Safari on the Subcontinent

Wildlife photography is hard! That is something we learned long ago. But it is also extremely challenging and incredibly fun. One of our goals here in South Asia has been to see and photograph as much of the wildlife as possible.

Over the last year and a half, we have explored some of the regions best natural attractions including national parks, reserves, and remote wilderness regions. The explorations have been made on foot as well as by jeep, canoe, kayak, camel and elephant.

To recall our adventures, we have put together a pictorial, a sort of photographic trophy wall to share a tiny bit of the regions diversity with you. All of the animals included were photographed by us in the wild. Since we do not have a 600 mm lens and a fifty pound tripod, that is much more challenging than it sounds. While the big game may seem the most impressive, one shot in particular should be considered our ultimate trophy, the photo of the two camouflaged nightjars. Believe it or not, they were actually spotted by our guide from a moving jeep!

Bodacious TATAs

Indians love their TATAs. Throughout the developing world, the national car of India is big business. Until recently, most of that business was focused on the huge TATA trucks used for hauling big loads on some of the world’s worst roads.

But starting this summer, TATA is reshaping itself with the release of the TATA Nano. Heralded throughout India as the one lakh car (see article on lakh), the slimmed down version of the ultra compact Nano, which retails for around $2000, will make the dream of owning an automobile reality for many middle-class Indians. To many Indians, the introduction of the “common man’s car” represents a huge step forward for India and a shortening of the gap between India and the West.

But anyone who has visited India will immediately recognize a HUGE problem Continue…

Sikkim – Kingdom in the Clouds

Although Sikkim is not the isolated kingdom it used to be, with a fair number of Bengali tourists flooding the region, it is still an absolute stunner when it comes to nature. Alpine valleys, countless waterfalls and lush forests dotted with a multitude of flowers dominate the Himalayan landscape.

Due to its proximity to China, travel restrictions in Northern Sikkim allow foreigners to visit the region only as part of an organized trip. A forced semi-luxurious tour in a private jeep with prearranged accommodation and food so to speak. But we actually enjoyed it. I guess we were ready to just kick back and let somebody else do the organizing. And the fantastic group we were part of, made this trip a blast.

Follow along as we hit the road and the trails and make our way into Northern Sikkim with our travel companions Emelie and Carl from Sweden, Alok from Holland, and Ludolv from Germany. Check out Sikkim’s stunning scenery, Lachen and Rumptek monasteries, and enjoy the famous views from Pelling of the one and only Kangchendzonga, the third highest mountain in the world.

Kingdom of Flowers

Travel brochures and posters often refer to Sikkim as the “Kingdom of Flowers,” a very fitting title. As we mentioned in the last post, the flora is one of the main reasons we came to Sikkim. Although we have spent a total of almost 8 months in the Himalayas, up until now, we have missed one of its greatest spectacles – the rhododendron blooms. Forests filled with white, yellow, light pink, hot pink, purple, and fire-engine red rhododendrons. Add to that an unreal variety of orchids and a host of flowers I couldn’t begin to identify, and you’ll get the picture. It feels like a floral Galapagos!

Tongbaholic

My name is Tony, and I’m a tongbaholic.

Normally, I’m not a huge drinker, but it turns out that’s simply because I had never been to Sikkim. Tongba, also known as “chang” in certain parts of Sikkim, is a traditional hot fermented millet drink, which is fantastic. (Well, I think it is fantastic – not everyone agrees.)

The process of making the drink is half Continue…

Surprising Sikkim

Names such as Ladakh, Zanskar, Spiti, Mustang, Upper Dolpo, Guge and Sikkim, the isolated mini-kingdoms that run along the spine of the Himalayas, conjure up images of adventure and exotic Tibetan-inspired mysticism. Until the 1970s, most of these regions were completely off-limits to foreigners. Even now, many of these regions, including Sikkim, require special permits for foreigners to visit. For this reason, they are on the must-visit lists of adventure lovers everywhere.

Having been to many of these regions ourselves, we are well aware that the 21st century is quickly coming to the Himalyas – I have no illusions about their continued isolation. However, I have to admit Sikkim threw me for a loop. Driving into the tiny capital, Gantok, I was shocked to discover Continue…

Indian Nationalism

One of the biggest surprises here in India is the intensity of Indian nationalism. I’m always shocked when homeless people living on the sidewalks suddenly blurt out, “India is the greatest country on earth!” They mean it, they believe it. To Westerners, it’s baffling. Many Indians, even those struggling to survive, are thoroughly convinced of India’s greatness.

One college-educated, young professional we encountered proudly informed us that India would be the “world leader” by 2015. Thinking that he meant 2050, we asked for clarification. “No, no” he assured us, “India will lead the world by 2015. In six years.”

“How will it lead the world,” we probed, “economically? militarily? culturally?”

“In every way,” he assured us.

Baffling. But where is this coming from? Continue…

Glenary’s

What’s wrong with us? We are in the beautiful Himalayan foothills but instead of exploring the surrounding countryside, we’re exploring the baked goods assortment of Glenary’s Restaurant and Bakery right across from our hotel.

Completely ignoring the great views from the cafe, our eyes are, instead, fixated on Black Forest cake, banana nut muffins, chocolate covered doughnuts, and butter croissants – and that’s just Continue…

10 Highest Mountains

We’ve managed to get our first view of phenomenal Kangchendzonga, the third highest mountain in the world. Although we are still 74 km (46 miles) from the mountain, it looks massive towering over the valleys of Sikkim.

Seeing Kangchendzonga is also a milestone for Thomas and me. This means we have seen 8 of the top ten highest mountains in the world. The remaining two mountains, K2 and Nanga Parbat, are both located in northwest Pakistan, and we obviously won’t be heading there right now.

To celebrate the eight, we have put together our own pictorial list of the world’s ten highest mountains, respectfully leaving blank spaces for K2 and Nanga Parbat. We’ll get to Pakistan some day!

Darjeeling

Finally, we’ve moved out of the lowland’s scorching heat and have arrived by toy train in world-famous Darjeeling, Bengal’s former summer capital situated in the Himalayan foothills.

This household-name hill station surrounded by forests and tea estates, is not a secret hideaway though. Buzzing with Indian tourists shopping for Darjeeling tea and pashminas, the city is surprisingly hassle-free and relaxing. Why? Because we are Continue…