All posts by Supriya Vohra

Rajasthan: The Land of Colour

Rajasthan, literally translated to Land of Kings, home to the massive Thar desert and the ancient Aravalli mountain range, has a rich history, ecology and culture. It is also one of our favourite  destinations.

Apart from the ruins of the Indus valley civilisation to the Dilwara temples; from the historically important forts and palaces to a diverse variety of wildlife, every city within Rajasthan offers a vibrant history behind its colours (the blue city of Jodphur, the pink city of Jaipur), cultures and customs.

For our special anniversary edition, we take you on a journey to Rajasthan’s historical, cultural and natural landscapes. From the grand forts of Amber and Mehrangarh, we will take you to Ramathra Fort, a tranquil space that lies between two famous wildlife reserves ~ The Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary in  Bharatpur and the  Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Sawai Madhopur. Due to its location in the far interior of eastern Rajasthan, it is a quiet space. Whether you wish to visit the fort’s ruins or take leisurely walks around the natural surroundings, or do everything, the adventure is yours. It is one of our favourite places in Rajasthan, and a hugely different experience from the explosion of colours and culture that one usually experiences in the historic state.

We will take you for a unique train ride through a rural, wooded hill section, somewhere in Deogarh. The tracks of this particular railway line were laid in 1894 when steam engines were still in use. As you chug along, the train making wide, sweeping arcs through the Aravalli’s, you may have to stop more than once for the driver to check his brakes. The view outside is breath- taking. The ground beneath your feet seems solid one moment, and then, like a trapdoor, suddenly swings out on its hinge to lead you onto a narrow, rickety looking bridge, taking you across a steep gorge.

Not only that, we will also take you on a safari close to where leopards live (!)

Rajasthan is colour, culture, history, nature, adventure~all in one beautiful region.

Join us in our immersive journey in March 2020! The journey will be led by photographer and adventure travel journalist Himraj Soin. He has led student expeditions for National Geographic, and is an avid skier and climber.

DETAILS

Where – Rajasthan
When – 04-16 March 2020 (12nights/13days)
Led By – Himraj Soin

For enquires, contact us at ibex@ibexexpeditions.com

Ibex Expeditions Introduces 40th Anniversary Limited Edition Journeys

On it’s 40th anniversary Ibex Expeditions invites you to its  Limited Edition Anniversary Journeys

In 1979, in a small room in the Manor hotel, New Delhi, four friends manifested their dream of a pioneering adventure travel company by establishing Ibex Expeditions. Mountaineer, Explorer and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Mandip Singh Soin was one of them.

Four decades later, this has been a journey of innovation, enterprise, accolades, creativity and today, the company is owned and managed by Mandip and his wife Anita, an artist and poet who brings her own creativity to designing journeys with unusual themes.

Guests are welcomed into a world of heightened wonder, style, adventure, luxury that only a truly epic journey can evoke.

On this milestone of our 40th anniversary, we invite you to book a special small group journey led and hosted by the owner family in a series of holidays in India and Sri Lanka with travel experiences exclusive to our guests, privileged access to extraordinary places and inspirational people and meaningful connections along the way.

Ladakh – The stairway to heaven – September 2019

Following a theme of a Responsible Eco adventure walking in the footsteps of the snow leopard, this photo adventure  journey in Ladakh is led by writer, photographer and Ibex Director, Himraj Soin. You will discuss Buddhist traditions and visit local communities, learn about renewable energy projects with conservationists, visit organizations promoting sustainable development and walk along hillsides dotted with chortens and monasteries with exquisite Himalayan vistas.

Madhya Pradesh – Walking safari – Satpura under Canvas – November 2019 

Mandip and Anita lead a special journey to the heart of India recreating the old explorer world of a walking safari in the footsteps of Captain James Forsyth, an explorer who served in the Indian Army in the late 19th century in the forests of Satpura in the state of Madhya Pradesh. We will stay in deluxe camps (glamping) and old-world charming lodges and immerse ourselves in art, beauty, forests, wildlife and recipes from the Nawab family kitchens. Satpura Under Canvas is a unique mobile camping and gentle walking experience through the Satpura Tiger Reserve. We also visit Bhopal, Mandu, Maheshwar where you will enjoy a royal retreat and the luxury Relaix & Chateau Ahilya Fort, the private palace of the erstwhile Holkar dynasty.

Himali Soin will be leading the journey in Sri Lanka

 

Sri Lanka – The Isle of Paradise – November 2019

Arthur C Clarke, British science fiction writer, futurist and inventor is our inspiration and we capture his spirit in a journey across Sri Lanka led by artist, poet and Ibex Director, Himali Singh Soin. We will stay at Colombo Swimming Club where Clarke spent his days, visit Anuradhapura Sci Fi monuments, Una Watuna, a coastal town where Clarke lived, and star gaze in a remote location, all the while reading Rendezvous with Rama.

Rajasthan – The Land of many Colors – March 2020

Himraj Soin will be leading journeys in Ladakh and Rajasthan

We welcome Spring and the festival of color, Holi with a journey of color and vibrance across the landscape of Rajasthan through boutique heritage hosted stays from the cities of pink, blue and gold to the Thar desert visiting ancient step wells and communities on village safaris and staying in Relaix & Chateau heritage homes with Mewar heritage architecture. Led once again by Himraj, National Geographic trip leader.

Costa Rica – a private journey for the Ibex Explorers Fellowship members
Led by Mandip and Anita, we will traverse the ideal destination of Costa Rica, a country that stands apart from its neighbors as a rich bio diverse country with farm to table restaurants and sustainable tourism. The journey will have rain forest hikes and high-altitude trails, rushing white-water rapids and kayaking into canals.

Mandip and Anita will be leading journeys in Madhya Pradesh and Costa Rica

It is rare that Mandip and Anita themselves lead an Ibex Expeditions journey. Their young adult children are both trip leaders with National Geographic and come with their own expertise of photography, writing and poetry.

The journeys will be first-come-first-serve.

Hurry along, the adventures await!

Email us for dates and detailed itineraries at: ibex@ibexexpeditions.com

Antarctica Matters: Scientists Discover Huge Cavity in Glacier

Scientists recently discovered a massive cavity under Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier. The cavity is a result of rapid melting of ice, according to NASA.  The Thwaites Glacier has been considered unstable by scientists. The discovery of the underwater cavity could cause a rapid decay to the glacier. The cavity itself is two-thirds the area of Manhattan and about 1000 feet tall. It is big enough to hold about 14 billion tons of ice, most of which melted in three years, say researchers.

Rising sea levels are caused by melting of ice sheets, and thermal expansion of the oceans. A NASA press release stated that the melting of the glacier is responsible for 4 percent of the world’s rising sea levels.

Source: The New York Times.

Keeping the urgency to protect this pristine land in mind, we at Ibex Expeditions, in partnership with Polar Latitudes, will be taking our second expedition to Antarctica in March this year. Led by artist and explorer Himali Singh Soin, this journey with a purpose is meant to turn all participants into Antarctica Ambassadors, pledging to support all causes related to preserving the big white continent.

Previously, our Antarctica journey has been supported by United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO), Ecotourism Society of India (ESOI), Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), Skal International, and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Madhya Pradesh: Trekking through the Tranquil Heart of India

 

India with a difference: without noise, people and air pollution.  Traveller Simon Schöpf followed in the footsteps of the Bengal tiger through the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, far off the beaten track. He writes about his experience visiting Satpura National Park during AdventureNext, with Ibex Expeditions. The article was originally published in German magazine Berg Welten. The essay below is a translated version.

Road traffic is a single tough-flowing mass, in which the individual parts seem to peel off magnetically, but which devours everything that does not fit seamlessly. The olfactory sensation oscillates remarkably fast between landfill and masala curry. The acoustic backdrop would not surpass an 80s punk band on Ecstasy, the everlasting basic tenor : hub, hub, huuuub . And in between, a sacred cow always sleeps somewhere. Whoever travels through India, has to demand a lot from his sense organs.

So far the well-known picture of India. That’s true, but nevertheless the country with the incredible 1.3 billion inhabitants has something like a quiet side. They exist, the lonely and relaxed spots on this super-continent of the senses, one of which is the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh – “the heart of India.”

For the discovery of solitude in the heart of India, we have a very special accompaniment: Mandip Singh Soin, the man with the white beard and colourful turban, in his appearance a successful combination of Gandalf and Gandhi. Mandip, with his company Ibex Expeditions, is one of the great pioneers of sustainable adventure tourism in India and organizer of many important Himalayan expeditions. In addition, even one of the first serious mountaineers in his country – he has not only wrested the legendary mountains Shivling and Meru, the first Indian ascent, he has also established modern mountain rescue techniques and drank tea with the Dalai Lama. Mandip knows the mountains and the cultures of India like no other – that’s why he always likes to come to the central hill country, to Madhya Pradesh. “The genius here is that you can do something active in the national parks – trekking, safaris, canoeing. Unfortunately, such things are often prohibited in the national parks of the rest of India. ”

Hiking in Satpura National Park

For our voyage of discovery, we have chosen Satpura National Park, one of nine in the state. It is a vast hilly tiger reserve with the reputation of being one of the least developed in India. For just 120 km from the capital, Bhopal, the chaotic Indian driving style requires a good five-hour drive to get to the edge of the national park. We want to make it the big cat and explore this landscape on quiet paws and, who knows, with a little luck actually spy a Bengal tiger. “At the moment we know about two females and one male in the reserve. But we’re more likely to meet a leopard, a sloth bear, or a king giant squirrel, which we see quite often here,” says Aly Rashid.

So we’re walking through the kingdom of the tiger. Also, if you know the statistics and an encounter on foot is unlikely, then a very special feeling mix creeps in as soon as you shoulder the backpack and take the first steps onto the jungle floor. A mix of respect, attention and awe, spiced up with a puff of primeval fear – it could be, who knows!

Tiger Trekking on the Forsyth Trail

Good that Mandip and Aly radiate a calm, as perhaps only Indians can – the yoga hype has arrived, after all, a few thousand years ago. We start our hike from the idyllic village of Pachmarhi, from here you can easily overlook the terrain that will soon absorb us completely: an untouched landscape of hills and gentle peaks, which here and there release a red-orange speck of sandstone. Who counts the summit exactly, comes on seven – from this derives also the name of the national park, Satpura. “Sat” stands for seven, “pura” for summit – the highest of which is Mount Dhupgarh with 1,352 meters. For the next two days, we’ll hike the Forsyth Trail, named in honor of the English adventurer James Forsyth, who campaigned for the preservation of forests as early as the mid-19th century.

In India, you will hardly find street signs, as you may not expect a waymarking. But Aly knows every stone and every tree here, we follow him with confidence into the great forest that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. “What’s jungle in Hindi? Jungle! “, Aly informs us gladly, so we actually landed here in the Ur-Wald. Here one looks in vain for lianas and pineapples, the last rain is already two months ago, the soil dried up. But after a few steps already a horde of langurs jumps screaming over our heads. Aly immediately switches to the naturalist mode: “Wavy-Breasted Squirrel!”, “Kingfisher!”, Tirelessly spotting rare birds in the trees, where we only see a pile of leaves.

Off To The Jungle Camp

Only when we put our feet in the still warm sand in our camp on the extensive riverbank, we become aware of what we have not seen the whole day just now: many people. Massive cars. Annoying tuk-tuks. A whole day without honking, without trash next to the road and without the smell of burned plastic in the nose. But birdsong, river noise and occasionally the distant cry of a monkey. India too can be like that: quiet, deserted, idyllic; a stark contrast. At the same time, with the first stars in the firmament, our aperitif, a sweet liquor from the blossoms of the Mahua tree that grows around, also appears. A bit getting used to, but that’s a lot here, also the local definition of camping.

Ready-built tents with beds and bedside tables, a toilet and shower tent with improvised sink with soap and towel and a small bar, the ice cubes for the gin and tonic keeps ready: so in India so tourists are camping. Pardon, glamping is probably the common fashion term for it. And every evening a hot water bottle in the tent bed waits for our cold feet. Getting used to, but quite pleasant.

Encounter with the Tiger

With all the luxuries you can forget the real reason why we came here. He comes back to us the next day after early departure, as we discover after a still sleepy hour hike downstream then suddenly a breakfast of a different kind right next to our way: A pile of leftover offal in the sand. “Tiger kill,” Aly does not hesitate for a long time with the answer, “probably yesterday. Probably a small Samda cattle. “And indeed, all around are fur remains and oversized cat tracks in the sand. From now on, the tiger is no longer just an abstract figure, he is suddenly damned real. You go differently, you look different, you hear differently – we walk here through the jungle book, and Sher Kahn accompanies us.

Information

Arrive : Flight from Delhi to Bhopal (1.5 hours), capital of Madhya Pradesh in central India. Up to the Satpura National Park it is a good five hours by car, driving is not recommended due to the very habituation-needing traffic rules of the Indians and the left-hand traffic. It is best to take a taxi or book an organized tour.

Accommodations: Madhya Pradesh is off the beaten track and is therefore sparsely furnished with accommodation for international tourists. The exception is Bhopal, a 2-million-city, which gained notoriety in 1984 because of the terrible chemical disaster . There is a good standard of hotels, for example the Jehan Numa Palace . In the Satpura National Park, the Reni Pani Jungle Lodge is a luxurious gem in the African safari style. The posh hotels have quite a Western price level, who gets himself in the streets of the cities themselves, gets extremely cheap delicacies for a few rupees, but a good stomach is often required.

Best travel time: Pleasant, dry climate prevails from October to March. Around December, the temperatures are also ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking and biking, but at night it is already quite fresh. From April on, temperatures often get unbearably hot and temperatures regularly rise above 40 ° C. July to September are rainy and humid due to the monsoon.

Photos by Simon Schöpf

ANTARCTICA MATTERS—JOIN US ON OUR JOURNEY WITH A PURPOSE MARCH 2019

Antarctica has always been a land held with intrigue. The whitest, driest, coldest, windiest continent on earth was collectively decided to be preserved by twelve countries, including Russia, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Chile, Australia, and the United States.

The Antarctica Treaty System was signed in 1959, and an environmental protocol was added to it in 1998.  It states that Antarctica is to be a “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science,” and prohibits all activities relating to Antarctic mineral resources, except as is necessary for scientific research. But the treaty is not set in stone. In 50 years’ time, 1948, the part of the treaty that prohibits mining and resource extraction could come under review.

Keeping the urgency to protect this pristine land in mind, we at Ibex Expeditions, in partnership with Polar Latitudes, will be taking our secondexpedition to Antarctica in March 2019. Led by artist and explorer Himali Singh Soin, this journey with a purpose is meant to turn all participants into Antarctica Ambassadors, pledging to support all causes related to preserving the big white continent.

Previously, our Antarctica journey has been supported by United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNTWO), Ecotourism Society of India (ESOI), Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), Skal International, and World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

Our journeys are never without their share of fun of course! You will witness wildlife you can perhaps only witness in Antarctica. There might be times when you feel like you are on another planet, as is beautifully explained by Himali Soin in this essay titled “Voyage to a White Mars”. There might be a moment when you feel an urgent need to take a dip into the icy cold water, as Himraj Soin had while on his journey described here. 

Join us in our mission to preserve Antarctica.

Details of the journey here: https://www.facebook.com/events/254332385079622/

Email us at ibex@ibexexpeditions.com for more details.

Travelling Home – When We Wander, Are We Lost?

Himali Singh Soin writes a meditative piece on the idea of home.

Originally written in August 2014 for Jetwings Magazine.

Newborn, I open my eyes to the bright light of the world, the ceiling split open and spilled the sky, then rivers, deserts, mountains, forests, whales, butterflies, cactus into my room. I looked around, and a map—like wallpaper—formed. I have lived on a
map since.

Where we live, there are lofts comprising suitcases, photo jackets and rope and lenses, telescopes and binoculars, hats and compasses, knives, swords, snow boots, fishing lines, journals, harnesses, collapsible chairs, postcards, big bags for an expedition, little bags for a day’s reconnaissance, pocket bags for nail clippers, mini soap bottles, disposable underwear, water sippers, jasmine oil, more rope, microfiber towels, a book on birds, Hillary’s advice, a book on trees, walkie-talkies and a phone number on the fridge with which to stop the newspaper periodically, because, lofts undone, maps plotted, we are (always) on our way and there would be no one to read the news, though the news—and the newspaper man and his eponymous thump—would undoubtedly continue to take their own course.

Round and around we go

As a family of explorers, we are perpetual peripatetics, scouring deep crevices and deceiving surfaces of the world. Our adventures—in the viscous olive pools of Mexico’s cenotes, along the clay licks of the inner Amazon, the dunes of Morocco, the expanse of the Gobi, the raw bulbs of Madagascar, the source of the Nile, the high prayers of Tibet, the rush of the raft on the river Zanskar, the slithering forests of Periyar and many more—refresh our eyes, reboot our consciousness so that we are always aware, most strikingly, of what it means to live.

But what of home? The daily din? The mean, the normal, the everyday thump
of the newspaper on the porch, the place where nothing changes and everything stays the same. How content I am here! Home, to me, was becoming an exotic other. I do not return home, but travel home. In some ways, I carry my home with me, building nests even as I abandon them. But in others, it is the physical place—the fuss of the family, the bursting bookshelf, the ritual of routine—that makes up my nostalgia. It is this object, heavy with embedded meaning, that cannot be carried.

Among the countries that I have visited, from my foreign imagination, home comes to mean a variety of things. In Tibet, home is a desire for a way of life without siege, an unthreatened thought. Home means return to peace, a return of identity— Tibetan Buddhism. It means that the prayer flags left en route to Mt Kailash flutter in freedom and the glass facades of Chinese commerce that reflect back the Potala palace are silenced, so that the whispers to his Holiness might finally be heard.

In Madagascar, where over 80% of all flora and fauna is endemic, home is where the familiar is comprised of the unique everywhere else. In a land so native,
the sight of a baobab, like an upturned tree, a neuron touching the nerve of
the sky, is enough to arouse a sense of belonging. Though the people are made up of immigrants from the coasts of Africa and Asia along with French colonies, the landscape is inherent.

Moving home

In Mongolia, home is a shifting place, shifting by season, by the fertility of the soil, and endless, always a distant end and constantly being re-assembled. The ger tent, made of a lattice of wood and felt, is a yurt that the nomads pack with them on their journey from pasture to pasture. The word ger means home.

In Ethiopia, home is where the River Nile has its source. Home is the red earth and dust beneath the wares of a Monday market. Home is the ritual coffee ceremony and popcorn. Home is the Timkat, where homage and exchange is the same thing, where what is white is full of colour and where sound is a music that sings of progress and hope. Home is a country where everything is embossed with touch, with feeling, love, thought, idea, energy from the blood, the tingling of the anatomy at work, pregnant with the future, ripe from the past. Where everything is done by hand; baskets are being woven, injera poured, steel fixed on buckets, trucks oiled, hay stacked, hand shaken, kissed, cheque written, wall painted, rocks from street removed, sacks of sand stacked, money begged for, body knelt before sun and god, child stroked, wife caressed, folds of white bedsheets neatly folded and tucked, where home is the origin.

In Peru, home is an ocean of forest split, like arteries, by terracotta rivers. Home is the remembrance that the Incas were here. It is walking a path for centuries till the moss is removed, and thick, grey slabs of stone and a whole civilization is uncovered. When the Incas looked up at the Wilkamayu, or the Milky Way, they saw the galaxy reflected in the river. When they saw a hummingbird dip its slender snout in an orchid, they told the story of the princess who was transformed into an orchid while waiting for her warrior prince to return from war, then the warrior prince was transformed into a hummingbird so he could forever be with his wife. And for the tears that were shed, the orchid is called Wakanki, ‘you will cry’. Home is lore.

Flowing stories

Juchitan, a town in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, is matriarchal, where women wear long flowing gowns printed with big red flowers. They call their dresses el agua; water. They wear their hair in big black balls framed by two braids on either side of their high cheekbones. They are silent but assertive. They are unshifting and strong. I sit bleary eyed early in the morning in the zocalo, the centre of the town, a kind of living room for all. I wait for the morning to rise and something interesting to happen.  Then a lady walks toward me and reaches over and strokes my shoulder then my arm and my hand. Her hand and eye twitch, she wears a long flowery dress but stutters when she speaks. She stares at me then tells me I am sick and that I must wave a knife over my head to rid myself of the infirmity. Usa una cuchia para curar la infirma. Then she stares at me again and walks away. I see her later in the day in the church. I walk past her, but I can feel her light and intense stare upon my shoulder. I don’t forget her words, for there are energies here. There are energies where random events make patterns and string together in fantastically webbed ways. Here, home is allowing strangers into your superstitions.

Beyond bricks and mortar

Conceptions of home differ even in the meaning of the word itself. French has
no word for home, while in American and English sports, home is a word synonymous for a goal, a kind of victory. Some think of home as a physical house, others as language, others as the haze in the sky or an old family recipe. On the internet, it’s a landing page.

And here, in India, where I live, home is more complex. As a foreigner, I would say India is the Taj Mahal, or the brandishing Bollywood poster, the saint in saffron. It cannot be read, however, as a stereotype.

It is inconsolable, non-negotiable. It is as much the country, the city, the house as it is the way people are, creating chaos together. It comprises argument and aggression, affection and dependence. It comprises reflexes and a muscle memory, exasperation and elation.

So is home a real place? How does one reach it? Or is it indeed nothing to write home about? When we wander, are we lost? When we thirst to check off every country from our list of never-visited, are we fulfilling a desire to simply see ourselves anew? Or does travelling allow us to dream more, invigorate our imaginations, step outside of moral and societal conduct? Does travelling away, in fact, allow us to return? Return in order to find adventures at our doorstep: in the gardener’s escapade with the ironing lady, or the competition between the women of the house on whose bowl of yoghurt is better made. Or simply in the wonder of the objects in the loft, and the memory of tales from faraway places.

Originally written in August 2014 for Jetwings Magazine.