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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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We go through the same villages yet again.

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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...”

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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Lunch
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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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Beetroot Salad

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Cauliflower Cream

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Chicken raviloli

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Chocolate mousse

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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Black Drongo

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Female Plum Headed Parakeet

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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.

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Dinner
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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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

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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.

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Maybe this is her?My heart breaks.

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

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

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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!

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Oriental Turtle Dove

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Indian Peafowl

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Indian Grey Hornbill

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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.

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

Tara
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.

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©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.

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©Lyn Gowler

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©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.

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©Lyn Gowler

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

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©Lyn Gowler

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©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.

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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 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)

Tara

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)

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Lunch

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.

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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.

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Greater Coucal

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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.

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

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Hanuman langurs

Sambar Deer

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Porcupine
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.

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Jungle Owlet

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

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Jackals

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Hanuman Langur

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

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And then he was gone

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Indian Roller

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Cheetal with a Black Drongo passenger

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Cheetal with a Common Myna on its back

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Cheetal

Barashinga
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.

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

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Common Kingfisher

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

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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.

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More animals backlit by the low sun, this time cheetal

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More barashinga

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

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

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

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Tiger
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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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… and some wild boar.

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Including some little baby piglets.

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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!

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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.

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Drivers queuing for tickets

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Long line of Gypsies behind us

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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).

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Sunrise

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.

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

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Cheetal (Indian Spotted Deer)

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Eurasian Golden Oriole

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Hanuman Langur

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Cheetal

Tiger

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!

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

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

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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.

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He is right, of course.

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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.

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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.

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

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Hanuman Langurs

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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

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

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Scaly Breasted Munia

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Wild boar

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Indian Peafowl

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Jackal

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Jackal

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

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Cattle egrets flying

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Stonechat

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Stonechat

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White Rumped Vulture

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Scaly Breasted Munia

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Paddyfield Pipit

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Indian Roller

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Common Kestrel

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Green Bee Eater

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Female Stonechat - very much more dull than her husband

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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.

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

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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.

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Black Storks

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White Rumped Vulture

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Indian Roller

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Sambar

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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.

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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


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

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.

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Waiting at Delhi Airport

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

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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.

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Jabalpur from the air

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Fire engine at Jabalpur airport

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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.

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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.

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Indian Cormorant

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Fisherman

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White Browed Wagtail

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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

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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.

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One step up from a zebra crossing - a horse crossing

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Overloaded bicycle

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

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

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

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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Our cottage in the middle.

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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.

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The terrace in front of our room

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

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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)

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