Far away from the hustle and bustle of city life, life at a jungle camp is a life of unhurried living full of nature and surprises! Growing up in a region teeming with wildlife, appreciating the beauty of the natural world is engrained in Yusuf Ansari, an expert naturalist living his life pursuing his passion-Wildlife. We are fortunate to have him share with you his story and his love for wildlife and for Ranthambore:
“I come from a region teeming with game and much of my childhood was spent observing wildlife around the family home in Ghazipur on the Gangetic plain and at my parent’s farm, bordering the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal. As children my siblings and I often visited areas like Jim Corbett National Park, (where I was charged by an elephant aged 7), Rajaji National Park, Dudhwa and other such places. The Nepal terai was of course a haven for wildlife and is still salvageable as are the marshes and riverine plains of the Ganges in Eastern UP. It was impossible not to be influenced by the environment around us and stories of great feats of ancestors who were prodigious hunters (hunting was a normal way of life in their own time) and knew their wildlife intimately.
I was introduced to Ranthambhore in 2003, by my close friend Jaisal Singh who had started his pioneering luxury tented camp, Sher Bagh on a part of his family estate in 2000, just bordering the National Park. The first time I visited Ranthambhore, I lost all objectivity about the place, there is a certain magical allure to it, an almost mystical magnetism which draws one back to it constantly. It is a unique habitat; the western most range of one of nature’s most charismatic creatures, the tiger and the only dry deciduous dry thorn forest where it is still found naturally (it has been reintroduced into other such forests). The other unique feature about Ranthambhore – ‘The Place of the Pillars of War’ – is the scale at which historic monuments and acres of history lie entangled amidst the wilderness. Nowhere else can one witness such a profuse scattering of palaces, tombs, temples and mosques, dating as far into antiquity as the 10th century AD whose only inhabitants are denizens of the Indian forests. Ranthambhore compels any human spirit that is sensitive to nature to yield before its charms in a way very few places can.
Life at camp has its own enduring charms. I moved to Ranthambhore permanently in 2007, as General Manager of Sher Bagh and continued in the role until early 2011. I now only manage the wildlife experiences of our guests and work as far as possible with the Park authorities in conservation initiatives. Although a more limited role than that of a GM’s, my present position includes heading our Department of Trackers and Guides at Sher Bagh, comes with its own challenges and offers an exciting albeit unconventional lifestyle. The day never ends and without exception one wishes it wouldn’t. What can beat the experience of coming across some of nature’s most riveting phenomenon and sharing that experience with our guests, many of whom have spent a lifetime in the appreciation of nature but are perhaps making their very first journey to these wilds? An unhindered encounter with wildlife’s most powerful renditions, without barriers, without obstructions, in their own raw element is a moving moment for many of our visitors. Many of our guests have seen tigers and other big cats or wildlife moments only on their television screens or read about them in books; others are familiar with the African wildlife experience, quite distinct to the Indian one. Our first endeavour is to apprise and familiarise our guests with what Indian wildlife has to offer, being a rich and diverse tableaux of species, habitats and ecosystems. Our methods of tracking animals are also specialised and based around the topography and animal behavioural patterns of individual regions. For example, in Ranthambhore, one of the primary ways of tracking our predators is by assessing the behaviour, mood and actions of their prey species. We try to attune our guests to the environment as soon as they arrive here and by the end of a three day stay most of them leave Sher Bagh having learnt certain basic skills of ‘bushcraft’. The Sher Bagh campfire has something of an iconic status in Ranthambhore and countless discussions and stories have been exchanged around its embers which have burned every winter from the time the Camp was set up. They only grow more engrossing with retelling. The atmosphere around the campfire every evening is resonant of a house-party where the day’s gossip about the park and disparate experiences of game drives, encounters with our animals are exchanged and analysed. This is one of my favourite parts of the day and opens up the discussions leading to a wider understanding of wildlife, the environment, history and life in India. Chats are sometimes punctuated by the bronchial alarm calls of a sambar deer and the occasional roar of a tiger resounding through the hills around camp is not unheard of!
Personally, the sense of privilege about living in a tiger habitat and around wild tigers, not to mention all the lesser seen but other iconic species like leopard, caracal, bear and many others, never fades. This is something that immediately filters through to our guests, for no one can ever become jaded by the experience of living in Ranthambhore and that energy is transferred on to even first time visitors. Tiger habitat, by which we mean a space which not only supports this magnificent apex predator, but also the entire ecosystem that thrives under it, is as endangered as the tiger itself. Only 9 per cent of the tiger’s original global range still exists. To visit such a rare, precious and fragile landscape is in itself a marvellous privilege, something visitors to Ranthambhore appreciate. At the same time, one is always keen to draw attention to the host of other species that exist in Ranthambhore; significant among these are the sloth bear, leopard, caracal and the striped hyena as well as over 350 species of birds. The flourishing population of birds really does make the area a ‘twitcher’s paradise’. On many occasions, it is by stopping to observe these, spending time listening to birdsong and their behaviour that one catches sight of the tiger or leopard. I always like to show our guests Ranthambhore in its entirety; the dramatic landscape and its rich biodiversity, the inter-play between different species and their relationship with the earth; for only then can they comprehensively appreciate and understand the enormity and significance of watching what they have all come to see, a tiger in the wild. What makes it all special is that I never tire of sharing the experience with our guests. To pass on awareness about wildlife, share what one has learnt over the years and in some small measure add to human understanding about the wilderness and wildlife is a hugely rewarding experience for me.”
-Yusuf Ansari, Naturalist, Ranthambore
There are two places at any given time – the start and the end. India for instance, is a very different place when you first set your eyes on it; and a very different place when you say goodbye.
When travellers land, they are overwhelmed and exhausted. Next day begins the sightseeing – Qutub Minar, Hawa Mahal, Agra Fort – and bit by bit, they start to unravel a mystery. They drive from one location to the next, observing the stark differences – the infrastructure between Central and South Delhi, for example, with AIIMS marking a very distinct border. They peer into the auto rickshaws, from the driver to the diversity of people on the back seat. Some of them are families – a mother, father and a couple of kids squeezed onto a single bench – and others are professionals in suits, or a group of girlfriends, enjoying a day out. Slowly, in this manner, objects take shape, people find voices and a black & white blurry image reveals an array of colours, in high definition.
Luxury travel adds another layer to understanding. A lot of travellers recognize the many different types of lives that coexist side by side. The hotels offer roof top infinity pools, exquisite views of acres of forest land or a golf course, five star restaurants (Megu, Suvarna Mahal, Ziya – you name it, you can find it) – and then they are transported outside the gates. Through the window, they once again remember the difference between India and anywhere else in the world. People here have a freedom like nowhere else, in goods ways and in not so good ways. They talk loudly, sit together on the side of the road with a hot cup of chai between their palms; it’s a community life. Women as well as men work as beggars, laborers, professionals, entrepreneurs, politicians; and their clothes are different – layer after layer of drapes that seem to gently mold into the environment.
For every traveller, we offer a combination of three exclusive ingredients – the people, the culture and the lifestyle – and believe it or not, luxury only facilitates the process. For we understand, India is unique country. Before 1947 in fact, it wasn’t even a country and now, there are groups of communities living together; sometimes in harmony, sometimes in disagreement. Nevertheless, there is a common understanding, and anyone who spends even a week begins to feel part of it. I can’t tell you what the common understanding is, because they are not words.
This understanding is the essence of everything here – from the Sufi singers at Nizamuddin Dargah and the man sharpening his tools using the wheels of a bicycle, to the women on the roadside selling clay pots or even, the National Gallery of Modern Art. All of them may sound worlds apart and yet they share this distinguished truth. I suppose the only words that can describe it are Genuineness, Authenticity, Sincerity, and the Divine. All of this is an experience – from start to end – it is dynamic and exhilarating. And when it comes to leaving, I guarantee you: you will feel like never before. Like you have a home away from home, because in a place like India – and the history certainly reinforces this fact – there exists a place for All.
This is the Indian Express.
Kochi (Cochin) is among the few cities in India where pre-colonial traditions of cultural pluralism continue to flourish. These traditions pre-date the post-enlightenment ideas of cultural pluralism, globalization and multiculturalism. They can be traced to Muziris, the ancient city that was buried under layers of mud and mythology after a massive flood in the 14th century. The site was recently identified and is currently under excavation. It is necessary to explore and, when necessary, retrieve memories of this past, and its present, in the current global context to posit alternatives to political and cultural discourses emanating from the specific histories of Europe and America. A dialogue for a new aesthetics and politics rooted in the Indian experience, but receptive to winds blowing in from other worlds, is possible.
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale seeks to explore the hidden energies latent in India’s past and present artistic traditions and invent a new language of coexistence and cosmopolitanism that celebrates the multiple identities people live with. The dialogue will be with, within, and across identities fostered by language, religion and other ideologies. The Biennale seeks to resist and interrogate representations of cosmopolitanism and modernity that thrive by subsuming differences through cooption and coercion. The event will host around 80 artists, including a sizeable number of foreign galleries. To be held in Kochi, Kerala, the three-month –long Biennale will be held in Fort Kochi and Durbar Hall. Among the artists to be showcased are Subodh Gupta, Ranbir Kaleka, and Bani Abidi, Fiona Tan from Indonesia, Mexico-based Gabriel Orozco and African artist Wangechi Mutu.
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It’s not known when the first inhabitants arrived on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands but their presence was documented in the 2nd century by Greek astronomer Ptolemy. In the late 17th century, the islands were annexed by the Marathas who then ruled vast areas of India and by the 19th century the British took over and used it as a penal colony to send those proven guilty of crimes and also the freedom fighters for India’s independence, to keep them off the mainland India. This resulted in it being called Kalapani – Black Waters. Following independence in 1947, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were incorporated into the Indian Union and since then it is a relaxed tropical island providing a haven for tourists to unwind and soak in the untouched natural beauty.
The original inhabitants of these islands are various aboriginal tribes who live more-or-less out of the mainstream. There are some tribes who have had no contact whatsoever with the rest of the world. Of the nearly 600 islands, only 9 are open to foreign tourists. We would highly recommend visiting Andaman and Nicobar Islands between the months of October and May. Travelers flying here have to first arrive at Port Blair before taking a boat or ferry to any of the other islands. Frequent flights fly to Port Blair from Kolkata and Chennai.
Port Blair: The capital of Andaman and Nicobar Islands sprawls around a harbor on the east coast of South Andaman and is the administrative nerve centre of the islands. There’s plenty to see in town relating to the islands’ colonial past including interesting museums like the Anthropological Museum, Forest Museum, Samudrika Marine Museum and most importantly the Cellular Jail National Memorial.
Neil Island: A beautiful island with lush green forests and sandy beaches. Neil is populated by Bengali settlers involved in fishing and agriculture. This is the place to lie on the beach, jungle-walk, snorkel, cycle through paddy fields and farms, and lie on the beach.
Havelock Island: This island has some of the best beaches for travelers offering excellent snorkeling and scuba-diving opportunities. It is the most developed of the islands, but is still very low-key and simple.
Diglipur: the main town of North Andaman and as far North as you can get in the island chain. It is famous for its oranges, rice and marine life. Saddle Peak, 732 meters, the highest point in the islands is nearby. Kalpong, the only river of Andaman, flows here.
Mayabunder & around: Situated in the northern part of Middle Andaman, Mayabunder offers excellent scenic beauty and serene beaches. Inhabited by the settlers from Burma, East Pakistan and ex-convicts, Mayabunder has a distinct culture. Beach at Avis Island (Karmatang Beach) and mangrove lined creeks are the main attractions. Karmatang beach is also a turtle nesting ground. One can view nesting of turtles during December-February season.
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Let’s be frank – India can be a terrifying place. Recently, a stranger I met at the Sunburn festival in Goa related an interesting story. His friend had apparently decided to visit India; exited New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport and experienced a cultural shock so extreme, she took the next flight back to the States. I can imagine though, that if she had waited, taken a deep breath and re-oriented herself; she would have realized that there’s a place for everyone here. With a population of 17 million people, how could she be the only one in this position? In fact, a couple of days later, she could even have explored that side that once sent her running – in other words, faced her fear, and understood it. After all, isn’t the charm of visiting a new country boil down to the fact that it isn’t where you’re coming from; i.e. exploring the unfamiliar element?
For our clients, every step of the way we offer the necessary assistance. From airport and train transfers and reliable drivers to check-in at luxury hotels; we give you the space to fulfill the purpose of your trip – be it a spiritual or cultural growth, wildlife adventure or a relaxing trip composed of shopping, experimenting with cuisine and Ayurvedic spa appointments. At the end of the day, India has a lot to offer; but that perceptive quality, to understand the daily movement, can be an initial dilemma.
Late December, I accompanied a family from Australia on their Delhi-voyage. Over the course of two days, they visited monuments with scholarly guides, dined at the finest restaurants (all pre-booked and fitted to their dietary requirements), travelled by local transport (i.e. the cycle and auto rickshaws) in the most safest of hands, and relaxed at a museum hotel known for its historical significance, world class facilities and premium location. On the second morning however, upon their request I took them on a unique walk that explores the “scary side” of Delhi– the Salaam Baalak Trust street walk in Paharganj.
The walk familiarizes the traveler to street children – the ones we see everywhere – knocking at your car windows; begging for a rupee, a can of soda, or a packet of chips. Instinctually, we shut the window, neglect the helpless shame and press the accelerator at full force. So, what would we see if we’d catch a glimpse of their lives?
Over the course of two hours, a group of 4-6 people are led by two young adults who had been adopted by the Salaam Baalak Trust (inspired by the must-see: Salaam Bombay). The boys guide you through their journey and explain what it was like to be a four year old boy, abandoned and overwhelmed, struggling to belong in this world. When you think about, it’s not that different from that American girl – except, when there’s no “out”, this is the adventure of getting “in”.
For me – besides learning of lives so different to my own (living at the edges of my reality) – I could empathize with their pain, the joy of finding a home and pursuing a dream, and more than anything else, making friends who could lessen the burden of being self-sufficient. Furthermore, I saw a new area and was shocked to find how lively it was with locals and backpackers from across the world.
The Australian family was inquisitive, and all questions, controversial or not, were welcomed. In retrospect, I think they enjoyed the rustic and royal dimensions of India combined – after all, with so much to see and do, suddenly, there’s such little time!
Coming soon: The Sunburn Festival of Goa and Entering the Salaam Baalak Trust: Who’s Iqbal?
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“The Playboy Club is coming to India, and it’s all going to be about ‘aspiration’. Playboy Enterprises, in collaboration with PB Lifestyle, wants to target high-profile Indian customers. The first club will come up in Candolim, Goa, and will have Playboy bunnies dressed in a specially designed bunny outfit for Indian sensibilities, along with flamboyant décor and some special cocktails. “The club will open in the first quarter of 2013,” says Amar Panghal, director of finance, PB Lifestyle. “We want people to just walk into the club. Hence it won’t be exorbitant but priced at a premium. This is just the first club. We have eight more that will follow.” Open Magazine. 31 December 2012. Pg 4: “Honey Bunnies of a Different Kind” by Aastha Atray Banan.
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It is said that when foreign explorers arrived in Mughal India, they were silenced by the abundance of treasure. What they found was an ocean of emeralds and rubies, gold and silver, and herbs and spices such as jasmine, opium, and salt. The entrance to the Amber Fort colored with precious stones and the inlay work on each marble plate of the Taj Mahal is but a miniscule example of the wealth in ancient India. It is therefore no wonder why the recent discovery of treasure in the princely state of Hyderabad sent warm butterflies flittering through my stomach.
“In October, Kandukuri Satish Gupta, who had inherited an over 50-year-old building in the Old City, issued a contract to demolish and rebuild it. The two contractors – Mohammad Rafeeq and Mohammed Abdul Bari – in turn hired three laborers for the work. While breaking the walls with sledgehammers, they discovered, hidden inside a wall, coins of gold and silver besides bracelets, rings and ornamental stones…The coins belong to the Mughal, Tipu Sultan and Nizam of Hyderabad eras.” Open Magazine. 31 December 2012. Pg. 3: “A Find Gone Awry” by Anil Budur Lulla.
While the laborers may have already sold much of it; 1.7 kg of gold coins and jewelry along with 4.2 kg of silver ornaments were relocated by the police. In total, the treasure restored is worth Rs. 5-7 crore (approximately 1.1 – 3 million USD).
It seems the treasures of India’s past cannot possibly be restricted to museums and monuments alone. The royal dining halls of Amber Fort, where Maharajas and Emperors once conducted extravagant affairs with the most powerful figures in all of India, is today the world famous Rajasthani fine dining restaurant – 1135AD.
Here you will find ancient chandeliers, authentic cuisine served in silver thali’s, and special access to the secret treasury above. The treasury – hiding ancient artifacts in pure silver – is attached to an exclusive balcony that overlooks the magnificent Nahargarh fort contouring the startling green hill side.
Upon special request, both, the treasury and the balcony, can be transformed into one of the most astonishing settings to savor a private dinner for two.
The globetrotting Indians have acquired a taste for salads. They prefer a wholesome meal of healthy greens, according to Arora. With a sharp increase in obesity due to modern lifestyle, salads are fast become the preferred staple diet of the urban masses. Apart from the obvious nutritional value, the fact that salads have different textures, are low in calorie content and are crunchy, make them a wholesome meal that can replace the traditional high-caloric food.
Her latest salad menu revolves around the most widely found summer fruit in the subcontinent – the mango. Raw mangoes are not just found in abundance in Indian summers, but also have the qualities best suited for the season. They not only protect you from dehydrating but also keep your skin glowing. Having grown up in Pathalung, a small town in south Thailand, for Arora, Thai cuisine is the taste of home. It’s no wonder that her expertise lies in south Asian cuisine.
She married Vijay Arora, the largest supplier of Thai ingredients in the country, and came back to settle here, giving her the right amount of experience to experiment with the Indian palate. “Since Thai salads are spicy, tangy and sweet, they offer a perfect amalgamation of taste which is unique to this cuisine,” she says. Raw foods might be harder to digest but they are also a lighter, fibrous alternative, which makes them enjoyable to eat, especially in a tropical climate.
Recipe: Yum Mamuang
Ingredients: Raw Mango 200gm, onion 3 gm, red chilli 5 gm, mint leaves 30 gm, lettuce 50 gm, crushed peanuts 50 gm, palm sugar 15 gm, fish sauce 10 ml
1. Peel the raw mangoes and grate them
2. Slice the onions
3. Toss all the ingredients together with the raw mangoes and inion
4. Add crushed peanuts and serve it on a bed of lettuce
(Reference: Kallury, Kruttika. “Dress It Up.” India Today July 2011: 40+. Web.)
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