As I was writing the final chapter of our India Adventure, I started to feel that it was getting quite long so I broke it up into two sections, this being the first.
It was really cold. It’s what I remember the most.
We were sitting in the back of an open top safari car bouncing over bumps like some kind of carnival ride. I constantly had to hold on over every bump in the trail to avoid being bounced against the hard metal frame of the 4×4. I’d be ok if it was just me that took a few bumps. My camera was what I was mostly protecting. I had the long lens on my camera as I knew that most of what we would photograph would be far away. I had to shield my camera not only to protect it against bumps but also against the dust that was constantly in the air, kicked up from our car. By the end of each tour, all of our clothes and bags were covered in dust.
It was about 5:30 in the morning and probably about 5 degrees. It would warm up to about 30 degrees later in the day but that was a long time away. We were with our driver who was a naturalist and also a park guide, all heading towards the park entrance in the darkness to be at the gate when it opened at 6 AM. Barb and I were wearing 4 layers of clothing and also each had a thick blanket wrapped around us. Both of us were completely willing to endure all of this. We were here to see tigers.
One of the highlights of our visit to India was to spend two days at a lodge at the Bandhavgarh National Park. Bandhavgarh, located in the state of Madhya Pradesh, is famous for it’s tigers. During those two days, we would be taken into the park on four separate occasions. Twice early in the morning and twice later in the afternoon.
We discovered that there are many other lodges near this park and everyone is in their almost identical 4×4 vehicle at the park gate for 6 AM. There were about 30 other cars at this gate but since there are many trails there are long stretches of time where you see no other people. The smaller numbers where one of the reason for us choosing Bandhavgarh as compared to other tiger parks that have many more visitors.
After the first day had ended, we had been in the park about a total of about 7-8 hours and had seen no tigers. To say that we were disappointed would be an understatement. After talking with people later on we were told how rare it actually was to see tigers. This wasn’t what we were hoping to hear.
On the morning of the 2nd day we were taken to a different section of the park. We were shown several sections that had fresh tiger paw marks in the road but we were unable to see the real thing. A tiger could have crossed the road 2 minutes before we arrived and walked into the dense bush and we would not see it when we stopped. It became a matter of luck and good timing.
While eating lunch back at the lodge on that 2nd day we were mentally preparing ourselves to leave Bandhavgarh without seeing tigers. We had seen lots of different animals in the park, lots of spotted deer and different types of monkeys. But not what we came for.
It was now our final park tour. We had less time in the afternoon tour because the park closed just after dark and we had been driving for about an hour. The park guide was standing on his seat looking from side to side. He motioned to stop and turn the engine off and listened in the quiet.
A noise! (a monkey crying out a predator warning). He shouted and pointed and we were off flying down the road racing towards the sound. In the 3 minutes that it took us to get there, 2 other 4×4’s were already there. 3 more soon arrived. We were all looking and pointing at the same place about 100-200 meters away. A large female tiger!
As you might expect, all of us including the guides and our naturalist, were all in good spirits after the sighting. An hour before we were a silent lot expecting to end our 4th drive without any tigers. All of that changed and the final dinner back at the lodge there would be animated discussions about tiger sightings both today and in the past.
After we left Bandhavgarh we had to endure another 3-4 hour drive back to the airport at Jabalpur where we connected to our next city of Kochi, located on the coast in the state of Karela. The coastal city of Kochi, right at the southwest corner of India by the Arabian Sea, will be the most southern point of our trip and the state of Karela will be the last area that we will be in before returning home.
It’s Wednesday morning as I write this section and with almost a week left in the India trip. This morning we have been in contact with the travel company with whom we booked this final section as we wanted to make changes to our itinerary. To sum up, we’re attempting to remove two destinations from the trip and stay put for more days in a row. Basically, we want to stop moving around as much and make the last week more relaxing. Yesterday we spent about 15 hours getting from the Bandhavgarh tiger park to our hotel in Kochi. This was definitely not the only day of all-day travel within India since we’ve arrived and we needed to slow things down.
When we arrived in Kochi last night (more accurately Fort Kochi), it was easily the most humidity that we have experienced anywhere in India. Right now it’s in the low 30’s and for the first time since arriving in India I’m wearing short pants and we’re pretty much sweating all the time when we’re not in air-conditioned buildings. As we’re planning to stay here in Kochi for three days now we’ll have a chance to relax a bit, make use of the hotel’s swimming pool and explore the local environment.
Today in Kochi we’re planning on doing something that we have never considered doing in India so far: we’re going to walk around the neighbourhood.
The reason for this is that in every other city that we’ve been to so far the streets have very little sidewalk and the vehicles come within inches of hitting pedestrians as they’re walking. In comparison, the area where we are now had far less traffic and also lots of walkways near our hotel, one down by the water.
We strolled around the walkway by the beach and stopped at a local restaurant when we were hungry. It was so refreshing to be able to wander around and not need to be driven to get anywhere.
By Thursday, we’d been in Kochi for two and a half days and the next day we would be moving on to our final destination here in India. Staying here in this city had been really relaxing and there is a lot to see if we were to stay longer. I could have stayed here in Kochi for five days and not gotten tired of it.
If it wasn’t for the absolute punishing humidity that we’ve been experiencing here, we’d probably have seen more of the city but so far we’ve done just a bit of exploring around our area but we’ve spent more time at the hotel pool than anywhere else. One of the factors that makes staying around the hotel so much of a pleasure is that the hotel restaurant, called East Indies, is really top notch. We’ve eaten here several times now and thoroughly enjoyed every meal.
We took a ferry to the other side of the water from Fort Kochin to the Ernakulam area of town and walked around the boardwalk known as Marine Drive. We discovered that the ticket for the ferry for the 20-minute ride worked out to 8 cents per person in Canadian dollars. This continued to reinforce how inexpensive things are for us here in India for pretty much everything.
Barb and I just came home from dinner. It would be the last dinner in Kochi and by tomorrow we’ll be moving on. We hired a tuk-tuk (pictured above) and we asked the driver for a seafood restaurant recommendation and he took us to an out of the way restaurant and it was great. We both had a great spicy fish curry and I finally had that blazing hot Indian meal that I was waiting for. Best of all, dinner for the both of us (with dessert and non-alcoholic drinks) worked out to about $20 Canadian.
Final Part Next
The end of our Indian Adventure is in sight and I’ll by tomorrow I’ll post the final chapter. I’ll have my usual closing comments where I summarize our thoughts of the entire trip.