A Travellerspoint blog

Kanha - Pench

It's got to be around here somewhere, surely?

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Today we move on to our next tiger park in search of new safari pastures. The good thing about that, is that we don't have to be up at the crack of dawn to get to the park gates for 05:30 this morning. We can actually have a lie-in, and are woken at 7am by the barashinga deer shouting out a warning call to the other animals of an impending danger.

After breakfast it is time to say goodbye to Kipling Camp and the delightfully warm crew we have come to love. It is all very sad, but new adventures await us in Pench National park.

But first, the journey there. A road trip in India, especially in rural areas, is always an adventure in itself. I love photographing street scenes, and today's reoccurring theme is bullocks.










Pench 55 kms. We're on the map! Today is a five hour journey from Kanha to Pench, on mostly good roads with little traffic.


As we get nearer Pench, we turn off the main road onto country lanes through much more rural countryside.

Gotta love those telegraph poles.

It soon becomes blatantly obvious that Rakesh has no idea where he is going. It is also evident that the people he asks for directions also have no idea where he is going.


After stopping twice more to ask directions, we come across the entrance gate to the park. Although I cannot hear, nor understand, what they are saying, it looks to me something like “It's just over there, turn right then a few bends and then turn left. Seems simple to me.

The map below, which I photographed later on the wall in the lodge, shows how simple it really is. Or rather could have been.


We drive down through villages and the road does not seem that obvious. We stop again, and Rakesh asks an old man, who then comes up to the car and demands payment for – what turns out to be – giving us wrong directions.


We stop a couple of more times to ask different people, even flagging down a passing motorcyclist. We can see the type of person Rakesh chooses for his questions: well dressed, with an air about them that says the person has maybe been to school. Thankfully I printed out a list of all the hotel name and addresses before I left home, which was just as well, as Rakesh had not even been told where we were staying, let alone been given an address or directions; and out here in the sticks there is no mobile signal to phone the lodge even.

Each time we stop, we are sent in a different direction. We drive through some villages several times – I am sure we must have driven down every single road in this area by now. Twice, at least. Eventually we come across someone who reads the piece of paper with a look of recognition on their face. He sends us down a narrow country track, and we feel quite confident that this is the correct road, finally.


But no. It leads to a lodge, yes, but sadly not the one we are staying at. (It would probably have been a good move to pop in there and ask, but we didn't think about that at the time)


We drive around a few more country lanes, most of which we have already driven down at least once before.


The villages are getting to be rather familiar now, and I am sure I can see people laughing at us.



We reach another entrance gate to the tiger park, where three officials scratch their heads for a while, then write something in Sanskrit on my paper. Directions in Hindi, hopefully.


As you can see from the map, it really is a very easy journey from here. Of course, we don't have the map, and hindsight is a wonderful thing.


We cross the river for the fourth time. Or is it fifth? I feel intimately connected to each and every boulder by now.



This village looks awfully familiar. I begin to recognise individual people.



Rakesh shows the paper with the Hindu directions on it to a family who are just about to get on their motorbike. They nod and immediately start pointing. This is promising. I think the woman eventually says: “Follow us”, as that is exactly what we do.


We go through the same villages yet again.



Even the birds are looking bemused. I swear I can hear him tweet: “I am sure I have already seen that car at least five times this afternoon...”


We get stuck in a bit of a traffic jam (consisting of just us) at a construction site. The workers are not keen to move their vehicle for us to pass – they are busy unloading bricks, manually one by one it seems.


At an intersection the family we have been following dismount their bike and the austere and officious-sounding matriarch tells us to head off the road onto a very bumpy, not-really-suitable-for-this-sort-of-vehicle track. This is new territory to us this afternoon. How exciting!


After what seems like an eternity of pot-holed sandy track (also known as the 'Indian massage'), and a couple of little villages, we spot a very welcome sign. A big cheer goes up in the car.


Pench Tree Lodge

We are greeted at the reception with some refreshing wet towels with a difference: these are dehydrated into little 'tablets'; but with water sprayed on them, they come back to life! I have never seen this done before and I love it!



Another member of staff turns up with a tray full of powder for the traditional Indian blessing of bindi – a small red dot on the forehead.


The Reception
The reception is a free-standing open area with some seating, maps on the wall, toilets and the office.




On arrival we are each given a rather splendid aluminium water-bottle (to keep, not just for the duration of our stay), and I am impressed by the bottle-filling station at the reception, using filtered water.


As it is already getting on into the afternoon, we go straight to lunch. A winding path leads from the reception to the restaurant, and although not far as such, it is considerably further than is normal for a lodge. You can barely see the restaurant from the reception area.


The path is pretty though, with some colourful grasses, a couple of small bridges and a pond.



Finally we can see the restaurant.

The restaurant is in another free-standing building on a raised platform, with two floors and an observation tower.



There is an outside covered terrace, and next to the main building is an inviting-looking infinity pool and changing room.






There are in fact two dining rooms, one either side of the kitchen.




The food is as classy as the rest of the establishment and beautifully presented.

Beetroot Salad

Cauliflower Cream

Chicken raviloli

Chocolate mousse

Our Room
After lunch, we are taken to our rooms, along another long and winding jungle path.


When I say rooms, these are in fact tree houses, some 18ft above the ground!




After climbing the stairs we are greeted with a small entrance hall, leading to another hallway connecting the bedroom, dressing room and bathroom.






Accessed through French windows from the bedroom is a large balcony overlooking the river – although the surroundings are fairly overgrown so you cannot see much. Lyn and Chris can see even less from their balcony.



Distant view from the balcony, through a very long zoom lens.

We sit outside for a while, looking out for birds (not many) and waiting for the sunset.


Black Drongo

Female Plum Headed Parakeet

Red Vented Bulbul

The sunset is very much a non-event, as the sun turns into a red globe, then later simply dissolves into the mist.



I am woken up from a nice little snooze by a telephone call from reception: “We have dinner arrangements for you tonight, what time would you like to come?”

In order to get to our 'dinner arrangements', we have to walk past the restaurant to “meet in the welcome area”. From there we continue to the lodge's own Organic Farm, where a BBQ area has been set up. The path is very uneven, with gnarled roots and small trees in the way, and lit only by occasional lanterns and our torches.


The place is already full, and we are put on a table in the far corner. I had no idea there were so many people staying tonight, I haven't seen any other guests until now. The manager tells us they are all one group, from various countries, who have been on a cycling trip through the park.


We are all a little confused by what is happening, but the food just keeps arriving: salads, soup, small portions of grilled meat...


Again there is very little light, so it is quite hard to see what we are eating, and I am still rather full from our very late lunch.


The arrangements are all very well done, but have an atmosphere of being somewhat too formal for my liking, a complete opposite to our last three nights in Kipling Camp where we ate with the staff. We were also spoilt there, of course, by there being only two other guests, making it really personal and informal. I find this a little too impersonal and touristy. I have to confess that I find the whole eveing a complete waste of time and effort.

The mobile bar in an old hay cart

Despite the firepit near our table, we are all feeling a little chilly as the evening goes on. With no toilets down at the farm, we have to go back to the welcome area to use the facilities there, and we retire to the room for an early night as we have an even-earlier-than-normal start tomorrow.


Posted by Grete Howard 03:50 Archived in India Tagged road_trip dinner lunch getting bbq lost kanha organic_farm tree_house pench posh kipling_camp pench_tree_lodge rural_street_scenes bullock_cart luxury_accommodation Comments (4)

Kanha National Park Part IV - Kisli Zone

A disppointing turnout of animals in the park

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Having returned to Kipling Camp after this morning's game drive, we have time to take a little nap before lunch. David chooses to chill in a hammock while I snooze in a chair in the lovely shady courtyard.



After another delicious lunch of egg curry, spinach, pumpkin, dhal and curd, we go off for the last game drive here in Khana.

This afternoon we are allocated Kisli Zone, and Astrid (the manager at Kipling Camp) comes with us. Lyn and Chris, however, go off to spend the afternoon with Tara (more about that later).


The first thing we see this afternoon is a dead baby chital, who most probably died during the birth.


A few minutes later we see a female sambar with her offspring, and I can't help thinking about the poor chital who lost her baby.




Maybe this is her?My heart breaks.


Rahim stops the car to show us pug marks on the track – that looks promising.


The sun is getting low now, and we haven't seen a great deal yet this afternoon.



The spider's webs are enormous out here, maybe some 4ft across. While I don't mind spiders at all, I would hate to walk into that web!


Oriental Turtle Dove

Indian Peafowl

Indian Grey Hornbill

Yellow Footed Green Pigeon

All too soon it is time to leave the park behind, despite having seen no tigers this afternoon. We see the piglets again by entrance as we leave - it is almost pitch black now.


When we get back to camp, we are eager to hear how Lyn and Chris' afternoon went.

Lyn and Chris debated long and hard whether to come out on safari this afternoon, or to stay in camp and go with Tara, the resident elephant, for her daily bath in the river. I persuaded them to do the latter, and am so glad I did, for several reasons, not least of all the fact that we saw very few animals in the park this afternoon.

Lyn and Chris, on the other hand, are full of it. “It was the stuff that dreams are made of” Chris enthuses when I ask him about it. Here is a brief resumé of their experience:

Tara led the way for them down to the river, and the mahout made sure she didn't go in the water until Lyn and Chris – who were unable to keep up the same speed as their much larger friend on the walk through the forest – arrived. Into the deep part of the river she went, splashing about to her heart's consent.

©Lyn Gowler

©Lyn Gowler

©Lyn Gowler

©Lyn Gowler

Tara then made her way to the shallow part near the bank where both Lyn and Chris were able to get into the water with the elephant, and even assist in washing her.

©Lyn Gowler

©Lyn Gowler

She gets a good scrub with a rough rock every day to ensure she gets all the grime and dirt off her skin.

©Lyn Gowler

When her daily ablutions were over, she showed off to her new-found friends, before crossing her legs ready for her pedicure.

©Lyn Gowler

©Lyn Gowler

©Lyn Gowler

©Lyn Gowler

©Lyn Gowler

For Lyn and Chris this was most definitely a highlight of the trip, and I am so glad they got to experience this.

After a lovely dinner and a few drinks in the bar, it is time to tuck in for our last night at Kipling Camp. I am sad to leave but excited to see what our next camp, Pench Tree Lodge is like.


Posted by Grete Howard 14:25 Archived in India Tagged india elephant hammock spider tara pigeon kanha peacock dove chital sambar wild_boar kipling_camp kanha_national_park tiger_park cheetal piglets tiger_safari kisli_zone hotnbill pug_marks low_sun elephant_bathing Comments (3)

Kanha National Park Part III - Moki Zone

Yet another tiger?

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I slept very well last night, and wake up this morning to an alarm call by the lake: a deer of some sort making a lot of noises to warn other animals of impending danger.

When Rahim arrives, he tells us he saw a leopard when he was on his way to the lodge this morning on his bicycle. Gulp. I guess everyone here must learn to co-exist with wild animals.

Kanha National park

This morning we are allocated the Moki Zone, which is a long drive from the gate, almost an hour. But of course we can game view on the way.



Wild boar
It seems the wild boar we saw just inside the gate last night is still here this morning. And there is still not enough light to take a decent photo.


We hear desperate warning calls from the langurs, and can safely assume there is a tiger in the thicket of bamboo. We cannot see him/her, however, so when the calls stop we move on.

A few minutes later we spot a pug mark in the road. This is looking promising.


The sun is staring to come up now, teasing us with warm rays through the mist and the trees.



We've seen a number of pretty impressive spider's webs these last couple of days, and the largest belong to the Giant Wood Spider (Nephila pilipes). This is the female, who is about the size of a small dinner plate. Chris is not happy – he hates spiders with a passion.


We also see a lot of these odd shaped webs belonging to the funnel spider. We never see the spider itself though, as they are hiding in the bottom of the funnel.


Morning are really quite cold here in the park, we are all dressed up with hat and gloves and Kipling Camp provides a blanket for our legs. I love the effect the cooler temperatures has on the weather: creating some beautiful early morning mist, esepcially over water.




Three game drives, three tigers. We can't believe our luck when we spot another one this morning. He is very much hidden behind the vegetation, so it is not quite such a good / clear sighting as the presvious two, but we are still very excited.


When he makes his way towards the road, Rahim races ahead to see if we can get closer for a better view.


The tiger is certainly very much nearer, as he explores the undergrowth in great detail.


There are now a number of vehicles on the road, but he doesn't seem to be the least bit bothered.



He crosses to the other side of the road and continues his exploration.




He sniffs and sprays and sniffs again.


And continues his early morning stroll.






Making funny faces while yawning.


It looks like the tip of his right front tooth has been chipped off.




And spray...



This is a most amazing sighting in terms of distance, activity and time span: we are so close, the tiger is not just walking in a straight line, he is actually doing things, and it has been several minutes already.






He certainly is a pretty boy.


And then he was gone.



Wow! 18 minutes in total from the first spot until he disappeared out of sight again.

We continue our quest.



Collared Scops Owls, beautifully camouflaged in a tree

Male barashinga with their magnificent antlers

At a designated site, we stop for a breakfast picnic. The toilets here are somwhat unusual – a fence made from long thin sticks joined together vertically encloses a small square area for 'doing your business'. No pit, no long-drop, no nothing. Just flat ground. Great if you are just having a pee...


You'll be grateful that I don't take my camera when I go, and that I can't be bothered to go back.

Alexandrine Parakeet - a new one for us

Jungle owlet

Rahim stops the car for us all to sniff the air – the smell of a fresh kill. But there is nothing to see, unfortunately.

Indian Pond Heron

Large Cuckoo Shrike

Green Bee Eater

Black Hooded Oriole




Hanuman Langurs

Giant Wood Spider

White Bellied Drongo



Male Sambar

On our way out of the park after this morning's session, we spot the same (maybe, they all look alike to me) Wild Boar as earlier. They must live just inside the gates as we have seen them in the same small area on every visit.


And so it is time to return to base (Kipling Camp) for some rest, followed by lunch, before this afternoon's game drive.


Posted by Grete Howard 02:54 Archived in India Tagged india sunrise spider mist tiger kanha parakeet cormorant sambar drongo jungle_owlet wild_boar barashinga kilping_camp langurs cuckoo_shrike bee_eater pond_heron scops_owl funnel_spider moki_zone Comments (1)

Kanha National Park Part II - Suri Zone

Another tiger?

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When we arrive back at Kipling Camp after our morning safari drive, we are greeted with the very welcome wet flannels (a custom I like very much – here in India it happens after every game drive and is very much a necessity because of all the dust. In Africa, despite the same amount of dirt generated, the flannels are generally just offered on your very first arrival at a lodge, not usually thereafter)


One of the main reasons I chose Kipling Camp when I was in the planning stages of this trip, was Tara, the resident elephant. Featured in the book Travels on my Elephant by Mark Shand, Tara was gifted to Kipling Camp in 1989 (you can read the full story of how Tara came to live at Kipling Camp here)





A lunch table is laid out in the shady courtyard under the trees, and we have a refreshing nimbu soda (fresh lime soda) while we wait for the food to arrive.



Lamb curry, okra, chillies, dhal, yogurt, chutney, poppadom and puri

All around the grounds there are signs of wildlife, from butterflies to frogs and birds.


Greater Coucal

Orange Headed Ground Thrush

Afternoon Game Drive

This afternoon we have been allocated the Suri Zone of Kanha National Park and we head off to see what this area has to offer.

King Vulture, a very rare bird and a first for us



Hanuman langurs

Sambar Deer





There is much excitement when a porcupine is spotted; it's an extremely unusual rare sighting indeed and a first for us. Absolutely rubbish photo, as by the time I'd turned and pointed my camera, he was well on his way into the undergrowth. But trust me: this reallys is a porcupine.


Jungle Owlet

Gaur (Indian Bison) - the laregst wild cow in the world









Hanuman Langur

This guy is also a new one to us: Lesser Adjutant

And then he was gone

Indian Roller

Cheetal with a Black Drongo passenger


Cheetal with a Common Myna on its back


This particular genus of Barashinga, the Southern Swamp Deer, is only found here in Kanha National park, so it is obviously our first sighting in the wild, thus generating considerable excitement.


We ford the river in a beautifully serene area, where we also spot a Common Kingfisher.



Common Kingfisher

Bees Nest
The action of the bees moving in unison on this nest reminds me of a Mexican Wave.



Barashinga in the water
As the sun becomes lower in the sky, we spot a small herd of barashinga in the water. As we stop they look up and across at us, water dripping from their heads, backlit by the evening sun. Another magical moment.



More animals backlit by the low sun, this time cheetal



More barashinga


The last rays of the sun are seeping through the trees.


Rose Ringed Parakeet

The light is faded fast and it is getting dark quickly.


As we make our way back towards the exit gate to leave the park for the evening, I comment to Lyn that as we haven't seen a tiger, at least we don't have to tip the guide quite as much this afternoon. Then we turn a corner and see a number of vehicles all looking into the bushes.

Just as we pull up alongside them, we spot a tiger disappearing into the undergrowth. Wow! It is brief, but at least I manage to shoot off a couple of frames.




“Hold on!” shouts Rahim, as he reverses the Gypsy at great speed, around sharp bends, on a badly potholed road, uphill; with some of the most admirable driving skills I have ever been party to. Experience and knowledge means he knows exactly where the tiger will be coming out of the bushes.

And he is right, of course. Again.


Great excitement ensues as we are joined by the other vehicles (whose drivers were not as on-the-ball, or maybe not as capable, as Rahim, and thus much slower off the mark), to watch the tiger saunter down the road.







It is getting quite dark now and I am having to push my ISO right up to 8,000 in order to get a decent shot.


ISO 10,000 now, despite Rahim having moved the vehicle nearer the tiger for a closer shot.


ISO 16,000 - gotta love the Canon 5D IV's low light capabilities!

Sadly we have to say “goodbye” to our new-found friend, as we have a deadline time to be out of the gate.


There is now a mad rush to get to the gate so as not to be fined for overstaying our welcome.


It's impossible to avoid the dust generated by the other vehicles.


We do make a couple of stops though, one for a Sambar crossing the road...


… and some wild boar.



Including some little baby piglets.



We make it out of the park without penalty and return to the lodge for a shower, change, drink and dinner.

What an amazing day we've had!


Posted by Grete Howard 14:50 Archived in India Tagged india elephant lunch tiger tara national_park deer butterfly kanha bison bees vulture parakeet langur kingfisher jackal gaur chital sambar myna drongo indian_food swamp_deer porcupine coucal kipling_camp cheetal wild_cow travels_on_my_elephant mark_shand nimbu_soda thrush indian_bison adjutant barashinga spotted_deer wild-boar piglets Comments (6)

Kanha National Park Part I - Kanha Zone

Talk about "Beginner's Luck"!

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After a restless night full of meflaquine dreams (nightmare-inducing malaria prophylaxis), I wake to a knock on the door. Thinking that Ahmed will leave our coffee on the table outside the door, I just shout out “thanks” to him. It is several minutes later that I realise he is still standing outside waiting for us to open the door, and I feel really guilty about leaving him there.

Kipling Camp has its own Gypsy (specially converted safari vehicle), driven by Rahim, who is not just an excellent driver, spotter and identifier, he speaks good English too and is a thoroughly nice person. This morning we are also accompanied by Jeswin, the resident naturalist at Kipling Camp, whose enthusiasm is highly contagious.

Rahim ensures we arrive first at the gate, in the pitch black, some 50 minutes before they open. As time goes on, a huge queue forms (but unusually for India, it remains orderly), and by the time we are allowed in (after having passports checked and tickets issued), there are dozens of Gypsies behind us.

Drivers queuing for tickets

Long line of Gypsies behind us

We are finally let through the gate

Kanha National Park is divided into four zones, and visitors must drive the circuit stipulated on their tickets. This morning we have been allocated Kanha Zone, The first animals we spot, just inside the gate, are a pack of jackals and some cheetal (Indian spotted deer). It is still very dark, so the pictures are extremely grainy as a result of the high ISO (ISO 32,000 for my photography friends).






And then the sun comes up, and what a sunrise it is, culminating in an elephant and mahout appearing out of the mist. Such a magical moment.












We continue driving, seeing more animals and birds along the way.

Cheetal (Indian Spotted Deer)

Eurasian Golden Oriole

Hanuman Langur



Before leaving the UK, I had warned Lyn and Chris that seeing tiger is not easy, and to expect maybe one tiger sighting for every five game drives. And here we are, before 07:30 on our very first drive when we spot a tiger in the undergrowth. Wow!


The tigress strolls along, taking no notice of us whatsoever.




She heads straight for us initially, then veers off to her left, pausing briefly to turn towards the elephant that has appeared behind her.








As the tigress saunters down the path, Rahim manoeuvres the Gypsy to a better position, anticipating the she will cross the road right in front of us.


He is right, of course.


You can see from the fact that I have caught part of the car in the bottom corner of the photo, just how close she is.


And then she's gone. After nearly four minutes of sheer adrenalin and excitement, we are left with just one word on our lips: “Wow!” “We can go home now” says Chris, “we've seen what we came to see.” What an amazing experience and such a clear and close encounter. What a beautiful animal!

How can you top that?

We continue on our game drive to see what else the park has to offer. At least the pressure is off now as far as finding tigers go.

We get quite excited seeing these Blackbucks, as they are a new species to us in the wild.



The male is black, while the females are a more neutral fawn colour. Here seen with a male cheetal.


Hanuman Langurs



Red Wattled Lapwing

Gaur (Indian Bison) sticking his head above the long grass

At up to ten feet long and seven feet tall, the gaur is the world's biggest wild cow. They are HUUUUGE




Scaly Breasted Munia

Wild boar

Indian Peafowl



Cheetal - apparently there are some 22,000 of these spotted deer in the park

Cattle egrets flying



White Rumped Vulture

Scaly Breasted Munia

Paddyfield Pipit

Indian Roller

Common Kestrel

Green Bee Eater

Female Stonechat - very much more dull than her husband

White Fronted Kingfisher

Breakfast picnic

At the Visitors Centre, we stop for a picnic. Kipling Camp made us some lovely scrambled egg wraps, plus fruit and juice - the best packed picnic on the whole trip.




The monumental arch is made from antlers from cheetal, sambar and barashinga deer. Very impressive.


Back on the road again for a little bit more game viewing before returning to the lodge for lunch. Unlike African safaris, Indian national parks only allow visitors to enter for a few hours in the morning and again late afternoon.


Black Storks

White Rumped Vulture

Indian Roller


Changeable Hawk Eagle

What an amazing morning's game viewing, not just a tiger, but also quite a few lifers (new birds to us) to add to our bird list. Well done Rahim and Kipling Camp.


Posted by Grete Howard 01:31 Archived in India Tagged india elephant sunrise safari mist birding tiger peacock bison stork vulture peafowl egrets langur gypsy kingfisher oriole jackal gaur indian_roller chital sambar blackbuck stonechat kestrel wild_boar lapwing kipling_camp kanha_national_park tiger_park breakfast_picnic cheetal pipit munia wild_cow Comments (8)

Delhi - Jabalpur - Bhedaghat - Kanha

Don't rock the boat

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The jetlag continues to blight me this morning as I lie awake from 02:30 onwards.

Flight from Delhi to Jabalpur

At Delhi Domestic Airport we are approach by a uniformed official as we queue to check in. “Would you be interested in an upgrade?” At 700Rs per person (less than £10), we gladly accept. It includes extra legroom and free food, as well as priority baggage. It doesn't stop us from having to pay excess baggage fees for being over the 15kg limit for checked in bags, however.

Waiting at Delhi Airport

The choices for food on board are not great – sandwich or pot noodle (or rather pot lentil).


It's a quick flight and soon we are met at Jabalpur Airport by Rakesh, our driver for the next few days. He takes us directly to a fancy hotel for use of the facilities and where his boss (I assume) talks to us about our itinerary; about which there seems to be some confusion. Rakesh does not speak any English, just a simple few words, and my Hindi is no better.

Jabalpur from the air

Fire engine at Jabalpur airport

Baggage trolley at Jabalpur airport

Marble Rocks

Before heading to Kanha National Park for our tiger safari, we want to make a detour to Bhedaghat.

The small town is famous for two things: Dhuhandhar Falls, and Marble Rocks. After climbing down a number of steps, we reach the river's edge where we board a covered boat for our trip into the steep-sided gorge where the aforementioned marble rocks can be admired.



As the boat moves upstream, the Narmada River flows through a narrow gorge flanked either side by steeply rising cliffs in various colours, from dazzling white to pale yellow and from a pinkish hue to different shades of green.




Indian Cormorant




White Browed Wagtail


Red Wattled Lapwing

Jumping boys
For 50Rs, young buys jump off the cliffs into the water below.



The Journey to Kanha

The steps back up to the town and car again seem steep and we are all feeling the heat. The car, thankfully, is beautifully air-conditioned as we make our way towards our home for the next three nights: Kanha National Park. At this stage we realise that we will unfortunately not have time to stop at the waterfalls, as we still have a 4½ hour journey ahead of us.

One step up from a zebra crossing - a horse crossing

Overloaded bicycle


Judging by the number of people we see along the road carrying hay, I would say it is harvest time at the moment.





We go through some rural and agricultural communities, with the odd long-distance truck on the road.






Once the sun goes down, we realise we are not going to reach the lodge in the light.


Indian roads can be quite intimidating for the first time visitor, and even more so after dark. Lyn describes the experience as “Wacky Races on Speed”.

Kipling Camp

Our arrival at Kipling Camp is exceptionally welcoming. As we pull up in the dark, a whole welcoming committee appear with torches and wet flannels to wipe away the dirt from the journey. Astrid shows us around the main facilities of the camp – the Shamiana, an open sided terrace with comfortable seating as well as a bar and dining area; while the two volunteers, Alex and Franco, take the luggage to our rooms.



As we relax with a drink, Ahmed, the friendly chef, brings round the tastiest pakoras I have ever eaten, followed by cream of vegetable soup in little cups. Dinner is buffet style, with chicken curry, cabbage, potato with capsicum and dhal, followed by a tasty sweet treat (banana fritters if I remember rightly).



After dinner we continue our friendly chats with the staff: Astrid, the manager, the two young boys, Alex and Franco, who are here as volunteers and show a maturity way beyond their years, and Jeswin, the naturalist. We are the only people staying tonight, and by the end of the evening, we feel very much part of the Kipling family. What a fabulous place!


Our Room
Our room is in a single-storey cottage set in the lovely grounds, shaded by tall trees; and with a path leading to it, lit by intelligent solar lamps that glow dimly and 'magically' light up brightly as we approach.

Our cottage in the middle.

Our room is on the far right of the cottage

We have a balcony with seating, and the interior consists of a four-poster bed with mosquito netting, ample storage space and a generously sized bathroom.

The terrace in front of our room


My only 'complaint' is that the bed is rather high, making it impossible to sit on the edge of the bed to get undressed


I know we will enjoy our stay here very much, and I go to sleep a very happy and contented bunny.

Posted by Grete Howard 01:18 Archived in India Tagged boat canyon india cows harvest boat_trip jabalpur kipling_camp bhedaghat marble_rocks rowing_boat harvest_time khana Comments (5)


Revisiting India's bustling capital

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After a great night's sleep, we are ready to take on Delhi. Maybe.

Jama Masjid


Officially known as Masjid-i Jahān-Numā (World-reflecting Mosque), this is one of the largest mosques in India. The courtyard can accommodate up to 25,000 worshippers at any one time, with 899 black borders marked out on the floor. Today there are more tourists than worshippers here; most of whom have been given a gown to cover themselves. I am deemed respectful enough and am allowed to continue in as I am.


We have to pay 300Rs each per camera (including mobile phones) regardless of whether we intend to use that camera inside or not.


Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (or more precisely, his 5,000 workers) between 1644 and 1656 at a cost of 1 million rupees, it was inaugurated by an imam from Bukhara (present-day Uzbekistan).


Chandni Chowk

From the mosque we grab a couple of rickshaws to explore Old Delhi in the traditional way.




One of India's largest wholesale markets, Chandni Chowk is basically the main street through Old Delhi, with a maze of side alleys leading off it. It is a crazy mix of new and old, a manic onslaught on all the senses and a real 'baptism by fire' for Lyn and Chris' first visit to India.





The market dates back to the time of the capital city Jahjahananebad (now Old Delhi) and was designed and established by Shah Jahan's favourite daughter in 1650. Originally containing 1,560 shops, the bazaar was 40 yards wide by 1,520 yards long. The name Chandni Chowk means 'Moonlight Square' as the market was once divided by canals (no longer there) to reflect the moonlight.


Custard apples




Spice Store

No tour of Delhi would be complete without the obligatory stop at a tourist shop – this time a spice store.


Melon seeds - eaten like popcorn


With prices higher than our local ethnic store in Bristol (Bristol Sweetmart), we leave without buying anything.



Betel leaves


Celebrity Status

As jetlag overcomes me and I sit down for a rest, I gain quite an audience as everyone and their dog wants to have their photo taken with me.


While Lyn and Chris continue to explore the parts of Delhi we have seen more than once before, we go back to the hotel for a rest, and meet up with them later for dinner.



Aloo Kashmiri, Soya Keema Curry, Jeera Rice, Naan and Sweet Lassi - all very tasty. And so to bed.

Posted by Grete Howard 01:01 Archived in India Tagged mosque religion india muslim delhi spices islam cows chillies curry rickshaw custard_apple old_delhi turmeric chandni_chowk jama_masjid hotel_jivitesh cycle_rickshaw auto_rickshaw animal_powered_transport Comments (1)

Bristol - London - Delhi

We've arrived in Delhi

View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a reasonably comfortable and totally uneventful flight we land in Delhi, one hour early. Unsurprisingly, our driver is not yet here. To our surprise, however, our friend Sabu turns up soon after we arrive, showering us with flowers and gifts.


From the airport we head directly to our hotel, fighting for space on roads crowded with scores of huge trucks, which are banned from the country's capital between 05:00 and 23:00. With the time now at 23:30, we are caught up in the middle of a transport frenzy, as an avalanche of overfilled, slow-moving trucks enter Delhi to make their deliveries to shops, restaurants and hotels, contaminating the still, hot air with plumes thick pollution as they go.

Jivitesh Hotel, Delhi
At Jivitesh Hotel we enter another world, one that is clean, quiet and cool, where we collapse into bed and immediately fall into a deep sleep.



Welcome to India.

Posted by Grete Howard 01:19 Archived in India Tagged travel india flight delhi air_india jivitesh hotel_jivitesh Comments (4)

Moroni - Dar es Salaam - Dubai - London - Bristol

The long journey home

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The air-conditioner slowly gave up its will to live some time during the night, meaning that the room is mighty warm this morning! We sit outside on the terrace for a while to cool down before going for breakfast.



Despite advertising that their breakfast starts at 06:00, there is precious little choice when we arrive at 06:20. Potatoes it is then.



Checking out

Hopefully this will be the last time we check out of this hotel! There is some confusion this morning with the bill: because we came back to the same room when we returned from our aborted home journey yesterday, they seem to have added items from the previous two nights onto our bill this morning. We query it, but can’t quite understand the receptionist’s explanation. It doesn’t help that the short (just a few minutes) phone call to England yesterday cost us £45. Studying the bill more closely it becomes obvious. Yes, they have added the first two nights on the bill, but they have also subtracted the bill we paid yesterday. We didn’t notice that there is a Debit and a Credit column. Doh.



Moroni Airport

Confusion over and we make our way to the airport. Again. Thankfully Omar still has the VIP pass from yesterday, so we walk straight in, despite the airport not being officially open yet. Check-in for the Dar es Salaam flight isn’t due to start until 07:30 anyway, so we are over half an hour early.

The departures hall has a grand total of five seats, and we have three of them. Result.


Nothing seems to be happening though, and Omar goes off to check what is going on. “Check in will start at 8:00” he informs us when he returns. 08:00 comes and goes. “At 08:30” says the official when we ask. Meanwhile we people-watch. We see the first ill-behaved young child since we arrived in Comoros, causing havoc while waiting in line to check in.


Photography is not permitted, and an officious looking security guard tells me off. I try my luck again though, very surreptitiously, as the wording on the back of the porters’ jerkins amuses me. I thought exploiting your staff was illegal, and not something you’d want to advertise.


By 08:30 we are told that the plane hasn’t even arrived yet, and won’t be departing until 13:00. Groan. Omar phones the Air Tanzania office in town and comes back with good news: we are definitely on the passenger list. Yay! One step nearer.

An hour or so goes by, with more people watching. A kindly official appears and looks at our tickets for the connecting flight in Dar. I am not exactly comforted when he mumbles “sorry” and wanders off. Omar explains that he is going to phone the office to “make sure the flight leaves on time” so that we don’t miss the onward connection. I don’t hold out much hope though. We have just over an hour in Dar, but we have to queue to get our visa ($50 just to collect our bags!), queue for passport control, wait to collect our bags, make our way to departures, queue to check in at the Emirates counter, then queue again for immigration and security.


Finally the Air Tanzania desks open up and we get to check in. To save some time in Dar es Salaam, I ask if they can check our bags all the way through to London. The clerk shakes his head: “No, sorry”. I plead with him and explain the situation. He fully understands my predicament, and wishes he could help; but the truth of the matter is that he cannot physically do it as they do not have a computerised system with access to international flights. Wow. I can’t remember the last time I had a hand written boarding card!


Our main luggage goes through an x-ray at the check-in desk, and I am invited behind the counter to open mine up as they claim to have seen something ‘suspicious’. They are placated, however, when I point out that it is just some camera equipment.

Before we are even permitted to join the queue for passport control, a security guard checks our passports and makes sure we have completed a departure card.

At the immigration counter our passports are checked and stamped, our photograph is taken as are fingerprints from all fingers on both hands.

In the next booth they check our passports again and relieve us of the departure card.

At the x-ray my AA batteries are confiscated, as are a couple of safety pins. The batteries go in the manager’s drawer. Hmmm. A nice little business sideline?

We have now officially left Comoros and are technically in no-mans-land: the departure gate.


And so we wait. And wait. And wait. I anxiously look at my watch with regular intervals, getting more and more convinced that we will miss the connection in Dar.

Eventually the plane arrives at 12:50. There is no way we are going to get away by 13:00, so now I have accepted that we will have to sort out a new flight when we get to Tanzania. Oh well, so be it. There is nothing we can do about it. On the mainland, arranging a new flight should not be so difficult though: Dar er Salaam is a big and busy airport, and London is a popular destination. And English is the lingua francas.


It seems our VIP status is still valid, as only people with walking difficulties, plus us, are invited to board first.



The plane takes off at 13:20, which means we are thankfully another step nearer home, or rather further away from Comoros.


As the plane makes its way across the Indian Ocean, I start to think about the connection again. There is still a glimmer of home that we might make it, but it was such a crush at arrivals on our way over, and it took over an hour to get through immigration just to get to the luggage carousel, which was another nightmare. This is obviously a much smaller plane than the one we came from Dubai on though, so there may not be as many passengers wanting to get through at the same time.


Being right at the front of the plane means we get into the arrivals hall first; and thankfully there are not very many travellers there are all. I make a beeline for the Transfer Desk, and breathlessly explain that we are on a very tight schedule, and we have checked in on line for the next flight, but haven’t got boarding cards, and we have to collect our luggage and check in again…. The attendant senses my slight panic and in a calm and soothing voice (and impeccable English) says: “Give me your onward flight ticket and your luggage tags, then go and sit down. We’ll sort this for you. It is all fine”. I breathe a huge sigh of relief.


By the time I have text my dad and emailed a friend, the nice chap comes back with our boarding cards and baggage tags, having collected our bags, and checked them and us in with Emirates. Wow! I could hug him. That is such excellent service. He then lets us through the back door behind the Transfer Desk, which leads directly into the Departures Hall and Duty Free. Result!

So many people have shown so much kindness and have gone so far out of their way to help smooth out all the issues and obstacles we have encountered along the way on this trip. I feel quite humbled by it all.

The rest of the journey home via Dubai and London Heathrow is totally uneventful and we gratefully open our front door some 31 hours after leaving the hotel in Comoros.

Home, sweet home

All that remains now is to thank Undiscovered Destinations for arranging another fascinating trip. It didn’t always go to plan, but UD, and their ground agents in Comoros, did their very best to ensure we were still able to make the most of our time in this little-known country, minimising any disruptions caused by various circumstances beyond their control. I guess this is why they call it adventure travel.


Posted by Grete Howard 01:56 Archived in Tanzania Tagged flight tanzania airline aiport emirates_airlines dar_es_salaam air_tanzania moroni itsandra_hotel dealy flight_connection Comments (1)

Moroni - Dar es Salaam. Or maybe not.

More problems

View Comores 2017 - Cloud Coup Coup Land or Secret Paradise? on Grete Howard's travel map.

Some of you may remember the saga we had with our international tickets before we left home:

1. The Precionair cancelled tomorrow's flight from Comoros to Dar es Salaam, and re-booked us on Air Tanzania departing at the same time.

2. Emirates, however, issued us with tickets for the section Moroni – Dar es Salaam for today on Ethiopian Air.

Going by what happened on the way over here (Air Tanzania had no record of our booking), it is anyone’s guess where and when we are booked.

Much as I would obviously much rather take the Air Tanzania flight tomorrow, if we don’t turn up for the flight today that has been booked by Emirates, there is a real danger that they will cancel the rest of the homeward flights (that is industry-wide policy: passengers who fail to utilise any part of a flight schedule, are deemed as no-show and all further sections are then cancelled). Hence the reason why we have to travel today as per Emirates itinerary. It means having to get a hotel room in Dar, plus transfers from and to the airprot, so it really is a bit of a nuisance.

Omar arrives early this morning to tell us about the plans for today. He explains: “Ethiopian Air is a very big plane with lots of people and long, long queues. Very, very slow.”

He has therefore arranged for a driver to come and pick up our bags at 09:30, who will stand in the queue for us for a couple of hours (in the hot sun). Another driver will then pick us up at 11:30, by which time the first driver and our bags will hopefully be very near the front of the queue and we can just take over. Now THAT is what I call fantastic customer service.

But it gets better.

A little later Omar phones to inform us that there has been a “change of plan”. My heart sinks. But not for long. Somehow Omar has managed to arrange a VIP pass for us, so that we don’t have to join the queue at all, we can just walk straight in. Wow! These guys are really pulling the stops out to make our journey as smooth and easy as possible.

Moroni Airport

When we arrive at the airport at 11:30, the queue still reaches the grounds outside the terminal building. I can only imagine what it would have been like at 9:30, especially after the slow check in for the ferry we experienced the other day. We walk up to the security guard checking tickets at the entrance to the building, flash our VIP pass and we’re in! Bypassing the long line of passengers snaking around inside the terminal building itself, we really do feel like VIPs – but we are also uncomfortably aware of the stares from the other passengers who have waited a long time. I wonder if Omar also senses this, as he holds the all-important piece of paper in such a way that the words VIP are clearly visible to everyone.


Ethiopian Air opens up a new check-in desk, just for us. I guess we are very important then. I hand over our tickets and explain we are only going as far as Dar es Salaam, not Addis Abeba as per the notice board. The clerk looks confused. He checks his computer, then calls a supervisor over. He hands back my paperwork: “We have no record of your booking”. I protest: “But we have a ticket!” The clerk agrees that my reservation number is on their system, but our tickets have been cancelled. Groan. Does that mean our homeward flights on Emirates from Dar have been cancelled too? It doesn't even bear thinking about.

Even more confusingly is that it transpires that although this flight will be landing in Dar es Salaam to refuel on its way to Addis Abeba, they do not have permission to let passengers disembark there. It seems the flight, that Emirates allegedly booked us on, doesn’t even go to Dar; there is absolutely no way we will be travelling to Dar es Salaam on this flight today. So what on earth were Emirates playing at issuing us with an itinerary to include this flight? I guess we’ll never know.

At this stage I am feeling rather travel weary, and a little concerned about the other flights we have booked for the return journey. I ask Omar if we can check with Air Tanzania to make sure we are on their flight tomorrow. No such luck: today is Friday and the office is shut. We will just have to hope for the best and come back tomorrow.

Itsandra Hotel

There is only one thing to do: return to the hotel and hope they still have rooms for tonight. They do. In fact, they give us the same room as we had last night.


Undiscovered Destinations

I ring Undiscovered Destinations (back in the UK) from the front desk to ask their advice – can they I go ahead and buy a ticket for us on Air Tanzania tomorrow? I would rather be double booked so that I know I will get to Dar es Salaam tomorrow and wont miss my international connection.

UD refer me back to what I was saying earlier: if we already have tickets, and the system sees that there are two bookings with the same name and DoB, they will automatically cancel one. This could, and probably would, then lead to us being deemed as ‘no-show’, with the Emirates flight cancelled. Groan. Again, the only thing we can do is hope all is OK tomorrow. At least if we get to Dar, we can fight it out with Emirates at the airport there, should they have cancelled onward flights too. So, basically Undiscovered Destinations are not able to help us with this, however much they may want to.

At this stage I must point out that we did not book our flights through Undiscovered Destinations, so they have no obligation, nor ability, to make any changes or observations in respect of our flights. They have been very supportive indeed of all the problems we have encountered while here in Comoros, all of which have been outside their control. As soon as they heard that we were unable to get to Mohéli Island, they sent an email to assure us that they will cover any extra expenses we might occur as a result of any itinerary changes. I cannot praise their consideration to customer satisfaction enough. This is why it pays, in the long run, to book through a UK based company when travelling to countries that are generally unprepared for tourism.


We take our usual place on the terrace and ask about lunch. David holds up his menu and points half way down the page: "I'll have one of those please", much to our favourite waiter’s amusement.


My tummy still feels very fragile, so I order something familiar: spaghetti bolognaise. “No bolognaise sauce”. What about pizza? "No pizza. We are waiting for a delivery of cheese". I order spaghetti Nepolitana, with just a plain tomato sauce. Five minutes later, the waiter comes back: “No tomato sauce”. We can have spaghetti with chicken in a white sauce. Whatever. That will have to do… Perhaps that empty menu was trying to tell us something.


I eat the pasta and the sauce, but leave the chicken as my stomach is nowhere near right yet.

Red Guava

We also get some red guava juice, which is absolutely delicious, tasting like fresh strawberries. I will admit my ignorance here: I had no idea there were different types of guava until I got home and started looking it up for this blog. According to the waiter, this ‘red guava’ is found only in the Comoros and is known as ‘peru’. During my research back home, I found that there are ‘apple guavas’, ‘lemon guavas’, ‘cherry guavas’, and ‘strawberry guavas’. Well, I never!


We wander around the grounds for a while, photographing anything that moves.


And if it doesn’t move, it gets a helping hand. It’s got to be posing ‘just so’ for the camera, you know!



Unlike in Anjouan, there are a number of lizards here at Itasandra.








There aren’t many birds here, however, but plenty of bats flying around.



People Watching

The elevated terrace at the Itsandra Hotel offers a great view of the fishermen in their rudimentary outrigger canoes in the bay below.






There is eye-candy for David to admire on the terrace too.


Late afternoon we return to the room to find that there are no towels. Again. David goes off to find the maid (again), who eventually brings a couple. Which are wet. Again. Is there a national shortage of towels in this country?

As I still am still suffering from the runs, we decide to forego dinner once again and just take it easy in the room.

Our spirits are raised when we receive a text from Emirates reminding us about checking in on line for our flights tomorrow. We are most definitely on the system for those sections still! Phew.

Our last evening

And so endeth our last full day in the little known island nation of Comoros (we hope), nestled in the Indian Ocean between Mozambique on the African coast and Madagascar to the East. Our waiter asked us this afternoon what we thought of Comoros. “Lovely people and culture, corrupt government” was my reply, and I think that just about sums it up. We thoroughly enjoyed learning about their way of life and seeing the two islands of Grand Comore and Anjouan. I am sure we would have come away with a much more positive impression of the holiday in general had we been able to fulfil the Mohéli portion of the trip, as that is where most of the activities we had planned are available. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the poor infrastructure worked against us, creating problems out of everyone’s control. The grounding of the the domestic airline aside, all the other issues we encountered here in Comoros were really just small-fry and only add to the whole adventure experience. The disastrous international flightmares obviously didn’t help matters.

(Look out for tomorrow’s blog entry to read all about our journey home.)

Would I recommend Comoros as a holiday destination? Only to extremely laid back travellers who are open minded and prepared for an adventure and change of plans. Would I recommend Undiscovered Destinations and their ground operators? Most definitely! They have been extremely helpful and nothing has been too much trouble. They have really gone out of their way to minimise any inconvenience to us as a result of itinerary changes. Kudos to them for great customer service!


Posted by Grete Howard 08:43 Archived in Comoros Tagged flight airport emirates pasta problems dar_es_salaam undiscovered_destinations cancellations air_tanzania moroni itsandra_hotel precionair Comments (5)

Free Day in Moroni

Just chillin'

I slept really well last night, but I wake up at 06:40 desperate for the loo. Although I still have diarrhoea, at least I have stopped vomiting. I can cope with that. But then I haven’t eaten anything for around 36 hours, so I guess there isn’t much left in there.


I am not exactly hungry, but I am sure it would do me good to eat something, maybe some bread? Usually I love to try local foods, and even if no regional food is available, I tend to order dishes I would not normally have at home. This morning, however, all I want is something familiar. I knew there was a reason I packed those little individual Marmite portions.




Itsandra Hotel

In stark contrast to the last few nights in Anjouan, the Itsandra hotel comes across as a well-run, nicely finished business hotel. Judging by the other patrons at breakfast, I am pretty sure we are the only holidaymakers here at the moment.


Our room has a king sized bed scattered with frangipani flowers (despite the ‘nutmeg’ theme), there is plenty of storage space, and we have a terrace which looks out over the grass, garden bar and the sea beyond. There is no furniture on it though.




View from our balcony

The double basin in the bathroom is a first for us: not because it has two sinks, but the fact that one of them has an integral washboard for laundry! I have never seen that before in a hotel!


We are also delighted to have not just two (dry) towels, but a hand towel and a fluffy bathrobe too!

The A/C is very efficient, although we did have some trouble getting it to switch on last night. I guess the batteries in the remote control are dead or at least dying.

The lobby is bright and airy, with plenty of seating as well as a bar. It even features an ATM. Complete with an Out of ‘Order’ sticker.



I love the clock table

The hotel has a lovely looking beach, furnished with parasols and sun loungers; and unlike the beach in Anjouan, this one is easily accessible via steps from the main hotel area. Scuba diving is available, and there is a roped off swimming area. The sea looks lovely and clean and changes colour from a pale blue through lime green to a bright aquamarine according to the weather conditions.





The cottages in the back belong to the hotel too.

Alas, just like in Anjouan, the swimming pool here is also devoid of water.


Our favourite part of the hotel, however, is the partly covered outside terrace / bar. We spend the whole morning here, following the shade: moving from one table to the next as the sun travels across the sky, trying to keep out of the hot sun.



Over a nice cold ginger beer, we chat to one of the other guests, Ian from the UK, who is an armed security guard employed to work on various ships sailing in dangerous waters, protecting them from pirates! “Some people call us mercenaries” he says, “but we don’t like that term”. He keeps us amused for ages, regaling some captivating stories for sure, none of which I feel are mine to share here.



By lunchtime I am still not particularly hungry, but I think some food would do my stomach good. Our delightful waiter, who speaks excellent English, goes to enquire with the kitchen if they can make me some soup. “Vegetable or fish?” he asks when he returns. The mere thought of even just the aroma associated with fish soup make me heave, so I settle for vegetable. It comes with mostly carrot and potato, which suits me down to the ground.


David orders BBQ chicken. “No BBQ”. Chicken and chips it is then.


We return to the room to find that the maid has removed our towels, but not yet replaced them. David goes off on a towel hunt (AKA chasing the maid), and comes back with a couple of fresh ones. Towels, not maids.

After a lovely siesta in a very cool room, we return to the terrace bar, where we are almost immediately approached by a young lad who “wants to talk to us”. It soon becomes obvious that he is suffering from mental illness, as he rambles about his life in France and the hardship he has suffered. At first we are quite willing to listen, but he go on for far too long, and then comes the crunch: can we help him? He claims he has been sending money over to his mother is Comoros from France (he proudly shows us his French passport). When he recently arrived here, he found his mother has stolen all the money and now he has no way of getting back to France. According to him, the French embassy are refusing to provide any help, telling him to “get a job and build yourself a life here”. He believes his doctor and psychiatrist are ganging up on him and he has no-one left to turn to. "I need your help!" he begs. Sigh.


The more we try to make suggestions, the more aggressive he becomes. Looking at the amount of camera equipment sitting on our table and the notebook where I jot down what we do / eat / see each day to help me write this blog, he declares: "You're a journalist, you must have contacts?" When we both renounce my suggested profession, he gets very agitated, flailing his arms around and starting to shout: "That's a joke. That's the biggest joke I ever heard!" Seeing the hotel waiter walking in our direction, however, our new-found 'friend' reluctantly leaves. We breathe a sigh of relief.


We’ve only just ‘recovered’ from this episode, when we are joined by another 'new friend'. After some general chit-chat, he reveals himself to be a tout, trying to sell us sightseeing tours. Thankfully he does take "no" for an answer and leaves without a scene. Maybe it’s time to retreat to the room. Neither of us want any dinner tonight anyway, we are still feeling far too fragile from the horrible bout of food poisoning.

There is live music on the little stage right outside our window tonight, and it is all rather pleasant. A small band is playing 70s and 80s ballads at a respectable volume. Looking out of the window, I only see four guests sitting in bar. It's not exactly all the rage then? It is all over by 10pm anyway.

By this time I am feeling a bit too cold, even under the bedclothes. I try to increase the temperature a little, but the remote control doesn’t seem to work. Feeling way too tired to even contemplate getting dressed and going down to reception, or even worse, having to change rooms (again), I put on legging, socks and a fleece before crawling back under the covers.

Rude awakening

I go into a deep sleep but a few hours later I am woken by a shrill, piercing noise. It sounds like a telephone. It is a telephone. Do we even have a telephone in the room? We must have. So where is it? I guess I should answer it.

Me, in a sleepy, confused voice: “Hello…?”

Bright, cheerful female voice: “Hello, how are you?”

Me, just starting to wake up: “OK” I reply tentatively, hoping this stranger hasn’t phoned me in the middle of the night just for a welfare check.

Female voice: “I am ringing from Luna, wanting to know the name of your ship”

Me, even more confused now: “Pardon?”

Female voice: “I am ringing from Luna…”

Me, interrupting: “What is Luna?”

Female voice, now containing thinly veiled irritation: “Luna is the name of the company.”

Me, also losing my patience: “But what is Luna?”

Female voice, no longer hiding her irritability, and speaking slowly and loudly as if to a petulant child: “I. Am. Ringing. From. Luna. To. Find. Out. The. Name. Of. Your. Ship. Are. You. Sailing. With. XXX or YYY (she mentions two names that I assume are referring to boats).

Me: “We are flying. To Dar es Salaam. Tomorrow.”

Female voice, now rather sheepish, but still unapologetic for having woken me in the middle of the night: “Oh, OK. Bye.”

Did I just dream this? Unfortunately not. I shake my head, get back into bed, but sleep totally evades me for the rest of the night.

This eventful and adventurous trip was arranged by Undiscovered Destinations, specialists in arranging private tours to unusual places.


Posted by Grete Howard 01:02 Archived in Comoros Tagged travel adventure africa journalist luna beggar a/c phone_call comoros moroni itsandra_hotel air_conditioning mental_health cold_room Comments (3)

Anjouan - Moroni

Another ferry crossing

Having been thoroughly ill with food poisoning all through the night, we both feel rather fragile and weak this morning. I was very grateful that the water came back on again at around 6am, at least we could flush the toilet, and as soon as the restaurant opens, David goes down to get some more bottled water (which also ran out in the night).

A little while later there is a knock on the door and the waiter arrives with ‘Comorian tea’. “Good for bad stomach” he explains. How very sweet of him.


Neither of us can face breakfast this morning, so we just hang around in the air-conditioned room, half sleeping, feeling very sorry for ourselves, until Patrice comes to pick us up at 9 o’clock to take us to the ferry terminal. I can't say that my stomach is looking forward to the crossing today.

Checking out from the hotel we encounter our first problem of the day. Omar (the owner of the local agency who are in charge of the arrangements here in Comoros) very kindly agreed for us to half board at this hotel here in Anjouan to make up for the fact that we never did get to Mohéli Island (where our stay was booked to include dinner). Unfortunately, the hotel does not seem to know about this arrangement. We try to explain, but to no avail. Patrice intervenes. He does not know anything about it either, but he phones Omar and eventually it is all settled.

Squeezed into another tiny car, we leave the Al Amal hotel to drive the short distance to the docks where we will board the boat back to Moheli on Grand Comore. We only get half way through the town before we are stopped by the police. “Oh dear, here we go” I think, but it is only to let a procession of military cadets march through. Phew. I am not in a fit state to sort problems today.

Ferry Terminal

At the docks we are grateful to be able to stop fairly near today, at least to unload the bags and us. Patrice has to take the car off to park elsewhere.


Once inside the harbour area, we thankfully manage to find a spot on a bench in the shade as we wait for our turn to check the bags in. There are three ferries leaving the terminal this morning, the first one to Mayotte, the next two to Moroni. Ours is the last one. They are still just checking in for Mayotte, and there is a long queue, which moves extremely slowly.


Patrice tells us to be patient, just sit and wait rather than stand in the queue. “Best to check in last” he recommends. That suits us fine. We have plenty of drinking water and somewhere to sit.


We spend the time people watching, and encounter our very first beggar here in Comoros: an Imam selling shells. When we make it clear we do not want to buy any shells, he brings out some ylang ylang oil for us to smell. When this doesn’t tempt us to part with our money either, he lowers his voice to barely a whisper. He is so quiet that we can’t hear him at first, asking him to repeat it. He leans in closer but is still barely audible: “you give me money”. It is very much against their culture / religion to beg, hence his reluctance to speak up. We decline. After looking at us with doleful eyes for a while, he moves on.


We continue waiting. And waiting. As more and more people leave the outside area and move into the waiting room, young lads come and pick up the benches. Eventually there is only the one bench that we are sitting on left. Finally the queue is all but gone and we are able to check our bags in, as the two very last passengers. We are then herded into the 'official' waiting room, where someone makes sure that a couple of lads move so that I can sit down.

A small man with a big hat (who I secretly name Little Hitler) orders passengers to come forward by rows. A few people from the back of the room try to jump the queue, sending Little Hitler into a meltdown. There is obvious resentment within the crowd, with some people loudly voicing their displeasure. I really wish I could understand what is being said. As the agitation rises the jeering gets louder and more aggressive, antagonising Little Hitler to the extent that he grabs a bench and bangs it down on the floor to get everyone’s attention. Despite my unease about the building tensions, I find the whole scenario ludicrous, and struggle not to laugh. I am sure that would not go down well, and is not likely to help our little friend's management issues.

At last it is our turn to continue, and we are herded into a long, thin corridor where passports and tickets are checked. Being foreigners, we are hauled to one side and into an office for double-checking. This always takes a while here in Comoros, because they want to make sure we have a visa, which is found on the very last page in my passport. All the other pages before it have multiple stamps or visas, so officials tend to get a little side tracked looking through it.

Eventually we are let through, but the corridor only leads to another waiting room. There are nowhere near enough seats here either, but it is the same story as before: as more and more people vacate the previous waiting room, benches are picked up from there and passed over the crowd to the second room. These are ten foot long wooden benches (basically just a long thick plank with rudimentary legs either end) and are clumsy and awkward to haul across and over passengers. It seems such a long-winded way of doing things – surely such simple seating cannot be that expensive / difficult to make? Would it not be so much easier to have enough of them for all the waiting areas? I am desperate to take photos of all these shenanigans, but I don’t want to attract the wrath of Little Hitler. I do risk a couple of pictures though, shot covertly and blindly from the hips.


The cramped room is jam-packed with passengers and bags, and some people sneak out through the glass doors at the side of the room for a little fresh air and some relief from the stifling heat. Little Hitler is not amused. He pushes and shoves people around, dragging them back in again and slams the boors shut. Some people become locked outside in the mêlée. One boy receives a slap across he face for his disobedience. Again there is a lot of grumbling from the crowd, and I can feel a rising rebellion emerging against this extreme herding. What sounds like a communal growl emanates from the crowd, and people starts to surge forward. I feel a little uncomfortable and somewhat vulnerable, fearing a brawl in the making. Not understanding the language certainly doesn’t help. The whole scene is ridiculous and absurd to the extreme: I feel as if I am in the middle of a comedy sketch; except no-one is laughing.

After what seems like an eternity of shouting, mutual provocation and stirring up the crowd to the brink of a fracas, we are finally invited to leave the room for the last little walk to the ship. By row, naturally. There is plenty of clamouring with Mr Hitler barking orders; angry passengers pushing and shoving; and people on the right protesting and bellowing when those on the left get to go before them. And vice versa of course. I just keep my head down and only move when I am told to.

At the door there is another cursory check of the tickets and passports before we can finally leave Anjouan, the ferry terminal and Little Hitler behind to board the ferry. This is a different boat to the one we came over on, and it has a proper, level gangplank. It is about the same size as the last one, but with a slightly different layout and two passenger floors. There is less legroom but the saving grace is that it does have A/C. I settle down in my seat and try to get some sleep. Thankfully I no longer feel nauseous, although my stomach is far from settled.


After around three hours, I see lights up ahead, from another boat. Having been told all about pirates over here from both Yahaya and Patrice, and knowing that even these days the waters around here are a bit of a favourite hunting ground for such marauders, it does cross my mind…. I am therefore secretly relieved when I discover that it is just the other ferry, the one that left before us.

What a difference a few days makes. Today’s sailing is smooth, easy and very much quicker than the journey out. Despite being sick all through the night, we both manage to hold it together on the crossing. After a few more snoozes and a little people watching, we arrive in Moroni just as daylight fades. As expected, there is a massive crush to get off the boat, but at least there is a proper gang plank again.

Omar is there waiting for us, and manages to get permission to hang around at the dockside to pick up the luggage as it comes off the ship, rather than having to wait for everyone's bags to be offloaded and then collect them in the terminal building. That man has so many useful contacts in this country; he seems to be able to arrange most things.

Transferring the bags from the boat to the dockside is not very a well organised operation in my opinion. Surely it wouldn’t take much to create some sort of a chute or a slide for the luggage to go down, rather than have to throw it across the gap and hope that the guy on dry land manages to catch it.


They could even have the slide go straight into the van, or onto a platform at the same height as the luggage vehicle in order to save the workers from damaging their backs.


Omar has managed to bring the car right down to the mooring, so we don’t have to drag the bags so far this time. Once the bags are inside, the boot doesn’t close again, but that seems the norm in this country. We go off while Omar stays behind to sort out another passenger on the ferry we overtook and which arrived not long after us.

The driver takes us to our hotel for the next couple of nights. This time we are going to the other side of town, to the Itsandra, the most upmarket hotel in Comoros. We are very happy to find that the hotel is expecting us, and after checking in, we go straight to bed. We didn’t get much sleep last night, and not having eaten anything whatsoever today, we are both feeling a little washed out.

This trip was arranged by Undiscovered Destinations, specialists in small group adventure and private tours to little-known corners of the world.


Posted by Grete Howard 06:40 Archived in Comoros Comments (2)

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