Monday, March 22, 2010

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts!

My god! Goa is such a paradise. I haven't written because I have been too busy swimming in the Arabian Sea, laying on the beach, eating yummy food and drinking Indian wine.

Goa was a great place to end a 6 week backpacking excursion across India. I was VERY heartbroken to leave. We were in the North of Goa staying in a place called Candolim before heading to the South and finding a way better destination called Palolem. Candolim was a little too resorty for me. Full of packaged tours with many tourists from Russia and England.
However, we did see a HUGE crocodile when we went out on a "Crocodile Dundee" tour with John's Boat tours...which was ridiculously stupid!! The only good thing about the tour was how lucky we were to see this 5 metre beast. We got so close to her that I am sure if I reached my arm out of the boat I could have touched her.

Our guide told us that this was the biggest croc that he has ever seen!

When we went south, we found ourselves on a beach with many other backpackers who were ending their trip the same way we were, relaxing on the beach. You could see the difference immediately! In Palolem there were no topless women, or over-tanned oiled men in bright coloured string thongs or people who were completely naked like there were all over in Candolim, though it made people watching a lot more amusing, I was pretty glad to get out of there, (too hoity-toity for me!) Though Goa is a far more westernized province then anywhere else in India, Palolem had people who had done more travelling around the country. Everyday you saw new backpackers arriving! Also, Polalem was a far younger crowd of people, and the beach was prettier and we stayed in a bamboo hut right on the beach in a forest of palm trees, so it was more like a cabin on the sea! It was far cheaper too and more laid-back.

This is Palolem Beach! Sigh!

We laid on the beach during the days with a temperature reaching high 30s to mid 40s (Celsius) and went swimming as much as we could!

Riding the waves was soooooo fun! I can't believe HOW much I loved swimming in the sea. Before this, I was afraid to go in the water and I have seen a lot of seas and oceans through my travels. It's the fish and other alien like things in the water that give me the heebie-jeebies! Needless to say, Julian helped me get over my fear, to the point where I actually went snorkeling!!!! Sorry, no photos of that, but it wasn't the most exciting. I'm not sure where all the pretty fish were, but they weren't in the sea off Grand Island, thats for sure. The boat ride back from snorkeling was terrifying. Had we been at home there would have for sure been a warning about being out on a small boat with the HUGE waves, but in India, it was "safe", lol. So, we sat back and drank beers and enjoyed the ride...we were absolutely soaking wet! Needless to say, snorkeling in Goa isn't worth it.
The food is just WONDERFUL!! We ate and ate and ate as much as we could!! I fell in love with coconuts! I had coconut pancakes with honey everyday!

And the coconut man walked up and down the beach all day, so sometime in the mid afternoon it was time for a fresh coconut accompanied by masala chai and Beano (the most travelled card game ever!)

After we finished the coconut, it made a perfect bowl so we could hydrate our many beach friends. This guy was with us the whole time, he was so sweet. He loved cashew cookies too! He would sleep under me in the shade all day.

And then, it was time for a swim...again.

Every night we would take a long walk along the beach and watch the sunset and the crabs come out to play! The sunsets were just incredible!

I will miss Goa, I already do. It was really difficult to leave, but I feel better knowing that we WILL be back one day in the near future. Getting on that train back to Mumbai was very difficult. I passed the time watching Dream Girls for the 4th time this month, lol. It's a great movie to watch on the train, I can't help but sing along!

We are now back in Mumbai about to go to sleep and we'll wake up early and head to the airport to catch our plane with British Airways, who are on strike at the moment, so we'll see how or if this affects our flight. It's amazing that the last time we were in this HUGE insane city was when we first arrived and I couldn't stand it. It was to intense for me and the smells were something else! But now that I am back here, there is a sorta comfort to it. It's funny how something that seems so overwhelming and uncomfortable and scary at first can make you feel sorta "at home" with a bit of time. I guess all change takes some getting used to, and I am used to India and I LOVE it here. I will be back!!! I haven't even left and I already miss it!
Goodbye India. Thanks for the BEST honeymoon EVER!!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

From Jungle to Jungle.

So we have left beautiful Rishikesh, which was very hard and I actually got a little choked up about it even though I knew we were heading to the jungle in hopes of seeing Asian Elephants and Bengal Tigers. Maybe it was Dolly, maybe it was the culture and scenery or maybe it was the food, but now that I think about it, it was just Rishikesh as a whole. I would recommend that if you come to India you should spend like a week (or longer) taking it easy in the clean(er) air and the fresh(er) Ganges. We will FOR SURE be back one day!

Julian and I headed to Rajaji National Park and it was just okay. It's the place to see Asian Elephants. The scenery is beautiful and it's nice and quiet there. Here are photos that were taken as the sun was rising.

The park reminded me so much of the scenery in The Jungle Book, especially the scene with the of my favourite scenes!

After 2 days in the jungle...we saw one wild male elephant and 3 chained elephants. Here's photos of the wild elephant we saw.

We wondered HOW many elephants were actually in the park and we asked many different people that worked there and we got a different answer every time ranging from 180 to 700. I am aware that there is a language barrier, but I am also aware (after being fortunate enough to visit so many parks in India) that the people will tell you anything even if they don't actually know.
As for the chained elephants, there was once elephant rides available in the park, but those were canceled after the female died, so now they have 2 new elephants that are being trained (which involves whips and sharp objects to stab the elephant and chains from their ankles so they are prisoners.) And the 3rd chained elephant we saw was named Yogi and he was Sanjeev's (the guy who seems to be the biggest influence on the park) legally adopt baby elephant.

Why did he adopt the elephant? Well, he said it was because the mother elephant kept coming back to the same village and eventually she got scared off and accidentally abandoned her baby which was found a couple days later. But still, why is this poor elephant attached to chains? Why wasn't he reunited with his mother in the jungle? Sanjeev said it was always a dream of his to have a pet elephant so after fighting for him, he was able to legally adopt him. Well, I want a baby elephant too, because they are one of my favourite animals, but I know that chaining a creature like this is just plain cruel. He told us that the elephant was chained right now because there was a wild male in the area that could hurt him, and the tigers could attack him too, so this keeps him safe. I also wondered where the 2 new elephants came from that were being trained for elephant rides. Two of the guides told me that they were from in the jungle. I asked them "how a park that claims that they are looking out for the well being of these animals and trying to save the Asian Elephants in India could take wild animals and train them like dogs." And he said "because they want them for the elephant rides." But I said, "why do you need them when you have these fancy jeeps that can drive around the park", and he said "because tourists like the rides." But I soon corrected him and said, "you mean, because you make more money", and he laughed and agreed. I asked Sanjeev these same questions and he tried to reassure me that the elephants came from a zoo in Delhi. What to believe...either way...they are mistreated and I would HIGHLY advise you NOT to support this. Lots of parks offer elephant rides, and they are all treated the same. Over worked and chained and abused. I know I sound like a crazy animal rights activists and slightly self righteous but here are some facts about wild elephants that you may not know.

Elephants are one of the most intelligent animals.
Elephants are self aware, could recognize themselves in the mirror.
Elephants have close knit families/social groups.
Elephants have their own rituals if one of their family members are dead.
Elephants sometimes come back to the remains to pay homage to their ancestors.

And here are some facts about domesticated elephants that you may not know:

-Their soft feet directly comes in to contact with the hot, burning, tarred roads for hours while walking from one location to another. Along with the heave chains on their feet, foot problems and wounds develop, which rarely get a chance to heal.
-They endure the noise, the traffic, commotion, fireworks, while traveling and during festivals.
-They suffer from cruel treatment by the mahouts. A recent article published in Kerala Kaumudi points out that around 90% of domesticated elephants in Kerala are made blind or partially blind, so that they can be easily controlled, and don’t target their mahouts when they are angry.
-They lack proper rest, food and treatment.

So, where ever you can pay to get an elephant bath or go for an elephant ride, you should really think twice! These should be wild animals left in the jungle, not chained in a backyard where they just sway back and forth and back and forth all day in the sun. Don't be a stupid tourist, if you love wildlife, then love it in the wild!
Okay again I went and got really depressing, so lets change the subject shall we!

We left Rajaji feeling a little down, but once we got to Tala in Madhya Pradesh we got VERY excited about the possibility of seeing a Bengal Tiger! We were told that Bandhavgarh National Park was the best place with the greatest chance of seeing one of these beautiful cats! We went out for 4 and a half ours one morning and within the first hour, there she so far away that you would need binoculars to see her. Even with my zoom lens she was hard to spot...but, nonetheless, she was a wild tiger and it was exciting!! So our hopes were really high! If we saw a tiger in the first hour, how many were we going to see?! We went to bed after buying my new puppy friends a samosa for dinner and hydrating them with water. These 2 pups were my new "little monkeys" that I babied for the 4 days we were there...don't worry, I put anti-bacterial spray on my hands after, lol.

They were very young pups with little baby teeth and bloated bellies. I protected them from the abusive locals when I could and I wish I could have brought them with me to Goa where there are 2 animals shelters (the only two in India that I have found that take stray cats and dogs) that could have fixed them up and had them adopted. But alas, they will stay there and hopefully survive and then unfortunately reproduce and create more strays.
But enough about the dogs, lets get to the tigers!! We went out for 9 hours in total on our 3rd day in Tala and can you believe it...we saw NOTHING!! Well not nothing...we saw birds and monkeys and bats and termite hills and scenery, oh and of course spotted dear...but no bloody tigers!!!

Even though tigers are orange and black you would be surprised HOW camouflage they are. We searched and searched. We went back in to the jungle on our 4th day, this would be our last 4 and a half hours in the jungle searching. I was so sure at first that I would get the perfect tiger picture to hang on my wall and now I was feeling like it was hopeless. But within 20 minutes in the park, there was a male tiger! It was a VERY brief siting, but very exciting! I didn't get a very good picture because it was like 6:30am and I had to shoot with 800 ISO and the tiger was far away and his face was looking the other way as he was walking up a hill, but my hopes were up again! Maybe today was our day?! After 3 hours of vultures, a mongoose and a VERY lucky siting of a Jungle Cat, we still hadn't seen another tiger. One of my best friends call me the "animal whisperer" because for some reason when I am around animals they just do the perfect things for photographs, almost like they know and so the pose for me...but I said to Julian, I officially retire as the "animal whisperer". I was feeling a little down. And then ALL OF A SUDDEN, about 20-25 minutes before we had to leave the park...THERE SHE WAS!!! She was like 25 feet from us in the palm bushes with a perfect view and with the PERFECT light casting across her face. Just call me the "animal whisperer" I said, lol. She had two cubs that were hiding in the palm bushes, so we couldn't see them. The guy who worked at the park told us she broke her leg 2 years ago during sex (rough!) and they tried to help her, but she is a wild tiger and they could only do so much, so her leg didn't heal properly, so she sneaks in to local villages where she can kill cattle because it's much easier then chasing spotted deer or sambar deer. She was beautiful!!!

These photos were all taken with a point and shoot camera, so just wait until you see the photos from my DSLR! We have been in India for almost 5 weeks and I have taken 90GB of RAW photos already! It's so photogenic here, I can't help it! But I will have lots of work to do when we get home.
We are waiting for a train right now to Goa. I don't know exactly what adventures Goa will bring us, but I will blog about it soon enough. We will take a boat ride, see some crocodiles, see some dolphins, eat good food, drink fresh juice, and lounge on the beach. I will also spend a couple days volunteering in one of the shelters where I get to cuddle clean puppies all day! I can't wait!! I love India and I never want to leave!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Happy Holi!

The Holi Festival turned out to be AMAZING and colourful! After the morning water balloon fight, we spent the day with an Indian family on the beach swimming in the Ganges, water rafting and eating the most amazing food EVER all in the foothills of the Himalayas. The day was absolutely perfect. I wish I had more photos to show you right now, but because the day was messy I didn't want to bring the digital cameras out, so I captured the day on 120 film using my Holga. So pictures will come soon enough!
We will be leaving Rishikesh tomorrow morning, which is sad, but I have to look on the bright side...we will be heading back in to the jungle to see wild elephants at Rajiji National Park. So I will blog about that experience soon enough!