Tag Archives: biking in India

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

Cycling through a herd of cattle on their way home © 2016 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our 25 km cycling trip through the Forest Corridor sanctuary between Pench and Kanha national parks in central India – literally the locale for Rudyard Kipling’s 1895 classic “Jungle Book” –  is the most challenging ride of the aptly named new “Jungle Book Wildlife Safari & Cycling Adventure” offered by Royal Expeditions (see story). But the most colorful, scenic and interesting ride comes during our stay at the Kanha Earth Lodge (another fantastic ecolodge), alongside the national park, when we ride through villages and alongside farms.

Farmer in a field in Kanha © 2016 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

After an exciting game drive in the Kanha National Park in the morning (still no sighting of the tiger, though) and lunch at the lodge, we set out on a 14.9 km route that circles back to the lodge. It is a mix of road and single-track off-road (though the cars don’t drive on anything better), and involves some technical riding (sand, gravel, rocks).

What is so special about cycling is that it brings you into local communities, at a pace and perspective, perched on the bike saddle, to really see things, to be in the scene, not just a spectator looking through glass, and with the ability to stop, look around, and interact.


Welcomed into a home in Kanha © 2016 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Not too far from the Kanha Earth Lodge we come into a village, where our guide invites us into a home to see what it looks like on the inside. A father and son are there, looking a little mystified at this sudden intrusion. There are cows and goats in pens in a front courtyard (in this community, the animals are kept in front of the house and not usually in pens, as a sign of wealth and status, Vishal Singh, the managing director of Royal Expeditions who accompanies our small group, tells us). It is dark and spartan inside – there is electricity and a small, old television set. Most homes do not have indoor plumbing. There is a beautiful garden in the back.

We ride a little further and hear drumming so we ask to go inside and come upon a band of shepherds rehearsing with dancing and singing, getting ready for a competition that is part of the Diwali harvest festival underway.

A band of shepherds rehearse for a festival © 2016 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we set out to continue on our ride, we find ourselves going against a massive herd of cattle (with horns, no less) that fills the narrow street, with no choice but to bike straight through. The cows, it turns out are used to people, and as we come mere inches in front, turn slightly to make way for us. There is a shepherd at the back of the herd, but we are told that the cows find their way to their own homes for the night.

Biking through a village in Kanha © 2016 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

People cycle all over India, but not in the manner or style that we are riding, so we are curiosities. In fact, it is astonishing to see the loads that people carry with a basic bike, though scooters and motorcycles are extremely popular (and we’ve saw as many as four people on a motorbike). When you see people biking with a load of sugar cane or batches of wood or pipe on a regular bike – not the mountain bikes or hybrids with 24 gears that we have – it is awe-inspiring.

Scenes of the Kanha countryside © 2016 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

We become immersed in these scenes of everyday life and fields and farms: women are carrying massive loads on their heads, walking with the grace of a model in an etiquette school; men driving carts pulled by cows; school girls in their neat uniforms riding bicycles home (the government gives girls a bicycle when they matriculate to high school); a fisherman who has just returned with his catch.

Biking in Kanha © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Then toward the end of the ride, on a berm overlooking gorgeous rice fields on one side and a small lake with water buffalo on the other, trees along the border completing the picturesque setting as the sun begins to set, the Kanha Earth Lodge fellows set up a snack using the front of the jeep as a table – offer soda, coffee, tea, water, a kind of fried onion (tasty!).

We snack leisurely while watching people cutting down the rice stalks with scythes; others take huge clumps in yokes on their shoulders to great mounds growing ever higher with each new contribution, to dry before being threshed. Soon, a woman comes along who we had met in the village earlier, engages in conversation and takes photos with us.

Scenes of the Kanha countryside © 2016 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The sun is a blazing red-orange when we set out on the last leg on a sandy road. I get one shot just before it disappears into a line of clouds. As dusk sets in, the temperature becomes much cooler as we make it back to the hotel just before dark – greeted with a wash towel and refreshing lime juice.

Scenes of the Kanha countryside © 2016 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Photo tip: For biking, I use a Canon G16, a small point-and-shoot I can keep around my neck and pull out with one hand. It is remarkably fast and responsive, has a terrific zoom lens that is wide enough for landscapes, long enough for close-ups, has an enormous ISO range plus built-in flash if necessary, sensitive sensor that gives rich color, and has image stabilization. It also takes video. I’ve taken shots in horribly low light using the Automatic setting.

Market Day in Kanha 

The Royal Expeditions trip is designed to really immerse us in the cultural experience.

On our third day, we have a morning game drive at Pench, then lunch at the Pench Tree Lodge, then drive a couple of hours to Kanha National Park, which will be our venue for the next three days for game drives and cycling. The drive gives us a superb view of local life – Vishal notes that in India, “Daily life is lived in public” as we see a fellow brushing his teeth in the street. Vishal times the trip so we arrive in time for a weekly village market underway, just at the base of the forest road to the Kanha Earth Lodge.

Women carrying a load along the road © 2016 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Madhya Pradesh is dominated by tribal groups, remarkably untouched by development in other parts of India.  The differences in the tribal community, spread over various parts of the state, are based on heredity, lifestyle and cultural traditions as well as social, economic structure, religious beliefs, language and speech.

This is most apparent in the market. It is a swirl of color, sound and activity.

Merchants spread out food produce and wares on cloth on the ground – have their scales to weigh. They hawk their wares. People crowd around to buy. Cash money is exchanged. It is a kaleidoscope of color: the women in vibrant saris, the fresh produce.

Weekly market in Kanha © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Cows roam freely in the market- one snatches a potato from a pile and the merchant yells and reaches over to swat it with a switch to get it to move on.

We are here at around 4 pm and the warm light makes for gorgeous photos. Indeed, Royal Expeditions offers a photography tour that goes from village to village for their markets.

Weekly market in Kanha © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There are the photos I’ve seen in my mind –that I have wanted to take my whole life. The colors and contours of the bright saris against the brown fields, or the colors of the mud homes, newly painted in broad horizontal stripes – white and blue or pink or green – for the Diwali Festival, the Festival of Lights celebrating the last harvest before winter, against the field of bright yellow mustard (canola) flowers.

In these settings – even shooting from a moving vehicle and especially for wildlife – I use my new Nikon D500 DSLR with a 28-300 mm lens with image stabilization, which I find wide enough for landscape scenes, but close enough. The camera’s best virtue is how fast it responds, its enormous  ISO range (I even shoot village scenes at night as we drive back to the lodge). In general, its 20.9 megapixel CMOS sensor produces rich tones though I am still trying to figure out how to get the best exposure readings. It takes cinematic 4K UHD video and is WiFi capable. It is relatively light compared to other professional-grade cameras and fits ergonomically in my hand, which is a comfort when you are shooting for hours at a time.

Bangles for sale at the weekly market in Kanha © 2016 Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Royal Expeditions’ new “Jungle Book Wildlife Safari & Cycling Adventure” program combines all my favorite activities: biking, immersive cultural and wildlife experiences and photography.

It’s hard to overstate how unusual this trip is – the whole idea of being able to bike where wild animals can also roam, when people are not allowed to step out of their safari vehicles, normally. The trip is result of a creative insight as well as the tour company’s connections with the preserve officials to get the permits to bike into the sanctuary.

Indeed Royal Expeditions has royal connections: the tour company, which specializes in luxury, customized and special interest trips, was founded in 1993 by the Princess of Jodhpur, who served in Parliament and as the nation’s Minister of Culture (see http://royalexpeditions.com/)

Royal Expeditions has created an innovative “Jungle Book” itinerary that combines wildlife safari with cycling adventure through central India © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Notably, our trip, which covered about 25 km of the Forest Corridor, was immediately followed by a fascinating 160 km fundraising ride, produced by Tour Operators For Tigers (TOFT) along this same forest corridor that we traveled, linking Pench with Kanha national parks, where wild animals freely roam. Singh is a founder of the group which has about 150 members now. This year, about 20 people took part in the 4-day/3-night ride which raises money to hire local people as village guardians, providing them with smart phones so they can alert authorities to illegal poaching. But I see the ride as a major lure for cyclists from around the world because of its unique setting and challenge (the “road” is more of a mountain bike trail, especially so soon after the rainy season), as well as the opportunities to stay in guesthouses in these villages, not to mention the mission. “Authentic” doesn’t even begin to describe the experience.

Kanha Earth Lodge

My villa at Kanha Earth Lodge © 2016 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 the wilderness experience. It is 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 evening, during cocktail hour, the in-house naturalist offers fascinating presentations about the wildlife and the national park,.

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

Next: Tiger Tiger! On Safari in Kanha National Park 

See also: Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Into Tiger Territory of India

 

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© 2016 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

‘Jungle Book’ Cycling Adventure Into Tiger Territory of India

 

Cycling in India brings us alongside farms © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

When I signed on to Royal Expeditions’ new “Jungle Book Wildlife Safari & Cycling Adventure” in India, I couldn’t believe or even visualize the concept of cycling through a wildlife sanctuary populated with tigers, leopards, sloth bears, wild dogs, langur monkeys and jackals. And Royal Expeditions which devised this innovative, out-of-the-box trip, set in the same region as Rudyard Kipling’s beloved 1895 story, didn’t ask how fast I could ride (or, for that matter, whether I had any experience in single-track off-road biking). But here I am, on a rough cut, overgrown, rolling trail that serves as a forest corridor between the two national parks known for tigers – Pench and Kanha – where animals, including tigers, roam freely. This is confirmed when a naturalist who rides along with us points out tiger pugmarks (paw prints) in a sandy section of the trail we are riding.

Biking through the Forest Corridor linking Pench and Kanha National Parks in central India, populated with tigers, leopards, sloth bears, wild dogs, langur monkeys and jackals © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At one point, I find myself (inexplicably) well ahead of our group (which has as many guides, cycle experts and leaders as we tourists), including a jeep and a van loaded with supplies with snacks and our lunch that will be set up at the end of a ride in a guesthouse.

Here I am, in a stretch of high, dense grass that reaches up to my knee, with dense forest on both sides. I decide this isn’t the place to be alone – after all, the naturalist said that the tigers who live here (there are 8 who live in the corridor, and about 120 between the two national parks) are craftier, more intelligent, because they have less food (that is, not as many deer and monkeys to munch), that they take advantage of the denser forest growth to surprise their prey, and are less used to humans (which I take to mean less afraid of humans and I am not particularly reassured that tigers don’t like the smell or taste of humans – how do they know?). Putting that together, I realize I am the slowest prey around, so I ride back to meet up with the riders, recalling that old adage: you don’t have to be the fastest, just faster than someone else.

Sagor Mahajan, our naturalist from the Pench Tree Lodge, points out tiger pugmarks (paw prints) in a sandy section of the trail we are riding in the Forest Corridor © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That thought plays around in my mind, adding  to the adventure and sense of bravery – courage – that I’ve known only a couple of times in my life – that makes the exhilaration you feel after the ride- and not just from the physical challenge  – all the sweeter and richer. It’s a sense of personal triumph, of overcoming fear (of course, the danger was minimized by the safari vehicles which followed us and the guides who accompanied us, outnumbering our small band, not to mention we are here in mid-day when the scariest animals are least likely to be out and about and hunting. Still.

Fording a stream on the Forest Corridor ride © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

That 25 km ride proves the most challenging cycling of Royal Expeditions’ unique and creative “Jungle Book Wildlife Safari & Cycling” tour. Vishal Singh, who designed the trip, said it was more challenging than expected because it was so soon after the rainy season. But it is exhilarating and thrilling and totaling fabulous – that sense of actual adventure and physical challenge – that also includes crossing a stream (I chicken out and find a place to walk across rocks).

Most of the rides we take are challenging in their own way, but go through villages and past farms, giving us a unique perspective on local life.

The itinerary is set in the same region that provided the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book” which he published in 1895, in central India, cycling through the same jungles (the word is Hindi for “forest”).

Biking on the Forest Corridor between Pench and Kanha National Parks © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This corridor, we are told, plays an important part in the conservation of the tigers – by linking the two national parks, which between them have about 120 tigers, helps promote diversity in the gene pool, and provides protected habitat for their long-term survival. Other tiger habitats in India are fast becoming islands and there is little change in genetic pool of the tiger population. The landscape also supports diverse land use, and traditional forest dwelling tribal communities.

Our visit, we are told, also has the function of raising awareness among local communities of the part they play in wildlife conservation (indeed, just days after our visit, Vishal Singh is leading a 160 km fundraising ride that goes along the entire forest corridor linking Pench and Kanha, to supply locals with smart phones so they can alert authorities to poaching).

Time for a snack! Taking a break on our ride through the Forest Corridor © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A safari vehicle and van follow behind us (in case somebody can’t finish the ride). Every time we stop, a couple of fellows guys jump out, smartly dressed in their Pench Tree Lodge uniforms, and refill our water bottles, offer drinks in glasses, and offer snacks on a silver tray.

Our ride is accompanied by Sagor Mahajan, our naturalist from the Pench Tree Lodge, who stops along the way (as much as to give us a rest as to impart wisdom) to point out spiders interesting trees and plants, and tell us about work been done by conservation organizations to save this critical landscape.

The giant wood spider female eats the male after mating © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For once in my life, I’m more fascinated than afraid of these gigantic insects: he points to a funnel web spider which makes an elaborate funnel and lives inside; and a giant (really gigantic) female wood spider (the male is much smaller and the female eats the male after mating unless there is some better food available). He says they make bullet-proof jackets out of its web that is four times stronger than stainless steel. He points out Wandering Gliders – dragonflies that are the longest migrating insect, traveling from India to southern Africa, taking four to five generations to cover the distance; many bird species depend on the migrating gliders for food. As for how they know where to go? The wind temperature and humidity give them the direction and some suggest that the magnetic induction of the earth plays a part, like for sea turtles.

He points out lichen on a tree, which is a sign that there is no pollution in this forest (significant considering that while we are in India, New Delhi has had to close its schools because the air pollution is so severe); indeed, the clear, crisp air is one of the reasons so many Indian people escape to these parks for relief.

When we come upon tiger pugmarks, he shows us how to identify that it is male (more rounded toes), while the female’s is more pointed.

I learn that tigers are endangered while leopards are not, and it has a lot to do with the way they have evolved. Leopards can climb trees so have access to more prey like monkeys, and hunt mainly at night. A tiger male will only mate with a few females, and if she has cubs, will kill them in order to mate.

A village within the Forest Corridor © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The last 5 K of the 25K ride takes us through villages and passed farms where we watch people working in the fields, using scythes to cut down rice, and plows pulled by bulls. Our ride ends at the Sakata Forest Rest House, built in 1903 for the officers who patrolled the area (tourists can rent rooms here), where the staff of the Pench Tree Lodge sets up a fantastic lunch which we enjoy under a thatch-covered pavilion.

Watching the flow of everyday life © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We are among the first to do this cycling trip through this sanctuary – when you think about it, people are not allowed out of the safari vehicles otherwise, but here we are, on our bikes, or walking about with nothing between us and the wild animals who live here. Vishal Singh, the managing director of Royal Expeditions, who accompanies us on this trip, has used his personal connections (his company was founded by a royal family of Jodhpur and connected to a Princess who also served  in Parliament and as the Minister of Culture), to convince the officials who control the sanctuary to issue permits for our cycling adventure.

Biking through a village © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Some experiences are billed as “adventure” and wind up being as tame as a Disney themepark ride (though I have new respect for Disney’s Animal Kingdom safari ride). This really is adventure – even more than I had imagined it would be – actual mountain biking where we need to navigate rocks, sand, gravel, ruts, tall grass, descents and some climbs, and a small stream.

Lunch at a 1903 guesthouse, prepared by the Pench Tree Lodge is our reward after our 25K bike trip through the Forest Corridor between Pench and Kanha National Parks © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

After lunch, Vishal offers us the option of biking back along the same forest corridor – that is, 25K back, and this time, mostly uphill through the same high grass and broken, sandy and gravel trail. Not to mention it is already about 3 pm in the afternoon and it took about 4 hours to get here. We are really quite tuckered from what we have done, so everyone opts to pile onto the safari vehicle which has followed after us, along with the van that has been carrying the bike trailer (in case someone couldn’t finish the ride). We take satisfaction in the fact that it is even a difficult, rumbling ride back in the vehicle – and really can’t believe we did this by bike.

Pench Tree Lodge 

What makes the experience all the more special are the accommodations: My room at 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 (including a fantastic lap-size swimming pool (so much fun to swim and watch the green parakeets flying above). Meals, prepared by a sensational chef, Pankaj Fulera, (he was runner-up for Best India Chef and is equally adept at traditional Indian cuisine as fusion Continental, are served in a charming dining lodge where there are also lovely sitting areas. One night, they set up a dinner outside, under the boughs of a tree I call the Tree of Life, with firelight.

 

Our own treehouse at the Pench Tree Lodge © 2016 Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Pench Tree Lodge is located near the Karmajhiri gate into Pench National Park, which is gets a lot less tourist traffic and you really feel immersed in local life.

The forest region (“jungle” is the Hindi word for forest) is where Rudyard Kipling set his story of Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves, and his nemesis, Shere Khan, the tiger. During the course of our visit in Pench, which includes game drives into Pench National Park, we see many of the characters that populated his story and the landscape in which they thrived. Later, I learn that there may be some truth to the legend.

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

Next: “Jungle Book Wildlife Safari & Cycling Adventure” in India continues

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© 2016 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