Category Archives: tiger sightings travel

Happy Anniversary, says WordPress…

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Netheravon, August 2013

The message took me by surprise.  My second anniversary on WordPress.  Two years of writing blog posts, almost weekly…  I know I have slacked a little lately.  Too busy having experiences, not enough time to keep a record of it all.

I have no idea how many words it amounts to or how many pages it would fill in a book; how much of it is interesting and how often visitors actually read the text or just scan through the photographs.  But it gives me some idea of how I spent those 24 months, where I went and whom I met; the places I grew to love or hate; the people who stole a small piece of my heart..

How many stamps did I collect in my passport? So far I have visited 11 countries. Not all for the first time, but I stayed for longer periods, immersing myself in different cultures, customs and traditions.  Definitely often challenging, but nevertheless the experiences of a life time and I feel I have not even scratched the surface..  Much more to explore on this ever expanding journey, no end yet in sight!

And trawling through the wealth of accumulated photographs I struggle to condense my exploits to just a few highlights.  There have been too many really…  Maybe my adventures had already started in August 2013 when I took the plunge with a skydive, ‘chaperoned’ by my son; or when we as a family hiked Mount Snowdon in Wales (March 2014)…

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Snowden (Wales), March 2014

But my travels really started, way back in May 2014, with a short trip to Florence, accompanied by one of my dearest friends… It is strange how when life turns upside down you get to know your real friends: the ones who support you when things are tough, those whose ears do not grow tired of hearing the same old lament; the ones who do not point out the flaws in your plan but are ready to help you pick up the pieces.  However until I left for India in October 2014, England was my home, the place I returned to after travelling.

So if I look back over the last two years to catalogue my ‘travel around the world’ adventures, I have to start with that journey to Florence.  No better way to put a smile on my face than a close encounter with David, although we only met in a coffee shop being too stingy to fork out for a visit to the real one.

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Florence (Italy), May 2014

In September 2014 my daughter dropped me off at Heathrow  airport,  the starting point of my African adventure and beyond.  ‘Don’t do anything silly or stupid.  Make sure you stay safe.  And keep in touch!!!’, the sage advice of my daughter.  I was the one setting out on the gap year!!! Talking about role reversal…

In Cape Town (South Africa) I scaled the Lion’s Head and tackled Table Mountain.  I watched the sun rise over Dune 45 in Namibia and spied some of the Big Five on the plains of Etosha.  My flight over the Okavanga Delta in Botswana was easily eclipsed by fulfilling a lifetime’s ambition of Grade 5 white water rafting on the mighty Zambezi River, with the roar of the magnificent Victoria Waterfalls in my ears.  I stood eye to eye with fierce black rhinos in Zimbabwe.

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Table Mountain (Cape Town, south Africa), September 2014

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The Lion’s Head (Cape Town, South Africa), September 2014

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Sossusvlei (Namibia), September 2014

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Sossusvlei, Dune 45 (Nambia), September 2014

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Ethosia (Namibia), September 2014

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Exploring the Okavanga Delta by Mokoro (Botswana), September 2014

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Bird’s Eye view of the Okavanga Delta (Botswana), September 2014

 

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Flying over the mighty Victoria Waterfalls (Zimbabwe), September 2014

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Awesome white water rafting on the Zambesi River (Zimbabwe), September 2014

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Facing the rhinos in Zimbabwe, September 2014

In October 2014, Southern India beckoned… I learnt to navigate the Indian traffic chaos, and became adept at opening a coconut without proper tools.  I spent months swaddled in churidars, only to expose my legs near the more tolerant beach towns of Kovalam and Varkala. I kayaked the backwaters of Alleppey and bathed elephants in Periyar.   I have fond memories of exploring the hidden treasures of  Munnar, Kumarakom and Ponmudy with Dr Anne…  I watched the sun rise in Kanyakumari, at the southernmost point of the Indian subcontinent and felt my stomach lurch at the sight of men hanging from flesh hooks to appease the gods and earn more desirable opportunities in the future.  No more idyllic end to my Indian adventure than spending four days luxuriating on the uninhabited islands of Lakshadweep, definitely one of the best kept secrets of Indian tourism.

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Periyar, Kerala (India), December 2014

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Kerala (India) , February 2015

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Kanyakumari, July 2015

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Ponmudi (Kerala, India), October 2015

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Travels with Dr. Anne, (Munnar) , October 2015

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The unspoiled islands of Lakshadweep (India), November 2015

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Exploring the underwater world around Lakshadweep (India), November 2015

My travels in India were briefly interrupted by a little sojourn to the UK and Amsterdam (March 2015).  No adult gap year would be complete without tasting the elsewhere forbidden pleasures of space cakes and smoking a joint.  And yes, sampling cheeses, lots of exotic, colourful cheeses…

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Amsterdam, March 2015

Entitled to a two week break in August and September 2015 I made it to Kathmandu, Nepal, where I  witnessed the devastation wreaked by the April earthquake. I made acquaintance with Sadhus in the sacred Pashupatinath  Temple where Hindus come to cremate relatives who have passed away.   In Pokhara and Poon Hill I had my first (so far…) encounter with the impressive Himalayas and in Chitwan I had the privilege of glimpsing the elusive tiger in the wild…

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Pokhara, Nepal.  September 2015

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Sunrise at Poon Hill, Nepal.  September 2015

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Sunset over the river in Chitwan, September 2015

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The elusive tiger, September 2015

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Making friends in Kathmandu, September 2015

In February 2016, I landed in Hangzhou, a stone’s throw away from Shanghai. The end of the winter, still bitter, when only the colour of clothes and bicycles brightened the grey, dull atmosphere.  In March I joined a group of Chinese students taking selfies in the yellow expanse of rapeseed flowers.  April found me blowing giant bubbles in a massive park.  The rains of May turned Huangshan’s Yellow Mountain into a sea of mist and mystique.  In June I looked down on Shanghai from its Pearl Tower.  In July I cruised the Li River, admiring the mysterious hills and mountains lining its banks.  In September I conquered the Great Wall and in October I explored the wonders of Yunan and Shangri-La…

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Rapeseed flowers in Wuyuan, March 2016

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Giant bubble fun in Hangzhou, April 2016

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Mountains in the mist, Huangzhan, May 2016

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First visit to Shanghai, June 2016

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Mysterious mountains in Yuangsho, July 2016

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The Great Wall of China, September 2016

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Sunrise over Mount Meli, Yunnan, October 2016

In August 2016, I escaped the oppressive heat of the Shanghai summer to briefly visit the UK and have a break in Thailand touching the very beaches made famous by James Bond and Leonardo Di Caprio..

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Bangkok, Thailand.  August 2016

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James Bond Island, Phuket, Thailand.  August 2016

Not a bad list of achievements for two years of travelling ‘Round The World’…  I wonder what will be in store for the next two years..  Where to next???

 

 

 

On The Trail of Sher Khan.

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‘This reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book,’ Mike reminisces.  And indeed, watching the convoy of elephants lumbering through the dense forest cloaked by early morning mist, you can almost hear Colonel Hathi’s Dawn Patrol or Elephant Song and imagine Mowgli following at the tail end…  Mike is a retired history teacher, with a love of nature, wildlife and travelling, and we are sharing an elephant’s back on a trek through the jungle in Chitwan, Southern Nepal, on a quest to spot some grazing rhinos and the ever so elusive tiger.  Of course, we are sure to see deer and hopefully some wild boar or mischievous monkeys, but to catch a glimpse of the evasive tiger would be a highlight of any trip.

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Mike takes out his camera to shoot a little video so his Facebook friends can get a flavour of riding through the jungle on an elephant.  ‘I have tried out almost all possible modes of transport,’ he reveals, ‘and riding an elephant completes the list.’  He feels a little smug at his accomplishment, brushing away the invisible cobwebs hiding in the low-hanging branches which are slyly sneaking up on him.  Although I would not consider being squashed in a wooden box with three other bottoms on top of an elephant a comfortable ride, it is a vast improvement on my last elephant adventure sitting astride a large pachyderm in Kerala – my legs took hours to get back into normal position.

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Trumpeting its loud protest, our elephant is cajoled and encouraged to wade through the crocodile infested river and into the darkness of the rain forest.  We hold on for dear life as with sudden speed and an unexpected spurt, it obliges the commands of the mahout.  We hobble through the jungle, being jolted left and right, forward and back again, as the elephant squelches through the slippery paths, muddy and slick after the heavy monsoon rains, and plods through algae-covered slimy ponds.  Sitting well above ground level, we scour the dense thicket for tell-tale movements in between the leaf cover and the mahout scans the forest floor for familiar paw and hoof prints. And there, just at the edge of the river, the mahout points out a tiger’s paw prints, fresh looking paw prints and a sure sign that a tiger is not far off.

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tiger paw prints

‘These are not any tiger’s paw prints,’ the mahout explains in Nepalese. ‘These are the paw prints of the tiger that attacked and killed a local woman only last week.  She was in the jungle collecting food for her livestock.’  Lucky for the two non-Nepalese speakers in the box, Mike and me, one of the other tourists is happy to translate. Even if the stories of a prowling tiger are true, the early morning bush is brimming with local Tharu women ignoring the dangers to forage for food and medicinal plants they can sell in the markets. They fill their enormous bags, fastened around the head, with heavy loads as they live in symbiosis with the jungle, the tiger their nemesis.

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However this is not the last time we are entertained with the killer tiger story, only there appears some disagreement about whether the victim was a woman gathering firewood or medicinal plants or a man doing a spot of fly fishing.  And the timing seems a little vague: was it indeed only last week or did the fatal tiger encounter happen a few weeks ago?  Do all visitors to Chitwan get fed similar stories? But recently a tigress with three cubs has been spotted in the area, a mother fiercely protective of her brood making her a dangerous animal to cross.  At least we are sitting high and dry on our elephant should the tiger make an appearance now…  In the event, we see no tigers or rhinos, but are rewarded with sightings of deer and a lonely wild boar accompanied by the noisy twitter and tweets of the birds’ dawn chorus.

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In the afternoon, when the heat of the day has subsided, I continue my game watching with a guide and take to the river in a canoe hollowed out from a huge tree trunk.  We look around expectantly for rhinos drinking lazily at the river banks after a day’s grazing.  But only the crocodiles play ball, lurking just beneath the surface of the water, eyes unblinking, waiting for the right moment and the right prey.  When we get out of the canoe to start our jungle walk, I keep an eye out for crocodiles sunning themselves on the sandy river banks, just in case. We trample through the soggy mire of the forest floor but only come across deserted termite mounds, a herd of fleeing deer and a camera-shy wild boar.  We admire parasite trees looping and snaking around twisted, gnarled tree trunks and watch huge orchid leaves on the branches, waiting to spring into bloom. Rhinos and wild elephants, we see none.  We make our way to the Elephant Breeding Centre when suddenly we spot another tiger paw print on the marshy path; I feel just a little on edge with this morning’s stories of Sher Khan still fresh on my mind and my guide just carrying a long stick for protection.  But although plenty of evidence of tiger is abound, very few people have actually ever seen one and in his fourteen year long career in the jungle, my guide has tallied only about twenty sightings.

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To complete my day’s ‘Jungle Book’ experience, I take up my guide’s offer of watching the sun set over the river.  It was to have been the closure of my previous day, but then heavy, leaden rainclouds blocked out the sun and  hampered any chance of a worthwhile sundown.  Today we reach the spot just in time, together with a handful of other tourists who have come to delight in the spectacle and maybe a last glimpse of the wild animals that are drawn to the rivers and waterholes now that the air is cooler.  A lonely canoe traverses the river, cutting through the golden shadows on the water and the blood red river in the sun’s fading moments.

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And suddenly some commotion!  On the other side of the river, a creature crawls from the shallows of the water.  ‘Is that a wild boar?’ a woman asks her guide, who quickly trains his binoculars into the direction of her pointing finger. ‘No, it’s a tiger!’  And as I am standing just next to her, I whip around to see the animal, but it is too far away to be sure. I grab my camera and take a photograph and then zoom in to expose the distinct features of a tiger.  Having just pulled itself up from the murky brown river water, the tiger’s coat looks matted and bedraggled, its zoo-familiar stripy pattern concealed by the mud clinging to its body and paws.  But its face leaves no doubt that it is a prime example of the Royal Bengal Tiger, a real Sher Khan, strutting across the riverbank I walked on just over an hour ago!  And all I was worried about was sleepy crocodiles..

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The news of the sighting travels ahead of me and at the hotel I am greeted with awe as if merely being in the proximity of a tiger endows me with celebrity status.  ‘You are one very lucky lady.  No one ever sees a tiger..,’ they sigh.  Or could it be that very few people who see a tiger, live to tell the tale…