Friday, May 28, 2010

Skywatch Friday - Full Moon at Binsar

Yesterday was Buddha Poornima.. and the full moon looked wonderful! Some welcome clouds kept covering it, and the sight was really beautiful! Unfortunately, as I tried to take some photographs, my batteries gave way - not just one, but every single one..... and I wasn't even able to take one photograph! 

However, here is another full moon for you ... this one at Binsar....... it was wonderful night, the stars clearly visible in the complete darkness, and I could just sit there for hours, looking out at the moon shining brightly against the utter blackness of the night....

For more skies around the world, go to Sky Watch Friday.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Trip to Sanjay Gandhi National Park with Nature Knights

Usually, when I return from a trip, I can’t wait to write about it, but this time, I somehow seem to be terribly behind….. My Binsar trip was in March, and it has taken me almost 2 months to complete the travelogues…… Now it’s time for another much overdue travelogue, but this time closer home – our trip to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park with Nature Knights.

I had heard of Nature Knights from Bindhu and Unny quite a while back, and was interested in their Mom and Kid programmes, since I can’t possibly send Samhith alone for a camp yet! However, it took me a full year to find time to join them on a trip, and I signed up for their Sunday jaunt into the Sanjay Gandhi national Park, more popularly known as Borivli National Park.

We started off early in the morning, the bus conveniently picking us up just a few minutes from our house. The journey to the national park took almost two hours, picking up more people along the way. Samhith of course, slept through the whole journey! In case some of you are wondering why it took so long, well that was possible only because of the early hour. Our return journey took us almost 3 hours!

I was visiting the national park after almost 25 years, so I was curious about what it was like. The main change as far as I could see were the number of buildings which had come up, almost peeping into the jungle…… Though I did know about the huge constructions around, actually seeing them was a bit of a shock! Another shock was the number of people there…..most of them joggers and walkers, the regulars in the area – the residents. Of course, there were many more people visiting the park too, considering that the school vacations had begun…but more about that later….

We started our tour at the Information centre, outside which is a model of the national park. Apparently, this is the only national park within city limits – not just the only one in India, but the only such in the whole world! I was surprised again, but thought of all the problems have beset the park just because of its proximity to the city! Even today, it resembles a park more than a jungle…. Is this all we can do?

The model of the National Park.. the yellow line is the boundary and the blue is the Vasai Creek which divides the Tungareshwar sanctuary from the main part of the national park

Anyway, the model for the first time gave me an idea of the sheer size of the park – stretching from the Western to the Eastern Express Highways, with the water reservoirs supplying us with drinking water right in between….. It is a good effort to bring awareness of the wonderful gift we have been bestowed with! Wish people would appreciate it!

This is the part of the map showing the area we were in.. the Borivli entrance. the black lines show the different routes inside the park. the two small circles are the safari areas.

We were running late, and decided to skip the introductory session, and head over for the trek into the jungle – the Silonda trail. We had a breakfast of Idlis on the road and headed towards the trail - it is named for the village it leads to, deep inside the jungle. We weren’t headed all the way, but just a short way inside the jungle, since we were accompanied by kids, the smallest of them just 3 years old!

The gods seemed to smile on us the moment we stepped on to the trail, for we spotted some small white birds, which we were told were albino muniya chicks! What a sight! We stopped for a while, admiring them and clicking pictures! I am told that it is rare to see albino birds, and this was a real find!

Albino Muniya chicks

As to the rest of the journey, let me take you along with me through my pictures, instead of words……

A cicada

A pagoda ants nest.. see the beautiful layering

A pair of robber flies, mating

Helicopter flowers

The beautiful view of the green hills... wonder how green they really are!

Walking into the jungle...all the kids together...

Looking at something... what is it??

Funnel-web spiders!

A robber fly, up close.. i really wished I had a better camera!

Another pagoda ants nest

Collecting silk cotton!

What a beautiful road to walk on!

Another spider web

A beautiful flower, maybe a lily.. but no plant, no leaves... just the one flower, all alone!

An artificial water-hole, where our little creatures had fun!

At last, we came to the river – or rather, the river bed, for it seemed to be a seasonal stream. In the monsoons, it is deep enough to swim in, we were told, but at the moment, it was just stones and leaves all around.

The river water, just leaves and stones as of now!

When I went to find a place to sit, I spotted the remnants of a snake –skin!

We sat for a while and rested, while the kids went tree climbing, enjoying themselves to the hilt!

Samhith wanders off by himself for a while....

The tree climbing made the kids hungry again, and they gorged on the second half of breakfast – bread, butter and jam! Just the kind of food Samhith loves!

Finally, we started back, collecting twigs and leaves to make a collage with. However, as it turned out, our plans changed because most of the kids had never been to the park before and wanted to see the tiger and lion safari! This was, after all, a camp for the kids, so Asif (the organizer) gave in, and we headed to the main portion of the park for the safari!

This part of the park is where the crowds gather, and there was a huge crowd for the safari tickets. As we waited in the queue, I wondered about what actually drew such vast number of people to the park – surely it couldn’t be the sleepy lions and tigers in captivity! My memories from my earlier visit to the park when I was a kid weren’t all that great, and I never had any real inclination to visit again. I was here this time solely for Samhith and wonder if I will ever go for the safari again….. But then again, for most people in the city, there are few open places to take kids to, and for the masses, malls are too expensive….. As to visiting other sanctuaries or zoos outside Bombay, they remain a distant dream for most people too…..I guess that is why they turn up here, braving hours of mass transport just for a few hours of peace and change!

Anyway, Samhith had a lot of fun as we waited for tickets, since one of his best friends from school was there with his family too, and the two of them ran round and round, making the most of their unexpected encounter. We managed to get our tickets finally, and headed for the safari, jostling to get in to the bus with the rest of the crowd!

Now for the safari itself – Apart from the bus, which seemed to be recent, the safari was much as I remembered it – a short jaunt into the jungle, entering the huge, secure enclosure where a few deer survive in apparent wilderness, and heading towards another enclosure (thankfully not a cage) where the few tigers brought from other zoos relaxed in the sweltering heat. Now, there were two such enclosures – one for the Royal Bengal Tigers (in simple language, the normal tigers), and another for a sole white tiger.

Coming out of the tiger enclosures, we went a little bit further, into another enclosure, just as huge, in which reposed the last few lions – in fact, at the time we visited, there was just one, since the other one had recently attacked one of its handlers! Anyway, the lion was easy to spot, since it was lying by a small water hole, fast asleep!

Neither the tigers nor the lion showed any interest in the bus loads of people gawking at them and shouting at the top of their voices! They were obviously inured to it! And this is what makes me hate zoos as well as such ‘safaris’! We reduce the majestic wild animals to a near-tame status, and when they do attack humans, we make such a hue and cry! We should try putting people in such cages for a while, and see what their reaction is, a month later! I wonder if they will ever want to visit a zoo again!

I know that the animals kept in the park as well as those in the zoo have been bred in captivity, and will die if let loose, but there must surely be a better way to keep them safe, especially from the heartless people coming in droves to see them! Most people seem to have no clue about how to behave on a safari, and act as if it is a  big show, and jump, clap and shout all the time, just because they are safe from these animals which wouldn’t hesitate to attack, if only they were free!

Now that I have ranted enough about my pet peeve, let me get ahead with our outing. By the time we were through with the safari, it was too late for the other activities Asif had planned, like the collage making, for instance. We headed off for lunch and then to the AV centre to watch a couple of interesting films on wildlife – one on the lions of Gir and another on the Sunderbans.

Again, I couldn’t but help contrast the creatures in both the places – while the Gir lions are said to be almost tame – they are least scared of humans and allow people quite near them, imagine the terror the man-eaters of the Sunderbans inspire! Just imagine walking into the jungle just for your livelihood, seeing a glimpse of a tiger, and being eaten the next moment! It takes weeks to spot a tiger there, and if you are unlucky, you might not survive that experience! Which would you prefer? A secure journey into a forest, approaching lions and taking photographs, or journey into the wild, hoping to see a tiger, the most majestic of all cats, but shuddering to see one, out of fear that you might not emerge out alive???

Most of the kids were sleepy by the time the movies were over, and a couple had dropped off to sleep, so we headed back to the bus and started homewards…. The return journey was more tiring than the entire outing, thanks to the traffic jam all the way!

We returned home, tired, but happy that we had begun the vacation with a memorable trip. Here’s hoping we can go on many more such trips in the future!

For details on Nature Knights and their programmes, check out these links:


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Binsar and Around - A compilation of my posts on my Binsar trip

Now that I have finally managed to complete my series about my Binsar vacation, I thought it would probably be a good idea to compile all my posts into one…which will hopefully make it easier for anyone wishing to go there to get the information they want…. So here goes…..

We started off from Delhi by train, and hired a cab to Binsar. To read about the journey and the Club Mahindra Binsar Valley Resort and Manipur Villa, read Binsar - Part 1.

The Club Mahindra Resort as seen from Manipur Villa

Home to the Binsar Bird sanctuary, the whole range is full of birds… you don’t need to look far to spot some wonderful birds…. Read all about the birds we saw from our room at Binsar Part 2 – Armchair Bird watching.

A Plum Headed Parakeet seen from our window

There are plenty of activities at the resort; all you have to do is find one to your liking. We chose to go for a short trek coupled with a bit of bird watching too… Read all about it at Binsar Part 3 – Trek to a river, with a bit of bird watching thrown in!

An oriental White eye seen on our walk

Having gone all the way to Binsar, it was impossible to give the sanctuary a miss. While we saw just a few birds, we had some wonderful experiences, including a panoramic view of the snow capped Himalayan peaks. It was an unforgettable experience, and we learnt a lot about the place like where to stay, what to do, the next time we went there…. To know more, go to Binsar – Part 4 – The Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary.

The path through the sanctuary

Temples attract me as much as nature – especially ancient ones! Read about the beautiful temples of Jageshwar at Binsar – Part 5 – Jageshwar.

The Jageshwar temple complex surrounded by towering Deodhars

An unexpected bonus of our trip to Jageshwar were the prehistoric cave paintings at Lakhudiyar, something we hadn’t even heard of before….Read about them at Binsar – Part 6 – The prehistoric paintings of Lakhudiyar.

One of the paintings at Lakhudiyar

Another memorable visit was one to the ancient caves of Patal Bhuvaneshwar. The stalactites and stalagmites might or might not resemble Gods in your eyes, but they will not fail to awe and inspire you! Read about these wonderful caves at Binsar – Part 7 – Patal Bhuvaneshwar.

The ASI Board at Patal Bhuvaneshwar

Every area of India abounds in temples, and this area has plenty of ancient ones. Read about a couple more temples we visited at Binsar – Part 8 – Some other temples.

A Bell at the Golu Devta Temple

Some of the best experiences we had were completely unexpected! Read about a short stop on the road which turned into the most enjoyable experience for my son at Binsar – Part 9 – A fishy story.

Fishes in the Kosi River

An unplanned halt on the roadside led us to some of the best photographs I have ever taken of birds…. Read about our ‘swift’ experience at Binsar – Part 10 – A ‘swift’ meeting.

A swiftlet in its nest

The end of our journey arrived, but not before a short detour to the tourist hill station of Nainital. Read about it at Binsar – Part 11 – Nainital.

The Lake at Nainital

While these are the main posts which contain information about Binsar and its surrounding places, if you just wish to have a look, there are many more posts with photos taken on the trip, and my thoughts about various things…..Hope they are useful to you!


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