A Staff Postcard from the Field: Wild Eyes in India’s Jungle

The huge, penetrating eyes, staring into mine through the low brush of the jungle remain my most powerful memory.  Perfectly set in the striped-moon of a face, the tiger’s eyes froze on me.  Simultaneously astonished and paralyzed by fear, my mind raced.

Could the cat clear the short distance between us in a single bound?  Would it want to?  Could the unarmed rangers protect me from harm?  But, by the next instant all thoughts were pushed aside as I was captivated by those giant golden eyes.

We had been looking for game for a couple of hours in a national park in India not known for tiger sightings.  With only 10 tigers in a 500 square kilometer conservation area, there is rarely human contact.  It was not among our expectations to even catch a glimpse.  We had seen forest and savanna landscapes, Indian gazelles, antelope, sambar deer, langur, macaque and an astonishing array of early morning birdlife.  We were heading in for the day, satisfied that we had seen what the park had to offer.

Then, from a quick whisk of a tail, our guide spotted the big cat crossing ahead of us.  We sped up and caught the large female as she was stopped dead in her tracks to have a look at us.  As humans rarely see tigers, tigers rarely see humans and we were both equally riveted.

Wilderness and India are two words rarely found in the same sentence.  However, those in the know recognize India as one of the world’s leaders in conservation of  wildlife and in successfully integrating human and animal communities.

Panna Tiger Reserve is one such place. Deep in the heart of the monsoon forest of the Deccan Plateau, this huge area has been set aside for the preservation of wildlife populations.  To experience one of these parks is to experience an India far from the teeming crowds – an India of bird songs, clear skies, crystal rivers and starry nights.  And, to just possibly have the moment of a lifetime staring deep into the eyes of a creature both mesmerizing and profoundly terrifying.  An unforgettable moment, indeed.

– Marilyn Downing Staff, Founder and President, Asia Transpacific Journeys

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Marilyn stayed at the Taj Safaris Wildlife Lodge, where she was able to experience luxury and extraordinary wildlife at the same time. If you want to see tigers for yourself, join our India – A Jungle Book Journey Small Group Trip, or customize your own India trip by speaking with an Asia Travel Specialist, 800-642-2742.

A Staff Postcard: Riding the Rails in India

India travel notes from Tom Lastick, Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Travel Specialist

Travel is my life and livelihood and my most recent trip to India was an adventure of a lifetime. I traveled on the maiden voyage of a new luxury train called the Maharajah’s Express. This is India’s first truly five-star train product and is comparable to rivals elsewhere such as the Eastern and Orient Express. They have a classic program linking Delhi and Bombay with stops at Agra for the Taj Mahal, the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and famous forts and outposts of Rajasthan like Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur. Their other program is a first-of-its-kind journey through the plains of central and eastern India linking Delhi and Calcutta with stops at Gwailor, Khajuraho, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and ancient Varanasi.

Tom Lastick

I was impressed with the train and the overall experience provided. There is also a romantic and nostalgic quality to India travel by rail. That said, I still prefer travel at a more leisurely pace and with more time to enjoy the destinations visited and the unique hotels and accommodation choices that abound in India. I feel the train is an excellent option for train buffs of course and also those that desire to cover a lot of ground and see a great deal in a relatively short amount of time. Both journeys on the Maharajah’s Express are one-week programs.

While in India I also had the chance to explore “off the rails” and search for the kind of new experiences we continually seek out as part of our mantra to provide “Journeys Beyond the Ordinary”. One such experience was an opportunity to wander the Dharavi Slum of Bombay, one of the largest slums in the world. This area was made famous as a filming site in the critically acclaimed “Slumdog Millionaire” and was also recently chronicled in National Geographic magazine. Wandering a slum might not sound so appealing, however the experience was one I will remember for a lifetime. In the company of my eager and friendly student guide who grew up in Dharavi, a new world was opened up to me. Looking in from outside at this sprawling shanty town, one may be off-put by the disheveled appearance and potential fear of venturing within. Inside is another world of thriving industry and sustainability. Everything imaginable is recycled and resold in these hidden alleys; cardboard, plastic, cable and wiring, basically anything that is disposed of and can possibly be salvaged for profit. Talk about eco-tourism! Another section of the slum is a thriving pottery production center while another handles wrapping and packaging foodstuffs that are re-labeled and sold in India’s most up-market shops and department stores. Dharavi is a world of industry and opportunity with a diverse makeup of residents from all over India.

One of the more difficult aspects of any trip to India is the sometimes intense poverty, and particularly the beggars that are so commonly found at sites affluent tourists are likely to frequent. In spite of perceptions and appearance, this is not the case in Dharavi where everyone works hard, has a purpose, and where they are not yet accustomed to seeing visitors from the outside world. I was warmly welcomed everywhere I went in the company of my resident guide and what was supposed to be a short one-hour visit quickly turned into five as I was absolutely enthralled and not ready to leave. When finally it was time to go I came away knowing this was something special and something to be shared.

It is unfortunately inevitable that this experience will not be possible for much longer. Bombay is a city of 20 million and India’s financial capital. Real estate is at a premium and already apartment blocks and office high-rises blot out the sun in every direction you look. The land occupied by Dharavi is under the eye of developers and sadly this true economic heart of the city will eventually be lost. India generally is poised on the brink of an economic explosion, much like China has already seen and I urge any of you that have been considering travel to India, or maybe have already been and yearn to return for more, do so before the landscape irrevocably changes for good. I am blessed I was still able experience the unique chaos, color and panorama that is India today and the India I know and love.

Did you capture that one-in-a-million shot on your recent trip to India? Do your friends and family ooh and aah when you show them your best India travel photos? Then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contestand you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

Photo of the Week :: Asia Transpacific Journeys’ India Travel Contest

This week’s photo was taken by Bernard Cohen.

“Varanasi is a place of intense stimuli. Yet, here is an ascetic sitting as calmly as can be. He calmly prays and seems to be oblivious to his surroundings.” — Bernard Cohen

Bernard Cohen © Asia Transpacific Journeys

If you’ve captured that one-in-a-million shot on a recent trip to India then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contest” and you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

See all the other wonderful India travel photos that have been submitted on our Online Photo Contest Album.

Deadline for submission is July 31, 2010. Winners will be announced by August 31, 2010.

Photo of the Week :: Asia Transpacific Journeys’ India Travel Contest

This week’s photo was taken by Claude Renault.

“A picture of a kid having a great time diving in Amber. Water is very important in Rajasthan, where water is scarce. So it is hardly surprising that wells and tanks or ‘sagar‘ (lakes) were decorated. Water table was found very low and step wells (locally known as ‘baodi‘) leading to the water table are beautiful examples of architecture.” — Claude Renault

Claude Renault © Asia Transpacific Journeys

If you’ve captured that one-in-a-million shot on a recent trip to India then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contest” and you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

See all the other wonderful India travel photos that have been submitted on our Online Photo Contest Album.

Deadline for submission is July 31, 2010. Winners will be announced by August 31, 2010.

Did You Know?—Musings on India

Photo: Mark Downey © All rights reserved | Taj Mahal at dawn

A Look at India’s Place in Intellectual Advancement

By Jane Klein, Asia Transpacific Journeys‘ Writer/Publications Manager

India has been an intellectual epicenter for over two millennia. This was recently underscored when physicists created a fourth state of matter, the Bose-Einstein Condensate, named for Satyendra Nath Bose, and his more famous German counterpart. In 1924 the Indian physicist Bose made calculations on light particles, and collaborated with Einstein who extended the theory, predicting a fourth state of matter. Utilizing their calculations, Boulder-based Americans shared the Nobel Prize for physics in 2001 for making atoms “sing in unison” to form a state of matter that was neither solid, liquid nor gas.

Bose was too far ahead of his time even for the Nobel committee to recognize, but they have honored other Indian intellectual contributions in the fields of physics, medicine, economics and poetry.

Mohandas (also Mahatma, “Great Soul”) Gandhi founded a new type of politics called Satyagraha, literally “persuasion through truth.” He is thus one of the chief architects of modern nonviolent resistance. This social force not only brought the British Empire to its knees, it formed the philosophical basis for the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. and dismantled apartheid in South Africa.

The most influential Indian in history is Siddhartha Gautama, who founded Buddhism in the 5th century B.C. In the two-and-a-half millennia since, Buddhism has spread throughout Asia, Eastern Europe, and most recently to small pockets in North America. Whether termed religion or philosophy, Buddhism has exercised an intellectual, philosophical, social and political influence of the most profound order throughout world history.

The brilliance of India is perhaps most conspicuously apparent in the magnificent architecture found throughout the country. From the world famous Taj Mahal and the sublime temples of Ranakpur, to the innumerable fortresses and palaces that comprise a brilliant legacy, its clear to even the uninitiated that one is beholding masterpieces of the building arts.

Its well known that Indians have been excelling in the high tech industries in recent years. This is due to a world-class education system that emphasizes math, engineering and the sciences. Indians are recruited around the world for their ability to innovate and invent.

From music and dance to ayurveda and yoga, India’s achievements in many fields of human endeavor are tremendous. But if you really want to wrap your mind around its contributions to world culture, try lunch at your favorite local Indian restaurant. One bite of palak paneer scooped up with an onion paratha, and youll be an awed worshipper at the altar of her genius.

Did you capture that one-in-a-million shot on your recent trip to India? Do your friends and family ooh and aah when you show them your best India travel photos? Then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contestand you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

Photo of the Week :: Asia Transpacific Journeys’ India Travel Contest

This week’s photo was taken by Jay Dorfman.

“Shot during recent journey to Kumbh Mela. As the largest religious gathering of people in the world it is a feast for the camera lens. – Jay Dorfman

Jay Dorman Image

Jay Dorfman © All rights reserved

If you’ve captured that one-in-a-million shot on a recent trip to India then enter your photos in our “Share Your Experience – India Travel Photo Contest” and you could win an Apple iPad! (16 GB with Wi-Fi).

See all the other wonderful India travel photos that have been submitted on our Online Photo Contest Album.

Deadline for submission is July 31, 2010. Winners will be announced by August 31, 2010.