Indian One-Horned Rhino

Welcome Home from Wild India!

Mark Brazil|September 28, 2011|Blog Post

Excerpt from the Welcome Home Letter written by Expedition Leader Mark Brazil from our 2011 Wild India expedition.

On reviewing our wildlife sightings, it is amazing to think that between us we saw 30 species of mammals and nearly 250 species of birds. It was the supporting cast of so many birds that kept us focused in the field, and with our senses tuned hour after hour to make so many of those mammal sightings possible. Of course, those birds also provided us with some stunningly beautiful scenes, sounds, and encounters in their own right, too; after all who can forget the gorgeous colors of the white-throated kingfishers; the green-blue-tailed and chestnut-headed bee-eaters; or the Indian rollers that we all admired so many times.

From Delhi’s new air terminal, we flew to the site of Khajuraho. On arrival the temperature was a sizzling 98°F, so we checked in at our hotel and allowed the temperature to fall a little before setting off to explore. The extraordinary carvings of the Khajuraho were not merely Kama Sutric as they are so often depicted, but also encompassed a wide range of scenes of daily life in all its forms, and were the cause of entertainment, amusement, bewilderment, and even amazement at some of the gymnastic poses!  Our local guide, Sahu, had an astonishingly encyclopedic knowledge of the site and could have led us around for several days before running out of stories to tell us. By the time we reached our hotel, cooling drinks were in order and we concluded the day with dinner.

After an early breakfast, we continued southwards into Madhya Pradesh, to Bandhavgarh National Park. As we drove we witnessed the unreeling of daily life along the roadsides for the five and a half hours of our journey, making stops along the way to admire a giant fruit bat roost/colony through the telescope and for tea and coffee. We settled quickly into our comfortable Bandhavgarh Jungle Lodge, and set off into the park on the first of our many game drives. The forest was ablaze with the deep orange trumpets of the flame of the forest trees and vines. During the following days, in addition to many other birds and mammals, we were extremely fortunate to have multiple sightings of the Bengal tiger. For me, the most powerful encounter was at night, when some of us heard the alarm barks of a Sambar, followed by a tigress roaring deeply over and over again “aum….aum…aum,” from the forest edge not far from our lodge. The disconcertingly sad fate of this fabulous creature was brought home to us during Amit Sankhala’s presentation on the park and the pressures on its most charismatic creature, and made each of our views feel even more precious. The rarity of this wonderful creature means that sightings are no longer guaranteed, and it was tremendously fortunate that all of us had such good views. While in Bandhavgarh we were also able to participate in a village visit and a local birding walk, adding to the diversity of our experiences.

Leaving the lodge after an early morning birding walk would have been a sad affair, were it not for the fact that we were headed for another four-night stay at an even more delightful spot—Kanha. Our journey took us through varied and interesting rural countryside, through farmland and villages on a road that has greatly improved in recent years. The agricultural and village sights seemed somehow medieval—albeit with cell phones and motorcycles! We paused along the way to view another giant fruit bat roost, to wander through a colorful local market at Shapura, for observations of waterfowl at Niwas Pond, including bronze-winged jacana, pheasant-tailed jacana, garganey, and cotton pygmy goose, for a picnic lunch at the Niwas Circuit House, and a final comfort stop at the holy Narmada River and Temple. Despite the long journey we were settled in at the splendid Kanha Jungle Lodge, on the edge of Kanha National Park, with our hosts Tarun and Dimple Bhati and their son Jai, in time for dinner. We even managed a first glimpse of the eye-shine of an Indian giant flying squirrel.

The following morning we began the first of our many relaxed safaris into Kanha. This fabulous area, inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, did not disappoint, with mist rising from the meadows in the mornings creating beautiful scenes. Our wildlife sightings here included excellent viewing of the magnificent gaur, the giant wild cattle of India, the diminutive barking deer, the rare barasingha or swamp deer, repeated views of the Indian giant flying squirrel as it emerged from its day time roost and glided off into the forest, and yet more tiger sightings. In fact, by the time we were ready to leave Kanha, some of us had accumulated no fewer than ten sightings. With views of tiger pug marks in the sand, claw scrapes on trees, scenes of scent-marking, and views from elephant rides and our jeeps, as a group we had seen more signs of tigers than any other group I have led in the last five years—alas, not an indication of increasing overall tiger numbers, merely of our tremendous good fortune. Our very last safari into Kanha was a great example of that extraordinary good fortune, with many of us enjoying either a tremendous sighting of a tiger feeding on a sambar kill, or of a female and cubs. What memories to carry away from a trip!

After a very long travel day, from Kanha to Raipur by road and then on to Kolkata by air, it was a relief to arrive in the comfortable ITC Sonar Hotel, Kolkata, less than an hour from the airport. The following morning we set off after a leisurely breakfast for our flight from Kolkata to Jorhat in Assam. Soon after we left the airport we realized what a different part of India we had arrived in: it was slightly cooler, more humid, the people have very different facial features and language, and the roads are better than further south. Eating a late picnic lunch on the way, we drove through the lush countryside of Assam on our way to the lovely Diphlu River Lodge.

The following morning we were off early once more, but this time so that we could experience a misty morning ride on elephant back in search of rhino; we were lucky and encountered 14 including several females with young calves. ­­

Kaziranga’s three separate ranges (Western, Central, and Eastern) gave us more than enough to do; not only did we visit all three areas, but we also enjoyed three excellent elephant rides through the damp grasslands to photograph rhino at very close range. Combining our sightings from all three ranges, we counted an amazing 94 Indian rhino—a fantastic total. On our early morning visit to the Eastern range we saw several capped langur and heard hoolock gibbon greeting the morning sun, while on another day we visited Burra Pahar and the south bank of the mighty Brahmaputra River to see the immense, sandy ‘moonscape’ that this huge river runs through. There we encountered several elegant river lapwings and yet more capped langurs. Each evening before dinner, we met up with Vijay to discuss aspects of this fascinating country and to consider modern Indian society: the world’s largest English-speaking nation, the largest democracy, the largest country driving on the left, an economic and IT powerhouse, yet a country with huge swathes of its population still seemingly living in centuries past, bound by what seem to many of us as out-dated social conventions, yet that for most Indians merely represent normality.

Assam and Kaziranga provided a fitting finale for our wildlife explorations of northern India. During our trip we were exposed to the richness of ancient and modern Indian culture, to ancient architecture and carving, to the diversity and color of modern Indian roadside life and to a great wealth of insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

All too soon our trip came to a close; perhaps it felt all the sooner because we were such a relaxed and enthusiastic convivial group, almost like an extended family sharing our common interests in culture and wildlife. Some of us left straight from Delhi Airport and some were to stay on in India for several more days or to travel on to other holiday destinations, but those of us who remained said our farewells over dinner at the Radisson Hotel near Delhi’s international airport, and left for the delightful distractions of home with memories of India fresh in our minds.

Related Blog Posts

  • Hornbill Festival
    Video

    India's Hornbill Festival with Shirley Campbell

    February 15, 2017 | Video

    This November, we'll be traveling to India by Rail with the Hornbill Festival, with social anthropologist, Shirley Campbell.

    Read More

    Trivandrum, India
    Blog Post

    India Travel Tips: How to Prepare for Your Trip to the Subcontinent

    February 14, 2017 | Blog Post

    India is a vast, teeming, and colorful country with a rhythm entirely its own. Though you will see the rapid pace of modern change in the metropolises of Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore, India’s heart still beats to an ancient rhythm.

    Read More

    Kyoto, Japan
    Blog Post

    2017: 34 Countries, 90 UNESCO World Heritage Sites [Infographic]

    February 14, 2017 | Blog Post

    In 2017, Zegrahm will be visiting 90 amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites in over 30 countries! The United Nations Educational Scientific & Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the UN that maintains a list of important natural or histroical sites, whose preservation and safe-keeping are deemed imoprtant for the world community.

    Read More

  • Samarkand, Uzbekistan
    Blog Post

    Silk Road Travel: Uncovering Historic Treasures of Central Asia

    February 14, 2017 | Blog Post

    Silk Road Travel is a transformative, transportive experience. You can close your eyes almost anywhere along the historic route through Central Asia and turn back the clock a thousand years. In the corners of your mind you see camel and horse caravans inching towards the horizon, heaving with silks, precious stones, and spices as they amble towards Europe.

    Read More

    Samarkand, Uzbekistan
    Blog Post

    The 'Stans Independence

    January 10, 2017 | Blog Post

    The largest of the four ‘Stans, Kazakhstan is a country of steppes landscaped with vast plains and hilly plateaus crisscrossed by rivers and lakes, including the Aral Sea, within its boundaries.

    Read More

    Genghis Khaan
    Blog Post

    Genghis Khan: Emperor of All Emperors

    January 10, 2017 | Blog Post

    The Mogul Temüjin, known to history as Chinggis Khaan or Genghis Khan, was a warrior and ruler of great genius. Regarded by many as the founder of the Mongol nation, he was a soldier of ambition and determination.

    Read More

  • Plov, Uzbekistan
    Blog Post

    7 Ways to Savor Samarkand

    December 19, 2016 | Blog Post

    A major stop along the ancient Silk Road, Samarkand has emerged as one of the world’s true culinary destinations. The various ethnic groups that have passed through the city all left their delectable mark on Uzbek food, which fuses Turkic, Tajik, Mongolian, Russian, Jewish, and other traditions.

    Read More

    Japanese Sushi
    Blog Post

    Itadakimasu!

    December 14, 2016 | Blog Post

    Mark Brazil developed his fascination with the natural world, especially birds and mammals, during his boyhood in the landlocked English county of Worcestershire.

    Read More

    Japanese Tea Ceremony
    Blog Post

    The Way of Tea

    December 8, 2016 | Blog Post

    Mark Brazil developed his fascination with the natural world, especially birds and mammals, during his boyhood in the landlocked English county of Worcestershire.

    Read More

  • Bay Islands, Honduras
    Blog Post

    Happy Thanksgiving from Zegrahm Expeditions

    November 22, 2016 | Blog Post

    At this time of year, as we join our family and friends and reflect on what we're thankful for, a common thread that unites the staff here at Zegrahm is, of course, travel. Here are just a few of the moments—across all seven continents—we're most grateful for experiencing over the past year: 

    Read More

    Almaty, Kazakhstan
    Blog Post

    There's Nothing Lame About Tamerlane

    November 16, 2016 | Blog Post

    As a young man, the 14th-century Turko-Mongol military leader Timur sustained crippling injuries to his right hand and hip. The latter caused a rather severe limp, earning him the nickname Timur-e Lang or “Timur the Lame”—the origin of his European moniker, Tamerlane.

    Read More

    Samarkand, Uzbekistan
    Blog Post

    Understanding the 'Stans

    November 16, 2016 | Blog Post

    The block of former Soviet republics—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan—is the new frontier for audacious adventurers. Here’s what you need to know about visiting Central Asia.

    Read More