Morning lights at Menar – the birds village!

City of Lakes Udaipur is famous for many things but rarely for its birds. Ironically village Menar, 15 kms from Udaipur’s Dabok airport is known for many things including its birds. Menar is also called as the bird village.  More than couple of lakes in close surroundings of the village are known to host a huge number of migratory birds every year. Menar also has a long history which connects it closely to the Kings of Mewar. Rich in culture, this village also has an honour to produce some of India’s finest chefs who have worked in kitchens of many celebrities- home and abroad. Residents of this village have been known as Menarias.

But my recent trip to this village, roughly around 45 kms from my hometown Udaipur, was purely to catch some morning light. Capturing birds at sunrise (for that matter also at sunsets) has been always very delightful.

The Wild Fire!

And, indeed it turned out to be so. With sun playing hide and seek in the clouds and birds, ready to start their day- it was morning worth every minute.

Lakes around Menar get good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Pintails and Shovellers in the winter months.

There are two lakes- one inside the village and another at the far end. Later one is better for spotting birds because of its calmness and undisturbed environs.

Early morning movement of the birds

Menar has always been hosting here birds but it has come to the radar of bird watchers across the world only recently.

Now a large number of bird watchers flock here in winters to capture some memorable images. The local community here has played a big role in conservation efforts and popularising this place as the bird village. Volunteers here are called as Pakshi Mitras (friends of birds). They take care of patrolling, rescue and reporting of any attempts of poaching. Many other steps are taken to maintain the ecology of this place as a safe haven for the birds. Besides regular weeding and prohibition of fishing, locals have also stopped using water from these lakes for the purpose of irrigation. These lakes have no other source of water besides the rains. Hence, it is very significant to use the water judiciously.

The water of gold!

As the light gets brighter, birds are off to their daily routine.

Flying in tandem

Besides waterfowls, Menar is also second home to many other birds, small and big including this Bluethroat-

Among the goose family, these Bar-headed goose make a big colony here every year-

Here these common (Eurasian) coots seem to be having a morning meeting before starting day’s business-

Eurasian coots at Menar

Interestingly, Menar also gets fairly good number of Flamingos. Here greater flamingos look in small number but in another lake close by, there are good number of flamingos visiting every year.

How to reach: Little known village of Menar is 45 kms from Udaipur. It is 15 kms ahead of the Udaipur’s Dabok airport. That means while going to Menar from Udaipur, one has to first cross the airport and than move ahead towards Menar. Menar now has a few homestay options for those, who are serious in bird watching and want to spend more time around. But alternatively, you can always make Udaipur as the base and go to Menar early in the morning for bird watching. There are many young people in Menar village who can be your guide for the bird-watching tour of the village. One of them is Dharmendra Menaria who is also pursuing B.Sc. in agriculture.

P.S. Menar is also famous for some of its festivals which include a grand festival to commemorate the valour of local people. The festival is held on second day of Holi every year.

Have you been to Menar? What was your experience? You can share it here in the comments section.

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A year to celebrate the art of Circus


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How fond we all were of circus in our childhood days. The animals and the acrobats and the jokers. Circus might be thing of past in some part of the world, but the art is still alive and kicking. Actually, there are lot of efforts to preserve and modernise this art. European capital Brussels has been leading efforts in this regard. There is no city in world better than Brussels when we talk about showcasing its different art forms. Similarly, Brussels is now for the next one year showcasing the art of circus. Brussels also has a focusCIRCUS.brussels for this specific purpose.

FocusCIRCUS.brussels aims to promote the vitality of Brussels circus arts, from March 2018 to March 2019, with an explosion of shows and performances in Brussels, a tour of 8 Brussels circus troupes in Italy and France, an avalanche of festivals, and many more initiatives. FocusCIRCUS.brussels kicks off on 12 March 2018 at BOZAR with a celebratory evening and the opening of Festival UP!.

© Sylvain Frappat

BRUSSELS’ BEST AMBASSADORS ARE ITS ARTISTS
FocusCIRCUS.brussels is an initiative of Minister Rachid Madrane, in charge of the Promotion of Brussels for the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. After contemporary art in Paris in 2016 (INDISCIPLINE) and contemporary dance in Berlin in 2017 (RADIKAL), FocusCIRCUS.brussels is the third edition in a series that aims to promote Brussels by showcasing its artists, with a project that’s bigger than its two predecessors.

“In the last few years, circus has become one of Brussels’ nest calling cards. Every year since 2015, I have supported a Brussels troupe with the presenting of a show as part of the famous Avignon festival. In 2018 several major events will be taking place, highlighting Brussels’ circus landscape. Notable among them will be the organisation, for the 1st time ever in Brussels, of the Fresh Circus #4 seminar – which gathers more than 400 circus professionals – and the new campus for the ESAC (Brussels’ circus arts college), one of the world’s most prestigious circus art schools. FocusCIRCUS.brussels was born of the desire to present the extraordinary vitality of Brussels’ circus arts to circus a cionados, novices, producers and all those who love Brussels.” exclaimed Minister Madrane excitedly.

This year-long celebration of the circus arts will be made up of two sections, both national and international. Visit.Brussels, Brussels’ tourism agency, is in charge of the organisation of focusCIRCUS.brussels. Patrick Bontinck, CEO of visit.brussels has said that, “Outside of the launch evening on 12 March at BOZAR, focusCIRCUS,brussels’s concept is not to create new initiatives because Brussels is already brimming with circus festivals and events. Organised in collaboration with Espace Catastrophe, ESAC circus college, the City of Brussels and the Halles de Schaerbeek, focusCIRCUS.brussels aims to promote Brussels and its circus scene by uniting, under one name and project, the four partner’s various events, and supporting them with their communication and distribution.”

FocusCIRCUS.brussels kicks off in Brussels on 12 March with a grand festive evening at BOZAR and the opening of Festival UP!, then continues until March 2019 with the UP!, HOPLA!, and Hors Pistes festivals, shows and performances by students from ESAC and the Fresh Circus#4 seminar. The international tour of 8 Brussels circus troupes in Italy and France starts in September 2018 and finishes in January 2019. Troupes will include Back Pocket, Carré Curieux, Cie la scie du Bourgeon, Cie Menteuses, Gaël Santisteva, Piergiorgio Milano, Poivre Rose, Claudio Stellato.

Have a look at some other snap shots of this years UP! festival-

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A beautiful ‘Assumption’ leading to discontent!


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Almost 5,500 kms from Delhi, far down in Indian Ocean just about 600 kms from coast of Tanzania in Africa, an unimaginably beautiful tiny island with an area of just 11.6 sq. km is a source of discontent because of India. It must be something we rarely know about, but despite its small size Assumption Island, which is part of the Aldabra Atoll in Seychelles has a lot to cherish about. Debate is about India’s plan to make a Naval base at the island. Much to the concern of environmentalists and Seychellois, this island has already been leased out to India for 20 years and just 20 days back India and Seychelles signed a military agreement to develop the Naval base.

Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)

Good things first. Often called the jewel in the crown of Seychelles, Aldabra is the world’s second largest coral atoll. The site has been designated in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, purely for three things—it contains superb natural phenomena; superlative on-going ecological and biological processes; and significant natural habitats to conserve biological diversity. Because of its remote location in the Indian Ocean, Aldabra Atoll remains unspoiled by human influence and provides an excellent example of natural habitat where evolutionary and ecological processes can be studied. The atoll comprises four large coral islands which enclose a shallow lagoon; the group of islands is itself surrounded by a coral reef. This atoll has an area of 150 sq km which is about one-third of the landmass of Seychelles, but has no human population other than the staff of the Research station.

Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)

Aldabra Atoll thus is a rare and beautiful tropical paradise. Seen from above, the coral islands form a nearly closed ring that is home to a riot of marine biodiversity. The undisputed rulers of the islands are the thousands of giant tortoises. Due to difficulties of access and the atoll’s isolation, Aldabra has been protected from human influence and thus retains some 152,000 giant tortoises, the world’s largest population of this reptile. Biologists have also documented 400 endemic species and subspecies, including birds such as the Aldabra drongo. Extremely isolated, Aldabra is almost untouched by humans. Aldabra atoll is closer to the coast of Africa 630 km than to Mahé, and is in the most southwesterly part of the Seychelles. It is 407 km northwest of Madagascar and 440 km from Moroni on the Comoro Islands. The atoll is the largest raised coral reef in the world with an elevation of 8 metres (26 ft); and the second-largest atoll in the world after Kiritimati Atoll. The name Aldabra is said to be of Arabic origin. Arabs had settled in East Africa in 7th century. But first recorded visit to Aldabra is said to be in 1742 by a Frenchman Lazare Picault. Human settlement in Seychelles is said to have started in 1770. But this human settlement was immediate threat to giant tortoise as well as Green turtles. Both of these rare species almost went extinct in 19th century when some sense prevailed and conservation efforts started. By then their population had got limited to Aldabra atoll.

Assumption Island with its airstrip in the centre

The island of Assumption lies about 37 kilometres to the southwest. This island has a landing strip and a handful of buildings, it is home to the scientists that are the only continuous human presence on the islands. Assumption is also the gateway to Aldabra atoll. The airstrip of Assumption is the fastest link to the outside world for the Aldabra group. Assumption was devastated by guano mining in the early 20th century. Over 160,000 tons of this deposit was scraped off the tiny island and the vegetation removed to facilitate exploitation. With the loss of the plants, the birds that depended on them were also lost. Giant tortoises were wiped out. Seabirds suffered, especially boobies. Today it is slowly recovering.

In recent years, birds from Aldabra have been sighted for the first time in more than a century. The main beach is one of the finest in Seychelles and some Green Turtles still nest here. Diving too is excellent. Aldabra is said to be biogeographically much more closely related to Madagascar than the rest of Seychelles. All the land birds have their nearest relatives in Madagascar, including the Aldabra Rail, the last surviving flightless bird of the Indian Ocean. Other endemic species we will encounter ashore are the Aldabra Drongo, Madagascar Coucal, Souimanga Sunbird and Aldabra Fody. Seabirds include 10,000 pairs of frigate birds breeding in one of the world’s largest colonies. Shorebirds include large numbers of crab plovers, a speciality of the western Indian Ocean. If that’s not enough, this atoll is also the one of only two oceanic nesting colonies of flamingos. There are large ray and shark populations in the lagoon as well.

Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)

The fringing reef Astove averages about 250 meters from the shoreline, and beyond this the floor plummets steeply. The wall off Astove is one of the most awe-inspiring and spectacular dive sites in the world and has been rated by diving experts as one of the finest in the world. From the shallow edge of the reef, the waters plummet to incredible depths. Huge groupers, reef fish and shoals of pelagic fish congregate alongside forests of Gorgonian fan corals as Green Turtle drift slowly past. Hundreds of species of fish, Green Turtles and even the anchors of wrecked ships are to be seen.

Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)

Now this rare beauty is embroiled in a huge debate. India wants to build a military base on Assumption, and the Seychelles government is ceding the control of the island to India for 20 years. For India, the atoll is not just an isolated speck of land, but a potentially vital strategic outpost in its rivalry with China, who acquired its first African Naval base in Djibouti in November 2015. Once ready, this base will help India exercise greater control over the Indian Ocean’s western region all the way up to the piracy-prone east African coastline. India already acquired a fully operational coastal radar system in Seychelles in March 2015.

Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)

Environmentalists are alarmed at the prospect: The atoll has remained pristine because of its remote location and the limited number of people allowed to visit. That would change dramatically – and in the worst case, the island could become a battlefield. Construction workers and military personnel could introduce invasive animal and plant species to the islands with unpredictable consequences for the ecosystem. Soldiers would litter the island with plastic and other waste. Ships and aircraft would cause noise and pollute the air. Leaking fuel and oil could contaminate the soil and water – not to mention the possibility of major oil spills. These pristine islands are feared to be sacrificed to military and geopolitical interests.

Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)

Let’s go just about half a century in past. In 1962 for the first time British and American governments initiated surveys for a military base here. That also included a plan for a deep sea port. But because of huge outcry from scientific and environmental organisations, plans for the military base were abandoned. Instead a research station was established in 1971. In 1982, Aldabra was declared as a UNESCO world heritage site. So, life seems to have gone a full circle for the biodiversity of Aldabra in just about 50 years, with another threat looming.

Also Read: Seychelles Islands welcomes Bollywood

Among those opposing the India’s military base in Aldabra is the former Tourism Minister of Seychelles Alain St. Ange. He says that these pristine islands must not be sacrificed to military and geopolitical interests. He plans to send a petition to the government of the Seychelles and UNESCO to protect Aldabra Atoll. There was also a protest in capital Victoria on this issue few days back. Ralph Volcere, one of the organisers of the protest, said that Seychellois do not want this project, as the details were not made public. Volcere said that though there has been talked about the base since 2015, everything was kept secret, adding that it was only a couple of weeks ago that the issue was brought back again and the signing was held soon after. Volcere added that it is not right for the government to give away the island which is part of the Seychelles heritage. Another demonstrator, Vicky Lanza, said that a project of this magnitude has catastrophic impacts on the islands pristine environment. “Once there is a military base, there will be an element of control and locals will not have access even in the vicinity the island,” said Lanza. Many locals are just worried of the fact that just how can one of our islands be given to another country.

Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)

The agreement was signed for the second time on 27th January this year after revisions were made to the previous one. In the revised agreement, the main aim is to provide a framework for assistance to Seychelles by India. It will help enhance the military capabilities in control and maritime surveillance. The project will cover about a quarter of Assumption, which is some 1,140 southwest of the Seychelles main island of Mahe. However Indian High Commission says that the revised agreement will benefit both countries.

Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)

The Indian High Commissioner to Seychelles, Ausaf Sayeed, said the agreement will provide Seychelles with the opportunity to enhance its military capabilities and safeguard its marine zone. “In return, India will benefit through better communication and safe trade in the region as most imports of goods pass through the Indian Ocean,” Sayeed said. The Indian High Commissioner also said that although the project is being financed entirely by India, Seychelles retains full ownership of the facilities and sovereign rights over the island. He added that the project will jointly be managed by both countries and will not limit the movement of citizens to the island nor to the island of Aldabra as many are speculating. However it is said that 7 villagers here were given an option to stay on island with restrictions or get transferred to Astove island, where Indian government has already built residential houses. India has targeted to complete the construction of all military buildings by this year itself.

Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)

On the other hand the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF) , the organisation mandated to protect the Aldabra atoll, says that “it is certain that an enforcement presence is needed in the area to cut down on and prevent illegal activities currently happening in the Aldabra Group.” SIF is hopeful that the Seychelles Government and National Assembly will ensure that the implementation of the agreement will benefit Aldabra. But the question of threat to the bio-diversity of Aldabra atoll still remains unanswered.

What do you think? Is the development of military base at Aldabra justified? Share your views in comments section below.

Have you been to Aldabra or Assumption island? You can share your experiences here.

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Which are the World’s most popular cruises!


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The winners of the 8th annual Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards – naming the most popular cruise ships of the year, based on consumer reviews shared on Cruise Critic over the past 12 months have been revealed. This year’s list of winners has the wide range of ships awarded as the best of the best, explains Colleen McDaniel, Senior Executive Editor of Cruise Critic.

Also Read: Vagabond at Cruise- Super Star Virgo

Colleen says, “You have two of the largest ships at sea, alongside luxury yachts and small expedition ships that sail to some of the most far-flung destinations across the globe. As different as these ships are, the common thread is the exceptional ratings they received from actual guests. Whether you’re looking for a mega ship or a more intimate vessel, a port-heavy itinerary or laid-back beach escape, this list is a fantastic resource to guide to you to a ship perfectly suited to your needs.”

Large Ship Category

  • Celebrity Cruises was this year’s big winner in the Large Ship Category, winning five awards, including Best Overall, Best Dining, Best Public Rooms and Best Service for Celebrity Equinox, and Best for Value for Celebrity Silhouette. Celebrity Silhouette sails a number of itineraries, including the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Baltic and has been praised for its wide range of dining and entertainment options onboard.
  • Royal Caribbean International received four awards in the Large Ship Category, including Best Cabins, Best Embarkation and Best for Fitness & Recreation for Harmony of the Seas, and Best Entertainment for Allure of the Seas. Allure of the Seas features a number of chart-topping shows including Mamma Mia! and How to Train Your Dragon performed on ice.

Mid-Size Ship Category

  • Oceania Cruises was awarded the most accolades in the Mid-Size Category, snagging five awards for Best Overall, Best Cabins, Best Dining, Best for Fitness & Recreation and Best Public Rooms for its ship, Riviera. This is the fourth consecutive year that the line was awarded in all five categories. Riviera offers Caribbean, Baltic and Mediterranean sailings, and will begin sailing to Cuba in 2019.
  • Celestyal Cruises won two awards in the Mid-Size Category for its Celestyal Crystal – Best Shore Excursions and Best for Value. The ship sailed Cuba year-round, but will be redeployed to sail in the Mediterranean later in 2018.

Also Read: Adventure seekers can now visit Havana on Empress of the Seas

Small-Mid Ship Category

  • Viking Ocean Cruises was the runaway winner in the Small-Mid Category, winning in every category but one – Viking Sea was named Best Overall, Best Cabins, Best for Fitness & Recreation, Best Shore Excursions and Best for Value; Viking Sky was named Best Entertainment and Best Public Rooms; and Viking Star was named Best Dining and Best Service. Viking Sea was also named Best for First-Timers across all size categories.

Small Ship Category

  • Windstar Cruises won four awards in the Small Category – all for different ships in its fleet. Star Pride was named Best Cabins, Wind Spirit named Best for Fitness & Recreation, Wind Star named Best Service and Star Legend, Best Public Rooms. Wind Star and Wind Spirit are both four-masted sailing ships, while Star Pride and Star Legend are luxury yachts.
  • Silversea Cruises won three awards in the Small Category – Best Overall, Best Shore Excursions and Best for Value – for its 100-passenger Silver Galapagos. The ship is all-inclusive and offers year-round Galapagos cruises.

The winners of the 8th annual Cruise Critic Cruisers’ Choice Awards are awarded in four ship size classes, based on passenger capacity (Large: 2,000+ passengers; Mid-Size: 1,200 to 1,999 passengers; Small-Mid Size: 400- 1,199 passengers; Small: Fewer than 400 passengers.) The rankings are calculated using ratings published with user-submitted reviews on Cruise Critic.

First-place winners include:

Best Cruise Overall

  • Celebrity Equinox (Large) – Celebrity Cruises
  • Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises
  • Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Silver Galapagos (Small) – Silversea Cruises

Best Cruise Ship Cabins

  • Harmony of the Seas (Large) – Royal Caribbean International
  • Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises
  • Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Star Pride (Small) – Windstar Cruises

Also Read: Uniworld’s S.S. Joie De Vivre sets sail on maiden voyage

Best Cruise Ships for Dining

  • Celebrity Equinox (Large) – Celebrity Cruises
  • Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises
  • Viking Star (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • National Geographic Explorer (Small) – Lindblad Expeditions
Allure of the Seas

Best Cruise Ships for Embarkation

  • Harmony of the Seas (Large) – Royal Caribbean International
  • Amsterdam (Mid-Sized) – Holland America Line
  • Pacific Princess (Small-Mid) – Princess Cruises
  • Celebrity Xpedition (Small) – Celebrity Cruises

Best Cruise Ships for Entertainment

  • Allure of the Seas (Large) – Royal Caribbean International
  • Disney Wonder (Mid-Sized) – Disney Cruise Line
  • Viking Sky (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • L’Austral (Small) — Ponant

Also read: Costa Cruise to sail from Mumbai to Maldives and Colombo

Best Cruise Ships for Fitness & Recreation

  • Harmony of the Seas (Large) – Royal Caribbean International
  • Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises
  • Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Wind Spirit (Small) – Windstar Cruises

Best Cruise Ships for Public Rooms

  • Celebrity Equinox (Large) – Celebrity Cruises
  • Riviera (Mid-Sized) – Oceania Cruises
  • Viking Sky (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Star Legend (Small) – Windstar Cruises

Best Cruise Ships for Service

  • Celebrity Equinox (Large) – Celebrity Cruises
  • Amsterdam (Mid-Sized) – Holland America Line
  • Viking Star (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Wind Star (Small) – Windstar Cruises

Also read: Dubai gets world’s largest cruise terminal at Mina Rashid

Best Cruise Ships for Shore Excursions

  • Carnival Breeze (Large) – Carnival Cruise Line
  • Celestyal Crystal (Mid-Sized) – Celestyal Cruises
  • Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Silver Galapagos (Small) – Silversea Cruises

Best Cruise Ships for Value

  • Celebrity Silhouette (Large) – Celebrity Cruises
  • Celestyal Crystal (Mid-Sized) – Celestyal Cruises
  • Viking Sea (Small-Mid) – Viking Ocean Cruises
  • Silver Galapagos (Small) – Silversea Cruises

Also Read: Most Eagerly awaited Indian Wedding of the year on Costa Cruise

Best Cruises for Families

  • Carnival Breeze – Carnival Cruise Line
  • Best for First Timers
  • Viking Sea – Viking Ocean Cruises

(Source: cruisecritic.com)

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Keoladeo : Tips to travel inside park for some serious bird watching!


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Keoladeo Ghana National Park at Bharatpur in Rajasthan has always been the numero uno of India’s bird sanctuaries. One of the oldest and the most acclaimed one. It is also close to hearts of all birders as it was the playground of India’s most known birder, none other than Salim Ali for more than half a century.

Visiting this park is always a thrill for serious bird watchers. Watching birds here need some good planning. I will be discussing tips for good experience of bird watching at Keoladeo in few posts. Here is the first one on means to travel inside the park and the charges associated with them.

Morning mist in Keoladeo

Firstly, it is a bird sanctuary, not a tiger reserve. Hence no safaris are needed here. Since we don’t have normal wildlife, else than deer family, reptiles and predators are very rare (unless some big cat moves in from any nearby forest), hence it is safe for tourists to roam around. Since it is all about birds, than we probably want to enjoy a closer view of them and don’t scare them away, hence no motorised noise-making vehicles are allowed inside. This is quite sensible.

Forest department has some battery operated vehicles to move inside with their work. There is also a Tourist rest house inside the gate of the park, but not deep inside and actually before the second check post of the park. This is also close to the Salim Ali bird interpretation centre. Tourists staying in that RTDC rest house might take vehicles to carry the luggage. Overall, it is in our interest to enjoy the park in as much less noise as possible. After all, we are here to listen only to the birds. Isn’t it!

Jungle Babblers

Secondly, park is open from sunrise to sunset but obviously, you won’t be enjoying birding in a glaring sunlight in noon. Best times are in the morning and in afternoon, just after the sunrise and just before the sunset. Those are the times, when bird take flight and light is best for photography. In noon sunlight will fall directly on water, making it more glaring. It also gets too hot for the tourists to enjoy bird watching. So we should adjust our time accordingly. The good thing is that, unlike other national parks, we don’t have to worry about getting out of the park in stipulated time.

Sarus made of Swarovski at interpretation centre

There are four ways to enjoy the park- on foot, on bicycle, on cycle rickshaw and on tonga. Now there is very inverse experience per each way. Walking will be tough and time-taking as well as tiring but it will take you to trails where you won’t be able to reach through a cycle, or rickshaw or a tonga. Those will be the places, where you will see most of the birds, as they will be least disturbed with tourist traffic. Inversely, tonga will be least tiring, but it has limited access to the trails. I had some close shots of sarus crane, when I was on foot, deep inside the park, where there was no access to even cycle. But problems with walking is that you won’t be able to cover the longer distance inside. And some migratory birds make their colony deep inside the park. Even the Keoladeo temple is far in the middle of the park. You need time to access all this.

Ways to travel in park

My best bet is to use a bicycle. It gives you three benefits- speed to cover the distance inside the park, second- freedom to stop and start at will, and lastly, with the bicycle you also have liberty to park it anywhere and walk inside on the trail, where it is not possible to take the bike or when you want to be closer to the birds. It gives you the option of having best of both worlds. One thing is for sure, you need time to enjoy the park as birding needs patience. Don’t move inside with a very tight schedule. Also, you need to plan for atleast two trips inside, if not more than that, so that you can move to different deeper areas inside.

Also Read:  Tall, handsome and mate for life!

Dr Salim Ali immortalised at Keoladeo

There is another way besides these four, and it is boating. Keoladeo has a few water channels, which are accessible through boats and forest department runs a few boats for tourists to enjoying birding while boating. But the problem is lack of water. The water to the sanctuary is actually the water overflown from Ajan Dam reservoir which reaches here through Ghana canal. Gambhir river feeds the Ajan Dam. Water level in reservoir is also lot dependent on rains, so is the bird life in the Keoladeo park. Keoladeo has been facing acute shortage of water for years now. This has hindered the movement of boats. For few years even number of birds had fallen because of this. So this boating option might not be available for most of times, even during the entire season.

Whistling ducks at Keoladeo

As about charges, for walking you just have to pay the entry fee. It is 75 Rs for Indians and 500 Rs for foreigners. Sale of tickets is generally stopped one and half hours before the sunset. Cycle charges are 20 Rs and 40 Rs for two different categories of cycles. That charges are for day. Rickshaw charges are 150 Rs per hour and Tonga 300 Rs per hour. Sometimes you might even find a battery operated electric van for the charge of 300 Rs per hour. If you are lucky enough to wind some water in channels and boats running than boating charges are Rs 75 per person per hour. You can hire an entire four seater boat for Rs 300 per hour and an eight seater boat for Rs 600 per hour. There are also handy cam charges mentioned, as high as 600 Rs but in these times of advanced smartphones capable of recording HD videos, these handy cam charges look pretty ridiculous and actually discriminatory. There can be argument for hefty charges of professional video or movie camera charges but handy cam charges are just unnecessary.

Guide charges are 250 Rs per hour for a group of 5 people and 400 Rs per hour for groups bigger than that. Guide is essential for group bigger than 10 people. Most authorised rickshaw pullers and tonga persons also double up as guides (unofficially) owing to their experience and some training that they get. That is the point, where you can bargain on guiding charges. But an official guide or naturalist what they are called as will always come with a powerful binocular to show you the distant birds, unofficial guides won’t have that. Actually, I have experienced both the things. Once we have used the services of our rickshaw puller as a guide and next time took a naturalist with us on bicycle. With no disrespect to the rickshaw pullers and their efforts, there is a marked difference between two experiences. Obviously, the naturalist guides are better trained and have more focused vision, better communicating skills.

Also Read: Perfect host for a birding trip!

Welcome to my territory!

Have you been to Keoladeo? How was your experience of travelling inside the park? Please share your views in the comments section below!

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The original Bahubali and the Ghoda goes green!


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Spring is early this year, not just because Basant Panchami was celebrated in January itself, but also because winter too seems to be giving way to the spring already. Time of romance and enjoyment. Carnival time at places around the world. But the shortest month of the year is also one of the richest in terms of cultural output that we get out of it.

Khajuraho Festival of Dances

Well, we are already done with the first quarter of the month and many events have already rounded up, like the Rural Olympics at Kila Raipur in Punjab (2-4 February 2018) and the Sula Fest at Nasik (3-4 February). Even the Kala Ghoda Arts festival at Mumbai has started from 3rd February, but there is still time to catch up few events in remaining days. But surely gem of the month is the once in 12 years Mahamasthakabhisheka of the ‘original’ Bahubali at Shravanbelagola in Karnataka. But we also have some lesser known festivals in monasteries of Ladakh, if you are daring to venture there in the winters. Also in my (remaining) list for the month is another recent addition to Rajasthan’s ever growing music sphere- a festival at Udaipur. Then there are always the regular ones with their evergreen charm.

Mahamasthakabhisheka of Bahubali

Mahamasthakabhisheka, the head anointing ceremony is performed once in 12 years to the 57 feet tall monolithic statue of Lord Bahubali at Shravanabelagola. The event is being be held under the leadership of Swasti Sri Charukeerthi Bhattarakha Swamiji of Shravanabelagola from 17th-25th February 2018. Shravanabelagola/Sravanabelagola is one of the most important Jain tirth (a sacred place) of the Jains in South India. It is a place of great importance from the point of pilgrimage and also archeological and religious heritage. About eight hundred odd inscriptions which the Karnataka Archeological Department has collected at the place are mostly Jaina and cover a very extended period from 600 to 1830 A.D. Some refer even to the remote time of Chandragupta Maurya and also relate the story of the first settlement of Jains at Shravanabelagola. That this village was an acknowledged seat of learning is proved from the fact that a priest from here named Akalanka was in 788 A.D. summoned to the court of Himasitala at Kanchi where having confuted the Buddhists in public disputation, he was instrumental in gaining their expulsion from the South of India to Ceylon. The place derives its name from the point that Shravana or Shramana means a Jain ascetic and Belagola or Biliya Kola means white pond. Usually Mahamasthakabhisheka to Bahubali idols at Shravanabelagola, Karkala, Venur and Dharmasthala are conducted once in 12 years. There are various interesting stories/interpretations around this.

When: 17-25 February 2018

Where: Shravanabelagola is at a distance of 51 KM south-east of Hassan, the district centre. It is situated at a distance of 12 Km to the south from the Bangalore-Mangalore road (NH-48), 78 Kms from Halebidu, 89 Kms from Belur, 83 Kms from Mysore, 233 Kms from Mangalore and 157 Kms from Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka. It is well connected with State Highways and District roads. Bangalore and Mangalore are the two nearest destinations connected by Air. There are trains connecting Shravanabelagola with the state capital Bengaluru (Bangalore), its district head quarter Hassan, the cultural capital of Karnataka Mysuru and the state’s chief port city Mangaluru (Mangalore).

Kala Ghoda goes Green this year

Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is the country’s largest multicultural festival, taking place in February each year. Kala Ghoda Association, was formed on 30th October 1998 with the object of maintaining and preserving the heritage and art district of South Mumbai. Mission was to preserve and refurbish the heritage arts district of Mumbai with the co-operation of local authorities and to create and spread multi-cultural awareness through platforms like festivals and events especially amongst those who have little opportunity to access or be exposed to culture. Hence the festival is free for everybody across all he sections. The Festival draws visitors in large numbers, not just from the city but from all over the country, and the world. Hara Ghoda The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival brings to the stage the wonders of nature shown through performance and art. The raging flames of the Fire of victory (agni), the liquid blue of Aqua (jal), the indefinable Air (vayu), the indestructible Earth (prithvi) and the realms of Space (akash), finds its place and artistic representation at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2018. The HTKGAF calendar features dance, theatre, music and literature events, in addition to art installations, workshops, heritage walks and film screenings. For those looking forward to the diverse calendar of events, this festival hasn’t been soon enough. The festival is quirky and fresh, bringing to us the best of art and culture. The art installations are amazing; the literature events enriching. The nine-day festival adds to the beauty of the city, with its rich programmes. Kala Ghoda is a festival so rich and diverse, yet binding us together. Music performances are exemplary, with elite artists performing for the whole city. It captures the city’s culture and gives the new generation a chance to connect with it.

When: 3-11 February, 2018

Where: Different venues for different arts across Mumbai, although there is a pending court case related to use of Cross Maidan this year.

Destruction of evil with fanfare at Dosmochey Festival in Ladakh!

This is a festival from the rooftop of the world. Likir Festival and Leh Dosmochey normally falls around February. Dosmochey is a monastic festival celebrated in the month of February each year. This festival was said to be started by the rulers of Ladakh on the pattern of the popular Mon-Lam meaning ‘Great Prayer’ ceremony of Lhasa. It is celebrated at Leh, Likir (lower Ladakh) and Diskit (in Nubra valley) monasteries. It is the last event of the New Year celebrations, and is held on the 28th and 29th day of the 12th Tibetan month. This two day festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm. Hundreds of Ladakhi people and winter tourists actively take part in this festival. In Leh, there is a courtyard below Leh Palace, where festival is held. Monks from various monasteries perform mask dance and ritual prayers. Mask dance is accompanied with the sound of large drums, cymbals and trumpet. Monks of Takthok monastery (the only remaining Nyingmapa school monastery and who are considered as masters in Tantric practice and astrology) prepare the complex thread crosses to trap evil and demonic forces. On the second day, crowds of masked dancers and people march through streets spreading positive energy. Besides, offerings of storma, ritual figures moulded out of dough, are brought out and ceremonially cast away into the desert, or burnt. These scapegoats believed to carry away with them the evil spirits of the year just passed and thus the town is cleaned and made ready to welcome the New Year.

When: 13-14 February, 2018

Where: Leh Palace, Likir and Diskit Gompa

Cham dances of Yargon Tungshak 

Stay for some more days after Dosmochey festival and you can enjoy another one in Nubra valley this time. Even though winter is not the most ideal time to plan a Leh Ladakh tour, those who want to witness the livelier side of Ladakh must plan a visit to Nubra Valley during the late months of winter. During the late winters, the calm and placid Nubra valley of Ladakh comes to life with the vibrant Yargon Tungshak Festival. A flamboyant exhibition of culture, tradition, folk music, and the much acclaimed Cham Dance (Mask Dance), the Yargon Tungshak Festival brings in a new and the livelier vibes back to the entire valley. Decked up in traditional costumes, the dance is performed on the beats of drums and low-level syllables which are uttered with a strange melody. Dances which are performed in this festival are Lion, Yak and Tashipa dances. Ladakhi festiveals like Yargon Tungshak are synodnymous with delicious food that is peculiar only to that region. Locals, during the Yargon Tungshak Festival, feast on delicious local foods; mostly skyu, gurgur cha and thukpa, and the monasteries also holds social feast for the locals. Also, a grand religious prayer takes place in a monastery. Along with the traditional Tibetian chants, Sanskrit chants are also uttered by monks.

When: 19-20 February, 2018

Where: Nubra Yama, Nubra, Ladakh

The oracles at Stok Guru Tsechu

Dare I say that come back from Nubra to the Stok village and in few days you will witness another great monastic festival and a rare one. The Stok Guru Tsechu Festival is held in the first month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, the holy prayer month. It is celebrated in accordance with Guru Rinpoche’s (Padmasambhava) birthday which falls on the 9th and 10th day of the first Tibetan month. Stok Guru Tsechu is a very unique monastic festival. Apart from the famous mask dance, its highlight is the awaited oracles’ prediction for the coming year. Stok village, where the festival takes place, offers the great view down the valley on the mighty Indus river and the majestic snow-capped Stok Kangri Mountain (6,153m above sea level). Every now and then one gets easily delighted by the festive vibes that the locals emanate in their colourful attire. The festival is a platform where villagers take the opportunity to serve their spiritual masters and the monastery in its turn entertains its long-bearing benefactors through a colourful Cham or mask dance. The villagers are introduced to different manifestations of Tantric Buddhas through the means of religious dance performed by the monks who are in turn disguised in sacred costumes, ornaments and huge masks resembling different Buddhas. As the sun sets down above the high rocky mountains of Stok range, the two oracles appear in the monastery courtyard. Fully possessed and in trance, they are escorted to the main temple by monks, lay people and two Deer mask dance performers. They are being glorified with the high baritone trumpets blown by the monks along with cymbals, drums and a group of lay musicians playing traditional drums and pipes. It is believed that there are seven oracles residing in Ladakh. Two of them are in Stok village, two in Matho village, other two in Gya village and one in Skurbuchan village. The story tells that their origin dates back to the pre-Buddhist era where Shamanism or Bon was prevailing in Tibet. As Guru Rinpoche subdued all the shamanic energy and converted them into Buddhism in the 8th century AD, they took pledge to protect the Buddha Dharma since then.

When: 24-25 February, 2018

Where: Stok village, Ladakh

World of music at the City of Lakes

The City of Lakes sings a different tune come February. Udaipur plays host to the third edition of the Udaipur World Music Festival. Organised by SEHER, this festival brings together global artists and ensembles from over 20 countries. More than 100 artists will collaborate to give an eclectic variety of performances. The festival which witnessed a footfall of more than 50,000 people visiting from different parts of the world during its last two editions, assures an interesting itinerary with artistes from France, US, Nepal, Spain, Italy, Thailand and India giving music lovers a taste of jazz, classical, rock and pop music this edition. Music enthusiasts will be privy to live performances by famous bands like Txarango from Spain and Brazilian singer Flavia Coelho and many other artistes who will be performing for the first time in the country. Music connoisseurs will also get to enjoy soulful renditions by the lauded musical trio Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy from India and The Ransom Collective from Philippines. Celebrating cultural diversity at its best, the festival will also provide a platform to local Rajasthani artistes along with an insightful exposure to the local communities.The event is designed to cater to the music sensibilities of people across different ages and from all walks of life. An absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience, this one is a sheer treat for lovers of good music. The event will host some of the most renowned music artistes including Italian musician Oi Dipnoi, Himalyan folk singer-songwriter Bipul Chettri, New York-based Indian guitarist and composer Shubh Saran, French musical artist Maya Kamaty, amongst others. “It has been a fantastic experience to see tremendous response from music lovers in the past two editions. This year we have planned to take the festival to new levels with an eclectic line up of world musicians who will be performing during the festival. The festival is a celebration of myriad cultures, ethnicities and colorful traditions through music,” Festival Director Sanjeev Bhargava said.

When: 9-11 February 2018

Where: Fateh Sagar Paal and Gandhi ground, Udaipur

Showcasing art and handicraft at Surajkund

Surajkund Mela

One of the most awaited fairs of north India happens to be very close to Delhi. Comes right at the nick of spring. Dates have been slightly altered this year. A marvellous mix of handicrafts, folk arts and folk dances makes it a crowd puller. With lots of food stalls representing different states, it has lot more to offer. Hosted by Haryana Tourism, this fair also has a large entertainment value. With Valentine Day coming towards the end of the festival, young ones from NCR find it tempting to have some funtime at Surajkund. This year visitors at the upcoming Surajkund Mela will be able to take a joy ride in a helicopter and enjoy an aerial view of the fair and surrounding areas. Every year, a country is chosen to be the Partner Nation that showcases the best of its art, culture, traditions and heritage during the Mela fortnight. Artists from many other states also actively participate. Every year, a theme state is chosen for the Mela, which highlights the state in totality from its architecture to fine arts and crafts. This year Kyrgyzstan is the partner nation and Uttar Pradesh has been chosen as the theme State for the 32nd Surajkund International Crafts Mela-2018.

When: 2-18 February, 2018

Where: Surajkund, Faridabad, Haryana

A music fest for world peace

Sufi Sutra which is now Sur Jahan

8th edition of Sur Jahan (previous name Sufi Sutra) will be held at Mohar Kunj, Kolkata on February 2 to 4, 2017. Like previous years, it remains non ticketed festival and open to music lovers. Held in the first weekend of February every year with the motto of ‘Music for Peace, Music for All’, the event showcases international and national music teams, with cultural exchange workshops during the day and concerts in the evenings. The celebrations create the atmosphere of a carnival, with stalls by rural handicraft artists and folk performances. It is being held since 2011 and is now a permanent and much-awaited fixture in the city’s cultural calendar. Since its inception, teams from 22 countries and 12 states of India have participated in this annual musical extravaganza. Among the major attractions this year are the Ale Möller Quartet and Ellika Solo Rafael, both from Sweden, BraAgas of Czech republic, Virelai of Denmark and Otava Yo from Russia. Indian part will be represented by Punjab Qawwali, Bauls of Bengal and Folks of Bengal – an initiative of banglanatak dot com MusiCal supporting urban folk artists. The festival will also showcase Rural Craft & Cultural Hubs of West Bengal, an initiative of West Bengal government’s Department of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and Textiles (MSME&T) in association with UNESCO. Alike last year Sur Jahan is again traveling to Goa this year Feb 7-9.

When: 2-4 February, 2018.

Where: Kolkata & Goa

Carnival times in Goa

India’s answer to carnivals of Brazil, Caribbean and Europe. Carnival came to Goa with the Portuguese in 1510. This is the local version of the carnival celebrated worldwide before Mardi Gas. In the localised version parade is lead by local King Momo. This three day event is the place where all the colours of Goa come out in a glorious swagger and sweeps away the local as well foreign folks with its charm and charisma. Goa is almost synonymous with fun, music, food, entertainment and merry making and without any real doubt the only place in India that breaks away from the general image of the country as a conservative nation. It can be attributed to the historical fact that Goa was under Portuguese rule in the past and is still in its hang over. The Goa Carnival was started by the Portuguese rulers and since then it it has become an integral part of Goa. During the Carnival days Goa enters into a different zone of its own and become very crowded place. from every part of the world travellers come to enjoy the Goa Carnival. There is celebrations everywhere. Food and drinks are in plenty in accordance with live performances and multi-coloured processions. The scene of Goa Carnival resembles some fairy tale descriptions where people hop around in jovial mood with masks on, fireworks, fortune tellers, group of dancers and and above all happy people all around. Music swings into Goa Carnival quite naturally. The myriad facets of the Goan music compels any onlooker to jig with it. The stylish Spanish guitar, the casual drum beats and the soulful voice are enough to make you move your feet. It is a perfect gateway for everyone who is on the verge of a virtual breakdown in today’s dull, dreary and mundane world.

When: 10-13 February, 2018

Where: Panaji, Vasco, Mapusa

Best of classical dance at Khajuraho

Every ancient monument has a fascinating story to tell. But few match the mystery wrapped around the temples of Khajuraho in central India. Once the capital of the great Chandela Kings, Khajuraho today is a quiet village of a few thousand people. It is also the setting of the Khajuraho Festival of Dances which draws the best classical dancers in the country every year, who perform against the spectacular backdrop of the floodlit temples. The seven-day extravaganza is a unique treat for connoisseurs from all over the world. This year it will be 44th edition of this festival. The Khajuraho Festival of Dances draws the best classical dancers in the country who perform against the spectacular backdrop of the floodlit temples every year in February/March. The past and the present silhouetted against the glowing sun as the backdrop becomes an exquisite backdrop for the performers. In a setting where the earthly and the divine create perfect harmony – an event that celebrates the pure magic of the rich classical dance traditions of India. As dusk falls, the temples are lit up in a soft, dream-like ethereal stage. The finest exponents of different classical Indian styles are represented – Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, and many more.

When: 20-26 February 2018

Where: Western group of temples, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh

An Olympics for Theatre in Delhi this time

Bharat Rang Mahotsav

India’s biggest theatre festival hosted by National School of Drama will this year turn into 8th Theatre Olympics. India will be hosting this event for the first time. It will be a grand showcase of the international theatre. Theate Olympics is going to feature work by playrights, directors, actors, designers, theatre groups and drama institutions from India and abroad. It will showcase outstanding productions that have been performed for the public on or before 31st August 2017. The theme of the Olympics is Flag of Friendship. The Theatre Olympics was established in 1993 in Delphi, Greece, on the initiative of the famous Greek theatre director, Theodoros Terzopoulos. It is a platform for theatrical exchange, a gathering place for students and masters, where a dialogue despite ideological, culture and language differences is encouraged. Moreover, as its subtitle suggests, Crossing Millennia, it is an initiative that emphasizes the importance of connecting the past, present, and future together. The founding committee was a group of eight internationally renowned theatre directors: Theodoros Terzopoulos, Nuria Espert, Antunes Filho, Tony Harrison, Yuri Lyubimov, Heiner Müller, Tadashi Suzuki and Robert Wilson. It is a non-profit organization. Its administrative headquarters are located in Athens, Greece (European office) and in Togamura, Japan (Asian office).

When: 17 February-8 April 2018

Where: National School of Drama, New Delhi, but plays across the country at various locations including Agartala, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Guwahati, Imphal, Jaipur, Jammu, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna, Thiruvanathapuram and Varanasi.

Enjoying contemporary art at India Art Summit

India Art Fair

India Art Fair, previously known as India Art Summit, is an annual summit of modern and contemporary art. India Art Fair is South Asia’s leading platform for modern and contemporary art and portal to the region’s cultural landscape. Founded in 2008, India Art Fair has become the bedrock of a now booming cultural community with connections to every level of the market. This is the 10th year of this Art summit. Building on these foundations, India Art Fair is expanding its programming to reflect South Asia’s immense diversity in the visual arts and to provide a platform for innovation across disciplines and exchange, throughout the region and the world. There is strong representation of leading Indian and international galleries to complement the fair’s regional perspective and enable a deeper engagement with art. A curated showcase of interactive, large-scale installations revealing the most stimulating cross section of artists, mediums and processes from the subcontinent. With a shared ambition to promote cultural discourse in South Asia, and provide a platform for these discussions, India Art Fair has developed platforms such as the Speakers’ Forum and Film Programme. This broad and exciting programme of lectures, screenings and conversations will engage a diverse range of stakeholders in the visual arts as well as cover a wide spectrum of artistic practices.

When: 9-12 February, 2018

Where: NSIC Exhibition Grounds, Okhla Industrial Estate, New Delhi.


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Once in a Blue Moon!


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Rare phenomenon  need to be captured through extraordinary attempts. My extraordinary was to be stationed at same place for more than two hours clicking images at regular intervals. But not a big ask when one has to capture a rare spectacle of Super Blood Blue Moon.

To me what was more exciting is the fact that there were many enthusiasts at the India Gate waiting anxiously to watch this rare astronomical event. It was also heartening to see that many had come by shedding their myths about an eclipse. There were many who had a look to the moon through my telephoto lens.

‘Space’ had also organised this event by putting up a telescope at India Gate lawns along with few scientists to give a pep talk about the event. Although clouds played a spoilsport when they almost hid the moonrise and than most part of the eclipse from touch to the complete, thus depriving viewers of the Blood Moon views. Blue moon views were still good.

Second part of the efforts started with processing of the photos and mixing multiple exposures. With a event like this, which is viewed and captured by millions across the globe, it is worth to present the images differently. For me individually, these were first attempts of this type.

You can also watch a time-lapse video of this two hour phenomenon summed up in a 25 second video on my youtube channel by clicking the link below-

Did you watch this year’s Super Blood Blue Moon on 31st January? How was your experience? Share in the comments section below.

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