tourist that come and participate in an elephant ride, the family gets about $25. There are now 4 elephants shared among a few families and the money is divided amongst them. Mr. Hong said, “Since I started this ecotourism activity, my children can now go to school and I have motorbike to go around Mondulkiri and we can now buy more meat from the market instead of eating vegetables and rice only.”

It seems like a win-win situation for all. The elephant works and is allowed a fair amount of free time to wander, his master gets fed, his master’s family is happy and tourists are happy. But as I pondered on the situation, I can’t help but realize that all of this is misfitting for the magnificent mammal.

Elephants are made for the wild with the freedom to road, chew on any bamboo branch until his heart’s content. Elephants that are taken from the wild have little chance of reproducing, stunting the elephant population. Elephants are great not just for its size and mighty ears, but its tusks. Tamed elephants have their tusks broken or sawed off to avoid fatal accidents.

In this case, it’s a win-lose situation and the loser is quite apparent.


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After the rugged trip into the jungle sitting on the mighty beast, I have come to an unresolved conclusion. A definite yes or no is unfair and difficult as there are so many factors to consider. It is easy for me as an ‘outsider’ to judge, critique and assess the way Mr. Hong lives and how the mahouts treat the elephants, yet it is more complex to fully understand the heritage, tradition and culture of the Bunong people (or any tribe for that matter). In this case, the elephant is an important part of their livelihood and who are we to criticise when in other cultures horses are trained to show jump, bulls are put to fight and dolphins are trained to jump through hoops.

I was not completely comfortable with the grunts and growls offered by my mahout to Poun, but I also witnessed how these mahouts genuinely cared for the elephants. I cannot fault that the elephants are really part of the village community and I choose to respect the Bunong people’s culture and acknowledge that this (in fact) their way of earning moolah. Would I ride on the elephant again? Perhaps not. But I did enjoy the experience and chance to be so close to such a magnificent mammal.

** Whether you are planning to ride on an elephant in Thailand, Cambodia or India, I would strongly advise tourists to look up the tour operator or organization you are engaging with and read up before making an informed decision to ride or not.  Each elephant case is specific, individual and closely linked to a certain destination and its community.

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Journey to Kratie Where Dolphins Play

Traveling in Cambodia is not as simple as hiring a car and heading out. Roads are often ridden with potholes. Cows, chickens and dogs dodge on roads without notice. Children…

Traveling in Cambodia is not as simple as hiring a car and heading out. Roads are often ridden with potholes. Cows, chickens and dogs dodge on roads without notice. Children cycle and play on roadsides making it a gruelling experience to even drive more than 80km/hr. Tractors and crazy busses whizz by without a wink. Despite living in this country for more than three months, I would not take the risk of driving on my own.

I was extremely relieved to learn that my driver and guide, Ra is an experienced and careful driver. It was going to be a long day on the road, 7 hours to be precise. We left Cambodia’s popular Siem Reap province down south pass Kampong Thom and busy Kampong Cham and onward to Kratie, the sleepy waterfront province.

Most of the journey’s landscape were of resplendent paddy fields and stilt houses. Most of Cambodia is flat and its fields as far as the eye can see. We stopped at Kampong Thom for a stretch at a beautiful restaurant facing the lake covered with lotus pods. Little huts erected along the banks with swinging hammocks inviting the lazy traveller for a snooze.

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We travelled on to Kampong Cham and soon the landscape dramatically changed. We caught a glimpse of the Mekong River, its tea-colored waters distinctive. There on, the road heading to Kratie was quite unpleasant. Dotted with hundreds of potholes, the road was anything but smooth. The view however was a good change from paddy fields. Large rivers were peppered with floating huts set on large rafts said to be the houses of Vietnamese villagers. In place of paddy fields, dense shrub and bush followed the roads. Finally, passing the first of five one-way bridges, we arrived at Kratie.

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The sleepy town made popular by the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins, Kratie has become a popular stopover for wildlife lovers and independent backpackers. The town is fairly small and a nice size to explore. There is a large market right in the center and most guesthouses face the waterfront.

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You can rent a bike under $1 and cycle the whole town. If you are ambitious, you can also cycle 15km north of Kratie to Kampi where the dolphins can be seen. At Kampi, we rented a fishing boat to take us out to the deep pools where the dolphins hang out.

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After about 30 minutes on the boat, our boatman turned off the engines and paddled around. In the deep pools, the waters were still, unlike the rough waters on the way there. Tall trees submerged in water with only its tops swaying on the surface of the water create a good spotting mark to help with keep our orientation. We waited for a mere five minutes and then we heard our boatman say, “There!” About 60meters away, we saw silky bodies gliding above the water. And then another, and another! Their stature much smaller than bottlenose dolphins and a lot shier too. The big bulging head of the Irrawaddy dolphins are unmistakable.

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We spotted at least 4 dolphins, always in pairs. Ra, our guide told us that there are less than 100 dolphins left in the massive Mekong river, spanning over 4000kilometres and bridging 6 countries. The numbers intensely dwindled both from hunting and pollution as a result of over development. It is said that during the Pol Pot regime, these dolphins were even seen in the Tonle Sap River but were tragically wiped out because people hunted them for oil and meat.

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With energy to spare, we rented a bicycle on the mainland of Kratie for $1 and boarded a large fishing boat over to the small remote island of Koh Trong, a quaint island village. This is a must for those who want to immerge in the real Cambodian lifestyle. Koh Trong has only one paved road going around the island. There is no tuk-tuk on the island, only bicycles and motorbikes. Renting a bicycle on the mainland ensured that we had speedy transport the minute we arrived on the island.

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People on the island were extremely friendly exchanging hellos and even giving us free pomelos! There are several mid-range lodges on the island and a few community-based homestays. There is no constant electricity on the island and villagers charge their car batteries at a small makeshift generator station. Private lodges have their own generators but electricity only comes on after sun down. As I explored the island, the more it grew on me. The laidback lifestyle, the friendly people and the numerous farm animals; chickens, horses, cows and dogs – a slice of real local Cambodian community.

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Whale Watching Done Right

Kaikoura is recognised as one of the best destinations in the world to whale watch. In fact, there is 95% chance of sighting whales because of the resident sperm whales…

Kaikoura is recognised as one of the best destinations in the world to whale watch. In fact, there is 95% chance of sighting whales because of the resident sperm whales who linger around the ocean canyons all year round. Kaikoura was a small quiet fishing village back in the 1980’s. The only strip of shops on the main road facing the ocean was the only commercial shoplots in town. It was a town where everyone knew everyone.

Then in 1987, Bill Solomon, a fellow Maori who lived off the ocean decided that the seas would bring new and greater wealth to the small town. Fueled with faith from a story of an ancient Maori legend named Paikea who rode on a back of the whale to a better life, Bill Solomon and his friends mortgaged their homes to start up a new business. They brought travellers out on inflatable boats and showcased the magnanimous ocean creatures that owned the seas.

Today, Whale Watch Kaikoura is one of the world’s leading and award winning whale watching tour companies in the world. The company’s philosophy is deeply entrenched in the Maori culture of respect for the environment and wildlife lending to the success of the company and the way they introduce nature to travellers. This was my second time whale watching in Kaikoura and I knew what to expect – a spectacular two hour ocean ride!

We set of in a large vessel bright and early in the morning. The waters were calm with gentle ripples of waves lapping in the horizon. The engines started, we buckled in and soon the vessel was galloping into the deep blue seas. I had taken a very light breakfast before the trip and had taken a sea-sick pill 30-minutes before we set off, still I wanted to be extra prepared in case my stomach churned and the uncalled for throw up landed on neighbour’s lap. Just to be on the safe side, I held onto the white barf bag throughout the trip.

In order to prevent hoards of people from rushing out to the open deck upon a whale sighting, the skipper reiterated the rules again. Anticipation mounted in the cabin as the vessel came to a gentle halt. We had only travelled 20-minutes into sea and behold, the resident whale Tutu greeted us that morning. Her massive body under the water’s surface with only about 10% of her body mass visible, still the sight was truly amazing. Tutu spouted several times and lingered around for 10 minutes before diving back in. The most opportune time for photo taking is when Tutu dove in and flipped her tail before disappearing into the deep blue. Cameras clicked away and for that split second, all onboard were hushed in awe of the grand sight.

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Then all that’s left is the blanket of sea. Everyone cheered and dispersed to other parts of the vessel to enjoy the warm morning sun. We were told that the Kaikoura ocean canyons go as deep as 1000-1500 metres deep, a world unknown to many, where the illusive giant colossal squid reside. The great white albatross glided by, its wing span unlike any other sea bird. Schools of playful dusky dolphins danced and swam next to the vessel teasing us as we captured those moments on camera.

A good hour and a half had passed and we headed back to shore. There was no doubt I’d go back to sea the next time I’m in Kaikoura. The experience, once again left a lasting impression of the vastness and grandeur of the great ocean. It is responsible tour companies like Whale Watch Kaikoura that make it possible for thousands of travellers to experience these beautiful creatures & share the same respect for wildlife in her habitat.

Enjoy a snippet of my experience meeting and greeting Tutu… and if you’re planning a whale watching trip anytime in the future, you will definitely want to check out some useful tips on getting the most of your experience.

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Wildlife Spotting At Yala National Park

After reading an article in Action Asia and missing the sight of a leopard during our South African safari, Yala National Park was a must as encounters with the agile…

After reading an article in Action Asia and missing the sight of a leopard during our South African safari, Yala National Park was a must as encounters with the agile spotted cat is almost guarantee (as safari guide claims). Descending from chilly Nuwara Eliya snaking down mountain slopes and onto wide open roads, the trip to Tissamaharama, a small town 24kms from Yala, was smooth one. The weather gradually changed from cold and dry to hot, arid and humid. Yala reflected the weather in the deserts of Dubai leaving a knot of dryness in our throats and trickles of sweat on our skin.

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At Tissamaharama, we checked into our hotel, treated ourselves to a serve of rice and curry and curd for dessert. We retired early that night to reserve energy for a pre-dawn start to our safari experience. Yala National Park covers a vast area of 97,878 hectares mostly covered with dry vegetation of short thorny shrubs with patches of secondary forest interspersed between. The park is well known for it’s wildlife. Dubbed by Action Asia magazine as the “asian safari” spot, this national park is home to Asian Elephants, sambar deer, mongoose, water buffalos, sloth bear, crocodiles, pangolins and over 120 species of birds. The park’s coastline is a beautiful sight with historical significance and blocks of half torn buildings standing as a solemn memory of the 2004 tsunami.

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We hired a safari guide who brought us into the park in his jeep at about 530am to beat the growing queue of jeeps rushing to go in. The atmosphere was tense, guides waited to purchase permits to enter while guests wait patiently in respective jeeps. This was incredibly different from the South African safari experience we had in Kruger National Park. As soon as we got the permit, our guide rushed into the driver seat and drove rapidly pass the park gates.

“What was the rush?”, I thought. Eventually I found out that every visitor who enters the park has an unspoken expectation to see the elusive leopard. Guides who manage to ‘show’ their guests the leopard will be paid a higher tip. Our guide’s handphone rang, he picks up with a few words exchanged, we were sped off to an apparent sight where a leopard has been spotted. About 5-6 jeeps parked bumper-to-bumper and intrusive camera’s snapped away. To add to my annoyance, the engines of the jeeps were still puffing away while we ‘enjoyed nature’!

Disappointed at the lack of responsibility and respect these guides had for nature, I silently wished the leopard episode will soon come to a halt. As if the leopard heard my cry, she stood up and trotted away leaving the invasive crowd of human paparazzi.

Thank goodness the rest of the safari was conducted in a more respectable way. We cruised along quiet plains, stopped at water banks and simply observed nature – as is. We managed to catch a glimpse of a family of spotted deer lapping water in a bed of crocodile infested pond.

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We watched the solo elephant gallantly stroll pass swinging his clumsy trunk right and left. And we caught a peacock parading his fan in the bushes as we munched on our roti for breakfast. Yala is a pretty sight and the local guides need to learn how to respect it for what it has to offer, less nature and wildlife take a back seat.

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Treetop Jungle Retreat At Bandhavgarh National Park

Treehouse Hideaway Images of children climbing up into tree-houses in the summer months chatting away till the yawn of the sun, blankets laid on wooden floors as they watch the…

Treehouse Hideaway

Images of children climbing up into tree-houses in the summer months chatting away till the yawn of the sun, blankets laid on wooden floors as they watch the stars and web of constellations – this was a vivid image, one I watched on television and remained etched in my memory. But this kind of childhood was far beyond reach having grown up in urban landscapes. The only trees left to climb are concrete jungles with flights of stairs.

Hence the thought of retreating to an actual tree-house was a sublime idea, a childhood dream waiting to be fulfilled. Treehouse Hideaway is an exclusive safari experience in Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, India. This jungle throve is also a prime area for spotting the maharajah of the forest – the Bengal Tiger. Sitting on 21 acres of land the hideaway has five exclusive tree houses built on the five largest trees in this area; the Mahua, Pepal, Sal, Tendu and Palash trees. Privacy is guaranteed as each tree house offers fantastic views of the forest and some even overlooking the rolling Vindhyan mountain range.

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During the construction of each unit, the owners were mindful to keep as much land untouched as possible often clearing nothing more than pathways for easy access. Recycled wood from railway tracks and fallen timber were used to construct the treehouse matching each piece into a jigsaw puzzle of natural architecture. The tree house is spacious with an open balcony that is accessible from the bedroom or bathroom, a comfortable sitting area, writing desk and a huge inviting four poster king-size bed. Interior designs are intentionally organic with splashes of earthy hues and photos of wildlife to remind you that nature is really in your backyard.

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Spotting tigers is the major highlight for most visiting into this area. The Bandhavgarh National Park authorities recently put a restriction to the number of jeeps entering the park and pre-determined the routes for each vehicle. Although an inconvenience for naturalists and guides to guarantee tiger sightings, this ban has greatly helped lessen the level of human activity and impact in the park. Jeeps no longer crowd in huge numbers just to catch glimpse of a tiger, instead jeeps are evenly assigned to various routes avoiding congestion.

The Ghost Forest

In the summer when the sun is sweltering hot, the morning safaris are a pleasant welcome. Departing at 5.45am in the crack of dawn, our jeep enters the forest through pathways of eerie dry spindly bamboo branches. The feeling was as if entering a ghost forest keeping us at the edge of our seats. The cool dawn breeze swivels in the hair. But within 500m the sight changes as bright green leaves of Sal trees emerged in the background of brown hues. Young shoots just beginning to form giving life to the jungle, otherwise quite bare. I was told that after the monsoon between October to December, the forest transforms into a blanket of lush green foliage.

We soon caught sight of some jungle ‘commoners’ – the spotted deer, barking deer, sambar deer, wild boar, langur and macaque. These animals have grown accustomed to jeeps and gawking visitors as they go about their daily activity. At watering holes, birds are abundant with a mix of endemic and migratory birds. The eye catching ones include the Indian long billed vulture, Grey hornbill, the beautiful Green Bee Eater, the grand Indian roller and the stern looking Lesser Adjutant Stork. Bandhavgarh National Park is home to more than 22 species of mammals and 250 species of birds.

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Along the dirt roads, we noticed a gigantic silhouette, unlike any other mammal found in this area. As we approached the silhouette emerged into a grey bodied Asian Elephant with a man on it. A mahout, that’s what they call it. Obviously not belonging to this forest, elephants are used by park guides to spot tigers travelling at a very slow speed with little noise and interference. Once the mahout spots the tiger, he alerts the gate post and reports are churned out every morning and evening in preparation for the next safari ride.

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Wildlife has its way of protecting itself; Vinod our naturalist tells us that in spotting tigers his sense of sight, smell and sound are completely focused on picking up different signals from nature. Barking deers would make short alarm barks whilst monkeys with screech and deer huddle together at the sight of the terrifying predator. Langurs and deer have a symbiotic relationship, the langur also called the ‘eye of the forest’ spots for predators from high and lofty trees whilst the deer with their keen sense of smell sniff their way out of danger. It is a common sight to see langurs and deer lounging together – for obvious reason, safety and survival.

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Tree House Comforts

Returning to the treehouse after more than three hours of wildlife spotting, the staffs at tree house really looks into the needs of the guests, providing fresh cool towels to freshen up and refreshing lime juice for the dry throat. A generous spread of cereal, toasts, eggs, potato cakes and juices are served. Meals at the Tree House Hideaway are always generous but never too heavy, with a great mix of Indian flavours and organic greens bought from the local markets and a small portion from the resident veggie patch.
In the summer, pretty much the entire afternoon is spent relaxing at the tree house. The temperature rises to uncomfortable levels and the air is dry and arid. But the tree house remains a welcoming treat. Walking up the dainty stairs of my tree house, a family of langurs greet me as I watched them play among my great and grand Mahua tree house. A childhood dream fulfilled.

[info] How to get to Bandhavgarh National Park

  • By Air: Fly from Delhi, Agra or Varanasi to Khajuraho and drive (7-8 hours) to Tala park entrance at Bandhavgarh. Nearest airport from the park is Khajuraho. From the airport to the park, you will need road transfer.
  • By Rail: Nearest railway station is Umaria after Katni railway station, from there it is about 2 hours to the park. Alternatively, take the overnight train from Delhi to Umaria and drive (30 minutes) to the park.
  • Best time to visit: The peak season for Kanha National Park visits is the winter season, from October to February. During the summer months from March to June, tiger sightings are at its best as the grasslands dries up making it easier to spot wild animals. The park is closed from July to September during the monsoon season.

For more information on Treehouse Hideaway, visit http://www.treehousehideaway.com
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My Indian “Jungle Book” Experience (Final Part 3)

Shergarh Tented Camp Not far from Singinawa is another remarkable story of change makers who have steered away from mass tourism to create a unique kind of travel with a…

Shergarh Tented Camp

Not far from Singinawa is another remarkable story of change makers who have steered away from mass tourism to create a unique kind of travel with a focus on nature and people.

The making of Shergarh Tented Camp is a story that tugs at heartstrings. It is a story of love and passion resulting in a concoction of wildlife hospitality. Jehan Bhujwala grew up in the metropolitan city of Bombay having only the concrete jungle as his playground. He furthered his studies in geology and mastered in it but soon realized an insatiable longing to live life in the wild. He purchased a 21-acre land on the fringe of the buffer zone adjacent to Kanha National Park in 2001 whilst working at Kipling Camp, the first camp built near Mukki gate. In 2002 Katie, a British girl from a village close to Bath in the United Kingdom was so drawn to India after an extended backpacking trip that she decided to find a job at the same camp, and love struck.

At that time, Jehan was living in a tiny mud house on his property and had already started conceptualizing the idea of a tented camp. With extra hands and a like-minded partner, ideas soon evolved into reality and Jehan and Katie began building the camp. “This was not going to be any ordinary camp. With Jehan’s experience as a naturalist and my insight on travels after much destination hopping during my backpacking years, we both decide that this camp will honour and respect the environment and people living around,” explained Katie.

They adopted villages around the vicinity, hired local communities to help build the camp and fostered impeccable relationships with the villagers. “For many villagers, tourism was a foreign and new concept to them, especially when Shergarh Tented Camp was one first few properties established near Mukki gate. Today, they are like family.” said Katie. “We have incorporated local skills and techniques into the lodge as much as possible, such as their dry-stone masonry and mud-plasterwork, and have used local carpenters, masons, plumbers and electricians.”

Due to poor knowledge of sustainable agriculture practices, the 21 acre land was completely degraded and overused. Katie explained that the entire land space was filled with invasive and chocking eucalyptus trees, biodiversity was close to barrenness and the land was starved. The pair spent many months and years regenerating the land, chopping down eucalyptus for construction and firewood in the winters. Indigenous trees were reintroduced to the land and the beautiful waterbed that sits in the middle of the land continued to feed the trees.

We walked past the waterbed to reach our tents, and much to our delight, we saw egrets, commorants, kingfishers and bee- eaters basking in the water. Katie tells us that jackals and wild boars frequently roam the area and just at the entrance amongst the patch of tall green meadows, a jungle cat has made that his home. Katie recollects an incident when the name Shergarh meaning “Home of the Tiger” resonated. “In November 2008, a 5-year old male tiger strayed from the core forest and took refuge from (in?) the surrounding paddy fields”.
Shergarh Tented Camp (15)

Camp in Comfort

As we ambled into the vicinity of Shergarh Tented camp in Kanha, we were expecting high A-framed tents, foldable camp beds, make shift toilets and simple skinny mattresses, but what we found at Shergargh was a haven of comfort and simplicity. The rugged looking canvas tent is tied securely on concrete A-frame structure with a sturdy roof made of handmade clay roof tiles. The tents are incredibly roomy inside with a large king sized bed, bedside tables and a spacious permanent toilet, shower and open closet area. Just outside the tent, a few plush cushion mattresses and deck chairs are cleverly positioned to great views of the lake and the open skies as we watch the stars emerge at night.
Shergarh Tented Camp (9)

The tents take on names of indigenous trees in India such as Tulsi (Indian basil), Aam (mango), Jamun (blackberry), Imli (tamarind), Mahua and Neem. Many of these trees were re-planted around the property in their effort to revive the degraded land.

Shergarh Tented Camp (17)Shergarh Tented Camp (18)

Moving away from a tiger-centric approach

While it’s easy to take on a tiger-centric approach as tiger sightings are almost a daily affair, the couple knew that that would not do justice to the rich diversity in Kanha. Instead they have expanded their list of activities to include village visits, walking hikes and bike tours.

In October 2011, Shergarh will be offering bespoke bike tours from half day tours to 3-day tours. These cycle ‘tolla’ tours (tolla meaning village) will take guests off the beaten track from Kanha through villages and obscure towns to Pench National Park (approximately 200km) or Bandhavgargh National Park (approximately 250km). Exploring the Madhya Pradesh region on two wheels opens a new spectrum of experience for guests giving them a chance to interact with locals, savour chai at roadside stalls, weave through tall paddy fields and stay with local communities. For a more rustic camping experience, guests have the option of camping out in the open and cooking meals over fire and charcoal.
Shergarh Tented Camp (26)
Whether it is a lodge or a tented camp, conscious travellers are now looking for more than just a comfortable place to stay. I found myself searching for operators who are committed to preserving the destination and operators that can offer authentic experiences crafted through their commitment and understanding of the destination and the surrounding people. At Kanha, I found two champion operators who are investing time and resources to preserve the very thing that tourists come to Kanha for, a genuine ‘Jungle Book’ experience.

[info] How to get to Kanha National Park

  • By Air: Nagpur is the nearest airport to Kanha National Park. Other airports include Raipur and Jabalpur. These airports are all connected to major cities in India.
  • By Train: Jabalpur is a convenient rail route to head towards Kanha National Park.
  • By Road: Kanha National Park is well connected with major roads from Jabalpur (175kms), Nagpur (266kms) and Raipur (219kms). Kanha also has a good network of roads connecting to surrounding national parks such as Bandhavgarh, Pench, Panna, Achanakmar and Phen National Park.
  • Best time to visit: The peak season for Kanha National Park visits is the winter season, from October to February. During the summer months from March to June, tiger sightings are at its best as the grasslands dries up making it easier to spot wild animals. The park is closed from mid-June to October during the monsoon season.
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… read Part 1 and Part 2 of My Indian “Jungle Book” Experience

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