Friday, 10 November 2017

28th October - Sawai Madhopur to Delhi, India

We were up with the the residents who were excited to head out on their safaris, most of them for the first time.  We though, were waiting to be picked up to be taken to the station for our train journey to Delhi.

As with every major Indian city, the railway station is the centre of the city, and attracts all types.  Fortunately we were met by the tour rep who guided us through the station to the platform and arranged the porter to carry our luggage.  Do all railway stations look the same?

We were taking the Janshatabdi Express that starts for Kota and arrives into Delhi Hazrat Nizamuddin station.  It was set to depart at 7.05, but arrived a little late. once our bags were on board we settled into the seats we had been allocated, and look down the coach at our fellow passengers.

 Yes it was a little chaotic, but we wouldn't have expected less, there was constant chatter and kids screaming but this seemed to be acceptable.

Fortunately we had seats alongside a window, and despite the fact that my seat was permanently reclined we were not too badly off.

As we left the station the sun was attempting to shine through the dust that was quite thick, the train passed through very dry land with bushes scattered around.  There was little to see, every so often a Kingfisher could be seen on the wires, and out in the fields when there was some water the Cattle Egrets.  As we approached the outskirts of the cities there would be activity, Black Kites would appear, and some of the patches of water would have duck, but in most cases there would only be a few Cattle Egrets.

Half way into the journey the air cleared, the dust of the desert gone, and as yet we were not close enough to Delhi for the smog and pollution.  The agriculture changed too, the fields being used for growing rice, and patches could be seen to be in different stages of cultivation.  Where there was water though the Cattle Egrets would gather in quite large numbers, it is amazing how these birds can seek this out and congregate in such large flocks. If you look close you can see the white specks that are Cattle Egrets!

As we approached Delhi, from about an hour away from our scheduled arrival everything changed.  The air became very dirty, and the visibility poor once again.  Fields were mixed in with heavy industry, many steel yards and warehouses.  Huge tower blocks were under construction, mostly looking like they were to house flats and apartments.  Closer still and the industry gave way to slums, with pools of what could only be raw sewerage running along side the rail tracks.

People though went about their business, stopping to talk, exchange niceties about the day, and the rail track became a easy and quick way to get somewhere.  

As we stopped at several stations you had a glimpse of rail travel for the local Indians, open windows with bars

And people just milling around on the platforms just seeing the time away.

Finally we arrived in Delhi, and as we stepped down from the coach we were met by our guide, and a porter.  We then made our way through the many bodies that somehow were on the platform, and through the station to meet the car.  It was then a short journey to our hotel, the Lalit, the same hotel we had arrived in a week ago.  After checking in it was to be an afternoon by the pool.

When we had arrived last Saturday I had watched the Black Kites above the hotel, today it was my intention to try and photograph them, but would be challenged by the net that was strung across the pool to keep the feral pigeons out.  I waited until later in the afternoon before I got the camera.

Watching the kites it was clear they had a system, they would circle around all parts of the hotel building, and then venture out across the road and then back once again.  

While they were scanning the area as they glided and soared, you had to wonder what they were looking for or in fact actually found.

With the grey sky despite the sun being out, it was difficult to gauge the right exposure, and with the kites being basically a dark brown bird it was made harder.  

It was a little easier when they flew close to the buildings.

The kites would gather on the mobile and floodlit masts and I was also informed that they would gather here before heading off to roost after sunset.

As the sun set, it became a large red ball through the dusty, polluted skies.

 Many kites soaring around the buildings.

The Sun falling against the aerials on the buildings of Delhi.

In the morning with the sunrise the Black Kites would appear outside the hotel once again.  I watched from our hotel room as they circled both below and above us, they just seem to be a part of the city.  You can also get a sense from this video of the scale of the air pollution, as the colour is washed out of everything by the filtered sunlight.

We left the hotel after breakfast for the airport being a Sunday the roads were relatively clear.  The route took us through the diplomatic area, and past the goverment buildings of the capital.  On our last visit here we had toured the city, but not this trip.  Looking at these scenes you get an idea of the vast differences that exist in India, here the grandeur of the capital city, in such contrast to scenes we have experienced on our travels around the country over the last week.

 We arrived at the airport, and swiftly moved through the check in process, then it all came to a halt.  It took us just over two and a half hours to get through immigration and security.  The hall was absolute chaos.  I have never experienced anything like it at any airport I have been through, I am just thankful we arrived at the airport in plenty of time.  In the course of the process my passport was check seven times!  As we left security we walked straight to our gate and virtually on to the plane.  The experience of arriving and leaving India was awful, the one down side to a wonderful holiday.

And so our time here in India was at an end.  It had been a wonderful experience, and all the arrangements here on the ground in India had been excellent.  The booking was made through THG in Swansea, but they used an Indian agency TBi, or Trail Blazers India.  We were met always on time, looked after at every hotel.  As already stated our driver Vinod was excellent, he kept a very clean car, was always punctual, and an excellent driver, how he remained so calm in the traffic will always be mystery to me.  In Ranthambore the ground team there Ranthambhore Routes were excellent, very helpful, and I am sure we have them to thank for getting us into the zones where there was the best chance to see the Tiger.

The hotels we stayed in were all very good, and the staff very friendly here are the details and my comments:

Delhi:  The Lalit   website here
Very nice large hotel, catering for western clientele, with plenty of space and good restaurants

Agra: The Clarks Shiraz website here 
 A little tired, but with a very nice rooftop bar with distant views of the Taj Mahal.  Very good top floor Indian Restaurant

Jaipur: The Hilton Jaipur website here
Like the Lalit in Delhi, catering for the western tourist, plenty of restaurant space, clean and efficient 

Ranthambore: The Tigress website here 
Lovely hotel with wonderfully attentive staff.  The food was very good, the room excellent.  very close to the main entrance to the National Park 

The focus of the safaris, and indeed the trip was not for birds, and this is reflected in the total seen, just 74, but of those 74 species 18 were lifers for me so it wasn't a total disaster for my world list. 

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