A Solo Journey Through India

Ellen Hamilton

09 Apr 2019

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NWS client Ellen discovers india's rich wildlife and culture

I had a wonderful time in India. Travelling alone, I never felt one moment of anxiety because I knew that NWS and Banyan Travels had my back. My guides were, without exception, the best guides I have ever experienced.

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I am 70 and have knee issues, which flared up because of all the walking on stone and steps in Varanasi, but my guides were solicitous about discussing our daily program and amending things to suit my abilities and interests.

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I just can't say enough about how brilliant my experience was. Because I was travelling alone, I really felt so immersed in the culture, and I was very sentimental about ending my trip and leaving the people who I had come to regard as friends. The itinerary was exactly the right blend of safari and city for me, and since I knew so little about India before I went, I must give NWS all the credit for choosing the absolute best experiences for me. I will definitely look to NWS when considering future travels. Thanks again to all of you who made such a grand vacation a reality for me.

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Delhi

March 5, 2019

I wish to say a special thank you to my tour guide in Delhi, Vikash Poonia. He led me on a most excellent and comprehensive tour of Old and New Delhi. Delhi is so much more than the crowds and traffic you see in the movies. The colours of the wedding market, the sparkle of the jewellery markets, and the tantalising smells of the spice market!

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The city is 60% green space, with fairytale centuries-old buildings and monuments in red, pink and white stone, decorated symmetrically to please the eye and spirit. Vikash provided such interesting additions to my (pitifully) small knowledge of Indian history and culture. Plus I loved our discussions on spiritual beliefs. If you travel to India, I would be pleased to give you his contact info. A spectacular start to my Indian adventure! Thank you, Vikash.

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Satpura

March 8

Could you be a tiger tracker? What do you see in this photograph?

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Give up? Take a look at the next photo – it’s a tiger pawprint, about 12” across.

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Had my first sighting in Satpura today. Great with binocs, not so hot with my Canon – if I’m going to keep doing this I’ll need more telephoto power than I have. Early going yet though – the group that went out yesterday morning before I arrived was about 6 ft from a female as she devoured her kill. By the time we came out in the afternoon, all that was left was the pungent aroma and she was off somewhere sleeping with a full belly!

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March 9

You’ll have to take my word for it that I saw two leopards today crossing the road (at different times) – they move too fast for me to photograph. Tigers and leopards don’t mix, so no tigers today. But I saw lots of other incredible smaller mammals and birds. This one made me laugh – it’s an Indian gaur (related to the African Cape buffalo) who looks like he’s wearing sunglasses.

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March 10

Two favourite pics of the day. First is a mottled wood owl (at least 2 ft tall) and the second is an Indian giant squirrel, big as a cat, chowing down on all the flowers on that tree he can reach.

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Central India is too arid to support a native elephant population (sigh...), but the national parks use a handful of Asian elephants for patrolling purposes through areas otherwise too dense and impenetrable to reach. I believe the word "bulldozer" must come from bull elephants! And they have the ecological benefit of eating what they knock down as they go. So I feel particularly lucky that we happened upon this mama, obviously on maternity leave, with her baby.

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March 11

A friend I made at Denwa who has a brilliant camera and a kind heart shared her photo of the leopard we saw with me. Magnificent, isn't it?

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Pench

March 12

Success! Wonderful morning safari in Pench – one near and clear view of a walking tiger, plus two more rustling in the high brush. Plus a sleeping leopard (too far for a good photograph).

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Kanha

March 14

Today was the best yet. In addition to a host of wildlife and wild bird sightings of many varieties, one of Kanha's female tiger paraded out in front of us and proceeded to lie down and pose for about 10 minutes. It was absolutely glorious! She had a 4-month-old cub who was too shy to come out of the bushes, although at one point he ran across the road from one stand of brush to another – too fast to photograph, but oh so cute! I have been in a tented camp for the last three days, and move on to a different park and treehouse lodge tomorrow.

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March 15

Early-morning coffee among the stands of bamboo and sala trees at Shergarh Tented Camp Bird and monkey calls all around. On the road to Bandhavgarh today.

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March 16

Here is what you will encounter on an Indian road, often simultaneously: cars, motorbikes, cows, trucks, farm vehicles, hand- or oxen-drawn carts, more cows, bicycles, tuk-tuks (three-wheeled electric vehicles), goats, rickshaws (pedal-bicycle vehicles), pedestrians, even more cows, children walking to and from school waving to you, men and women walking along with impossibly large sacks and bundles balanced on their heads, cows lying in the centre of the road (even highways) while traffic whizzes past, and, to top it all off, passengers on the back of a motorbike holding two goats crisscrossed in their laps.

And this is all kept in beautiful check by the judicious – and very polite – use of the vehicle horn. So far I have travelled in a car across India for almost 25 hours and I have never seen a traffic accident or even an altercation. It is quite amazing – even the trucks have “PLEASE HORN” written across the back so they can help a driver behind them pass on the typical one-lane roads. So different from the way Americans use their car horns as a tool of abuse. Cultural differences – the magic of travel.

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Bandhavgarh

March 18

This was my view this morning in Bandhavgarh!

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Varanasi

March 19

As the sun rises over Holy Mother Ganges, the beautiful old buildings of Varanasi are warmed and blessed by the returning light and people come to the river to wash away their earthly attachments and prepare for a new day.

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A quiet little corner of my hotel to sit and meditate on how fortunate I am to have these opportunities.

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March 20

A perfect day in the holy city of Varanasi thanks to my most wonderful guide Dharam Rajpal, ending with the beautiful nightly ceremony of putting Holy Mother Ganges to sleep and offering blessings to her and for all my family and friends. If I had only one word to describe Varanasi (and restricting myself to one is difficult), it would be “magical”. Namaste to Dharam for sharing his beloved city with me today.

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Jaipur

March 21

Today is Holi, the festival of colours. It and Diwali (the festival of lights) are India's two main holidays. It’s crazy, with everyone throwing colours on everyone else and general riotousness. Also, young kids are having a great time with squirt guns (super soakers) and water balloons – I’ve been hit a couple of times, but they’re so cute it just makes me laugh. What an experience – so glad I’m here for it.

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March 22

Yesterday and today I toured the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur with my guide Sagar Saxena. It is an incredibly beautiful “planned city” created by the visionary Maharajah Jai Singh II in the early 1700s. But I have to say that the highlight of my visit was to an elephant sanctuary, arranged by Sagar for me. This is Lakshi. She is 28 years old and it was love at first sight. I spent about an hour feeding her, rubbing her trunk, cheek and head and looking into her beautiful eyes. (By the way, Lakshi celebrated Holi like everyone else – that’s the reason for the colours on her trunk.) Thank you Sagar for arranging an absolutely unforgettable experience for me. I’ll say it again: INCREDIBLE INDIA!

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Agra

March 23

Final leg of my journey. Arrived in Agra this afternoon and visited both the “Baby Taj” (a mausoleum which actually predates the Taj Mahal) and the Red Fort which is as much palace as fort.

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Absolutely breathtaking architecture, and look at that ornamentation: it’s not paint, it’s inlaid marble and precious stones. The symmetry of the columns and arches is so soul-pleasing. Gorgeous. Tomorrow, the Taj Mahal at sunrise and then the long flight home on Monday.

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March 24

Last stop before leaving India. A series of photos of the Taj Mahal from pre-dawn through sunrise. Note the difference in the crowds as it gets lighter. That’s why we left the hotel at 5:30am! And special thanks to my Agra guide Gauri Pachauri, who gave me such wonderful history lessons and always knew the best place to stand for photos. And before I forget: the Taj deserves to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

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March 25

So my time in India has come to an end. I have seen and experienced so much the last 23 days, from safaris in the jungles of Central India to glorious, historical cities further north. And I’ve only seen a little of all India has to offer! Of my many trips, this is the one where I have made friends who already seem so dear to me even though we’ve spent sometimes only a day together.

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I want to offer a special Namaste and so much gratitude to Natural World Safaris and Banyan Tours, my guides Vikash Poonia, Dharam Rajpal, Sagar Saxena, and Gauri Pachauri, the naturalists at Satpura, Pench and Kanha National Parks and most particularly my naturalist Ashish Tirkey at Bandhavgarh Treehouse Hideaway – he’s the man to see for tigers and an all-around wonderful safari experience. My advice to all travellers: SEE INDIA!

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