INDIA THE TAJ AND THE TIGERS EXPERIENCE
February 2016 – Dave and Ann Brierley
An early departure awaited us on a typical damp cold winter West Yorkshire morning, arriving at Manchester Airport in good time and ready for our trip to India. All went smoothly with Emirates connecting flights and change over in Dubai, duly arriving on time in Delhi approx. 2.30am local time. Our journey then continued to Agra by car with all our guides and driver being prompt and to the superbly appointed Mariott Hotel. After Tea and buns (us English you know) and after a well earned rest we departed in the Afternoon of the same day, to our first port of call, the impressive Agra Fort with its red sand stone and white marble looking majestic in the in the bright sunlight. Built by the Moghul Empire this was indeed craftsmanship of the first order, we then went onto to view the Taj Mahal a masterpiece lit up by the setting sun this would whet our appetite for the following day.
An early start the next day, (6am) to go inside the Taj, the sun rising in the first morning light was a earily pleasing with a slight mist surrounding the Taj. The sun quickly ate through the mist and the Taj Mahal stood out in all its splendour, we viewed it from many different angles but my favoured place has to be the view through the water gardens with the reflection of the Taj on the water being a photographers jewel in the crown.
We then set off with our guide and driver to visit the Palace of Fatepur sikki which had many interesting points of interest with the mosaics of the courtyards and the intracite carvings in the red sandstone, the buildings were a credit to the stonemasons and architects who gave their time and efforts in creating this impressive masterpiece. Our final port of call for the day was to be Bharatpur and the Bagh Hotel where we would spend the night in readiness for the following day when we would visit Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. We rose at 6am and were taken by our driver to meet Raj who would be our guide on the reserve. This reserve has many different habitats ranging from scrubland, woodland and marshland. All the different habitats hold birds, animals and reptiles unique to these areas. A selection of what we saw:-
Sarus Crane; Black Bittern; Imperial Eagle; Dusky Eagle Owl; Siberian Ruby Throat; Python; Jackal; Spotted Deer; Mud Turtle; and many more. Bharatpur is a Unesco World Heritage site sponsored by the Indian Government and was well worth the visit.
The following day awaits and a train journey beckons, Bharatpur to Ranthambore. We were greeted at the train station in Ranthambore by a local guide who whisked us to the Regency Hotel for a three night stay. Ranthambore National Park is probably the number one Tiger watching venue in India. We had five safaris planned we met Vipul a local naturalist who talked us through the history of the park and also the work that is being done to protect and secure the Tigers future at Ranthambore. He also informed us what else we might expect to see on safari in the park. We were successful in seeing two different male tigers and one female ,we also so Leopard; Sambar Deer; Indian Gazelle; Crested Serpent Eagle; Black shouldered kite and Indian roller. We were taken by Vipul to view the rare Blackbuck with it barley twist antlers, this is certainly unique in the animal kingdom. We also visited a women’s co-operative where the ladies are busy weaving goats hair to make rugs and embroide making many stunning and intriguing designs and finished items to view. A visit to the local village school was also on the agenda, the age range of the children being 4-17 years. We were entertained here by the children doing a customary dance, we visited the classrooms where the children gave us a very good lesson in English and showed their work. Sadly we had to depart, our three night stay in Ranthambore had come to an end and we now looked forward to our next destination Jaipur.
Where we arrived mid-afternoon after a three hour car journey to the lovely heritage Hotel Shahpura. After a quick freshen up we made a visit to a majestic Hindu Temple where we witnessed a ceremony and the setting sun over Jaipur. The following was a full day tour of the city, starting with a visit to the Amber Fort just out of the city. Our first view of this was from the lake which created a pin sharp reflection with the backdrop of the fort then followed a tour of the Fort infrastructure where we admired the craftsmanship that went into creating this great behemoth, which looms over the city below. Then onto an observatory in the Pink City, where we were given a detailed account into the marvels of time and astrology, where objects and instruments were on view all dating back 300 years ago, the genius of this was there to be seen and admired. We then visited the Royal Palace where the Royal Family still live, we explored this vast labyrinth which gave us an insight into the history of the existing and past royal families of Jaipur.
A flight then beckons destination Cochin in Kerala, we had a two night stay here. The afternoon of our arrival we went to see a performance of a customary dance called Kachali which is unique to the area. The following day saw us on a tour of the colonial part of Cochin, where we visited the Church of St Francis, The Dutch Palace and the Jewish Synagogue. Later in the afternoon we had a boat trip around the harbour to view the famous 14the Century Chinese fishing nets, where the setting sun capped a memorable day. Our penultimate adventure was a voyage through the backwaters with one night on a houseboat, where we sailed passed local communities all going about their everyday lives. We witnessed bathing, washing laundry and of course fishing, this was all done in the water which links together the spiders web of channels which make up the backwaters with the stunning scenery and its Fauna and Flora it is truly a unique and captivating place.
Our sojourn in India was sadly now coming to an end but we had one final destination. The Coconut Lagoon, Kumarakom We sailed into the resort and were greeted with smiling faces and with staff in typical attire, this looked a magical place. We were treated to fresh coconut on our arrival and were given a brief tour of the resort and what it had to offer. We attended a cooking class where the Chef produced two traditional Keralan dishes both sumptuous and full of flavour. We also took a stroll around the area with its vast array of Birds, Butterflies and Dragonflies all in resplendent colour it was sheer delight. Our final day was upon us, first up an early morning expedition with the resident naturalist who introduced us to the Fauna and Flora of the area which included Indian Paradise flycatcher; Blue Tailed beeater; Pheasant Tailed Jacana; Monitor Lizard and numerous orchid varieties adorned the gardens. We then took a sunset cruise on Verband Lake,where sadly our journey had now come to an end but the sites, sounds, smells and wonderful people will always be with us. One day we will perhaps return to India a truly captivating Country.