Page 1

F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 8 • ` 1 5 0 • VO L . 6 I S S U E 8 • N AT G E O T R AV E L L E R . I N

THE ULTIMATE

EUROPE GUIDE

WHERE THE

Wild THINGS ARE

AMAZON  RANTHAMBORE KENYA  ZAMBIA  TADOBA SOUTH AFRICA  PENCH  KANHA


N AT I O N A L G E O G R A P H I C T R AV E L L E R I N D I A

february2018 VOL. 6 ISSUE 8

32

19

14 WHERE’S MY PASSPORT Since nature is beautiful and scary enough to not need embellishment, wildlife does little for the imaginative

20 THE WORLD ACCORDING

Voices

16 WAYFARING The mood of a hotel room is determined not by its past, but by what you, a traveller, bring to it 18 CREW CUT On travelling as a student, saving money and spending it all

The Itinerary TO GARY

Gary Mehigan has a new TV show that explores the recent transformation of Indian food industry 24 HIDE AND PEAK A trek into Nanda Devi National Park encompasses culture, wildlife and views of the great Himalayan range

HIS DHOW

The maritime history of the Arabian Peninsula comes alive in Oman 32 EAT, PRAY, LIVE Amritsar’s technicolour bazaars and dhabas selling kulchas are a feast for the senses. Here’s a 48-hour guide to the storied city 36 GERMANY GOES TO TOWN Sun, sea, forests, and old-world charm in the German Riviera 44 GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS Madrid has much to lap up, from great artworks and bullfights to Flamenco performances and a dazzling nightlife

RASCALRJ/GETTY IMAGES

14

28 WHERE SINBAD SAILED


Regulars 12 Editor’s Note | 136 Travel Quiz

49

64

The Focus 50 MAKING EUROPE YOURS No self-respecting travel bucket list can ignore the great continent. Even in 2018, European countries continue to have the same allure they have had for decades. We bring you a guide that goes beyond the cliché

63

The Address 64 THE BEST BEDS IN BALI AND BEYOND

Indonesia is a treasure trove of more than 13,000 islands. Amongst these, Bali is a resort bazaar. If you plan on shopping for a room in the region, we bring you a special catalogue 70 LIKE A GENERAL IN HER LABYRINTH

72 SEA CHANGE A luxurious Goan weekend escape doesn’t get better than Taj Fort Aguada

ON THE COVER Compared to the lush colours of the forest, the zebra is perhaps WHERE a touch too black THE and white. Our THINGS cover image, ARE however, makes clear the fact that it doesn’t let its lack of colour get to it. Our zebra hasn’t lost its sense of humour. Few places or things surprise more than the forest. A chuckling animal, we felt, is the perfect embodiment of the joy you come to unexpectedly witness in the wild. F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 8 • ` 1 5 0 • VO L . 6 I S S U E 8 • N AT G E O T R AV E L L E R . I N

THE ULTIMATE

EUROPE GUIDE

Wild AMAZON  RANTHAMBORE KENYA  ZAMBIA  TADOBA SOUTH AFRICA  PENCH  KANHA

PHOTO COURTESY: ALILA VILLAS ULUWATU (POOL), FREDER/E+/GETTY IMAGES (COVER)

Discovering history and the good life at lebua Lucknow


100

74 FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE

96 A TIGER AND MOUSE GAME Two safari resorts in Kanha and Pench National Parks showcase wildly different sides of Madhya Pradesh’s jungles

The Destination TO FIND THEM

Spotting a tiger will always remain a thrilling experience but there are many more rare and beautiful animals to see in the country. A list of 10 wildlife sightings to check off your list in 2018

100 THERE IS NO TAMING ZAMBIA Lower Zambezi National Park is that rare place where you can experience wilderness unspoilt by tourist trappings

78 HOW AMAZON DELIVERS A luxury cruise in the Peruvian Amazon sails deep into the mysteries of one of the earth’s most fragile ecosystems

104 CORBETT’S ANIMAL FARM No day is without drama at the Jim Corbett National Park

86 MY DATE WITH MADHURI Tigers apart, Tadoba is also fast proving to be the perfect home for one wildlife conservationist

106 BY THE LAW OF THE JUNGLE A safari in Masai Mara National Reserve is a mosaic of surreal landscapes and wildlife chases that keep you at the edge of your seat

90 SOUTH AFRICA GETS THE LION’S SHARE

The Phinda wildlife reserve shelters seven distinct ecosystems, and the region

114 EARN YOUR STRIPES Mughal tents and wild encounters at Ranthambore National Park

119

The Journey 120 OFF THE RAILS Though symbols of progress, trains in India continue to be a setting for violence and crime 124 OF CASTLES & LEPRECHAUNS Much of Ireland looks like a fairy-tale themed pop-up card 130 CROSSING A BEND IN THE RIVER

In Bangladesh, the Brahmaputra is a shimmering expanse, occasionally interrupted by river islands, lonely fishing boats and fearsome pirates

PASCAL BOEGLI/GETTY IMAGES

73

around the Cape of Good Hope is a repository of history and one of the world’s six Floral Kingdoms


EDITOR’S NOTE SHREEVATSA NEVATIA

DRIVING ME WILD

G

old Didi’s response to it particularly annoying. She demanded that our family of four stay in a single room. This meant I had to squeeze myself into a single bed she had monopolised. I was instructed to always be in her line of vision. She dug her nails into my hands when we went out on an elephant safari, and she held me close to her. I had never felt braver. When we did come across a tiger, it was mauling a goat. My very vegetarian family looked away, while I watched transfixed. Blood dripped from its teeth. Its eyes were aflame. After a 15-minute gluttonous feast, the goat’s carcass was finally dragged away, presumably for seconds. My parents were concerned that I might have been scarred by what I had seen. The tiger’s violence, they felt, ought to have come with a PG rating. My glee, though, was palpable. I wanted to see more. The forest had humbled me with its excess. Its obvious beauty needed no theorising. The joys of wildlife, I found, were satisfyingly simple. In this issue, our writers try and capture that magnificence in places such as the Amazon, Masai Mara, Zambia, South Africa and Madhya Pradesh. Their dispatches seem like a collective plea for better conservation. Even though my sister might be more impressed with our new section ‘The Focus’— we give you a guide to Europe—she will confess that seeing a tiger get away with murder is a holiday experience which defies forgetting.

TIM FLACH/STONE/GETTY IMAGES

THE FOREST HUMBLED ME WITH ITS EXCESS. ITS OBVIOUS BEAUTY NEEDED NO THEORISING

rowing up in Calcutta, my holidays followed a pattern. Summers were spent in Darjeeling and winters in Puri. It mattered that we were getting away. I didn’t ever concern myself with how far we went. When I was 13, though, my father announced we were going to Nepal. For the first time, I was leaving the country. I was, my sister reminded me, going abroad. Distance, suddenly, meant something. Kathmandu’s streets did not seem foreign, but its casinos certainly were. Strangely, I was allowed to gamble. I beat the dealer. I then won at blackjack. I was on a roll. I did not want toleave. My sister grew concerned—“The way he signals for cards is not normal.” My mother tried to calm her. “We’ll be in the forest tomorrow. Trust me, he’ll forget.” It’s regrettable, but mothers do know better. We flew south the next morning, all the way to Chitwan National Park. I had never seen a forest before. I still remember how it smelt, how my glasses fogged up, how everything—including me—felt newly alive. Established in 1964, the Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge had earned itself quite the reputation for responsible travel by the mid-nineties. Sitting around a fireplace on our first night there, the resident naturalist told my sister, “Just three nights ago, a tiger had walked up to the very edge of our lodge.” The wild does make children of us all, but I found my 17-year-

OUR MISSION National Geographic Traveller India is about immersive travel and authentic storytelling, inspiring readers to create their own journeys and return with amazing stories. Our distinctive yellow rectangle is a window into a world of unparalleled discovery.

​Write to me at natgeoeditor@ack-media.com or Editor, National Geographic Traveller India, 7th Floor, AFL House, Lok Bharti Complex, Marol Maroshi Road, Andheri East, Mumbai- 400059. FEBRUARY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

13


THE ITINERARY CONVERSATION WITH GARY MEHIGAN

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARY CELEBRITY CHEF GARY MEHIGAN, OF MASTERCHEF AUSTRALIA FAME, HAS A NEW TV SHOW THAT EXPLORES THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE INDIAN FOOD INDUSTRY BY ANU PRABHAKAR In his new show, Masters of Taste with Gary Mehigan, the chef explores India’s culinary diversity through tastings with pioneering chefs and foodies.

WHAT ARE YOUR EARLIEST MEMORIES OF TRAVELLING AND EXPLORING NEW FOOD? When I was a child, travel and holidays were always in and around the U.K. Camping was the order of the day— trips to Devon, Cornwall and Wales 20

were favourites. Cornish cream and ice cream, blackberries picked at the roadside, or an afternoon spent strawberry picking, fish and chips by the sea and long treks and drives through the gorgeous countryside… My first big adventure was backpacking around Canada in my early 20s. I was working in London at the time and I had an idea of working in Canada or the States. However, those big breakfasts, steaks the size of dinner plates, Caesar salad and the odd fine dining experience showed me that, at that time, it wasn’t for me. But it was one of those moments in life when you realise that there is a big wide world out there and I wanted to be in it!

A PART OF YOUR PREVIOUS SHOW, FAR FLUNG WITH GARY MEHIGAN,

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | FEBRUARY 2018

FOCUSED ON INDIA. WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT MASTERS OF TASTE?

The culinary diversity (of India) is on another scale. I haven’t even scratched the surface but it has me hooked. Masters of Taste gave me the chance to meet a new generation of foodies, chefs and shared ideas. I had the privilege of digging my fingers into the local culinary scene in Delhi and Mumbai. I met people from many walks of life doing amazing things with food… India is in the middle of a food revolution! (I cooked with) chefs like Kelvin Cheung, Thomas Zacharias, Ranveer Brar and Manish Mehrotra who are on their own paths, confident in creating and innovating in a uniquely Indian way. I was pleased to find a tremendous interest in local and indigenous

PHOTO COURTESY: FOXLIFE

C

hef Gary Mehigan is most well-known for his role as a judge on the hit reality TV show Masterchef Australia, but that’s only half the story. He is an author, biker— he hints at a plan to bike from the south to the Himalayas on a Royal Enfield— and, more recently, a podcast host. Mehigan talks about his latest TV show Masters of Taste with Gary Mehigan and why he is repeatedly drawn to India’s regional cuisines. Edited excerpts:


THE ITINERARY UTTARAKHAND

HIDE AND PEAK A TREK INTO NANDA DEVI NATIONAL PARK ENCOMPASSES CULTURE, WILDLIFE AND 360-DEGREE VIEWS OF THE GREAT HIMALAYAN RANGE BY BIBEK BHATTACHARYA in the Kumaon Himalayas. The twin peaks of Nanda Devi and Nanda Devi East peer over the icy 21,700-foot-high southern ridge that cloaks the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, a vast area of about 380 square kilometres of glaciers and meadows. Another popular view is that from the Kuari Pass trek in the Garhwal Himalaya. From here, you see the west face of the mountain, a vast triangle dominating the horizon, aloof and above the surrounding galaxy of peaks. It’s the same view from Dharansi, except that seen from here, the west face looms like

There's nobody better to trek with in this terrain other than the local Bhotiya tribe

an enormous sail, with scuttling clouds at its summit adding to that illusion. The route into the sanctuary was unknown until 1934. It would be fair to say that not even the Bhotiya herders, who live along the Niti Valley of the Dhauli Ganga river, knew of a way in. This changed when legendary English mountaineers Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman found a way in through the fearful gorge of the Rishi Ganga river. Two years later a British-American team led by Tilman retraced the route and made the first ascent of the main peak, 7,816 metre high. At the time, it was one of the highest peaks ever scaled. Tilman’s ascent, and the end of World War II, brought about a massive increase in the number of expeditions to the sanctuary. With over 25 peaks ranging between 6,000 metre and 7,500 metre, this was mountaineering

The granite cliffs of the west face of Nanda Devi glow during sunset.

24

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | FEBRUARY 2018

PAVEL CHAKRABORTY

I

will never forget my first glimpse of Nanda Devi, one of the most strikingly beautiful mountains in the world. It was at the end of six days, battling the fickle weather of a latein retreating monsoon: stranded on perpendicular rock faces amidst heavy fog, violent storms and lightning atop a high-altitude meadow, and clouds everywhere. Monsoon in the Himalayas is a magical, yet mildly frustrating experience—especially if you’re in one of the most storied regions of the great range, surrounded by mountains that are household names. And after almost a week’s frustration, I woke up one clear morning at the camp in the hanging valley of Dharansi and there she was, the great Nanda Devi, revealed at last. Most people know the mountain’s famous south face view as seen from hill stations like Ranikhet and Almora


THE FOCUS

In Piazza Navona, Rome’s main square, the Sant'Agnese in Agone cathedral and the Fiumi fountain (foreground) are great examples of Roman baroque architecture.

MAKING

EUROPE

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

YOURS

50

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | FEBRUARY 2018


EUROPE

NO SELFRESPECTING TRAVEL BUCKET LIST CAN IGNORE THIS CONTINENT. EVEN IN 2018, EUROPEAN COUNTRIES CONTINUE TO HAVE THE SAME ALLURE THEY HAVE HAD FOR DECADES. THIS MONTH, WE

UPDATED GUIDE BY DEBASHREE MAJUMDAR FEBRUARY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

51

KINO ALYSE/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES

BRING YOU AN


THE FOCUS

1

T

2

Europe has a number of touristy rabbit holes one can go down, but if you scratch its surface just a little, you’ll find there are still new worlds to discover

NOT JUST A SUM OF ITS

holes, Europe continues to thrill in living traditions and it remains one of those places where clichés are rooted in local practices, old and new—Munich’s Oktoberfest, Venice’s Carnival, or

CLICHÉS

52

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | FEBRUARY 2018

JOHN TURP/MOMENT/GETTY IMAGES (CEILING), CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/STAFF/GETTY IMAGES NEWS/GETTY IMAGES (CHEF)

he big cities of Europe as travel destinations, for a while now, have earned their reputation for trading in clichés. The hardsell behind Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Rome’s Colosseum and Barcelona’s Sagrada Família is now apparent with ever rising crowds at these cultural monoliths. When planning a European escape, avoiding touristy touch-and-go clichés helps. It pays to concentrate on the yet undiscovered or little-known nugget of culture that maybe sitting quietly just across the street from the serpentine queues before a famous church or centuries-old graveyard. That nugget might be more revelatory about the place and its people. But how does one avoid the clichés when travelling in an unknown country? What does it take to give that overpriced touristy flamenco show in Barcelona a miss? How does one instead opt for an affordable and authentic experience at a neighbourhood bar frequented by locals? When does it become essential to recognise the slip that separates real customs and cheesy performances? When one thinks of Europe’s tourist traps, the men dressed in gladiator costumes and extorting as much as eight euros for taking a picture with you, on your camera, at the Colosseum come to mind. There are plenty others. But irrespective of these touristy rabbit-


Buñol’s La Tomatina are only a few instances that have gained currency over several years of tourist traffic and rightly so. Some of these are worth the effort and the experience. But to make it worth your while, you need to dig deeper, and sniff out the local gem amidst all the readily available curated packages. Yes, sometimes, travel needs alertness and hard work. It could involve poring over newspapers, pamphlets and posters on train station walls to get closer to that ultimate local experience. Despite the continent’s popularity, thanks to technology and modern

tourism, Europe retains its constant charms and its living stories. For where else would you walk in the shadows of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century stone house but in Florence? Where else could you tuck into a burger by Lac Léman in Geneva across from where Mary Shelley thought of writing Frankenstein during a cold summer cooped up in a house in Cologny with her literary friends? And where else would you find the architecture of ancient splendour that has survived wars, migration, and social upheavals that precede our existence and holds sway over our world to this day? The grand old cities of history and culture, the sunlit cafés along cobbled alleys, the sunset over the Danube, the grandiose fjords of Scandinavia all come together in one great muddle to create this European magic show that we all wait to experience, be it as a whole or in parts. For Europe is not just one destination, it’s the unpacking of a new world every couple of hours, depending upon which flight you’re on. Between the Urals and Alps, the Baltic and the Mediterranean,

it packs within its borders numerous countries, their history, culture and the consistent ebb and flow of ethnic and geographical complexities. Together, they bring to the traveller a world whose origins can still be witnessed in the regal Roman ruins, the scatter of Renaissance art, the opulent palaces of bygone empires and to the presentday practicalities of a cohesive whole brought forth by the coexistence of ageold traditions and modern politics. And then beyond the cities, there is the splendour of cuisine, beverages and the great green outdoors. What can be clichéd about hiking in the Alps? Taking a quick dip in the crystal clear lakes of Iceland? Or lunching on pizza in Naples? And picking up bits about viticulture while quaffing on chardonnay in sunny Bordeaux? The thrill of Europe is as inexhaustible as it is richly varied, old and new, quirky, and elegant all at once. Its swagger is hard to emulate and its charms impossible to escape, despite them being well, for want of a better word, slightly clichéd. Each journey to the centre or the edge of Europe brings along experiences and learnings that elevate our understanding of a part of a world we don’t otherwise frequent. At the end of the day, though, your travel experiences are made of what you bring back home tucked in your head, cherished in your heart and sometimes bubble-wrapped in your handbag.

3

5

4 1 The ceiling art in Malta’s Gozo Cathedral is a fine example of baroque art trickery. It creates an illusion of a dome. 2 Acclaimed pizza chef, Pepe Mazza, flings a dough disc inside a Naples pizzeria. 3 Northern Lights paint Lofoten’s sky neon green. 4 The Hungarian Parliament building’s neoGothic architecture stands out on the Danube. 5 Inside the L'Intendant, a five-storey-high circular tower houses some of Bordeaux’s finest wines. FEBRUARY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

53

MARIUSKASTECKAS/ROOM/GETTY IMAGES (NORTHERN LIGHTS), JON HICKS/THE IMAGE BANK/GETTY IMAGES (BUILDING), HOLGER LEUE/LOOKFOTO/LOOK/GETTY IMAGES (STAIRCASE)

EUROPE


THE ADDRESS

THE BEST BEDS IN

Its 35 suites can accommodate max 70 guests. Doubles start from $1,960/ `1,25,000. Min booking 3 nights. (bawahisland. com)

64

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | FEBRUARY 2018

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

BALI

AND BEYOND


INDONESIA

Indonesia is a treasure trove of more than 13,000 islands. Amongst these, Bali is a resort bazaar. If you plan on shopping for a room in the vicinity, we bring you a special catalogue By Devanshi Mody

BAWAH stingrays shimmer past, scouring mangroves to spot mud-skippers or scampering up rocks where grand monitor lizards patter away. We emerge where baby sharks whorl. Tom can take you snorkelling or diving, but I instead take Tom on a boat safari, discovering lagoons and beaches, including a sexy James Bond nook on a mangrove-flanked stretch where we see indolent rudimentary creatures and swift lustrous fish effloresce thrillingly under sun-struck turquoise translucence. By evening, splendid white birds speckle trees and immense fruit bats swoop past. After a day’s speed-boating, you need the spa. Then you book Theo for the best massages Bawah has to offer. Bawah is an education. It’s also an invitation to escape time. Your departure after four nights might leave you dismayed, unless bespoke tour operator and aviation specialists Remote Lands (www.remotelands. com/ultraluxe) are flying you back privately, stylishly. When parting, I admonish senior host Eko, “You didn’t show me a python.” He says, “Next time we’ll put a GPS on one so it’s ready to track for you.”

PHOTO COURTESY: BAWAH

Paradise is a sanctuary of six islands, three lagoons and 13 beaches. It also helps when a French GM and an Italian executive chef double as St Peter. Paradise must also, biblically, have snakes. So, arriving at spanking-new and far-flung Bawah, I announce I intend to see a python. This is the least one can expect at Indonesia’s most exclusive retreat. It can, after all, cost around $2,000 to spend a night here. Reservations Manager John Petch protests, “We are a safe island!” This is an excellent thing to tell the timorous, but not the temerarious. I am swiftly reassured that a python was ensconced outside John’s villa recently. I’m hopeful. My villa’s amenities include a net-swaddled fourposter bed, a copper tub and a monumental lilac crab. Photogenic but camera-shy, she hoists herself as if on stilettos and slinks away like a supermodel. The villas are modish in that eco-elegant, unfussed way. Having taken six years to craft, the resort and its villas are all handmade. (We love handmade!) Meals are served at the Treetop Restaurant, which has spectacular prospects and romantic terrace tables. But unless you’re supping with VS Naipaul, join the communal table where Chef Bernardi is innovative with his Indonesian-Italian creations, and where GM Tom Blanchère and his wife, spa manageress Adeline, host you until you wish to be entertained. This could well be midnight. A word of caution, though. If you intend expeditionary activities the next morning, a late night could prove injudicious. Bawah is supposedly a “time machine” and it certainly helps me recall my childhood. Circuiting the island is like some Enid Blyton adventure— we hike uphill, down to Coconut Beach and then we’re wading through waters with coral shards that

FEBRUARY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

65


THE DESTINATION

FANTASTIC

BEASTS & Where to Find Them

While the tiger rules the Indian jungle, and spotting one will always remain a thrilling experience, there are many more rare and beautiful animals to see in the country. Here are 10 wildlife sightings to check off your list in 2018

Snow Leopard

Hemis National Park, Jammu and Kashmir Often known as the grey ghost of the Himalayas, the elusive snow leopard is the most sought after on any wildlife enthusiast’s list of animals to see. The tiger (and the lion) may hold pride of place in other Indian forests, but in the Himalayas, the snow leopard is the king, surviving extreme temperatures and traversing the challenging topography of higher reaches of the Himalayas. The leopard’s grey spotted coat helps it blend seamlessly with its snowy environment so spotting one is very difficult. You have to trek for days inside the Hemis National Park for a chance at a glimpse. With this regal predator, the game of hide-and-seek is always on.

74

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | FEBRUARY 2018

BEN CRANKE/NATURE PICTURE LIBRARY/NATURE PICTURE LIBRARY/GETTY IMAGES

BY KALYANI PRASHER


INDIA

Rare Birds

Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan Whether Siberian cranes will ever return to Keoladeo National Park (formerly Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary) remains to be seen, but it still tops the list of birding hotspots in India. With sightings of around 400 bird species, the experience at Bharatpur is enriching. Here, in one trip, you can spot a host of avian species, many of them rare. While plenty are endemic, others are summer or winter migrants. Apart from raptors and sarus cranes, many endangered birds including the whitebellied heron have been spotted in Bharatpur and last year, the great bittern, a wading species, was spotted here. For an avid birdwatcher, a walk through Bharatpur is about much more than just spotting rare species, it is about spending time with sights and sounds of the pristine ecosystem.

Indian Wild Ass

Gujarat is home to two animal species found nowhere else in the world: the Asiatic lion and the Indian wild ass. While the lion gets its share of fame, the equestrian is often underappreciated. The Indian wild ass is a near threatened subspecies of the Asiatic wild ass and one that resembles a horse more closely than any other ass species. Significantly larger than the donkey, it is swifter too—among the fastest animals in the country, it can gallop at the speed of about 70 kmph. The Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch is your best bet to spot this rare species whose habitat has been threatened by state development projects.

Great Indian Hornbill Manas National Park, Assam

Seeing a great Indian hornbill for the first time is not an experience easily forgotten. The large birds with their distinctive curved yellow-white-and-black bill and casque are truly one of nature’s greatest creations. While other species of hornbills, such as the Indian grey, can be seen across India, the majestic great Indian hornbill is near threatened and your best chance of spotting one is in Assam’s Manas National Park. Watching this elegant beast—for it is a beast of a bird—glide over you across the blue sky, is often enough to make you forget your camera and just be humbled by nature’s endless marvels.

FEBRUARY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

75

ADITYA SINGH/IMAGEBROKER/GETTY IMAGES (RARE BIRDS OF BHARATPUR), SYLVAIN CORDIER/PHOTOGRAPHER'S CHOICE/GETTY IMAGES (INDIAN WILD ASS), GER BOSMA/MOMENT OPEN/GETTY IMAGES (GREAT INDIAN HORNBILL)

Wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary, Little Rann of Kutch, Gujarat


XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

THE DESTINATION

78

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | FEBRUARY 2018


PERU

A LUXURY CRUISE IN THE PERUVIAN AMAZON SAILS DEEP INTO THE MYSTERIES OF ONE OF EARTH’S MOST FRAGILE ECOSYSTEMS

LOREN MCINTYRE/STOCK CONNECTION/DINODIA PHOTO LIBRARY

BY KAREENA GIANANI

FEBRUARY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

79


N

ights on the Marañón River have a dark, viscous texture. They turn ficus trees along banks into looming Dementors. Like echo chambers, they magnify wet slithers on forest floors, turning up the shrieks of bulldog bats that fish in this part of the world. We streak across waters that are eerie black mirrors due to the tannin released by the vegetation. Our wooden skiff stops abruptly. Something hisses in my left ear. “Today is your birthday.” The portly figure of Juan Tejada rises at the prow, bending to part the foliage of the jungle beyond. “Today is your birthday, and the Amazon is your present,” whispers our naturalist. “You know you will get gifts. But what will they be: Anaconda? Tarantula? Or a hungry jaguar?” *** Earlier this morning, as my plane flew into the port city of Iquitos in northeastern Peru, I saw something I will never likely forget. All earth was a tightly bunched, bottle-green rainforest. A muddy river snaked through it in a perfect sine wave, as if a rhythmic gymnast had twirled her ribbon across. I was in the Amazon, the world’s largest river by volume, and was looking down at a fraction of its seven million square kilometres of rainforest. Two decades ago, I had crammed its mindboggling proportions for a school exam: The Amazon is the planet’s largest tropical rainforest and is almost twice the size of India. It spans nine countries—Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. About 50 Amazonian tribes have no contact with the outside world. The scale of this place is larger than what a pigtailed schoolgirl could imagine. Juan revels in the Amazon, with an ease that comes from having grown up here and swimming with endangered pink dolphins as a boy. He leans deeper into the ferns—he has spotted two glinting red dots—and returns with a foot-long baby black caiman. The species is the largest and one of the deadliest

crocodiles in the world; and its bitter-gourd-like texture makes me squirm. Juan carefully puts it back. Then Marcos, the helmsman, switches off the skiff’s engine and light for a few minutes. I listen to the mixtape of the jungle: hoots, yips and trills meshing with murmurs and sounds of fish cutting water. “Y’all listenin’ to the soundtrack of some of the 1,400 endemic bird species of the Amazon, my friends,” says Juan. “These waters hold the deadly paiche fish, a carnivore with teeth on the roof of its mouth and on the tongue. There are electric fish too, that emit 600 volts to stun their prey.” We return to our vessel, the Zafiro, which reminds me of the other extreme of my Amazonian adventure: luxury. Lights blink from its 19 cabins, bar, restaurant and deck. Inside, 21 crew members—most of them born in Amazonian villages—work tirelessly to give me and 14 others an intimate glimpse of a largely secret, fragile ecosystem that not even many Peruvians have explored. Starting from the port town of Nauta, which lies 100 kilometres from Iquitos, over four nights my portable home will cover the depths of tropical forests enclosed by two tributaries of the Amazon, Marañón and Ucayali. The area they enclose is part of the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, Peru’s second largest rainforest, which is the size of Belgium. There’s no mobile network on the ship. So, the first thing I do every morning is push the curtains away from the floor-toceiling window in my room. The wallpaper changes every day; I could wake up to swaying palms, or houses built on stilts. One morning, bleary-eyed from sleep, I spot three grey dolphins gambolling in the river. I wait, and two more join in, oblivious to the manic grin of a woman in a bathrobe with toothpaste foaming in her mouth. *** “Don’t lean on that!” I leap away from an innocent-looking cedar. Juan points to its base; it is teeming with ants the size of my little finger. “Bullet ants, the deadliest of all. Their sting hurts for a full day. I was once paralysed for six hours.”

Expeditions into the Amazon are deep immersions into its way of life. Photo ops with tarantulas are guaranteed by Jorge, an expert tracker (right). Some days start by fishing for savage piranhas (middle), and end with buying handicrafts (left) made by the local Cucama community.

80

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | FEBRUARY 2018

SERGI REBOREDO/AGE FOTOSTOCK/DINODIA PHOTO LIBRARY (HANDICRAFT), PHOTO COURTESY: JUNGLE EXPERIENCES/AMAZON RIVER CRUISES (PIRANHAS), KAREENA GIANANI (TARANTULA)

THE DESTINATION


PERU

KAREENA GIANANI

A wooden skiff racing along Amazonian creeks and rivers opens up a new window into its stunning ecosystems. Excursions with naturalist Juan Tejada (first, left) often include sightings of toucans and hummingbirds, and hilarious imitations of a sloth bear looking for his mate. Previous Spread: Almost 22 per cent of the oxygen on the planet is believed to be generated in the Amazon. The rainforest, which covers 60 per cent of Peru’s total area, is a place of astonishing biodiversity and indigenous cultures.

FEBRUARY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

81


THE DESTINATION

A SAFARI IN MASAI MARA NATIONAL RESERVE IS A MOSAIC OF SURREAL LANDSCAPES AND WILDLIFE CHASES THAT KEEP YOU AT THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT BY PALOMA DUTTA 106

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | FEBRUARY 2018


KENYA

BY THE LAW OF THE JUNGLE

Wildebeests have a better sense of smell than the zebras, who in turn have sharper vision. The two creatures are often seen migrating together in Masai Mara.

FEBRUARY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

107

JAMES WARWICK/STONE/GETTY IMAGES

I

n late August 2015, I, with an intimate group of friends, had gone to Masai Mara in southwestern Kenya to witness the great wildebeest migration to the twin ecosystem of Serengeti in Tanzania. I had expected to be overwhelmed by this natural wonder—thousands of animals heading with single-minded determination towards greener pastures. I had expected to see, in sunset colours, a lone giraffe craning its neck to reach for the topmost succulent leaves of the only acacia tree in sight. I was hoping to see a lion or two. I had not thought my biggest takeaway from the three safaris in the Kenyan wilds would be an acute realisation of my mortality. As if setting the stage for a philosophic outing, within an hour of heading out of Nairobi, just past Limuru town, we encountered Kenya’s ‘great beyond’. Leaning on the rail of a viewpoint to blur out the bustle of souvenir shops, we gazed into infinity—at least up to Tanzania—at the scrubby spread of the Great Rift Valley. That landscape would play a major character, often taking the attention away from the animals in our safari drama became clear from then on. With Masai Mara as the final destination, we rolled on in our safari van, with the portly Bonnieface as our driver and guide—if there was ever a perfect marriage of name and appearance—on snaky and ramrod-straight roads with rollercoaster inclines and drops, the landscape changing every few kilometres, now and then an oasis through desertlike scenes. It was difficult to ignore the mangled cars displayed on platforms at many places along the road, as cautionary tales for rash driving. Why only tell when you can show? The cars along with the roads disappeared as we approached the national reserve and the last 60 kilometres of dirt track was an acclimatising exercise for what awaited us within Masai Mara. The magic really started on the evening safari. As we moved in deeper, the animals and the savannah with its bushy vegetation and infrequent acacia trees, started to envelop us. We were in the wild.


THE JOURNEY

XXXXXXXXXXXX (XXXXXXXXX)

The route along the Jamuna, the Brahmaputra’s channel in Bangladesh, was a thriving trade zone during the British Raj. But, apart from the steady stream of local produce or grass being ferried between the islands, little of that commerce remains now.

130

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | FEBRUARY 2018


BANGLADESH

CROSSING B E N D

I N

T H E

RIVER In Bangladesh, the Brahmaputra is a shimmering expanse, occasionally

interrupted by river islands, lonely fishing boats and even fearsome pirates

BY SAMRAT FEBRUARY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

131

MUHAMMAD MOSTAFIGUR RAHMAN/ALAMY/INDIAPICTURE

A


THE JOURNEY

A short distance beyond the last fish seller and the final ramshackle tea stall, the path curves downwards to where bales of hay and stacks of firewood line the riverfront. Beyond this are the boats, and the river—an expanse of green-brown waters known, here in Sirajganj,

Bangladesh, as the Jamuna. It is the same river, which less than 200 kilometres upstream in India (Assam, to be exact), is called the Brahmaputra. Somehow, crossing a border it does not recognise causes the river to change its name and undergo a sex change. For this plight the river itself must also take a share of the blame: It changed its course in 1787. There is still an old channel of the river in Bangladesh that retains the name Brahmaputra, even though most of that river’s waters now flow into the Jamuna, the new channel of the river that came to be after a flood in 1787. The Sajib, the boat that was to ferry me downriver along this channel, was there waiting at the river’s edge. It stood apart from the fishing boats with their timeless black wooden hulls and cane and thatch canopies; it had the appearance of a pleasure boat, painted blue and decorated all over with colourful illustrations of flowers, fruits, and a house with a distinctly European look to it. Curtains fluttered from its windows. Inside, one end was taken up by a 20-horsepower diesel engine of Chinese make. The living section—a space of about 15 feet in length— consisted of wooden planks overlaid on the boat’s metal body, capped by a linoleum covering. There was nothing else inside; not even a light. I boarded. Boatman Mohammad Abu Said, dark, smiling, rowed us into midstream using a bamboo pole, and we began our little voyage towards what remains of a legendary ghat at the confluence of the two greatest rivers that flow through India—the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. We had gone barely a few hundred metres when suddenly he turned the craft back towards land, muttering all the while into his mobile phone. “What happened?” I asked him in 132

“ ”

Bengali. “Two people is better than one,” he replied. This was to be the last time that Abu Said would speak to me in Bengali. After his assistant Shahadat Hossain had joined the crew, and we had resumed our journey, I went up to Abu Said to ask how boatmen on the beautiful, treacherous river piloted purely by instinct and sight. He replied volubly—in Chinese English with a few random words of Bengali thrown in. I was flummoxed; why was a Bangladeshi boatman from Sirajganj talking in Chinese English? “Apni Bangla bolen (Please speak in Bengali),” I suggested. He ignored my request, and carried right on in a language that was his alone. I understood not a word of it. Abu Said sensed my incomprehension, and finally uttered a sentence I got. “Brother!” he exclaimed. “You lookalooka!” Conversation was pointless. Picking up my camera, I went off to lookalooka. The scenes around were idyllic, postcard-like. Winter had set in and out in the sun, on the water it was pleasantly warm. The expanse of the river was dotted with little fishing boats and

THE KOREANS HAVE BEEN BUILDING THINGS IN THESE PARTS. NOT FAR FROM SIRAJGANJ, IS A GREAT BRIDGE SPANNING THE RIVER

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA | FEBRUARY 2018

their ragtag crews of twos and threes. The shoreline was clearly visible on one side. On the other, what appeared to be shore near at hand was really a giant river island or char. It was indistinguishable from the shore, except in one detail: The shore near Sirjaganj town had structures for defence against floods. We passed a nearly 30-foot high embankment lined with concrete blocks jutting into the river on the Sirjaganj side. Immediately on seeing this Abu Said got animated. He left the rudder to Shahadat and came up to me. The story, which he told in his Bangladeshi version of Chinese English, was one of which I managed to piece together a few bits from stray words that I subsequently checked with Shahadat. Abu Said had worked on ferrying the engineers who had constructed these embankments. They were Chinese engineers; these structures had been built by a Chinese company. He had been in their service for a couple of years. The memory of the experience, and the language of communication—to my regret—had stayed with him.


The Koreans have also been building things on the river in these parts. A short distance out of Sirajganj, we came to a great bridge spanning the river. This is the Jamuna Setu, a 5.63 kilometre bridge which, when completed in 1998, was Bangladesh’s first water bridge. It was built by Hyundai. Fortunately for me, Abu Said had not worked with them. Our first halt was at a sandbar in the middle of the river downriver from the Jamuna Setu. It stood barely a few feet above the water line, its fine sand gleaming white in the sun. Two little canoes were pulled up at its edge, and five men were busy pulling furrows in the sand. This was free land, newly born of the river on which they had staked a tenuous claim. They were planting peanuts. They gave us a handful of the raw, fresh nuts to eat. We resumed our journey. The sound of the boat’s engine was loud in the silence that stretched all around us. There was only water, with the sun glinting off it, and the faraway shapes of occasional fishing boats. In the distance we could see edges of land. Sometimes an occasional human silhouette would be visible. A few of the boats that we passed were overloaded passenger boats going to or from the chars. These chars have villages on them, with farming and pastoral communities. One which we visited had huts with sloping roofs and walls made of tin sheets. Tube wells had been sunk for water; it was a bit of a walk down to the river. The farmlands around the village were growing paddy and vegetables. Most houses had barns attached, with cows and goats. Feeding the animals is a big part of the work for the villagers. It is also a considerable part of the river traffic. All along the river, there are boats big and small ferrying fresh grass and bales of hay to the river islands. The produce from the islands flows out to the surrounding river ports on the mainland. This local commerce is all that remains now of what used to be a vast and bustling network of trade and passenger traffic

Boats taking passengers to and from the islands, locally known as chars, are often perilously overcrowded.

that stretched to distant lands along the routes up the Brahmaputra and Ganga during the British Raj. “To visit Bengal without travelling on the great rivers that intersect the province would be almost as bad as going to Agra without seeing the Taj Mahal, and one may see something of the rivers and appreciate their importance without making the long journey to Dibrugarh,” says a book titled From the Hooghly to the Himalayas, published by the Eastern Bengal State Railway in 1913. The place it highlighted as the principal centre of the river trade was a village called Goalundo. “The groups of thatched huts of which the village consists are a poor index to the transhipment trade of this busy mart,” the unnamed writer of the book wrote. “It is situated at the junction of the Padma, or Ganges, and the Brahmaputra, and daily services of steamers connect it with the railway systems at Narayangunj and Chandpur, and with the steamer services to Madaripur, Barisal, Sylhet and Cachar. There are also daily services of steamers up the Padma to Digha ghat in the dry season, and Buxar in the rains, and up the Brahmaputra to Dibrugarh.” Goalundo was the hub that connected travel all the way from the Bay of Bengal up to the plains of Bihar and the far reaches of Assam. This vast area, with close ties from one sub-region to the

FEBRUARY 2018 | NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELLER INDIA

133

SHIBU BHATTACHARJEE/MOMENT OPEN/GETTY IMAGES

BANGLADESH

National Geographic Traveller India February 2018  

Preview of the February 2018 issue of the Indian edition of National Geographic Traveller.

National Geographic Traveller India February 2018  

Preview of the February 2018 issue of the Indian edition of National Geographic Traveller.

Advertisement