India – October 14, 2016

Day 19 – Matiari ~

We got an early start this morning at 6:30.  We disembarked and walked through the town.  We visited a bazaar that featured exquisite handcrafted copper items using traditional and primitive methods passed down for generations.  These master craftsmen use recycled metal and create beautifully engraved pots, platters, and other items in their workshops in the village.

Matiari lies on the banks of the Hooghly River, which is a distributary of the Ganges River.  Some of the locals refer to the town as the Brass working village.  This name comes from the town’s rich history of making utensils from brass that dates back over 100 years, when the village’s senior elders who worked in brass factories in Calcutta were sent back to Matiari as they became less efficient.   As they still needed to provide for their families, they started making the brass utensils at home.  This is how the tradition got started and continues to this day.  It has become a main source of income for the people living in Matiari.

As we walked through the narrow streets, there were curious people looking at us from their doors.   We passed a woman packing cow manure patties onto the wall for drying, which they use for fuel.  We also saw a few tiny baby goats that were very cute.

We stopped in a couple of brass shops and bought a couple of brass serving spoons that nested together.  They’re kind of heavy, but a good souvenir from this little town.

We returned to the ship for a late breakfast and set sail.   We passed the site of the 1757 Battle of Plassey, when Robert Clive of the British East India Company defeated the Nawabs of Bengal, the then rulers of Bengal and their French allies, thereby establishing the company rule in India which expanded over much of South Asia for the next 190 years.

At 4:30 pm, we took the ferry to the shore and enjoyed a leisurely walk past local farmers’ fields to Nawab Ali-Wardi-Khan’s (1740-1756), a private and peaceful manicured Mughal style garden complex, where his entire family is buried.  It’s also called, “The Garden of Happiness”,  His grandson, Siraj-ud-Dawlah (1756-1757), was defeated by the British East India Company at the Battle of Plassey in the year 1757 which changed the course of Indian history.  Also buried with the walled compound is Danish Fakir, shot dead by the British, to whom he betrayed Siraj’s hiding place, leading to his death.  At the far end of the garden is Khusbagh Mossque built in 1740.

At 6:30 pm, there was a short dance program performed by a small troupe of 12 dancers (male and female).  The dances were a combination of both tribal and classical styles, and were accompanied by traditional recorded music.  The adult troupe comes from the Behrampur Kala Khestra Dance School a local dance school from the area.  There was some sort of large gnats by the thousands that were drawn to the lights, and they were getting in our hair and we kept having to swat them off.  I don’t think they were biting, but it was distracting.  The program, was interesting and they really put their heart and soul into the performance.

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India – October 13, 2016

Day 18 – Kalna ~

After starting the day with a Yoga workout, we set out on a morning excursion to the Rajbari complex,  with the highest concentration of temples in the region.  We started with a ferry ride from the ship to shore and then boarded human powered rickshaws.  Mark and I got our wires crossed and we were going to go individually, but when he  went get on one by himself, it turned out that there were none left, and he settled for a motor-driven rickshaw…bummer; I wish he had squeezed in with me.  We rode through the narrow streets, until we got to the Rajbari complex.  On one side of the road lies the walled complex with various styles of finely detailed, terracotta plaques depicting themes of Hindu epics, Durga images, and various aspects of day-to-day life in the region.  Other temples within the complex include Lalji Temple, built in 1739 with 25 steeples, and the oldest in the complex.  A bright yellow Garuda with green wings faces the main deities, Radha and Krishna.  Miniature panels which surround the base of the temple, depict scenes from the Puranas.  The temple is dedicated to Shri Radhika and Shri Krishna. In front of the temple is a Natmandir or a dancing hall.

We also saw the Krishna Chandra Mandir, which was built in 1751, with its 25 steeples and is adorned with scenes from the famous Ramayana and Mahabharata.  Opposite the walled complex lies the Naba Kailash Temple.  It was built in 1809 by the Bardhaman Maharaja.  The complex contains two concentric circles of 108 aat-chala (eight sloped roofed) temples, separated by a beautiful garden.  The outer circle consists of 74 temples of alternating black and white lingas (the representation of a penis), while the 34 temples of the inner circle contain only white lingas.  It was fascinating.

The Shiv Lingas in the outer circle represent the world we live in, where white symbolizes good deeds and black symbolizes sins.  It is only through prayers to Lord Shiva that one gets to see the world filled with pure thoughts and deeds.  Such a world is symbolised by the inner circle of temples.

Afterwards, we walked back to the river through a farmer’s market and a bread bakery.  We also walked through one of the Durga festival tents.  It was really pretty.  When we got back to the river, there were some women with tiny babies, one was nursing.  The children and women are so beautiful.  People were bathing in the river and we are once again reminded how important the Mother Ganges River is.  We took the ferry back to the boat and had a nice lunch.  Then we headed out to the deck to make a 360 degree GoPro video and photograph fisherman, farmers, women doing laundry, and kids playing in the river.  We attended an informative lecture on “The Ganges River: The Environmental Outlook and Socio-economic Impact of the Local Population,” given by Arvind Singh.  People consider the Ganges as “Mother,” so they feel connected to the river spiritually, and have faith that the pollution won’t affect their health.

We then learned how to play a new game called, “Sequence.”  It’s fun.  There was a beautiful sunset tonight.  Dinner was good – large prawns.  Party boats from Matiari kept coming out from shore and circling our boat.  There was loud music, dancing, and fireworks.  We took a short video when they stopped by our boat and we cheered from the boat while they cheered from their boat.  What great fun this Festival of Durga is.  Today is the last day of the eleven day event.

India – October 12, 2016

Day 17 – Kolkata ~

I started the day with a Yoga group, on the upper deck.  After breakfast, we took a panoramic city bus tour of Bandel where saw the British colonial area. We drove past the Writers’ Building, General Post Office, High Court, Raj Bhawan (Governor’s House), and more.  We continued on to St. John’s Church.  It was built in 1756 and is the oldest Anglican church in Kolkata.  It contains the oldest functioning pipe organ in India and there is also a painting of the Last Supper by Johann Zofanny.

Afterwards, we visited the Mother Teresa home.  It was a moving experience, considering Mother Teresa was just made a saint in the shortest time on record – about 20 years.  Her tomb is plain marble and there were decorations of marigolds adorning the lid.  Pilgrams came to pay their respects, while we observed the moment of  their somber prayers.  A small adjacent museum room displays Teresa’s worn sandals and battered enamel dinner bowl. Located upstairs is the room where she worked and slept from 1953 to 1997, preserved in all its simplicity, just as she left it.

We were able to see her personal things:  bed, chair, journals, etc., and learn about her life and last days.  Nuns were in the courtyard washing their habits on the stone floor.  While we waited for the bus outside, we saw Muslin women, one in a black burka, that only left room for her eyes to show.  Seeing the women of two different faiths in their traditional clothing was interesting.

Next, we were off to visit the Victoria Memorial Museum, containing the largest collection of British colonial historical items in India.  There also was an impressive marble structure paying homage to the British Queen in India.  To us, it seemed an odd thing to see so much attention paid to the British.

We took the ferry back to the ship for lunch, and had the rest of the day to relax.  We washed our clothes in the sink and rinsed them in the shower, then hung the quick-dry underwear out to dry on our surgical braided material clothesline.  We must look like the poor-folk on the ship.  The shirts and pants were hung on hangers and suspended from the shower door, air conditioning vent, and wall sconces.  I bet the staff wouldn’t be happy, but they charge a lot of money to do laundry here.  We had our first sit-down, 4-course meal and choices.  They provided wine and beer.  It was good!

India – October 11, 2016

Day 16 – Agra / Delhi / Kolkata / Embark RV Ganges Voyager ~

We left Agra and took a 4½ hour bus to Delhi.  We were at the airport three hours early.  The security is really thorough.  After our bags went through the scanner, men and women walk through seperate scanners and into seperate booths, where you get felt-up by the agent.  It’s nothing like in the US.  They checked our ID’s and boarding passes again, and had us take our tech devices out of our carry-on luggage, including chargers, batteries, and cameras.  At the gate they checked our ID’s and boarding passes again, and then as we were getting on the plane, they checked them again.  Wow.  Our flight to Kolkata was on Air India 787.  There were nine seats across, and the bathrooms had ultra-violet lights, to sanitize between usage.  I’ve never seen that before; perhaps it’s a new plane.  Once in Kolkata, we met with our new City Guide.  It took us a little over an hour to get to the Ganges and on the way, the city was lit up with festival lights everywhere.  Every few blocks, there was a display to the Goddess Durga.  It really was magical. The Durga Puja (worship) is an 11 day festival, ending with the immersion of the Durga idols where she is returned to the river.  We were taken by a rinky-dink ferry, that chugged along and almost sounded like it was going the die.  It was like the story, “The Little Engine that Could.” Our ship is moored in the middle of the river as it isn’t deep enough to dock at the shore.  We boarded the brand-new RV Ganges Voyager, had a glass of fruit juice, had our safety briefing, and went dinner at 7:30 pm.  This was the beginning of our seven-night Ganges River cruise.

So is it the Ganges or the Hooghly?  On the map, it’s labeled the Hooghly.  But, we’re told that it is the Ganges…technically, but not exactly.  Until the 12th century the river now called the Hooghly was the main arm of the Ganges.   To the people of Bengal, it never was the Hooghly, it is not the Hooghly now; it is the beloved Ganga or Ganges.  Like the rest of the Ganges, the Hooghly is considered sacred to Hindus, and its water is considered holy.

India – October 10, 2016

Day 15 – Agra ~

This morning, we got up and as we were getting ready, we turned on CNN and the Presidential Debate was just starting.  We watched a few minutes and headed to breakfast. 

We visited the magnificent Crown of Palaces, the Taj Mahal,  built by Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal on the south bank of the Yamuna river in 1632.

Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643 but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. The cost estimated at the time to be around 32 million rupees, which in 2015 would be approximately 52.8 billion rupees (US $827 million). The construction project employed 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.  About a thousand elephants handled the transport of heavy building materials during the two-decade construction project.

As we arrived, there were an huge throng of people going in as well.  We saw a platform being carried above the crowd with flowers on top.  I assumed they were transporting flowers above their heads to protect the them from getting crunched.  I snapped a few photos and it went out of view.  We started moving along with the crowd and before I knew it the men with the platform were walking right by me towards the Taj Mahal.  Instinctively, I raised my camera up, over my head, and snapped another photo.  It was then I realized that this was a funeral procession and a body wrapped in a sheet and covered in flowers was being taking place.  I don’t know if they went to the Taj Mahal, or just past it to go to the Yamuna River.  It’s strange to be in a tourist queue and also a funeral procession.

The security is tight at these places and it’s similar to going though airport security.  We also had to put cloth covers over our shoes. We were warned about pickpockets.  A little old lady who was shorter than me was trying to see if she could get into my pocket.  I was shocked.  I didn’t have anything of value.  A pickpocket also tried to pick David’s pocket.  He pointed him out to security.

We visited many of the adjacent buildings and then got into the queue to get photos taken by their professional photographers with the Taj Mahal in the background.

The Taj Mahal is breathtaking, and Dinesh told us of the love story of the Emperor and his wife.  She died during the childbirth of their 14th child (Yikes!) and he spent the next 20 years building the Taj Mahal for her mausoleum.  Too bad she didn’t get to enjoy it while she was alive.

The Taj was constructed of white marble inlaid with 28 precisous and  semi-precious stones (including jade, jasper, crystal, lapis lazuli, amethyst, turquoise, sapphire, and carnelian) forming intricate designs in a techniques known as pietra dura and lapidary.  Surfaces are inlaid in delicate detail with semi-precious stones forming twining vines, fruits and flowers.

Its central dome reaches a height of 240 feet and is surrounded by four smaller domes; four slender towers (minarets), stand at the corners.  In accordance with Islamic tradition, verses from the Quran are inscribed in calligraphy on the arched entrances to the mausoleum, in addition to numerous other sections of the complex.  The calligraphy on the Great Gate reads “O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you.”

Inside the mausoleum, an octagonal marble chamber adorned with carvings and semi-precious stones houses the cenotaph (false tomb) of Mumtaz Mahal. The real sarcophagus containing her actual remains lay below, at garden level.  Her beloved, Shah Jahan is buried next to her.

The day was very hot and unfortunately, they didn’t have the fountains filled with water; perhaps maintenace?  It would have made our photographs prettier…cest la vie.  It seems that there is always scaffolding on these monuments.  Restoration is always in progress, much to the chagrin of photographers everywhere.

Afterwards, we went to an marble inlay factory.  Marble inlay is one of the most beautiful and popular forms of inlay art here.  In Agra, the marble inlays include florals, trellises, creepers, and geometric patterns finely carved on marble surfaces and embedded with semi-precious stones.  One interesting fact is that the carnelian stone that is inlaid glows when a flashlight beam is put up to it.  The other stones reflect the light.  We were shown a video of how inlay was done by local artisans, and then we had an opportunity to buy.  As usual, it was just enough to make it out of our price range.  We had looked at the smallest octagonal table top, maybe a foot diameter, and the sale price being offered to us was 200; then they dropped the price to $180.  We decided not to buy.  Back on the bus we discovered that two of our fellow passengers had bought large vases (maybe 12” high) for about $1200.  Another couple bought a coffee table.  We didn’t ask the price.  Another woman showed us a 4” elephant that she bought for $100.  Mark said he wished we had seen that, as it was more his speed.  We went back to the hotel and ate the lunch that we had cobbled together from breakfast, mainly pastries.

We watched a little of the CNN coverage, and they said that Clinton had a 56% favorable performance to Trump’s 34%.  That’s good.  We will have to watch more of the reviews tonight.

We walked into town with Dave and Kathy.  They had brought some jackets and flip flops, from home, to hand out to needy people.  We walked down one side of the busy road during the busy lunch hour traffic, and crossed over to the other side.  It’s a real trick to get across the road.  A parade with loud music went by us.  They were throwing brightly colored purple chalk in the air.  It must be part of the Navaratri festival that’s going on. What fun. We stopped into a marble shop and saw that they had marble elephants.  Mark picked out a really pretty one with inlay peacocks on it and talked the guy down to $60 from $100.  Dave haggled over one and then decided not to buy it.  We headed down the street and went to another factory where Dave got an even bigger elephant for $40.  He’s a good negotiator.  After we got back the hotel we cleaned up a bit from our walk, wrote greetings on some postcards, and met the group to go to the went on the optional “Taj at Sunset” tour.

The tour started with a visit to Itmad-ud-daulah, the tomb of Mirza Ghiyas Beg, an important official of the Mughal empire and grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, for whom the Taj Mahal was built.  When Ghiyas Beg’s daughter Nur Jahan commissioned her father’s tomb, it was the first in Mughal India to be constructed of pure marble rather than sandstone and to feature the pietra dura inlay later used on the Taj walls. It is thus often called the “Baby Taj.”

Our bus took us to the Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden), built by the first Mughal Emperor Babur, on the flood plains across the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal.  There were many vendors set up near the garden, where the bus parked.  Children were panhandling and eager vendors tried to capture our attention.  We headed on the the garden.

 Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who created both the Taj Mahal, felt that the best view of his wife’s mausoleum was from here.  At one time, the garden was surrounded by sandstone walls, crisscrossed by white stone walkways, and planted with fruit trees and narcissus.  The bagh was nearly ruined by foods and neglect, but is today being restored, including replanting to match the original Mughal horticulture.  Some of these plants produce bright flowers that shine in the moonlight.   It was suggested to us that in this splendid garden, we could feast our eyes on the golden hues washing the Taj across the river, and perhaps we would feel Shah Jahan’s pride and undying love for his queen.  There is also a Black Taj myth, that Shah Jahan had planned to build mirror image of the Taj Mahal he built for Mumtaz, albeit in black, in this location and connect the two by a bridge. There was even a pool in the moonlit garden that reflected a dark reflection of the Taj Mahal.  This Black Taj would have been dedicated to Shah Jahan himself.  It was thought that he began to build his own tomb here but could not complete it as he was arrested by his son, Aurangzeb.

We learned the Navaratri festival  is also known as the Durga Festival.  On the way to the Taj, we saw many celebrations taking place.  Vendors had festival decorations for sale and there were several trucks decorated with loud speakers playing music.  People were following along and dancing.

We enjoyed seeing the Taj Mahal at sunset, but Dinesh had pointed out to us not to expect to see the sun setting behind it as it faces north.  And that if we should see photos of the sun setting behind the Taj, it’s photoshopped!  It was still really beautiful.  Dave saw a Kingfisher in the garden, but I missed it.  It would have been nice if there had been a beautiful pink/orange sunset, but it wasn’t meant to be.  On the way back to the hotel we saw many more celebrations going on and wished we could participate.  There were also Indian Flying Foxes (fruit bats) flying around, so that was neat to see.  We made it back to the hotel and had a nice dinner with our group.  We had a nice stay at this hotel.

India – October 9, 2016

Day 14 – Agra ~

After breakfast, our bus took us to the train station for our trip to Agra.  There were transient families panhandling at the station.  Maybe, they were hoping to move on to a new location too.  There were interesting murals of wildlife on the station walls and then, what would we see, but of course, a cow…in the station!  This is just one of the curious and interesting things about India.  We walked on through to the platform where people were waiting for their trains.  Besides travelers, there was a troop of rhesus macaque monkeys, along with some pigs.  Some of the monkey’s were eating trash on the tracks, including banana peels.  Well that makes perfect sense.  Kathy threw a cheese cracker to one of them in waiting area next to us.  He picked it up, sniffed it, and dropped it.  That was surprising and funny.  There were pigs running around, so they will clean it up.

The train ride was 2 ½ hours long, and we had been told that we had to disembark quickly, as the train only stopped for two minutes, at each stop. Our guides were good at keeping track of time for us.  There was a man coming through selling chai, water, and food.  We didn’t take a chance on it.  I enjoyed watching the scenery out the window.  As expected there were little towns and people working in the fields.  We made several stops, and a couple of minutes later we would be on our way again.  Dinesh came through and let us know that our stop was next.  Our group all made it off the train without incident and then we had about a quarter of a mile walk up a ramp onto an overpass where we had a bird’s eye view of vendors selling food to people reaching out of the train windows below.  Then it was back down a ramp and a short way to our waiting buses.  Our poor bus drivers had collected our luggage at 9 PM yesterday and driven all night so that they could be there waiting for us.   Our ride to our hotel, ITC Mughal, took about an hour and we made it there in time for lunch.  We’re now accustomed to putting our bags through the hotel security x-ray machine and being greeted by hotel staff who put a dot of red vermillion (or yellow tumeric) paste on our foreheads, called a bindi.  It’s kind of fun, but actually plays the most important role in Hindu culture.  Every morning a Hindu takes a bath and sits in prayer seeking absolute truth.  Afterwards, they put a mark on their forhead, in the position of the third eye so that their higher self is always guiding them.  The idea is for them to remember that all the things they are doing are dedicated towards the achievement of this supreme goal of self realization.   A married woman always wears a red colored bindi to show true love and prosperity.   From a health point of view, the bindi is worn between the eyebrows where the pineal gland lies.  This is an important nerve center and applying sandalwood or ash keeps the nerves cool and conserves energy.  In the past the bindi was made from the yellow and red sandalwood, red and yellow turmeric, saffron, various flowers, ash, and zinc oxide.  All of these have cooling properties in nature.  Today, people wear bindis made with glue and glass and it doesn’t benefit in any way but to be a fashion accessory.

Our room is older, but very nice.  It smells like it used to be a smoking room, but it’s not too bad.  Lunch was very good.  After a rest, we met in the lobby at 3 pm.  The plan was to explore Agra Fort.  It was quite hot and very crowded, but also very interesting.  Dinesh is very good about telling us the history of the places we visit.  With the Taj Mahal overshadowing it, one can easily forget that this fort is one of the finest Mughal forts in India.  Construction of the massive red sandstone fort, on the bank of the Yamuna River, was started by Emperor Akbar in 1565.  There is a good view of the Taj Mahal across the river.  It’s weird to think that he had a harem of 500 women living here.

Further additions were made, particularly by his grandson Shah Jahan, using his favorite building material – white marble.  The fort was built primarily as a military structure, but Shah Jahan transformed it into a palace, and later it became his gilded prison for eight years after his son Aurangzeb seized power in 1658.  Yikes!

This place was very interesting.  Here’s a description of what we saw while we walked around it.  It’s nice that the gardens are being brought back to life and there was a huge bowl carved out of stone for an outdoor bathtub, in the courtyard.  Hmm, interesting!

This was one of the nights that dinner was not included, but since we had had a big lunch, we decided to just snack.  We have adjoining rooms with the Porterfield’s and after a shower, we got together and played a couple of games of Rummy.

India – October 8, 2016

Day 13 – Ranthambore ~

There is a poem by William Blake, written in 1794 called The Tiger.  It’s beautiful.  Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night…

One of the largest national parks in northern India, Ranthambore is renowned for its large Bengal Tiger population.  According to the 2014 census of tigers, there were 62 tigers in Ranthambore National Park.

Safari #1

We’re in an open-air, petrol canter (vehicle) with seating for 16 including the Driver, Arvind, and the naturalist, who was hard to understand, but we were able to understand enough.

On the way, we passed by sacred cows and water buffalos, but we were excited to be going on a safari, where we knew we would see something more exotic.  On the way, we saw Indian Flying Foxes above us.  They are also known as Greater Indian Fruit Bats.  It’s very cool to see a bat that large, and it’s a nice way to start the day.

A troop of Gray Langur monkeys greeted us at the entrance of Ranthambore National Park, where the rangers, checked our passports and waved us through.  Langurs are considered an (Old World Monkey).  The noses of New World monkeys are flatter than the narrow noses of the Old World monkeys, and have side-facing nostrils.  New World monkeys are the only monkeys with prehensile tails—in comparison with the shorter, non-grasping tails of the anthropoids of the Old World.

We also spied a couple of Rufous Treepies at the ranger station.  They remind me of magpies.  Later, I found out that they are quite tame and will accept food from people’s hands.  I wish we would have given that a try.

We were assigned to Zone 2; the big cats that prowl there are Krishna (T-19) with Three Cubs, Gayatri (T-22), Noor (T-39) with Two Cubs, Sultan (T-72),  and Jhumru (T-20).  Our 2 1/2 hour safari game drive started at 6:30 am and the first thing we saw was Ranthambore Fort.  The majestic fort, built in the 944 AD, towers over the entire park area.  It stands 700 feet above the surrounding plain.  Although, we didn’t visit it, inside the fort, there are three red Karauli stone temples devoted to Ganesh, Shiva, and Ramlalaji.  There is a Digamber Jain temple of Lord Sumatinath (5th Jain Tirthankar) and Lord Sambhavanatha.  These temples were constructed in the 12th and 13th centuries.  Digambara Jain monks do not wear any clothes.  These monks carry picchi, a broom made up of fallen peacock feathers (for clearing the place of insects before walking or sitting so as not to accidentally kill one!)

There is a huge banyan tree at the entrance of Zone 2.  We we drove through the old walled gate and into the forest.  It wasn’t long before our guide spotted a footprint (pugmark) of a Bengal Tiger, so we were hopeful to see the actual creator of those prints!  We’re also hoping that the Park doesn’t have a dedicated person who rubber stamps pugmarks before safaris get underway.

There was a herd of Spotted Deer (Chital) whom took a break from grazing to watch us, watching them.  Then we saw a Sambar Deer with her twin calves.  It was very sweet.

We also saw beautiful Indian Peacocks which are the National Bird of India.  In Hinduism, Indra, the image of the god of thunder, rains, and war, was depicted in the form of a peacock.  In south India, peacock is considered as a ‘vahana’ or vehicle of lord Muruga. 

Then our guide spotted a Collared Scops Owl that blended in perfectly with the tree it was sitting in.  There were more Rufous Treepies bickering and a Crested Serpent Eagle sitting on a branch.

Next, we saw our second herd of Spotted Deer (chital).   This time we were close enough to see a couple of bucks with their velvet antlers.

Then, at about 8:00 am, we got lucky and saw a Sloth Bear, but by the time the vehicle (canter) stopped, it had turned and was heading away, so I only got a photo of his butt…too bad.  At least we got to see its face!  There was a third herd of Spotted Deer (Chital) and then we saw another Crested Serpent Eagle.  This time he was on branch right above the road.  Thank you, Eagle, for posing!

A mature Sambar Doe was the next siting and we were closer than before. It gave us a chance to see her shaggy collar.  We moved on and saw more Rufous Treepies and the some Jungler Babblers.  They look like Angry Birds. Our guide spotted a Mongoose that we were only able to get a short glimpse before it disappeared.

We are on our way back and we come across another troop of  Gray Langurs.  We crossed a river (perhaps the Chambal or the Chakal?) and saw three different Kingfishers:  Pied Kingfisher, White-throated Kingfisher, and a Stork-Billed Kingfisher whom were sharing branches on the same tree without any conflict.  I discovered that the Stork-billed Kingfisher is rare, so I feel fortunate to have seen it.  There was also was a peacock and and Great Egret hanging out together on the same branch and a lazy Mugger Crocodile was lying on the bank while a Grey Heron fished in the River.  Then we saw another hawk.  This time it was called a Shikra.  (In Africa it is also called the Little Banded Goshawk.)  We drove past a fourth herd of Spotted Deer and another Crested Serpent Eagle.  This time his crest was a bit ruffled, so we got a quick peek at how he got his name.  In another tree we saw a new owl posing on a branch.  This one was called a Spotted Owlet.  It was pretty cute and looked oh-so-wise.

As we drove back through the gate, and past the troop of Gray Langurs, we realized that our dream of seeing a tiger was over.  We’ve got to hope for a better outcome on the next game drive.

Back at the lodge, there was a camel with a decorated cart. The driver, named Ram, was looking for passengers for 3o0 rupees.  A fellow passenger, named Georgine, from Minnesota, was ready to go, and I decided to join her.  We were off and riding through town at a slow methodical pace.  The camel was an 11 year old male, named Badal (which means cloud in Hindi).  Ram was a very affable man, and relatively easy to understand.  The ride was about an hour and we actually had him bring us back a little early as we needed to be at lunch at 1 pm.  We had a second game drive scheduled for 2:30 pm.

There was a white board at the lodge that showed that a group saw a tigress in Zone 4.  Ah, good for them, and too bad for us.  But, we really couldn’t complain as, only our group had seen the rare sloth bear.

Safari #2

This time we’re in a Jeep (called a gypsy) with seating for six.  The driver, naturalist, and four passengers:  Us, Dave and Kathy, and a couple from Virginia, Daniel Jones and Allison Grader. 

The day was now hot, but the breeze made a difference.  The drive was for 2 ½ hours in Zone 10, although the drive time is further away, into a buffer area in the park.  It would end up being a 4 1/2  hour excursion.

Zone 10 is at a higher elevation and there was also a possibility of seeing a leopard, plus the tigers that prowl there:  Fateh (T-42 male), Old Sultanpur (T-13 female) & her three 6 month old Cubs. 

Then we saw something new!  It’s a Blue Bull (Nilgai).  He’s big!

We had some low clearance with acacia trees, where we had to duck.  I had the GoPro mounted on top, and was trying to protect it from getting scratched by placing my hand in front of it.  I discovered that it wasn’t a good idea as I ended up with thorns imbedded in my fingers.  Mark ended up getting whipped by the branches and drawing blood.  A couple of times, when the branches grazed the top of the Jeep, leaves and several spiders dropped into the front seat where I was sitting.  Three of them were big enough (dime sized) that I was a little freaked out (Daniel was sitting directly behind me and killed one for me) and I took care of the others, but not before one of the big ones climbed into my camera bag.  It took me awhile to get it out.

As we continued on we saw a couple of Sambar Deer does and their calves. We crossed a river and saw a pair of Spot-billed Ducks and a sleepy Red Turtle Dove.  Then we saw a Lesser Fish Eagle flying down the river.  My photos only show him from behind, but it was a pretty sight.  We saw a beautiful Indian Roller, a Southern Grey Shrike, and another interesting bird, that I researched later and found out was a young Asian Paradise Flycatcher.  On our way out we saw a small herd of Indian Gazelles (Chinkara).  Our guide said they were rare, but we weren’t sure if he was telling us that to make us feel better about not seeing a tiger or leopard.

The road is going through hilly mountain area, and was been surfaced with large rocks, some were a foot in size, and it made it a bumpy 4-wheel drive in many places, but I guess that keeps the road from getting washed out. I’ve never seen road base that chunky.  It was slow moving.  This time, the safari was a difficult drive and there weren’t many sightings.  The other gypsy Jeep with some of our other fellow passengers also in Zone 10 didn’t see a tiger either, but were lucky enough to see a cobra crossing the road. After our allotted time we started the drive back and got caught in the rain.  Dave shared his jacket to block the rain and protect our cameras and it helped us to stay somewhat drier.  When we got back to the lodge, it was 7 pm and time for dinner.  It had been a long day.

On the white board in the lodge, there were more sightings.  The same group that saw the female tigress in Zone 4, saw another very large male tiger again in Zone 4.  Another group saw a tiger in Zone 2.  Oh well.  We’re happy that someone saw tigers, it just wasn’t our day to see one.  It was still a fun safari.  I guess we’ll have to come back!

We had to have our bags outside our door by 9 pm. That means we have to have what we need for the morning in our carry-on bag, and be able to pack what we need for getting reading for bed as well.