Days 1-4: Delhi, Siana Leopard Safari, Bishnois Cultural Exchange. Highlights: Leopard safari by jeep and camels. Cultural exchange with a Hindu sect who revere wildlife as part of their religion. Wildlife: Leopards! Plus rare blackbuck antelope, Indian striped hyenas, jungle cat, desert cat, chinkara, desert fox, bluebull. Start your adventure with classic jeep and camelback safaris to see leopards and other wildlife. A large population of wild leopards inhabit the hills surrounding Siana, a small shepherd village untouched by western influence.
The leopards are commonly seen on our camelback and jeep safaris, and with luck we may even see them hunt. Our trust fund compensates the shepherds if a leopard kills a sheep, so the shepherds no longer try to kill the leopards. Safaris by foot, jeep and camelback each morning and evening so you have the best possible chance seeing the leopards. Besides the elusive Leopards we can also see Indian Striped Hyenas, Jungle Cat, Desert Cat, Chinkara, Desert Fox & the Blue Bull. These 3 nights enjoy a traditional stand-up deluxe safari camp (with beds and amenities) on a dune with a spectacular view of the Aisrana valley.
We will also stop in Doli where we will meet and interact with the Bishnois, a sect of Hindus who revere wildlife as part of their religion. The Bishnois do not allow any killing of wildlife or cutting of trees. Large herds of rare Blackbuck Antelopes and other wildlife can be seen grazing near their homes, totally unafraid. There are instances where Bishnoi women have nursed young antelopes along with their children.
Government officials acknowledge that the Bishnois have been far more effective against poachers than any other official conservation effort. A historic test for the Bishnois came 250 years ago when a Maharajah sent troops to cut timber for a palace he was building. The Bishnois hugged the trees, upholding their faith and defying the soldiers. More than 300 were massacred before the king, learning of the slaughter, ordered his troops to stop.
The villages of Siana and Doli show very little western influence and are still very traditional. They offer a truly authentic experience of the rich culture of this region. You will be invited into local homes for a taste of the lifestyle of the shepherds. This community still clings to tradition and is very distinctive in their appearance. One afternoon you will also enjoy a very special cooking demonstration by your host family to learn how to use traditional Indian spices. Our talented host family will also provide an evening of authentic folk music.
Day 5: Jodhpur - the Blue city. Today we'll explore the "Blue City" of Jodhpur, named for its eye-catching pale blue clay houses. We'll visit the Mehrangarh fort and its royal palaces. The spectacular Mehrangarh fort crowns a perpendicular cliff that overlooks the city, its royal palaces strategically placed to guard the city below. It was founded by Rao Jodha in 1459 AD. We'll admire the fort complex and the handsome royal palaces within its walls, each containing collections of priceless jewels and armor.
Day 6: Jaipur - the Pink City. Visit the ancient forts, observatory and Palace of Winds in the rose-pink capital of Rajasthan, aptly named the “Pink City of India”. Jaipur is surrounded on all sides by rugged hills that are crowned with forts. Enclosed by embattled walls, the city was built early in the eighteenth century. The Maharaja's palace stands in the centre of the city amidst lovely gardens. Houses with latticed windows line the streets, their rose-pink colour lending enchantment to the scene, which is almost magical at sunset. Jaipur is aptly called the "Pink City of India". It takes its name from the famous Maharana Sawai Jai Singh, who founded the city in 1728. A keen astronomer, he built an observatory which still exists and is equipped with quaint masonry instruments of remarkable size.
Jaipur is noted for its craftsmen skilled in the art of cutting precious stones and famed for its garnets and rubies. It is equally well known for brass inlay work, lacquer work and the printing of muslins. On arrival in Jaipur, you will be met and transferred to hotel Trident. Later in the afternoon, enjoy a city tour to the Observatory and the local markets. The Observatory was built in the 17th century by Jai Singh and is in the middle of the Ram Niwas Palace Gardens. The Observatory features a sundial 90ft. high and a Museum founded in 1876 with a large collection of antiques.
We'll continue our tour of Jaipur in the morning of Day 6 with a tour of the City Palace, and Palace of Winds. The City Palace houses a museum containing rare manuscripts, paintings and an armory. The Palace of Winds (Hawa Mahal) is a landmark of Jaipur. Its unique design is made of pink sandstone. Later that afternoon we'll drive to Bharatpur. Bharatpur was founded by Maharaja Suraj Mal in 1733 AD, and is known as The 'Eastern Gateway to Rajasthan'. It was once an impregnable, well fortified city, carved out of the region formerly known as Mewat.
Day 7: Bharatpur National Park. Wildlife: 400 species of birds, Golden Jackal, Striped Hyena, Fishing Cat, Jungle Cat, Nilgai, Sambar, Blackbuck, Wild boar, Otters, Monitor Lizards, Indian Pythons. Early morning and afternoon park visits by Rickshaw – the best way to see the park’s birds and wildlife. The Bharatpur Wildlife Sanctuary is home to 400 bird species. The park's shallow waters and marshes provide an oasis in the heart of the desert and have become an important stopover for a variety of migratory bird species from Central Asia and even Eastern Europe. It is also an excellent place to watch mammals like Golden Jackal, Striped Hyaena, Fishing Cat, Jungle Cat, Nilgai, Sambar, Blackbuck and wild Boar. The park is also rich in Otters, Monitor Lizards and during the cool winter months it is also possible to see large Indian Pythons sunning themselves.
Day 8: Taj Mahal, Agra, Sloth Bear Rescue Center. The Taj was built by Emperor Shah Jehan in memory of his beloved consort Mumtaz Mahal. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, this beautiful mausoleum is pure white marble and an architectural marvel. The Taj by moonlight is a breath-taking sight. Later drive to Delhi, with a short visit en route to the Sloth Bear Rescue Centre at Sikandra (Agra). Here we'll visit a renowned Dancing Sloth Bear rescue center. See many sloth bears, interact wildlife experts, and contribute to rescue and conservation efforts for the Dancing Sloth Bears and to re-train their Gypsy owners.
Sloth Bear Rescue Centre: Dancing Bears are Indian Sloth Bears (protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act) that have been exploited for the past 300 years by the members of nomadic ‘Kalandar Community’ for a cruel and barbaric ‘Bear Dancing’ trade - a form of street entertainment. Even until a few years ago, the Taj Mahal as well as the road to Fatehpur Sikri witnessed this remnant of a brutal tradition left behind from the Mughal period. Gypsies would accost tourist cars and buses with a trained bear in tow and make the bear dance for a few dollars. In the Mughal period this was a source of entertainment for the Mughal emperors and their harem. Bears are trained by gypsies using cruel techniques of piercing their muzzle with a red hot iron needle and made to dance on hot coals. They spent their lives suffering at the end of a short rope and performing a “dance of pain”.
Wildlife S.O.S adopted a unique approach to end the cruel tradition of ‘Dancing’ bears. The Bear owner (often hailing from a disadvantaged 'Kalandar' community) is trained in an alternative profession while the rescued bear is taken to her new home at the rescue facility. To date, 472 bears have been rescued from a life of pain and suffering. Today these bears spend their lives snacking on fruits and honey, learning how to climb trees, frolicking in ponds and exploring the natural environs of the rescue centers.
This compassionate and sustainable approach of rescuing "dancing bears" while simultaneously rehabilitating the Kalandar Community (who have been dependent on the bears for their livelihood) has been extremely successful. The famous Delhi-Agra-Jaipur Highway & the areas around Fatehpur Sikri and Sikandra have now been completely cleared of "Dancing bears". The contribution of our guests helps to rescue the remaining dancing bears off of Indian streets and contributes to ultimately stopping the poaching of sloth bear cubs from the wild, thereby conserving the wild population, too.
Day 9-12: Kanha National Park – Project Tiger, Tiger Safari. Highlights: Tiger Safari by jeep and elephant-back in the land of Rudyard Kipling. Wildlife: Tigers! Plus langurs, jackals, barking deer, sloth bear, jungle cats. The best park in India to see tigers, Kanha is also the setting for Kipling’s “Jungle Book”. We’ll travel by jeep and elephant (for tiger viewing) though beautiful forest and lightly wooded grasslands with many rivers and streams. Kanha is one of the largest national parks, and is part of Project Tiger, one of India's most important conservation efforts. Kanha supports an excellent variety of wildlife including endangered Hard-ground Barasingha. Barking Deer, Spotted Deer, Gaur, Golden-backed Jackal, Jungle Cat, Common Langur, Sloth Bear, Wild Boar, Wild Dog and the elusive Chausingha.
Day 13: Delhi. Transfer back to Delhi for your flight home.
- Corbett National Park. India's first national park, cradled in the foothills of the Himalayas at 3300 feet asl, spreads over an area of 520 sq km. The magnificent Ramganga River flows through the entire length of the Park. Corbett has one of the highest densities of tigers in India. Other carnivores include the leopard, elephant, bear and deer. Basking along the banks of the Ramganga are the slender snouted gharial and the marsh crocodile. There are watch towers, elephant safaris and jeep safaris for wildlife viewing.
- Assam - Kaziranga and Nameri National Parks.
Highlights: Rhino Safari by Elephant back and Jeep in Kaziranga. Rare Wildlife Raft Safari on the Bhorelli river in Nameri to view rare wildlife. Wildlife: Rhinos! Also, Hoolock Gibbons, Gangetic Dolphins, Water Buffalo, Swamp Deer.
- Kaziranga National Park. Kaziranga is famous for its Indian Rhinoceros population which is estimated at 1,100 + and is by far the best place to see them in India. Other large mammals include the Water Buffalo, Swamp Deer and Gangetic Dolphin. We will have two full days in which to leisurely explore and photograph the Park and its abundance of wildlife. We use both elephants and four-wheel drive jeeps for our sunrise and sunset safaris into the Park, as well as visits to several watchtowers set up in prime locations for wildlife-viewing.
Kaziranga National Park lies to the south if the mighty Brahmaputra river and being on the floodplains is inundated heavily by the monsoon rains. The predominant vegetation is a mixture of tall grasslands and riverine forests. There are many marshes, interconnecting streams and ox-bow lakes, known locally as `bheels' or `bils'.The nearby Panbari Reserve Forest is the best place to see the Hoolock Gibbon. To the south of the park lie the Mikir Hills which rise to over 3,000 feet in elevation. Kaziranga’s many bird species include colonies of Spot-billed Pelicans and rare Bengal Floricans inhabit the grasslands. Nearby, tea plantations grow famous Assam tea.
- Nameri National Park. Namiri provides refuge to a number of rare animal and bird species, prominent among those are Tiger, Black bear, elephant, Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Indian Bison, Pangolin, Indian wild dog, deer, Civet Cat, Capped Langur, Jackals, four species of Hornbill. The Nameri National Park is situated in the Sonitpur district of Assam, about 35 km from Tezpur. The park stretches along the banks of the beautiful Himalayan river, Jia Bhoroli, which was once known for its thriving population of the golden Mahseer.
Nameri provides refuge to a number of rare animal and bird species, prominent among those are Tiger, Black bear, elephant, Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Indian Bison, Pangolin, Indian wild dog, deer, Civet Cat, Capped Langur and Jackals. The floral wealth of the park is also extremely diverse and a significant part of its ecosystem.
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