Saturday, 8 January 2005

Last gasps in Guwahati

We were having a lie-in this morning, when suddenly some chap started up his morning raga at 6.30 and went on for about an hour. I got up and made 'bed tea' for Alan. It was quite misty outside, so still no view of the BP river. The chaps turned up to work on the stage by 8am, and we were ready for breakfast at 8.45. We had fresh orange which has that tangeriney flavour, cereal with bananas, toast and t/c. Then Deepak arrived to take us on our morning tour. We began with Dilip driving us to the 'jetty' where we negotiated a boat. We walked through throngs of people and were some source for comment among the passengers waiting for the big green metal boat that was getting ready to leave. We walked right across this to get on our fairly small wooden boat. The first stop was to see an island inhabited by 'vultures'. These turned out to be (r/b) kites, but fifty or so roosting in the few trees. On our way again, Mel spotted a Gangetic dolphin. We landed to the side of Peacock Island and clambered over the remains of a fallen down stone staircase to the main steps up to the temple. After the first flight of stairs there was a 'landing' where we found the famed golden langurs just a couple of the eight that live on the island. There were little kiosks selling plates of offerings for the pilgrims to give in at the temple. We took some pics of people feeding the monkeys; then Deepak took us up to the temple. This is a Shiva temple. There was a white gateway into the temple area and then the main building with a beautifully tiled entrance. Among the pictures on the tiles was one of Ganesh. We went into the temple and in the first room was a small shrine where some of the attendants explained the deities represented there. Then we went through to the back and down into the cellar - a minute room, where there was a holy man blessing people who brought gifts to the natural spring - believed to have been created by Shiva and another deity visiting. There were lots of cobra statues. Deepak got a blessing and a dollop of stuff on his forehead, then rang the bell and we left. On the way down the hill again, Alan and Mel got inveigled into getting our photos taken with one of the families visiting the temple. They were very nice and not so pushy as some of the encounters we have had.
We boarded the boat and made for the river bank again, passing the lines of washing which seemed to have grown. The plan now as to find some adjutant storks and we drove off into the traffic. Eventually we took a side turning and Dilup stopped the van. Then they led us into what seemed to be someone's back garden. Lo and behold, there were three Adjutant Storks standing in the far corner. As we watched another couple arrived. The owner explained that they were always there, as the market was behind her house. We moved on to another place, after mentioning that Mel wanted to buy some sweeties for the people at work. The other stork place was now full of building works so we turned round and headed off to buy some sweets. Mel had thought some little packets that we'd seen hanging up would be fine, but Deepak had other idea and took us to a fabulous Indian sweet shop. For about seven pounds we bought over two kilos of delicious Indian sweetmeats some with silver foil on top - ground nuts with cardamom etc. We also bought a menti laddu for each of us inc. Dilip who got his in a little box. Then we had to brave the awful traffic again to get back to the hotel, check-out and head for the airport. Dilip drove very carefully and we soon made it safely and in plenty of time for our flight. We said a very fond farewell to Assam and headed off into the sunset. On the flight, Mel and I had a great view of Mount Everest sticking up from the clouds as well as Kachengjunga. We were met at Kolkata airport by the guide and driver from before. This time the driver went completely mad and we all arrived white knuckled. Poor Dougal was sitting up front and must have been scared to death. But we arrived, and we eventually got to our room in the Taj Bengal, then had showers before dinner. Now we are having a quiet time before being collected at one thirty to go to the airport and fly home. Tiger Trails Ltd

Friday, 7 January 2005

Wild life and wild rides!

Another early start with tea at 5.30-we were ready to leave for our walk at six. No sun visible, but just light and the sound of reveille from the army camp. We walked among the fields of tea bushes, all marked up with the date of planting - some from 2000 but one group from 1900. We came to a small river where some egrets and pond herons were enjoying the early morning sun. Up in the trees there were monkeys, some very young ones playing. An adult male landed on a rotten branch which gave way and he had to fly on to a nearby branch to save himself. He sat there glaring around at all and sundry. Coming back into the plantation we were treated to the sight of two beautiful flame-backed woodpeckers. And on the other side of the path were some bronzy bee-eaters. The sun was quite high by now and getting warm, so we headed back to the bungalow for breakfast. We had tangerine juice, cornies with milk and bananas, scrambled egg, two kinds of sausages, b beans and toast and jam. All too much really. We then made our way out into the garden and sat reading in the glorious sunshine. We just stayed there until Polash came to say lunch was ready!! It was one o'clock by now. Lunch was chicken with peas and spuds, dahl, rice and perathas. Nobody was eating much and we finished with coffe and tea.
A quick gathering up of cameras and shoes and we were off to Nameri again. We just walked up the path to the river and once again saw so many birds - no less than 4 hornbills, capped langurs, niltava, red breasted parakeets, drongos, mynahs inc. hill mynas and much more. Dougal and Mel were keen to see some bean pods from the trees. They found a small one, but were unable to find a big one on the ground. There was one tree with several pods, so Polash tried knocking off a pod by throwing a stick at it – no good either. By now a group of villagers had come along and one of the men just walked up to the tree and gave it a huge shake. A snowstorm of seeds and whole pods came floating down, which provided the two with a pod each and some papery seeds. This was all very jolly. Meantime Alan and I had spotted a pair of grey headed pygmy woodpeckers. Further along the road Mel was using her lastolite to photograph some red flowers in the low sunlight. Suddenly Polash shouted 'Ah, ping-pong!' We had no idea what he was referring to, so he showed us what looked like white fungus on a bush but which was a collection of insects. When he touched them with a stick, they jumped in all directions. D & M took pics in the fading light. Now it was time to return to the van, so we set off back down the road. Nearly back at the Eco-camp, Dougal spotted a flame-backed woodpecker, then two more. They were on a bare tree with lots of holes in its trunk. As we watched some hill mynas came to a branch close to one of the holes. Apparently, they roost in the old woodpecker holes. Anyway, the woodies did not like this and tried to stop them, but the mynahs dodged the bombardment and both managed to sneek into their hole. The woodies then set up guard outside! We left them to it and got back to the van. The manager of E-c came over and spoke to us and wished us well on our way. Polash told us that this man has been written about by Mark Shand. We got back safely to the bungalow despite awful traffic and being asked for help as someone had been knocked off a bike - but the driver and Polash said there was nothing they could do. Pity.
Back at Addabarie, we have just had afternoon tea again - how can we eat any more! Dinner will be at eight. So its showers and packing time as we will be leaving at 7.30 am for Guwahati. Bed tea is ordered for 6.30.

Today was a long drive not helped by my having stomach cramps. We have all been OK up til now, and we have had some 'English' style food at the bungalow - maybe we should have stuck with Indian! We stopped only to take pics of Adjutant storks on their nests by the road side and for tea & loo at the little cafeteria where we stopped on the way up. We arrived in Guwahati about one-ish where we met up with Deepak from the Wild Grass Office here. First he took Alan to the bank, then we side stepped lunch and headed off to Sualkuchi to see the silk weavers. Another hairy drive for Dilip, who has been excellent. We arrived, and discovered that the weavers were on their midday break. Still, one or two came back in the first place and we were able to see how the looms worked. The patterns are punched out on cards which fit into the looms. These are 'read' by the loom and the appropriate warp threads are lifted for the operator to shuttle through the coloured thread to make the pattern. It is amazing what beautiful cloth they produce in this way. Here we bought some black and gold cloth. We moved on to the next workshop, where four women were weaving using the muga - locally 'processed' silk. It is goldy in colour and the weave colourful patterns into it, like the one the woman in Wild Grass was doing. Then we moved on to another place where a young lad was winding thread onto a spool ready for use. Here we were invited to drink tea while they showed us some samples. We saw one 'set' which was very Christmassy and we could use it as a table cloth; so we got that too. Then Mel asked if we could go back to the second place where she had seen a special muga cloth with a black and red design, to go with her bedroom. All our purchases were negotiated by Deepak and Dilip, but still cost about £50 altogether.
It was time to head back to Guwahati, so off we went as the sun was setting. The villages were thronged with the evening traffic- cows being brought home, women meeting together for a gossip, people buying stuff for their meals, bicycles, rickshaws, motor bikes, tuc-tucs and great big hairy trucks. Amongst all this were wandering dogs and goats, you wonder how they survive. On the approach to the bridge D tried to take a pic of a sign saying 'Photo prohib', but Deepak was very worried and said he wasn't to, especially as we were in a queue of traffic with a policeman standing at the back of our van. The queue was really bad and due to a bus which had broken its back axle - the offside back two tires and axle were sitting by the edge of the road quite separately. The traffic had to take it in turns to get round it within the confines of the bridge. We soon got to the Hotel Brama Putra, on the banks of said river. Not as good as Taj Bengal, but not as bad as the Luit in Tezpur. We managed to have a little rest, shower and change before dinner at 7.15. This was Dom Aloo Kashmiri, Garlic chicken, Paneer Butter Masala, veggie fried rice, raita and naan. Then cups of tea only as the ice cream didnt put in an appearance - a misunderstanding we think. There is a conference going on in town, and one of the meetings was going on in the hall in the hotel. All of a sudden the lobby was full of people and a chap in a white Indian suit and Neru hat was escorted to the lift and about 5000 Indians tried to get in with him. Luckily sense prevailed and away he went, to be followed by subsequent lifts full. We elected to walk upstairs reckoning that was safer than getting stuck in the lift if the power went out! So this is the last night in India as tomorrow we get back to Kolkata and our flight home at four in the morning Sat night/Sun morn. Tiger Trails Ltd Balipara Heritage House

Thursday, 6 January 2005


Today we got up completely crocked by the hard, cold beds; having been woken at 4.30 by the muezzin. Breakfast at 8.15 was cornies completely soggied by pretty hot milk, sweet scrambled eggs and slightly leathery toast! Still, no Basils at breakfast, and Polash soon arrived to take us off to Nameri. We drove for about one hour through the road works and road blocks - they have hand made roads here, and arrived at Eco-camp by ten-ish. The camp is lovely, about a dozen cabins and tents set around the edge of the compound. Alan and I are in cabin Dizee with D&M next door in a very superior tent with mossie net windows and a jazzy interior. The beds are bamboo frames and each unit has an outhouse with basin, loo and shower. The manager walked across and met Alan going to investigate the red fronted parrots on a tree in the compound. He was a tea plantation manager and took over here when he retired. A very knowledgeable man , he is licking it into shape, as Alan gathered that it was somewhat run down. They served us tea, coffee and biscuits before we set off for a walk down to the river with Polash. We never made the river, but saw nearly twenty birds, many of which were 'new' to be added to the list. We had to turn back for lunch - eating yet again. This time we had chicken, cauli, beans with spuds, rice, dhal and not only chapatis but popadoms, too. For dessert there was a delicious village made yog with a liquid molasses sauce we think is called 'jaggery'. We ended with tea and coffee.
Soon it was time to go down to the river to catch the boat across to the reserve. Down at the riverside there was a great picnic going with loud music, bonfire etc. The people had passed us earlier with their loud music blaring out from the back of a couple of bikes. Huge speakers and a battery were strapped to the parcel carriers.
The ferryman rowed us across and we started spotting birds immediately. We saw some beautifully coloured ones - the barbets and flycatchers of several types (pied and a blue one, too). Orioles and woodpeckers, glossy drongos and one racket-tailed. Then Polash spotted a troupe of rhesus monkeys jumping around in the trees. We walked on a bit further, but then we had to turn back as it was ten to four and the sun would be soon setting. Just before we came out at the river there was a Hill Myna up in the trees. We walked down to the riverbank and watched as the sun was quickly setting. A common kingfisher was perched on a bare trunk in the river and the swifts were swooping about. Then there were flocks of birds flying close to the water. These were pratincoles and they twisted and turned up and down stream. But now we had to hurry to the ferry, and were rowed across the still river in the pink streaky reflection of the sunset after glow. Back at Eco-camp we showered - Alan and I from buckets of hot water, then sat on the veranda as the electricity came and went and the generator did,too. Dinner is at 8pm. The bird count has reached 110. We saw fire flies in the bushes behind our rooms – quite fantastic. Alan couldn’t find his specs case, but eventually located a rather chewed wreck, which was presumably taken by one of the camp dogs!

We have just arrived at the tea estate bungalow where we are to stay for two nights. We have staff running around after us - firstly serving us afternoon tea of cucumber and tomato sandwiches and almond madiera cake.
Today we were up at 5.30 to be ready to go walking across the river. As we waited for the boat, watching a spectacular sunrise, three chaps arrived with e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s monoculars on tripods and notebooks, in which they were recording their sightings. It turned out that they were serious French twitchers!
We went across the river and immediately saw a line of buffs walking down to the shore. We walked up to the guards’ village, but turned inland there into a new area. Polash spotted a tiny bird, but couldn't identify it, but we started to see all the little birds from yesterday. Then we walked down into an open area and along, spotting a serpent eagle looking quite honey fronted in the low sun. There were some cotton trees flowering with red blooms, and these trees were covered in birds. We saw several very pretty starlings, a spider hunter, bulbuls and green leafbirds(?). We turned off this path and as we walked along the guard asked us to keep very quiet as we were nearing the place where the white-winged ducks could be. These are very rare. We arrived to find only a forktail, a river lapwing and a wagtail. So we retraced our steps, pausing to inspect a rather dodgy lookout platform with some very dangerous steps. As Dougal looked back he spotted something in a tree at the far distance. This turned out to be a giant jungle squirrel, which must be pretty big as it was clearly visible even at a distance. Back on the main path again, we crossed a small stream via a sort of causeway of stones, and heard something crashing about quite near. This was a wild boar which Mel glimpsed charging along an embankment. Here we watched another serpent eagle, then turned off the main path again, walking as quietly as possible down to another bend of the stream. This time we saw no wildlife, but we did see the elephant watering hole. This is a natural spring bubbling up into a small pool. We could see tiny particles of mica floating up, and the sand around the spring was quite grey-black. So no rare ducks, but interesting, nevertheless. Dougal was busy making close-ups of purple flowers (ageratum), and there were some dew-spangled spiderwebs. We were back on the main path, when A&M saw a tree full of fantastic blue birds. These were fairy bluebirds and the male is again spectacular in the sun. The female is more all over turquoise with slightly wine coloured edges to her wings. As it had now almost got to 9.50 we were getting late for the ferry again, so hurried back to the river. We were soon across, and our driver whisked us down the track to Eco-camp for breakfast. Polash had arranged an Assam speciality - yog with 'flat' cold rice and puffed rice with sugar - sounds a weird mixture, but very refreshing. There was of course, scrambled egg and toast and coffee or tea, too. In the compound the carpenter was putting together some fabulous rustic bamboo chairs and a bench. They are also constructing a long woven length of banana leaves about two or three meters long which may be used as fencing. Then we had to get organised for the rafting experience- some juggling with the camera equipment into waterproof side bags, Tevas etc. and we were off with two boats on the roof, life jackets and four boatmen in the back of the van. Just the ten of us in the van! The driver took us away from the river, through the village where they make the yoghurt and along for about twenty minutes. We arrived at the river quite a long way up stream where some locals were having one of their famous picnics with loud music blaring. The boats were launched and in we climbed - Alan and I in one with two rowers and Dougal and Mel with Polash and the other two boatmen in the other. The first rapids were a bit splashy and cameras had to be dried! But after that all was OK. We saw common mergansers and several Brahminy ducks, some cormorants and little swifts scooping up flies from the surface of the water. Suddenly Polash had the boatmen paddle across the river. He had spotted some ibis bills - a rare bird and an endangered species. We managed to watch them for a while, although they flew up stream a little way from us. It meant D, M and I standing in the shallow water. This was a very good sighting. More rapids and river bends, and we came to a sandy island where we disembarked to stretch the legs. There were cormorants and brahminies across on the opposite bank, as well as two male mergansers. Then we were back in the boat and off down stream, spotting kingfishers and a fish eagle. The others crossed to one side of a shallow stony bar and we then saw that it was full of little grey birds. As they took off we took pics, they were the flocks of pratincoles we had seen last evening.
After more rapids, and a slide past some stony cliffs, we came round the last bend and saw the ferry point. We put in just above this, and the driver was waiting for us. The van was soon loaded up and we were back at Eco-camp in no time. We dried off, tidied up and then headed across for soup and egg butties (poor Dougal!). It was time for us to leave, so we said goodbye to all the very pleasant and helpful people who looked after us during our short stay. It was about a half hour drive to get here at Balipara Heritage House. We were greeted with the afternoon tea! Then we got organised and sat in the library for a while, looking at Salim Ali's birds of India. One of the staff came and invited us into the drawing room for pre-dinner drinks in front of a roaring log fire.We have just finished dinner -tom soup, lamb byriani, aloo, salad and raita, ironmongers rice pud, and are sitting in front of a log fire. Everyone has been fantastically attentive - like going back a century in time, but we were woefully underdressed! Time for bed as we will get bed tea at 5.30 again! Tiger Trails Ltd Balipara Heritage House

Monday, 3 January 2005

Elephant rides and the 'city of blood'

We started a little later at 6.30 for tea. We met Polash and went off for our second elephant ride. It was amazingly busy with an army coach load of second elephant riders; but soon we were mounted and off. One baby had wandered off with the crowd, away from its mother and the other elephants told it to go back, 'growling' at it. Eventually, she came along with the mahouts cloth in her trunk and collected it. The baby trumpeted and she sort of whistled at it. Alls well that ends well. Almost immediately we saw a lone rhino in the short grass. Then we moved off into taller grass and as we came past a small pond, there were two rhino having a quiet time. Poor things had to move off, but we had a good view of them. The elephant Dougal and I were riding was prone to run and go in the other direction so the mahout gave him several bonks on his head! We walked on into the shorter grass where the swamp deer were grazing. At the back were some unknown birds, which turned out to be Brahminy ducks - or ruddy shellduck. We saw a very young hog deer and then headed towards 'home'. On the way we saw a wild boar sow with six piglets, and then the mother elephant with her three month old baby. Back at the station we gave our elephant our old bananas all the way from UK! The mahouts made them put up their trunks as a thank you. While taking photos, our elephant decided to investigate my camera - almost taking it in its trunk! It was a lovely trip.
Back to the lodge for breakfast which included puff bread and potatoes.
At 10 we had an appointment to visit Assam people. We weren't sure what this would be, and Polash mentioned we could visit the market down the road. But before this we walked to a house close to the lodge where a family with two young sons live. The lady welcomed us. We saw she is a weaver as there were two looms to the side of the house. She built these herself and teaches other women how to weave - taking about six months. She also has a loom on which she weaves special orders for local people, say for celebrations such as weddings. She told us that she keeps silk worms, feeding them until they make their cocoons and harvesting the silk. She unwinds it and dyes it with natural dyes, before weaving it. Then she showed us their shrine to the god Vishnu. It has no image, just a flame which they use mustard oil and cotton for. Her older son demonstrated blowing the conch shell, which they blow at the end of prayers each day. Mel could manage it quite well, but no one else. We went into their living room where her husband had a collection of musical instruments including an elephant head string instrument with bow. We sat down and she brought us sweet milky tea and some puffed rice and savoury snacks. Then came the surprise as she brought some of her dancing clothes and dressed Mel up in them. All very lovely and great fun. We went outside and took pics. Back inside the lady brought some more of her fabric, but suddenly Mel started a really bad coughing fit. We sat her down - two friends had just arrived, and she brought Mel, first some water, then some honey and finally some tulsi leaves chopped with honey. This is a good remedy - its Indian basil. All this time, Alan and Dougal were playing cricket with the young lad out in the yard with great hilarity. When more family visitors arrived it was clearly time to say goodbye. We thanked her a lot for her hospitality and Mel wrote in her small notebook how much we appreciated her showing us her house. They gave us little facecloths embroidered with elephant heads from the Elephant Festival.
Now we went down to the end of the road and visited the market, which seemed small, but sold all sorts of stuff from herbs and spices to clothes and shoes, vegetables and fish. We ended up buying some incense. Polash suggested buying a duck for dinner, and when we got back to WGL he sent the driver back to get one!
We cleaned up and then went to lunch of chicken, rice, cauliflower, dhal with potato and aubergine pekora followed by the ubiquitous fruit and custard.
As Alan and I sat over a cup of tea three women visitors came and spoke to us. They were three sisters who were up from Guwahati for Sunday lunch. One had a fabulous bright yellow sari on with a black jumper.
It was already 3pm and time to leave to see the elephants bathing in the river. When we arrived it was amazing as hundreds of people were there. We bought one pounds worth (£1) of bananas to feed the elephants and immediately a crowd formed round us. Unknowingly we had become the centre of attention with people wanting to shake our hands and exchange New Year greetings. We even had our photos taken with some families; but it was getting out of hand, so we had to walk away or we would never have seen the elephants bathing. It seemed everywhere we went there was soon a crowd around us - making our viewing pretty difficult, but it was all good natured. We saw the female elephant and her 3 month old come for a bathe. The little one was clearly a bit scared, but managed to survive by climbing on her mum's side a little. She did get dunked a few times even so! When the bathing was over we crossed the field with the elephant and went to watch them playing football, which was great fun. They were pretty good, and will perform for the President at this year's 100th Elephant Festival in February. When they finished we fed them the bananas which went down very well and quickly. We still had a crowd with us and were very conscious of being photographed and even videoed. Eventually, as it was getting dusk, we crossed the road and saw a great photo-op as the overcast sky became quite pink behind some elephant which were tethered there for the night. After this it was really time to leave and we came back for a cup of tea and to pack as we leave WGL in the morning. Polash tried to persuade us to take one last elephant ride at 6am, but we have to leave at 8 to go to Tezpur - so all too much rushing about to fit that in.
Now we are about to go and have special Assam duck curry for dinner!
The drums and cymbals are playing and the dancers performing, but we are only listening tonight.
Dinner included tasty soup, the duck curry, fried banana flower, cauli pekora, beans, tom sauce, rice and dhal. Pud was cold rice with raisins and nuts - not everyone's favourite! Over tea there was a learned discussion on iso-tropic things and experiments with vanilla slices -hmmm!

Today the tea-wallah arrived at 7am for breakfast at 7.30. We were back to cereal, scrambled egg and toast. By 8.15 we were on the road to Tezpur, stopping to look at a couple of rhinos at the edge of the park. The driving seemed a bit quieter and we turned off to Tezpur in no time. We paid to go over the huge bridge across the Brahma-Putra river; but although the view was stupendous, no stopping on the bridge meant no pics much to our disappointment. We turned down the sandy track to the river bank. Here a huge beach with shallow creeks at the side served as a local port and 'resort'. The amount of rubbish was indescribable and there were loads of people who were instantly drawn to us. We walked across the 'beach' to a waiting boat. Mel and I both thought this was a small rowing boat which had a stack of red placcy chairs on board; but no, our boat was quite large though still just open with seats down the sides. A large engine sat slightly to the rear - not an outboard, and the boat with the chairs tied up behind us. We climbed up a gangplank from the beach into the boat and took our seats. The young lad started the engine and we chugged away from the shore and the spectators. They took us up river under the famous bridge and passed the confluence of the Borelli River into the BP. This was quite rough where the faster flowing B flowed over a sandbar into the BP. We avoided that and continued along to a point bar where we put in and the boys set 'camp' for us. We walked up the bank a bit and glimpsed the Gangetic dolphins - just their backs breaking the surface, and took some pics of two fishing net constructions just offshore. The chaps made a loo for us - three sides of canvas round a small hole, the fourth side open away from the camp! Polash was at pains to point this out to us. We sat on the sand and watched for a better view of the dolphins to no avail, but we watched a pied kingfisher which perched on the fishing net supports. Polash came along the shore in the little boat that had been emptied to take us two at a time out on to the water to try for a better view. When we had all had a go, we sat on the chairs for a while, then D, M and I walked across the bar to look at the other river. Alan soon joined us as we watched some cormorants flying up stream and being swiftly swept back down again. They then sat on a small sand bar drying their wings. Soon Polash called us for lunch. A table had been set under a couple of beach brollies, and we sat down to kedgeree, local fish curry, a sort of whitebait, veg curry and salad. Unfortunately the salad had tiny whole chillis in it which Dougal mistook for green beans and bit into it with dire consequences. He ate loads of cucumber to counteract the burning, but it was rather nasty. Just as we finished lunch, Polash spotted two birds in the water. At first he thought they were mergansers, but it turned out that they were a female and chick red-throated grebe. Alan and Dougal walked up for a closer look and as they walked back Mel and I saw a Gangetic dolphin come right out of the water - long nose and all. We all piled back into the boat as the boys had packed everything up, and we headed across the river to where a fisherman was working his nets - hopefully good pics. Then we motored down towards the bridge and a sort of bay where the dolphins had been spotted. We were lucky as the dophins were there and surfaced several times, quite fully. They are very difficult to see, nevermind photograph, so we just enjoyed catching glimpses of them. Just as we were leaving, one came right out of the water and Alan and Dougal got a good sighting. Now we headed back to the beach and disembarked. A small boat loaded with reeds that had rowed past as we were having our picnic was just putting in to the little creek, and we watched as they unloaded the cargo, mostly on their heads. Back at the van we got organised and decided to visit the temples as it was 2pm, and would be good light, rather than getting up early before we leave for Nameri at 9am tomorrow.
At the first temple, there were columns topped with cobras just in front of the entrance. On either side of the entrance (r) was Ganesh and (l) Hanuman. A holy man took us in when we had taken off our shoes and led us through a couple of rooms, ringing bells hung from the ceiling. At the back is Shiva draped in marigolds and all the pilgrims came to another holy man who placed a vermillion spot on their foreheads. He gave us each a marigold from the decorations - to be taken in the right hand. As we left he got Alan and Dougal to ring the bell. Outside again we re-shoed and then walked around the temple. This is a 20th century one built on the site of a really old one. We saw the old pillars standing at strange angles. In the garden to one side there was a sort of hermit - a man who has renounced everything and lives from what people give him. He looked very unkempt and a bit wild, surrounded with what looks like so much rubbish and with a smoky fire going. There was also a woman in anther part of the temple area.
We left here for a second temple. This is really an area commemorating the place of Tezpur - 'city of blood'. We paid to go in and for two cameras and read the story of Usha and her handsome prince, the battle between her father and Krishna and Shiva which was very bloody and in the end they declared a truce. We then walked up the hill passing all sorts of sculptures about the story - a bit Disneyland-ish. The view at the top was quite spectacular over the BP river. We were followed by the usual four or five youths and the man trying to video us. Back at the TATA a man rushed up to Alan and more or less forced him to have his pic taken with him and his baby; his wife waving the camera in Alan's face. All very weird and annoying! Polash is pretty amazed at this behaviour and puts it down to ignorance. So we drove to the Hotel Luit which is fairly run down masquerading as the best in town. We have tv in the rooms so caught up on the news and watched some cricket. Power cuts and rats seem to be the norm ; but dinner was OK - tandori chicken, cucumber salad, naan and chapatis. Basil, the rat, was seen popping in and out of the a/c unit, which is switched off just now. We played a couple of hands of bridge before retiring and being caught out by another power cut.

Tiger Trails Ltd.

Saturday, 1 January 2005


We had breakfast at 8, then met up with Polash and climbed into the open jeep to go to Kaziranga. Breakfast was bananas, cereal with warm milk, scrambled eggs, toast and tea. Just as well as it felt very cold driving along in the jeep. We paid for the park, cameras and a guard with a gun and headed into the park. We started off seeing lots of birds, then Polash thought there must be a tiger not far away as there was a buffalo acting strangely and lots of crows circling round in the distance. Then he spotted an old rhino called Holyfield after the boxer as he had a great chunk out of one ear as well as having lost his unicorn! We continued to see loads of birds and then one or two distant rhino, a young wild elephant on its own. There were wild boar and hogdeer near the track and we saw a tree scratched by a tiger. There was a little owlet in a tree which turned into a pair as we drove on (1 behind the other). Along the road was a river and we saw tortoises in the water resting on logs and there was a second beautiful rhino on the opposite bank. We went on to a lake where just before it we saw a land monitor lizard. On the lake were flocks of small cormorants and pelicans. Fish were jumping in the lake. There was Pallas's fish eagle and a Brahminy kite over the lake. Heading back from here we made lunch at 12.30 and fell asleep in the sun on the veranda. We began again at 2 and made for the western range. Here we saw loads of rhino - even two mating. There were plenty of storks and geese around and we stopped at a viewing platform where a Pallas's fish eagle flew over. Just as we were about to leave Polash spotted a pair of smooth otters basking on the bank! There were lots of little pools by the road where we saw water birds - crake, rails etc. The sun was fading, so we took some sunset pics with birds flying and a stork in a tree. We also saw a baby rhino lying in the mud near its mum.
We got back in the dark having been almost run off the road by a tanker. Tea in the 'lounge' to warm up then warm showers. There was dancing again before dinner. A man was selling tea in fancy packaging that he grows ; we must mix 40% Assam with 60% Darjeeing. Mel got orange Peckoe for Vicky. Hotties in bed and so to sleep.

By lunch we have already made two trips; we began with tea at 5.30- special basil and cardamom to start the day right. Then we met Polash at the hotel entrance and off we went for our elephant ride, it was early morning misty and as we arrived at the park the sun rose from behind a hill. Quite magical in the mist, many pics were taken. Then we were off to find our elephants - one for D and M and one for E and A. Ours had a baby elephant with her. We set off into the grassland, seeing some hog deer and several birds. Suddenly there was a youngish rhino beside us with a baby. We watched and took pics as she tried to get away from us. We moved on through the elephant high grass seeing a few hog deer as the mist thinned a bit showing the trees silhouetted against the hills. As we came out into the plain we came across a large herd of swamp deer. These are bigger than the hog deer and have branching horns. We watched them or a while, then walked along a river where we saw kingfisher, stork, among others. We came to a second herd of swamp deer, and by now we were in sight of our dismounting station at the end of the ride. Close by was a female elephant with a very little baby, which our elephant stopped and trumpeted to. We dismounted, and each elephant got a banana as a reward. Then the fun started as the three little elephants came looking for more, frightening the Indian children! One slightly older one kept racing down the hill sending the kids running in all directions. The baby elephants like to eat a bit of elephant dung which is a bit disgusting when they come up to you feeling with their trunks! But we had to leave, as breakfast was waiting. This turned out to be bananas, scrambled egg, toast; then came paratha - a sort of flatbread-cum-pancake and fried pots with turmeric. We were innovative and spread them with pineapple jam; leaving the spuds.
At 9am it was time to leave again for our jungle walk. We drove east towards a tea plantation; picking up a guard on the way. Then Polash led us along a path to the side of the tea bushes and into the forest. Here we saw a capped langur quite quickly, swinging through the tall trees. We could hear calling, but no matter which way we walked, we couldn't see any more. Our guide alerted us to the presence of leeches, so we all tucked our trousers into socks. Dougal got leeches on his and flicked them away; and Polash was bitten all round his ankles. I got one on my hand when putting on my rucksack which I had on the ground, so flicked it away. Polash stretched the leech body like a rubber band, then chopped it in half with his finger nail. We walked around and then Polash spotted a Hoolock Gibbon in the high trees, feeding alongside some hornbills. Although fairly hidden, we managed to see his face with its white eyebrows - a male as he was very black.
So, we walked back to the jeep and headed back for lunch - ready to start again at 1.45. Back in the room I discovered a leech on my ankle, so had to deal with that - bloody trousers, socks and leg!
Lunch was a Chinese style banquet - very tasty. We were ready to start for the eastern range of the park. This is some distance from WGL but quieter as today is a holiday and the usual places are busy. We soon stopped as there were monkeys in the trees. We parked, then another car parked; a third slowed and almost had us all killed as there was a bus on its tail which had to swerve almost into us. The capped langurs were lovely and we watched them for a while. Off down the road again, we turned off to the park and stopped to watch some rhesus macaques by a small group of houses. There were fruit bats in the trees behind.
Once in the park we stopped to collect a guard as usual. They had some elephants there and as it was bath time, three of them walked across behind us to go down to the river. One of them looked as if she was about to give birth to twins. So we began spotting. There were loads of birds including several kingfishers, parrots and raptors; more monkeys, deer, wild boar, rhino. Our main aim was to get to Pelican Point where the White and other pelicans come to roost high up in trees in crowds! Nice light on the lake and low sun on the birds. It was time to drive back, and we got on very well when suddenly there were wild elephants by the road - not very happy to see us and one came out and trumpeted at us, so the driver backed up and five others inc. two very young ones came out of the trees and across the clearing. No 1 followed them, and then as we proceeded she turned back with the rest and rumbled at us with ears flapping.
We drove away from them, watched some water buffs cross the road, before leaving. Driving back was freezing cold and there was the usual crazy driving. We ran out of petrol just before home, but filled up from a plastic bottle the driver had behind his seat!!
Cups of tea, showers and dinner at 8 finished us off - peppery consommé and bread; cold chicken, cauliflower cheese, mixed veg and potato croquettes stuffed with peas with hot chips; fruit and custard. Probably the worst so far!

Tiger Trails Ltd Wild Grass Lodge

Wednesday, 29 December 2004


We had a great flight - sitting in 'plus' seats so we could stretch our legs for our nine hour flight. The pilot pulled out at the last minute citing a too strong tail wind, so he flew round and landed the other way! We were about an hour late due to a late take off - it was a full and very busy flight.
We were met by the Tiger Trails man and Toyota van and drove to the centre and our hotel - the Taj Bengal, and got to 'bed' at around 5am. Breakfast would be at 9.30, which we made! All quite normal. After we walked out to the pool and saw some tiny striped squirrels playing around the sun loungers. We could see hooded crows and kites circling high overhead. There were wagtails hopping around the pool and little sunbirds in the trees. We wandered along the hotel shops; sat in the lobby and finally went back to our rooms for a rest. A guide met us in the lobby at 13.00 to take us on a city tour in the maroon Toyota van. We saw lots of yellow taxis all honking their horns just like our driver who squeezed into non-existent gaps in the traffic. We drove by some great Victorian buildings and saw the goats grazing on the Maidan along with cricketers, family picnics and general milling about. First stop was Queen Vic's Memorial set in acres of gardens where the locals picnic and play cricket. Next door is the huge race track for horse racing! It was very interesting. We next drove along to a riverside view point to see the new and impressive suspension bridge (4 lanes each way toll bridge) built only a couple of years ago. People were coming to bathe in the rather murky water of the Hugli River a tributary of the Holy Ganges. Mel claims to have seen a dolphin in the water - then we walked back over the railway track for the van. Now we drove over the old bridge and back - it seemed even busier. Then Asif took us to the wonderful Paresnath Jain Temple dedicated to the tenth of twenty four ‘perfect souls’. We took off shoes to go inside where we saw the opulent interior including the 19th century chandeliers from Paris and Brussels.
Next was a 'short cut' through the back streets and we watched the local people rushing home from work. Eventually we were dropped off with Asif and walked along the shops, had pomegranate juice, saw the old cinema showing 'Oceans Twelve' - not out in UK yet! Also loads of motor bikes parked including an Enfield or two. We piled back in the van and headed for the hotel. Tea in our room; a snooze, shower and change; then a magnificent meal at the Sarangaon restaurant in the hotel. Now totally exhausted its time for bed!

We breakfasted early - after a jet-lagged night. The guide met us at 9am and whisked us off to the airport. Efficient check in then several security checks before waiting at the gate. Another check as we boarded and relaxed into our business class seats. A quick taste of chicken, fish, paneer and cauli curry with cashew roll. A slice of choc cake and tea. Then into land and so fast through the airport and out to the TaTa Sumo to drive to Wild Grass Resort, Kaziranga. On the plane Dougal saw lots of mountains including, possibly, Kachenjunga and Makalu. The drive was quite hair raising and we saw the road being made by hand - men and women placing stones, heating up tarmac etc. Arriving in Wild Grass we were taken to our rooms and invited to dinner as soon as possible. We heard music and they told us there was dancing, but we had missed most of it, so we will visit it tomorrow. Tiger Trails Ltd