All posts by Supriya Vohra

COSTA RICA – THE PEACEFUL SOUL OF CENTRAL AMERICA

“Rain forest hikes and brisk high-altitude trails, rushing white-water rapids and warm-water, world-class surfing, Costa Rica offers outdoor adventures – from the rush of a canopy zipline to a sun-dazed afternoon at the beach.” ~ Lonely Planet

Costa Rica is a rugged, rainforested Central American country with coastlines on the Caribbean and Pacific. Costa Rica is known for its beaches, volcanoes, and biodiversity. Roughly a quarter of its area is made up of protected jungle, teeming with wildlife including spider monkeys and quetzal birds.

This very special journey will be led by Himraj Soin who a travel writer and photographer and leads expeditions for National Geographic where he teaches photography in different parts of the world. His works have been featured in Vogue, National Geographic Traveler, India; Reader’s Digest UK and Vice, amongst others.

April 18th to 29th 2020

Day 1 (April 18th) Arrive in San Jose – Bougainvillea Hotel

Saturday Arrival in Costa Rica. Transfer on your own to Hotel Bougainvillea. Your trip leader will meet the group at the hotel at the evening for a briefing and answering questions of your itinerary.
Service included: Hotel Bougainvillea.
Meals on your own.

Day 2 (April 19th) Tortuguero National Park

Sunday Departure at 0600 hours, you will experience going through the Braulio Carrillo National Park, mountain road, climbing to the cloud forest at 2200 meters and descending close to sea level.

Breakfast at Río Danta and then continue to La Pavona in Guapiles where you will take a motorboat to Tortuguero National Park, which is accessible only by water or by air.

11:00 a.m. Arrival to the pier and after a chance for restroom use, board Mawamba’s boat for one-hour ride to Tortuguero and Mawamba Lodge (times might vary depending on river’s water level).

12:15-1:00 p.m. Arrival to Mawamba Lodge. Welcome by the manager, and check into your room.

Afterwards, meet your tour guide and group at the Restaurant by the pool area for a buffet lunch. Kayaking in the afternoon.

INCLUDED: Private transportation, all meals and guides.

Day 3 (April 20th): Day at Mawamba Lodge

Monday Visiting Tortuguero town, Kayaking tour & Motorboat tour into Tortuguero canals. Breakfast available from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. Kayaking in the morning.

Lunch is served from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Meet for the afternoon canal tour in the Tortuguero National Park. Visit one of the park’s canals by boat and discover with your guide the wonderful biodiversity that resides in this area.

Visit Tortuguero Village at 04 p.m. Through this visit, learn about the ways of life of the local residents of Tortuguero, a small town of approximately 1300 people. After the visit, we will return to the lodge walking by the beach trail leading to the lodge (weather permitting).

From Mawamba Lodge, one can actually walk to/from town without needing to take a boat. In case you would rather not walk, please inform your tour guide who will arrange boat transportation back for you.

Dinner will be served at 7:30 p.m. at the restaurant by the pool.

INCLUDED: All meals, Mawamba Lodge, Guides, Kayaking tour and Motorboat tour.

Day 4 (April 21st) Tortuguero National Park to Pacuare River

Tuesday 7:30 a.m. Breakfast is served at the Lodge. We kindly ask you to check out of your room around 8:30 a.m. and gather around the reception area for departure at 9:00 a.m. back to La Pavona where our transportation will be waiting for the group.

11:00 a.m. Arrival to La Pavona, use the restrooms before boarding the bus.

Transfer to the Operations Center in El Cairo de Siquirres where you will have lunch and leave the extra luggage for the rafting experience on Pacuare River.

(rated top 5th Best River to raft in the World by National Geographic).

Once in the river you will paddle downstream to your riverside accommodation, the award-winning Rios Tropicales Lodge (accessible only by raft or foot).

Along its course, lie several densely vegetated gorges sheltering many animals, including sloths, river otters and anteaters, and incredible variety of birds such as toucans, egrets, herons, kingfishers, sunbirds and trogons.

As soon as you arrive at the lodge, your guide will give you a briefing of the lodge and the activities for the next three days.

INCLUDED: Transfer from Tortuguero to Pacuare River to the Ríos Tropicales Lodge. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and river guides.

Day 5 (April 22nd): Ríos Tropicales Lodge

Wednesday Activities at Ríos Tropicales Lodge: Your guide will inform you the times for these activities. This tour includes hiking through the rainforest. Enjoy a wonderful 9-line zip line course through the canopy, six-zip lines crossing over the Pacuare River.

Multiple tree platforms and zip lines make this a thrilling, must-do experience.

We guarantee not only the safety in construction but also its operation through all the equipment (helmets, harnesses and gloves) that is provided. The tour starts just 10 minutes from the lodge by walking through the forest then, slip on end-to-end zip lines connected by a series of aerial and land platforms from which you can appreciate the incredible river and private reserve of Pacuare, also, you can see butterflies, birds, reptiles and an impressive nature.

INCLUDED: Ríos Tropicales Lodge, breakfast, lunch, dinner, zip line-canopy tour and guide.

Day 6 (April 23rd): Ríos Tropicales Lodge

Thursday Activity at Ríos Tropicales Lodge: Horseback riding – Tree Planting – Butterfly garden. Your guide will inform you the time for these activities.

The tour starts from Rios Tropicales lodge to Bajo Del Tigre community by hiking up the main trail and then riding horseback to this local village. Once there, your guide will introduce you to their agricultural way of life, economy, population and culture.

You will tour their sustainable farming projects, hear about what sustainable development means to them and their community.

You can also ride horseback all the way to Terciopelos farm, which is part of Rios Tropicales Private reserve. There you can participate in a reforestation project by planting one or more trees (optional, ask your guide).

Then you will continue the tour until the Mariposas del Pacuare Project developed by a neighbor of the community.

It has more than 10 different species of butterflies, and from where you can enjoy incredible views of the Pacuare Canyon. At the end of this beautiful experience, you will enjoy a delicious lunch returning to the lodge, a part by horseback ride and walking.

INCLUDED: Rios Tropicales Lodge, breakfast, lunch, dinner, horseback riding, tree planting & butterfly garden activities and guides.

Day 7 (April 24th): Pacuare River to Trogón Lodge

Friday Today we will continue our whitewater rafting activity, entering the lush, magical gorge of the Rio Pacuare. The rapids became more powerful and technical in nature here, and we will power through “Bobo”, “Huacas Arriba” “Huacas Abajo”, “Cimarrones” and “Dos Montañas”.

Gorgeous waterfalls tumble into the river and we be might fortunate to catch a glimpse of some of the exotic birds and animals inhabiting the surrounding jungle.

We will walk near the town of Siquirres and departure after lunch to Trogon Lodge. (4 hours’ drive). Trogon Lodge is in the area known as Savegre Valley in the small town of San Gerardo de Dota.

As one drives up, marvelous views appear before your eyes, carrot & potato plantations, the countryside, and on a clear day, scenic views of the Province of Cartago and Valley.

At an altitude of 7,000 feet above sea level (2200 meters) and surrounded by the unspoiled ecology of the area, Trogon Lodge sits amidst dazzling flowers, showing amazing shades of colors and where centennial oak trees show their impressive roots.

INCLUDED: Rafting activity, all meals, private transportation, Trogón Lodge and guide

Day 8 (April 25th): Trogón Lodge

Saturday Hiking Activity searching for the mythical Quetzal. Signature Trogón Lodge tour! San Gerardo de Dota is home to a large population of one of the most beautiful birds in the Americas, the Resplendent Quetzal. From the Trogon Family and sacred bird to the ancient indigenous cultures, Quetzals have a peaceful and tranquil living in the area and reside here year-round.

The climate and good amount of food (Aguacatillo tree) provide a great habitat for these birds. Join the guide for coffee, before departing at 6:00 am on a quest to find Quetzals.

With its metallic green plumage, crimson breast, bell, and its incredible streamer-like feathers, watching a male Quetzal in its magical fly, is a unique, breathtaking experience.

INCLUDED: All meals, Private Transportation, Trogón Lodge, Hiking Tour and guide.

Day 9 (April 26th): Travel day to Uvita

Sunday After Breakfast at Trogón, travel for 2 hours by coach to Uvita, staying at Cuna del Angel Hotel. Described by many as one of the most biologically diverse areas in the world, southwestern Costa Rica has plenty of beautiful beaches and fantastic vistas.

Of the many spectacular beaches found here, Playa Uvita is among the most stunning beaches on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. Located in the southern Puntarenas province roughly 16 km south of Dominical, a surfing hotspot, Playa Uvita is situated within the Marino Ballena National Park.

This marine park is very popular because between the months of December and April Humpback, whales migrate here to the warm waters off the coast to mate before returning up north.

INCLUDED: All meals, Private Transportation, Hotel Cuna del Angel and guide.

Day 10 (April 27th): Hiking Corcovado National Park Day Tour

Monday The Corcovado National Park Full Day Nature Tour departs from Punta Uvita at 7:00 AM and arrives approximately 1 ½ hours later at San Pedrillo Ranger Station in the Corcovado National Park. Upon arrival you will prepare for two guided nature tour hikes along two different trails and observe beautiful flora and fauna.

Each hike takes around 2 hours. During the hikes you will be able to see many mammals such as spider, howler, and white-faced monkeys, sloths, coatis, raccoons, and tapirs as well as a great variety of birds, plants, and trees with over one hundred years of existence and in danger of extinction.

After the first hike, we serve a picnic lunch near the San Pedrillo ranger station and then we begin the second trek. During boat transit from Punta Uvita beach to Corcovado National Park, you may observe whales, dolphins, turtles, marine birds and fantastic views of the southern pacific Osa coastline. The boat returns from Corcovado National park at 2.00 pm and arrives to Punta Uvita at 4:00 p.m.

INCLUDED: All meals, Private Tour at Corcovado National Park, Guides, Cuna del Angel Hotel.

Day 11 (April 28th): Return to San José at Grano de Oro Hotel

Tuesday After breakfast at the hotel, we will depart to San Jose (4 to 5 hours’ drive). We will drive through Costanera Sur highway, crossing the Villages of Quepos and Jaco until reaching San José. We will stop for lunch on the way.

Hotel Grano de Oro: In Costa Rica, the term “Grano de Oro” is used to refer to the coffee bean, their “Grain of Gold”. The founders of this boutique hotel fell in love with the idea that such a small fruit could be so valuable. Hotel Grano de Oro was started by a Canadian couple who frequented Costa Rica for vacation. They loved the natural beauty of the country and the people, and in particular the metropolitan city of San Jose.

They found that San José was lacking an upscale boutique-style hotel, offering a unique, personalized service – in other words a “Grain of Gold”. The Hotel Grano de Oro opened its doors in December of 1991.

The restaurant is one of a kind in the city offering an elegant indoor dining room, a beautiful inner courtyard, a handcrafted indoor/outdoor bar and an award-winning wine cellar. The Hotel and Restaurante Grano de Oro and its staff continually focus on pleasing its customers and exceeding their expectations. The Hotel Grano de Oro is a member of two groups of boutique hotels: Small Distinctive Hotels of Costa Rica and Cayuga Sustainable Hospitality Collection.

INCLUDED: Breakfast, lunch on the way, private transportation, Grano de Oro Hotel and guide.

If time permits, drop by the Café Sin Domicilio Fijo and have a drink or coffee or even a bite as their food is organic. It is in a 200-year-old Colonial house. Inside the store has more than 70 national and international exhibitors design, arts and crafts. 

Day 12 (April 29th): Departure

 

First Indian ascent of Meru North — a personal account

In 1986, mountaineer Mandip Singh Soin and a small group of friends made the first Indian ascent of Meru North, alpine style — fulfilling one climber’s determination to defeat the crux that had been his undoing before. Mandip Singh Soin writes a gripping account for The Outdoor Journal. 

The camera panned in slow motion sweeping across the 2,460-foot rock face to the glacier below. As I clung on at the crux, hammering a piton for protection, I felt the shiver again. Not from the 5°Celsius temperature while climbing at over 18,000 ft, but because I had just then sensed the enormity of this exercise.

My wife Anita, pregnant with our daughter Himali, had fretted frantically when I first told her I was planning to embark on an expedition with two Indians and a Swedish friend to climb Mount Meru. I soothed her with euphemisms: It’s a cakewalk, I said, a mere stroll through the Himalaya. Later, however, as we watched the telecast footage, Anita gasped. Everything came to scale: suddenly, the contortion on the screen seemed not too hard after all, whilst by contrast, in my own bedroom that evening, I hung on for dear life, fearful of the imprecations of my outraged wife.

And suddenly, it seemed unfortunate that Åke Nilsson, our Swedish friend, had filmed the climb so beautifully and that Charu Sharma had told its story with eloquence, for the film captured the experience perhaps too accurately and poignantly for my wife. The footage was aired on prime time television soon after the movie Gandhi. I tried, weakly, to remind Anita of the philosophies of ahimsa as she muttered beneath her breath.

The ‘clinging on at the crux’ depicted in that suspenseful scene was significant. It had been the culmination and undoing of the previous year’s attempt by Åke, part of a Swedish expedition, to climb Meru North.

So there we were in late 1985 after Åke’s return to Delhi, at the bar of the India International Centre – the watering hole before lectures on faraway places and unimaginable accomplishments. As with many a good expedition plan, in between Kingfisher beers and upturned beer coasters with rudimentary routes resembling ibex scratches, we evolved a plan of action to reach the crux. It was exciting to try to attempt a technical route, the likes of which were rarely attempted by mountaineers in India. With the last beer in the bar drained, the die had been cast and we toasted to what would become the world’s first Indian ascent of Mt. Meru’s North summit.

MERU’S NORTH UPPER ROCK FACE GOES AT 5.9 OR HARDER, AND HAD DEFEATED THE PREVIOUS SWEDISH ATTEMPT. THE TEAM’S GOAL WAS TO OVERCOME THIS TECHNICAL ROCK.

Åke would bring a strong climber friend from his previous Meru attempt, Birger Andren, and I would join him with two delightfully mad climber friends Dr Tejvir Singh Khurana and Charu Sharma. We had been climbing together since our university days in Delhi on the crags of the nearby Aravalli hills and its rough slates of sandstone. By the time Åke started visiting India on a work trip with the Swedish International Development Agency for groundwater research, he was quick to see that digging deep for groundwater was a lot of work, but climbing far above it was much better! It wasn’t long before he joined our motorcycle rides to Dhauj and Damdama in the Aravalli as we rode off with coiled ropes and rock climbing crash helmets.

Dr Tejvir Singh Khurana aka “Teji” was a fearless Sikh, very much on the frontline of putting up new routes at the Dhauj rock face. The joke was that between him and his other doctor-climber brother Jaisy, the only prescription ever to emerge from either was of countless alcohol bottles for “medical” reasons! He went on to Harvard to study medicine and is currently a researcher in Philadelphia, last known to have carried mice on Everest to study muscular dystrophy at high altitudes. During the Meru climb, he insisted on using us as guinea pigs. The experiment involved taking our blood samples far too many times, to calculate the extent to which blood thickened at altitude. A second experiment was to continually peer into our eyes with a flashlight, to check for retina blood vessel ruptures, and then correlate it with altitude adaptation. All his objectives were highly suspect, but we gave in the name of teamwork and tiredness.

Åke Nilsson had discovered in his many years in India that “Swedish” implied “dessert”. He adapted to the country and its idiosyncrasies of language, accents and pronunciation with a smile. He had also acquired a reputation as a ladies’ man. So it was always a bonus to be around him at parties! Having taken to climbing, he made rapid progress and was able to make the first ascent of Swargarohini in the Garhwal after the success of Meru. Today, as an international consultant, he traverses continents and flies the flag of the Himalayan club as its Local Secretary in Scandinavia.

It was with a sense of disbelief that we discovered Birger Andren had unusually high blood pressure when he reached Base Camp. He would have to return to Delhi for further checks. This was a big loss for our team, but we took the rough with the smooth, and persevered.

From Delhi, things were falling into place. I managed to get permission to go on the trek by telling Anita that Meru was going to be a ‘cakewalk’ and the others had nodded in agreement – the first measure of great teamwork! Åke was asked to get from Sweden specialized climbing gear that we couldn’t then (and still today) get in India, like plastic mountaineering Koflach boots, and rappel devices. Pripps and Vicks became our overseas sponsors. Charu (who didn’t smoke) worked for Vazir Sultan Tobacco, so they became our major sponsors. We named our expedition the “Charminar Challenge Indo-Swedish Meru expedition”. We took a few trekking friends, including Jean-Phillipe who would assist us in filming, and Dr. Pathak, who was in cahoots with Teji for all his highly suspect medical experiments! Of course, with my own company, Ibex Expeditions, I made sure we put our best foot forward for helping arrange all expedition logistics.

Meru lies at the headwaters of the river Ganga (Ganges). It remains hidden as one walks up the picturesque Gangotri valley from the roadhead at the temple. Every ring of the temple bells filled the mind with a revolving kaleidoscope of the Hindu pantheon: this was a valley steeped in legend and mythology. Our first footfalls were already soft and obedient as we observed the evening aarti and started our neo-immersion into things godly. In 1986, at 29 years of age, one was apt to look more enticingly on the smoke out of the sadhu’s pipe rather than smoke out the demons of our minds. Although most of us were not really religious, and certainly not ritualistic, we too sought contentment in life. So we prayed to all the gods for safe passage at the ashram towns we passed through, happily conversing with people from all walks of life, reveling in this valley’s very special, spiritual atmosphere.

Meru's North upper rock face goes at 5.9 or harder, and had defeated the previous Swedish attempt. The team's goal was to overcome this technical rock.

After Rishikesh, we reached Uttarkashi and dealt with the paperwork needed for permits, and potential rescue procedures with the local administration, and also visited the famous Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. The next morning we set off in a private bus, passing landslides and journeying through the deep gorge of the Bhagirathi River. A small truck followed with our gear.

After Gangotri, we started trekking at about 9843 ft, passing Chirbasa, then Bhujbasa the next day, and finally Tapovan, the beautiful grassy meadow at 14,435 ft under the headwall of the mighty Shivling – The Himalayan cousin of Switzerland’s Matterhorn, both in shape and form. We spent this extra day deliberately, so that we didn’t confront any altitude problems, as we knew there would be enough technical ones to occupy us.

After a night at the BC, we were moving in slow motion the next morning as we struggled to get exceedingly heavy rucksacks on our back, get the climbing ropes in order and climb in pairs –Åke with Teji and Charu with me. Although it was tempting to use a few fixed ropes from the previous year’s attempt – and we did occasionally use them – we were very aware of possible cuts and damage. We essentially climbed with our double ropes and quickly moved on this not-very-steep ground. As soon as we got to the top of a pitch, the rest of us would jumar up quickly. Of course, Charu, despite his grunts, flashed his best profile as he neared Åke, who was busy shooting with the lightweight, first-generation Sony Handycam.

TEJBIR SINGH KHURANA BETWEEN THE FIRST AND SECOND BIVOUAC ON THE MERU NORTH HEADWALL, AUGUST 1986

Our first bivy was at a reasonably wide ledge called “Swallows’ Nest,” as it was just a third of the way up the face. We saw startling views of the twin peaks of Shivling as we gazed at its West face. The morning broke to light up the twin summits. As the sun’s first rays warmed us, we began climbing the rest of the rock face with the hope of getting as high as possible, so that the following day we would be well poised below the crux. This was at the very end of the rock face before joining onto the snow and ice ridge of the upper 2625 ft.

By now, the route had become far steeper at 70-80 degrees, and we encountered the occasional water stream. Later the same day, we faced some alarming rock fall, most of which fortunately bounced away harmlessly. Both Teji and I as Sikhs had taken the precaution of swapping cloth turbans for fiberglass helmets! The going got a bit slower here due to the gradient, and we arrived to our next spot where we would get a night’s rest. It was the same spot that Åke had used the previous year.

Compared to the previous night, we felt downgraded, like having gone from Business class to Economy, only even worse. We all sat on a narrow ledge on this massive mountain wall, with legs dangling; no blankets, only sleeping bags; and since there was no service at this altitude, we resorted to using our delicately balanced gas stoves for lots of tea and soup.

The next morning, the sun was slower in reaching our rock face and we made a variety of excuses for a delayed start (which we bought into happily–good thing, this teamwork business). Making sure we didn’t drop any gear into the abyss below, we packed deliberately. It had not been a very comfortable night: Each of us had had a similar experience of nodding off and finding ourselves pulled and pressed at those delicate parts of the anatomy. We unanimously called it the ‘Ge Night-al’1 bivy.

Now the ground got steeper to about 80 degrees and more; soon we were near the last 320 ft of the rock face, at the crux. Åke had led up to a pitch below and it had been HVS / E1, (English grades) climbing in the last few pitches. With a secure belay from Åke, I led the last one up with some delicate moves despite large plastic Koflach boots. Having managed to get up and secure the belay, I yelled with happiness for them to come on up. Finally we were at the snow lip. The route went on to flatten out in a snow bowl, and here we made our third bivy (called simply the “platform bivy”), cut out with our snow shovel. Now, back in Business class, we could claim our flat beds!

This was called the “Sautan” bivy–Swedish for ‘Satan’. It was cold at minus 15º Celsius and we didn’t even have our sleeping bags. Legs were stuffed into emptied rucksacks; climbing rope coils became our seats. The one emergency bivy bag we carried was spread as a thin sheet as we sat huddled up, shivering, with a weak stove, even weaker jokes, and howling spin-drift. At one point, it was fascinating to convert Sikh jokes into Irish ones: Why did 19 Irishmen go to see the movies? ‘Because they read the movie poster that said – Under 18 not allowed’.

At that moment, the movies seemed so far away.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: MANDIP SINGH SOIN, THE AUTHOR OF THE STORY; ÅKE NILSSON, TEJBIR SINGH KHURANA (TEJI) AND CHARU SHARMA. ÅKE CARRIED A SONY HANDYCAM UP THE ENTIRE CLIMB, VIDEOING IT FOR PRIMETIME INDIAN TELEVISION. BIRGER ANDREN, THE FIFTH MEMBER, HAD TO DROP OUT FOR MEDICAL REASONS.

We were the quickest to get up at day break and started to get ready – luckily we had carried our emergency bivy stuff and the stove and re-hydration had come in handy. We had six pitches left and Teji led valiantly on steep snow with the final pitch being taken by Ake along the gentle crest that made the Meru North summit. We sat straddled and enjoyed the 5000 ft chasm that lay on one side of us–between Meru and Shivling–with the Thaley Sagar massif behind us. Åke’s filming was luckily going to come to an end, and Charu would stop striking his best poses; as a result I thought we had a good chance of descending quicker!

As it happened, we had to be doubly alert on the descent, because nightfall set in just as we reached the platform bivy. We had to jump across a few crevasses very deliberately and slowly, as this was not the time to lose alertness. The summit is only halfway. We were at the end of an exhausting day. With only enough food supplies left for the last day, we got back to the edge of the snow lip, pulled off crampons, changed gear, and started rappelling down all the way into ABC in one shot.

The following day, we were met by some of our team who had come up to ABC and were we glad to give up some weight. At base camp, hot pakoras and Indian chai never tasted better.

The journey back was uneventful except that when we were leaving BC, a Japanese team of four was also going to climb Meru North, taking a variation on our route on the rock face. On our return in Delhi, we heard they were killed in a rock fall. We were shattered, having exchanged a few pleasantries with them, but it put perspective to our own ascent – of the luck we had had and really some of the many gods, perhaps, who had cast a protective eye over us. We were certainly more centered after the ascent of the beautiful Meru – the centre of the Universe, according to Hindu lore. Regarded as the Olympus of Hindu mythology, with all the planets revolving around it, the Ganges falling from heaven on its summit, and the whole mountain covered with gems, Mt. Meru’s summit is the residence of Brahma and its four quarters, guarded by the Regents. It makes for a perfect place of meeting of all the divine beings.

The film ended and when Anita looked into my eyes, I knew I could never say I was off for another “cakewalk” again. I am still looking for another word.

Feature Image:  ÅKe Nilsson and Charu Sharma on the summit of Meru North.

Images:  Mandip Singh Soin

10 Places on Earth that Feel Like Outer Space

 

Himali Singh Soin writes about ten places on Earth that feel like outer space. This article was originally published by vice.com. Images by Himraj Soin.

Like every child, I wanted to touch the moon, wear stars on my face and blow bubbles into supernovas. Growing up on a diet of David Cronenberg and Star Wars movies, it always felt like the stars were so close and yet so far. But, like you, I soon learnt that the stars aren’t what they seem. They’re just hot, dying stones instead of lit masses of wonder. So I decided to go in search of the most distant, faraway and paranormal places on this planet instead.

I stocked up on warm jackets, cool hats, canvas, wool, muslin and rope, waterproof cameras and barometers. A plane, a train, a bus, a boat and a yak later, and I was at the peripheries of the planet. There, I found breathtaking views, monolithic outcrops, and vegetation that looked like something from another world. But I was on Earth, held by the same blue sky, feeling like I’d travelled light-years away.

If you want your Instagram to look like Nasa’s ISS feed, then check out these 10 landscapes on Earth that could definitely belong to other planets.

Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Mongolia

This is an arid region in which traces of dinosaur eggs and fossils have been found. Rocky outcrops look like fallen meteorites that have been flattened and smoothened over time. From the top, the semi-desert steppe is solitary and the only signs of life are rare sightings of the elusive wild Argali sheep in a ravine or an abandoned mine.

Tsingy and Baobabs, Madagascar

Disney aside, the raw romance of Madagascar makes for a perfect inter-galactic love story. The Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve is a UNESCO world heritage site, made of sharp limestone formations that seem to tear the sky open.

The upside down trees on Avenue de Baobab looks as if Calvin and Hobbes walked into the Jataka Tales, like currents of electricity, hanging on their own accord.

Sossusvlei and Damaraland, Namibia

Sossusvlei, which means marsh of no return, is a salt clay pan with burnt-camel thorn trees protruding out of the parched earth. The dunes are also covered in tiny shrubs growing in perfect circles, referred to by locals as ‘fairy circles’ because scientists have yet to learn the reason behind them.

Klip River Valley in Damaraland is the land of rhinos, the unicorns of the earth. Flanked by the Namib Desert in the west and the Kalahari in the east, it looks like a crater where tectonic plates rift and part in pleasant separation. The flat plateaus would make a perfect spot for a UFO landing.

Lamayuru, Ladakh, India

Referred to as ‘moonland’, the high altitude mountain desert is filled with mineral deposits. Its purple and teal hues, combined with the famous Lamayuru Monastery—known as the ‘eternal monastery’—carved out of the mountain, lends that divine sense of the grand unifying theory that everything is one.

Grey Glacier, Chile

At the southern tip of the Chilean Patagonia is a wall of warm blue ice, rising up as high as fifty feet, giving way to fjords, horns and glaciated valleys. To experience this sense of distance shortening, scale and sculpture is to experience the periphery.

Atacama, Chile

If Saturn was on Earth, here it is. In the driest, most uninhabitable part of the world, the stars look like sheet of silver and the sand is layered in snowy-looking salt. The meteorites found there help astronomers trace the beginning of the Big Bang, and here is where we can actually touch a thing that has burst through from outer space.

Mahabalipuram, India

In a small town in the state of Tamil Nadu this 5 meter wide, 250-ton round monolith has been precariously balanced on another rock for over a thousand years. Local residents quip that the rock is the god Krishna’s butter ball. It’s believed that at this spot the forces of this world give way to the mysterious, the miraculous and the marvelous.

Maras, Peru

Beside quinoa fields and hummingbirds and orchids, in one of Peru’s sacred Incan valleys there’s a stunning white natural stairway of evaporated salt ponds. It looks cold like Heaven (or Jupiter), and tastes like tears. Maybe it was a natural metaphor for the core, the source of things, like a lesson in the idea of the essence.

Borneo, Malaysia

You know those movies about alien plants from nearby galaxies colonizing us? In the deep rainforests of Kota Kinabalu’s forest reserve are the most bizarre and terrifying plants. Beside the giant meat-eating pitcher plant there’s a parasitic flower with leathery petals and no roots, no stems and no leaves. The Rafflesia is the world’s largest and most putrid smelling flower, one meter in diameter and blooms for about a week every year. As the forests dwindle, its status has changed from rare by nature to endangered by humans, but who knows, it may take over the world next week.

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica

The biggest tabular iceberg, over half a mile long and half a mile wide, broke off the Antarctic Larsen B Ice Shelf and is floating in the Antarctic Ocean. Climate change caused the complete collapse of this ice shelf in 2002, making it the largest disintegration event in 30 years. Witnessing a massive and heavy thing floating with only a third of its structure visible, inverts everything we know to be true. You feel a simultaneous sense of beauty and alarm from seeing it.

This article was originally published by vice.com. Images by Himraj Soin.

INDIA’S WILD HEART: TALES FROM THE JUNGLE; A LIMITED EDITION JOURNEY

This exciting new adventure celebrates the outdoors and the freedom to explore it with a deep sense of gratitude and respect for the wilderness we must protect.

We enjoy not just the wilderness and natural heritage of India but explore the fascinating built heritage of this region.

Jungle Book brought to life our first interaction with Mowgli, Shere Khan, Bagheera, Baloo and other lifelike characters running free in the jungles. On this journey, we relive the delight by visiting their abode.

About Ibex Expeditions & Taj Safaris

Ibex Expeditions celebrates 40 years of excellence in bespoke adventure, safari and luxury travel in India.

Taj safaris redefines luxury and environmentally friendly comfort amid nature furnished with greenery! Taj Safari lodges offer an enthralling experience and their philosophy is to maintain sustainability to the highest level with a low footprint in harmony with the local community’s needs.

Nothing beats a personal travel tale and sharing a passion of travelling in wild places. Join us to tell your own story from the heart!

Led by Explorer, Mandip Singh Soin who is the only Indian to receive the Citation of Merit by the Explorers Club, USA for his diverse adventures. Both Mandip and his wife Anita, have explored seven continents and believe firmly in protecting our wilderness. Mandip is the Founder of Ibex Expeditions and the Founder President of the Ecotourism Society of India (the National body for responsible tourism in India).

This journey designed by Ibex Expeditions & Taj Safaris takes us through the Panna National Park with the Pashan Garh lodge set in 200 acres of private wilderness; onto Mahua Kothi lodge set in a 45 acre private forest in the Bandhavgarh National Park in the Vindhya hills and finally, to Banjaar Tola set in a 90 acre sal forest on the banks of the river.

The heart of India’s wild is home to the Bengal tiger, leopard, wild boar, antelope, and more.

When you travel with us on this journey, you support the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s Give back to Nature programme to ensure other species of wildlife are protected till eternity.

Highlights:

  • An experience to enjoy a personally led journey with Mandip & Anita.
  • A luxurious stay at the five-star deluxe landmark hotel, Taj Palace, New Delhi.
  • Exploring three of Central India’s premier wildlife forests.
  • Tracking wildlife including tiger, leopard, wild boar, a variety of antelope and more.
  • Stay at the charming Pashangarh lodge, Mahua Kothi lodge, and Banjaar Tola lodge.
  • Visiting the Kalinjar fort by a short trek.
  • Enjoy a small group tour of 12-16 persons.
  • A give back to nature component towards the Give Back to Nature programme of theWorld-Wide Fund for Nature India.
  • A night safari at Pashangarh, Panna.
  • Jungle Safaris at all parks
  • A nature walk and village visit at Mahua Kothi, Bandhavgarh.
  • A cooking class at Banjaar Tola, Kanha.
  • A visit to a tribal village and to the Kanha Museum of Life and Art in Kanha

ITINERARY
04 – 16 April 2020
13 Days/12 Nights

04 April
Arrival Delhi
You will be received by an Ibex Expeditions representative who will assist you to your Hotel Taj Palace, New Delhi.

05 April
Delhi
After breakfast, proceed on a guided tour of Delhi at 0930 hours which includes the city’s world heritage sites.

Step back in time as you drive through the roads of New Delhi and witness some of its historical sites – India Gate, The Presidential Palace and Parliament House. Experience the magnificence of the grand new city that Sir Edwin Lutyens built in the early 1900s.

Humayun’s tomb was commissioned by Emperor Humayun’s wife Hamida Banu Begum in 1562 and designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyath, a Persian architect. It was the first garden-tomb of the Indian subcontinent.

Spread over 90 acres, the resplendent Sunder Nursery Gardens is a heritage park complex situated adjacent to the Humayun’s Tomb. Originally known as Azim Bagh, it was built during the Mughal era in the 16th century and comprises of 15 heritage monuments. It has over 300 types of unique trees, making it Delhi’s first arboretum. During the erstwhile British era, the nursery was established to grow experimental plants that gave the complex its name.

06 April
Delhi – Khajuraho by flight. To Panna National Park by road. Monday (55 kms)
After an early breakfast by 0730 hours, you will be transferred to the airport to board your flight to Khajuraho.
Flight: Air India 406: 1015h – 1440h (Monday, Wednesday, Saturday)

Pashan Garh is a unique lodge nestled in untamed wilderness in a 200-acre forest. Here you have a unique opportunity of also enjoying a night safari. The habitat restoration initiative that the team has undertaken have resulted in a green cover.

Panna is situated in the Vindhya Hill range and spreads over the Panna and Chhatarpur districts in the northern part of Madhya Pradesh. Panna National Park is the most important protected area in the north-central highlands of India, as it links the eastern and western populations of wild animals through the Vindhya ranges.

Situated just 40 km from the world-famous temples at Khajuraho, Panna National Park is located along the banks of the Ken River. The Park, with its deep ravines, cascading waterfalls and thick teak forests, is predominantly a plateau, with sprawling flatlands punctuated by hills, deep valleys and gorges. The terrain is largely rocky and uneven.

There are mixed dry deciduous forests with short grasses and open woods. Lower altitudes are characterised by taller grasses and closed woodlands. Common bamboo also occurs on hilly slopes and gorges.

Home to the majestic tiger, guests may also see leopard, wolf, hyena, jackal and sloth bear. The reserve is also well known for sightings of nilgai, sambar, chital, wild boar and Indian crocodile.

07 April
Panna National Park
Early morning, you will have a wake-up tea, after which you depart for a jungle safari accompanied by a resident naturalist, with break for picnic breakfast.
Return to lodge. In the afternoon after early lunch, proceed on an excursion to Kalinjar fort which is 60 kms away.

Many decisive battles were fought for the possession of this strategically located fort in ancient, medieval and modern times. The fort is also symbolic of cultural and religious glory. The famous temple here is the Neelkantha, the tallest Kala Bhairava image and a number of other sculptures.

You return to the lodge at the end of the day.

Reminiscent of meeting Fred, Barney and the Flintstones family, you stay in stylish stone cottages huddled atop a hill, facing a waterhole and forest, and await eagerly to see an antelope wandering in the wild and perhaps, seeing the big cat. Inspired from the local dry packed stone houses of the region, the uneven stones add to its charm.

The crocodile is omnipresent greeting you and the interiors are a contemporary mix of chocolate linens, block printed black silks, celadon cottons and cotton lace chandeliers.

This evening you will enjoy a talk by Mandip titled ‘Tales of an Explorer’, an anecdotal, humorous account of 4 decades of living on the edge in the outdoors.

08 April
Panna National Park
After breakfast, drive to Khajuraho town for a guided tour of the temples.
The temples at Khajuraho were built under later Chandela kings between 950 and 1050 AD in a truly inspired burst of creativity. Of the original 85 temples, the 25 surviving are among the finest in India. They are built mostly of fine sandstone from Panna in shades ranging from pink through buff to pale yellow although granite was used.

Some believe, the erotic temple sculptures illustrate Kama Sutra, the sensuality outside the temple contrasting with the serenity within. The name Khajuraho is derived from Khajura-date palm, which grows freely in the area and perhaps, because there were two golden khajura trees on a carved gate here.

Return to the lodge for lunch, followed by an afternoon game drive in your own vehicle ending at sunset. Enjoy a sundowner as you recount tales of the jungle.

09 April
Panna National Park – Bandhavgarh National Park (200 Thursday kms, 4-5 hours)
After breakfast, we proceed to the next wilderness destination at Bandhavgarh.  Enjoy a relaxing and rejuvenating massage at Mahua Kothi Lodge.

This compact park with a core area of 105 sq. kms and a buffer zone of 437 sq km is in the Vindhya hills. It is famous as the place in which the white tiger originated and before becoming a National Park in 1968, it was the game preserve of the Maharajas of Rewa. The management has embarked on a conservation programme and protection form disease, fire, grazing and poaching have all been factors in the recovery of the wildlife area. It is set in rugged hills and marshes that used to be perennial and now support a vast grassland savanna. There are also interesting cave shrines that are scattered around the park.

10 April
Bandhavgarh National Park
Early this morning, we will head to the park for a game drive accompanied by expert naturalists. We will look for not just the tiger but all species of fauna and flora. We will also stop for a picnic breakfast.

Late afternoon proceed for a guided nature walk. The nature trails offered in the buffer zone of the park, it is a wonderful time to get acquainted by the smaller creatures, be they butterflies, beetles, and a multitude of wildflowers.

11 April
Bandhavgarh National Park
After breakfast, visit a local village and interact with the locals and see their untouched way of life. These villages are on the periphery of the park where farming is practiced in age old methods with simple tools and ingenuity. Tribes like Baiga, Gond and Kol amongst others, live in homes plastered with cow dung. Return to the lodge for lunch followed by an afternoon game drive in search of leopards, tigers and more.

Tonight, we will sit beneath the Mahua tree and have dinner. The tall tree stands at the edge of the grassland and here we enjoy a special dinner adorned by lanterns. This dinner is a unique dining experience with barbecued cuisine.

12 April
Bandhavgarh National Park – Kanha National Park (250 Sunday kms, 5 hours)
After breakfast, we will drive to Kanha National park with a packed lunch. The afternoon is free and later you can enjoy a cooking class by the chef who will unveil simple tips on Indian cooking. This is the country that Kipling wrote so vividly in his Jungle book. The area was famed as a hunter’s paradise but now the valley has been well developed as a national park. Lying in the Maikal hills in the eastern part of the Satpura range, the park has deciduous hardwoods including sal (Shorea robusta) and stands of bamboo, rolling grasslands and meandering streams of the Banjar River.

13 April
Kanha National Park
At dawn, we will leave in special jeeps of Banjar Tola with our naturalists through dense jungles and grasslands laden with mist and a deep orange orb for a sun in the sky. Misty mornings are a common feature in Kanha. Kanha is rich in biodiversity and has an excellent population of tigers and leopards. The Barasingha (Hard ground swamp deer) are the mascots of Kanha and herds can be seen in grasslands as well as in ponds feeding on aquatic plants.

After lunch, visit a nearby tribal village, interacting with the locals and learning about their ancient culture. Gond and Baiga are the two prominent tribes found here. These were a hunter –gatherer, forest dwelling communities that practised a harmonious coexistence with nature. Remnants of that lifestyle can still be glimpsed here, although the younger generations are fast adapting to modern ways.

14 April
Kanha National Park
This morning, we will visit the Kanha Museum of life and art. The museum showcases Gond and Baiga tribal traditional paintings that draw inspiration from forests and wildlife. At 1430 hours, we will return to the park for another drive looking for gaur and jackals.

This evening we have a farewell bush dinner with lanterns and a rustic wooden cart. Some local delicacies like the Baiga chicken will be served. The Baiga dancers in traditional dress move lithely as the compelling drumbeats reverberate.

15 April
Kanha National Park – Jabalpur airport by road. (175 kms, 3 Wednesday hours) – Delhi by flight.
Enjoy the last day at the lodge and then proceed to Jabalpur. Banjaar Tola’s Gaudi-esque tents set you up for the eclectic décor and scrumptious menus. The naturalist here can bring alive the reality of a tiger’s hair to the creation of an ant hill! They have names for butterflies, tree bark, beetles and bees. Steeped in high luxury, exploring this lodge is eternally mysterious as is the lush Sal forest that it inhabits in Central India.

On arrival at Delhi, transfer to Hotel Taj Palace for the night, with evening free.

16 April
Depart Delhi
You will be transferred to the airport based on your final flight details.

Ladakh: A Photographic Journey To Little Tibet - Ibex Expeditions

LADAKH: SPECIAL EDITION PHOTOGRAPHY JOURNEY TO “LITTLE TIBET”

Ladakh: A Photographic Journey To Little Tibet - Ibex Expeditions

Flying into Leh, the former capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, feels more like landing on the moon than landing in India. Its harsh, mountainous terrain is starkly beautiful and very dry, due to its high altitude and cold desert climate. Dotted with stupas and whitewashed houses, the Old Town is dominated by a dagger of steep rocky ridge topped by an imposing Tibetan-style palace and fort.

Our 40th anniversary special edition journey to Ladakh this September will be led by Himraj Soin, an adventure travel journalist and photographer.

Following a theme of a responsible eco adventure, walking in the footsteps of the  this photo adventure journey will take you to all Buddhist monasteries, trek through breathtaking passes. You will discuss Buddhist traditions, learn about renewable energy projects with conservationists, visit outfits promoting sustainable development and walk along hillsides dotted with chortens and monasteries with exquisite Himalayan vistas.

Since 2012, Ibex Expeditions has supported the Give Back to Nature programme of WWF India and for each participant of this journey, we will donate US $ 40 per person.

ITINERARY
13 nights / 14 days
15 – 28 September 2019

15 September
Arrival Delhi
Hotel Imperial

On arrival into IGI Delhi airport, you will be met by our Office Assistant, holding a
name placard followed by transfer to your hotel. Since your arrival is late night, check-in to your hotel and catch up on jetlag.

16 September
Delhi
After breakfast, proceed on a guided tour of Delhi at 0930 hours which includes the city’s world heritage sites.
Drive through New Delhi roads & sights such as India Gate, The Presidential Palace and Parliament house to get a feel for the grand new city that Sir Lutyens built in the early 1900s.

17 September
Delhi – Leh (3500 m) by flight – Stok Village by road (30 minutes)
This morning you will be transferred to the airport to board early morning scheduled flight to Leh.
Note – Check In starts 1.5 hours prior to flight departure.
Met on arrival at the Leh airport followed by transfer to your hotel in Stok Village.
On this day, it is important for you to take it completely easy to allow for good acclimatisation, taking plenty of liquid and relaxing.
Today you meet Raja Jigmet of Ladakh and interact with him, as he welcomes you to his family home (note – subject to his availability).

18 September
Leh
This morning, you can still take it easy for further acclimatisation and then go out for
a half day sightseeing only after lunch. You will be taken by a Ladakhi guide to see two local sites and walk in Leh’s main bazaar.

Shanti Stupa – Dominating Leh from a high, rocky ridge, this gigantic white spired
pudding of a stupa was built in 1991 by Japanese monks to promote world peace.
You can circumbulate to canned mantras and meditate in the Buddha Hall, but the
greatest attraction is the stunning view over Leh. Ideally, make the breathless 15-
minute climb when golden afternoon light still illuminates the city but the steps up
from Changspa are already bathed in cooling shadow.

Shey monastery, 15 Km south of Leh was constructed by the first king of Ladakh,
Lhachen Palgyigon and of successive kings. Around 12 ft Shakyamuni Buddha’s
statue made by copper guilt is the largest in the region, built by Deldan Namgyal in
1633 is a funerary memorial to his father, King Singee Namgyal. There is another
statue of the Buddha three story in height at Dresthang down the castle. Stone
carving and many chortens are scattered around the Dresthang Gompa.

This evening visit a local home in the village for a culinary class and home cooked
meal. Interact with the host family and learn about the Ladakhi lifestyle.

19 September
Leh – Likir by road (45 Kms, 1.5 hours) – Yangthang (3630 m) by trek (3 hours)

After breakfast, check out and do a short drive to Likir where you visit the monastery atop a hill, upstream of the village.

Here you meet the trek staff and mules and thereafter commence trek to Yangthang. The trail passes over a small pass of Phobe La (3550 meters) and Charatse La (3650 meters). Arrive Yangthang and camp near the stream.

20 September
Yangthang – Hemis Shukpachan (3600 m) by trek (6-7 hours)
After breakfast, gear up for the day ahead.

You walk alongside the river and trees amidst the gorge to the Rizong Monastery, which is isolated at the back of a natural amphitheatre and has three main rooms to visit, two with large Buddhas and third with a large stupa.

After visiting the gompa, you ascend gradually to the Shushut pass (4000 m). From the pass you will have a view of Hemis Shukpachan as well as surrounding peaks. An easy descent towards your camp at Hemis Shukpachan takes a couple of hours. It is one of the major villages of Sham, and the name of the village is derived from the conifers (shukpa cedar or juniper).  Visit the village for photography and interaction with the locals.

21 September
Hemischukpachen -Thimsgam by trek (4 hours) – Alchi (3100 m) by road

From Hemis Shukpachan post breakfast, you go onto a flat ground as far as ill-defined pass alongside the Chortens (stupas). A steep descent will lead you to the right side of the mountains and climb steadily on the slope towards the Mebtak La (3720 m). After a short rest and enjoying the view from the pass, you head down to the village of Ang.  From Ang, you head towards the south on the dusty jeep road to the village of Thimsgam . Thimsgam, is well famed for its monastery, and is perhaps the most affluent  village in the Sham valley for its apricots, apples, nuts and beautiful houses.

Here you meet your transport followed by drive to visit the famous and ancient Lamayuru Monastery – the oldest monastery of Ladakh.  Thereafter, proceed onwards to Alchi Village for overnight stay, with a visit to the village for photography. The village of Alchi is unmissable for the murals and carvings of its world-famous temple complex, founded in the early 11th century by ‘Great Translator’ Lotsava Ringchen Zangpo and one of the Himalaya’s great artistic treasures. The village itself is a charming and relaxing place.

22 September
Alchi – Nubra Valley (3050 m) by road (230 Kms, 6-7 hours)
After breakfast, depart for Nubra Valley via the Khardung la pass. This is one of the highest motorable roads in the world, passing over the Khardung la pass at a height of 5602 m.  The road begins from Leh itself and winds its way up to reach the Khardung la.  The views from here are magnificent and take in the Zanskar and Karakoram ranges.

After this you descend to Shyok Valley in Nubra. From the hamlet of Khalsar, which is at the far end of Shyok Valley the trail divides, one heading up along the Nubra River to the Siachen Glacier and the other to the villages of Bogdang and Turtuk, which were once a part of erstwhile Baltistan, now a part of Indian-administrated Kashmir. On arrival in the valley, proceed to your resort for check in. Later visit Hunder village and take a brief Bactrian camel ride.

Hunder – is a pretty village set among lots of trees and mingling streams and is about 7km from Diskit. Between Diskit and Hunder is an area of sand dunes, not unlike the Sahara region if one ignores the snow-capped Alps like mountains in the background. The Gompa here is about a 2km walk above the village. It is completely deserted and quite eerie. There is only a small Buddha statue and some frescoes, but the climb is worth it for the views and atmosphere.

Hunder has a palace, deserted 50 years ago and now belonging to the Hunder monastery.  Hunder is a pretty village full of religious and historical sites including the palace and monastery and a huge Chorten arch with fine paintings in the dome.

Possibility for Upgrade to TUTC’s Chamba Camp in Diskit Village for a supplement.

23 September
Nubra Valley
After breakfast, visit Samstanling Monastery in Sumur.
The picturesque village of Sumur is a charming spot in Ladakh. Calm and peaceful is what this village is all about and giving it an added beauty is the Samstanling Monastery. Set amidst scenic mountains and greens Samstanling is a popular monastery which showcases the traditional touch with shades of gold, red and white. It houses about 50 monks.
Afternoon free for independent activities.

24 September
Nubra Valley – Pangong Lake (4350 m) by road (5-6 hours)
After breakfast, check out and drive to Pangong Tso. Remainder of the day is at leisure to walk around and for many photographic opportunities. Thereafter, drive to Tangste (14 kms away) where you check-in to your fixed camp for the night with the evening at leisure.

25 September
Pangong – Stok Village by road (160 Kms, 4-5 hours)
After breakfast, check out by 0900 hours and drive to Leh, visiting Thiksey monastery enroute.

Thiksey is an imposing monastery and one of the finest examples of Ladakhi architecture. This Gompa is situated on the top of the hill and part of the Gelukpa order.

The 12-storey monastery complex contains numerous stupas, statues; Thangkha, wall paintings, swords and a large pillar engraved with the Buddha’s teachings, there are sacred shrines and a many precious objects to be seen. The successive reincarnation of the Skyabje Khampo Rinpoche act as in charge of the monastery. The main prayer hall has a 15-metre-high-seated Buddha figure. 

In the afternoon, visit the Leh office of the Snow Leopard Conservancy Trust India (weekdays during office hours only). Interact with the staff and learn about the good work being done by them in partnership with the local communities to preserve this beautiful mammal.

Thereafter proceed to your hotel in Stok Village, for the night.

26 September Leh
Enjoy the colourful Ladakh festival which is a celebration of the rich cultural heritage of Ladakh spread over 4 days. The activities include archery competitions, polo matches, masked dances from the monasteries and dances by cultural troupes from the villages. There is also a grand procession/parade with musicians, dancers and cultural troupes.

27 September Leh
Continue to enjoy a second day of the Ladakh festival and imbibe in the colour and dance and music of this amazing landscape.

28 September
Leh – Delhi by flight -Depart
Early morning, you will be transferred to the Leh airport, for your flight to Delhi.

RAJASTHAN: SPECIAL EDITION JOURNEY TO 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. There’s nowhere quite like Rajasthan so get ready for cities of pink, white and blue, for dazzling Indian festivals.

On the 40th anniversary of Ibex Expeditions, adventure travel journalist and photographer Himraj Soin, who has led several National Geographic Student expeditions will be leading this unique journey.

ITINERARY

12 nights / 13 days 04 – 16 March 2019

04 March Arrival Delhi
Claridges

On arrival into IGI Delhi airport, you will be transferred to your hotel. (On request at a charge). Since your arrival is late night, check-in to your hotel and catch up on jetlag.

05 March Delhi
After breakfast, proceed on a guided tour of Delhi at 0930 hours which includes all three of the city’s world heritage sites.
The tour begins with a visit to the magnificent Red fort followed by a cycle rickshaw ride through the narrow lanes of the fascinating bazaar in Old Delhi.
Note – The Red Fort is closed on Mondays.

Drive through New Delhi roads & sights such as India Gate, The Presidential Palace and Parliament house to get a feel for the grand new city that Sir Lutyens built in the early 1900s.

06 March Delhi – Agra by road (200 Kms, 4-5 hours)
After breakfast, check out by 0930 hours and begin your drive to land of the Mughals – Agra.
Post lunch by 1400 hours, your guide will take you on a guided tour of the main attractions of the Mughal city.

Like Delhi, Agra stands on the Right Bank of the river Yamuna. The romance of the world’s most famous building still astonishes in its power. In addition to the Taj Mahal, Agra houses the great monuments of the Red Fort and the Itmad-ud-Daulah.

Agra Fort – with the Taj Mahal overshadowing it, one can easily forget that Agra has one of the finest Mughal forts in India. Construction of the massive red-sandstone fort, on the bank of the Yamuna River, was begun by Emperor Akbar in 1565. The builder of Taj Mahal Emperor Shah Jahan was kept there as a prisoner by his own son.

Mehtab Bagh – This park originally built by Emperor Babur is now one the best places from which to view the great mausoleum of Taj Mahal. The gardens in the Taj are perfectly aligned with the ones here, and the view of the Taj from the fountain directly in front of the entrance gate is a special one.

Trident │Breakfast

07 March Agra – Ramathra by road (200 Kms, 4-5 hours)
The same guide will report to the hotel around 0600 hours to take you for a guided sunrise tour of Taj Mahal.

Taj Mahal, the pinnacle of Mughal architecture, was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1628-1658), grandson of Akbar the Great, in the memory of his queen Arjumand Bano Begum, called ‘Mumtaz Mahal’.

Return for breakfast.

After breakfast in the hotel, check out and later drive to your next destination the Ramathra Fort which lies between two of India’s famous wildlife reserves, the Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur and the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve in Sawai Madhopur. The fort, the lake and the surrounding countryside are the three big attractions of Ramathra.

This evening enjoy a ride in a row boat in the Kalisil dam. It is peaceful & picturesque with breath-taking views of the sunset & the area is rich with birdlife. You are provided life jackets, a bird book & a pair of binoculars.

Ramathra Fort
Breakfast, lunch and dinner

At 0630 hours, proceed with a local guide for a 3-4 hours walking tour of Ramathra village, a small hamlet of farmers and cattle herders. You may see all kinds of work associated with tending crops and animals. This walk includes visit to a school and a farm owned by the family who runs the fort-hotel.

Ramathra was granted as a jagir (fiefdom) in 1645 AD to Thakur Bhoj Pal by his father the Maharaja of Karauli. The name Ramathra honours Lord Rama, who, it is believed, camped here while on his epic journey to Lanka. Today, Ramathra Fort belongs to Thakur Brijendra Raj Pal and his family who are descendants of the founder.

08 March Ramathra
Breakfast, lunch and dinner
Return to the fort around 0930 hours for breakfast and rest.

Enjoy a hot picnic lunch on an island with great views, accessed by a rowing boat. You return to the fort between 1500 – 1600 hours.
Late afternoon enjoy a trek to the ruins of the old fort and back.

09 March Ramathra – Jaipur by road (180 Kms, 3-4 hours)

After breakfast, check out by 0930 hours and drive to the pink city of Jaipur.

In the evening, proceed to Dera Amer camp on the outskirts of the city, where you interact with the elephants feeding and accompanying them for a walk -all in the privacy of an exclusive wilderness venue. In the evenings there would be a private bon fire and barbecue dinner, the venue lit by lanterns and lamps. This is a memorable experience of a lifetime. Later you will return to the hotel in your vehicle.

│Breakfast and dinner
│ Royal Heritage Haveli

Jaipur is the first planned city of India, located in the desert lands of Rajasthan. The city that once had been the capital of the royalty, now serves as the capital city of Rajasthan. The very structure of Jaipur resembles the taste of the Rajputs and the Royal family.

10 March Jaipur
Happy Holi – Festival of colours!

Late morning visit a local home in your vehicle to join the family in the festive celebrations followed by lunch. You learn how to make Rangolis – art form in which patterns are made on the floor to welcome positive energy, get henna artwork on your hands, play with colour powder and enjoy traditional eats in a festive setting.

Return to your hotel for a bath and rest time, reliving moments of celebrating one of India’s biggest festivals.

11 March Jaipur
Today, you will get lost in the royal city as you discover its magic with a tour guide at 1000 hours.

Amber Fort: The old capital of the Kachhwaha stands atop a range of hills. The fort is remarkable as much for the majestic grandeur of its surroundings as for its sturdy battlements and palaces. It is a fine blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture.

Next visit the Anokhi museum of hand printing, to understand the on-going revival of traditional textile skills. Located in a magnificently restored mansion, the museum displays a varied selection of block printed textiles alongside images, tools and related objects – all chosen to provide an in-depth look into the complexity of this ancient tradition.

Jantar Mantar Observatory built in the 18th century by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, the huge masonry instruments were used to study the movement of constellations and stars in the sky. The enormous sundial still provides accurate time.

Jawahar Kala Kendra – Designed by architect and urban planner, Charles Correa, this space serves as a cultural hub and a repository of Rajasthan’s myriad arts and crafts. The main building contains six exhibition galleries, open air theatre, auditoriums, dormitories, and coffee house.

12 March Jaipur – Deogarh by road (275 Kms, 5-6 hours)
After breakfast, check out at 0930 hours and drive to your next destination of Deogarh town in the countryside.

Devshree is a stately home at Deogarh which reflects a past of the heritage of Bhavna and Shatrunjai Singh, members of the local princely family that dates to the 6th century. Being traditionalists at heart, they involved as many local crafts people as possible to create a wonderful home away from home.

In the evening, enjoy a guided walk through Deogarh town passing through the potters’ street and farmers houses- Connecting to the high street – trading part of the town, reaching the central Square called Manak Chowk and coming Bagh Via the Ker Ghati residential street of the more affluent town folk (comparatively).
Distance covered – 2Kms / 1.5 hours duration.
│Devshree │Breakfast and dinner

13 March Deogarh
Breakfast, lunch and dinner

This morning, board a rural 1930’s train to ride through a wooded hill section. Rudyard Kipling wrote about it in his book` Man who would be King.” A unique feature of Deogarh Mahal is the rural rail, travelling from Kamblighat to Phulad (departs at 1030 hours and arrives Phulad Station at 1215 hours approximately- Timings subject to change) through wooded hills on a restored 1930s era train.

Return to the hotel.

Late in the afternoon enjoy a drive through a pastoral setting where one explores the natural surrounding with people tending to their fields and cattle and living in complete harmony with nature. The drive than leads to a lake side where light refreshments are served. These lakes attract a lot of the local migratory birds and small animals that are lovely to watch with the sun set as a back drop.

14 March Deogarh – Narlai by road (70 Kms, 2 hours)
Late morning check out and proceed on short drive to the nearby rural outpost of Narlai.
In the afternoon, proceed on a Jeep safari to spot endangered leopards.

The rugged Godwad countryside around Narlai suits the leopards and over a period the number has increased. Experience the thrill of customized ride on jeeps for a sighting of this beautiful and graceful cat. Not easy to spot as they blend very well into the background, these cats can sometimes be seen sunning themselves on the rocks or resting under the shade of a tree. Unlike the lions, leopards do not stay in a pride and are solitary by nature and have large territories that they roam in. But sometimes they can be spotted in pairs.

Taste the flavour of true Rajasthani Royal hospitality at the 16th Century old Baoli (Stepwell) of Rawla Narlai this evening over a special private dinner.

The 15th century old village of Narlai is a sleepy hamlet, delightfully tucked between Udaipur and Jodhpur cities, and is a great place to explore the local countryside. The village is popular for many temples, rocky landscapes and the community of Rabari tribe.

15 March Narlai – Jodhpur by road (140 Kms, 3-4 hours)
After breakfast, check out by 0930 hours and drive to the blue city of Jodhpur. In the afternoon at 1400 hours, visit one of India’s best Museums located in a fort.

Meherangarh Fort: 400 feet above the city of Jodhpur, enclosed in sturdy imposing walls, is the Meherangarh Fort. Inside, myriad palaces and courtyard still stand, famous for the intricate carvings on their walls and the prints of cannonballs from battles against Jaipur armies are tattooed on its facade. The museum within the fort walls is one of the better stocked in Rajasthan, displaying the heritage of the Rathores in arms, costumes, paintings, and decorated period rooms.

Later proceed on a guided walk with a naturalist in the Rao Jodha desert Park created in 2006 to restore the natural ecology of a large, rocky wasteland. Duration – 1 hour. The park is crisscrossed with walking trails that take you up to the city walls, spotting local and migratory birds, butterflies and reptiles.

Return to the hotel at the end of the walk in your vehicle.

This evening a farewell dinner is organised at the hotel restaurant as you reminisce over the past few days and swap stories.

16 March – Day 13 Jodhpur – Delhi by flight – Depart

Late morning check out and transfer to airport to board scheduled flight to Delhi.

On arrival at airport, transfer to Hotel Roseate House (near the airport) where rooms are reserved for day use only.

Later this evening / night, transfer to the International airport to board onwards flight. (On request)