Travelogues

Treasures Of The Sea. Watamu, Kenya

Treasures Of The Sea.  Watamu, Kenya

When you think of Africa you seldom think beyond the ‘Big Five’. Africa as the place of pristine soft sand beaches and turquoise waters that hides incredible marine life, or Africa as a place of our origin with evolutionary links dating back to 17 millions years, is lost in the mad touristy ticking –the- animals-off-the-list game.

In Africa, the spectacular terrestrial creatures overwhelm the senses completely and anything else on the continent is just a bonus.


Land of Dragons. Flores Islands

Land of Dragons. Flores Islands

What made these dragons so big? The dragons are a perfect example of what biologists call ‘island gigantism’. Cold blooded reptiles if geographically isolated for a long time have a tendency to grow larger, while big mammals have a tendency to grow smaller, a tendency the scientists call ‘island dwarfism’.


Male: An Island Unto Itself

Male: An Island Unto Itself

“There is nothing in Male”, everyone barks, astonished that I would want to forgo –even for a day- the hedonistic delights on offer at the resort, to shuffle about in one of the world’s smallest and densely packed cities.


Lewa Wildlife Conservancy : Reviving Africa’s Rhinos

Lewa Wildlife Conservancy : Reviving Africa's Rhinos

In Lewa, the rhinos are well looked after, in the happy marriage of private enterprise and community involvement. Whether it’s India or Africa, the engagement of locals is intrinsic to combat poaching.


Maldives: A Paradise on the Brink

Maldives: A Paradise on the Brink

If the global temperature keep rising, this paradise would be lost forever. Maldives is the lowest lying country in the world (the average height is 1.8 meters above sea level). Scientists estimate that melting polar ice caps could raise the ocean level by about 2 meters by the end of this century. This would swallow Maldives whole making its inhabitants the world’s first environment refugees.


Wild In Borneo

Wild In Borneo

However when you let the rainforest open unto you, you realize that the forest itself is a primordial beast heaving with its own cadence and rhythm. In the silence you are overwhelmed by the persistent bell like sound of the cicadas broken only by the sounds of crickets. The forest is still but crawling with the little things that are so beautifully camouflaged that without a guide you would miss them altogether.


Living with Leopards, Rajasthan

Living with Leopards, Rajasthan

Peace between man and the leopards has prevailed for generations. Occasionally a calf or a goat is lifted and sometimes even a cow but unlike in other parts of India, the cattle carcasses are not left poisoned for the predator. This is surprising as the compensation offered here is paltry. Five thousand for a cow and one thousand for a goat.


Ramche- A Pastoral Hideout in Nepal

Ramche- A Pastoral Hideout in Nepal

I was accompanying a team of hardy Indian Army mountaineers who focused on their goal ; summiting Kanchenjunga peak, had little time for mountain romanticism. For them Ramche was just a convenient broad strip of land, perfect to land the helicopters on and to pitch tents and stock supplies for the expedition.


Zakopane: The Architectural Gem in the Tatras

Zakopane:  The Architectural Gem in the Tatras

The houses look complex with an overlay of pattern over pattern. What makes the Zakopane houses look so distinct are the roofs. They are steep, usually over 70 degrees or more and have gables jutting out of them at different levels. These roofs are made of shingles or galvanized iron but in the older houses , the roof and sometime the entire building is hewn of wood.


Lake Manyara National Park. Loveliest in Africa

Lake Manyara National Park. Loveliest in Africa

Thankfully the only shooting allowed today in Manyara is through the camera. And despite the variety of wildlife available for ‘shooting’ and viewing, Lake Manyara lives under the shadow of its much popular neighbors; Serengeti and Ngorongoro.


Bhimbetka Rock Shelters. India’s Oldest Art Gallery

Bhimbetka Rock Shelters.  India’s Oldest Art Gallery

Our adoption of agriculture and the concomitant ‘civilization’ began barely 10,000 years ago. Therefore historian’s obsession with this tiny sliver of our past, often at the expense of over 7 million years of cave dwelling, is truly astounding.

What is more remarkable is the view now increasingly held by many important biologists is that we were probably more successful as hunters and gatherers.


Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh

Sanchi Stupa, Madhya Pradesh

The carvings on the toranas depict the life of Gautam Buddha not only from the time of his birth but also his previous incarnations. These stories taken from Jataka are rich in metaphor and lavishly carved on the massive toranas. Buddha is himself not represented in human form but symbolically by his sandals, the lotus, the canopy or the bodhi tree.


Pangong Tso Lake. The Magnate of Bollywood Tourists

Pangong Tso Lake. The Magnate of  Bollywood Tourists

A journey to a place so remote, so raw and so striking should be made piecemeal by piecemeal. It should be earned over time. Perhaps after crossing a few hills, glades, mountain passes and streams. Not parachuted upon, the way I did, plonking in the midst of splendor in less than half an hour from home.
But this is just as well. Ladakh now gets tourists not travellers


Majuli- The River Island on the Brahmaputra

Majuli- The River Island on the Brahmaputra

Whether Majuli will go underwater due to geological reasons- Majuli after all came into existence due to the change in the course of rivers -or because of man’s meddling, is yet unclear. But what is sure is that with Majuli will go an unique tribal civilization we ever knew.


Mahabalipuram- The Splendor by the Sea

Mahabalipuram- The Splendor by the Sea

But it’s perhaps a reflection of our apathy towards our cultural heritage that herds of goats are allowed to walk all over these stories in stone. They shockingly trapeze all over these bas-relief sculptures, trampling all over Arjuna and over the limbs of scores of devas to perch a while on the elephants to urinate and eject their pellet like excrement. Astonishingly their presence hardly registers any concern.


The Road to Sangla- The World’s Deadliest Roads

The  Road to Sangla- The World's Deadliest Roads

Firstly, like all mountain roads, the Sangla road has not been carved on a mountainside but rather bored through a rocky precipice. Therefore the road has an overhang of rock giving you a feeling that you are driving through a tunnel. At one stretch, you feel frightfully hemmed in, prompting travellers to christen it the ‘sandwich road’. If you dare to get off and look down from the ‘sandwich’, which inevitably every tourist does for selfies, there is a sheer drop of a few hundred feet. Down below in the stone strewn gorge, the Baspa river- a tributary of Satluj- appears but as a trickle of water.


Bhimbetka Rock Shelters. Art in the Stone Age

Bhimbetka Rock Shelters. Art in the Stone Age

Call it a characteristic lack of interest in our history or lack of publicity, Bhimbetka hardly gets any visitors. Most of the tourists throng the other more popular monuments and pilgrim spots that litter this part of Madhya Pradesh.


Tawang- A Place China Calls ‘Southern Tibet’.

Tawang- A Place China Calls 'Southern Tibet'.

The Chinese claim- that Arunachal is part of its territory– has put the Indian Army on edge leading to an intense militarization of this isolated region.

Everyone here talks of how China has built a four-lane highway right upto the Tawang border. To counter that threat, road widening is in full swing and you have to wait at several points along the highway for the road rollers to finish their job.


Serengeti : Africa’s Endless Plains

Serengeti : Africa's  Endless Plains

But when the herds begin to appear there is no ending. Miles upon miles in every direction, the wildebeests and zebras, the two species that intersperse casually with each other, dot the vast ‘endless plains’ (Swahili for Serengeti). Just like anyone else, I was there for the big cats and to tick off from my list the African Big Five. Eventually however it is the big herds that hold you spell bound.


Dance of the Demoiselle Crane, Kichan Rajasthan

Dance of the Demoiselle  Crane, Kichan Rajasthan

Until a decade or two ago, Khichan was just another forgotten village 144 kilometers north-west of Jodhpur. Today its on the world map, famous as the Demoiselle Crane Village, attracting bird lovers, photographers and tourists alike from India and abroad.

Gathered in huge groups, the demoiselle cranes, the smallest of the crane species, are a pleasure to watch. They move this way and that together, like in a ballet, their wide red eyes sparkling in the morning sun.


The Lions of Gir, Gujarat.

The Lions of Gir, Gujarat.

If it was not for the lions’ overall good it would be touching to see the locals stand up for their felines.
But the pride for Gir’s lions extends well beyond Gujarat’s borders. The Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) are the pride not only of India but Asia. These lions once roamed all across the Indian sub-continent and the Mediterranean in the West. They were then known as the Persian Lions. It was them and not their African cousins that fought the gory gladiatorial fights in decadent Rome.


Ngorongoro Crater: Africa’s Natural Zoo.

Ngorongoro Crater: Africa's Natural Zoo.

One of the lessons from my African safari was – choose your safari jeep well. If the vehicle breaks down, it can put paid to all your plans and joy can quickly turn to irritation. I was now sharing the rundown Landcruiser with an aggressive Brazilian man, a shouting Italian girl , a cursing American guy and one cranky girlfriend.

And we almost never made it to Ngorongoro. They tried to push -start the jeep on the sloping crater road but to no avail. They shoved us down into the crater alright but the jeep was dead.


Friday Wrestlers of Dubai

Friday Wrestlers of Dubai

But the wrestling has never stopped and it has been going on since the last 40 odd years in this forgotten corner in Dubai. It is the only source of entertainment and release for these migrant laborers from the Indian sub-continent. There are no tourists here and the other well-healed Dubai migrants are surprised that such a gladiatorial event occurs in their swanky city.

But Dubai has a way of concealing as it has a way of making an ostentatious show. The migrant laborers, who built all that is new in Dubai- the skyscrapers, the malls, the chimerical islands off the coast- live their invisible lives here unknown, unsung and often exploited.


Shimla- Kalka Heritage Toy-Train Journey

Shimla- Kalka Heritage Toy-Train Journey

No Shimla resident goes on the toy-train. That’s a journey for the monkey –capped Bengalis and foreign tourists to make. If the locals have to get to Kalka they would rather drive down or would prefer to hop on to any available public transport. The toy- train ride is just too much of a touristy thing to do.

Its also a more leisurely thing to do. A journey which normally takes two and a half hours at medium pace takes more than five hours in the train. But one would expect the slow train journey to be the natural choice of travel for the temperamentally relaxed , laidback and slow moving Shimlaites.