Sunday, January 11, 2009

The woods are lovely dark and deep....


THE WOODS ARE LOVELY DARK AND DEEP....
Akshay Gopinathan Nair

What better way to bring in the New Year than to spend it in the quiet, calm wilderness, deep inside the forests of central India. While winter may not be the perfect time to spot wild animals in any national park; the 

ghostly dense fog lurking over the never 

ending green plains as the e

arly 

morning sun rays struggle to penetrate the mysterious, thick blanket of mist, give

 the forests an ethereal aura which is something witnessed only in 

winter.

 

Against this

 magical backdrop, you see a Royal Bengal Tiger majestically striding towards you – an absolutely breathtaking sight. Welcome to Bandhavgarh Na

tional Park, Madhya Pradesh – truly the heart of Incredible India.   



      Having been to Ranthambhore and Corbett tiger reserves, 

Bandhavgarh seemed to be the obvious choice for our next visit. We made the bumpy three hour long drive from Satna, a major junction on the Mumbai-Patna route, to Tala, a small 

village which serves as one of the entry points into Bandhavgarh National Park. Tala is dotted with many dhabas, budget hotels as well as the luxurious Mahua Kothi, a high end five star property. The White Tiger Resort is owned by the Madhya Pradesh tourism department and provides good, affordable accommodation.

       

          After accommodation, the next thing on our mind was the safaris into the park. While arrangemen

ts  for the safaris can also be made online, we chose to look around and eventually managed to hire a Maruti Gypsy a sturdy 4x4 for ourselves with Sikandar and Annu as our drivers. All the guid

es and safari drivers in Bandhavgarh have organized themselves and formed a union which augurs well for the tourists who have to pay a uniform fee of about a thousand rupees per safari, which can be shared by up to six tourists, the maximum number of tourists permitted in each vehicle. Excursions into the park are allowed at twice in a day; the first is the morning safari, from 0630 hours to 1030 hours and later, the evening safari, from 1430 hours to 1730 hou

rs.




  

 Bandhavgarh, in wildlife circles, is synonymous with tigers; and

with a mere 105 sq. km.  housing 26 tigers in the zone accessible to tourists, Bandhavgarh has 
 the highest tiger population  density in India. Over the four days we spent in Bandhavgarh, we made six visits into the park and spotted tigers on four occasions. Bandhavgarh National Park was the 

former hunting ground of the Maharaja of Rewa, and also the first place where white tigers were first discovered.  

On the morning of our second day in the park, news filtered through to us that a tigress had paid a visit to a farmer’s house in Tala village and managed to steal a calf. Pug marks of the tigress were also found near the main road to Tala gate. With a mixture of awe, fear and wonder that out hotel was barely a few meters from the villager’s house, we entered the park 

on what was easily the coldest day of the winter yet.  And it was on this day that we experienced the most unique and novel way explore the forest – on elephant back! Not only can the elephants travel deep inside the forests through the vegetation reaching places vehicles cannot; but also wild animals such as deer, boars and even tigers tend not to react to the elephants’ presence allowing tourists a close view of the animals inside. 
 

A tiger, after a heavy meal, usually prefers to laze around hidden amongst the tall grassy bushes, unperturbed by any commotion around it. Thanks to the elephant safari which the forest officials organized, we were able to get within a few feet of the one such beauty which turned out to be the same tigress that had earlier come to the village for a meal. What a moment it was!  

             While the experience of elephants carrying tourists constantly coming in and around the tigers could be stressful for the tigers, the park rangers ensure that the tigers are never disturbed or unduly distressed and should they feel that the tigers are uneasy; the rangers quickly call off all elephant safaris. However it was heartbreaking to see that a few of tourists who came in to the park, showed no concern what so ever for these majestic creatures – constantly using their camera flashes, talking loudly among themselves and even, would you believe it,  even clapping when they saw a tiger.  


              But it is not only tigers that are found here; the other residents include gaurs (Indian bison), sloth bears, leopards, porcupines, wild boars, sambhar deer, barking deer, nilgai deer and chital (spotted deer). Another feature of this unique biosphere which hits you almost immediately as you enter the forest is the abundance of birds – from the grey Malabar hornbills to blossom headed parakeets, from blue bearded bee eaters to white bellied drongos, owls, Indian rollers , most of which we saw in barely a few days.

            At the heart of the forest, perched on a seemingly never ending plateau, stands an almost unassailable fort – the Bandhavgarh fort. Entrenched deep in history, the fort can be visited throughout the day, permission for which must be obtained from the forest office at the Tala gate.  The fort is home to numerous Red- headed Vultures, a species which, we learnt later, has come dangerously close to extinction over the past decade.

       With the perfect blend of history, wildlife, virgin forests and a high probability of spotting tigers, Bandhavgarh is a place no wildlife aficionado should miss. As we left, we couldn’t help but feel that four days was far too less to fully explore the enchanting forest that is Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. In spite of the dwindling numbers, India is still called ‘the land of the tigers’, and after this captivating trip, I must say that Bandhavgarh National Park would surely have to be its capital!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Jumbo Legacy

Here is an excerpt from an article I read on cricinfo….

 

“…..In many ways, it's also the start of a new era. As Dhoni said at the press conference, modern-day Indian captains had grown so used to Anil Kumble being there as a perennial Plan B [A when it was a turning track] that the idea of going into a series without him seems almost bizarre. Both Amit Mishra and Yuvraj Singh are stepping into large boots, and the best thing they can do is chart their own course. The minute Mishra worries about 600 wickets, or Yuvraj about 7000 Test runs, then they're lost….”

 

Ok Ok, fine, I wont let my blog become an online shrine to Kumble.

PS: If you are reading this, Jumbo, Please come back for one more match , please.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The clock has begun to tick....



          Everybody who knows me knows how much I revere Anil Kumble, both as a cricketer and as a person. This, is my third post on the old wizard (Here are the earlier ones - 1 & 2). 
              I just watched the Australian innings fold at Bangalore, Zaheer finished with 5 wickets; Ishant Sharma finished with 4 wickets and Harbhajan had his bunny, Ponting's wicket. 
        The Indian Captain, Anil Kumble had figures of 43-6-129-0. Surprsing.....Just a couple of months ago, in Sri Lanka, Jumbo finished with figures of 37-4-121-0.  Not often does Anil Kumble go wicketless. Whats more....this was the 56th time he had conceded more than 100 in an innings, surpassing the previous record holder, Muttiah Muralidharan who has had 55 such expensive outings. 
        When stats show that Kumble has claimed only 25 wickets in his last 9 matches.....When debutante batsmen begin picking up Kumble's googly...........When tail enders are able to survive an entire Kumble over without a decent lbw shout, let alone losing their wicket.....when the famous Kumble 'rocket' flipper doesnt get wickets consistently......Thats when, I'm afraid, its time to go.
         As I get all teary eyed reminsicing about 6/12 vs West Indies and the unbelievable 10/74 ,   and as much as it will shatter me to see you go,Anil Kumble, I think the clock has begun to tick. 
 






Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The GRAND ex-'PRIX'-ence!


It just was one of those moments..when I read that the first F1 night race was to be held in Singapore, I immediately made up my mind to go and watch it. People tried to dissuade me saying, “The cars would go past in a second…what could you possibly see?” and "Why do you want to see these cars which keep on going around in circles?" Well, it’s really difficult to answer these kinds of questions especially to the same ‘knowledgable’people who later on ask questions like “Is ‘Shoe-maker’ still racing?” and “Is Murali Karthik driving for Kingfisher*”. After resisting myself from responding violently to these questions, I moved on…..as nothing could change my mind and finally with big holes in all my pockets, I was on my way to Singapore.


From the moment I landed at Changi airport, it was obvious that this city had

been possessed by the F1 spirit. Hoardings, banners, advertisements, discounts if you showed

up with your F1 ticket and so on were all over the place. One could sense a palpable

national pride involved here; a pride in showcasing a world class city – the perfect stage for

hosting a first of its kind event.



Clarke Quay by night


Although perfect in every way to suit European television viewers, the challenge of setting

Singapore up for a night race was something the authorities certainly overcame and

how! Each and every aspect of the city – its roads, its bus network, the underground train

service, the restaurants – everything was geared up to handle this rush of nearly

120,000 people during these three days. And nothing at all seemed like a last minute

preparation – it simply looked like the culmination of something perfectly pre planned years

ago with everything falling right into place.

At the venue (note the pass hanging around my neck :) LOL! ) and below,

The Old Supreme Court Building.



The first thing I did in Singapore was to collect my tickets from the F1 office – they came in a

cool sleek black case with glossy slick plastic bar coded cards neatly tucked inside. I suddenly

felt after seeing these ├╝ber cool tickets that almost having to sell off my right kidney in the

black market to pay for these tickets was worth it after all! I mean look at the silly paper

tickets we get for our cricket matches and look at these F1 passes....these were

beautiful…! (sigh) Coming back to reality…I spent the rest of the day meandering through the

streets of Singapore….Everyone around seemed to be in the F1 mode. Once at the circuit,

much like Monaco, it was difficult to imagine that this circuit too was actually a part of the

city…and mind you, not some far flung suburb but the heart of the city.


Giancarlo Fisichella in his Force India and below Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen appears to be staring right into the camera!



The facilities at the venue – the entry, the security checks, the seating – everything went off

smoothly. And what’s more, we had clear TV screens right in front of our seats across the

track with speakers which blared out live commentary. The more I saw the immaculate micro

management of the arrangements, the more difficult it got for me to imagine an

Indian Grand Prix anytime in the near future. The circuit park was dotted with numerous

merchandise shops and many food outlets serving Thai, Indian, Indonesian, Korean cuisines and

of course Singapore’s most famous Tiger Beer!

The view from my seats....the cars slowly turn in and the blast off towards turn 10. (Below) An absolutely crazy Japanese Ferrari fan




It was not just formula one that was on show here; there was a whole bunch of support races – The Porsche Carrera Asia Cup, The Aston Martin Cup and Formula BMW Asia Series. To go with the on track excitement, there were a whole range of musical performances which were played out live during the breaks .


David Coulthard in his super sleek Red Bull and below, The most beautiful beast on track..The Safety Car

Friday practice and Saturday qualifying gave us photo-buffs enough photo ops, but it was the Sunday race that we had all come here to watch and we weren’t disappointed (the results are for you to see - all pics posted here have been shot by me!). Fuelled with delicious southeast Asian food and having downed a couple of Tiger beers (Sorry Mr. Mallya) watching the race under lights was an absolutely surreal experience, with cars zooming past, the smell of burning rubber wafting through the air, the ear drum shattering scream of the beastly engines, the gorgeous Singapore nightscape around and the stars above – I realized I was at a place where history was being created.

Nick Heidfeld overtakes Sebastian Bourdais and below, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton

While the race itself was expectedly punctuated by a couple of safety car periods,

Renault’s out of the box thinking ensured Alonso leapfrogged the rest to secure a comfortable

win. Ferrari’s collective clumsiness ensured that they had a forgettable race. A few laps saw

Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella bravely hold off a host of drivers behind as he held P2 for a

while. I was the only one cheering each time Fisichella passed by the stand where I was; but

after pitting he too fell to the wayside and finally as street circuits have in the

past, Singapore too threw up a few surprises on the podium with Nico Rosberg claiming

second place.

Toyota's Timo Glock (My favourite pic) and the race Winner (below) - Fernando Alonso (Renault)


The whole journey had certainly been a thoroughly enjoyable one. All in all, Singapore is easily the best Grand Prix to attend from India (Sepang doesn’t even come close to a thrill of a street circuit). While it may not be the cheapest, it certainly has a lot to offer.

With a race marshal , after the race and (below) Riding over the kerbs at turn 5 (literally)!!

The meticulous arrangements, the beautiful lighting, the drama, the safety car trips, the crashes, the heart breaks and of course the unique language –‘Singlish’ made it an unforgettable experience!

*The question, I am guessing was meant to be “Is Narain Karthikeyan driving for Force India F1?”

PS: Special thanks to my friends Aditya Naik, Amit Masurkar, Aditya Pandit and Medha Naik for making this trip a special one.

For higher resolution images, visit : http://picasaweb.google.co.in/akshaygn/Singapore2008?authkey=uRTzcuOlC0A#

No image or any part of this article may be reproduced or quoted. © 2008 Akshay Gopinathan Nair.