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This article was first published in ?Jungle Tales? a book released by Jungle Lodges and Resort to celebrate 25 years in operation. I made a visit to Bandipur National Park and chronicled my experiences from the tour for the book.

From May 20th to 22nd, Darter Photography (a photography tours venture from pro-photographers Shreeram and me) is travelling to Bandipur. The photography tour to Bandipur involves jeep safaris in the park every morning and evening, where our photographer will work closely with each of the participants and help them make good images of the park?s wildlife. Go here to see more details about the tour and to register.

The lone tusker stopped feeding for a moment and looked at our jeep warily. He appeared immature and lacked the confidence to roam recluse in the forest. His dark hide camouflaged well with the thick undergrowth, but our sharp-eyed driver had spotted the pair of bright tusks through the swaying leaves. The pachyderm looked up through the shrubs cautiously and assessed our intentions in invading his territory. After a brief pause, he decided to beat a quick retreat into the jungle.

elephants of bandipur national park

The meeting with this anxious pachyderm ended up in a game of hide and seek. He hastily moved away, but could not resist pausing and turning back to check if we followed him. We infact did. As we drove closer to take a good look at his shining tusks, he retreated further until curiosity stopped him again. We repeated this for a while until he grew bored of us, trumpeted a good-bye and swiftly disappeared in the undergrowth. As he went out of sight, the silence in our jeep was broken by a series of exclamations by the occupants. It was our first wildlife sighting of the day.

The next tryst with elephants happened minutes later, this time less entertaining but much more thrilling. It was a small family lead by a tall and sturdy matriarch who kept a careful watch at a baby in the pack. On seeing us, the matriarch raised her trunk and trumpeted threateningly, sending a message that we were not welcome. She moved forward and violently pushed a nearby tree, which crackled and gave away in seconds. The tree trunk broke and was on the ground even before we knew what happened. The matriarch?s intentions were clear. We fled immediately.

elephants in bandipur

The tryst with these large mammals continued during my stay at Bandipur Safari Lodge. Next evening, we accidentally crossed path with an elephant which was crossing the road to join its herd. It was too close to us for comfort, standing just a few meters from the jeep?s bonnet. My heart stopped for a moment as the elephant paused and contemplated its next move. Unhappy at the intrusion, she nearly charged at us and before turning around and disappearing in the bushes. What seemed to be a grave danger had subsided in an instant.

Not every encounter however, was an uneasy one. In another occasion, we saw a small herd foraging calmly next to a pond, completely ignoring our presence. They nonchalantly plucked blades of grass and rid them of the mud by pounding into the ground before feeding. They flapped their ears and occasionally scooped a pile of mud and splashed it on their backs. A small baby moved playfully between the legs of the matriarch. For them, life in the forest was mostly normal, but for a few uneasy brushes with the troublesome humans.

spotted deer

Encounters of forest life in Bandipur were not just limited to boundary of the national park. Back at the Safari Lodge, the fig trees attracted birds in large numbers. ?This place will be teeming with Asian Koels and Grey Hornbills,? said the naturalist Nataraj, ?wait till the figs ripen.? The figs were still green, but the grassy surroundings and flowering vines still attracted the smaller birds. Magpie robins whistled continuously as they searched for insects on the ground. Purple sunbirds with their shining feathers fluttered from flower to flower and sucked the sweet nectar. Shrikes meditated on the dry branches in the open ground next to the lodge and kept an eye for prey. The edge of the park was as alive as the forest itself.

grey jungle fowl

I was busy chasing the birds at the lodge when good news came from the forest. One of the drivers had spotted a leopard kill on a tree in the woods. We drove there next morning in the hope of seeing the elusive big cat guarding its kill. However, like they say grass is greener on the other side, sightings in the jungle are always better from the other jeep! A small group who left the lodge before us got a chance to see the leopard to their heart?s content, but it had disappeared into the thicket just before we arrived. The kill, a sambar deer, was still hanging on a branch a good hundred feet above the ground. I was amazed, imagining the strength of the beast that could lift the carcass weighing more than a hundred kilos up the tree. Later that day, there was news of sightings of leopards, a tiger and a group of wild dogs. I missed seeing them myself, but it was heartening to know that the forest is teeming with these endangered mammals.

I did not see the action that day, but our driver Pradeep entertained me with his tales from the jungle. Only a week earlier, he had spent more than an hour watching a tiger from just a few meters away as it lazily walked past the vehicle and settled comfortably next to a puddle. In another incident, he had observed a bunch of wild dogs pinning down a spotted deer. It must be an exciting life being behind the wheels in this forest.

stripe necked mongoose

Even while I missed the leopards and tigers, the morning safari was a delightful hour of sighting many birds and smaller animals. I saw several Grey Jungles Fowls flaunting their bright red and grey feathers. Peafowls gracefully walked next to our jeep, as though oblivious to our presence. Malabar parakeets squeaked as they landed on dry branches. A pair of stripe-necked mongoose fought playfully by falling over each other and darted into the bushes on our approach. Alert sambar deer gazed at us as we drove past them. Spotted deer in small groups grazed peacefully next to our tracks. Together, they made up for the disappointment of having missed the leopard.

Wanderings in the woods gave me a closer look at the life in the forest. Back from the unsuccessful search for the leopard, I headed out to Gopalawamy Betta, the highest peak in the park that gave me a different perspective ? a bird?s eye view of the expanse.

gopalaswamy betta

At the peak is a small temple dating back to 14th century built by a Chola King and later patronized by the Maharaja of Mysore. Standing on the temple courtyard, I could see the never ending green canopy of the national park and adjoining forests of Nagarahole and Wayanad. The large reservoir of Kabini?a favourite haunt of elephants during dry summer days?glittered near the horizon. Everywhere else was thick greenery covering the undulating landscape of the park. Lofty mountains of Nilgiri Ranges rose high at the southern edge.

bandipur national park

Next morning, Nataraj took me for a short trek in the periphery of the forest. Walking past houses and fenced fields, we sighted yellow browed bulbuls, several larks, ashy prinias and bay-backed shrikes. The tall trees closer to the forest housed less common birds like yellow footed green pigeons, hill mynas and rocket tailed drongos.

My tryst with elephants continued even during the trek. Nataraj spotted a few broken branches, trampled grass and fresh dung which indicated the signs of their presence. They had wandered to the edge of the forest in the night and were foraging in the bushes a little ahead on our way. The presence of elephants meant we had to alter our plans of walking up a hillock in the forest. As we made a round about and returned from the trek, my visit to Bandipur had ended the same way it started ? in the company of elephants.

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I spent a week in Kerala last month, looking out for beautiful places to photograph and to plan photography tours for Darter and for a few private groups. We had a great week of travelling as we visited cultural hubs of Kerala, saw and photographed some rare endemic birds, woke up to some amazing landscapes that became a theater to play of light and clouds, and floated over the beautiful backwaters of Alleppey. ?Cloud Farm? in Munnar was one such place we visited during the trip. We reached there in near darkness on a damp evening when unseasonal showers seemed to play spoilsport to our visit. We suffered a few leech bites along the way, but escaped from nine out of ten leeches that caught us, thanks to leech-socks provided by our guide.

The next morning, weather had cleared up around the campsite and we woke up to see a layer of clouds separating the mountains from the valley below. The colours of early morning sun penetrated as a strip of gentle red somewhere near the horizon. As the day progressed and the clouds cleared up, the greenery around the campsite became a hub of activity as birds started moving up and down in their lookout for breakfast. Nilgiri flycatchers, Kerala Laughingthrushes, pacific swallows and a variety of birds flew and perched next to plants and bushes very close to the campsite. Later, we made a short hike to the highest point in the region that offered a 360-degree view of the hills and plains around us.

In the view faraway were the plains of Tamil Nadu, the world?s highest tea garden at Kolukkumalai hills and the undulating landscapes of Top Slip. We stood on a small wind-swept, grassy plateau and watched the world around us until the sun gained strength and reminded us of the day ahead.

Here are some images from the visit to ?Cloud Farm?

clouds and hills of munnar

Hills and clouds and the hour of sunrise

hills of munnar

kerala laughingthrush

A Kerala Laughingthrush

houses on the slopes

Houses on the slopes


Our guide Sibi showing the way

nilgiri flycatcher

A Nilgiri Flycatcher

kolukkumalai tea estate

View of Kolukkumalai Tea Estate in the opposing hills, claimed to be the world?s highest organic tea garden.


Rhododendrons that bloom in high altitudes

clouds hills munnar

Clouds moving up the hills

clouds and hills of munnar

The morning spectacle

?Cloud Farm? is a camp site with great views, located on the Munnar-Vattavada road, nearly an hour?s drive from the town and further an hour?s walk. The camp site is managed by Nature Unseen, who organize visits and night?s stay at location. Sibi, our guide and the person who runs nature unseen, is well informed on Munnar?s history, flora and fauna. He had lots to tell us when we were spending the night at the camp.

Our stay at Munnar Town was a courtesy of Green Spaces, a small guesthouse about 10km from the town. The guesthouse has spacious and comfortable rooms and most importantly, in a place that is faraway from the town in a quiet location. See more about Green Spaces on their website.

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India Travel Blog Newsletter is sent approximately once a month (sometimes less frequently), summarizing the previous month?s activity and giving a glimpse of the coming month on the website. Subscribe to the newsletter by keying in your email address in the box on the top of the sidebar. Here is a copy of this month?s newsletter, dispatched today.



Here is the May edition of India Travel Blog newsletter, bringing you a quick summary of posts in last two month, a desktop calendar for May-2011 and listing our upcoming photography tours. Also, India Travel Blog has now moved to a new server to accommodate the increasing traffic. The migration had a few minor problems and some downtime in the blog, which some of you may have noticed. You may encounter some minor errors or problems in browsing in the next few days, but these are temporary and will be rectified soon. Thank you for your patience.

Desktop Calendar. Desktop calendar wallpaper for this month is a photograph of misty hills of Munnar.

McLeodGanj. Read the three-part travelogue on the beautiful hills of McLeodGanj, its Buddhist Monks and on walking aimlessly in the slopes of this small town.

Photo Essay on Hampi. See images from Hampi posted in a two part series ? one on the birds of Hampi and the other on its well-known monuments.

Images. Besides the photo-essays on Hampi, I also posted several recent images including rose ringed parakeets, backwaters of Kerala, Humayun?s Tomb and a bee eater. See them all here

Travel Photography Articles. Read travel photography articles on photographing monuments and on quality of light.

Upcoming Photography Tours

Our photography tours venture is going places, with wildlife in focus this summer. Join us on any of these upcoming tours.

Bandipur National Park. We are heading to Bandipur National Park in the third week of May, to see and photography a variety of animals and birds. With an increasing population of big cats and frequent sightings of tigers and leopards, we may be among the ones to come back with great images of these majestic animals. Go here to see more details and register for the tour.

Kanha National Park. On the first week of June, we are heading to Kanha National Park, where vast grasslands play home to a variety of wildlife including tigers, barasinghas, gaurs, wild dogs, hawk eagles, peafowls and a lot more. Go here to see more details and to register for the tour.

Happy Travels!

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Hikefest 2011: Soufriere Estate to Bellevue Chopin

Hikefest 2011: Soufriere Estate to Bellevue Chopin

This year?s Hike Fest started with a Moderate hike (10.8km) from the beautiful village of Soufriere to Bellevue Chopin; which showcases segment two of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

The Soufriere Estate to Bellevue Chopin trail highlights an old slave route, old estates and historic buildings reminds us of Dominica?s history of a plantation society and the era of colonization

Some of the areas of interest on this trail are: Old slave route, Sulphur springs, Traditional living, Palmiste Ridge (optional), Livestock & small agricultural farming, Charcoal production and Historic buildings (Palmiste to Bois Cotlette Route)

Despite the rainy conditions all throughout the hike, it was a beautiful trail, and I will definitely walk the trail again. Here are some few pictures that I was able to take without getting my camera wet?.enjoy!

Image from segment two of the Waitukubuli trail

Hikers in Dominica's Waitukubuli Trail

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Dominica Family Travel Guide

Dominica is great for experienced tourists, but it?s a nice place for families either, perfect for a vacation. How do you get there from, say, the U.S.?

One option is a direct flight from San Juan to the Melville Hall airport. That?ll be an ATR prop plane. The landings and take-offs make some travelers worry: Runways are short and look barely sufficient. If a member of your family gets apprehensive when flying, the Melville Hall flight is not a good choice. You should also know that if you pick it, your luggage may get late.

While nobody wants overload the plane, the passengers are given higher priority than their stuff. So if the flight is full, some luggage will be left behind until the next flight, which is a day later. In case it would be your luggage delayed, pack the essentials in a carry-on. These should be repellents, medications, clothes, and other things.

If you prefer habitual jets, you may come to the nearest islands first (that?ll be an ordinary jet flight to Martinique or Guadeloupe), and then take a ferry to Dominica.

The roads in Dominica are generally curvy. Sometimes, you can?t see what?s coming, in those areas you have to honk to warn people who may be on your way. To pass by another car, you have to pull over (and so has the other driver). If you happen to see a tight country road, make sure if it?s not the arterial highway, because this is how it looks.

Where to stay? So far, there are no chic resorts, and if that?s what your family needs, Dominica won?t meet your wishes. It?s focused on coziness, so look for private places, small hotels, and eco-resorts. You can find the most lodging at the Roseau area, but it?s busy and may be not what you need. Before you pick something, figure out if children are allowed there.

It may be lame to tell you that, but children need special conditions. At some places you?ll be saved all the trouble. Hubicus Valley Inn has packages with food and tours, and Sunset Bay Club &Dive Resort offer special packages for children?they may stay and eat free. Tamarind Tree Hotel fulfills the entertaining part with an eco-programme for kids. And the Fort Young Hotel is barely the only option if your children are picky eaters, because meals in Dominica are generally simple.

Oh, yes, the food. Replenishing your supplies in Roseau is best. But if you?re in urge, there are small markets at the villages, and larger ones close to Roseau and Portsmouth. Besides, there are many places to eat in the Roseau area.

Meat and fresh milk are hard to get. It?s possible, but not typical. However, there is a lot of boxed milk, and the local dishes consist of chicken or fish. They are served with rice and root crops, and with fresh fruits.
The locals are friendly, but remember, there always is a black sheep. That is, if you don?t trust somebody, watch out. If you don?t feel right near some place, consider it positively unsafe. If you still want to visit it, hire a guide. This way, your family will avoid many problems.

Use the repellents, or else mosquitoes will make a problem. The special soap and sprays work well, and for children, a DEET repellent is better. Good protection against insects is a guarantee of your well-being in the jungle. And don?t worry about snakes and spiders, there are no poisonous species in the island.

That?s it. Be sure, Dominica will leave unforgettable memories. This travel will be the best gift for your family and especially for the kids.

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Iranian FM Warns against Continued Militarism in Bahrain

?Intervention of foreign forces in Bahrain further complicates the situation and continuing this policy and continued militarism will merely intensify the crisis (in Bahrain),? Salehi said at the meeting in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

He further pointed out that the present crisis in Bahrain could only be soothed through collective efforts, adoption of wise policies, withdrawal of foreign forces, proper response to the legitimate demands of the Bahraini people, and respect for Bahrain?s sovereignty and independence.

For his part, al-Maktum, who is also the UAE?s defense minister, pointed to the developments in the region, and rejected alleged differences between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims, underlining that such allegations are inspired by the enemies.

Anti-government protesters have been holding peaceful demonstrations across Bahrain since mid-February, calling for an end to the Al Khalifa dynasty?s over-40-year rule.

Violence against the defenseless people escalated after a Saudi-led conglomerate of police, security and military forces from the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) member states ? Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar ? were dispatched to the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom on March 13 to help Manama crack down on peaceful protestors.

Yet, protests and rallies continued throughout the country in defiance of the martial law put in place by Manama since last month.

During the recent days, Bahrainis repeated their demand for the ouster of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and condemned Riyadh?s involvement in the suppression of the revolution.

People have announced that they will continue protests until the regime collapses.

Demonstrators have been demanding constitutional reforms as well as an end to the 230-year-old monarchy, with hundreds camping out peacefully in the capital?s Pearl Square since February 14.

Bahraini and Saudi security forces have been brutally suppressing anti-government protestors. So far, tens of people have been killed, hundreds have gone missing and about 1,000 others have been injured.

Courtesy Google

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Dominica Proudly Presents: Middleham Falls

Not only is Middleham Falls a marvelous work of nature, cascading off a rainforest ridge and falling perhaps 150 to 200 feet into a tranquil blue swimmable pool, but also Dominica has done itself proud by making a nice, clean, comfortable trail-head facility and a remarkably well-made and well-maintained trail into the falls that made the hike reasonable even for this 70-year-old.

It is access, after all, that makes the nature most enjoyable, and Dominica can be justifiably proud of the job it has done with its presentation of Middleham Falls. The pathway was graveled and its steps were all in place.

There were solid bridges and railings where necessary, and we saw signs of trail markings repainted so recently that some paint drops were still on plant leaves. Great job!

middleham falls in Dominica

To get to the trail entrance we used (there are others) follow the road from Roseau to Laudat. Before reaching Laudat you?ll see a large prominent sign on your left. The trailhead facility, with rain shelter, large sign maps giving clear directions (and the trail is well signposted too, and has rest benches) is about ΒΌ mile down the drivable track. Go, and enjoy Middleham Falls.

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Emirates to resume flights to conflict-torn African city

Emirates Airline on Monday confirmed that it will resume its flights to and from Abidjan in Ivory Coast on May 12 after the service was suspended amid conflict in the country.

The Dubai-based carrier also said in a statement it has reopened its Abidjan town office.

Emirates will operate daily to Abidjan via Accra, Ghana. Flights to Abidjan will be served by an Airbus A340-300 aircraft.

Emirates currently serves 19 passenger and cargo destinations across the African continent.

The resumption of flights follows Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara taking an oath of office last week as authorities of the Western African country try to turn the page on the months-long civil conflict that followed a contested election.

Ouattara and ousted leader Laurent Gbagbo were engaged in an armed conflict after the latter refused to relinquish his president?s post following his loss in the November election.

Gbagbo was put under house arrest after he was pulled from a basement bunker at his residence on April 11.

Life is slowly returning to normal in Abidjan, Ivory Coast?s commercial hub. Banks have reopened for business and cocoa export companies are girded to resume trade, though many complain about racketeering.

Officials have had to deal with sporadic uprisings in recent weeks. On Friday, the United Nations dispatched investigators to inspect the site of alleged massacres in one Abidjan district.

Courtesy Arabianbusiness

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