|20th April 2009: Sightseeing In Delhi and The Last Supper |
|Our last day in India and we spend it on a sightseeing tour with the much trusted Namaste India Tours and our new driver Mintu. |
But first it's breakfast time and we head off to the Ginger Hotel's cafeteria downstairs. Well, let's not linger writing anything about that place, it's nothing but a cafeteria, although the tea - black tea with milk - tasted just fine.
An absolute must on anyone's visit of Delhi should be Humayun's Tomb and so I've placed it first on my list, followed by Safdarjung's Tomb, Nirula's for lunch, the Lotus Temple and finally some shopping.
Humayun's Tomb is amazing and it's so quiet compared to the Taj Mahal and even Sikandra yet it's just as beautiful, if not more so. Inside it's so cool and quiet and later I'm pleased that my photo captures the wonderful light inside: http://www.indiamike.com/photopost/s...2/ppuser/37249.
In 1996 before going to India I read William Dalrymple's City of Djinns and decided that I would visit Safdarjung's Tomb as it wasn't far from our hotel, Claridges. We never made it. Thirteen years later it's nowhere near our hotel but it's firmly on the list. At the entrance gate we're met by a surprised cashier and I wonder how many English come here, especially with two young girls. On reflection this hasn't happened as much as I thought it might. The monument itself isn't much to write home about and it's currently undergoing renovation but I'm happy to have finally made it here.
It's lunch time and Mintu drives us to Nirula's in Connaught Place, a place I've been looking forward to surprising the kids with. This is probably a good point to say how amazed I am at their willingness to do whatever we say. At home, we might suggest to cook a Balti but they'll ask for Korma; we might suggest to watch a movie but they'll want something on TV; maybe a trip to one park, they'll want a different park. To be fair this isn't all the time - it just feels like it - but here in India, everything we've suggested has suited them just fine.
Nirula's seems like a fairly straightforward place: we make our choices, go to order, have to rethink because nothing's available, order again, pay, take our number and go and sit down. After 30 minutes we notice that other people are getting their food even though they ordered way after us. Jane quizzes a waiter who tells us that we needed to hand in a chitty before the food is cooked. Great! Thirty minutes later we've finished our fast food meals and it's time for ice-cream, of which we all eat far too much. My earlier major weight loss is now a distant memory.
Off to the Lotus Temple even though it's Monday and it's closed, but it's a case of see it today or not at all so off we go. What a beautiful structure and seeing it makes me kick myself that I didn't organise to fly out a day later. Oh well, next time.
Shopping time now and Mintu drives back to Baba Kharak Singh Marg where the many different states of India each have an emporium. So far I've only bought a shirt and that was just for the sake of it rather than need. That's the way it stays and once again I kick myself as the only things I've seen that I really wanted were on the way down from Amber Fort: beautiful bedspreads at a price never seen again. Still, window shopping has saved me a fortune.
Back to our hotel as we're all knackered and we're expecting a much awaited visit from an IndiaMiker with whom I've conversed and arranged to meet up. I'm hoping to buy him dinner as a thank you for help he's given me. We'd hoped to go to Karim's together last night, but instead we're slumming it tonight: we're off to the ITC Maurya's Dum Pukht restaurant. (Obviously this isn't actually slumming it, far from it, it's the best hotel I've been in since staying at Bangkok's Oriental for two wonderful nights on my honeymoon in 1994.)
So that my IndiaMiker friend doesn't get you all requesting a meetup I'll just call him Mr G.
Mr G has hired a driver to bring him from his home a distance away to meet us and arrives at our hotel. Introductions over and we jump into his cab and head to the hotel. We know that the hotel is posh but we've just spent three weeks in dusty Rajasthan and I wonder if there's a dress code. I've "dressed to the nines" but I'm concerned that my kurta shirt, dusty cargos and dirty trainers - I did wash them but it didn't work! - may not be good enough. Oh well! Jane and the girls are fairly smart wearing their Rajasthani jewelry and the girls are wearing their new Salwar Kameez's.
Arriving at hotel and we stroll in behind Mr G who's clearly been here many times before. It's glitz and glamour everywhere, white marble and not a surface in sight that doesn't shine. I want to look behind me to see if there's a trail of dirt from my shoes but I fix my eyes forward just in case there actually is.
We're shown to a table and Mr G orders some Old Monk to get us going. The menus are handed to us and Emilia can't hold in the OH MY GOD when she sees the prices. At this point I wish I'd taken Mr G to Karim's or Moti Mahal, as the price of one dish is about the price of a complete meal for four at Karim's. Still it's only money . I really like Mr G's sense of humour, just like mine, and his toleration of fools is similar too. There we are, reading menus, wondering which of the wonderful to order, not confused by the choices just mesmerised by them. The waiter comes over and tells Mr G what HE should order before being sent a away with a flea in his ear and a statement of "that pompous ass" loud enough for the waiter to hear. Priceless, exactly what I would have done.
Mr G wants us to try a couple of starters and laughs as we eat the Sheermal with a knife and fork; but in these surroundings it seems the right thing to do; last night in Karim's it was all fingers. Next it's the Kakori Kebabs, for which this restaurant is famous for, and it's easy to see why, as they are gorgeous, so soft, so full of flavour. What a great start.
Main course arrives and truly I cannot remember what we've ordered as at the time I was adding up the zero's - as my Grandad used to say - and drinking Old Monk. Dum Pukht cooking is all about slow cooking the food and each dish is covered with some sort of pastry topper, which are cut away by the waiters at the table. It seems like it's more for show than taste but then again it tasted fantastic.
Everything was great; the food; the ambiance; the Old Monk; the other Old Monks; and certainly the company. Now the crunch time, the bill is arriving, and I ask the waiter for it before Mr G gets it, but the waiter says no, Mr G has told him in Hindi not to let me have it, he was paying. I am of course a little relieved but at the same time I really wanted to pay, it was meant to be my treat to him, but then again it was his wish and who am I to stand in his way? The charitable Angel on my right shoulder has just been beaten up by the tight-arsed Devil on my left.
We decide to retire upstairs to the coffee lounge, for the kids to have an ice-cream, and more importantly for Mr G and I to have another Old Monk. The kids we're stuffed at the meal but somehow there's always room for ice-cream.
I couldn't think of a better way to end of trip than eating some of the finest food in India in the company of a funny and charming man, so thanks Mr G if you're reading, you just put the icing on our already wonderful cake.
|19th April 2009: From Calm Alwar To Crazy Delhi |
|A final breakfast on the lovely veranda of the Alwar Bagh's restaurant, tea, juice, banana pancakes and some eggs. Not all on the same plate mind. |
Since arriving we've only left the hotel for four hours to go and see the national park at Sariska. What happened to all our plans of walking around Alwar - which seems like a nice place - or visiting the fort/palace, or visiting Silserh lake? In truth, nothing, we just couldn't be bothered, but without a deadline looming for a train or safari or anything else we just decided to chill. At this point I'm glad that I planned most days in India as otherwise we may have got to one destination and stayed there...what a waste that would have been.
We settle our bill and wait for the taxi. The price has gone up from Rs800 to Rs1000 but tell the receptionist I'm having none of it, Rs800 or forget it. It was a bit tricky this as if they'd said "no" I wouldn't have been able to get a taxi myself as none pass the hotel.
Cash is required so a quick visit to an ATM before we get to the station, where we find that our train is delayed by at least an hour. It's a nice clean station here, not too busy, not too many people, but way more stares than anywhere else we've been. I get approach by a young lad who wants to practise his English, or does he? He doesn't say much so I wonder whether I'm about to be mugged or duped or something. Of course not, he just wants to talk.
We decide to move to where our carriage will turn up, which is right up the other end of the station and it's a long station. Today we're travelling 2AC for the first time so it'll be interesting to see the difference between it and 3AC.
There's a man cleaning the already clean station platform and people milling around eating and drinking. A girl finished her bottle of water and rather than chuck it on the platform for the cleaner to pick up, she chucks it on the rails, where the cleaner won't be going. How stupid is this? Wonder why your country is such a tip people of India? That's why, idiotic behaviour when the correct option was easier to do. Grrrrrrr.
It was a bit of a mad dash up the platform as the train pulls in and our carriage whizzes past us. So there I run with three suitcases and a bag, looking for the carriage, making sure the girls and Jane are behind me and will make it on to the train too. But we all get without any trouble. Phew.
2AC seems to be a lovely class to train in for us as we've got the compartment to ourselves if we want, by closing the curtain, or leave it open to see the goings on. It doesn't seem so busy as in 3AC, hardly anyone walks by offering chai.
I'm pleased as punch with all this train booking and riding, it really is easy. I'm extremely pleased with this booking though as I was going to leave Alwar on a Saturday but thought about how busy Delhi station would be and decided to postpone us until Sunday, arriving at Delhi station on a quiet Sunday afternoon.
The train rattles on as we pass Gurgoan, S Rohilla and the slums on the edge of the track. The people all seem to be smiling, kids playing and happy adults too. What a million miles from Britain this is. There we're all wealthy, but how many people just smile while going about their business?
Disembarking from the train I'm horrified how busy the station is. This, right here, right now, is what a non-travelling-Briton's idea of an Indian railway station is: people, hoards of people, mostly sitting on the floor and there's no way past them to get out. Gathering up the suitcases and making sure Jane takes up the rear I launch forward, "excuse me", "excuse me", but this doesn't last long and I resort to barging through people. I lose track of the number of people I've almost trodden on but we've made it to the stairs and on our way to the exit.
Out of the station I go to a autorickshaw driver who tells me it's Rs450 to our hotel, the Ginger, near New Delhi Raileay Station. I tell him he's got one chance to try a different offer before I go elsewhere. His "best" offer of Rs200 is overpriced but for only the second time in India I'd rather be elsewhere.
The Hotel Ginger is nice and clean, we've got two rooms and decide that the girls can share a room. LCD tv's are in the rooms so we watch a film, have a shower and get ready to visit the one restaurant I've been looking forward to visiting: Karim's.
You'd think that trying to find a taxi when you're next to New Delhi station would be easy but it seems no-one is bothered. Eventually I find someone who doesn't know Karim's. In fact he doesn't even seem to know the Jama Masjid mosque - which I know is near Karim's. Another taxi and we're off, rushing through the tiny streets, past cows and street hawkers and food stalls. At the Jama Masjid I recall the instructions I'd been given for Karim's. Walk down the round to the South of the mosque and there's an alley after a couple of hundred yards on the left. Right, got that, but what's the chance of finding it? I decide to look for people turning left into alleyways and that approach would normally work. On reflection though I think looking on the right side for a brilliantly bright neon sign instructing you to go down the alley opposite is possibly a better idea.
We'd hoped to meet an IndiaMiker here at Karim's but alas he's not available tonight, hopefully tomorrow. He's already suggested a got restaurant which went to on our first evening, Pind Balluchi in Karol Bagh, so Karim's being another recommendation of his is a good sign.
Walking down the alleyway to Karim's we enter the small courtyard that the dining areas are linked to and we're shown to a table, the only one left. There are two other westerners here but clearly they're on a tour with a guide so I feel adventurous for coming here - and finding it! - by ourselves.
Service is pretty nifty here and within a couple of minutes we've ordered all sorts of kebabs and curries. I get castigated by the others for ordering Goats Brain Curry but when in Rome! Drinks turn up, along with our first kebabs, 4 Shami Kebabs. We tuck in, fingers first and Amy's the first to say how hot they are. "Don't be silly they're fine" I say, just before she shows mean the centre filled with green chillies. "Some more water please".
Everything else arrives and it's all wonderful, with perhaps one exception: unsurpringly it's the Goat Brain Curry, which is pretty bland and looks like a Cauliflower Curry, which isn't something to behold. The naans are declared by Jane as "the best naan bread I've ever had" so I swap my naan for her Shami Kebab.
We've eaten far, far too much but have loved the experience. We'll come here again for sure. In total we spent about ú20 and are very embarassed about how much food we ordered but didn't eat. Jane wants to mill around the stalls near Karim's but I'm a 100%, if not 150%, full and really I just want to waddle to a rickshaw and get back to the hotel. The rickshaw drivers fight for the right to rich pickings and I happily oblige, paying a ridiculous Rs100 for the ride back to the Ginger.
It's been a long day; a great day and an even better evening. Only one more day to go.
Tonight's Hotel: Ginger Hotel, near New Delhi Railway Station
Tonight's Meal: Karim's
|18th April 2009: Wildlife Withdrawal Symptoms |
|Last night turned out to be really good but I may have drunken a little too much Old Monk and am wishing today's taxi was turning up later that 6:30am. |
We're off to visit Sariska National Park today, a much quieter Tiger reserve when compared to Ranthambhore. A good reason Sariska is quieter these days is that in 2005 the Tigers "disappeared", poached, each and every one of them. So our reasons for visiting Sariska never included the chance to see a Tiger, just another opportunity to see some wildlife. But recently, a couple of Tigers, or was it three, have been re-introduced to Sariska, being re-located from nearby reserves such as Ranthambhore.
The taxi eventually arives, after the reception call him, and we're off to Sariska. The roads are so quiet, hardly any cars and no cows, camels or elephants. It takes about 30 minutes to get to the national park which is fairly deserted.
A big difference between Ranthambhore and Sariska is that at Ranthambhore you pretty much have to book up months in advance to get a seat in a gypsy jeep, whereas at Sariska you just turn up. You can, I think, go around in your own vehicle but I may be wrong about this. There seems to be a public road going through the park as I've seen motorbikes, cars and buses go in there.
At Ranthambhore safaris start when they say, which for us was 6am and 3pm, and last about three hours. You can get a jeep to yourself if you pay for all 6 seats. Here at Sariska the safari starts when you get here and you pay for the jeep (Rs900 for three hours) whether there's one of you or six.
At the reception Jane pays for three of us (Rs200 each) as Amy is free, the jeep entry price (Rs125) and the hire of one of their jeeps and driver-cum-naturalist (Rs900 for three hours). So that's Rs1625 for a three hour safari, whereas Ranthambhore is more than Rs1000 more. Unfortunately for us we needed a taxi to get us to Sariska from Alwar so that's wiped out the safari saving.
On with the safari and I'm loving having the jeep to ourselves. There only seems to be one other jeep safariing at the same time too...it's so quiet. We drive around for a bit and then over to the waterhole/lake. There's so much wildlife around the waterhole and we stay there for 15 minutes looking at the Common and Pied Kingfishers and more crocodiles than we've seen before.
Heading off, we go down numerous dirt tracks although not many birds or animals appear. I'm loving the jeep as I've decided to act as spotter - hence why we've seen nothing recently! - and I'm standing up, holding on to the roll bars...excellent...I feel like Indiana Jones or someone similar.
We stop for a break at a checkpoint that declares that we are now entering a Tiger zone. So what do we do? We get out of the jeep. Whilst having a break our guide says that we can feed the Treepies so out comes the well-travelled Marks and Spencers Shortbread (it's a long story!) and I crumble some into my hand. The kids don't want the birds landing on them so good old Dad has to be the pin-cushion for the Treepies' short claws. I feel glad the Hitchcock's The Birds never freaked me out.
Palm in the air and two Treepies land on me, eat up and fly off, some more shortbread and the same thing but this time two other Treepies decide to battle for the lion's share, whilst stood on my arm. Ouch! . Jane's videoing me and laughing at the same time. She has a go but the kids decline.
Back in the jeep and we travel around but don't spot much, not even birds, it seems everyone's partying down at the first waterhole. Through the rocky terrain we wonder whether Tigger will be round the next corner, but alas, no. A few boar but not much else.
We leave to park and head back to the hotel for a late breakfast at 10:30am. Continuing our "beach holiday" we decide that we can't be bothered to do anything else today and read and swim and eat and drink.
Tonight's Hotel: Alwar Bagh
|17th April 2009: Our "Beach" Holiday |
|Our plans for today include a visit to Alwar and the Silserh Lake but after a lovely breakfast on the terrace outside the restaurant we decide to have a swim first. |
The early starts of Ranthambhore, the heat and the travelling have taken their toll and although we're all coping very well we soon decide that perhaps we'll just laze around today.
At first thoughts this seems like we're wasting a day of our holiday but seeing the kids have fun in the pool makes us realise that we've not had a day "busy doing nothing" on this whole trip.
After swimming it's time for lunch which is eaten all alone in the restaurant. On the menu is Vegetable Tringles which I enquire about, trying to find out if they're Samosas (Tringles = Triangles maybe, remembering the Paused Eggs). They're not Samosas but they are lovely; I've no idea what's in them but it doesn't matter. The chef here is pretty darn good, although to be fair, he's hardly rushed off his feet.
Whilst the kids are in the pool (again) I arrange our transport with they guy on the reception. There's a language barrier between us, the first one so far between us and the hotel receptionists. So I'm not confident that our transport will actually turn up tomorrow at 6:30am. The problem round here is that there's no passing rickshaws/taxis so you're under the mercy of the hotel receptionist, who's clearly on the take.
Lounging around the pool the hotel owner turns up for a chat. A very relaxed chat later around the pool and I ask about the internet access. Within a few minutes he's brought out his brand new laptop running wirelessly over his broadband which is faster than mine at home! So there I am, blogging away, beer beside me, pool in front of me and the Aravalli hills behind that. Bliss.
So much for today's plans. Guess we'll have to come here again one day.
The hotel's got some more guests now; a lady by herself down for a Sariska trip this evening; a group of guys down as part of a political party event in Alwar, ahead of the forthcoming elections.
Jane and the kids go off for a walk just before the guys come to the pool and jump in, larking around. A while later when Jane returns they quieten down a little and I wonder if they'll ever get out. Turns out that they jumped in in their undies and are too embarassed to get out with her there, so there they stay until she goes back to the room with the kids to get showered up for dinner. I tell her I'll be another ten minutes as I haven't finished blogging yet.
Returning the laptop I head off but the guys stop me and ask me to join them for a drink. At first I politely refused but quickly changed my mind. A couple of them clearly wanted to practice their English as we washed down words with whisky. Over the next 1.5 hours we put the world to rights, discussing differences and similarities between India and England. They're from Chandigarh and the drunker they get the more times "next time come to Chandigarh" is said. The three off us drinking have emptied the whisky and I'm feeling really drunk but I'm clearly not quite as drunk as them. The guys pre-order their food and I suggest the Jafragi is good, but they say it's too hot for them, which makes me smile.
The meals that night are served in the garden and there's another local family who look like they're celebrating a birthday. We eat our dinner, I have the "too-hot" Jafragi which isn't as hot as it often is back home, and finish about the same time that the birthday girl's cake is presented. Emilia's interest in the cake has been noticed by the girl and moments later she brings over two pieces for Emilia and Amy. For the next hour our two play together with the Indian kids, having a great time. Meanwhile I'm having a nice conversation with an Old Monk as we're close friends by now.
The Sariska visiting woman tell us how she's seen a Tiger, a Leopard and a Jungle Cat on her single visit. She's pleased to announce that she instructed the driver that she wasn't interested in anything else just big cats so forced him to zoom around the park. I'm not impressed with her stories and find myself wanting to cough the word bullshit under my hand. Later I discuss her sightings with the hotel boss and he rolls his eyes as if to say that she probably not telling the whole truth.
So our "beach" holiday day is over. We got up, lounged around, swam, ate, swam, ate, slept.
Photo gallery for Ranthambhore
Tonight's Hotel: Alwar Bagh
Related Blog Article: Alwar Bagh Near Sariska
Related Blog Article: Outdrinking The Locals
|16th April 2009: Au Revoir Ranthambhore |
|Leaving Ranthambhore makes it seem like our trip has almost ended. A ridiculous statement considering we've had 19 days so far and still have 5 full days left. |
But it's true, Ranthambhore was always earmarked as the highlight and now that's over, what's left? Three trains, Alwar, Sariska and Delhi, that's what.
We pay up at the hotel and Ashok, the hotel manager, arranges our transport to the station.
Our mood is low and unknown to the others each one of us is close to asking to stay at Ranthambhore. If any one of us had actually spoken up I truly believe we'd have stayed here for the rest of the trip, or at least another three days.
Waiting on the platform for our first day time train, this one in 3AC, I marvel at the cleanliness of it all and the simple ideas of the carriage arrival signs indicating where each carriage should stop. Once again we're the only westerners here and the sight of two young pale skinned girls turns quite a few heads.
Our eyes meet those of some well groomed kids at the station with their Father (I guess). They're so happy and smiley and they single-handedly, well actually there were 6 of them, make us feel okay about leaving. (Now I'm back home, whenever I see that photo it makes me smile.)
Our first train of the day turns up on time, we board it, laden with luggage, and find our seats. Luckily no-one else is in the two seats next to our four so we've got the two benches to ourselves. It's so clean in here, what a surprise, and very well maintained. Spreading out in the carriage it occurs to me that we're all so relaxed and loving the trains.
At this point I realise just how similar we are, something we don't really notice at home, but all of us are coping with the heat & poverty, loving the travel, the towns, the countryside, the wildlife. This travelling with kids stuff feels just so easy.
After a couple of hours we arrive on time in Jaipur which is a welcome relief considering we've only got an hour to until our next train leaves. We switch platforms onto the one we arrived at 5 days ago (from Udaipur) and board train number two which again is on time. Three trains so far and they've all been on time.
We're in 3AC again to Alwar, sharing the carriage with two older men who are quite interested in where we're going to, why and where we're staying. I told them it was a toss up between the Alwar Bagh (I hand him a printout I've done off the internet) and the Hotel Aravalli which he knows. He's very gentle with his presuasion that the Hotel Aravalli is really a bit rubbish and although he doesn't know the Alwar Bagh he'd really rather we'd stay there. We decide to take a look at the Aravalli as it's much cheaper but then we catch a glimpse as we pull in to Alwar station..."we'll stay at the Bagh I think".
Out of the station and we're surrounded by a circle of young men all interested in our business. After a few minutes (and for the first time in India) I find myself wanting to get out of there quickly. I'd already decided that with the four or us and the amount of luggage we've got that the 15km auto rickshaw ride is going to cost us Rs500 or more. So I'm shocked when the first quote is Rs200 and I just agree - after making sure he does know where the Bagh is. The guy reminded me of Danny DeVito and I think back to watching Taxi as a kid. Rs200 to be driven by a-Danny-DeVito-lookalike is worth the money. We/he managed to fit most of the luggage in the back with a couple of bits being held by Jane and the kids who are sat in the back. Danny gets in and I realise there's no room for me. Danny squeezes over and I manage to sit one cheek on the seat, the other half of me is hanging outside the rickshaw for the 15km journey and I tighten my grip in preparation. At this point I see a vision of my boss saying "have you done the risk assessment for this activity?".
We dropped at the deserted Alwar Bagh and I get us a room. So far our spending is going well so we splurge on a suite for the three nights, although there's not much haggling to be done but I do manage to get the two extra beds and breakfast thrown in. We unpack and move to the poolside where we're offered afternoon tea before we watch the sun going down behind the Aravalli Hills.
Dinner is pre-ordered as are the Kingfishers and more importantly, the Old Monk. Moments later the hotel jeep nips out to probably get some of things we've ordered. What a service. I'm so glad we're staying here; today's been an emotional rollercoaster.
The food at the restaurant is great and there's so much that I can't finish my Jafragi (read Jalfrezi) which after a discussion the Chef has been dumbed down for me - at his insistence, not mine. If I'm feeling a bit better tomorrow I'll argue my case and have the spicy version.
It's been a long day and I've probably drunken too much Old Monk so it's time for bed.
Photo gallery for Ranthambhore
Tonight's Hotel: Alwar Bagh
Related Blog Article: Sad To Leave Ranthambhore
|15th April 2009: Last Full Day In Ranthambhore |
|Months ago as soon as the Ranthambhore online booking became available for yesterday and today's dates I booked up the four safaris. We'd originally decided to have a day of rest before moving on to Alwar tomorrow but as the holiday drew nearer a decision was made to book up an afternoon safari for later on today. So it still left the morning free but after the first safaris were over I decided that I at least wanted to maximise my Ranthambhore time. Unfortunately it'll be on a Canter, a lumping great 20 seater diesel truck. |
Leaving the angels sleeping I get up at 5:40 and wait outside for my pick-up. I'm cold - imagine that! It'll be 45C later! - and I'm one of the first pickups when the Canter finally arrives at 6:15. We head off to the rather lovely looking Tiger Den Resort which is fairly close to the park entrance but it takes an age for the It's-Wednesday-So-It-Must-Be-Ranthambhore British tour group to get their act together and finally get on the truck.
The Canter finally enters zone 2 at 7am: meaning that we've already lost 30/40 minutes safariing time compared to the gypsy jeeps we've had previously.
I'm pleased to get zone 2 as all the zones feel quite different. It means that I will at least get to have seen 4 out of the 5 zones here and although there's a possibility of zone 5 this afternoon it's hardly likely and it hardly gets a good write up anyway.
Zone 2 looks good but the Canter isn't: as soon as we get near any wildlife they run or fly away; that didn't happen yesterday.
The guide is clearly disinterested and misses the Mongoose and Pied Kingfishers nearby. I point them out to the lady sat next to me who's delighted. No mention of the Chittal hiding away either. I wonder if he'll be able to spot the lack of tip he'll be getting at the end of the safari.
A couple of beautiful Kingfishers (blue - I really must look up their name in my book back in the hotel) dart in the sky as we hear the first of many warning calls over the next 30 minutes. There must be something close by but what? A Tiger, maybe? A Leopard? Probably not.
8am already so our chance of spotting anything striped or spotted are getting slimmer as the heat rises.
For the next hour I enjoy zone 2 but it's frustrating to see the gypsys going deeper into the park and probably seeing more.
At 9am on the dot we're out of the park and I calculate that we've done 70 minutes less safariing than the two morning safaris we've done so far.
To sum up my Canter experience: it's noisy; lots of talking by people seemingly less interested in seeing wildlife; Canter can't access parts of the park; you cover less ground; 70 minutes less safariing. So it's all pretty negative it seems but I'm glad I did it: I did get to do another safari and see more animals, albeit ones I'd already seen. I'd rather do a safari in a Canter than no safari at all.
Back at the hotel and the girls are off to the pool as I have my breakfast. Without any conversation to be had I study the menu have a chuckle at the misspellings of words. I order Paused Eggs and wonder if they'll take a long time.
A swim followed by lunch and it's time for our last safari. I'll be sad to leave Ranthambhore and start to consider whether we should skip Alwar and stay here. It's a definite possibility and if I knew I could get gypsy safaris I'd definitely do it.
Zone 2 again for the afternoon safari but this time in a gypsy. We go far deeper into the zone and see far more wildlife. After only 10 minutes we've seen Kingfishers and two huge Eagles and I smile knowing the It's-Wednesday brigade probably haven't even reached the entrance yet. We don't really get to see anything new but we could all watch the Chittal and Languars for ages without a hint of boredom.
With our safaris behind us we leave pleased that at least we got to see a (distant) Tiger.
I like Ranthambhore.
I will return.
Photo gallery for Ranthambhore
Tonight's Hotel: Raj Palace Resort
Related Blog Article: Safari So-Goody
|14th April 2009: Day Two in Ranthambhore |
|Another safari this morning and secretly I'm hoping that we don't get zone 4 again; zone 1 or 2 would be nice but it's down to pot luck. |
It seems my thoughts are successful; we're alloated zone 1. We pick up two others from the Ranthambhore Bagh, a hotel that I fancied staying in originally just to be able to talk to the owner, Aditya, about wildlife photography. The young couple although English seem as miserable as hell and don't want to talk it seems; I wonder whether the cooking at the Bagh isn't all it's cracked up to be..obviously I don't really think this but the thought made me smile at the time. I'm sure it's different inside the hotel but from the outside I'm glad I'm staying at the Raj Palace.
On the trip back and forward to the wildlife park we pass numerous hotels that I almost booked: the Hammir looks nice from outside and although I can't see the back I know it's got a nice pool; the Tiger Safari Resort looks a tad concretey for me; the Castle Jhoomar Baori looks like it occupies a nice position; the Anurag Resort looks great too and I feel like jumping out of the gypsy, going over to their reception and shouting WHY DON'T YOU ANSWER EMAILS at the manager. You see I'd set my sights on this place but they don't communicate whereas both the Tiger Safari Resort and the Raj Palace Resort have excellent communications. On the whole, I'm glad to be where I am.
Zone 1 starts well, as we drive through (!) the stalactite rooted branches of a huge Banyan tree. If you've seen one of these before then you'll appreciate the beauty they have and that's not something I normally think about trees.
The area feels mountainous, rocky and very, very, bumpy. It's not a place for me with a weak stomach, like me this morning. Bump, bump and more bumps, then we stop dead. Pugmarks of a striped visitor have been recently made, a tigress apparently with her cubs. Excitement wells up inside me just as we hear warning calls from monkeys in the distance, so we move off a few hundred yards towards the sounds. The gypsy stops, engine off, silence, warning calls. Waiting in this quiet is wonderful as there's no other gypsys nearby, nor canters, just the eight of us, sitting here, waiting. The thought that we're easy targets springs to mind and I decide that being eaten by a tiger could bring me the fiften minutes of fame that I'm due but have never desired.
We move off and I'm pleased when Emilia tells the driver to stop as she's seen a mongoose 20 metres away rummaging for food in the fallen leaves. This makes me think about snakes and the fact that the only one we've seen was in Keoladeo and even it was asleep.
Favourite zones so far are 3, 4 and 1 in that order.
Blogging before lunch upstairs in the nearby handicraft shop, there's a girl from our hotel who's trying to get to Udaipur by train. Yet again my experiences of booking this trip and my knowledge gained from IndiaMike help me help her find train information and give her options for getting to Udaipur.
After a nice lunch, served yet again by Abhi, in the hotel we all have a rest and a swim in the Raj Palace's lovely pool which brings a welcome relief from the outside temperature which must be in the low 40's.
The afternoon safari starts at 3pm and we're allocated zone 3 again. Yay!
The chances of spotting a tiger or leopard are very slim in these temperatures but the lakes and birds in zone 3 make that place very enjoyable, tigers or no tigers. The areas in zone 3 are very different to each other: lakes; forests; small ponds; grasslands; trees; little streams; little stone buildings and open savannah-style land that reminds me of the Serengeti, although on a somewhat smaller scale.
The chittal, languars, treepies, peacocks and crocodiles but nothing new. A lone rare vulture circles in the sky so perhaps there's a kill nearby. Later we see the kill being eaten by a King Vulture which is then joined by its mate. God, they're ugly, but so majestic in the sky.
Back near one of the lakes three Kites land in a nearby tree. They've got to be one of the most beautiful birds in Ranthambhore, my favourite so far at least.
We haven't got a safari booking for tomorrow morning as I thought we'd need a rest, our final planned safari is tomorrow afternoon. But once back at the hotel I get them to organise me a seat in a canter truck for the morning. I'm not best pleased about a canter but I am pleased to be going back in for yet another safari.
Another nice meal in the hotel restaurant, accompanied by Kingfisher, but unfortunately no Old Monk dark rum, which is a favourite of mine. We had a good chat with Abhi and he tells me he speaks German and French, but I try him with a bit of French and realise that maybe it's not his strong point, although it's better than my Hindi of course.
Photo gallery for Ranthambhore
Tonight's Hotel: Raj Palace Resort
Related Blog Article: Ranthambhore Safaris
|13th April 2009: "Here Tigger" |
|It would have been nice to sleep until the alarm sounded but as usual I beat it by 30 minutes. Perhaps tomorrow I'll set it for half-an-hour later, that might work. Excitement has yet again got the better of me as today I'll mainly be safariing. |
Toast and tea and we're picked up by our gypsy jeep, which already had two people from the posh Taj resort nearby: Jonathan and his Dad, who was looking a little worse for wear. They've already done 6 safaris but it doesn't sound like they've had many close encounters with our orange-and-black-striped friend.
Jonathan tells me that we've been allocated to zone 3: brilliant, it's meant to be the best zone in the park for tiger sightings. The ride is chilly and the guide let's Emilia sit in the front passenger seat which is protected from the wind. The guide sits next to Jonathan and his Dad with Jane, Amy and I having the rear bench to ourselves. This of course is a good position for me and my camera.
The ride to the park is a pleasant one and once past the entry gates it starts to really feel like a safari park. Straight away we see chittal deer, boar, monkeys and birds of many kinds including peacocks, treepies, egrets and herons. Tiger or no tiger, this is already one of my favourite bits of the holiday.
The guide says that we need to check the tiger's favourite spots within the next hour, before it gets too hot. We do. Nothing is seen. We spend an hour or so viewing the birds and animals but we get news from another gypsy that they think a tiger is in the long grass so we stop and wait. And wait. And wait.
It seems like we're waiting for ages before the engine is turned on and we travel at roller-coaster speed and style to try and second guess where he or she will show their face. At points it feels like the madness that is safariing-in-Kenya but in reality it's not, it's a lot more laid back and enjoyable.
Back to our original waiting place and we're by ourselves, which is nice. We watch crocodiles, deer, peacock, herons and chipmunks near the lake; will this tiger ever show its face?
Suddenly there she is, two or three hundred yards away across the lake; she's running fast towards the boar who stops drinking and darts away; there's a blur of orange and black and grey; the boar gets away; the tiger walks away dejected. But we've seen a tiger, on day one, one safari one, WOW.
The afternoon safari, with Jonathan and co again, is in zone 4 which doesn't offer much more than we've already seen. No hint of a tiger or anything more interesting than chittal deer. The scenery however is quite pretty and changes rapidly, every few hundred yards.
Have I said that WE SAW A TIGER?
Tonight's Hotel: Raj Palace Resort
|12th April 2009: Ranthambhore Awaits |
|Thirty minute sleep intervals was all I could manage on the train last night, although in total I slept very well. By the time we got to bed it was 11:30pm and the train was meant to arrive in Jaipur at 6am. I know that I'll sleep much better when I do my next overnight - yes, there'll be one, one day - as I'll make sure it's a longer trip arriving later in the morning. |
The train pulled up Jaipur station at 7am, an hour late than expected. Disembarking was certainly less problematic than getting on and I helped a French couple - why is everyone French? - find their seats which we'd just vacated.
Our Ranthambhore hotel, Raj Palace Resort, had arranged for a local Jaipur driver to pick us up at 6am but when we got to the front of the station there was no-one there. The lack of driver probably means there's a lack of hotel reservation too. Great! I decide to do a tour of the station and try to locate him and find him at the other end of the rather long station, by the other exit. We walk towards Jane to find her but there's only her there, she's let the kids go off to find a toilet as she's minding the bags and they're desperate. I'm not proud to say that I flew off the handle and run off in search of the kids who are luckily not too far away. They've not found a toilet, our driver's eager to get going, oh dear.
The grumpy driver is even less happy when we ask to visit an ATM en-route, but he does it. We've not eaten breakfast yet and I decide we'll get soon en-route. Research had told me that it was likely to be a four hour drive to Ranthambhore but grumpy-features was confident it was only 3 and quite rightly that's all it took.
Arriving at the Raj Palace Resort in Ranthambhore we're initially pleased. The gardens seem quite green, a colour that hasn't featured heavily in our trip so far - apart from the colour of me at points!. The kids check out the hotel pool and we make our way to get some breakfast. What a bad Dad I am sometimes, making them all wait until 10:30 for breakfast, but I just didn't like the look of anything/anywhere we passed on the trip here.
No safaris were booked for today, although I wish we had, so we decided to catch up on the lack of sleep last night, before going for a spot of lunch. Afterwards a nice cool swim in the lovely cool pool was required as the outside temperature must be a shade over 40 degrees Celsius. The hotel itself isn't busy but there's quite a lot of rooms taken. The gardens all around the hotel are lovely too and if it wasn't too hot it would be great for the kids to have a run around.
Back in the hotel I give each of the kids a tube of Cadbury's Mini Eggs, that I had brought from England. Today is Easter Sunday and we've done them an Easter Egg hunt every year of their life, but this year it's a little tricky to organise. Shame.
As I'd pre-booked and pre-paid all of our safari bookings online we needed to fill in the safari forms and hand it all into Ashok, the Raj's manager. He would send a boy down to sort out the gypsy safari jeep to pick us up in the morning. This service costs Rs100 but is far better/cheaper than getting the hotel to make the bookings, something that they all offer, something that they all make a lot of money on.
We ate dinner earlier than normal as it's a 5am wake-up call for the safari gypsy pick-up, which is at 6am. Crikey. We've always considered that this part of the holiday is the highlight of the whole trip, but whether it will be, only time will tell.
Tonight's Hotel: Raj Palace Resort
|11th April 2009: Our First Train Journey |
|Amy's getting quite excited as travelling on the traoin was totally her idea: originally Jane and I were going to do the whole trip by car/taxi. |
At the station we let the porter take our bags and lead us to where our first class carriage will stop. Yes, we're going first class, to minimise my stress, I'm not brave enough to try any other class on my first overnight train trip with my kids, especially when it's in India.
Booking 1A is great but you don't get cabin/berth numbers of your tickets, you find out when you get on the train. We've got time to kill so I find the office and ask which cabin we'll be in - really it's just to check that our tickets are fine - and I'm told two in Cabin A and two in Cabin C. This in itself is bizarre, that we've got split up, but who cares, at least we'll be onboard.
I notice a large French family with 8 kids and 3 adults waiting for the same carriage. When it pulls in I see it's a 1AC-cum-2AC carriage which means there won't be 15 first class berths and I know they're going to be trouble. I wrote about this on my blog if you want to read more: The Overnight Train From Udaipur To Jaipur.
All of this proves one thing: read any article that could be of help before you go. If I hadn't read Steven_Ber's excellent article Indian Railways RAC and Waitlists concepts explained then I may not have been sure of my position, or able to help the French, and certainly stressed.
A few photos of Udaipur
Tonight's Hotel: is a train