Embracing Kasba Peth: Embracing Community

This blog has been produced in collaboration with Deborah Clearwater of Embraced Photography. She is a professional photographer from New Zealand living in Pune, India. 

We have started to have great adventures together. Exploring the streets of Pune, in particular the city centre. Through her pictures, I have an opportunity to explore the beauty of this city in a way that the hustle and bustle of street life doesn’t always give you time to appreciate.

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Recently, we went on an inspiring walk through Kasba Peth. Kasba Peth is the oldest community in the city, dating back to the 5th century. Most of the housing however dates back to the time of the Peshwars who ruled Pune prior to British colonialism. The 16th century housing is not subject to protection orders; there is no money to invest in its maintenance. As you read this blog, buildings may be tumbling down taking their very many occupants with them.

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Life is on the streets: a wire recycler – stripping the copper out of old electrical wires

The streets are narrow and circuitous – paths developed over thousands of years of occupation. Some wide enough for a car (a slow moving car), others for a motorbike or perhaps a rickshaw, others again for only a bicycle but most can only be seen on foot.

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Kasba Peth: where the young and old live together harmoniously 

Life slows down on these streets. People loiter in the doorways talking to their neighbours or the women wash their clothes communally in a the washing areas – nattering and gossiping as can only happen when a group of women get together. Children run from house to house, no house really their particular home – all houses feel like home. They just happen to sleep in one particular place! All tenderly rub the children’s hair as they run by or scold them when they’ve been naughty. Bloodlines run thick through these streets but bloodlines do not seem to define family – love and care defines the family and no shared blood is needed for this.

As an outsider such communities can feel intimidating. You don’t know how they work, you don’t know how easily you could cause offence or intrude. Chalo Heritage Walks however have taken what in our minds is quite a unique slant on how to walk through these communities. Rashid and his (Irish) wife Jan have developed over the years a close relationship with the community in Kasba Peth.

They have watched the children grow up and celebrated their achievements and advised when necessary. On first going to the area, they took the time to sit with the locals: pass the time with them, talk seriously with them and laugh with them. As a consequence, it appears to both of us from the two walks that we have now done with them, the community engage with them and don’t see the foreign tourists they bring to the area as intruders but love the fact that they are interested in their little community.

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This fruit seller insisted that Deborah take her picture. Proud of her community and her role in it. 

Deborah has always had a strong interest in people but I think for me the more I live in India they more I realise that I am an ‘anthropologist’ at heart. I want to be able to understand what makes people tick; and how people live. This interests me far more than the history of a palace or a visit to a temple. These places do not reflect the lives of the ordinary people. They only reflect the lives of those lucky enough to achieve high status or indeed were born into privilege. City tours therefore can sometimes fill me with dread. The idea of traipsing from one monument to the next and one historic building to the next is unutterably boring. To wander through the same streets but stop and look down little alley ways; to try and speak to the locals; to simply stop and sit and observe – that to me is a tour worth doing.

Neither Deborah or myself will be paid by Chalo Heritage Walks for writing this blog but rather this is a reflection of what we have gained from them that we feel we couldn’t necessarily get from anybody else.

The biggest lesson for us from these tours has been the power of community. In the west we seem to have largely forgotten that a community that supports and loves each other, that provides peer pressure as a means of maintaining positive attitudes and behaviour makes us all stronger and more able to deal with problems as they arise. Yes, there are drawbacks but the drawback of not having a community to fall back on is surely far, far worse.

Reading the newspapers here or indeed following Indian religion and politics from abroad you could be forgiven for thinking that there is a huge animosity between the Hindu and Muslim communities in India. Indeed at times there is. What Kasba Peth made us realise however is that this animosity is not driven by the realities of daily life but rather political manipulation by Hindu nationalists (BJP etc) of sections of society who lack the life experience and education to understand they are being manipulated.

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Vivek in his community. Notice the narrow streets and the children happily playing. 

Along our route on the last tour we did, we met a lovely young man, Vivek – in his early twenties, total Bollywood guy: hair styled, clothes sharp but this guy didn’t lack brains, rather he is studying an MBa in Finance. He grew up in poverty, living in conditions rarely seen now in the west – yet he finished school, finished a degree and now is completing an MBa.

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‘Is it safe to come out Vivek?’

While chatting to us and while of course Deborah was taking many photographs of this highly photogenic young guy, we noticed out of the corner of our eye, this little, little girl – perhaps 18 months old peeking out through some doors at us and this man.
The young man upon spotting her put out his hand and beckoned her to come out and see us. It was so clear from the look on the young man’s face and that of the little girl that they knew each other and trusted each other. She remained however too nervous to venture any further than her peek hole by the door.

So how does this interaction relate to the question of Hindu and Muslim animosity – well this little girl is Muslim and this young man is Hindu. Is this an anomaly? Not in this community. Wandering through the streets you see women in full hijab laughing with Hindu women – hanging out on the door steps. You see the meat market where in order to make sure both Hindu and Muslim clients can buy all the meat – the muslims butcher all the animals making sure the meat is Halal. Muslim and Hindu butchers share a small space. In order to cause no offence to either side, the Muslims have never sold beef (although it is now illegal in Maharashtra anyhow!) and the Hindus do not sell pork.  They could have chosen to have separate butcheries and have Muslims buy the halal meat and Hindus their pork. However they have chosen not to render division in the community, rather for centuries they have a sought a way to work together in peace.

A tour of temples and historical monuments would fail to bring across this great harmonious relationship. Certainly, at times, a fragile relationship but one that is ultimately built on trust. As you wander through the streets you notice that Muslims will say, ‘namaste or namaskar’ to Hindus while Hindus will say, ‘As-Salaam-Alaikum’ to a Muslim. Why? It is a traditional way of trying to accommodate yourself to others while they try and accommodate themselves to your way. There is perhaps a lesson there to learn in relation to the current world refugee crisis.

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Notice the black mark on this boy’s face: his parents warding off evil that may take his life while he is young

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Kasba Peth is an area that experiences severe hardships. There is a daily struggle for the very basics: water, food and money to educate the children. The children’s toys are old and often broken – yet they still find as much joy in them as they would something brand new. The younger children are often marked with black spots (they look like growths to the outsider) intended to ward away evil. Children die young in India and many are not even named until they are a few months old – to ease the pain if they are to die.

You are not however met with a grimace but rather an open welcoming smile. You can be certain that this community would give you the last of their food if they felt that would make you more welcome. They stop and give you the time from their busy lives to chat and share stories.

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This lady may be recovering from a major operation but that doesn’t stop her being the heart of the community

As my Hindi improves, this becomes an ever more enlightening experience. There is the lady who has had a triple heart by-pass but who proudly stands at her door and tells you just how well she is doing, while her husband is at his printing press next door that only prints lines for exercise books.

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Peek a boo works in any language!

There was the little boy we met – his mother an itinerant builder. Kasba Peth was only her home for a few weeks. This is a woman who lives at a level of poverty even more extreme than that of her temporary neighbours. Yet this woman still took the time to stop and enjoy the sight of her little son playing peek-a-boo with Deborah.

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There was the extended family of two grandmothers, their daughters and their daughters’ children. One grandmother took the time to explain who everyone was, how long they have lived in the area. All to a woman with dodgy Hindi while Deborah was busy taking their photographs.

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The youngest grandchild and his caring sister / cousin

It is a two-way street however. Rashid and Jan make sure that their guests take as many pictures of the people as they can. Their guests then send the pictures to them, they print them and then distribute them when they next do a tour.

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They were clear from the beginning that they did not want the relationship to be financially based. They wanted the community to get something from the visitors but not to depend on them. We met a little boy that said he was collecting foreign coins – on the last visit Rashid had given him some. However, he told the boy that he wanted to see his collection. If he genuinely was interested, then he would encourage his visitors to donate foreign coins if they had them. He insisted however that it be a genuine hobby and not just something he would take and do nothing with.

Jan, who has become a friend, recently forwarded me an article about a woman in Kolkata who has started a project of taking pictures of the poor and distributing them. She said she was struck by how many adults said they had a picture of themselves but when they produced it, it was simply their ID photo. She was also struck by the fact that many parents had no pictures of their children. Something we all love to have, to reflect on as our kids as they grow older.

In India however a lack of photos can have a dark side. What happens if your child gets lost or worse again is kidnapped and trafficked? How can the police and various agencies help you if you can’t even give them a picture of their child? Suddenly, upon reading the article, the work that Jan and Rashid do in the area became even more important.

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This woman is so incredibly beautiful and her saree is just perfect for her. She look so old despite her beauty but when I asked, she is only 50. Life ages you when life is not easy. 

To walk through the streets of Kasba Peth has to be my very favourite thing to do. The over-powering sense of community; the beauty of the women’s sarees; the smiles on people’s faces despite the hardships they endure; and the higgledy-piggledy nature of the streets is uplifting while at the same time reinforcing just how lucky I am to live where I am and to be free of all of those struggles that the inhabitants of Kasba Peth experience daily.

So my friend Gillian (mentioned in my last blog) arrives tomorrow for two weeks and both Deborah and I will once again do the Chalo Heritage Walk tour. I can’t wait to see what I will experience this time round.

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Find Deborah Clearwater on Facebook through Embraced Photography and Embracing India pages: Embracing India (India portfolio) and Embraced Photography (general portfolio)

Chalo Heritage Walks website: Chalo Heritage Walks

I Don’t Think I’m Ready But Perhaps I Should Anyhow

This blog was first written about 18 months ago. I was too embarrassed to post it – too embarrassed to admit I wasn’t strong enough to cope. Since then, I regularly come across it, read it and instead of thinking why was I such an idiot about the whole thing? Why was I too embarrassed to post it? I continue to feel embarrassed – its ridiculous! 

So I have decided to be brave and post this blog. It is well out of date but I don’t think it matters. Perhaps somebody who is having a similar psychological fight as I had will read it and feel that they are not alone. Maybe they will see the ridiculousness in not talking about it and actually speak to somebody! 

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I’m doing something that only one person vaguely knows about – at least they are slightly aware of its existence but they don’t actually know I have started to use it. Not even my husband knows about its existence, never mind the fact that I actually have started to use it. This goes against everything that I have tried to maintain since I first got ill. Since I first got ill, I have always said that being open about what was going on, in particular with my husband, was absolutely key. Not being open might lead to distrust and misunderstandings. I have always argued that it was wrong to do anything that might encourage that feeling.

So what am I doing that is so awful I can’t even tell my husband? What is it that I am feeling so unsure of, perhaps even so stupid for doing it that I can’t tell my husband? I do not understand what makes me feel so embarrassed, I do not understand why I don’t want to share what I am doing with anyone. So what am I doing?

While we were on holidays and I had a relapse, one day we walked back from the restaurant and I clung to my husband’s arm, desperate for his support and to help me balance. It dawned on me that day that if I could find something that would help me maintain my energy levels and support me when I was having a bad day, then that surely would be a good thing.

So what have I invested in? I have invested in a walking stick.

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And look just how fun it is! And its my favourite colour!

The fact that it took me three paragraphs to get to the point says it all. I am not sure I am ready to use a walking stick, walking sticks are for old people or invalids – I am not old and I do not feel like an invalid therefore surely that means I do not need one. I am embarrassed at the thought of using it and I am embarrassed at the thought of being seen with it. Does using one mean I have given in – once again – to this illness?

You could, very rightly, argue that if I am using it to walk further on a bad day then it is assisting me in doing more than I should. If I could exercise myself better then yes, using it on a bad day would surely little by little assist me in improving my health. I cannot however exercise myself better so surely anything that enables me to do more is just increasing the intensity of my exercise? I think I am just looking for excuses as to why I shouldn’t use it, rather than looking for justifiable reasons why I should.

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True for so much of my illness, definitely not true in this case. Being too embarrassed to discuss my need for a walking stick preventing me using it. This was not me being strong but me being a coward. 

It has only been used twice, having owned it for more than a week I bought a folding one so I could have it in my bag to use should I be out and suddenly get an unexpected collapse of energy. I have   carried it around for a week every time I went out to use in just those circumstances. On Saturday when we walked across a field to get to a nuclear bunker (don’t ask), I was finding the surface hard going and thought just how much my walking stick might help me. There it was just waiting for me in my bag on my back. We were with friends however and I was embarrassed. Embarrassed because my husband had no idea I had it and embarrassed because then my friends might look at me as sick girl. I seriously overdid it on Saturday and as a consequence paid the price on Sunday.

20140318-080008.jpgIf I had used my walking stick for the entire duration of our outing, would I have overdone it so much? Would it have enabled me to use less energy by providing me with support, balance and indeed a method of propulsion. Perhaps, but I was too scared and embarrassed to try it.

This got me thinking. If I was able to reduce my energy requirements on an everyday basis by use of my walking stick, would this enable me to live more of a life? Walk further, do more? Would this be a good thing? Would this just encourage me to do more than I should? However, if I am using the same amount of energy but using it to do more surely that is a good thing? Again am I just looking for reasons to justify not using it and looking for reasons to prove my justification is ever so wrong. Perhaps the latter but I really do not know.

On Monday, still not quite having recovered from my overdoing it on Saturday, I went for a walk. A walk that included my walking stick. I deliberately kept to the back roads embarrassed by my stick. Ashamed to be seen out with it. At least this was my initial feeling. My walk to my usual churchyard seat took no longer than 6 minutes.  By the time I arrived, I was beginning to get the feeling that it was helping me. I should have been more tired by the walk given my energy levels. My legs should have begun to feel more pain but they were no worse than when I left. Was this the benefit of the walking stick or was it simply that I had under-estimated my energy levels and over-estimated my pain levels?

On my return, I walked back a different route, a route that touched the sides of busy roads, a road where there were pedestrians: people to see me and possibly make comments and wonder why a girl in her mid 30s was using a walking stick. I was very aware of everyone who passed, straining to hear them comment amongst themselves about me. Perhaps I was lucky or perhaps people just didn’t notice or care but I did not hear what I strained for. Silence.

Today Tuesday, the next day, I have tried again. This time walking further than yesterday. Again I didn’t struggle or feel my energy diminishing too quickly. This time I was aware as I crossed rocky ground that it was given me support and helping me balance. With my walking stick it was easier than it would have been without!

20140429-094815.jpgI am still a walking stick virgin however. I still hold it wrong at times and have to adjust it. I dropped it crossing the road until I remember to twist its string around my wrist so it wouldn’t fall. At times I don’t quite get the propulsion right and it lands on the ground at an odd angle. I haven’t learnt how to balance it when I sit down. I also haven’t learnt how to accept that it might be useful to me.

 

How can a walking stick be useful to a girl in her mid 30s who can walk for just over a mile (with a break half way)? How can a walking stick be useful to a girl in her mid 30s who doesn’t walk with a limp or need to balance against things? That is unless I am having a bad day.

For me using a walking stick is still a big experiment. Will I continue to use it? I don’t know – I hope I will if it consistently helps me. Will I tell my husband? I guess I have to. What will he think? I don’t know but I know he will at least wear a mask of support. I think he will think that if I am finding it useful then it is a great thing to do. I wonder whether he will find it embarrassing to be seen with me? Could I blame him if he didn’t? Hardly, I am not exactly embarrassment free at all of this, now am I?

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Gillian above (with her own walking stick) – my inspiration while I was sick and a never-ending source of support. She would have given me a right telling off if she had known I had a stick and wasn’t using it!

My friend, Gillian, was the first and only person I have ever discussed using a walking stick with. She uses one herself and even offered to lend me one of hers to try it out. I was embarrassed by the conversation – I think perhaps by the very need to have it in the first place. She was supportive and encouraging. She too was young and understood what it felt like to start to use one – she had started to use hers at 18! Her encouragement enabled me to at least buy one. I would like to think that one day I will be as brave as her and see only the positive reasons for using a walking stick. The negative reasons are surely just a matter of perception.

So I did eventually tell my husband who completely unsurprisingly was utterly supportive of me! 

I didn’t use it all the time but I always had it on me ready to pull out when things got difficult and I used it all day on a bad day. A walking stick categorically helped me! A month or so after I started to use it, I was re-diagnosed and given treatment that enabled me to make rapid improvement – very quickly after this the walking stick was no longer required. 

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In hindsight, I can only wonder why I made such a big deal about using one! Nobody looked at me funny, nobody laughed and in truth I don’t think any strangers actually cared. I should have used the inspiration of Gillian more – she is a girl who just gets on with things and doesn’t allow fear or worry stop her. Perhaps although I am now living in India and while not healthy, a lot healthier, this blog should act as a reminder that sometimes to be strong you need to accept your weaknesses and not let them hold you back.

‘Tiger, tiger burning bright!’

There are so many things I am grateful about as a consequence of our decision to move to India. Simply driving around the streets of Pune, doing everyday jobs allows me to see and do things that I could never do while living in the UK. It is winter, yet it is 34 degrees and I am in shorts and t-shirts – that itself is something to be eternally grateful for!

 

Some of those things for which I am grateful are everyday things – just part of my daily life. There are privileges however that I should never forget are privileges. The ability to join two golf clubs and learn to play a sport that is often untenable for the non well-off in the UK (same here but our companies pays for membership), is an example of just one.

The ability to travel is however another major privilege that I am eternally grateful for. Since arriving in India, we have spent 3 weeks in Australia (although that was arranged prior to moving), a week in Kerala, 3 weeks in the UK / Ireland and now a week on tiger safari in Madhya Pradesh. I am also in the process of organising a week long trek in the Himalayas for Diwali at the end of October. In addition to the trip to the Maldives in April and at least two visits to Goa between now and then. Oh what a lucky, lucky girl I am!

Having never been on a safari of any description before (does my trip to a local dam to go Flamingo watching and Chinkarra spotting – count??), I really had no idea what to expect.

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Me on my flamingo hunt! (picture Embracing India)

After a quick flight to Nagpur from Pune and then a 2 1/2 hour drive to Pench Tiger Reserve we arrived at our hotel – Tuli Tiger Corridor. Myself and Chris and his parents who were with us have no real need for super fancy five star hotels – now don’t get me wrong, we aren’t going to turn them down (so you lovely hoteliers who would like me to write a blog about your hotel – don’t be put off asking me!). This lack of need was a good thing because although Tuli Tiger Corridor was lovely it was a little jaded and service could be described as more eccentric then perhaps silver service.

Our cottage was lovely – beautifully furnished and a bathroom to die for (although of course it was a little in need of some TLC). Food was great, perhaps a little repetitive to the non-Indian who struggles to differentiate between one curry and another.

Most of the staff were locals, trained up the MP government and the hotel itself. Their enthusiasm to serve you and to talk to you about tigers was boundless. This was really heart-warming to see. Unlike many men (boys really) of their age in the UK who perhaps might see waiting jobs as something to endure until they have a better opportunity, these boys seemed to have boundless energy for it including sprinting across the restaurant one day when I asked for a bottle of water.

One thing hit us even before we ventured out on our first safari the afternoon we arrived – it was cold, really cold. By that I mean UK winter cold!! During the day temperatures rose to over 30 degrees but once the sun began to set, temperatures plummeted to 3 degrees or so. Luckily, I had packed a pair of jeans, I literally stood in front of my bag thinking, ‘will I or won’t I?’. I threw them in in the end as I had room. I had brought a little long sleeve top for the evenings (just in case you know) but the woolly jumper I also debated about was left at home!!

Our afternoon safari started off warm but by the end we were all gibbering monkeys. A good warning perhaps that the morning drive would be even colder! Morning, proved to be even colder than we imagined – wearing literally all the clothes I had brought with me and two pairs of socks we set off at 5.45 a.m. Even wrapped in a blanket, it was freezing.

The morning safaris always proceeded in the same way – I started the day with an empty rucksack and as time progressed, it was filled with my clothes until I was left in just my jeans and a short sleeved top. Evenings were the opposite, starting off with a full bag until I was wearing all of its contents! Next time I go on safari, I can assure you, I will be more prepared!

If you go on tiger safari thinking you will definitely see a tiger you may well be disappointed. We had 10 drives (about 40 hours in total) and saw three tigers for a total time of probably15 minutes!. Worth it though I can assure you.

The rest of our drives involved driving through the forest – Pench was a mix of open teak forests and wide meadows. The drought the area was experiencing made the water holes (picie taleb in Hindi – learnt some incredibly useful Hindi while away) magnets for local wildlife – deer (spotted and sambar), wild boar, monkeys (by the million with adorable babies), herons, storks, egrets, kingfishers (more varieties than I even knew existed!), bison, wild cows, peacocks, butterflies, hawks, eagles – I could go on and on. I will let the photos do the explaining below.

Spotting a tiger is theoretically easy – you listen for alarm calls from monkeys and deer or you hear the tiger roar (chalarna – to roar in Hindi) then you drive to where you heard the noise and Bob’s your Uncle – there is a tiger. A deer will make an alarm call when the tiger (bhaag) is in sight – therefore getting to the alarm call gets you within 50 – 100m of the tiger. Easy right!

Well no, first of all deer don’t see a tiger, make an alarm call and sit patiently waiting for jeeps to turn up and then point and say – ‘hey, there he is!). No, well what would you do if you saw an animal that could run damn fast coming towards you – you would run too! So the call moves and not always in the expected direction. Plus the deer and tiger don’t co-ordinate their actions so that they stay near where there are roads. 80% of Pench Tiger Reserve has no public access so at times we got close to calls but our driver wasn’t allowed go any further or there was no access roads to get closer.

It did make for an exciting time. You felt you were the police detecting clues and then on a car chase to find the culprit! Drivers / guides would excitedly share news of calls or if they were lucky sights. Other times they would drive expectantly towards each other, shake their heads and drive on. It seemed in Pench all the guides and drivers worked together – they wanted to make sure that all visitors saw a tiger. Kahna on the other hand seemed more competitive. Drivers and guides would share information but when it came to possible sightings they would jostle each other for position and as consequence often block the view of others.

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Jostling for sight of Chota Charger – can you spot him?
5 drives almost passed with no tiger sightings, our naturalist – Umi, was clearly getting frustrated as he was desperate to ensure that we had a sighting before we left! 10 minutes from the end we saw a tiger! I didn’t expect to be so moved by the experience. They are truly majestic awe-inspiring animals. This one was a little shy and slunk away quickly. The experienced guides however knew where he was headed (his name was Chota Charger by the way) – to the water hole! Only problem is that if we went, we would be late back to the gate. Umi hesitated but when others decided to go, he decided there was safety in numbers and off we flew! For another 10 minutes we sat and watched him walk through the meadows to the water hole – incredible! We did arrive 20 minutes late to the gate but we think we got away with it – I would happily have paid any fine Umi had to pay – it would have been worth it!

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Chota Charger (small charger – he used to attack jeeps as a little cub)
The next day we ate breakfast (at 8 a.m. – so, so late!) and drove for 5 hours to Kanha Tiger Reserve. Stopping en-route, I bought a fleece and some leggings for under my jeans from a local market. At the end of negotiations, I looked around to find myself surrounded by gawking men astounded at this white woman speaking Hindi! It was the first time I had used my Hindi for practical reasons and it felt amazing!

Chitvan Lodge in Kanha was definitely less ostentatious than Tuli Tiger Corridor but it also seemed more real. The staff were much better trained but still in a rustic enthusiastic fashion that felt comfortable and not forced in any way. Again the place was a little jaded but that wasn’t an issue at all. All of the food came from the local villages or from their own organic garden. It was yummy! Again perhaps for the foreign taste a little repetitive but for those who know Indian food it wasn’t.

There was a gorgeous pool that unfortunately at this time of year was freezing. As the afternoons were glorious, to sit out in the sun between drives was ideal – often of course accompanied by a little snooze. The difference here however was while in Tuli there were lovely soft cushions, here there was nothing but hard wooden sun beds, not at all conducive to an afternoon snooze. My snoozing instead had to happen on the charpoy outside our room or in bed.

Again it was bitterly cold in the mornings but this time we got in addition to our blankets, hot water bottles – genius!!

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Sal Tree – only found in Indian Subcontinent
Our drives continued in the same format as Pench but this time we drove through thick Sal forests – a tree only found in India.
This was harder to see through, which in its own way took away from the experience but this time there was no water shortage and water bodies abounded, the meadows were larger and vibrant with wild life. So pluses and minuses to both locations but Pench probably would have won over Kanha slightly if it were not for our two tiger sightings!

 

 

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Yes, two! One late in our fourth drive and one early in our last and final drive. Umeerpane appeared on the edge of the forest briefly and then disappeared down a gully and wasn’t seen again.

 

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Umeer Pane and my arm!
Bema, on the other hand, was seen down a gully and then came up onto to the road and wandered towards us with absolute confidence. This however is where the lack of team work between the guides became a problem. They jostled for position, cut each others view off so that the clients in their car could get a better view. This resulted in our jeep and another effectively blocking each other so no one could move. Consequently, neither jeep could keep reversing up the road, the tiger had no where to go but off the road and so we lost sight of him! A little frustrating to say the least. However, to see a tiger no more than 15m from you was amazing. I felt like I could get out of the car and rub his head as you would a domestic cat – clearly this would have been incredibly stupid.

What an experience though! Wow! Those three sightings were worth every minute (sometimes gibbering minute) of the 40 hours we spent in those jeeps. The cross-country bumpy ride was worth it – anything would have been worth it! Incredible.

Our drive from Kanha to the airport in Nagpur was a little painful – 6 hours: on rough roads for at least the first 3 hours. Nagpur airport was completely chaos and so so loud; you couldn’t help but know you were in India! Our flight was delayed and I must be honest after a 5.30 a.m. get up by midnight when we returned home there was a bit of a grumpathon going on. Somehow all marriages emerged intact – somehow!

After Kerala, I said that I would happily share details of our travels agents with you if you contact me. This was because I didn’t like our travel agents but the driver was so amazing that I would use the agents again in order to have Manoj as my driver. This time however I can only say that Sharad Vets of Nature Safari India was amazing. Without hesitation I would use them again. They will certainly be my first call when it comes to booking any sort of safari in India. Amazing! I should say I have not been paid for this endorsement in any way shape or form but sometimes good people and good companies should be recognised for being great!

All pictures except for that of me were taken by Chris Ironside. My picture was taken by Deborah Clearwater from Embracing India.