If you believe the true king of the jungle is the lion and would like to meet one, you can only do so at the Gir National Park in Gujarat. This is the home to the last of the Asiatic lions on the planet. Of course, Gir has much more to offer than just lions. Allow your wishlist to expand beyond just lion sightings, and you will be impressed with the rich flora and fauna of the forest. Join the author in his safari to see for yourself.
If you didn’t know any better, you would drive by the dusty town of Patan in Gujarat and miss fascinating nuggets of history and culture going back centuries. Patan was the capital of Gujarat for over 600 years between the 8th-14th centuries. Patan is known for its Patola saree - a coveted item in a woman's wardrobe, and Rani ki Vav - a queen's stepwell, a work of art in itself. Join me in my journey around this beautiful, historic town. It is a well-woven tale!
Is Kaziranga the best national park in India? Most wildlife enthusiasts would answer with a resounding yes. The reserve is no less than a carnival of animals and birds living amidst forests, tall grasses, reeds, marshes and shallow pools. Come, enjoy the jungle safari in pictures before you head out for the real thing.
You have to hand it to the Buddhists. For centuries they have gone about practicing and preserving their religion, not diluting its essence over generations, and continuing to command the respect and veneration of the followers of this faith. Their art and architecture has been admirable throughout - and they managed to perch their installations on sites you can barely trudge up to. Modern day builders cannot emulate these. Go on the Buddhist circuit in Ladakh to feel all this for yourself.
As far as sanctuaries go, Velavadar in Gujarat is the sweetest one. It is home to Blackbucks, beautiful members of the deer family. Velavadar has the highest concentration of the endangered Blackbuck anywhere. But don’t let the gentle beauty of Blackbucks fool you. They always take home the silver medal in running events, clocking speeds upto 80 kmph (50 miles per hour). Only the Cheetah pips them to the post. Join me in my adventures with the Blackbucks!
Think of camel fairs, and chances are you will head to Pushkar in Rajasthan. But hold on to your horses (or camels) for a moment - consider Bikaner, with its smaller yet far more enchanting version. And that is only one of the reasons why you need to be in this desert city.
No sooner had I checked into my lodge at Bardia National Park when the manager showed me a picture of a tigress with four cubs - clicked by a guest the day before. I purposefully went about my safaris on the following days hoping to meet this family, only to draw a blank. But there was no room for disappointment - the park had lots more to offer. Before its declaration as a national park in 1988, Bardia was mainly a hunting ground for Nepal’s royal family and the rich and powerful from India and Nepal. It is home to the Royal Bengal tiger and the one-horned rhinoceros. Spread over 968 sq. kms. (100,000 hectares), 53 species of mammals, over 400 species of birds and several varieties of reptiles and water animals wait to be spotted here.
As a Jain, I am often asked the difference between Jainism and Buddhism. My (lighthearted) answer: Jainism came first, Buddhism was a me-too. But the latter evolved into an international brand while the former stayed a domestic one. Otherwise they preach similar principles of life. It was thus natural for me to look forward to visiting Lumbini, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and believed to be the birthplace of the Buddha in 623 B.C.. And as revered a spot for Buddhists as Jerusalem and Mecca are for Christians and Muslims. Lumbini is one of the four important places associated with the life of Buddha, the others being Bodh Gaya (where he attained enlightenment), Sarnath (where he first preached) and Kasia (where he passed away and attained Nirvana).
Would you ride in an open Gypsy in temperatures exceeding 50 degrees Celsius? With the sun threatening to burn everything in sight, and the desert sand piercing your skin like countless needles? You would, if you were on the trail of the tiger in the Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan. One of the few forests in India where tigers still prowl, you can be almost assured of a sighting – but only if you venture out when summer is at its harshest. This is when water sources dry up, and animals come out in the open to water holes. And the dry vegetation makes camouflaging difficult. The roll of dice can still go against you, or you may be lucky like me – with seven sightings over a single weekend.
Many moons ago, someone turned the music off in Kathmandu, the subcontinent’s original party town. But you cannot keep a good thing down for long. Nepal’s capital is rocking again, albeit to a slightly different tune. The country may still be politically troubled, but it has put its violent phase firmly behind. Also gone are the hippies, the rave parties and the open culture of drugs and sex pursued by western backpackers. Even casinos are past their prime. But Kathmandu is still a charming city to visit. Kathmandu is a city for all seasons, for all budgets, for all kinds of travel moods. You don’t have to think much before heading there. The Nepalese make for great hosts, and they know how to keep you entertained.