What to take Where and when to go Health Travel Accommodation
If you travel a lot on buses and trains you want to take as little as possible. For a five week trip, we each took a large rucksack for clothes and a small pack for day use.
It was surprisingly cold in Delhi and we were glad we took fleeces even though we had to carry them round the rest of the time. Lightweight walking boots are needed for slogging through forests. Otherwise a minimum of clothes is required - most hotels can do laundry within 24 hours
A Swiss Army Penknife, a money belt, a water bottle and a few medical supplies are about the only other essentials
I get accused of always taking too many books with me but you do need a travel guide such as the Lonely Planet which has details of hotels, restaurants and maps. I also took 'A Pictorial Guide to the birds of the Indian Subcontinent' by Salim Ali & S Dillon Ripley which was OK for most birds in the field apart from Warblers. I also took 'Collins guide to the birds of South East Asia' but that wasn't very helpful. In hindsight I should have taken 'The birds of the Indian Subcontinent' by Gimmett and Inskipp but at 2Kg it was just too heavy. There is talk of a new fieldguide based on this which would be perfect.
We both have Opticron 10 x 42 binoculars - the 'High Resolution' and Sequoiah models. My telescope would have been useful at Bharatpur but again it was too heavy to lug around on buses and trains.
Our three aims on this trip were to get some winter sunshine, to see Asian Rhino and to visit Bharatpur. As a huge bonus we managed to see two Tigers which was beyond my wildest dreams. Previously we had been to India in March/April which is getting into the hot season. This time we went in January one of the best times for birds in Bharatpur but a bit chilly - especially at night in Delhi.
If there is a birders heaven on Earth then it is at Bharatpur. There are literally thousands of birds which can be seen at close quarters and rare migrants in the British Isles such as Bluethroats and Hoopoes, hop around your feet. Raptor fans have about 25 species to look for and there's plenty of little brown jobs for the fanatic. Even non-birding tourists can marvel at the elegant Cranes and colourful Kingfishers. You could easily spend a week here.
Kaziranga has it's own charms. Miles of high Elephant Grass mean birds are not as plentiful , but Deer, Elephants and Rhino can be seen at close quarters. We were very lucky and saw a young Tiger lying on the track catching the last few rays of sun one day and another day we saw a large adult dragging a Deer into the grass. Birdwatching from a jeep is frustrating and you aren't really allowed to walk very far in the Reserve. However it is worth a trip to the nearby Panbari Forest where we saw Hoolock Gibbons whooping to each other as the sun comes up. We also saw lots of Woodpeckers and Barbets but you get neck-ache looking at the tops of trees.
Periyar was disappointing in comparison. Convoys of buses bring gangs of shrieking people for 'wildlife cruises'. These are overloaded boats which chug around the lake. As soon as an Elephant is spotted, they zoom in for a closer view and everyone jumps up and down doing their best to petrify the poor creature. They then depart in convoy with horns blasting away, scattering litter everywhere. If you stay there, silence eventually descends and Wild Boar and Squirrels emerge to forage through the plastic bags. We did see some very good birds on a guided walk in the forest early morning but the rest of the day is best spent by the swimming pool.
As a precaution we took Malaria tablets. Larium gives me nightmares so we stuck with Chloroquine. I'm not sure we really needed it, but better safe than sorry. Also it's essential to stick to bottled water and make sure the top is properly sealed. The only stomach bug we got was due to eating some dodgy prawns in Kochi.
We flew Manchester - Frankfurt - Delhi and returned Mumbai - Frankfurt - Manchester flying Lufthansa for around 450 Pounds Sterling including all taxes.
The problem is you arrive in the dead of night and are at the mercy of the taxi drivers. This time we pre-booked at the YMCA Tourist Hotel and insisted to be taken straight there and nowhere else. You will be told tales of riots, hotel closed down, my brothers place is cheaper etc. etc. If you take a pre-paid taxi, note the number before you get in and be firm. We were taken to a tourist 'registration' centre which was some hotel in the suburbs but we refused to get out of the taxi and threatened the driver with the police. Eventually he took us to the YMCA (which we later found out, doesn't pay commission to taxi drivers)
The next day in Delhi, we booked all our internal flights with Indian Airlines at their office just off Connaught Place, the staff were helpful and they take credit cards. At the time we got a 'Discover India' pass for 500 US Dollars which saved a bit of money.
We booked train tickets to Bharatpur Junction (the Golden Temple Express) at New Delhi train station.
This can be fraught with difficulties especially if you are jet lagged. At the station numerous people will approach you and tell you the 'foreigners' ticket office has closed. They know where to get you tickets for a price, but be warned ! These people will have official looking uniforms and/or badges. The Official office is on the second floor of the station and takes travellers cheques or foreign currency. They also book you on a special seat quota so you may get on a train which is fully booked.
In theory, for a shortish trip to somewhere like Bharatpur you could book a normal second class ticket at the 'public' booking office then upgrade it on the train which is what we did coming back, and then later on in Kerala. However in Delhi you would be fair game for all the professional con-men and beggars unless you know exactly what you were doing.
We stayed in the YMCA Tourist Hotel in Delhi , reception is open 24 hours and they take credit cards, but it is essential to pre-book. It's a bit impersonal but there is a restaurant and a doorman who will call you a cab so you can get a bit of respite from the hassle outside.
In Bharatpur we stayed at the Falcon Guest House which is a quiet family run place. The owner is very friendly and helpful. He has a bird-log which has details of sightings, maps and details of other birding spots nearby. They do good food and they rent bicycles out - it is about 5 minutes ride to Keolado Ghana Sanctuary.
On the way to Kaziranga we stayed at the Belle View Hotel in Gauhati. It was a bit out of town and decidedly offish service. In hindsight we should have rented a car and gone straight to Kaziranga. On the way back we stayed at the Raj Mahal in the town centre - a modern place, handy for the bus station but a bit mad as there was a wedding going on.
At Kaziranga National Park we stayed at the Wildgrass Resort. They can organise everything for you like jeeps, elephant trips, forest guards for guided walks etc. They will also put everything on a 'tab' so you can pay at the end.
At Periyar we stayed at the Aryana Nivas in the park - this was a bit pricey but it included a top-deck boat seat and they had a swimming pool. Again they organised forest guides, travel etc.
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