Four Friends and a Babymoon in Morro Bay on California’s Highway 1

 

Four friends and a Babymoon in Morro Bay, on California’s Highway 1 Discovery Route (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

By Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda, Maya Kessel, Andrew Kessel

We are four friends, two couples, from different cities, who get together as often as we can, although not as often as we’d like, to go on adventures. With the first baby expected in our group, we thought we’d take one last adventure before the greatest adventure of all. Hence, our first “babymoon.”

Our adventure takes place in Morro Bay and along California’s Highway 1, a gorgeous Pacific coastal road that embraces the mood of dreamers and wanderers who tend to find themselves there. Before this trip some of us hadn’t even heard of a babymoon or Morro Bay (except in the recent movie “Finding Dory”). In thinking about winter holiday destinations, Zika prevented us from considering many Southern spots while a ski trip for a 6-month pregnant woman was similarly a bad choice.

Instead, we set our sights on the Central Coast of California, easily accessible from Los Angeles airport while still providing a great escape from the wintrier East Coast. We did not know what to expect. What we discovered was an amazing combination of outdoor sports and nature, wine, gastronomic delights featuring some of the best seafood we’ve ever had, and so much more, all nestled in beautiful California coastal towns.Highway 1 is famous for its windy roads beside perilous cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The 101-mile-long Highway 1 Discovery Route is  situated between San Francisco and L.A. attracts 3 to 4 million visitors a year. Along the route you will find such popular attractions as the Hearst Castle, the Elephant Seal Rookery, dozens of wine vineyards (11 just in the 40 minute drive from Rock to Castle), oyster farms, and charming coastal towns. This region is remarkably diverse, yet it’s a compact area, ideal to satisfy the wanderlust of our expectant mother who is otherwise more inclined to climb a mountain than sit back and stare at it.

View from Hearst Castle (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

Some highlights of our adventure includes a visit to Hearst Castle (http://hearstcastle.org/), a personal guided tour along the Morro Bay Estuary with Central Coast Kayaks (www.centralcoastkayaks.com) watching the sunset with Elephant Seals at Piedras Blancas (http://www.elephantseal.org/) just at the start of their birthing season in late December, a winery tour and tasting at Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards (http://kelseywine.com/), Pedego Electric biking (http://www.pedegoelectricbikes.com/dealers/avila-beach/) in Avila Beach, and relaxing in our private mineral springs hot tub on the balcony of the Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort & Spa (https://www.sycamoresprings.com/).

Our home base for the first 3 days is Morro Bay, a picturesque and friendly fishing town on the bay that is home to a state and national estuary and bird sanctuary. Once a remote fishing village, Morro Bay is still a busy harbor with an active commercial fishing fleet. Most impressive is how Morro Bay as a community is leading the way in sustainable small fleet fishing practices nationwide, helping support this thriving fishing community. Sustainability and respect for the environment is a theme that carried through our adventure.

View of Morro Bay from our suite at 456 Embarcadero Inn and Suites (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

Food & Wine

This is a bountiful wine region and our first stop on our adventure in Morro Bay is the Chateau Margene, one of 10 wineries located along the Pacific Coast Wine Trail, for wine tasting. They have two different wine flights to try and the tasting fee is waived if you buy 2 bottles. We loved learning about the Mooney Family and the production of each of the wines we tried. This boutique, micro-winery produces only 3,000 cases a year of luxury award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends, as well as Pinot Noir. Owner Michael Mooney co-founded the Cab Collective out of Paso Robles highlighting the many award-winning Cabernets found in the region that rival Napa. One definite perk is that it’s open late and right in the center of town (the only winery nearby open past 5), making it a great spot to hit up just before dinner. If wine isn’t your thing they also have superb infused olive oils and local vinegar samples. (Chateau Margene, 845 Embarcadero, 805-225-1235, www.chateaumargene.com).

Next stop, dinner at Windows on the Water, a fine dining restaurant that has a gorgeous panoramic view of the bay and a friendly atmosphere. They also have a lively bar area, live music many nights, and regular weekly specials including $5 martini Mondays, $.75 oyster Tuesdays (elsewhere around town we hear that Tuesdays are the big crab night), and Sliders & Beer Wednesdays and $1 Taco & Tequila Thursdays. Windows, like a few of the other restaurants we visited, emphasizes the season-driven approach to continually changing menus.

They take pride in their sustainably raised livestock and seafood and locally sourced produce, so you can feel good about how your dinner was caught and prepared while savoring in the delicious freshness of the food. Their wine flights highlight local vineyards and an extensive wine list showcases the expertise of their in-house sommelier, Chris Battles.

There is something on this menu for everyone. Starters and salads range from $10-20 and are small, but packed with flavor. Entrees are between $25-39 and fairly large. Our waitress Elizabeth recommends the local halibut and pork loins. Windows is famous for its local sand dabs (a lighter white fish maybe similar to a flounder, but sweeter), so popular, that it is sadly sold out by the time we arrive. Their bread and own garlic and herbs olive oil and vinegar dip is so good, it is hard not to fill up on it before dinner. We enjoy the very crispy, full-of-sprouts crab cakes with a fresh arugula salad pre-entree. For dessert we taste the three homemade ice cream scoops, which, like the rest of the menu, rotate with the season (in the past they’ve had lucky charms and peanut butter chocolate ice cream). We enjoy a vanilla, toasted coconut, and egg nog ice cream perfect for the season. One of the best vanilla ice creams we’ve ever tried. (Windows on the Water, 699 Embarcadero, Morro Bay, CA 93442, 805-772-0677,  www.windowsmb.com).

View of Morro Bay from our suite at 456 Embarcadero Inn and Suites (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

We head to our accommodations, 456 Embarcadero Inn and Suites, wonderfully well located in the central part of town, with spectacular views of the coast and the great Morro Rock,  so we can just  park  our car and leave it for the duration of their of our stay in  Morro Bay. The front desk staff goes above and beyond. They even offer us blankets for our whale watching tour. The rooms are spacious and comfortable and even feature a gas fireplace. The inn offers 33 boutique guestrooms, each with a panoramic view of the bay and the iconic rock from a private deck. Showers come with dispensers, which are appreciated over the typical wasteful bottles of shampoo and soap provided at most hotels. The hot tub is a welcomed, very modern styled amenity, snuck away in a nook on the second floor. Breakfast comes complimentary and is a nice filling way to start the day. The inn is family-owned and operated and pet-friendly.

(456 Embarcadero Inn & Suites, 456 Embarcadero Blvd., Morro Bay, CA 93442, 805-772-2700, www.embarcaderoinn.com).

Whale Watching

Early the next morning we set off for the whale watching adventure with Sub Sea Tour Whale Watching. The staff is professional, courteous, and very friendly. The small boat carries about 20 of us for the 3-hour trip. We sail passed the iconic Morro Rock for a great photo op and stop by the half-mile beacon mark on our way out as well where seals tend to gather.

The famous Morro Rock, now a State Historic Landmark, is the most distinctive and recognizable landmark of Morro Bay. The 576-foot tall mass of volcanic rock rises above the Pacific Ocean, separating the inviting sands of Morro Strand State Beach from the blue waters of Morro Bay Harbor.

While the seas were a bit choppy the lighting was perfect for spotting whales as our guide shared interesting facts about the area and its wildlife. In fact, mid to late December marks the beginning of the great migration of the Gray Whale. Unlike New England and other places famous for whale watching, December whale watching in Central California is very doable. Seeing wildlife, including whales on a tour is always somewhat of a gamble  (they report sightings on 90% of their trips). Unfortunately, we are in the 10% and don’t get a whale sighting.  Be sure to dress in layers since it can get chilly (and windy!) out at sea.

Blue Sky Bistro, Morro Bay Suites (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

After whale watching, we have lunch just a few feet away at Blue Sky Bistro. We sample a variety of items on the menu including the lobster bisque, clam chowder, Mahi Mahi sandwich, California burgers, and Sailor Benedict eggs. Blue Sky is picturesque, affordable, filling, and the service is friendly.

Hearst Castle

Next up is the famous castle on the hill about 40 minutes north of Morro Bay: Hearst Castle. The 40,000 acres of ranchland was originally purchased by George Hearst for family retreats. Newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hearst inherited the land in 1919, by that time having grown to more than 250,000 acres. He dreamed of building a retreat for friends and a place to house his immense art collection. He hired the first woman architect in California, Julia Morgan, and together they built “La Cuesta Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill) into what is now the 165-room Hearst Castle. To tour the castle and its surrounding property, you must buy tickets in advance, as they often sell out. A bus with an audio introduction leads visitors up the gorgeous winding road to the top of the “Enchanted Hill”. The views from the top of the hill alone are worth the trip.

Hearst Castle (photo by Dave E. Leiberman/Travel Features Syndicate)

We take the Grand Room Tour, where the knowledgeable docent leads us around the property and through the Assembly Room, the Refectory, Billiard Room, and Theater, getting a sense of what it would have been like for guests who visited W.H. Hearst. Sitting at 200-year old Italian wood tables amidst sterling silver candles and scepters from Ireland, and medieval hand-painted silk banners from Siena, Italy overhead, diners would use paper napkins, Heinz Ketchup bottles and yellow mustard, as the media mogul believed a casual atmosphere would make his guests (often celebrities and politicians) more likely to open up and share stories.

In the Hearst dining room, the odd juxtaposition of sterling silver candles and scepters from Ireland, medieval hand-painted silk banners from Siena, Italy, while guests would dine with paper napkins, Heinz Ketchup bottles and yellow mustard (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

Beginning building his San Simeon retreat in the 1920s, Hearst was able to capitalize on the many European collectors desperate to sell after WWI had left much of the region in shambles. Every surface of the rooms is decorated with pieces from his collection (about 25,000 artifacts). Not one to follow advice of art dealers or others, his collection represents his own eclectic taste, which encompassed everything from 15th Century BC Egyptian statues, 16th Century Spanish and 18th Century Italian ceilings, 6th Century BC Greek terracotta pottery, Renaissance paintings, Flemish tapestries, 15th Century Gothic fireplaces, 15th century religious painting, and much more. For most of the 20th century, the estate even had the world’s largest private zoo, with guests driving up alongside bison, elk, zebras, llamas, kangaroos, camels, sambar deer from India, African and Asian antelope and other exotic animals.

With Hearst’s public opposition to Roosevelt and the New Deal, and Union strikes and boycotts of his properties, the financial strength of his empire began to suffer. Even amidst the declined circulation of his major publications, Hearst continued his outlandish purchases of expensive art and antiques. Ultimately Hearst went into millions of dollars of debt (when a million dollars really meant something), had to sell his exotic animals to the Los Angeles Zoo, stopped construction on his estate, leaving parts of the exterior unfinished, sold off much of his art collection and had to pay rent to live in his San Simeon castle.

The breathtaking pool at Hearst Castle. Hearst himself went into debt and had to pay rent to live there (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

Just up the coast from Hearst Castle is a famous breeding ground for elephant seals. You can’t call this a hidden gem as it is a well-known attraction but everyone is able to get great views of the playful seals doing their thing. We have a first-hand look at young males sparring for dominance while others sleep undisturbed, groan loudly, flip sand onto their backs or cuddle. Watching these enormous surprisingly cute creatures play, it’s easy for us to forget to look out at the beautiful pacific sunset behind them.

Elephant seals on Piedras Blancas at sunset (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

The Galley Seafood Grill & Bar is recommended to us by the captain of our whale watching tour as the place to go to really treat yourself, “especially if you want incredibly fresh seafood”. The Galley has a wall of windows overlooking the Bay, warm, modern decor, intimate tables and cozy booths for larger groups. Highlighting their belief in serving only the finest and freshest, their specialty is their “Naked Fish”, with a trio of light sauces served on the side. We share a series of dishes: a perfect Caesar salad with Spanish anchovies, Ceviche, the Original Galley Clam Chowder (their same secret recipe since 1966), Pan Seared Scallops, Blackened Pacific Rockfish (Naked), and a New Zealand Rack of Lamb with Kalamata olive tapenade. The portions are well sized and even the appetizers are ample enough to share. The Blackened Pacific Rockfish was cooked so perfectly it seems to melt in your mouth, and indeed, is so flavorful there is no need for the delicious sauces offered on the side. We top off our meal with their Grand Marnier Creme Bruleé. With nice size portions, the freshest ingredients, distinctive flavors, and attentive service, we love every minute of our dining experience at The Galley. (The Galley Seafood Grill & Bar, 899 Embarcadero Morro Bay, CA 93442)

Kayaking in the Morro Bay Estuary

Morro Bay Estuary (photo by Dave E. Leiberman/Travel Features Syndicate)

After breakfast at The Embarcadero, we set out for our next great outdoor adventure kayaking in the Morro Bay Estuary Natural Preserve. We meet Craig, our guide from Central Coast Outdoors for the tour, who provides an intimate and comprehensive account of wildlife in the area as well as the relationship of the local people to it. The Morro Bay Estuary Natural Preserve and its 800-acre wetland are home to more than 250 species of land, sea, and shore birds, both migratory and resident, and dozens of endangered species. The great blue herons and the great and snowy egrets roost all year at the Heron and Cormorant Rookery located near the entrance of the Museum of Natural History. (The tours are complimentary but it is customary to tip your guide.)

The weather is perfect and the estuary waters are calm, unlike the open waters of the bay next to it. This is a perfect activity for our expectant mother, who reclines in comfort while getting some exercise in between guided stops and her husband at the back of the two-person kayak.

Kayaking in the Morro Bay Estuary, perfect activity for a babymoon (photo by Dave E. Leiberman/Travel Features Syndicate)

He takes us along the Estuary with stops to view the countless species of local birds spiraling around us. We spot dozens of bird species and lots of adorable harbor seals. If you’re a fan of these guys, this is one of the best ways to have a close encounter, as a few seal friends traveled alongside our kayak with their pups for a while (just be careful not to get too close so that you don’t disturb their natural habitat!). We learn that estuaries are an ideal natural breeding ground providing protection from larger predators, and we got to see this firsthand.

One of the most memorable sights is seeing the natural fireworks as the birds circle around, rapidly alternating between camouflaging into the background and suddenly reappearing as their white feathers turn towards you. Additionally, despite (or perhaps because of) its historically-dependent marine economy, Morro Bay has taken important steps, even leading-edge techniques that are considered a model, to protect their wildlife. The Limited Entry fleet targets ground fish using non-trawl gear (hook and line, trap, long line). They’ve taken measures to maintain clean waters so that agriculture and nearby homes do not cause any environmental degradation of these important waters.

Every tour is unique and Craig considers the weather conditions of the day, tidal patterns, rider abilities, and timing to piece together an ideal tour. Craig also leads bicycle, hiking, and other tours for Central Coast Kayaks.

(Central Coast Outdoors, #10 State Park Road, Morro Bay, CA 93442, 805-528-1080, www.centralcoastoutdoors.com.)

Central Coast Kayaks, Morro Bay (photo by Laini Miranda/Travel Features Syndicate)

After Kayaking, we have a wonderful lunch at Bayside Cafe, just opposite Central Coast’s dock. Originally started in 1986 by a Cal Poly grad as a walk-up cafe, it quickly became so popular that it had to expand to include a casual bay-side dining area with a large outdoor terrace. The restaurant is bustling with a line out the door from the time we enter to the time we leave. Not a bad place to wait for a table, as you can easily kill time hanging out on the benches, dock, or grassy areas along the water. Bayside has an extensive menu filled with local ingredients and both foodie and kid favorites alike. Some food highlights are their fresh salad with grilled catch-of-the-day, amazing thick calamari strips that are meatier than any calamari we’ve had, salmon tacos, and their ever popular fish & chips (definitely get the large!). To cap off our lunch we indulge in their huge serving of homemade mudpie. Hard to choose from their list of pie specialties, but if you like chocolate, this one is not to be missed! On top of the very friendly service, big portions, and awesome food, the vibe here is familial and relaxed, the view beautiful from any seat. This is the perfect lunch spot to rest and indulge while exploring Morro Bay.

(Bayside CaféIn the Morro Bay Marina across from Morro Bay State Park Campground, #10 State Park Rd, Morro Bay, CA 93442, 805-772-1465).

Morro Bay also has some distinctly interesting shops and attractions:

Junque Love (699 Embarcadero) specializes in an eclectic mix of vintage and repurposed goods, and represents the heart and soul of old coastal California, featuring artists from all over California that repurpose vintage items into new goods; (805-821-1154; www.facebook.com/Gatheringjunquelove/)

Morro Bay Skateboard Museum preserves the complete history of skateboarding,from the early 1930′s to present day, featuring more than 200 skateboards from all eras with rotating exhibits from extensive private collections (601 Embarcadero Road; 805-610-3565; www.mbskate.com).

The Estuary Nature Center located upstairs in the Marina Square Building at 601 Embarcadero is free and provides a place to experience the beauty of the estuary and learn about protecting habitats and wildlife (805-772-3834, www.mbnep.org/Learn/nature_center.html).

After our satisfying meal at Bayside Cafe, we hit the road and continue south on our adventure along the Highway 1 Discovery RouteFirst stop is the Kelsey See Canyon Winery.

For more information on planning a trip, contact Morro Bay Tourism, 695 Harbor Street, Morro Bay, CA 93442, 805-225-1570, www.morrobay.orgFor more information on Highway 1 Discovery Route, visit highway1discoveryroute.com.

Next: Four Friends and a Babymoon Travel California’s Highway 1 Discovery Route

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Former Mayor, Now Artist RJ Rosegarten Returns to Great Neck With ‘Lost & Found: the Art of Assemblage’ Exhibit

Artist RJ Rosegarten with Jude Amsel, curator of ‘Lost & Found: the Art of Assemblage’ at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

When RJ Rosegarten left Great Neck 17 years ago, where he had gone to school, raised a family, had a career in advertising and served as Mayor of the Village of Great Neck Plaza, he was finally free to pursue an ambition from childhood: to be an artist.

He returns to the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck Plaza – which as mayor he helped bring fruition – with a show, “Lost & Found: the Art of Assemblage” which draws upon his strong sense of design and construction. The exhibition is on view through March 12.

“Assemblage involves the thoughtful combination of elements to create something new and original,” states Jude Amsel, the curator who installed the massive exhibit of some 50 works.

RJ Rosegarten (better known by Great Neckers as Bob) claims that the pieces are not intended to hammer home a theme or message or story, that he approaches the work from the point of view of design, color and form, meticulously choosing objects that together form the image he has conceptualized in his mind.

At the end of it, he says, he comes up with a title. “That’s often the most difficult part,” he says.

“It’s Great to be King” by RJ Rosegarten © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

His humor comes through with the titles (“it’s Great to be King”), but don’t read in a theme or moral – it’s for the beholder to find your own meaning.

But if the piece is built around an aesthetic, the choice of objects – each with their own meaning – the title, in fact, broadcasts a mood, emotion or message even if was subconsciously in Rosegarten’s mind, or resounds in the viewer’s own head. The design captures your attention, but then you keep going back to explore and discover and your head forms its own patterns and themes.

These aren’t objects. These aren’t randomly selected. Each element is meticulously chosen – sometimes involving longtime searches.

He describes his effort obtaining just the right red delicious apples (so realistic you think they are actual fruit), for his piece, “Legacy of the Red Apple,” (2016). He had two heads that he fused into one, like Siamese twins. Why apples? “In the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge had fruit.”

Artist RJ Rosegarten with Gold Coast Arts Center Founder/Executive Director Regina Gil and his piece, “Legacy of the Red Apple.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

He can tell you the provenance of each object in the piece – where he obtained the silver head in “Sarah Silverstone Presents” and how it took a long time before he found just the sunglasses he wanted for the piece, how the drawer it is assembled in came from a factory (the writing is on the side). He sees Sarah as a person, referring to Sarah as “her”. Indeed, the two gauges and thermometer evoke her personhood, even symbolically.

There is a story behind every piece – about how I got there, where the pieces came from – can tell you where every piece came from – glasses – looked for it a long time – looked for a long time where to put – fit on Sarah – gauge, knew where it would go – design them, lay them out, do not glue them, leave for a week, come back and keep looking at them, move around, put pieces in/out, then glue, last stage – once glue, sign name, over – can’t go back and say I wish I put a ball in there.

“Sarah Silverstone Presents,” by RJ Rosegarten © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Sarah Silverstone has a twin sister,” he says, explaining that he bought two of the metallic faces. “Sarah represented to me the absolute woman, a sexy woman; her sister is so sexy, every time I pass her, I talk to her, ‘Hope you have a nice day.’”

He has the same personal connection with the “Wizard of Odd” and the “Thought Collector”.

The personal connection is manifest in his work, Dorzi/Dorzi, built around a vinyl record, but not just any 1950s 45rpm. His friend made the label to suggest it was made by the Bobby Randall 3 band. You learn that Bobby Randall, he explains  was non-ethnic name Rosegarten was going to use when got out of college and was going into advertising. (He was discouraged from changing his name by his grandmother.) There are 3 hands – for the three band members, in a pose as if they are snapping their fingers to the beat.

Dorzi/Dorzi by RJ Rosegarten © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

His grandmother and grandfather appear again in small photographs that are embedded into a series of four “Junk Drawer” works.

Junk Drawers may look like a hodgepodge, but are not random, he says.

“I visualize what junk drawers have,” he says. “Everyone has junk drawers – in bedrooms, kitchens, desk drawer, basement.” He chooses the items that fill the drawers (which he builds) independently, and over time, lays them out and photographs them. “Then I take everything out and glue back the items one by one.”

The Junk Drawer series each has a photograph of grandmother and grandfather at Rockaway Beach.

One of the boxes has a plastic Howdy Doody figure, while another has the Princess character from the show. He says he goes for colors, shapes and looks for holes.

“It’s not nostalgia,” he insists. But as he knows the provenance of every piece – some have personal connection, like the photos of his grandparents and a John Lennon/Imagine photo.

“Every time you look, you see something else.” Or actually, you “find” something new.

RJ Rosegarten with one of his “Junk Drawers” © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

But looking at the items, it is hard not to become nostalgic as you find items that spark memories of your own past. The Junk Drawer series and his Americana series are like mini-Smithsonians of American cultural icons of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and so forth.

Rosegarten says he loves making the Junk Drawers and would customize for someone on commission. “I would go to your house and if you didn’t have the elements I wanted, I would ask if I could use some of mine.”

The pieces he chooses are specific – he combs particular shops (he has his favorites for manikins in the Garment District), antique stores, flea markets, garage and barn sales, which “are entertainment in the country and have become an essential part of my new work with found objects. One day I might find a rusted scythe with a broken wooden handle; the next day a box of glass dolls’ eyes or a red View-Master. I put the material in labeled boxes and store them to be rediscovered.

“When I select objects for a new composition, I may sit with them for days, moving them around like pieces on a chessboard until they take shape. Placement and balance are key. I remove pieces; add others, balancing shadows, shapes, textures and color until I know instinctively that the work is completed: the new composition has taken on another dimension, a unity of its own and gained strength and character.”

RJ Rosegarten with one of the Americana series on view in ‘Lost & Found: the Art of Assemblage’ at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rosegarten, who grew up in Great Neck (he graduated high school with movie director Francis Ford Coppola), now lives “in the country” in upstate New York, in a house he built 17 years ago where he has a 30 x 30 ft studio off his bedroom that opens to a deck and pond, and a 2500- sq ft basement work area.

His collected objects are neatly organized in labeled tubs under tables – machine parts, metal parts, extra toys, manikin hands.“Everything has a place, a place for everything.”

Often, he visualizes the entire piece in his head before he starts his assemblage.

“I just finished a piece Thursday. It doesn’t have a name (or does it have a name): The Quick Brown Dog Jumps Over the Lazy Fox. Why? Because part of the visual – a box,with 2 white hands, at the top has the keyboard of a very very small typewriter –a  vertical piece, a piece at bottom, a nodule on top hands,. The sense of design is perfect. It was in my head.”

“I never went to art school, except for a month at the Art Students League, Bruce Dorfman, teaching there since early 60s – he said, push the envelope. It’s ok if off-center, if you don’t have anything there and want it to sit there.”

Indeed, it is so ironic considering that most people move to Great Neck from New York City because of the public schools, that his big regret is that when his family was still living in the Bronx, he was accepted into Music & Art, but before he could attend, his family moved to Great Neck.

“I should have gone to Music & Art. I would have had an art background and the chances are I would have gone to Pratt, School of Visual Arts, or Cooper Union.” He said his father was not keen on Rosegarten going into advertising, but had he had an art background, he would have been on the creative side, instead of a “suit.” “I would have been more Don Draper than the account guy.”

He was doing painting until 1990s, then, around 2000, he went to an antique show on 6th Avenue and came upon wooden patterns which were used to make metal parts in the early 1900s. “I bought 20 of them –they were inexpensive – I didn’t know what I would do with them. I washed them off, That’s when I started.“

It fit into his overarching philosophy of reuse, repurpose, renewal – “an ability to use things that have been tossed away and have them come back and serve another purpose – Lost and Found (is what I call it). I’m not interested in what is sold in dollar store but things that have age, patina, character. Snapshot” is built around an antique folded camera and tractor parts.

“I take individual pieces that by themselves are utilitarian and they become a “body” – a personality. Each has its own personality.”

Two in RJ Rosegarten’s “Americana” series © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit also includes Rosegarten’s paintings, which have the look and vibe of Pop. “Just as I have reinvented myself a number of times in the past 30 years, so too has my art undergone a metamorphosis. Over the last ten years, it has moved from post-Pop paintings to a more muscular sculptural medium, where form and design take precedence over color.”

Regina Gil, Founder/Executive Director of the Arts Center, writes in her introduction to the catalog:

In this latest chapter of his creative life, RJ Rosegarten draws upon the rich fabric of his imagination, strong art and design skills, and solid knowledge of carpentry that lets him execute what he already sees in his mind fully formed. And the results are impressive.

“Here is a man who grew up in a small town, absorbing all the qualities of civics, ethics, and community values that one associates with such an upbringing. He married young, had three sons and led the life of the American Dream. He even went on to work in the advertising world; that fabled Madison Avenue bastion of the creative idea sellers; but not as an artist, as a ‘suit’. So, without knowing it, he was adding to his arsenal of skills by including leadership, salesmanship, and public speaking to his repertoire. But he was fascinated by and engaged with the artists and designers.

“When he left advertising, he became a beloved and respected mayor of that same town, bringing his love of the town and business acumen to the job. He demonstrated that the world of politics and government were new fields on which he could impose his creative eye. As a result, the town grew and he was elected and re-elected time and again.

RJ Rosegarten’s paintings and assemblages are on view at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island through March 12 © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It was only when he left the town again, retiring from public life that he began to fully realize his longtime dream of being an artist in his own right. And he is an artist in the fullest sense of the word. Not only are his technical skills the very best; but his thoughts, ideas and vision are on display, inviting the viewer to enter his carefully constructed world; challenging the viewer to understand his point of view, to embrace it or to disagree.  A lifetime of thinking and living, of humor and wit, of deep, serious emotion and also of playfulness; the full range of the human experience in a construction of wood and found objects.

“As a longtime friend, I am delighted to see RJ ‘Bob’ Rosegarten come home to Great Neck. Without his friendship and assistance, mentoring another dreamer through the shoals of politics, fundraising, and community engagement, it is doubtful that this Gold Coast Arts Center could have found its home here. It seems fitting that we honor him with this exhibit that introduces the people he served as mayor to the man he is now —  the artist.”

“RJ Rosegarten, Lost & Found: The Art of Assemblage” is on view through March 12 at The Gold Coast Arts Center, 113 Middle Neck Rd, Great Neck, NY, 516-829-2570 or www.GoldCoastArts.org.

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Day into Night at the Pushkar Camel Fair & Festival of Brahma, India

Negotiating at the Pushkar Camel Fair © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The “Jungle Book” Wildlife Safari and Cycling Adventure chapter of our Royal Expeditions trip to India ends, but a new story begins when we leave our hotel in New Delhi, again in the darkness before dawn, to take a six-hour train journey to Pushkar in Rajasthan for the annual Pushkar Camel Fair. In many ways, this immersion into a centuries-old tradition transports us into the pages of Rudyard Kipling’s 1895 book even more tangibly than the game drives into the jungles of Mowgli and Shere Khan. See:‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Into Tiger Territory of India and ‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Through Local Villages of India’s Kanha National Park and continued with Pench National Park, India, is the Real Locale for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’. Was Mowgli Real Too? and Tiger, Tiger! On Safari in India’s Kanha National Park

 

The Pushkar Horse and Camel Fair and Festival of Brahma takes place over a 10-day period in October/November every year, timed to take place during one of Rajasthan’s holiest festivals; the exact date varies on the western calendar but always falls during the full moon of the Indian lunar calendar month of Kartik. Pushkar is the only place in the world where Lord Brahma, the Hindu God of Creation, one of the Holy Trinity, is worshipped. A place of pilgrimage, the camel and horse fair developed out of this massive annual gathering.

The fair is a kaleidoscope of color, a swirl of motion, a cacophony of sound, unexpected up-close encounters (as with a camel), the crush of crowds.

Camel cart, Pushkar Camel Fair, India © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the greatest spectacles anywhere, in my mind the Pushkar Camel Fair is a combination of state fair, carnival and pilgrimage with a smidgeon of circus thrown in. There are snake charmers, musicians, dancing horses, magic show, ferris wheels. You can buy anything and everything – household items, decorative reins for camels and horses; street vendors selling drinks made from sugar cane, merchants selling every manner of goods from stalls and from blankets sprawled out on the road.

Traveling by Train

Our trip to the Pushkar Camel Fair starts with a fantastic six-hour train journey from New Delhi, enhancing the movie-quality of the experience.

We speed through the streets from the Sheraton Hotel, dark and amazingly vacant at 5 am compared to the chaotic snarl of traffic we navigated through when we arrived the evening before from Kanha National Park, flying from Jabalpur to New Delhi.

We pull in across from the train station and out of nowhere, fellows appear who will porter our luggage (on their heads) to the train. We follow briskly after – going through the airport-style security that we have come to expect at every hotel – and are immediately grateful for their help when we realize how we have to climb up stairs to a bridge that takes us to our track. We have time to wait – there are hundreds of people who have basically camped out on the platforms.

Our train departs just after 6 am. A porter comes through our first class car with newspapers, then tea and coffee, and then breakfast (the omelet was very good). Our Royal Expeditions guide creates a WiFi hotspot for us.

Our guide who will take us around the fair, Thurka Durga Singh, comes aboard and begins orienting us to what we will see at the fair. He is a regal looking gentleman, descended from the Warrior Class, who carries himself with grace and dignity. His voice is sonorous, and I soon discover, he is very much a poet and a storyteller, steeped in India’s traditions and culture.

Durga Singh © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, as he would describe himself, Durga “is a keen observer of history, culture, religion, current affairs, and is a bank of knowledge so vast that he has a point of view on anything under the sun. He is what one could call a modern traditionalist, actively seeking the use of modern technology and methods to support the principles of traditional living. The inquisitive can have endless conversations with him on a number of his projects like rain – water harvesting, biogas plant, solar heating and, even, healthy cooking.” It only takes a simple question for him to launch into an entrancing narration.

“Before trains, buses, cars, all citizens traveled by animals – camel, horse. From the 11th to the15th day of the waning moon, pilgrims would come by the thousands on horses and camels from near Delhi to have a holy day. A fair developed. If you come during the first eight to 10 days of the Pushkar Camel Fair, you see more animals; in the last three days, there are more pilgrims. (Indeed, Dugar had just come from guiding a horse-riding safari to the fair.)

A horse trade underway at the Pushkar Camel & Horse Fair, India © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rural farmers still use camels and horses as work animals and the Pushkar fair is one of the biggest camel, horse and live-stock fairs possibly anywhere, attracting buyers and sellers from all over the country, as well as visitors from around the world. At the peak of the fair, there might be 11,000 camels and 400,000 people coming from far and wide, dressed in their traditional and regional clothes. For days before the fair and after, you can see herders driving their camels and horses along the highway.

Seller grabs his buyer by the hand to pull him into the tent where negotiations can happen away from prying eyes © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

”At the fair, everything is everybody’s business. Our sense of privacy is different. Eavesdropping is a custom of the fair. People standing around give their unsolicited opinion – ‘Good horse’.” (We actually find ourselves doing this exact thing). “Now the deal is getting serious. Now the seller and the buyer don’t want others giving opinion. They clasp hands to clinch deal. Now bystanders have even more curiosity. ‘What is it your business?’ ‘I just wanted to know.’”

An ancient tradition is that when the horse is sold, it is never given with reins “because that would declare he would never have that horse again. So the buyer puts his own reins on [you can see stands that sell decorative reins.] Then the seller has money and gives a little money back, to get the horse extra food, a parting gift to the horse.

“In the western mind, business is business, there is no sentiment [recall the expression: It’s business. Not personal.]. In the Eastern mind, it is etiquette to offer tea. A Westerner would feel obligated to buy, but not an Easterner.

Getting closeup view of camels at the Pushkar Camel Fair  © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He gives us a tutorial on the different types of camels and how they are still used as work animals and why the reputation of camels as being mean and spitting isn’t really fair. One kind “can go sunrise to sunset, 60 km and has more stamina than horse. It can go without water for weeks.  Camels live 26 years; 4-16 year olds work, 16-24 year olds still work but not as hard. Five minutes before it drops dead, it still doesn’t refuse work, then it drops dead.”

I ask how much a camel costs: a young camel, 2 ½ years old (they start training and work at three years old) might cost 14,000-15,000 Rupees ($205-$220); a grown, trained camel might cost 55,000-100,000 rupees ($735-$1500).

“The camel is God’s blessing to us. It browses, eats species that others don’t, like the thorny bush. He doesn’t compete for food, but he is plow, car, tractor.”

But things are changing, he says. Alas, “Young people don’t want to be stuck with an animal. They prefer a tractor…. It’s likely the Pushkar Camel Fair will disappear in 10 years.”

In India’s cash economy (they don’t use credit cards or checks), there may be 15 million rupees in cash at the fair, in bags, clothes. “There are no locks, no safes.” So men wear a vest that has a hidden pocket and put a shirt over that. “A man may have 1 million rupees and no one knows. He can’t be pick-pocketed.”

The state must collects its tax, but since there are no written records of transactions, the tax department charges a flat rate when people enter the fair.

A whirl of motion at the Pushkar Camel Fair © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year, is unusual, he says. We are there just as the Modi government without warning canceled the 500 and 1000 rupee bills in circulation that are the basis for an economy that still runs on cash.

“The Fair has gone into a difficult time. There are many unsold animals, owners sitting desolate. They spent money to buy the animals but have no money to bring them back. Many will leave the animals behind.”

We should also look out for the camel’s haircut. “They decorate their camel like fellows decorate their motorcycles. You wine and dine the barber – it can cost 2000-3000 rupees. The Barber used to make lovely design – a lotus flower – but the Barber has gotten quite old, he is about to go to heaven. He made peacock design; an Islamic barber makes a geometric pattern. Now you see a Sikh shearer from Punjab who works fast.”

Farmers used to collect the camel wool to make rugs, sacks; “Now nobody collects.” Well at least one group does, who we come upon in the market, Camel Charisma.

Acquiring a horse at the Pushkar fair © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

He bemoans the disappearance, one by one, of traditions (“20 years ago, women would sing folk songs. No more: girls go to school now and don’t learn folk music”).

If you come during the first eight to 10 days of the Pushkar camel fair, you see more animals; in the last three days, there are more pilgrims. “Now pilgrims come in jeeps, buses – groups of pilgrims, in different dress.”

He paints pictures of what else we will see, and lo and behold, when we arrive at the fair later that afternoon, we see for ourselves exactly what he has foretold:

“When you go to cinema, you eat popcorn – well, for desert people, sugar cane is big – trucks and trucks of sugar cane come in from the neighboring state of Pradesh.” We see stalls (a little like cotton-candy machines) crushing sugar cane into a juice add lemon and ginger.

Traditional food at the Pushkar Camel Fair © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We will see the “normal” food of the Indian countryside. “Who goes to the countryside? Hunters, nomads, pilgrims and animal trader and armies. They have to cook and eat in countryside. So they will collect dried cow droppings for cooking fuel (it’s free) [but you can actually buy cow dung patties on Amazon, I’m told] to prepare balls of wheat flour, served on a plate made of leaves.

“You light up a cow dung fire. When the fire dies down, you roast bread on the embers. It’s clean because after a half-hour of cooking, the cow dung is sterilized. Stores sell this round chat-patti fried wheat bread. It’s street food. The village pilgrims relish this food.”

The camel fair also involves a sprawling market (like a flea market), with all manner of goods for sale.

Interesting people at the Pushkar Camel Fair © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

He also alerts us that we can photograph regular people –they don’t take money – but there are also “professional” photo subjects – they dress like in various costumes and you are expected to pay 100-200 rupees to take a picture (kind of like the naked cowboy in Times Square).

He warns us that “skunks” spoil the visit for Indians and foreigners. They solicit money – “Mafia like” =saying they want to take you to the lake. Tell them ‘We have been to the lake.”

He says he will take us to the roof of a restaurant to see the lake and watch the rituals.

The beauty of the fair is its randomness, a kaleidoscope of colors, a swirl of activity, he says. “No guidebook will tell you this aspect.”

His narration has made the hours spent on the train fly by. Before we know it, we pull into Ajmir.

Ajmir, A Holy City

We arrive in Ajmir and once we are underway in our van for the half-hour ride to Pushkar, Durga has us join in reciting a Hindu blessing, since Ajmir is one of the holiest places for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains.

The story goes that when Sati died, Shiva cried so much and for so long, that his tears created two holy ponds – one at Pushkara in Ajmer in India and the other at Ketaksha, which means “raining eyes” in Sanskrit.

One of India’s first cities, Ajmir was the Chahamana capital ruling all India until the defeat of Prithviraja lll in 1192 when the city came under Muslim rule. And when India was under British rule and divided into 526 Maharajah states, the Viceroy, the direct link to the British Crown, was based in Ajmir.

Religious ritual underway in Ajmir, holy to several major religions © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ajmir also has one of the most important Sufi shrines, “next to Mecca and Medina, one of the holiest for Muslims.”

Moinuddin Chishti, an important Iman practicing the Sufi form of Islam, came to Ajmir from Iran, developing a large following, and gaining the respect of the residents of the city. Chishti promoted understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Sufism is a Muslim movement which arose in the 8th-9th centuries, whose followers seek to find divine truth and love through direct encounters with God. Sufis, Durga explains do not believe that nonbelievers are infidels (like the more extreme Wahabis). Every individual is God’s children. Music is an important part of worship, connecting worshippers to the divine. He has as much a following among Hindus as Muslims. Many Muslims live here.”

In some ways, it seems Ajmir is like Jerusalem in that it is the confluence of these different religions.

During our brief ride, Durga explains reincarnation, predestination and freewill (no mean feat), connecting reincarnation to Darwin. “Darwin talks of physical evolution, Einstein of the soul transfiguring. There is a zero balance account when you are born – that’s free will. Now you start creating your karma; that brings you back again and again. The aim of life is to go back to the Godhead, to break the cycle of birth and rebirth.” Reincarnation, rebirth and nirvana, he says, is not that much different than Christianity’s belief in resurrection and heaven. “There are many commonalities.”

Free will and destiny are not contradictory. “Destiny is that you find a note, then free will is what you do with it. You receive your past and create your future – that is the secret of happiness. In the East, there is no place for guilt” because actions have repercussions in future life.

As for why cows are sacred, it basically comes down to a very practical reason: people depend on the cow. “The cow was revered before it became holy.” We see cows with their horns that had been painted for the Diwali Festival.

Pushkar Camel Fair © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We make our way slowly through a snarl of humanity, traffic cops doing their best to organize. Because of the traffic during the fair, we are led the long way around, traveling around the lake and over Nag Pahar, the Snake Mountain, separating Pushkar from Ajmer. We don’t mind at all because we get to see more of the city and landscape.

Coming into Pushkar, we bypass the entrance to the fair – it is wall-to-wall people, since it is toward the end of the fair now mostly pilgrims as opposed to camel and horse buyers – enroute to the Royal Tents, a luxurious tented camp set up by The Royal Jodhpur Camps specifically for the fair, where we stay.

Royal Jodhpur Camp provides luxurious accommodations at the Pushkar Camel Fair © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Royal Jodhpur Camp is set up as a traditional “shikar” style camp: at a time when only royalty was allowed to hunt, these camps were set up to accommodate them. Ours consists of rows of elegant and luxurious twin bedded tents with verandahs with deck-chairs in front and attached bathrooms with running hot and cold water (even a shower), set out over an expansive sandy plain. There are electric lights, an electric heater, rugs on the ground. There is also a spacious Mughal-style dining tent and a recreation tent which serves as a lounge.  It is set on expansive private grounds surrounded by rolling mustard fields in flower and rocky hills, a walk or camel ride away from the fair.

It is the ultimate in glamping. We can tie a triangular flag to a rope outside the tent to signal if we want service (room service, hot water). We can order coffee delivered in the early morning.

We feel much as the royal entourage who would come on hunting expeditions and stay in these elaborate camps. The operative word is “royal.”

Royal Jodhpur Camp © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Indeed, The Royal Jodhpur Camps actually has a family connection to Royal Expeditions, the tour company that has organized our Jungle Book Wildlife Safari and Cycling Adventure and this extension to the Pushkar Camel Fair, Jaipur and Agra. Royal Expeditions was founded by a royal family of Jodhpur related to a Princess who also served in Parliament and as India’s Minister of Culture, and the Royal Jodhpur Camps is her brother’s enterprise. It makes it all the more fantastic. And like our other accommodations – the Pench Tree Lodge and the Kanha Earth Lodge during our time doing wildlife safaris in the national parks – it enhances our Camel Fair experience.

We have a superb lunch in an enormous dining tent (complete with ceiling fan), before setting out for our visit to the fair.

Day into Night at Pushkar Camel Fair 

Durga has timed it so we arrive at the fair in the afternoon and will be here after dark, to get the full color and atmosphere.

Ferris Wheels light the night at the Pushkar Camel Fair © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Soon we are caught up as we watch a transaction for a horse, just as Durga foretold we would during our train ride: “At the fair, everything is everybody’s business.” And just as he described, we watch a fellow eyeing a horse. And just as he described, soon we find ourselves chiming in as if it is our business, “Oh, that’s a fine-looking horse.” And just as Durga had described, moments later, the seller grabs the customer’s hand and pulls him inside the tent, where he most likely will be plied with tea so the negotiations can commence out of the gaze of prying eyes and gossipy critics.

The vast, bustling market at the Pushkar Camel Fair © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Durga leads us through a vast market with just about every item you can imagine for sale: shoes, scarves, household items; saddles and decorative reins and leashes for the camels and horses.

We see albino horses for sale, which Durga says are used for weddings. He introduces me to Bakshu, a prominent horse breeder he knows from Gudrash, and Raika, a professional camel breeder.

We pass by a tent where there is magic show on our way to the market.

Worshippers jam into a temple on a hilltop above the market at the Pushkar Camel Fair © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He takes us to what is probably the most distinctive shops at the fair, Camel Charisma, where you can buy paper out of camel dung; scarfs form discarded camel hair (and silk), 2500 R ($36), fresh camel milk, camel milk soap and just about anything you can imagine from camel. We taste chai made of camel milk. He takes us to his favorite textile stall (I’m still kicking myself for not buying an embroidered wool wrap for $25).

He takes us passed temples, jam-packed with worshippers, to where we can go to a rooftop to look down on the holy lake and the religious rituals underway. We watch as the sun sets, the lights come on and a super moon rises over the Pushkar Lake.

Temple of Brahma, Pushkar Lake, © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Pushkar is the only place in the world where Lord Brahma, the Hindu God of Creation, one of the Holy Trinity, is worshipped. The Brahma Temple, which officially is dated from the 14th century but is believed to be 2000 years old, is set on the lake, and during the night, lights of changing colors come on. In the distance, on a hilltop, we can make out the Savitri Temple, dedicated to Brahma’s consort, Savitri, but to visit involves an hour long trek uphill.

Rituals at Pushkar Lake © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Around the lake are numerous bathing ghats, where thousands of pilgrims take their holy dip in the sacred waters of Lake Pushkar, as religious chanting and pealing bells resound. We get to peer down on these activities from our perch on the roof, watching people gather around open fires.

We make our way back through the market and the carnival, now lighted up and festive, with five giant ferris wheels looming over the fair. We pass a crowd watching a dancing horse.

When we return to the tented camp, where we have a marvelous dinner (with Sula champagne!).

Dancers, musicians at the Royal Jodhpur Camp © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We comment on how good the papadom is – a seasoned dough made with mung bean flour fried or cooked with dry heat. “In my grandmother’s day, they used to invite women for lunch, sing, everyone came with a rolling pin, they would sing and make the papadom and put it out in the sun to dry,” Durga says.

There is a fireeater, musicians and dancers to entertain us around a bonfire.

I return to the fair the next morning by myself. Durga has arranged for the driver to pick me up at 7 am. As we pull up, I watch as a hot air balloon rises over the fair. (Hot air ballooning is a relatively new adventure activity in India and the desert state of Rajasthan is the most popular place.)

The bustling market at the Pushkar Camel Fair © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I get to the fair and just wander around – I am one of a scant few Westerners at this point. It is amazing to me how busy it is even this early in the morning. There are only a few camels left for sale and I watch what looks like the end of a transaction.

Leaving the fair, I see pilgrims arriving in open-back trucks, and in trucks that have been outfitted with bunkbeds.

Durga has told us that it can take 10 days to travel from Agra with the camels, and that we will see people in their camel carts traveling along the highway, as we drive to our next destination, Jaipur. And we do!

Camels being led home along the highway from the Pushkar Camel Fair   © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In Jaipur, we learn more about this regal gentleman and his family, when we visit his boutique guesthouse, Dera Mandawa – his family’s century-old estate which, back in the day, accommodated dignitaries when they visited the Maharajah. The family lost their property and position when India nationalized such estates in the 1949, and families like his were forced to turn their estates and palaces into commercial enterprises or see them torn down. Instead of the path of a warrior as his ancestors would have taken, Durga has been involved in tourism for 35 years. (www.deramandawa.com) 

For more information, contact Royal Expeditions Pvt. Ltd. www.royalexpeditions.comtours@royalexpeditions.com, or Royal Expeditions’ North American representative: kiki@wanderlustportfolio.com, 720-328-8595.

See also:

‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Into Tiger Territory of India

‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Through Local Villages of India’s Kanha National Park

Pench National Park, India, is the Real Locale for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’. Was Mowgli Real Too?

Tiger, Tiger! On Safari in India’s Kanha National Park

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Tiger, Tiger! On Safari in India’s Kanha National Park

In the last moments of our last game drive, we see not one but two tigers – male and female – at Kanha National Park in central India © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Our Royal Expeditions ‘Jungle Book Wildlife Safari and Cycling Adventure’ in central India began with our experience cycling through villages and the wildlife sanctuary, itself. See:‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Into Tiger Territory of India and ‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Through Local Villages of India’s Kanha National Park and continued with Pench National Park, India, is the Real Locale for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’. Was Mowgli Real Too?)

It is approaching 5 pm, the final moments of our fifth and final game drive in six days of exploring India’s Pench and Kanha national parks, famous for tiger. So far, though we have seen amazing animals, birds, insects, the ultimate prize of a tiger sighting has eluded us. I have new appreciation for how elusive they are, particularly with the massive amount of forest territory and the fact they tend to be active before 8:30 am, then settle down in the jungle, coming out again in the evening in this season which is approaching winter.

I have also come to suspect they have also figured out the schedule for our safari vehicles which announce our coming with loud rumbling sounds.

The light is fading. This entire drive hastily arranged in Kanha by Royal Expeditions because none of us had spotted the tigers after the four scheduled game drives so far. Nara, our naturalist/guide from Taj Safaris, is laser-focused on finding a tiger for us. We have already gotten to see most of the animals for which these parks are famous – it has been thrilling to see them in such close proximity (I even got a brief sighting of a leopard!). But we have yet to catch even a glimpse of the star attraction: the tiger.

Langur mother and baby monkeys in Kanha National Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We have seen and followed tracks left on the sandy road; listened to the “alarms” sent up by the black-faced langur monkeys (that look like wise men) that provide our guide and naturalist the best clues as to the location and movement of the tigers. The scene is quite fantastic, in fact, when one guide gives a scouting report to another, and we all tear off at great speed.

But we have yet to have the luck of being in exactly right place, right time to view.

We only have 2 hours this afternoon, so he races to get to the most likely territory known for tiger – it takes 20 minutes to travel there from the entrance gate even driving so fast, bumping on the rough road and holding on tightly to the railing in the open vehicle, the park is so vast. It is quite a thrill ride.

Kanha National Park is a bird-watchers delight © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Periodically, especially where the trails cross each other, he stops, turns off the engine, and just listens. Sometimes there is just complete (eerie) silence, but soon a fantastic cacophony jungle sounds come into focus. We hear various bird calls, which Nara identifies for us, and we find ourselves searching the trees and the sky, contenting ourselves with shooting photos of fantastic birds.

Nara and the park guide examine prints in the trail – and can tell how long ago they were made, whether a male (more rounded) or a female (more rectangular and pointed).

It is just after the rainy season, so the forest is thick, verdant and cool (actually cold in the morning); but in the intense summer heat and drought, the forest becomes dry and brown and the tigers come out to water holes (some made by the park) more predictably. So while the conditions are generally more pleasant this time of year for viewing, sightings are trickier.

Nara and the park guide who is assigned to us confer. We move on.

If we meet up with another jeep (there aren’t as many in this section of the park), they share intel, sometimes strategizing.

Whenever he stops, Nara explains his strategy for finding the tiger, based on its patterns, which is really insightful.

Other safari goers we chance to meet during our drives- particularly where we stop for breakfast – tell of their luck. A British woman makes us jealous when she shows photos she snapped off a tiny point-and-shoot camera of a mother tiger with her cub, while we are there armed with our superduper DSLRs and 300 and 400 mm lenses, with nothing to show.

Starting the game drive in Kanha National Park as the sun rises © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The best time to see the tiger is either very early – moments after arriving in the park (when I chance to spot a leopard on a ridge), or late in the afternoon. The park doesn’t open before 6 am, so we head out from the lodge by 5:30 am (they send us off with hot coffee and tea and biscuits, plus a blanket and hot water bottle for the safari vehicle), and it can take 40 minutes waiting at the gate in the surprisingly cold air, before we are processed, assigned a guide and a zone in the park, and allowed to enter.

So we race to get to some spot that our naturalist and guide believe has a good likelihood for spotting tiger. Of course, along the way and throughout our tour, we see an amazing array of animals and the guide patiently waits for us to take our shots before moving on, imparting information about the various animals we see. The landscape is really beautiful, and in the morning and afternoon light, dramatic. You never know what you will spot or when, so it is constantly thrilling – you are literally hunting (with a camera).

Barasingha (swamp deer) were endangered in 1970s when there were only 66 left but at Kahna, they made breeding pairs and are repopulating © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the first couple of game drives, we all were a lot more casual, so spent a lot of time with the langur monkeys, rhesus monkeys, the jackals, the wild dogs, the wild pigs, the spotted deer and the swamp deer, and the myriad birds, not to mention the insects and trees that prove quite fascinating. But as we realized our window of opportunity for seeing the tiger closing, we were a lot more single-minded in that pursuit, rushing passed scenes of animals we had already seen before.

The naturalist and guide who accompany us are earnest to the point of frantic to succeed for their tourists. “Until people see a tiger, they can’t relax or do other things,” he tells us.

So when they get a hint of a tiger, they race with unbelievable speed, even dashing in reverse (hold on!) despite how crude the road (more of a trail) to get to a spot. Sometimes so many vehicles converge in both directions no one can move (this is particularly the case on a day that school and scout groups have come out by the dozens) – but the driver manages somehow to maneuver with tremendous skill.

This happens repeatedly with no sightings (which is why you will typically organize 3-5 game drives during your visit).

But here we are, at 5 pm, when Nara picks up on the alarm sent up by the langur monkeys. He says a steady alarm means the tiger is moving; intermittent means the tiger has stopped.

It’s our last game drive, hastily arranged by our tour company, Royal Expeditions (no small feat since permits have to be applied for in advance), our last chance. We follow the ‘alarm’ sent up by the monkeys. When their calls are not continuous, Nara can tell that the tiger has stopped moving, and calculates that it is in the middle of the forested area.

Nara has to guess which direction the tiger will move. After about 10 minutes waiting and listening (while we happily shoot photos of birds gathering in trees above us), he picks up again and goes to the last best spot, in the direction of a meadow with tall grass that leads to the water.

Several vehicles are already parked there and in an instant, excitement:

“People lose their minds when they spot a tiger.” The naturalist tells us. The drivers, also.

A female tiger crosses the road just in front of our safari vehicle in Kanha National Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just then, the tiger emerges from the forest and crosses the road, just a few feet from the vehicle ahead of us – but we aren’t in great position to see and I am thinking how ironic this is to finally be where the tiger is, but not to actually see it.

But Nara is not to be thwarted. He maneuvers our vehicle through this enormous crowd, going off the trail into the thicket, to get us into a good position.

Meanwhile, we are holding on in open vehicles, trying to snap shots before the tiger disappears again into the forest growth.

I snap, snap, snap – get a shot (I am thinking it isn’t great, but a shot nonetheless, but actually, afterward I see I got more than a few) –before the tiger disappears into the woods.

Nara moves the vehicle again and lo and behold, the tiger remerges from the wood, now crossing the road directly between our vehicle and another one, to a grassy area on her way to the water. Amazingly, a male tiger emerges and walks after her.

On the last game drive in Kanha National Park, in the last moments as the light fades, a tiger! © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most of the other vehicles have already headed out because it is literally closing time and the drivers are fined if they are late to the gate. But Nara stays. We get shot after shot as the light fades to dusk. I’m lucky, standing up on the highest perch, to get some shots of both tigers together.

I shoot frantically, not knowing how many moments I will have. I can’t even take the time to check if my setting is right. I’m going on instinct. I fight between needing fast exposure and high ISO to compensate for fading light, the darkness of the woods, and the tigers’ motion, and fear I might actually be overexposing.

Getting the shot of the tiger in Kanha National Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By now, we are the only vehicle still remaining. We watch as the female sits in the grass, looking back at the male as he approaches her. It is quite a scene.

Finally, Nara says we have to leave and he tears off at great speed to make it back in time, while we are giddy with our good fortune: We saw not one, but two tigers!

It’s an intense, thrilling feeling. I realize I have barely taken a breath.

The game drives have been fascinating. It is thrilling to not know what you will see, or when. Then momentary, serendipitous flashes.

Seeing the animals in their habitat, all sorts of questions and considerations come to mind.

And the landscapes are just beautiful.

Kanha’s Abundance of Animals

It is remarkable how this short distance away from Pench National Park where we spent the first three days of our “Jungle Book Wildlife Safari and Cycling Adventure,” the ecology changes so much. The Kanha forest (“jungle is the Hindi word for forest) is much thicker, and because of the higher elevation, is much cooler. The Kanha National Park spans nearly 2000 sq km (only one-fifth open to tourists), and currently has an estimated 49 tigers.

Setting out in safari vehicle through the jungle of Kanha National Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Instead of a teak forest like Pench, this forest is mainly sal – a wood that was used for railroad ties; three kinds of bamboo (bamboo gets flowers only once in its life, then dies), the saga tree (the tree, with bark that looks like crocodile hide, is worshiped by the people who harvest water from it to drink when necessary); and the Mahua tree (the flowers are made into a liquor which is a big money-maker for locals. “People only collect the flowers that have fallen from the tree, which drop after midnight, to make liquor. If animals eat the flowers, they also get drunk – that’s why you might see a drunk monkey.”

The first evening at the Kanha Earth Lodge, where we stay during our time here, there is a slide presentation by the naturalist about the animals in the park”

The male spotted deer (chital) has antlers to attract a female. “He will put grass into the antler to look more handsome.” (I actually saw one which had managed to find some blue plastic string for decoration).

Male spotted deer finds some blue string to decorate his antlers in order to be more alluring to a female © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This park also has sambar (Asia’s largest deer, it depends on its sense of smell, but will foolishly go right up to a tiger to smell it); the Indian Muntjac (barking deer), which is only found in a bamboo forest. We even get to see all of these, including the Barasingha (swamp deer) which was endangered in 1970s when there were only 66 left (it only gives birth to one baby a year, but at Kahna, they made breeding pairs and are repopulating).

There are also wild pig; gaur (like a big bull with horns), jackal (they can get drunk eating the Mahua flowers; dhole (wild dogs; only the alpha male and alpha female are allowed to mate); sloth bear.

There are more leopards than tigers, and unlike the tigers, are not endangered.

Leopards are sly, he tells us – they eat dogs, goats on periphery (that is, in the villages). They can climb trees so have more food options (monkeys) and hunt at night (which is why they are harder to spot during the day). “They call the leopard the ‘Ghost of the Jungle’ because one minute you see it and the next, disappears.”

Meanwhile tigers are more discriminating about mating – the male can mate with three females (depending upon food) and if the female he wants to mate with has cubs, he will kill the cubs in order to mate with her.

Sunlight filters through the branches in Kanha National Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are up before dawn for our first game drive in Kanha, which is supposed to be our last (we’ve had three in Pench National Park so far).  It is quite an experience to be at the park as the sun rises, and we head out on these dusty dirt roads with the red sun in our face, mist on the meadow, and later, as the sun filters through the trees.

We are so earnest to spot tiger, we tell our naturalist/guide not to bother with the breakfast gathering, but that we want to spend as much time as possible in our hunt to see the tiger.

He thinks there is a sighting and speeds off, frantically. There are five jeeps doing the same thing, one driving backwards at a furious pace.

Then we all stop still. Listen. A hand signal, and we all take off again.

A young cub crossed road, the guide announces. We missed it.

We hear an “alarm” from the langur monkeys and speed off again, bouncing, rocking,

No tiger. But we content ourselves with a sighting of White throated kingfisher  and a gathering of hard ground swamp deer found only in Kanha – a female and one young male (with just the beginning of antlers) and two babies (as adults, the males stay separate from the females).

Munna  ©2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we leave the park, we actually meet Munna, the park guide for whom the park’s famous tiger was named. “Munna” means “small child” and the fellow never liked the name very much. He had a limp, and the tiger was injured and had a limp, so they named the tiger “Munna” also. “After a tiger was named after him, he didn’t mind his name.”

On our way driving back up the forest road to the Kanha Earth Lodge, I spot the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo – the bird I have been dying to photograph – and our guide pulls over. We become engaged in chasing after this bird, then another, then a staggering array of birds: a scarlet minuet (male), a black-hooded Oriole, a Lesser Golden-backed woodpecker – more birds in this small area than you might see in an aviary. He tells us it is a hunting flock.

While seeing leopards or tigers might be the brass ring, just being on this carousel is sheer delight – the number and variety of animals we see at close range, the birds, even the insects are fascinating.

Drongo © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Kanha National Park Kanha, one of the first tiger reserves established by India under Project Tiger (1973), is also one of India’s largest National Parks, encompassing nearly 2,000 sq. km of deciduous forest, grasslands, hills and gently meandering rivers and home to literally hundreds of species of animals and birds. Prior to this, the whole area was one enormous regal hunting ground, its game the exclusive preserve for high-ranking British army officers and civil servants seeking trophies for their colonial bungalows.  One vast plain where we see a herd of deer used to be a village of 500 people, who were relocated when they created the park.

Deer, Kanha National Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This picturesque reserve presently boasts of having large tiger population, as it has the ideal habitat. The meadows (called maidans) are surrounded by thick forests that create ideal grazing spots for the hundreds of chital deer, barasingha and sambar deer, which means they are ideal hunting ground for tigers, leopards, jackal and wild dogs (all of which we get to see). Kanha offers the last remaining habitat of the hard ground barasingha (swamp deer), which was brought back from the brink of extinction (which we get to see). During our visit, we also get to see many of the other animals that live here: wild pig, Rhesus Macaque, Langur monkey (my favorite). I think I even got a glimpse of a gaur (Indian Bison) before it retreated into the woods.

Other animals that are here but we don’t get to see include sloth bear, striped hyena, muntjacs (barking deer), chousingha (four-horn antelope), jungle cat and mongoose.

This diverse landscape also supports more than 250 species of Indian birds including migratory species. The Indian jungle fowl, which is the ancestor of domestic hens, is common here.

Crested Hawk Eagle © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

For bird watchers and photographers, Kanha’s diverse landscape also supports more than 250 species of Indian birds including migratory species, a mind-boggling number we actually get to see during our brief time: Green Footed Pigeon, Pygmy Woodpecker and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher. Little Minivet, Scarlet Minivet and Long Tailed Minivet can be seen at Parsa Toala grasslands. Resident common raptors as the Crested Serpent Eagle, Crested Hawk Eagle, Crested Honey Buzzard, White Eyed Buzzard, Shikra and Common Kestrel can be sighted hunting and nesting in tall trees.

Kanha Earth Lodge

My villa at Kanha Earth Lodge © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Like the Pench Tree Lodge which we enjoyed during our time at the Pench National Park, the Kanha Earth Lodge (www.kanhaearthlodge.com) enhances our safari experience. It is also an ecolodge made of all natural materials that is stunning in its design that blends so perfectly without adverse impact on the environment, uses local and traditional art (there is even a fellow who paints tigers), has its own organic garden and a lovely swimming pool, a stunning lodge (WiFi available in the office), and each night, offers fascinating presentations by a naturalist about the wildlife and the national park, while serving appetizers.

The dining room reminds me of a castle, actually, with the stone and wood, vaulted ceiling, candelabra and local artwork.

Dinner by firelight at Kanha Earth Lodge © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One evening, dinner is served outside in a garden by firelight. The food –and presentation – is superb.

The service is impeccable, which you note immediately with the staff on hand as our van pulls up, with moist towels and a refreshing beverage. The lodge supplies coffee and tea and bottled water in the rooms. When we leave for our game drives at around 5:15 am, they have coffee and tea and biscuits on hand, blankets and even hot water bottles for us in the jeeps.

The room is actually an entire villa, with massive living spaces and has its own patio that faces out to the forest.

In the evening, with the turn-down service, they provide a hot water bottle, and we are told that our rooms are inspected for possible intruders which might have hidden away in dark places.

The lodge is located away from a very busy tourist area – you feel you are in the national park – but very close to villages and farms, so you feel very much a part of the local culture. At night, we hear drumming of a festival.

Kanha Earth Lodge is located among villages and farms that surround the national park © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Both ecolodges (only operated October to June) that we enjoyed are part of Pugdundee Safaris (www.pugdundeesafaris.com), which operates six ecolodges (Kings Lodge and Tree House Hideaway in Bandhavagarh; Denwa Backwater Escape in Satpura; Ken River Lodge, Panna; as well as Barahi Jungle Lodge in Chitwan, Nepal) as well as wildlife safaris, which means a kind of seamless quality.

For more information, contact Royal Expeditions Pvt. Ltd. www.royalexpeditions.comtours@royalexpeditions.com, or Royal Expeditions’ North American representative: kiki@wanderlustportfolio.com, 720-328-8595.

See also:

‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Into Tiger Territory of India

‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Through Local Villages of India’s Kanha National Park

Pench National Park, India, is the Real Locale for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’. Was Mowgli Real Too?

Next: The Pushkar Camel Fair

 

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Pench National Park, India, is the Real Locale for Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Jungle Book’. Was Mowgli Real Too?

What luck: first morning, spotting a leopard at Pench National Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

(Our Royal Expeditions ‘Jungle Book Wildlife Safari and Cycling Adventure’ began with our experience cycling through villages and the wildlife sanctuary, itself. See: ‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Into Tiger Territory of India and ‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Through Local Villages of India’s Kanha National Park)

Royal Expeditions new “Jungle Book Wildlife Safari and Cycling Adventure” is set in the land of Rudyard Kipling’s fantastic tale of Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves, and his nemesis, Shere Khan, the tiger. During the course of our six days at Pench National Park and Kanha National Park, in central India,  we see many of the characters that populated his story and the landscape (“jungle” is the Hindi word for forest) in which they thrived. And much to my amazement, I learn that there may be some truth to the fantastical adventure.

Over the course of our six days – three each at Pench and Kanha – we are scheduled for four game drives, and I soon realize why you need multiple chances if your goal is to spot a tiger: they are really hard to spot.

Safari vehicle sets off at sunrise into Pench National Park in pursuit of a tiger © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Even without spotting a tiger, each game drive is its own adventure – the landscape of verdant, forest, the serendipitous encounters with animals not even a stone’s throw away, with nothing between you and them. And never knowing what you will encounter and when, or what’s beyond the next bend.

The “hunt” is thrilling: the way the guides track the tigers, looking for tiger tracks in the sandy trail, stopping where the trails cross to listen for “alarms” from the langur monkeys, or the signs of urgency from the herds of spotted deer (their tails go up when they are anxious). When the guides think they hear an alarm, they take off at fast speed, leaving us to bounce around and hold on to avoid being thrown out of the open vehicles.

Langur monkey sitting nonchalantly © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In all my years as a travel writer, this is my first wildlife safari, so the experience is completely new. I am told by my fellow travelers who have much more experience doing safaris in Africa (but never before in India), that there are certain similarities to the structure, the way you experience the animals, largely because of the topography, is very different.

The first thing that is surprising is how early we get up: 4:45 am for a 5:30 am departure, sending us off with hot coffee, tea and biscuits, in order to be lined up at the entrance to the park by the 6 am opening (we will have a full hot breakfast in the park at around 8:30 am, which is an experience itself). It is quite cold – we dress in layers and the Pench Treehouse Lodge gives us blankets (Kanha National Park, at a higher altitude, is actually colder and the Kanha Earth Lodge where we stay next gives us a hot water bottle along with a blanket).

Dramatic landscape in Pench National Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We line up with perhaps 40 other safari vehicles, while our driver (who is also the lodge naturalist) brings our permit (we have to be registered in advance) and shows our passports . We are assigned a park guide and one of four zones where we can explore (only 292 sq km of the 1180 sq km Pench Tiger Reserve is open to the public). Our vehicle comes from the lodge but when additional ones are needed, they hire locals who have their own safari vehicle.

Access to the parks is heavily restricted because they are already overrun with tourists – about 90% of them Indian people versus foreign tourists (and these are mostly British, with a smattering of Europeans and Americans).

Rhesus monkey, Pench National Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we enter, there is this incredible scene as we watch the orange globe of the sun slowly rising just in front of us and spreading its light through the moisture of the trees.

We are lucky on our first drive – my group gets to spot a leopard on a ridge poking out from bushes (the others in our group, in another vehicle, weren’t so lucky). The leopard is there for a few moments but I manage to get off some shots. Leopards are particularly hard to spot – they are called the “ghost” of the jungle – because they primarily hunt at night.

Breakfast served from the hood of a safari vehicle in Pench National Park © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Around 8:30 am, we gather at an appointed place for breakfast – a fantastic meal the lodge has sent along with sunny side-up eggs, pastries, coffee and tea, fresh fruits and juice – which we enjoy in an open area where we see the lake that separates the two national parks, and a vast open area where there is a herd of deer and an assortment of birds. (All the safari vehicles follow the same routine, stopping at around 8:30 am to provide breakfast for their guests.)

Continuing on, we spot a group of jackals – one has a bone in its mouth and makes displays of dominance.

We come to an area with langur monkeys (my favorite jungle inhabitant) – with black faces with defined, expressive features and silvery fur. One sits on a tree root, posing like an old wise man (Jack Benny also comes to mind). Later we find a group of langur monkeys together with a herd of spotted deer.

Langur monkeys and spotted deer are best of friends © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

“They are best friends,” Sagor Mahajan, our naturalist from the Pench Treehouse Lodge, tells us. There is a symbiosis between them: the langur sends down leaves and fruit from the trees for the deer to eat and sends off alarms when a predator approaches, while the deer are easier prey than the langur.

Great wood spider. The female is immense and eats the male after mating © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drive under a massive spider web with a giant wood spider (that’s its name, and for good reason– black and yellow stripes, perhaps 2-3 inches wide. Sagor tells us that the male is tiny by comparison and that the female eats the male after they mate (unless she has something better to eat). For once in my life, I am more fascinated than fearful seeing such a creature so close at hand.

Ghost Tree © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

He points out the “ghost tree” – it is starkly white, standing apart from the other trees. This tree changes color with the seasons– white, red, green; it gets its name because especially in the moonlight, it looks like a ghost walking in jungle, its tree limbs looking like arms flailing about wildly; the wood is used to make toys and musical instruments and the gum is used  as a laxative and as a thickening agent. “People used to eat the roasted seeds when they were hungry,” he says. He points out the “crocodile tree” – Saga- with bark that resembles a crocodile’s hide. “The tribe here worships the tree; if there is no water, they harvest water from the Saga tree.”

We come upon a pack of wild dogs – actually a rare sight – devouring a deer carcass. It is amazing to watch their teamwork: a couple stand like sentries, facing out, while the others tear at the carcass, switching off. Watching the dogs, I wonder why we don’t see more bones around – I learn that the bones are degraded by bacteria and fungus, taking about a year before they are reduced to nothing.

There are 60,000 spotted deer in Pench – the largest concentration in India – in fact, too many, we are told. But they provide the food source for the tigers, leopards and other predators.

Pench offers amazing bird sightings © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The profusion of birds is unbelievable: in the course of our visit, we see most of the “star attractions”: the Greater Racket-tailed Drongo (my favorite, a blue-black bird with two hanging tails); the White-rumped Shama, the Gold-fronted leafbird, the Indian Roller, the streak-throated woodpecker, the Changeable Hawk-Eagle, the Coucal (big bird, brown and green, red eye), peacocks (they sleep in trees at night; the male loses its feathers during monsoon, then grows new ones), the white-eyed buzzard, the Indian Pond Heron (also called “magic bird” , it looks white when it flies); green parakeet; Crested serpent eagle (feeds on snakes); the Rufus tree pie (known as a tiger bird because has the same colors); and the Red Jungle fowl (the first chicken in the world) and the Crested serpent eagle (feeds on snakes).

Sagor says he has personally spotted over 100 species in Pench; there are over 200 in the region.

It is amazing to me what an eye Sagor, our guide, has – he spots two tiny Indian Scops owls the exact color of the knot-hole in a tree, and stops the vehicle. We can barely see it.

He tells us that Pench, which is named after a nearby river and was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1983, has about 43 tigers. That they are methodical (something that helps poachers): they are out until about 8:30 am, then sleep until evening in the winter. They only live about 13-14 years.

Male spotted deer finds some blue string to decorate his antlers in order to be more alluring to a female © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Only 292 sq km of the 1180 sq km Pench Tiger Reserve is open to the public as Pench National Park, on the border of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra states, where a number of endangered species are protected. The tiger is the dominant predator here, The other predators include leopard, dhol (Indian Wild Dog), wolf, hyena, jackal and jungle cat. The prey species include chital (spotted deer), sambar deer, muntjac, gaur, wild boar, langur monkey and rhesus macaques. There is a rich birdlife with over 300 recorded bird species, including parakeets, hornbills, kingfisher, barbets, minivets, orioles, wagtails, and a host of raptors; the crested serpent eagle, crested hawk eagle and white-eyed buzzard. (Amazingly, we see most of these during our visit).

The Real Jungle Book 

On the way into Pench National Park for our morning game drive, as we pass villages, Sagor Mahajan, the naturalist from the Pench Tree Lodge, tells us that though this is land is the setting for Kipling’s Jungle Book, Kipling never actually visited here –it was his father who spent time here and inspired his son with his stories. But then Sagor shocks me by saying that the story could have had a basis in fact, of an actual boy brought up by wolves.

“There are two stories about Kipling: in the first story, Rudyard Kipling’s father visited often, loved it, and would narrate stories to Rudyard – that’s how young Rudyard Kipling was inspired, but never visited,” he tells us as we rumble along the road.

“In the second story: two British guys roaming around a nearby village learned of a story about a young boy who was rescued, who had been brought up by wolf pack. He couldn’t speak human, walk like a human, nothing about him was like a human. The boy was actually found and rescued, but he died two or three years after. Both of them wrote separate books about it.” Kipling, he says, likely read the stories.

This is utterly fascinating – but surely, such a fantastical legend must be part of that village’s folklore, passed down from generation to generation?

I’m intrigued enough to do my own research, finding an article in the Times of India by a reporter who did trace the original stories and visited the village.

In his article, “Did Seoni have a Real Mowli?,” Sumeet Keswani writes:

While Kipling’s was a work of fiction, it’s said to have been inspired by Sir William Henry Sleeman’s pamphlet, An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in Their Dens, which describes a wolf-boy captured near Seoni in 1831. Sleeman was a British soldier and administrator and is known for his work in suppressing thuggery. We found a mention of the wolf-boy named ‘Seeall’ in Mervyn Smith’s Sport and Adventure in the Indian Jungle, which describes his capture and behaviour in captivity. “I have reason to believe that he was the original of Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli,” the author writes.

Mowgli is still a “pervasive theme” in the district – there are caricatures on bus stands, an annual Mowgli Mahotsav, Keswani finds, but is not, apparently, a folk story that is widely shared.

“The only clue is talk about a cave on the outskirts of Kanhiwada, a village that finds mention in the original tale,” Keswani reports. But in his investigation, he could not find any local people to give credence to it.

“In the book, Mowgli may have been the target of Shere Khan, but today the tigers of Pench are the ones in danger,” he writes.

Wild dogs devour a deer carcass © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

While we don’t actually see any wolves, we do get to see a pack of wild dogs tearing apart the carcass of a deer, and over the course of our visits into the parks, see many of the animals that animated the Jungle Book characters. But after our three game drives in Pench, we have yet to see the tiger. But we still have our visit to Kanha National Park, where we go next.

Pench Tree Lodge 

My treehouse at Pench Tree Lodge provides the perfect ambiance and amenities for our Jungle Book Wildlife Safari and Cycling Adventure © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

What makes the experience all the more special are the accommodations: Pench Tree Lodge (www.PenchTreeLodge) which only opened in 2016, is literally a tree house, built of all natural materials, but with stunning design, local and traditional art, and every comfort and amenity you could crave. There are just six of these tree house accommodations spread over 16 acres.

Chef Pankaj Fulera of the Pench Tree Lodge shows his versatility and art © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a gorgeous dining lodge and the restaurant is headed by sensational chef, Chef Pankaj Fulera who was runner-up for Best India Chef) who is equally adept at traditional Indian cuisine as a fusion Continental (cooking classes and a tour of the kitchen can be arranged). Every dish is served with stunning presentation. The dining lodge has two different dining rooms, plus a lounge area.

One night, our dinner is served outside, under a tree that I have taken to think of as The Tree of Life. The atmosphere is breathtaking. We are there just as they are replanting the lodge’s organic garden, which supplies the kitchen.

Our tree houses have a balcony (mine has an enormous Mahua tree, the dropped leaves of which are turned into a liquor), and a stunning bathroom.

They both are absolutely perfect- luxurious, comfortable, sophisticated and gorgeously designed, but designed to blend perfectly with the environment, and support the local tribal people. They enhance the experience.

There is also a fantastic lap-size swimming pool (so much fun to swim and watch the green parakeets flying above).

Dinner served outside at Pench Tree Lodge © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Pench Tree Lodge offers impeccable service, which you note immediately with the staff on hand as our van pulls up, with moist towels and a refreshing beverage – cold when it is hot in the afternoon and hot when it is cold at night. You really get some of that vibe as if we were a royal hunting party (okay, we are out for photos, not trophies).

Our rooms are supplied with coffee, tea and bottled water (flashlights, too). When we leave for our game drives at around 5:15 am, they have coffee and tea and biscuits on hand, blankets in the jeeps.

From my balcony, I can see how Pench Tree Lodge preserves the rustic, natural landscape © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At the Pench Tree Lodge, between dusk and dawn, we must call for someone to escort us to and from our tree house (the lodge is, after all, contiguous with the national park, and I think it also has to do with snakes) and each tree house has a device that emits a high-pitched sound that can’t be heard by humans, that deters rodents from entering. We are warned that at night we might hear the sound of monkeys jumping on the roof and when that happens, I am grateful for the warning.

The dining lodge has two different dining rooms, plus a lounge area. (Cooking classes can be arranged).

One of the reasons Pench National Park is so popular with tourists is that it is the closest tiger park to a well-connected commercial airport in India -Nagpur is about 3 hours drive. Karmajhiri gate (where we stay at the Pench Tree Lodge) and Jamtara entrance gate of Park are at the furthest points, so get fewer visitors. More significantly, you really feel immersed in local life.

Apart from the wildlife, the Royal Expeditions “Jungle Book” tour also provides distinctive opportunity to experience rural life in India – the “soul of India” is in its villages, where 60% of the 1.2 billion people still live -and meet with local people who live in harmony with wildlife. Just how much in harmony? We see thatched, raised platform shelters so that the farmers sleep in their fields at night to guard against encroaching animals.

Women working in the fields in Pench © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

On our way back from our game drive in Pench, looking out over the fields being tended by farmers, Sagor Mahajan, our naturalist from the Pench Treehouse Lodge, tells us that the villagers here have lived here for generations – they are descended from people who migrated from South Africa in the 17th century.

I’m thinking how interesting that is, because of his description of the dragonflies we see,  Wandering Gliders, which, he says, migrate back to South Africa, taking four or five generations to complete the trek, the longest migration of any insect.

For more information, contact Royal Expeditions Pvt. Ltd. www.royalexpeditions.comtours@royalexpeditions.com, or Royal Expeditions’ North American representative: kiki@wanderlustportfolio.com, 720-328-8595. 

Next: Tiger, Tiger! On Safari in India’s Kanha National Park 

See also:

‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Into Tiger Territory of India

‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Through Local Villages of India’s Kanha National Park 

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Mount Snow’s First Ever Devin Logan Experience Provides Template for New Women’s Programs

Our intimate group participating in Mount Snow’s first-ever Devin Logan Experience (Devin Logan is second from left) © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mount Snow resort was abuzz – Olympic freestyle skiing silver medalist and hometown hero Devin Logan was back on the mountain where she learned to ski and compete. But what may not have been so obvious was the group of women trailing along with her.

I was one of the lucky ladies who got to hang with Devin during  Mount Snow’s first-ever “Devin Logan Experience,” a two-day women’s ski camp which Mount Snow hopes to be the model for future women’s ski clinics.

What is it like to hang out with an Olympic silver medalist? Well, if it’s a delightful person like Devin Logan, the freestyle skier who won her silver medal at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and now lives in Park City, Utah, back home at Mount Snow in West Dover, Vermont, to spend Christmas with her family, it is sheer fun.

Mount Snow’s first-ever Devin Logan Experience was designed as a laid-back women’s ski camp – instruction from Mount Snow’s top female instructors – with all the extras of a ladies’ outing (fine dining, a massage at the NatureSpa at the Grand Summit Hotel, VIP access to lifts, parking, ski storage). We skied with Devin, enjoyed fantastic meals with her (at one, she brought her medal so we could hold it and pose with it if we wanted), picked up some warm-up exercise tips from her, met her Mom and boyfriend, Travis Jayner (the short track speed skater who was on the 2010 US Olympic Team in Vancouver, winning bronze in the 5000 meter relay with teammates Apolo Ohno, JR Celski, Jordan Malone and Simon Cho).

The other ladies in our intimate group were long-time Mount Snow season passholders – from Long Island, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey – whose kids and grandkids  have come through Mount Snow’s various academies, training and development programs and some who have gone on to competitive skiing and professional sports as well.

Barbara Hyde, one of the ladies who joined the debut Devin Logan Experience at Mount Snow, with her granddaughter, who grew up skiing and competing with Devin Logan © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Barbara Hyde, for example, who wanted to be called “Granny,” boasts three generations who have been coming to Mount Snow. Barbara says that she only learned to ski at age 21, when she met the man she would marry who was an avid skier, so she had to become one, too. But her kids and grandkids were able to start skiing at a young age and have become serious in the sports.

Her granddaughter, who joined us for some of our time, is a friend of Devin’s from being in the same Mount Snow development program and competitions, but her competitive career was cut short after an injury; now she is going to school to become a sports psychologist, she tells me.

On our first morning, after checking in for the program, we all headed up the mountain to ski together  for First Tracks, before the lifts officially opened at 8 am (okay, I was rusty – this was my first time out this season while the other ladies had already had several days) for a few runs before breakfast together in the lovely ballroom of the slopeside Grand Summit Hotel.

Then we were back on the slopes for more runs, with Devin and some of Mount Snow’s ski pros.

Watching Devin ski is a marvel and an inspiration. “She’s like a rubber band,” says “Granny” (aka Barbara Hyde).

When the group got to the Carinthia area – the East’s top-ranked park and one of the largest in the East taking up a whole mountain face, 100 acres and offering 97 features (and counting, since they add new features almost daily) – Devin demonstrated a few of her tricks. It’s clear that having access to such a facility set her on her path, which you can see replicated in the development program for young kids.

To Mount Snow regulars, Devin is a hometown hero – you should see the expressions on the youngest kids’ faces as they were getting ready to get on the lift for their training programs, when they recognize Devin.


Stopping for ski pointers during the Devil Logan Experience at Mount Snow © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The program is designed as a Women’s ski clinic, and the pro of Mount Snow’s pros, Maureen Drummey, stopped periodically on the mountain to give us pointers and techniques. “Visualize your foot as part of the ski,” she tells us at one point. “Visualize you have no bindings,” she says at another (an excellent thought in the larger scheme of things).

Hanging With Devin

Back at lunch, it was interesting to chat about how Devin got to where she is.

Devin Logan with her Mom during Mount Snow’s Devin Logan Experience © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Devin is originally from Oceanside, Long Island. The youngest of five children, she started skiing at age 2, joining the Mount Snow competition program at age 6. She said that she had been traveling around to competitions with her mom to watch her two older brothers and her mom told her if she was going to watch, she might as well be competing.

“I had to keep up with my older brothers” who today are professional extreme skiers and filmmakers, she tells me.

She moved with her Mom to West Dover to train more intensively when she was 13. “I wanted to take my ski career to the next level.”

She progressed through racing and moguls before moving on to big air and then halfpipe and slopestyle. She’s a double-threat, competing in both halfpipe and slopestyle (she missed the halfpipe Olympic team in 2014 by one spot, the Olympics where she won her silver in slopestyle, but hopes to make both teams for 2018).

D-Lo” as her friends call her, not only has an Olympic slopestyle silver medal, but five overall AFP titles (including 2016), an X Games silver medal and dozens of times on the Dew Tour, World Cup and Grand Prix podiums.

Devin Logan good-naturedly models her silver medal in freestyle skiing from the 2014 Olympics in Sochi (we get to hold it, too) © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She brings her silver medal so we can hold it, pose with it (it is really bulky and heavy). Clearly she has brought it around a lot because it has a surprising number of knicks.

Just being with her piques my interest about her sport. Does she watch the other competitors and decide to throw in a different trick in order to win more points?

I learn that in slopestyle, you don’t win points for specific tricks, as they do now in figure skating, where each element has a certain value (a change in scoring that was meant to overturn the extreme subjectivity of judging).

I ask if there is pressure to throw in some extra trick to get extra points, and she explains, “You are constantly innovating. There are seven features on the course – rails and jumps – different options. You can take a different route, mix and mingle, make your routine to your standard, make it unique – there are no guidelines of tricks. You do what you like but you cater to judges.  Every course is different – when you see the course, you devise your routine.

I ask how she acquires new skills. Is there is a lot of painful trial and error before you nail a new routine?

She tells us that she learns new techniques on the trampoline and water ramps. “There are steps to take to build confidence, know you can do the trick. It’s about confidence and muscle memory.

There is also air-bag training on snow – where they cut the half pipe and put an air bag.

“There’s no room for error on the half pipe. There’s only so much room to land. It’s the same take off, but you land on an air bag.”

I ask whether she modifies her routine in competition after seeing other competitors, in order to score higher.

She says that unlike many of the other competitors, she likes watching the other competitors “so I know what I have to do.” But they get to see each others’ tricks during training so they know what they are up against.

Unlike figure skating, where each element has a point value, in freestyle, the tricks are n ot individually scored – the whole performance gets a ranking.

Devin’s story follows several other Mount Snow alums, like Eliza Outtrim, an Olympic mogul skier, who has been on the US ski team for 10 years and came in 4th at Sochi.

Devin Logan’s silver medal for freestyle skiing from the 2014 Olympics at Sochi, showing the knicks of taking it out frequently to inspire others © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s a credit to Mount Snow that several Olympians have emerged from the development programs here, a testament, too to the facilities.

Indeed, Carinthia, which is now the top-ranked terrain park in the East, originally was its own ski resort which Mount Snow acquired. It takes up a whole mountain face – 100 acres – with 97 features.

“The size of the park, the caliber of the park, turns out great athletes,” says Jamie Storrs, Mount Snow’s Communications Manager.

And this great area will be getting even better: Mount Snow just got $52 million in funding which will go toward building a new 28,000 sq. ft. lodge at Carinthia (the current one will remain open during construction of the new one), plus 120 million gallon reservoir which will provide 200% more water for snowmaking than now and enable Mount Snow to have half of its terrain open on the first day of the season.

Mount Snow supported and sponsored Devin in those early years and Carinthia continues to sponsor her. And now Devin is returning the favor – one of the reasons she is part of this experience. She has organized a Silent Auction – ski equipment and such – with the money raised going to help a young skier with their travel expenses to competitions.

BlueBird Express bubble chair whisks us to the mountain top at Mount Snow in comfort © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Waiting at the Bluebird Express lift, a wonderful six-pack detachable chair with a bubble covering (blue plexiglass) to protect you from the elements as you whisk up to the top of the mountain, all the kids recognize Devin. Many of them are in Mount Snow’s Grommet program for 12 and under– that starts them learning how to ski freestyle and compete as early as six.

Devin was part of the program when she was growing up – winning it in 2003 and 2004. Today, there is the first of three Grommet Jams, where 100 kids, 6-12 years old from throughout the Northeast, get coaching and then compete.

Devin came by in the afternoon to meet with the Grommets, to show off her silver medal and provide inspiration and encouragement.

Devin Logan offers some tips during our Mount Snow Devin Logan Experience, designed as a women’s clinic © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I had a chance to see how these youngsters train during my visit to Mount Snow – it is really incredible, to see kids as young as six (or younger still), in their racing bibs with their coaches.

The 15-week seasonal development program is designed for skiers and riders 6 to 18 years old. Participants are matched with a coach based on their area of interest and ability level. One coach oversees a group of kids whose skills and abilities complement each other. The same coach works with them on a weekly basis, The Development Program provides the personalized attention of working with the same coach each session and the group confidence of learning with familiar faces. The program is also an environment in which the participants are able to have fun and form lasting friendships.

Our second day, we have time to get in a couple of runs before we meet up with Devin who shares some of her warm-up fitness exercises, and then are out skiing again before we come back in for lunch.

In the afternoon, we have the opportunity to ski with Maureen Drummey to pick up more ski tips and techniques.

Olympic silver medalist Devin Logan shows us lucky ladies how it’s done © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is template for future women’s clinics, possibly organized around other sports celebrities or sports figures associated with Mount Snow (several Olympians have come from here). It’s not just a ski lesson, but the casual camaraderie that makes it relaxed and fun, with an entire atmosphere created around the meals. (The relaxation massage at NatureSpa at the Grand Summit helps, too.) It’s an unusual turnabout for these ladies, who are more used to sending off their kids and grandkids into development programs.

Devin Logan demonstrates some warm-up exercises as part of Mount Snow’s Devin Logan Experience, designed as a women’s clinic © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Though each of them had been coming to Mount Snow for years, they had never met before, and now were exchanging numbers to meet up to ski together.

Most Southerly Vermont Major Resort

There is a good reason why there are so many season holders for generations from Long Island, New York metro area, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey: Mount Snow, the most southerly major Vermont resort, is the closest drive, just 20 miles off I-91.

Founded in 1954 by National Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame member, Walter Schoenknecht, today Mount Snow is owned by Peak Resorts which has invested more than $25 million in capital enhancements since the spring of 2007.

Getting in some runs on Long John at Mount Snow before meeting up again with the Devin Logan Experience. Mount Snow already had a great base of snow by New Year’s © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Mount Snow offers 589 skiable acres across four mountain faces, 1700’ vertical drop, snowmaking on 472 acres, 85 trails of which 12 are easy (green) including long rambling greens from the top, 54 intermediate (blue) trails, and 14 advanced/expert, glades, 10 terrain parks and half pipe. It’s an easy mountain to navigate (excellent signage which I appreciate) and 20 lifts.

Skiers are whisked up to the mountain top on the fast six-pack detachable Bluebird Express bubble, traveling the distance in absolute comfort no matter the weather, wind or blowing snow.

Enjoying outdoor pool and hot tubs at Grand Summit Hotel slopeside at Mount Snow © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mount Snow is designed as a self-contained resort with slopeside condos, the famous Snow Lake Lodge (a European style inn which affords incredible ski/stay value packages), and a gorgeous, slopeside luxurious Grand Summit Hotel with full-service NatureSpa, fitness center, outdoor heated, lap-sized pool (with indoor entry), two hot tubs, an arcade room, and restaurant with bar, plus ballrooms and meeting facilities, and lovely fireside sitting areas. The Grand Summit is steps away from the main base lodge and the Bluebird Express chairlift.

The Mount Snow regulars love the homey feeling.

Last season, Vermont had a dismal season for snow, so this season, Mount Snow is making up for it – slashing the price of its season pass which for the first time provides access to all six Peaks resorts that include Hunter Mountain in New York’s Catskills, Attitash and Wildcat Mountain in New Hampshire, Big Boulder and Jack Frost in Pennsylvania (see www.peakresorts.com/our-resorts).

(Other ways to save: the earlier you purchase your lift ticket, the cheaper it is; you can purchase at Liftopia.com as well as online at mountsnow.com. Also, the Snow Lake Lodge has unbelievable specials, as low as $69 for a ski-and-stay package that is essentially cheaper than a lift ticket.)

And by Christmas, the resort had already had more snow than all of last season, with a major dump expected to blanket the mountain in time for New Year’s.

Special Events

The Devin Logan Experience may be done for this season but Mount Snow has an ambitious schedule of special events, including January Learn to Ski specials. Also on tap:

Kid Vibe, Jan 8 – youth pay their age day (if under 18, pay whatever)

January: Learn to Ski

Feb 4-5- Season Passholder Appreciation Weekend  with fun events, giveaways.

Valentines Day – Cloud 9 Nuptials  on Cloud 9 trail where a justice of the peace is available for couples to renew vows and even get married (show up with a license).

Mar 24-26 Reggae Fest with reggae band concerts day and night; Pond Skim, Duck Tape Derby.

April 1- 9 Annual Winter Brewers Festival, followed by Glade-Iator mogul competition.

In line with these special events, there are also special pricing days: Discount on children’s tickets , 6 and under $10/day, 7-17, $70/day; Valentine’s Day when two lift tickets cost $59

And St. Patricks’ Day, March 17 with $17 lift tickets. Also, the “Sunday Sleeper,” where visitors can sleep in Sunday, ski 12-4 for $39.

More to Do 

There are regular concerts at the Snow Barn within Mount Snow as well as a lift-served snow tubing hill.

Just down the road, there are various restaurants (my favorite is The Silo, in West Dorset on Rte 100) and shops on the way to Wilmington six miles away.

And for some interesting things to do:

Husky Works Mushing Company offers dog sled adventures through scenic winter landscapes for ages 6+. (Reservations required. 9 minute drive from Mount Snow.  5189 VT-100, Wardsboro, VT 05355, 802-896-3478, www.huskyworks.com.

Adams Farm, a working 7-generation farm, has offered afternoon and evening traditional Vermont sleigh rides pulled by a team of heavy draft horses since 1980. Sleigh rides are scheduled days and evenings as well as special sleigh rides for Christmas Eve, New Years, Full Moons, and Valentine’s Day. Each sleigh ride lasts approximately 1.5 hours and takes you through the Vermont countryside to an old log cabin for hot chocolate and music by the woodstove. (Reservations are required and sleigh rides are weather-permitting,12-minute drive from Mount Snow, 15 Higley Hill Rd Wilmington, Vermont 05363, 802-464-3762, www.adamsfamilyfarm.com.

Mount Snow is a premier four season resort that offers extensive downhill mountain biking, golf at the acclaimed Mount Snow Golf Club as well as flexible wedding and conference facilities.

Mount Snow, 39 Mount Snow Road, West Dover, VT 053561, 800-245-SNOW, www.mountsnow.com. 

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

Judy Collins, Premiere Honoring Orlando Victims Among Highlights of New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at St John the Divine

The New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, titled “Light Shall Lift Us” culminated with the light of thousands of candles held aloft © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My favorite way to transition to the new year has been to attend the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace in the grand, awe-inspiring space of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. The music that fills its cavernous space with such pure, sweet sound, inspires contemplation, hope, and even calm against the uncertainty ahead.

The event is the most inspirational and life-affirming – such a contrast to the crassness of most New Year’s Eve festivities.

“Tonight is so important, as we pray for peace, because we renew our commitment to goodwill and hopefulness,” stated Reverend James A. Kowalski, Dean of the Cathedral. “We dare to believe again that mean spiritedness and division must not have the final word. We invite the Spirit of Light to empower and embolden us, as we cast off despair and cynicism, and reaffirm that we will choose fairness, justice and kindness over the shallowness and destruction of ‘winner take all’ or ‘to the victor goes the spoils.’ As global citizens, we pray that the world will also be drawn to that light. We acknowledge that we must do our part to brighten and represent that light – across faiths, cultures and geographies to build more just societies.”

Broadcast journalist Harry Smith at the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine: “Causes without participating is little more than idle fantasy.” © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“We come because we care about justice, fairness, poverty, morality… we care about peace,” said the broadcast journalist Harry Smith. “But what we know now is that caring about these things is not enough. Peace needs to be won, justice needs to be fought for, causes need to be championed, poverty needs to be abolished.” Desire and good intentions aren’t enough, he said. These causes need “our involvement; movements need a head; legislators need new members. ..Causes without participating is little more than idle fantasy,” he said, adding a jibe at those who did not vote.

Composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell, with Kent Tritle, Director of Music for the Cathedral, after their triumphant New York premiere of New York premiere of “Light Shall Lift Us,” dedicated to the victims and survivors of the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year’s concert was especially poignant, featuring a New York Premier of “Light Shall Lift Us,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell, a musical response to the tragedy that occurred at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016: the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. The inspirational work, which they dedicated to the victims and survivors of the massacre, was premiered June 16, 2016  in “One Voice Orlando,” a benefit concert Campbell helped organize with Opera Orlando. (A portion can be heard at youtube, https://youtu.be/YA9NozeWEcc).

I recalled sadly that last year’s Concert for Peace featured the world premiere of “Prelude and Spiritual for Mother Emanuel,” by  librettist Virginia Sirota and composer Robert Sirota, honoring the victims of the Charleston massacre.

Judy Collins, Artist in Residence, at the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Judy Collins, the Cathedral’s Artist in Residence, spoke and sang of her 50 year friendship and collaboration with Leonard Cohen, that began with his composition which has become so identified with her, “Suzanne” which she recorded in 1966. (She said he also encouraged her to write her own music.) It was kind of a tribute to all those lost this past year. (See youtube, https://youtu.be/3lQg5QKDWt4)

Then, in a nod to current affairs and challenges ahead, she “read” and sang a letter to Vladimir Putin that recalled her tour of Russia at the age of 26 and what she saw there, interspersing it with refrains of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” her sweet, melodic voice ringing through the cavernous cathedral. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5fFU-f35oE).

Collins finished by leading “Amazing Grace.” (see youtube, https://youtu.be/NJU2k3fsQ9s)

Jason Robert Brown, Tony-Award-winning composer and lyricist, performs a new composition, ‘Hope,” at the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Jason Robert Brown, Tony-Award-winning composer and lyricist, performed his “To Build A Home,” portraying an immigrant’s arrival to the heartland of the USA, from his musical The Bridges of Madison County, joined by soloist Elizabeth Stanley, who starred in the musical’s national tour.

Brown also performed a new composition, ‘Hope.”

The concert also featured the world premiere of a stunning choral piece, “Come, Lord, And Tarry Not,” from a new oratorio by composer Georgia Stitt, who played the piano and soprano Jamet Pittman and Randy Landau on bass.

Composer Georgia Stitt, at the piano, takes congratulations for the world premiere of her choral piece, “Come, Lord, And Tarry Not,” with Jamet Pittman, soprano © 2017 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music, began this year’s concert with selections from Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 6 in D Major, and finished with the optimism of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Gloria/Et in terra pax from the monumental Mass in B Minor, and the beloved gospel song “This Little Light of Mine,” led by soloist Jamet Pittman, to herald the coming of the new year.

The “Light Shall Lift Us” New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine culminated with the light of thousands of candles held aloft by audience members. © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The “Light Shall Lift Us” celebration – which is offered as a free concert (though general admission and reserved seat tickets are available) culminated with the light of thousands of candles held aloft by audience members.

Founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984, the annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace is a signature Cathedral event, for the Episcopal church which prides itself as being a “unifying center of intellectual light and leadership, embracing people from across faiths and communities. There are concerts and events throughout the year.

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine © 2017 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral itself is a marvel. Originally designed in 1888, with construction beginning in 1892, the cathedral has undergone radical stylistic changes and the interruption of the two World Wars. It started out in Byzantine Revival-Romanesque Revival style, but the plan was changed to  Gothic Revival in 1909. A major fire on December 18, 2001 caused the cathedral to be closed for repairs until 2008. It remains unfinished with construction and restoration a continuing process – which inside, only adds to the mystique of the place. It boasts being the largest Gothic cathedral, and may be the world’s largest Anglican cathedral and church; it is also the fourth largest Christian church in the world.

The cathedral houses one of the nation’s premier textile conservation laboratories to conserve the cathedral’s textiles, including the Barberini tapestries. The laboratory also conserves tapestries, needlepoint, upholstery, costumes, and other textiles for clients.

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue (at 112th Street), New York, NY  10025, 212-316-7468, www.stjohndivine.org.

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© 2017 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures