Travel Thrill in the Chill

High on Heli – Skiing

Get over your latent acrophobia this winter. Have a go at Heliskiing. This adventurous winter sport is all about navigating thick snow and getting over your hear of heights. The helicopter leave you at the top of a snow – capped peak and, from there, you have to crisscross you way downward. The sport brings out the thrill – seeking explorer in you, as you have to ski through un known routes and ridges. Some of the best locations to enjoy this winter activity are : Gulmarg in Kashmir and Hanuman Tibba, Deo Tibba, Rohtang Pass and Chandrakhani Pass near Manali. Gulmarg has the most ideal type of snow for heli-skiing – the fluffy powder or granular snow which is also known as re-crystallized sugar snow. But remember to gather as much knowledge as possible converning avalanches, alternate routes and safety since the terrain is a steep and tough one.

Snow leopard trail

snow leopard ladakh

Tiger safaris suddenly seem last season with adventure travelers booking mountains safaris to chase the endangered show leopard! They don’t mind the cold, nforgiving terrain of Spiti and Ladakh for that one fleeting sight of the ‘mountain ghost’. The best site to spot the cat is Hemis National Park in Eastern Ladakh. You can also spot rare species like blue sheep, argali ( a large horned sheep ), numerous mountain and migratory birds, as well as an occasional Tibetan wolf. Chances of snow leopard sighting are stronger in winter since they descend to lower elevations in search of fodd. If lucky, you can actually see one preched high on the races or balanced on a vertical ridge. We can offer snow Leopard trails combined with the home stay experience. You will be accompanied by a snow leopard expert, a cook, porters and mules to help carry camping equipment on you week – long expedition.

Romantic interlude

Misty views, fragrant tea plantations and an overall dreamy spell in the air – Kurseong is perfect love nest in winter with its small town, non-commercial vibe. Kickstart the journey on a romantic note by taking the toy train or The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, from Darjeeling, to reach this old – world hill station. Check into a nice – bed and breakfast place attached to various tea plantations, like Castleton, Makaibari, Ambotia or Goomtee etc, to enjoy an endless supply of home grown teas. Makabari Tea Eastate also offers visitors an insight into its history, the art of tea processing and a tea garden trek.

Camp in cool dunes

jaisalmer desert fest.

A balmy winter retreat in Rajasthan is ideal for those looking for a moderate cool weather. Flanked by the Thar Desert in the west, Jaisalmer (Rajasthan) bears a dry and hot countenance round the year, except in winter months when it wakes up from its long summer hibernation to celebrate the night chill. The city fills up with color and music with gypsy dancers and sarangi musicians entertaining under a star – lit sky. You could snooze on mattresses under the open sky next to a bonfire or snug up in a cozy Swiss tent for the night. To make it more fin, find out if there are any astronomy trips happening around that time for some star – gazing.

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Great India plan for Bustard

A recovery strategy will be drawn up

Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had directed Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to have state – level recovery plans for the great Indian Bustard.

Gujarat principal chief conservator of Forests C.N. Pandey said, “We had met experts recently and have now prepared a draft report, which has been approved and is in the final stages”.


The MoEF had directed all bustard range stages to prepare state – level recovery plans to conserve the species. The proposed plan will aim at long – term conservation of both bustard species in Kutch in Gujarat. With this state-level initiative, it is expected that the conservation of and habitat restoration of Great Indian Bustard (GIB) will get a boost.

Officials in the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) said many vital and bio-diverse habitats such as grasslands and species inhabiting the Great Indian Bustard continue to remain neglected.

Officials said grasslands have been threatened for long from rising human pressures on the habitat, indiscriminate grazing outside traditional grounds, poaching, urbanization and several other factors. Several flagship grassland species of birds and animals including GIB, Lesser florican, chinkara, fox and wolf have been affected in various parts of their former range including Kutch (Gujarat, India). According, to BNHS, the Great Indian Bustard are found in six states in India currently and have populations of GIB and Lesser Florican in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. In case of Madhya Pradesh, at present there are two sanctuaries for GIB and two for Lesser florican. In Maharashtra, the few remaining GIB are to be found at some locations in districts such as Solapur and Chandrapur. The situation in other Bustard range including Gujarat is also a cause of concern.

It is worth recalling that experts involved in the conservation of GIB had meet chief minister Narendra Modi and urged him to act and take measures to conserve the bird. According to experts GIB is facing threat through the reduction in the extent of undisturbed arid and grassland habitat, degradation and disturbance to existing habitat, hunting, lack of protection for many traditional “lekking” and nesting sites, lack natural grassland conservation in management and policy. Apart, from these issues there is lack of cooperation between departments and stakeholders in GIB habitats. Livestock overgrazing and disturbance by tourists and photographers, especially during the breeding season, have led to the reduction in the bird’s number.

 Courtesy: – Times of India  

Six – year wait ends, bustards to be counted this month

A census of the Great Indian Bustard will be held this month and officials of the state forest department are getting ready for this important exercise.


According to forest officials, the 2007 census had shown that there were 48 of these Bustards in Gujarat but data collected by other nature societies had reveled their population to be less than 30. Hence, all eyes are now on this census which is taking place after six years.  The officials said that the ‘direct sighting method’ will be adopted for the census in the Kutch Region ( Gujarat, India ) where the bustard is found.

This largest flying bird in the world is spotted mainly in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. Some birds are also found in Pakistan, mainly in summer.

Officials said that a meeting of villagers and forest officials will be held to finalize the programme for the census. Separate teams will be set up and posted in pockets where sightseeing has been reported.

The census will be conducted in two phases – the first will be the primary round and the second will be the main final round. Officials said that according to the union ministry of forests and environment, the bird faces several threats to its existence, including threats from the rapid development of infrastructure taking place in Kutch (Gujarat). Domestic and stray animals are also among the major threats affecting conversation efforts for the bird.

Apart from these, collision with high tension electric wires, fast moving vehicles and other man-made structures continue to be a threat in the Industrial development zones near bustard inhabited areas. Deaths of Great Indian Bustard have been reported frequently from Kutch in Gujarat and Solapur in Maharashtra.

For the bird’s conversation, the Union ministry had asked the state government to undertake scientific studies of seasonal movements of bustards and their lifecycles, regular patrolling of bustard territories and setting up of local networks to monitor the fencing around core bustard areas. Removal of dogs and other nest predators with the help of the veterinary department has also been suggested.

It was in 2005 that Dr. Bharat Pathak, currently director of Gujarat Ecological Education and Research ( GEER ) Foundation had rushed to Velavadar Blackbuck National Park in Bhavnagar ( Gujarat, India ). He had heard of a bustard sighting there.

Courtesy: – Times of India. 

4th Global Bird Watchers’ Conference from January 31, 2014

The 4th Global Bird Watchers’ Conference, the annual event of Gujarat tourism department in coordination with forest department will be held for three days, from January 31.

To put water bodies in the state on the international map and attract tourists, Gujarat Tourism Department in association with various organization began this event in 2009-10 and it has become a regular event.

Officials said Gujarat is emerging as an eco-tourism destination; being host to wide range of pristine and hitherto unexplored destinations for nature lovers. The conference will not only showcase the destinations of Gujarat; but discussions will also be held on how to preserve these winged visitors who are facing many threats.

Officials said the objectives of the fourth conference were to promote Gujarat as a birding destination and project it as a eco-tourism destination. The conference aims to provide a platform for discussion by international experts on birds, birding and bird watching to promote tourism and conversation.

Also, the conference will discuss on the migratory route of birds from Europe and West Asia to the coasts, wetlands and islands in Gujarat. Officials said, that this time, the focus is likely to be Nal-Sarovar and nearby areas as the water body was recently declared a Ramsar site.

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Sasan Gir ( Junagadh, Gujarat ) named best protected area

Gir Sanctuary ( Junagadh, Gujarat )  has been recognized and awarded the best protected area by a Mumbai based wildlife magazine.

The awards were instituted in 2000, to recognize and draw national attention to the contribution of individuals working for the protection of wildlife and natural habitats in India.


This year, among various categories, Gir Sanctuary ( Junagadh, Gujarat ) was awarded for the best protected sanctuary. Chief conservator of forests R.L. Meena received the award on behalf of Gujarat. C.N. Pandey, the principal chief conservator of forests said: “The award was recognition of the conservation efforts of the state and especially the people of Saurashtra who have protected lions as their family. It was because of this convection that the population of lions increased to 411 according to the 2010 census.”

Officials said that talk of relocating Asiatic Lions from Gir ( Junagadh, Gujarat ) meet vehement protests from local maldharis. Despite the wild cats preying on nearly 6,000 domesticated animals in the forests, satellite areas and villages, locals consider the lions to be a part of their family.

Gir Forest ( Junagadh, Gujarat ) was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1965 with the main area declared a national park. Gradually, more lion habitats in adjoining regions were also declared sanctuaries and ultimately Girnar Wildlife Sanctuary ( Junagadh, Gujarat ) was created in 2007.

Several ecological studies were also conducted to identify problems and prepare a conservation project. This was followed by implementation of the Gir Lion Sanctuary project in 1973 to resettle maldharis.

Courtesy:- Times of India

Caracal trapped in gando baval (Prosopis juliflora) rescued

The forest department rescued a female carcal (a wild cat known for its reclusive behavior) that had got trapped in gando baval weeds ( Prosopis juliflora ) in Jatavira Village of Nakhatrana taluka in Kutch district ( Gujarat, India ) on November 23. This is perhaps the first instance of a caracal being rescued after it got struck in wild weed.

Caracal, Felis caracal, Augrabies Falls National Park, N. Cape, South AfricaCaracals usually venture out of their lair at night. There are around 50 of them in the state and are found only in Kutch. One of these wild cats was last spotted by the officers of the Gujarat forest department in 2006. The conservator of Forests D.K. Sharma said that the rescued caracal was female and around three years of age.

When the rescued animal was found on November 25th had injuries on its front left feet. “ On getting information about it, officials rushed to the spot. After clearing the bushes, the caracal was brought to Nakhatrana ( Kutch, Gujarat, India ) for veterinary care. The services of two expert veterinary doctors were taken to cure the animal,” said Sharma. He further said that the animal had got stuck in thick thorny dry bushes while trying to capture a prey.

Deputy Conservator of Forests Pravinshinh Vihol said that the species is considered rare in India. It has also been listed in annexure – 1 of the CITES (‘Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora’, also known as the Washington Convention) and is also a schedule – ` animal under the Wildlife Protect Act.

According to Dr. Naveen Pandey, veterinarian f the Corbett Foundation who treated the rescued animal, said the paw of the caracals’ lift forelimb, had mild abrasion between the second and third fingers of the toe.

Courtesy: – Times of India

Kyoto Protocol

Japan’s cultural hub reflects all that is so good about the country; modesty, punctuality and discipline

goldone pavilionWhen the destination takes precedence, some journeys pale into the distance. I have 24 hours to visit Kyoto after 15-hour flight into Japan, via Taiwan. There is barely enough time to gather the thoughts in my groggy head, or savour the sights as I shake off the jet lag, grab my knapsack and make my way through the throng to board a ‘Shinkansen’, the Japanese bullet train.

The wheezing sound of the aerodynamically-designed, long-snouted machine is intimidating as it snakes into the platform at Nagoya station.

‘On time, every time, to a second, ‘my Japanese acquaintance Kiko tells me. The Japanese are sticklers for punctuality and hate to keep their machines waiting. “if speed can kill the pleasure of a trip, this is it,” I say to myself with a chuckle I find hard to suppress in the organised bustle of the teeming station.

It takes a mere 50 minutes at 320 kmph from Nagoya to Japan’s cultural hub of Kyoto, a city of 1.5 million, famed for its Buddhist temples with incense hanging heavy in the dry air, expansive gardens, and gleaming palaces. On the train, you only catch a fleeting glimpse of the scenery as they whiz past: rice fields mostly and some traditional houses, so time is better spent training your eyes on the record-busting speed lighting up the digital display above and surveying the spare interiors of the economy class coach.

historic nijo castleA fellow traveller prefers a pose with a pretty cabin attendant – a relief from the stillness inside – which some tourists find amusing. Bored regulars on the line keep their heads down, glued to their tabs, phones and computers, their fingers messaging, mailing and typing. The joys of travel are lost in the hush of the high-speed rush. When caught up in the bustle of Japanese life, the journey often descends into an episode of vacant thoughts as the destination looms.

“The Japanese are a modest people, timid people,” another acquaintance Yamazaki tells me as we approach Kyoto. He is polite, looks at the floor and avoids eye contact, like many of his compatriots. The chatter and the throb of life at a station are missing despite the crowds. Every process appears programmed and every event is planned the way it is meant to be. A bit disconcerting really and, I really I may be a lonely traveller after all.

Outside the station, school kids wave and greet us with a sprinkling of English, a relief because language can be a challenge in the Land of the Rising sun. The Japanese are a content, inward-looking bunch, rarely showing emotion, you surmise. Kiko, I realise, has now turned into friend from an acquaintance, and her visage sports a broad grin. “I managed some shut eye, 20 minutes maybe, on the train,” she says. The mood is less formal now and I decide not to shun the sun anymore and step out of the covered confines of the station building.

japanese bullen trainThe children are also warming up to me and some of them as where i come from halting English. We start a conversation about Dubai and the world’s tallest building it has come to be famed for. They seem to understand and i am happy to quickly shed the lonely tag being amongst such bright, eager faces keen on a lesson in geography.

“The younger generation is more outgoing these days; they want to learn, explore and belong, ”Kiko makes a point, warming up to the topic. I sense a growing pride in the achievements of the island nation on an economic revival after two decades of tepid growth, and watch tourist groups from all over the country returning to their dressed in traditional kimonos.

I had arrived late for the cherry blossoms which disappeared a fortnight ago, but the cheery faces and bright sunshine is uplifting. You can smell and sense its larger purpose at the shrine we are visiting where gongs are sounded and heads bowed in reverence.

paintings in the ryoainji templeFor the Japanese, the Ryoanji Temple is a spiritual must-see shrine. A World Heritage Site, it was built as a country house by the Tokudaiji Clan, which was converted into a Zen training temple in 1450. I find the faithful meditating near its rock garden and linger for a closer look, move on to the pond, then to a wash basin where there is an inscription which reads: “I learn to be content.” I have 20 minutes and the rest of the tour has to done in a hurry, I am reminded by my guide. I take a quick walk to the Kuri, the main temple building with its sloping roofs, and some Japanese murals of creatures great and small.

It was in Kyoto, formerly known as Heian-kyo, that the geisha culture really took off in AD794. Geishas received huge attention in Western popular novel Memories of a Geisha, by American author Arthur Golden.

I am nervous by now and head out for some Kyoto white miso soup, tempura, a beef concoction, and some sticky rice with gravy at the Yoshikawa, a joint suggested by Kiko. I forget the Japanese names of the other dishes, but if you are a tempura fan, there are places all over Kyoto for a nibble that will delight the palate.

Sushi bars and restaurants abound in Japan’s seventh largest city, and important tourist destination located on the island of Honshu. I also noticed Egyptian, Indian, Lebanese and Iranian restaurants at street corners in the heart of the city.

japanese cuisineKyoto is best explored by bicycle or on foot. Summer is tourism season and bars and restaurants are thriving. Kiyamichi district, which runs along a canal, is the place to enjoy a night out in the city. I meet with Hamid, an Iranian expat, who runs two kabab joints here. He was welcomed in Japan after he fled his country during the revolution in 1979. He now has a Japanese wife and two kids. “The only problem I faced was learning Japanese, but i managed to pick it up in two years. Life has been better since,” he says.

The next morning is spent visiting the resplendent Golden Pavilion, or the Kinkaku, with its sloping roof covered in gold. Originally a villa owned by a nobleman named Saionji Kintsune, it was acquired by a Shogun, or feudal lord in 1397, and later converted into a shrine, where some relics of the Buddha are kept. Entry into the sanctum sanctorum is barred for visitors, but it is a sight to behold even from a distance, with the viewing area separated by a large pond.  A stroll in the compound can take an hour and you pass by a pretty wooden Teahouse, and an area for open-air Buddhist rituals.

zen zoneFor the less religiously inclined, there is the seat of valour, the Nijo Castle, a couple of kilometres away. Completed in 1626 by the third Shogun of the Tokugawa clan, it has lavish paintings, carvings and is one of the best examples of Momoyama culture from the 14th century.

The castle was returned to the Emperor by the last Shogun feudal lord in 1867 and is now a World Heritage Site.

I managed to watch a kimono fashion show at a mall before I rush to grab a few gifts at Nishiki market, a narrow two-kilometre long stretch which dates back to 1311. Some 200 shops sell traditional Japanese food, sweets, dried food and fish here. Paintings, kimonos and traditional Japanese fans and sweets are a good buy if you can suffer the smell of fish and other creatures of the deep.

nijo castleThe ‘Shinkanzen’ awaits for my ride back to Nagoya. It is fast, predictable, even inspiring if you are a fan of time travel. Kyoto was a trip into Japan’s past. Nagoya is the modern, industrial face of the country from where Toyota, Honda, Suzuki and other rule.

What better way to arrive here than on the bullet train? W

Courtesy by K.T.

traditional outfit

stepped walkways

stairway to heaven

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