Goa – day 85

The sun gave rise to shades of Ochre and Gray. The watchmen of the highway, transformed slowly from omnipresent figures to swaying beings full of life. The subtle hues of Citrus and Crimson drifted with the clouds as Lilac skies bathed through the window. The journey was almost at an end… we were nearing Margao. 

 The 23:45 bus was delayed. Reports from the office staff, conductors and street chai vendors differed from one to three hours. Thankfully it was only delayed by two hours. Settled in as best as possible to our bunk bed – with Katherine praying that the window didn’t pop outwards on to the road and myself contorting my body in various poses and angles during the night to secure on to the metal arms of the bed and not fall out. Simply put, it was a painful journey and would compare to Bodh Gaya to Kolkata, with the added sting of being extortionately priced.  

Got a bus with relative ease from Margao to Varca and walked from there. We needed to stretch out muscles from almost 24hrs in various uncomfortable positions and we’d be far too early to check in to the guest house.   Had a lovely breakfast on the beach and strolled up the road to check in. Not the most accommodating of hosts, he asked for a tip when he showed us in to the room. Not offering to carry a single bag and pushing the wrong buttons on someone severely sleep deprived for who knows how long, I said no. Katherine was in agreement.   Showered and refreshed, albeit in desperate need of sleep, we walked up the road to catch yet another bus that apparently would be on strike and we should be getting taxis everywhere. Hopeless! Katherine had this idea that you should receive coloured bangles or bracelets from the police station based on how long you spent in the country and this would show them (like an officers uniform) that there’s no point in trying to kid us. 

In Margao again, we stocked up on supplies for our five days in our simple apartment. The priority of course, the most time spent deliberating was… dark or white rum for 170 INR Rps. £1.70 on rum, £0.80 on a big bottle of Coke… New Years Eve sorted.

We planned on just letting the Indian Ocean lap about our ankles for a brief respite and then head to a restaurant back up the road. Alas, only one beer later and I’m stumbling on the sand to stay upright for a photo, writing this blog saying it’s Christmas Eve and so on and so forth. We’ve just had Carbonara, Sweet n’ Sour Chicken and polished off Kingfisher Beer #3 at the beach side restaurant.   The sounds of the waves crashing. The easy listening country western music coming from the restaurant behind us. The star patterns gently shifting across the night sky. We’ve completely forgotten about our original plans and have lost ourselves in blissful solitude. A welcome respite from three months hard travelling.  

 Happy New Year 2016!  

Thursday 31st December 2015

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Travelling – day 84

A much needed and self indulgent lie-in this morning. Decided that since we had seen other caves that were apparently ‘far superior’ than the caves of Badami, we decided to give them a miss and catch up on some much needed rest and relaxation. Stayed in bed, watching TV (catching up on a new episode of ‘Criminal Minds’ which we haven’t watched since Aurangabad – day 58!) and reading books. Had a shower and packed our bags before checking out of the hotel at 1pm – 24 hour check out is a dream at times!! Went to the same restaurant as last night since it was directly opposite the bus station and we knew it did good food. Had a slightly more limited menu at lunchtime but we ate well even if the restaurant began filling up with smoke at one point!!! Walked over to the bus station and waited for our bus to Hubli. Got followed by a strange looking man who kept eyeing up our day packs so we were extra cautious when he jumped on the same bus as us, making sure that we didn’t let go of them as he hovered around us. Clearly we were right to worry as he got off the bus almost immediately (as it pulled out of the bus station) and headed back to his friend. Caught the bus earlier than necessary as we didn’t want a repeat of our bus journey to Satna!!! The 3 hour bus journey to Hubli was pretty uneventful – I finished my book whilst Jayne read hers and we both munched on fruit cake. Fortunately got a three seater bench to ourselves which was good as we wouldn’t have been able to squeeze anyone else in with our backpacks. Arrived in Hubli and, after checking we knew where the private bus would leave from, we headed to an Internet cafe to kill some time. Jayne did some research for the next part of our trip whilst I copied the blog notes from my iPad and typed them directly onto the website. The man next to us was enjoying himself a bit too much in the public Internet cafe – some things should really be done in the privacy of your own home… Left the Internet place and headed to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Ordered aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower curry) and a mixed vegetable curry with fried rice – all of which was very different to the same curries that we have ordered in other places. After dinner, we headed to the private bus stand (outside a travel agents) and waited… And waited… And waited… The bus guard/shop keeper told us our bus was stuck in traffic over 70km away and would be late – it was supposed to arrive at 11.45pm. He let us wait inside the shop as he thought it could be up to 3 hours late, so we waited… And waited… And waited…Wednesday 30th December 2015

Pattadakal – Day 83

Despite a stressful morning where we were concerned we might not get out of Hampi, we did and managed to visit our 24th out of 32 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. We wanted to get on the road as early as possible so we weren’t in the bus during the hot midday sun. Got to the bus stand around 6.35am and tried to find a bus to Hospet to get another bus to Badami. After a quick walk around the bus stand, we were approached by several TukTuk drivers who told us that there was a bus strike on today and they could drive us to Hospet instead. Having heard this story many times during our time in India, we decided to wait for a bus up the hill near the temple complex. To cut a long story short, we were on the receiving end of two very angry TukTuk drivers – one who swore and one who called us stupid and crazy because we refused to believe them and waited for a bus. Another TukTuk driver sat down next to us and spent over an hour trying to convince us to let him drive us to Hospet, continuing to repeat the bus strike story and then waving away any bus that came near us. Decided at this point that enough was enough and we started walking the 12km to Hospet. Within 5 minutes of walking, a government bus pulled over and took us to Hospet… It was so frustrating that the TukTuk drivers spun the story to get work and then got angry when we called them on it! Arrived in Hospet, having missed the early morning direct bus to Badami but got a bus to Ilkal instead and then changed buses to get to Badami. 3 hours later with a slightly sore bum from a road that only had enough Tarmac for one vehicle, forcing the bus to drive regularly in the dirt track adjacent to the road. Arrived in Badami, checked into our hotel (Jayne has redeemed herself with her booking choice after the Bhopal hotel disaster!) and we headed straight back to the bus station to catch a bus to Pattadakal, which is known for its group of temples.Day 83 bWhilst some of the nine Hindu temples, as well as a Jain sanctuary, date back to the 3rd century AD, most of the temples were built during the 7th and 8th centuries AD. Historians believe that the temples here served as an important testing ground for the development of South Indian temple architecture. The main Virupaksha temple was built in 740 AD by Queen Lokkamahadevi to commemorate her husband’s victory over the Kings from the South. Opposite this temple is a pavilion housing a black stone statue of Siva’s sacred bull. We spent time wandering around the complex, dodging the extensive number of school groups who were also visiting the group of temples at the same time, although I did manage to get corned by a groups of about 20 girls at one point asking for my name on repeat!! Day 83 aLeft the temples and headed to the Jain sanctuary- we were the only ones there. There was a dark walk way around the inside of the temple which was full of bats. Got back to the road and waited for the bus back to Badami. A group of local kids started creeping closer and closer to us, giggling and running away if we took a step closer to them! At one point, they ran off but returned with a piece of sugar cane for Jayne and the ran off again to bring me a piece! Gave them some sweets for my bag and the sugar cane that they were chewing on got quickly discarded!! Jumped on the bus and got into a conversation straight away with a group of teenage boys who were fascinated that we were eating sugar cane. They then pointed it out to us whenever they saw it in the fields. We sarcastically pointed out a banana tree but the humour was lost in translation – they looked at us as if we were nuts!!! Got back to Badami, had some dinner, bought rum in a carton and watched TV before going to bed.Day 83 cTuesday 29th December 2015

Hampi – day 82

Slept for as long as humanly possible until the street noise woke me up at around 7.30am. Stayed in bed reading my book whilst Jayne got a few extra minutes sleep before she too was woken up by passing traffic (pedestrian, vehicle and bovine!). Got up and dressed before headed out for a extended breakfast at the Mango Tree – supping on coffee milkshakes, watermelon juice that nearly rivalled Narae’s and ate a wonderfully weird mixture of fried eggs, chips, baked beans (with added onions and spices) and hummus with pita bread.   Used the time needed to digest our breakfast by using the restaurants wifi to sort out rebooking our accommodation in Goa (after our original hotel kindly cancelled our booking without telling us!) and working out how we were going to get to our next destination. When we were all sorted we headed to the main temple complex in Hampi, the Virupaksha Temple, one of the city’s oldest structures. The main gopuram, almost 50m high, was built in 1442, with a smaller one added in 1510. The main shrine is dedicated to Virupaksha, a form of Shiva. As it is a temple, we had to remove our shoes which was not a problem except the floor was quite wet and had a distinct smell of urine and faeces… As we entered the temple courtyard we could see why – there was the elephant from the river yesterday ‘blessing’ people with his trunk in exchange for money (for his keeper) or for coconuts (which he ate!). Joined the queue to get inside the temple and got chatting to an American family who live in Mumbai. Their 6-year old daughter had a scarf covering her face and a hat. It was only when she took it off to scratch her head and we saw the locals reactions that we understood why – she had bright blond ringlets which the locals started touching and grabbing at her which really frightened her. Felt really sorry for them as they clearly have to deal with it constantly and, as they live here, they can’t get much respite from it! Used ourselves as a shield to get them through the temple – much to the gratitude of the family and the annoyance of the locals. Once outside the main temple, we headed to a section that had an inverted image of Shiva (although we saw nothing…) and then left the main temple to go back to the river. Paid to catch the ferry across the river to visit the other section of town. Much more hippy and laid back, the other side was mainly cafes and bike rentals. Walked up the rocks to the only temple that side of the river which had an amazing view of the town opposite.Day 82 bDay 82 cDecided to take the much needed rest that we should have had yesterday by plonking ourselves down at a river side cafe with ‘bed’ seating. Drank fresh fruit juices and ate some momo’s whilst playing Connect 4 and chess. Day 82 dWent back over the river before sun set and headed to the Internet cafe to sort out our visas for Sri Lanka and book our bus tickets from Badami to Goa for New Years Eve. Was tempted to go back to the Mango Tree for dinner but it was so crowded we went back to the Tibetan Kitchen instead. Packed our bags back at the hotel ready for our early start in the morning.

Monday 28th December 2015

Hampi – day 81

Unreal and bewitching, the ruins of Hampi are scattered over a landscape that is spellbinding. Heaps of giant boulders, like marbles, haphazardly strewn over the never ending terrain, their brown-red colour complimented by bright green palm groves, banana plantations, sugar cane and paddy fields. Of course, we didn’t see any of this until the sun started to brighten the place up, arriving at 05:35am, a little worse for wear – both of us were airborne at several times during the night from our bunk beds… That’s how bumpy the journey was!! Made our way from the bus stand towards the main temple which was covered in fairy lights. We then decided to make our way through the main bazaar area to find somewhere for a cup of tea. Since nothing was open, we headed to the river and sat down overlooking the elephant temple. We watched as locals came to bathe in the river, as well as wash clothes and release candles into the water. As the sun began to rise, more and more locals came down to the river including several classes of children from different schools who washed themselves, got into their school uniform and headed back to school (presumably). As we sat and watched the world go by, an elephant (we later found out it was Lakshmi, the temple elephant, who will smooch/bless you in exchange for a coin) was brought down to the river and was given a hour long scrub down by two men as people waded over to it so he could spray them with water from his trunk – if tourists were allowed in the river, we would have joined them!! Day 81 aDecided to head back to the bazaar area around 8am just as all the shops and restaurants were opening. Headed to the Tibetan Kitchen were we both stuffed ourselves with fruit muesli, porridge, French toast and fruit juices as we hadn’t eaten the previous evening. Decided to abandon Jayne at the restaurant with the bags whilst I went looking for somewhere for us to stay. Turns out that tonight is a big festival in the town so not only were there not very many rooms, they were also charging ridiculous prices! Managed to find somewhere somewhat reasonable but by the time I had got Jayne and our luggage back to the hotel, the room had gone!! Was stopped by several locals who tried to find us a room by literally walking us back to places we’d already been. Managed, by mere luck, to stumble across a guest house that had a vacancy and would give us a discount as we couldn’t have the room until 8pm that night… Despite wanting a day to catch up on sleep and sort out photos etc. we decided to leave our bags with the guest house and walk around the town. Found a quiet spot over looking the river and enjoyed the view for a bit. Went to a local shop to hired bikes and, for the first time in 5 years, I got Jayne on a bike and cycling!!!Day 81 bDecided to start with the temples furthest away first, thinking that if we got too tired we could return by foot tomorrow to those closer to our guest house. The ruins are divided in to two main areas: the Sacred Centre, around Hampi Bazaar; and the Royal Centre, towards Kamalpuram. Stopped first at a temple near the river – it was nothing special and the path leading up to it was lined with beggars, shop keepers and, since Hampi and its neighbouring areas are mentioned in the Hindu tale of Ramayana as Kishkinda (the realm of the monkey gods), there was a boy dressed as a monkey. Jumped back on the bikes and headed further out of town. Now, Jayne will blame me but I was told to follow the direction of the bus! We didn’t necessarily get lost, per say, but we certainly went further out of our way than we needed to… Walked into ruins and massive rock formations that are littered across the countryside. Chosen in 1336 to be the new capital by Telugu prince Harihararaya, by the 16th century it was a thriving metropolis of about 500,000 people. Deccan sultanates attacked the city in 1565, something that it was never able to recover from. However, many of the temples are still intact having simply been abandoned all those years ago. One favourite was an underground temple that was ankle (and sometimes calf) deep in water. Day 81 cWe then went to The Royal Centre, which is a flatter area compared to the rest of Hampi, where the massive boulders have been shaved off to create stone walls. A number of Hampi’s major sites are located here: the Lotus Mahal, the Elephant Stables, the Underground Virupaksha Temple and the Queen’s Bath (deceptively plain on the outside, but amazing within).Day 81 dWe also found another underground temple that had pitch black corridors along with several massive statues. After 5 hours of cycling around, we both decided we were shattered (bikes with no gears and hills aren’t a fun combination!!), so we returned the bikes and went back to the quiet river section to watch the sun set. Went back to the Tibetan kitchen for pad Thai noodles and a Tibetan mixed meal before going back to the guest house, checking in, showering (with Thomas the Tank engine towels) and passing out (on Gucci bedsheets!!).

Sunday 27th December 2015

Travelling – day 80

We were up at 6am to finish packing up our stuff, get ready, finish off the Indian Christmas cake for breakfast and head out to find a taxi to take us to the airport. Jayne found one almost immediately that was willing to us the meter instead of taking a pre agreed amount. Think he may have driven the long way to the airport but £2.80 for 22kms didn’t seem like something to complain about! He also drive really well for an Indian taxi driver and he spent most of the journey pointing out different sights that he thought we might have found interesting (they weren’t!!!). Got to the airport and, after a slight faff over having to show our passports and flight confirmation before they even let us into the building, we got our bags x-rayed, sealed and checked in. Headed to the departure lounge where I indulged my week long craving for hot chocolate! Day 80 aThe cafe also served LGBT sandwiches… Whatever they were but in a country where all that is prohibited or frowned upon, it certainly did make Jayne and I chuckle!! Tried to look for some speakers to use with the netbook but the choice of airside shops was a bit disappointing. Had a browse in the bookshop and became strangely nostalgic for the children’s adventure books where you got to decide what happened based on what page you turned to after each cliffhanger!! Boarded the plane and settled in for our 3 hour flight to Goa. Used the time to catch up on some of my blog writing(!), sleep and reading while Jayne played Angry Birds and read.Day 80 bHad preordered food on the plane and got two different sandwiches. One was a cucumber, tomato, cheese and lettuce sandwich which felt a little bit British afternoon tea! The other one was a spinach, sweet corn and cheese sandwich which looked a little bit like eating a massive bogey on bread! A non eventful flight and landing later we were in Goa!! Had a vague plan but wanted to see if it was possible so went straight to the tourist information desk. Apparently, one can get an overnight bus to Hampi and, after getting some instructions, we left the airport in search of a bus stop. Stood on the wrong side of the road for 10minutes before we realised we needed to cross back over to be next to the airport. Got a bus to the right place quickly after that!! A quick change of bus in the next town and we were powering off towards Goa’s main bus depot. Tried to buy our bus tickets to Hampi but all the ticket desks were closed so we needed to place bets on which bus stand would most likely have space for us. Decided to try the private bus stand across the road from the government bus stand as they had one guaranteed ticket available – we just had to wait to see if there was a cancellation… About 20 minutes before the government bus was due to leave, Jayne ran across the road to see if there was space for us. The conductor was willing to let us share a single person bed even though we would still need to pay for two people.Day 80 cDecided that we would be better off on a bus rather than potentially stranded at the bus stand so we went for it. When we got back to the government bus, he then gave us two beds – our lucky day!!! A quick toilet run where I had to argue with the attendant that it was never 10 INR to use the toilet and had to demand the change (and then the correct change!) only to find out another tourist on the bus had the same issue – bloody cheeky bastard! Settled into our bunks for the long journey ahead. 

Saturday 26th December 2015

Kolkata – day 79

Merry Christmas!!!Day 79 aHaving had fireworks going off from midnight to 2am, we woke early to the sounds of Christmas carols being blared out from someone’s room in the hotel. Turns out even Father Christmas had visited us in Kolkata as Jayne’s thermal tights (stocking!!) was bursting in one of the legs and there were a few presents wrapped in plastic bags and penguin decorated duct tape on our coffee table next to our tiny tree!! Got a knock on our door around 8am and was offered chai and fruit cake by the hotel staff. Sat on the bed and opened our presents to each other – Jayne got oranges, nail polish, plain paper and some drawing pencils; I got oranges sweets, cheese biscuits and a new (and desperately needed!) toothbrush. Settled down to eat some Indian Christmas Cake whilst watching an episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Slowly got up and ready, sending messages to various people and looking at other peoples festive photos on Facebook.Day 79 bHad booked ourselves in to the Oberoi Grand Hotel for Christmas lunch as a special treat and to spend the Christmas money that Mags & Tom had given us. Sat down and were immediately offered water and sangria whilst we literally drooled over the food choice available (I was already eyeing up the cheese counter while Jayne had eyes on the Santa sledges full of sweets!) Weren’t really sure how it was supposed to work – we were told it was a buffet, but there was lots of waiters serving food and no one out of their seats. Sat back a while longer until Jayne plucked up the courage to ask our waiter what we had to do. He asked us if we would like some soup and offered us a choice of pea & mint or Thai chicken. We decided to get one of each and were feeling pretty special until he brought over 4 bowls of soup and 4 spoons – he thought we meant one of each for each of us… we were so embarrassed! Although he didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with it. Both soups were divine and clearly a taste of things to come. After that, we followed the lead of hotel guests and started helping ourselves to food – squid salad, wild rice, figs, terrines, ham, prawn cocktails, vegetables, Thai salad, beef tenderloin… and that was just for starters!!Day 79 cMain dishes were a mixture of Indian and western festive foods but we got turkey which was the main thing!! I also had seconds of a beautiful almond crusted tenderloin, which after 3months of being without beef was mouth-watering! I then tucked in to the cheese platter while Jayne had plum pudding in butterscotch sauce. We then rounded off our meal with a glass of mulled wine and we shared some Christmas cakes, macaroons in a white chocolate heeled shoe and gingerbread. Feeling slightly stuffed and and a bit uncomfortable, we popped to the bathroom where Jayne saved a little girl locked in the cubical (to the delight of her mother who had no idea how to pick a lock from the outside – rich people!!!). Begrudgingly left the Oberoi and were back on the streets of Kolkata which looks no different on Christmas Day to any other day!Day 79 dHeaded to a cake shop and got a chocolate cake for the guys at Backpackers to say thank you for the jungle trip to the Sundarbans. Think the owner was genuinely touched and he took us out for chai even though my stomach was protesting at this point from anything else going in to it!!!Day 79 eHeaded to the metro station as I had sorted out a surprise for Jayne – the new Star Wars film was released on Christmas Day in India and I’d managed to find a cinema in Kolkata that was showing it in English!! A slightly longer walk the other end of the metro than anticipated, but we got tickets, drinks, popcorn (cause even though we were stuffed, you can’t watch a film without popcorn!!) and settled into our seats. Jayne really enjoyed it – I thought the story line was very similar to Episode 4… but, what do I know?!? Back to the hotel to Skype both set of parents (despite the poor wifi) before packing up our bags and heading to bed.Day 79 fFriday 25th December 2015

Sundarbans & Kolkata – day 78

Another lie-in this morning as we were told to head to the main seating area for a 9am breakfast. Got chatting to an American guy who, having seen us volunteer yesterday, decided to remain behind himself to help out at the village. He seemed slightly worries as we were still spotted with blue paint but equally excited by the prospect of spending Christmas Eve and Day with people rather than being alone. Breakfast was aloo curry with almost sweet puffed chapatti – I could have eaten it all day! Grabbed our stuff, said an emotional goodbye to our puppies and boarded the boat back to the main island. Day 78 aTook over 2 hours to sail back to our departure point and we had the boat we painted yesterday sailing in the river next to us as they had finally got it working! The boat ride was peaceful and we were both feeling a bit apprehensive about leaving the tranquility of the jungle and returning to the madness of the city. Had to wait for the mini bus to arrive bringing the tourists to the jungle before we could board and return to the city. As there were so many of us, we had a mini bus and a car. Unfortunately, we got stuck with a very loud and obnoxious family on the mini bus who thought it was perfectly okay to talk about us in Hindi – it was pretty obvious what they were doing when they said something, looked in our direction and laughed. They even asked if I spoke Hindi at the toilet stop, to which I replied ‘a little!’ – that shut them up a bit! Coupled with the fact that my chair was broken in the reclined position and the driver was clearly a fan of the wacky races, I wasn’t in the best mood when we arrived in Kolkata. Picked up our bags from the shop and started walking to our hotel. Decided we both needed a shower before heading back out to grab a few last-minute Christmas presents (although after seeing the tiger, there was nothing we really wanted!!). Had a Thai meal for dinner and I finally got a much needed and appreciated glass of red wine. Day 78 bDay 78 cTried to go to midnight mass at the cathedral but the security guard had told me the wrong information the other day – apparently the 11pm service was for members only and the 12.30am service was for guests but no one could tell us if it was in Hindi or English. Decided that neither of us had the energy to stand in the cold for over 2 hours on the off chance that we might get into church to listen to a service that we might not understand so we decided to go back to the hotel – as Jayne says ‘it’s the thought that counts’. Back at the hotel, we climbed into bed, drank Limca and ate Dairy Milk chocolate whilst watching ‘The Muppets Christmas Carol’ – although I fell asleep after the ghost of Christmas past, leaving Jayne to enjoy our Christmas tradition on her own… Oops!!

Thursday 24th December 2015

Sundarbans – day 77

Decided to stay at the Eco village for an extra day and do some volunteering. Was told to be ready for 8am, which was a dream come true at that point – a lie in!! Got up and showered in the cold rainwater before heading out to the main seating area. Realised quick quickly that an 8am start was ‘Indian’ time and not ‘European’ time… We could have probably snuck an extra few hours in bed!! Had to go searching for our ‘boss’ down by the river and, whilst he was out buying paint, we sat enjoying the view.Day 77 aJayne managed to get loads of photos of a kingfisher that was resting on one of the oared boast – he was absolutely beautiful and incredibly quick when hunting.Day 77 bOur boss returned around 9.30am and told us it was breakfast time so we went back to the main seating area. The chef clearly wasn’t expecting tourists for breakfast and she looked quite worried as she plated up our breakfast. Couldn’t work out why we only had fried potatoes and chapatti when everyone else also had a vegetable curry and rice until we saw one of the locals fan his mouth and start gulping huge quantities of water – it was clearly super spicy!! Went back to the dock after food to begin our day painting the boat. The company had 62 tourists turning up the next day for a jungle tour over Christmas and they needed this slightly old and decrepit boat to work AND look pretty!Day 77 dThey seemed very grateful for the help, although most of the bits they wanted me to paint required me bent over the railing – a view that many of them appeared to enjoy for several minutes at regular times throughout the day! An early lunch before the next tour group arrived and then we were back on the boat continuing to paint. Made so much progress that he got us to paint new sections but, as there wasn’t enough paint, we just watered some down with white spirit!Day 77 cFinished just before sun set and and went back to the hut to try and wash off the copious amounts of blue and yellow paint. Went back to the seating area to read books and cuddle up with Tiger and Blue (our two adopted puppies). Tiger fell asleep on Jayne and Blue slept on my lap for about 2 hours before we begrudgingly put them down to eat dinner. Day 77 eStayed chatting to Om for a while about his day and the new tour group whilst Rakesh tried to convince us to go on a night boat ride with him… Fortunately, we were both too tired to head off into the darkness with a boat full of men and went to bed instead!

Wednesday 23rd December 2015

Sundarbans – day 76

A wild Bengal Tiger, in the Sundarbans jungle, in the Bay of Bengal… A day we will remember for a very, very long time!!

Reluctantly woke up from the best nights sleep we’d had in a while to leave the Eco village at 6.30am. Jumped onto a much sturdier and more comfortable boat to begin our day long trip sailing through the mangrove forest. We started by stopping off twice to other islands for our guide could pick up fish for lunch, our permits to enter the nature reserve and a local guide. We sailed through the mangroves keeping a beady eye open for any wildlife, having been told that it was extremely rare to see a tiger as the mangrove forest is very dense and we can only disembark the boat at specific watchtowers. Our boat suddenly did a 360 degree turn after about an hour and the local guide pointed out a water monitor lizard nestled in the hollow of a tree – managed to get a few photos before it tucked itself away out of sight. Day 76 aContinued along the river and we saw wild spotted deer eating near the river bank. Joked with some of the other passengers that it would be great if the deer could be used like the goat in Jurassic Park to entice the tiger our into the open! No such lunch, although as we continued our guide called our ‘tiger food’… Of course, all of us only heard ‘tiger’ so we weren’t too impressed with Om when he pointed out more wild spotted deer (even if it was amazing to see them!). Day 76 bWe pulled over to our first watchtower of the day. We had been told that tigers have been known to visit the area as deer often visit and there is a fresh water source available, providing the tigers with both food and water! As we headed up to the top of the watchtower another boat arrived with a group of loud Indians. Our guide despaired that they were making so much noise and even the young Indians in our group (who now live in the USA) couldn’t believe that they hadn’t been told to shut up! We got to see kingfishers, mud crabs and other birds along with deer tracks in the mud. Got back onto our boat and immediately spotted a crocodile relaxing in the mud on the bank opposite the watchtower. Could really understand why they are considered such a deadly animal – it was really hard to spot him until we we close. Luckily the local guide spotted him for us! Day 76 cKept sailing down the river until the local guide called out ‘tiger’. Our skipper headed to the other side of the riverbank at breakneck speed as we all got into good viewing position with our cameras ready! On the riverbank was the most beautiful and huge male Bengal tiger. We were one of the only two boats that had seen him but our local guide got on his phone and within 5 minutes, 11 other boats turned up. The tiger graced us with his presence for over an hour – hugging the coastline, ducking in and out of the mangroves. After about 45 minutes of the boats playing merry-go-round with each other so that we all got a chance to see the tiger, he sat down and watched us. Got some incredible photos, video footage and enjoyed time just watching him watch us! When he was clearly bored by all the paparazzi taking his photo, he was gone with a swish of his tail.Day 76 dNone of us could quite believe it and the local guide said he had never seen a tiger in such a clear position for such an extended period of time – we were incredibly lucky… And we all felt it!! Spent time examining each other’s photos and swapping email address so that we could share our pictures. Jayne became a local heroine by downloading the guides video footage onto everyone’s device for them which was replayed over and over again! Headed to the next watchtower whilst having, a now cold, lunch – it was about to be severed when the tiger was sighted so it sat getting cold for over an hour – not that any of us minded! I continued to keep my eyes out for wildlife but even wild deer weren’t very impressive after what we had just witnessed. At the second watchtower, we saw that they had stripped parts of the mangrove forest so they could have a better chance of spotting a tiger. A list of sighting was written at the entrance – the last one spotted was back in October and no tiger sighting had been longer than 10 minutes. Got back onto the boat and since everyone else had only chosen to stay for one night, they got on a boat back to the minibus whilst we stayed on our boat back to the Eco village. Got back and showed the videos to the locals – they were incredibly impressed! Settled down to the peace and quiet until the next tour group turned up – a massive group of 20 Indians. We left them to listen to the same folk music as last night whilst we sat on the terrace, writing blogs and sorting out our volunteering work for the next day. Literally crawled into bed without having any dinner, totally exhausted from the excitement today and the last few days of travelling finally catching up on us!

Tuesday 22nd December 2015