Author Archives: George

Manjolai Hill Station in Southern Tamilnadu

Manjolai is a beautiful hill station located near to the small town of Ambasamudram, in Southern Tamilnadu, India. It is situated inside the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve. It is at around 1000 to 1500 meters above sea level. Tea Estates and lush green forests add to the beauty of this hill station.


This photo of Manimuthar Waterfalls is courtesy of Tripadvisor

This hill station is blessed with scenic beauty. It is also very much a serene place. You can take a walk inside the tea estates, after getting permission from the Bombay Burma Trading Corporation Ltd. They have leased the land from the state government and planted the tea estates. You may also trek inside the forests, after getting the necessary permissions. This small hill station town is known as Poor man’s Ooty for the southern Tamailnadu residents.

The small hill station town of Manjolai is situated above the Manimuthar dam. Manimuthar waterfall is a beautiful fall near the hill station. There are many small waterfalls, too. Upper Kodayar Dam is a viewpoint on your way to the hill station.

Kakkachi (or Kakachi) Lake is a beautiful lake here. Dasan pool, also known as Tarzen pool, is a small pool surrounded by lush green forests at around 12 kilometers distance from the hill station town.

November to March is the ideal time to visit this place.

How Do I Go to Manjolai Hill Station?

Manjolai is accessible by the Tamilnadu state government busses from the Tirunelveli New bus stand. These buses go up to KuthiraiVetti. It goes via Manimutharu Dam, Manimutharu Waterfalls, Manjolai, Kakkachi, Oothu, Nalumukku. This bus starts from Tirunelveli New Bus Stand at 02:00 am. The distance between Tirunelveli and the hill station town is around 70 kilometers.

There are Buses from Ambai (Ambasamudram) Bus depot. The starting timings are 04:00, 08:30, 13:30, 15:20, and 20:00.

A few of the buses in the return direction are listed below. The bus timings are at Manjolai.
From Kuthiraivetti towards Ambasamudram at 4:30 am.
From Oothu towards Papanasam 11:30 am.
From Oothu towards Ambasamudram Bus Stand at 4 pm.

Please verify the above-mentioned bus timings with the locals or at the State Government Bus Depots.

Accommodation at Manjolai

Mundanthurai Forest Rest House, a government guest house, is available that can be booked at the office of the Deputy Director & Wildlife Warden at Ambasamudram. The phone number is  +91-4634-250594 and the E-mail id is [email protected]

You may also contact the Deputy Director & Wildlife Warden of the Kalakadu Tiger and Wildlife Sanctuary on phone number +91-4635-261100. Email-id is [email protected] to know more details on the sanctuary and the accommodation inside the sanctuary.

You can put up Tents also. But, beware of the owners of the forest.

Chiktan Fort and Castle Ruins near Ladakh in Kargil

Chiktan Fort alias Chiktan Castle or Chiktan Khar is a fort in the Chiktan village near Ladakh in Kargil district, India.

Chiktan Fort – Image courtesy – wmf.org/project/chiktan-castle

This fort was a majestic fort, which is now ruined. The initial construction of the fort was started by Tahtah Khan, Prince of Baltistan. He who took shelter in this region after a failed attempt on his life, in the eighth century. Later on the fort and a palace (castle) was made in the 16th century. It served as the royal residence for centuries, for many a dynasties which ruled the areas.

The fort was neglected after it was attacked by Dogra King of Jammu, who destroyed the parts of the fort.  Thus the fort was abandoned in the late 19th century.

In the middle 20th century, the royal family used the stones from the fort for the construction of a new local government hospital in the area.  Seeing the negligence, local people also took the remaining wood and other things. Due t o these reasons and ageing, along with  the natural calamities over course of time, the fort was reduced to rubble.

This fortress is believed to be older than the Leh Palace.

This fort ruins are situated deep inside a valley, along the Indus river banks.  The palace was  a Masterpiece of the Tibetan Architecture, which is found in Lhasa (Tibet).  It is said that there was rotating wooden room, which  gets rotated due to the outside winds.

This fort can be combined as part of Ladakh tour. Your Ladakh trip will not be complete without visiting this magnificent fort ruins. This fort is not normally included in Ladakh tour packages. 

How to I Go to the Fort ruins near Ladakh in Kargil?

This ancient fort ruins are is at a distance of around 75 kilometers from Kargil.

Kargil was the the site of the last war between India and Pakistan. Kargil war or Kargil conflict occurred in 1999,  along the Line of Control (LOC).  It is known as “Operation Vijay” in Indian military terms.

Mechuka Village – Paradise on Earth in Arunachal Pradesh

Mechuka village is a beautiful village, blessed with the beauty of nature. It is situated in West Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh, India at around 29 kilometers away from the India-China border. The Siom River flows through Menchukh. It is at an altitude of around 6000 feet above sea level.
>Mechuka Village
Men-chu-kha means medicinal water of snow where men is medicine, chu is water and kha is snow though kha also means mouth.

Samten Yongcha Buddhist monastery (Yongcha Gompa) of Mahayana sect is around 400 years old. It is one of the oldest monasteries in the world, temporary of Tawang Gompa or Monastery.

Pine trees and other busy trees make up the forests in and around this village.

The villages in and around Mechuka village is home to many a tribes like Memba, Ramo, Bokar and Libo tribes.  Primary tribe is Memba.  English, Memba, Adi and Hindi are the languages spoken by the local tribal people here.

How Do I Go to Mechuka Village?

Motarable roads are now there to reach Mechuka village in Arunachal Pradesh. Along, the district headquarters, is at around 180 kilometers distance from this village.

Harmuti Junction railway station and North Lakhimpur railway station (both in Assam) are nearest and convenient railway stations to travel to Arunachal Praesh.

The Indian Air Force maintains an airstrip here which is known as the Advanced Landing Ground (ALG). It is used earlier to supply food and other required materials to the people of the area. On Mondays and Saturdays, helicopter services are there from this airstrip.

The nearest airport is Lilabari Airport (Tezpur Airport) in Assam. This small airport is connected to Kolkata airport, which is a major international airport in India.

Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary

peechi-vazhani-wildlife-sanctuary
Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary. Image courtesy – keralatourism.org

Peechi – Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in Thrissur district, Kerala state. This wildlife sanctuary is the second oldest sanctuary in the state of Kerala, which was established in 1958.

Palappilli and Nelliyampathi forests are part of Peechi – Vazhani Wildlife. It is spread over an area of 125 square kilometers.

Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary area near Peechi dam
Peechi dam’s catchment area.

Peechi and Vazhani Dams are part of the sanctuary. The area is blessed with the beauty of nature. Boating is a major activity in the wildlife sanctuary.

This wildlife sanctuary is rich in flora and fauna. It is home to 25 species of mammals. 100 plus species of birds are also seen here. Teak and rosewood trees along with  50 species of orchids are seen in this wildlife sanctuary. Exotic medicinal plants are also there in this wildlife park.

Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary on the Western slopes of the Nelliyampathi Hills, was carved out of  this wildlife sanctuary in 1984.

 How Do I Go to Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary?

Peechi-Vazhani Wildlife Sanctuary is situated 20 kilometers east of Thrissur town. It is accessible from Kochi-Salem National Highway 544 (old number NH 47).

Thrissur railway station is the nearest railway station to the wildlife sanctuary. Cochin International Airport at Nedumbrassery is the nearest airport to the wildlife sanctuary, at around 100 kilometers distance.

Can I Stay Inside Peechi Wildlife Sanctuary?

It is allowed to stay inside this wildlife sanctuary. Goverment Rest House run by the state Forest department is there inside the sanctuary. It can be booked by contacting the The Wildlife Warden of Peechi Wildlife Division. Phone number of the office of the wildlife warden is  +91-487-269-9017.

Alternatively, you may contact The Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) at Thiruvananthapuram. Fax number is +91-471-232-2217.

Note : Currently, this area and the state of Kerala as a whole, is going through a massive flood (as of august 10th, 2019). Please avoid unnecessary travel to the state of Kerala, till the flood waters recedes and roads are back to normal.

Bateshwar temples – Group of around 200 Hindu Temples and their Ruins

Bateshwar temples are a group of around 200 Hindu temples and their ruins, made of sandstone. They are spread across the norther region of Madhya Pradesh state in India. Their architecture is that of the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty period.

Ruins of Bateshwar Group of Temples. This photo of Madhya Pradesh is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Bhuteshvar Temple is the largest of all such temples. Hence the name Bateshwar temples or Batesvar temples or Batesara temples. 

All of the Batesara temples were believed to be destroyed during the 13th century. In 1882, Alexander Cunningham found them and reported it. It was notified as a protected site in 1920, by the Archaeological Survey of India.

Archaeological Survey of India undertook reconstruction of the damaged temple in 2005.  KK Muhammad, an official from Archaelogical Survey of India, played the lead role in this project. He had to  face many a problems, including that of Chambal bandits. He was able to overcome those problems.  He is still working on the restoration of remaining temples. Many a Batesvar temples, numbering around 80 temples, are now restored.

Bateshwar Temples (16313836371)

Bateshwar temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Shakti, which are considered as the the three major traditions within Hinduism. These temples were built in-between 8th and the 10th centuries. There are quite a few stepped water tanks too, near the temples.

Bateshwar temples were constructed during the reign of Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty or Pratihara Empire. They are refereed to as Dharon or Paravali in in historical literature. Later on, these sites came to be known as Padavali.

As the temples and nearby areas are yet to be developed as a tourist area, lot of birds can be seen here. Peacocks, kingfishers, etc, can be seen freely roaming or flying  around the temples.

How Do I Go to Bateshwar temples?

Batesvar temples are at a distance of 35 kilometers  north of Gwalior city. It is also at a distance of 30 kilometers east of Morena city.

Rethorakalan Railway Station is the nearest railway station, at around 4 kilometers distance from the main temple. Sanichara, Malanpur, Nurabad, Banmor, Bhadroli, Nonera, Sank, Rayaru, Bamour Gaon, etc, are some of the other nearby railway stations within a distance of 10 kilometers from Bateshwar temples or Batesvar temples or Batesara temples.

The nearest major airport to the Batesara temples is at Gwalior. It is at the Maharajpur Air Force Station, which is situated 10 kilometers north-east of Gwalior city.

Archaeological Museum at Morena

There is an Archaeological Museum at Morena town. It has lot of sculptures, unearthed from various sites in the region.

Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary

Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary is spread over an area of 120.82 square kilometers, in Gujarat state,India. A large lake and marsh lands forms a large portion of this bird sanctuary. This bird sanctuary is habitat to many a migratory birds during winter and spring.

inside Nalsarovar Bird SanctuaryBoats leave at sunrise to take bird watchers out on the lake inside Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary

Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary was declared as a bird sanctuary in 1969. The lake is home to 210 bird species  in the winter.  Winter is the time when many of the migratory birds like flamingos, rosy pelicans,  white storks, ruddy shelducks and herons makes this Bird Sanctuary as their second home.

This Bird Sanctuary attracts thousands of waterfowls, immediately after the monsoon season.

This Bird Sanctuary offers boat ride to hose interested to go deep into the lake. Horse ride is also available on the banks of the lake.

This Bird Sanctuary was declared as a Ramsar site on  2012. It is the largest wetland bird sanctuary in Gujarat.

How Do I Go to Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary?

Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary is at a distance of around 63.5 kilometers from Ahmedabad city, the capital of Gujarat state.

What are the timings of Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary?

This Bird Sanctuary is open from 6 am to 5:30 pm.  There is an entry fee to be paid. There is a separate charge for camera. Boating charges are extra. It is negotiable. Please confirm the rates before boarding the boat.

This Indian Community Welcomes Leopards

Devotees of Shiva, the god of wild things, the people of Bera have figured out how to coexist with one of India’s most feared predators—the leopard.

The odds of seeing a leopard in Bera, in northwestern India, are 90 percent, says Shatrunjay Pratap, a wine-maker-turned-conservationist and wildlife cameraman. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking he was off his trolley. Not only is this not a wildlife reserve, it’s a region teeming with villagers and livestock—not the usual compadres of large predators.

Yet this pastoral region of just less than eight square miles in the Aravalli hills between the tourist meccas of Udaipur and Jodhpur contains the largest concentration of leopards on the planet. Some fifty leopards live here in rocky outcrops that rise amongst the irrigated fields and thorny desert scrub.

“Visitors can’t believe it,” says Pratap, who runs a homestay for leopard-seeking tourists. “We have people coming who have spent years on safari in Africa and never seen a leopard, and within an hour or two of them arriving here, we’ve shown them a leopard, sometimes even two.”

A leopard sits above an altar in Bera, where these big cats and humans live peacefully side-by-side.

Photograph by Shatrunjay Pratap

The leopards’ conspicuous presence is due to a unique relationship with the Rabari villagers. The Rabari, a tribal caste of semi-nomadic cattle herders and shepherds believed to have migrated to Rajasthan from Iran via Afghanistan a thousand years ago, are devout Hindus. In particular, they’re devotees of Shiva—the god of wild things, who’s clad in a leopard skin.

The continent of India is home to as many as 14,000 leopards, up from a historical low of 6,000 to 7,000 in the 1960s. Leopards, like all wildlife in India, are protected by law—a reflection, in theory at least, of the Hindu tenet of ahimsa, or non-violence. But as leopard numbers increase, human-leopard conflicts have also risen. Between 1995 and 2017, the nonprofit Wildlife Protection Society of India recorded 4,373 leopards killed. They were either poached for the illegal trade in body parts for medicines and aphrodisiacs or killed by farmers and villagers out of fear or retaliation for attacks on livestock.

 

In Bera, however, attitudes couldn’t be more different. When leopards occasionally vault into a livestock pen at night, dragging away a precious calf, goat or sheep, villagers are content to claim the modest recompense the State Forestry Department provides. They’ll get about $28 for a goat or sheep, $70 for a calf, and $280 for a bull or a camel—less than half the market price. Sometimes, they don’t even do this, considering the kill an offering to the god.

“If any leopard kills my livestock, Lord Shiva will give me double,” says Kesa Ram, 27, a herdsman and part-time leopard tracker for tourists.

Mutual Understanding

The leopards, in turn, seem to consider humans no threat. While, elsewhere in India, some 90 to a hundred are killed and nearly a thousand people are injured by leopards every year. But despite the high concentration of leopards, there’ve been no attacks on people in Bera for over a century, apart from one unfortunate incident 20 years or so ago when a leopard snatched a one-year-old in Vellar village. The girl’s family, however, considers themselves to blame, having left her wrapped in a bundle out in the open, near the cattle shed, late in the evening. When they shouted, the leopard dropped the child and ran off.

Santosh Kunwar Chauhan, now 24, and her family are undaunted by her brush with the predator, believing it even auspicious, the canine marks on her neck a talisman. She’s nicknamed Setri—the local word for a female leopard. Convinced the leopard made a genuine mistake, the villagers of Vellar still allow their children to play out in the open.

Close to a village temple, a female leopard waits for nightfall, when she’ll seek out a feral dog, goat, or calf as prey. When a village loses livestock to a leopard, they see it as an offering to the god Shiva. Photograph by Isabella Tree.

It’s an astonishingly forgiving response in a country where poisoned meat is routinely left out for leopards and tigers that stray into farmland and villages. Many Rabari believe it is their dharma—their religious duty—to respect wildlife, feeding wild peacocks and langur monkeys at temples, for example.

But there’s a practical element too. The leopards’ presence is welcomed for keeping neelgai antelope, wild boar, and chinkara (Indian gazelles) away from crops of cotton, maize, wheat, mustard, and groundnut.

With livestock easy pickings, and a plentiful supply of stray dogs (the leopards’ standard fare), numbers of leopards are higher amongst the ten villages of Bera than on any wildlife reserve. One female recently raised a litter of four, thought to be a world record. Behavior is different, too. Leopards are generally loners, but in Bera it’s possible to see as many as five adult leopards together.

A favorite leopard haunt is a cave adjoining a small temple set 30 feet up in the crevice of a rocky outcrop. The evening we visited, villagers were climbing the steps with offerings, unconcerned that a young male leopard was emerging from the shadows with his sister. Just as nonchalantly, the leopards padded across the mouth of the cave and flopped down on a lookout rock. Fully grown, yet still playful, they rubbed muzzles and swatted each other with soft paws. They seemed indifferent to our vehicle and two others from a neighboring camp that had joined us, but at 7:30 p.m. we backed off and left them to it. The curfew is self-imposed by the Rabari, who have a saying: “The day belongs to humans, but nights belong to the leopard.”

Local Businesses Versus Hotel Industry

Tourism is still low-key here and welcomed by villagers. Men are employed as trackers and alert hotels to leopard sightings. Women work in hotels as housekeepers, maids, and cooks, earning independent incomes for the first time. “With tourists coming to see the leopards, we women are starting to move out of our houses to work,” says Kesi Rabari, a 37-year-old housewife whose daughter works for Bera Safari Lodge. “Earlier our lives were just restricted to the fields.”

But word is getting out, and the big hotel industry is poised to move in. It’s a powerful economic force in India with strong connections to local government and the Forestry Department. Concerned about the impact on the landscape and their culture, the Rabari villages, aided by Pratap, are campaigning to have Bera designated a “community reserve,” only the second in India. It would ensure regulation—and income—remains in the hands of villagers.

A tourist watches a male leopard on the rocks nearby. Villages in Bera are seeking recognition as a community reserve so that they can maintain local control over the tourism sector, but already big hotel businesses are trying to move in. Photograph by Isabella Tree.

“At the moment,” says Pratap, “You can expect to see maximum four or five tourist jeeps at a leopard sighting. It’s sustainable. But if we don’t get community reserve status, this site will go crazy. We’ll be overrun by overlanders and safari trucks charging in from every direction. Already, every year, three or four new hotels are built, and at the moment there’s no restriction where they build them. Obviously the sites they go for are the most scenic—the rocks where the leopards live.”

Under community reserve law, development within the area would be prohibited. The villagers would have the power to dictate the number and size of hotels serving the reserve and the number of jeeps allowed on safari at any one time. They would be able to enforce a nighttime curfew for leopard-watching and—crucially—ensure that locals continue to benefit from the jobs arising from tourism.

A pressing concern is that big hotels will import their own guides and staff. Marginalization of local people, Pratap argues, is where the national and state parks of India go wrong. Without the direct involvement of local communities acting as wildlife protectors, poaching, particularly of tigers and leopards, is rife.

As yet, though, the villagers’ petition for community reserve status to the chief minister of the government of Rajasthan, submitted in 2015, has been met with silence. According to Pratap, big hoteliers have been putting pressure on local government to “put the file to rest” and are trying to convince villagers that it’s in their interest to work with the industry rather than push for their own reserve. Almost all 21 villages in Bera had originally petitioned for the community reserve, but several villages have changed their minds. The longer the file sits unanswered in local government offices, the harder it will be to get a community reserve off the ground, Pratap believes.

“When we are demonstrating how well we can do as guardians of the leopards,” says Pratap, “why can’t we keep this place in the hands of the community, as an example to the world about co-existence?”

 

Note: This article appeared originally in the website of national geographic. The link is here

 

Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary on Nelliyampathi Hills

Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary is a wildlife sanctuary and national park on the Western slopes of the Nelliyampathi Hills, in  Thrissur District,  Kerala state, India. It has an area of 85.067 square kilometers.

Chimmony Dam-10.JPG
By Sirajvk at English Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 3.0,                             Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary

Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1984. It lies west of Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary.  Kurumali River and Mupliam rivers are the main rivers flowing through this national park cum wildlife sanctuary.  Chimmony Dam, across Chimmony river is also situated in this wildlife sanctuary.

About half of the large mammals in the state of Kerala are found in this Wildlife Sanctuary. It includes y some of the globally threatened species such as tigers, Asian elephants and wild dog.  Some of the other engendered species are  lion-tailed macaque, Indian giant squirrel, Nilgiri langur and slender loris.

This wildlife sanctuary has 160 species of birds. This Wildlife Sanctuary also has 14 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles and 31 species of fishes.

Malaya tribe, the sole tribal community living close to the wildlife sanctuary, is taking part in the Eco-tourism projects inside the sanctuary. 52 tribal families are there.

How Do I Go to Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary?

Office of The Wildlife Warden of Peechi Wildlife Division is situated at Peechi. Pin code is  680653. Entry permits are issued from this office.

Thrissur town is at around 39 kilometers from the wildlife sanctuary.

Chimony Wildlife Sanctuary is headquartered at Echippara. Accommodation is available at the Goverment Inspection Bungalow, situated near Chimmony Dam.

Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary and Peppara Dam

Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary is a wildlife sanctuary near Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. This sanctuary is named after the Peppara dam, which lies within the sanctuary.

Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary as seen from the Peppara dam
Snap of the Wildlife Sanctuary from Dam

In 1983, Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary came into existence. It is spread over an area of 75 square kilometers. It consists of myristica swamps and tropical moist evergreen forests. Karamana River and its tributaries are the main source of water inside the sanctuary.

Tiger, leopard, elephant, sambar (deer), sloth bear, bonnet macaque, Nilgiri tahr, Nilgiri langur, etc, are some of the wild animals found in this wildlife sanctuary.  233 species of birds are found here. 27 species of fishes are also found here. Some of the Endemic species found in this wildlife sanctuary are Small Sunbird, Malabar Grey Hornbill and White-bellied Treepie.

Trekking inside the sanctuary offers panoramic view of the valley.  Trekking starts from Kaanithara, near Vithura. Vazhvanthol falls can be reached by trekking for around 5 kilometers. Kerala goverment forest department conducts trekking packages to the falls and other areas. The trekking package is for a day and includes the services of a  guide. The The Wildlife Warden of Thiruvananthapuram Wildlife Division can be contacted over the phone number +91-471-236-0762 for any details. Assistant Wildlife Warden (at Neyyar) can also be contacted over the  Mobile number +91-854-760-2970 .

The dam is a masonry gravity dam, across Karamana River. It is meant to supply drinking water to Thiruvananthapuram city and its suburbs. Dam’s reservoir is spread over 5.82 square kilometers.

How Do I Go to Peppara Wildlife Sanctuary and Peppara Dam?

Thiruvananthapuram  Central Railway station is the nearest railway station at around 44 kilometers from the wildlife sanctuary. There are regular buses  from KSRTC Central Bus Station alias Thampanoor bus station, (opposite to Thiruvananthapuram  Central Railway station) to Vithura. This wildlife sanctuary is on the Thiruvananthapuram – Ponmudi Road.

Grand Island and Pequeno Island in Goa – Two most Exotic Places in Goa

Grand Island or Grande island  is one of the most exotic places in Goa. There are lot of package tours to the island. The package normally includes snorkeling, fishing and a scrumptious meal. Sighting of dolphins is also normal in and around the island.


This photo of Flying Fish near Grand Island is courtesy of TripAdvisor

This Island in Goa is accessible by boat. You can experience the underwater life, through snorkeling. Experts are there to guide you at Monkey Beach. It is quite safe to do snorkeling at Monkey Beach in Grande island.

There are package tours to this island. The Grande Island package tour costs around two thousand rupees, including boat fare and snorkeling charges. Please confirm the rates before agreeing for the package tour.

How Do I Go to The Grand Island in Goa?

The Grand Island or Grande island  is on the Arabian Sea. There are boat services from the main land from every morning; starting at around 8 am. Services are there till 3 pm, depending on the bookings. It takes less than 30 minutes of travel by boat.

Bat Island alias Pequeno island

Bat Island alias Pequeno island is another famous island known for snorkeling. It is very close to the mainland, on your way to Grand Island or Grande island. Pequeno island is also known as Marmagao Goa.

Fresh Fish can be caught from the sea and  barbecued at these islands.