December 2, 2000
Since our arrival in India, well over two weeks ago, I continue to think that soon things will start to fall apart - because, up to now, everything’s been great. We spent our first two weeks in the Uttar Pradesh district, which seemed like a cross between the green mountains of Vermont and the highlands of Scotland. The lodges we’ve stayed in have ranged from New Mexico-like retreats to a former raja’s palace – and we’re still on budget! The food, (for the most part), has been delicious and safe. Even Delhi has been great. The hotel we’re staying at, in the Paharganj district, is as close to a Super 8 as you can get, and that suits us fine after our two weeks in the wild. The weather has been pleasant and the people polite, reserved and helpful – for the most part. Internet access, at least in Delhi, is quite fast, and we’ve even managed to log on from our hotel room, a very big plus. Overall this wasn’t the picture I had in my mind when I imagined us here, but we’re finding that India is a beautiful, intense and tourist friendly country.
On the downside, there have been a few bumps along the way. We’d decided to hire a taxi to get from Delhi to Corbett National Park instead of taking the train, because we didn’t want to deal with the extreme bureaucracy of the train station on our first morning here. The drive turned out to be a nail-biting 6 ½ hour game of chicken with oncoming traffic. The overnight train ride takes a lot longer, but it’s far more relaxing - even if you must share your compartment with a very loud snorer, as we did on the way back. Another strong dislike was Ramnagar, the gateway town to Corbett. There are only two reasons to stay there overnight: one is to get your entry permit for Corbett, and the other is to try your luck at seeing a very special bird - the Ibisbill. Since we didn’t find the Ibisbill on our first visit, we had to return to Ramnagar for another night. The locals, especially the teenage boys, either disliked birdwatchers in general or us in particular, and seemed to enjoy staring at us from a distance of two feet whenever possible. It’s hard to concentrate on birding under those conditions, but we tried our best.
Monday December 25, 2000
Since my last update on India we have a slightly more tainted picture of India and may even leave for Thailand a few days earlier than planned. All in all, it hasn’t been too bad, aside from Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. Although it’s a very impressive building I wouldn’t return to Agra, even for a rare bird sighting (and the Yamuna river isn't bad for birding). Our first mistake was booking a hotel one kilometer from the Taj Mahal, assuming we could take a leisurely stroll there. We were obviously not thinking clearly. It’s impossible to walk two feet without being continually and constantly harassed from every direction, more than we've experienced in any other Indian city. A better plan would have been for us to take a train to Bharatpur and then hire a taxi for the day to Agra.
As much as we disliked Agra, we absolutely loved Bharatpur, where the Keoladeo Ghana National Park is located. It’s the best birding place we’ve ever been to and the Falcon Guest House was the friendliest hotel we’ve stayed at so far. Since the beginning of our trip there have only been a couple of occasions when we’ve spoken with our fellow travelers, but at the Falcon every night was an incredibly social time where we would spend hours hanging out with the other guests, exchanging travel tales and e-mail addresses. We originally planned to spend five or six days there but it was so cozy that in the end stayed a total of eleven nights. Keoladeo is home to more than 360 species of bird, with the most famous being the rare Siberian Crane and, thankfully, a pair did return this winter. The park is also one of India’s least expensive and easiest to deal with. It’s a short walk from the string of guest houses outside the park (we highly recommend the Falcon Guest House) and there’s no need to hire a jeep or guide, since the whole park can be covered on foot or by bicycle.
Personally I think we enjoyed India much more because most of our time was spent in and around the national parks. We didn’t go out of our way to see any of the major tourist sites, (except for the Taj Mahal), and that worked out fine for us. The irritating teenage boys were the biggest downside, occasionally causing one or other of us to lose our temper. And while we’re on the dangers and annoyances section: Ranthambore is supposed to be the best park to see tigers but we had an awful time at the Ankur Hotel there and would strongly recommend that people avoid it..
Two days ago we happily left Delhi to find ourselves in the nicest city we’ve been in since Kathmandu - Panaji, state capital of Goa. It’s a wonderful backwater with great hotels and restaurants, and it’s great to relax and enjoy the Christmas season here.
Friday January 19, 2001
Just a few quick words about the final few weeks of our India trip. Goa was just plain enjoyable. We were very lucky to hook up with an English birder who now lives in Goa and runs birding tours around the state. He also informed us of a great birding camp called Backwoods, and we spent a few day there also. If we left India immediately after Goa I think that would have been ideal, but unfortunately we had to spend another ten days in or around Chennai. At this point I think both Bill and I had just grown a little tired of India, and more than anything else needed a big change. We did manage to do some birding in the south east and we're quite pleased to say that we managed to see over one third of the birds species of the Indian subcontinent. What an achievement.