2011 India and Sri Lanka

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Tigers: Bengal & Tamil!

Safaris in India & Sri Lanka March 2 – March 25, 2011 “Hunters”— Micki & Dan, Kay & Lois

CONTENTS Getting There.................................................................................................................................................. 4

INDIA – HOME OF THE ROYAL BENGAL TIGERS ........................................................................................ 7

Bandhavgarh National Park ..................................................................................................................... 8

Kanha National Park................................................................................................................................15

The Singinawa Jungle Lodge...................................................................................................................23

SRI LANKA – HOME OF THE HUMAN TAMIL TIGERS ...............................................................................27

It’s Not a Mini India .................................................................................................................................. 31

Accommodations and Site Visits ...........................................................................................................34

Jetwing Vil Uyana Resort .....................................................................................................................35

E arl’s Regency Hotel ............................................................................................................................. 38

Tea Plantations ..................................................................................................................................... 40

Yala Safari Village .................................................................................................................................44

Ancient Sri Lanka .........................................................................................................................................48

Anuradhapura ..........................................................................................................................................49

Dambulla Cave .........................................................................................................................................52

Sigiriya Rock Fortress ..............................................................................................................................55

Polonnaruwa Gal Viharaya .....................................................................................................................56

Gadaladeniya ............................................................................................................................................ 59

Where The Wild Things Were!....................................................................................................................61

End Of Story..................................................................................................................................................74

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GETTING THERE

So, off we go again! Four intrepid travelers with two overwhelming shared interests: seeing wild creatures in their own habitats and getting vivid photographs of them! What more marvelous creatures could there be to find in the wild than tigers! Reportedly there are only about 3200 still living on the Indian subcontinent and despite much effort by Indian nationals and world wildlife experts, those numbers are not expanding. Instead, the human population is steadily rising, creating great pressure on the reserves established for the tigers' protection. With those two facts in our minds, where else would we want to venture next? India, of course. We must beat the oncoming extinction or be always regretting our lapse in pursuing our shared passions. Lois & Kay had already been to India once before, in 2005, but had visited only one tiger reserve — Ranthambore. During their stay in that preserve, luck had not been with them and they saw nothing of tigers except for some fresh paw prints, identified by the guides as the spoor of a mother and her cub which the guides had seen the previous afternoon. The thirst to see a tiger was not slaked on that trip. Micki and Dan had never been to India at all, so they were eager to see the country as well as to find and photograph wild tigers. Before Lois and Kay arrived, Micki and Dan went to Ranthambore and had the great luck of seeing a male tiger for several minutes crossing a road after having marked his territory by urinating stupendously against a tree. So we all hoped that this sighting would be the beginning of a successful search for tigers at Bandhavgarh and Kanha Tiger Reserves south of Delhi. In Northern India, they were able to see all the famous tourist sites for themselves before Kay and I joined them two weeks later so that all four or us together could visit two famous tiger reserves in central India. Kay and I arranged to meet them in Khajuraho. That required flights from Jacksonville, Florida to JFK, to a layover in Doha Qatar, to an overnight Trident Hotel stay in Delhi, to our final flight to Khajuraho and the Lalit Temple View Hotel. Two days and four flights later, we met our friends and took out to walk the spectacular grounds of the UN World Heritage site, the Khajuraho Group of Monuments. These are well known for their frank depictions in stone of erotic goings on.

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Trident Hotel

Lalit Temple View Hotel

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Khajuraho Group of Monuments

In India, it was the Royal Bengal Tigers we eagerly sought. In Sri Lanka, it was the Tamil Tigers we wanted not to see at all! So off we go.

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INDIA – HOME OF THE ROYAL BENGAL TIGERS

Any wildlife lovers know that the Bengal Tigers of India are the largest big cats of the world. Most big cat lovers also consider them to be the most beautiful of the feline species. When considering the depressing fall in tiger numbers in the world, it is difficult not to feel deeply pessimistic over the fate of tigers. From over 150,000 in the 1900s, Indian tigers are now reduced to no more than 3200 and even that number may be an exaggeration. Different conservation groups see the situation differently. So let's consider the beauty of the tiger and not its probable sad fate (to exist only in zoos of the world). Probably everyone has seen pictures of this wonderful creature with its white and orange coloration background encircles with black stripes. We learned that the stripe patterns on the tiger's face are as individual as our fingerprints, making it easy for researchers to identify each tiger they are studying.

The intensely orange eyes are totally compelling and hypnotic. The round ears lined with black fur on the front view and the black spots with white centers as seen from the back add to the tiger's attractive appearance.

These cats really are quite large: the adult males average between 9 and 10 feet in length, including the tail; females range from 8 to 8.5 ft. in length. Males weigh an average of 520 lbs. and females reach 310 lbs. Tiber cubs weigh only 2 lbs. at birth and are both deaf and blind up to three weeks. They stay with their mothers from 18 mos to 3 years, gaining weight and size, as well as learning to hunt for themselves. A tiger's roar can be heard at a distance of almost 2 miles away. So they have big voices as well. Unlike lions, tigers do not live in prides; they are solitary creatures except for females with cubs. As long as her cubs are dependent on her, the female will not come into heat again. Males are very territorial and will not tolerate another male in their domains which can be quite large – from 20 to 100 miles. Females can overlap male territories without dispute and some females will allow others in their smaller territories. When a female lives even partially within a male's territory, she will be considered by him as part of his harem and he will defend her from other interloping males.

When the males leave their mothers, they must strike out and find a territory unoccupied by another adult male. Females often remain in the same areas with their mothers. Even though India now has 23 tiger preserves, it is clear that the burgeoning human populations around the

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parks and preserves make each one capable of sustaining only a few males; yet it takes at least 250 tigers in an area to allow for genetic diversity and, thus, thriving tigers. So even if poaching were not the problem that it is, tiger populations will and do suffer from decreased territory availability. So despite the efforts of many different governmental and independent tiger preservation organizations, it appears dismally true that the ultimate fate of wild tigers is not very optimistic.

Bandhavgarh National Park

As mentioned above, Micki and Dan had already enjoyed a great tiger sighting experience before Lois and Kay joined them in Khajuraho. We went first to one of the most famous the tiger reserves, Bandhavgarh National Park, about 350 miles from Delhi to the south. It is a very large preserve and is very well managed on behalf of the tiger. Of course, it is also a huge tourist draw and is an important source of foreign “investment” in the local economies of India . Bandhavgarh National Park is 268 square miles but the tiger reserve in it is only 41 square miles. It is said that this reserve has the highest density of tigers in all India: 4.77 tigers per square mile. The old saying used to be that “If you go to other parks to see tigers, you ar e lucky if you see one. If you go Bandhavgarh you are unlucky if you don't see one.” And we did see tigers here, but we had closer encounters at the other reserve we visited; but more on that later. This park is named after a hillock inside it that is called “Brother's Fort” in English (Bandhavgarh in Hindi). The hill's name comes from a legend which says that the Hindu Lord Rama gave the hill to his brother, Lakshmana so he could keep an eye on Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) for him. Seems rather appropriate since we were headed for Sri Lanka after our time in this park and the other one we visited. In this park are 37 species of mammal, including the tiger, leopard, Indian wolf, several deer species, the wild bison (gaur), monkeys, wild boar, mongoose and many other kinds of smaller animals. There are an estimated 250 birds species and we found that we had seen almost all of them according to our bird lists. There are 70 butterfly species and a number of reptiles as well. However, we were mainly looking for larger mammals and birds so we probably overlooked butterflies and smaller critters in our anxiousness to find a tiger.

There is much forested land in this park and not as much open grassland as we had expected from pictures we had seen before arriving. There are rocky outcroppings on which we kept anticipating spotting tigers or leopards but never did. Our safari rides in the mornings started at

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6:30 AM (which meant we had arisen much earlier to get to the gate at that time) and ended promptly at 10:30 AM when the park was closed to visitors. It reopened again at 3:00 PM when we would get another chance to see a tiger. That ride would end promptly at 6:30 PM The driver and guide are held responsible if they are late and are fined about 4-5000 rupees for each infraction (and that is a lot of money to these folks). If they are guilty of three late arrivals, they are suspended from driving and guiding for three weeks. Further infractions can result in bigger fines, longer suspensions, and finally permanent expulsion from the park. That of course would be devastating to these people whose livelihoods depend on the 9 months the park is open during a year. So we would often find ourselves racing back to the gate bouncing along the rough sandy roads as the driver rushed to be on time. Rather like a roller-coaster ride with a little bit of a ship tossing in hurricane force winds mixed with it! Fun and exciting too. We had three brief glimpses of tigers in this park so we would definitely fit into the “lucky” crowd in the official accumulated statistics. The first big fellow we saw was near the entrance in the afternoon we arrived. It is pretty probable that we would have missed him had not our driver noticed several jeeps pulled up just outside the park. He drove down to see what was going on and then we saw him! He was about 10 feet from the road lying in the tall grasses under some bamboo and trees. He blended so well with his surroundings that he was difficult to see. He was flat out on his side so that the most salient of his features was an enormous paw with the pads exposed. One eye would open lazily to watch if the trucks dared move closer and then it would close again. Even partially hidden he was absolutely beautiful! All four of us were hopeful that seeing him was a sign unto us that we would see others during our stay in Bandhavgarh. And we did! But still just quick looks at quickly vanishing tigers. We saw our second tiger as a result of a jeep jam. Our driver drove up behind about 20 cars piled up at every angle waiting to see a female tiger cross the road. It was only an accident that we arrived before the crossing had already taken place. Just after we arrived, the tigress dashed across the road in front the first vehicle and disappeared so rapidly that it was hard to believe we had actually seen her. The space between the car and the brush on the side of the road she was approaching to our eyes appeared about a foot wide, so far away were we from her crossing point. But again, we were counted among the positive statistics. The third tiger we saw in this park was even further away, actually out of the confines of the park! How our driver and guide spotted her through the hurricane fencing, across a wide grass field, and then through deep underbrush just in front of some trees, we will never comprehend. But with powerful binoculars we saw her tawny & black-striped body slipping between the bushes, playing hide and seek with our over-anxious eyes. There was no chance to get a picture of her

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at such a distance but we all drank in the view eagerly and desperately. She was a very large tigress and our guide believed that she had cubs so we waited some while to see if they would follow her. However, she must have told them to stay put because they never appeared to our “wondering eyes” nor did she return the way she had crossed. But there was no denying that we had definitely seen our third tiger (4 th for Dan & Micki).

The four safari rides we took in Bandhavgarh were successful by other measures as well because we did see several of the park's mammalian and avian residents. One of the birds we observed was the Brown Fish Owl who is quite large, dark brown in color, with large yellow eyes.

Again, our guide's ability to spot things that were invisible to our eyes was remarkable. This bird was roosting in the dense part of a tree's foliage way back in deep shadow. Once we were oriented as to his whereabouts, we could all see him very well with the binoculars and the clicking cameras. We all enjoy observing birds very much but we are not really serious birders — not a single life list among us.

Other creatures we saw included the gaur (wild bison of India,), several deer species like the tiger's favorite prey the chital (the spotted deer) and the sambar (largest of the deer species).

The gaur is a huge animal which is only preyed upon by tigers and crocodiles; adults are simply too powerful for smaller predators like leopards or wild dogs though these have been known to attack unguarded calves or sick mature animals. The gaur is now listed as an endangered

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species in India and is extinct in Sri Lanka. The adults can weigh between 2200 and 4400 lbs., so only elephants and rhinos are larger. They have formidable horns, up to 31 inches long, but are not aggressive unless disturbed. They graze through the forests in the mornings and evenings and hide away in the deeper woods during the day. Their near-black and shiny coats provide surprisingly excellent camouflage among the trees. Our guides assured us that the rarest animal we saw in Bandhavgarh was neither the tiger nor the gaur; it was the very elusive jungle cat. Right after our last tiger sighting as we were hurrying out of the park, we rounded a curve and there in the tall golden grasses beside the road we saw the jungle cat! He was as surprised as we but did not rush away. He just moved on his way with some deliberation.

The jungle cat is a tawny grey to yellowish grey flecked with black hairs and dark bars on his hind legs. Though they are the largest of the wild cat species, they are much smaller than tigers, leopards, or jaguars. The are from 22 to 37 inches in length without including the tail which measures from 8 to 12 inches and stand about 14 inches at the shoulder. They weigh anywhere from 7 to 26 pounds and have slender faces with golden-yellow eyes and large, rounded ears. However, there most amazing characteristic is their ability to climb down a tree as easily as they climb up it, with their heads facing downward. This feat can be performed because their front

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and hind claws are of equal length. “Our” jungle cat, however, did not turn into Count Dracula before our very eyes. He stayed on the ground.

We also saw three species of mongoose, an attractive little weasel-like creature who is very quick on his feet, wild boar, and Indian gazelles.

Ruddy mongoose

There are many birds of prey in the Indian forests with some of them presenting eagle-like fierceness and others looking more like vultures. We actually did most of the varieties and the photographers had regular challenges in achieving shots that showed their many different plumages, sizes, and flying styles. We saw more owl species during the runs as well as the wonderfully colorful bee-eaters and sunbirds that fill the niche our hummingbirds occupy. Everything we saw, large or small, dull in color or wildly technicolored, fierce or shy, numerous or elusive, was delightful to our eyes and compelling to our camera lenses.

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Indian Scops Owl

A SIDE NOTE

Since our travels typically include some unusual hotel accommodations, I cannot leave Bandhavgarh National Park and Tiger Reserve without mentioning our strange experience at the Bandhav Vilas! We can start with the fact the facility was far off the main road and a long drive from the gates of the National Park. When we arrived, it was obvious we had been expected to arrive much earlier, but thanks to our driver who kept getting lost, we were quite late for lunch (about 3 PM). We were registered quickly and sat down to eat in an attractive outside dining area. Remember, we had not yet seen in our individual villas. It was a strange feeling indeed that came over us as we sat at the table and gradually realized that a crowd of hotel staff was forming around us. The manager, the desk clerk, the chef and all his minions including waiters and cooks stood at a distance from us and watched our every bite of food, waiting anxiously to see if we needed anything to enhance our enjoyment of the meal. It was rather unsettling to be under such close observation and we spoke quietly among ourselves and smiled nervously if we happened to meet one of the staff's eyes. Occasionally, the silliness of the situation overcame us and we would titter and chuckle, only to produce nervous agitation in the surrounding group of people!

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What a relief when we were finally taken to our villas — all the way to the rear of the grounds of the hotel. Micki, wanting a remote and quiet setting for our stay, had asked for the farthest villas available and her request was certainly granted.

Our villas were adjacent to one another and we were ready for a little rest before going on a bird walk in the area with an experienced birder. That was to take place around 6 PM, so we went inside and checked out the accommodations before some relaxation. We agreed to meet at the appointed hour in the lobby. The villas were comfortable but not particularly plush — however, more than adequate. When we started out for the lobby, we realized that we had a pretty good hike from our place to the lobby — that was fine with us since we all like to walk. But when we arrived at the meeting place, we realized that we were the only guests in the entire complex! So it had not really been necessary to request an isolated set of villas to achieve quietness and privacy. The joke was on us for sure. The “birdman of Bandhav Vilas” was good at finding birds and we saw many interesting species, again including my favorite the owls. We saw a tiny Spotted Owlet living in a large knothole and blending very well into his environment as he sat on his front porch. His eyes were paler yellow than most owls and his eyebrow were outlined in white feathers which made them look huge. He was only 8 inches high but his coloring made him very striking: upper parts are grey-brown heavily spotted with white and the underparts are white streaked with brown. When startled, he bobs his head and stares straight out at the offender. When we returned to dinner after our walk and a cooling shower, we were confronted again with the odd experience of being the only guests at the hotel. Once more, all the workers seemed to congregate around us, constantly hovering to make sure we had everything we needed or wanted. The chef was particularly concerned that we were pleased with our meals, that nothing was too spicy or too bland. His nervous attention made us feel that his employment might be on some trial basis. Again, it was pretty uncomfortable for everyone, made more so by the fact that their English wasn't really fluent enough for us to carry on reasonable conversations so there was a lot of South Indian head bobbing and smiling going on (until we felt like the Spotted Owlet disturbed in his knothole abode).

This situation went on all the three days we stayed at the Vilas! No other guests appeared until the last day when we were leaving. We were relieved to see others arrive because it took the

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attention off us and by now we had to have become very boring to the hotel's staff as well. And we had worried how this place stayed open with many more staff members than visitors!

Even with all the peculiarity of our hotel, we would all insist that our visit to Bandhavgarh National Park was a real success! Three tigers and a jungle cat sighting were terrific and fulfilled our purpose for visiting India completely. And we also enjoyed the several walks we took in and around the Vilas both with our bird guide and by ourselves. If only we could have left India with a more optimistic feeling about the ultimate fate of tigers there, it would have been an almost perfect visit. Kanha National Park Our trip itinerary stated that the drive between Bandhavgarh and Kanha would be about 5 hours. By now, we knew better than to believe that estimate. Our driver was totally challenged when it came to time calculations. Plus he got himself lost so many times that there was no way he could keep any sort of preset schedule. And he was true to form on this drive — we were never confident that we would reach Kanha because he kept driving down strange, empty sandy roads and then looking totally confused about where he was. He would stop and ask people directions and even though we couldn't understand what he was asking or what the answer was, we knew he continued to be perplexed. He finally had to call the Singinawa Jungle Lodge to get final directions so we could finally arrive at our destination — late as usual. But arrive we did and found ourselves being hurriedly seated for a late lunch again. This meal was a buffet and we had choices of Indian and Nepalese foods. The dining room was lovely and we were so relieved there were several other people enjoying lunch as well. Though this place was reasonably populated and a little more upscale than the Vilas we had just left, we still had very peculiar experiences in Singinawa, but more about that later. First we must explore the marvelous Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve. This Reserve had been selected for us because there is a general belief that if you are not lucky enough to see a tiger at Bandhavgarh, you will surely see one here! Well, we had seen tigers in the first spot and Micki and Dan had seen one in Ranthambore without us as well. So we figured we could be pretty relaxed about this visit.

At 411 square miles, Kanha is the largest national park and tiger reserve in central India. Besides having a stable population of tigers, the park is also renown for other inhabitants too — sloth bears, dhole (wild dogs) and barasingha ( hard ground swamp deer). It also has an abundance of

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the “usual suspects” like chital, sambur, barking and mouse deer, wild boar, gaur, jackal and fox. Another very rare creature in this bark is the 4-horned antelope, the only one in the world actually. Besides, its conservation of tigers, the park has had excellent success in bringing the barasingha deer back from almost certain extinction and it now hosts a stable herd. This moderate-sized deer is adapted to live in swampy areas and will swim and browse on watery plants. It also lives on banks of lakes and can graze on grasses and leaves which grow on land rather than in the water. The park boasts a varied terrain including sal forests (a large deciduous tree) and bamboo forests as well as grassy meadows and steep ravines. The meadow areas exist because the land had been cleared in years past by village farmers who formerly inhabited the areas. When the villages were relocated from the confines of the park, their farmlands became these meadows which have been very useful to the animals of Kanha NP. There are 200 flowering plants within the park and 22 species of mammals as well as 170 bird species. So we had plenty of things to search for besides the tigers. Kanha also has a very specific time schedule for safari rides and its drivers and guides are as careful about their arrival and departure times as those in Bandhavgarh. This park is open from 6:30 AM To 12 noon and then reopens at 3 PM until 6 PM Both parks are closed during the rainy season from July 1 to October 15. This period is a quiet time for the animals and other creatures who live there. Much of the reproductive activities take place during the time when there is very little human interference in the natural cycles. One extra, and much appreciated, service Kanha provides visitors is the chance to view tigers from elephant backs. Though both Bandhavgarh and Kanha use elephants for tracking animals, checking for signs of poaching, looking for injured or sick animals and patrolling boundaries, only Kanha will allow its elephant patrols to call guides and drivers in the park when tigers are spotted so that they can bring the park visitors to the area. Then aluminum ladders are leaned against the elephants and the tourists climb up into the howdahs atop the creature's back — two to an elephant. This is a special treat and allows closer observation of tigers than in Bandhavgarh. As a matter of fact, our two most wonderful tiger sightings occurred in Kanha while we were atop the very tall Asian elephants (nearly 12 feet high where we sat). In the wild, the tigers don't fear the elephants nor do the elephants worry about the nearness of tigers, so they are the perfect beasts to search for the sleeping tigers (which they let lie) and then bring visitors to the tiger's “bedroom.” We drove over many a sandy and gullied road before our guide got the call that the elephant patrol had come upon a slumbering tigress, not 50 yards off the road but completely hidden in the underbrush.

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Our driver raced to Center Point in the park where we got our tickets to permit us to climb aboard. Then he drove even faster to the rendezvous spot where we happily climbed the rickety extension ladders which were only leaning on the elephant's side and piled into the howdah (square box-like saddle for elephant riding). We did not allow ourselves to worry about what would happen if the elephant just decided to move a step to the side opposite the ladder!

With just a gentle nudge from the mahout's toes, our elephant stepped off the dusty road where all the safari vehicles were parked and crashed into the jungle. Of course, he was not mindful at all where the low branches and bushes might meet our heads and faces since we were so high on his back. That meant we had to be on the lookout constantly to push any vegetation away from our heads, all the while we were looking excitedly and anxiously for our photographic prey. The sunlight was filtering through the leaves of the plants in the little thicket where the tigress lay quite contentedly on her side. We could watch the light play over her well-camouflaged body and realize how difficult she would be to find without the view from the elephant. Her golden fur with its impressive black striping serves her well in the jungles of India. But we could see her very well indeed from our perch.

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At first she only cocked an eye open when we came thrashing around her with branches and leaves crunching and snapping as the elephant turned to give us all clear vantage points no matter which side of the howdah our feet dangled from. Then she became more curious, or perhaps more impatient with all the noise and activity, and raised her beautiful head to stare at us with deep golden eyes that flashed her annoyance at the disturbance. Her white whiskers were stiff and bristling, her round ears with the black fringe at the edges were at attention, her elegant markings were stunning (we learned that those facial markings are individual to each tiger), her enormous paws and her smoothly muscled body revealed her presently quiet strength. She was absolutely the most gorgeous animal I had ever seen in the wild; her power, her beauty and her ultimate vulnerability brought tears streaming down my erstwhile happy face. What an amazingly complex ending to my lifelong hope to see a wild tiger — totally satisfying and yet quite despairing.

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The next day, we did see another tiger from elephant bank in Kanha. Elephants were called in to carry us from our truck to the sighting.

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This was a big male who was sleeping off an enormous lunch of gaur meat. He had made the kill the day before according to the elephant men and was still guarding it for his own satisfaction. He had apparently cornered the gaur in a ravine and then dragged his body up on a shelf between the bottom and crest of the ravine. He lay sleeping a few feet away from his lunch.

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He was larger than the female and his rapid breathing attracted our attention to his rising and falling belly which was quite distended. The guides told us that tigers usually eat between 40 and 60 lbs. of meat at a meal which they are successful at a kill. This fellow had certainly dined prodigiously and was in an almost stuporous sleep after such a gorging. He was slightly lighter in color than the female but his paws were even bigger than hers. He would lazily open an eye to look at his audience as we sat quietly on the other side of the ravine from his resting place. And though he slapped his long and thick tail around just as your house cat does when she is peeved with you, he refused to give us the satisfaction of raising his head in either curiosity or ire. Nonetheless, we were very grateful to this tiger, the mahouts and elephants who had located him, and our guides who had gotten us to the site in time to climb aboard again to view a tiger in the wild. Though the tiger was definitely the ultimate object of our visit to these parks, we did greatly enjoy seeing all the other critters who revealed themselves to us. We had hope to see the sloth bear and at least one wild dog, but we saw nary a hair of either of these animals. But we were not disappointed unduly because all of us are well aware that a trip to a wildlife preserve is not like a visit to your local zoo.

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Here's an interesting comparison between the African and Asian elephants to show you how different they really are. So different in their genetic inheritance that they cannot be successfully interbred. http://www.upali.ch/differences_en.html

The Singinawa Jungle Lodge

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Our home for the three nights we stayed at Kanha was this very unusual hotel in the jungle. It was more unusual for its location and for its ownership than for the buildings though they were quite interesting and comfortable. The 12 cabins and the public buildings which housed the dining room, the movie theater, the spacious and inviting “living room” for all the guests were made from black granite and were very attractive and comfortable, with especially elegant shower and bathroom facilities. The food was a delicious combination of Indian and Nepalese cuisine; the staff were friendly and helpful, especially young Vijay who was assigned to us for the safari rides and the walks around the grounds in our searches for birds. He was outgoing and spoke very good English and worked diligently to make our stay as productive and enjoyable as possible. Why is the location of the Lodge notable? The entire complex is set on a former garbage dump which had served a few of the relocated villages. It was more than just a brown-field; it was a high hill of non-biodegradable trash and garbage that had been accumulating for many, many years. When the owners purchased the land, they knew they would be spending lots of money preparing the site before any buildings could be constructed or any money made on their investment. However, they were committed to returning the land to as pristine as state possible. After all, the name of their lodge, Singinwara, means “guardian of the forest” in Nepalese. As we wandered over the site with Vijay spying the many bird species who live in this wonderful place, we would not have been able to ferret out its nasty past. The land was hilly but obviously fertile since many flowers and plants were growing healthily everywhere. The river which bounds one part of the property looked clean and beautiful as it lazily ran past us to join larger rivers in the park. We saw beautiful birds and were told that even a leopard occasionally frequents this property as do wild dogs and other creatures who make Kanha their home. However, no one claimed that tigers came this close to human settlement. The owners have succeeded in their aim to remake this area into a viable and good addition to the park's buffer zone. We appreciated their effort unrestrainedly; it is a lovely property from which to explore Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve! The Owners When we checked in at the Lodge, we were met immediately by Latika the female half of the partnership who had created this spot. Her husband, Nanda, joined us for lunch later. Latika is the daughter of a prosperous and aristocratic Indian family and her husband is a prince of the royal family governing Nepal. When we put together the pedigrees of these two people along

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with their extensive renovations and installations, we could understand where the funds for this formidable challenge were found.

Latika told us at our pre-lunch orientation that she is very involved with The Tiger Project and tiger research at both Bandhavgarh and Kanha and is a consultant to many wildlife conservation organizations and governments where tigers are found. She is the only female Ph.D. in tiger research in the world, having earned her credentials at Oxford in England. Her husband is a renowned wildlife photographer and consultant on conservation as well. Both of them are obviously dedicated to the preservation of tigers in India and elsewhere in the world. Before we were ushered into the formal dining room for supper that night, we were instructed to go into the theater to watch a National Geographic documentary entitled “The Tiger Princess” made in the year 2000. The documentary touched on our hostess and her tiger studies but centered more on her family history, her personality and her romance with Nanda. Certainly, it was a rather different approach than that usually used in National Geographic documentaries. Following the showing, we proceeded to the dining room which featured a table that would sit at least 20 people. On the walls were some truly stunning poster-sized photographs taken by our host of tigers in Bandhavgarh and Kanha. The pictures were wonderful and we were very impressed when Nanda informed us that all the pictures were taken with film. He has not yet switched to digital photography and his beautifully displayed portraits of the “tigers he has known” proved he did not need to make the change. At the table with us were two couples who obviously knew each other and the Ranas very well. It turned out that one of the couples were investors in Singinawa and also very supportive of the Tiger Project. They have been traveling to India from their home in England for more than 18 years. The other couple were friends of theirs who are also Indian travel veterans. The conversation at the table was lively and interesting. We wondered if there were any other “paying guests” like us and learned the next day that there was another younger couple in residence was well. At least we weren't subject to the stares and constant attention of an underemployed staff! We were grateful! All the while we were staying at Singinawa, there was an anxiety nagging at the back of all our minds — the trip to Nagpur to catch our flight to Mumbai on March 11 th . Our driver from Khajuraho had been lost so many times, had been so frustrating to us with his time estimates, any annoying with his many changes in scheduling for departures, that we were all apprehensive that he would never gt us to Nagpur on time for the very important flight that would begin our

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three legged trip to Colombo. After we flew from Nagpur, we had to move on from Mumbai to Chennai and thence from Chennai to Colombo. A missed flight at the start would cause cascading problems we did not want to face.

At a wonderful al fresco dinner beside the pool under a sky full of stars, we unburdened ourselves to Nanda and asked if he could perhaps get some straighter answers from our driver. That gentleman had told us several versions of when we needed to start out and how long it would take to reach Nagpur to the point we no longer believed anything he said. Nanda told us he could do better! For $75.00 (divided among us) he would secure a new vehicle with a new and reliable driver. We hardly hesitated long enough to discuss it among ourselves — we all said “Please” with one voice. So we went to our rooms with much lighter hearts.

Apparently, Nanda informed the driver after we left the pool area that we were hiring a different driver and he thought the whole matter was resolved.

However, such was not the case. Next morning there stood our original driver still giving out different times of departure and estimates of driving times and he was very unwilling to understand that we were not going to be riding with him again. Nanda spoke to him yet again and explained in Hindi that we had hired another driver. Finally and with great reluctance, the man produced a form that he demanded Dan to sign explaining that he was released from his responsibility to drive us to Nagpur. He said he must be able to show the form to his employer at Travel Scope. While we certainly did not want to cost this man his job, we also did not want to miss our flight. Dan signed the form and our constantly lost driver finally sped away. We wondered if he would ever find his way back to Khajuraho to show the form to the Travel Scope people. The way to Nagpur from Singinawa was circuitous, often on sand roads, with so many strange turns and twists and rides through tiny towns that we were all relieved to be with our new driver — even more than we had realized we would be. He seemed to know the way even though there were few road signs and when there were, the word Nagpur did not appear on them, and much of the trip was on sand and gravel through jungles and forests and tiny villages. He was a very quiet fellow who did not appear to speak English so we were never able to ask him just where were in the trip. However, he arrived at the Nagpur Airport in plenty of time for our flight to Mumbai and we congratulated ourselves on having switched drivers at the last minute, thus relieving ourselves of continuing anxiety all the way there.

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Leaving India took us 3 flight legs, with an eight hour stay in a beautiful hotel in Mumbai called the Leela. We all regretted that we weren't able to enjoy its surroundings and amenities longer but Sri Lanka was waiting. Even our eight hours there did not allow for much luxuriating because they took place at night. Anyway, the next leg was from Mumbai to Chennai and from that city we flew to Colombo. Kay and I got a nice surprise in Chennai when the airline representative upgraded our economy seats to Business Class without our even asking. Much more comfortable flight than we would have had. Again, we were grateful and happy!

SRI LANKA – HOME OF THE HUMAN TAMIL TIGERS

Let's start with some interesting facts about this island nation which is much less visited by tourists than India, even though it is separated from the subcontinent by only 25.5 miles at the closest point. The water between the two countries is called the Gulf of Palk on the east and the Gulf of Mannar on the west. The Bay of Bengal is the large body of water on the eastern side of Sri Lanka and the Indian Ocean lies to the South. Sri Lanka is slightly larger than West Virginia and comprises 25,332 square miles of land area. That makes it 121 st in the list of nations by territory. Its population of 21,283,913 gives it the 57 th position in population size. The geography of the country is mostly flat plains with mountains in the south central interior. The plains are at sea level and the highest mountain is 8,280 ft. The climate is classified as tropical monsoon and there are two monsoon seasons: from December to March and from June to October. The country is divided about equally between a fertile wet zone and a dry zone where agriculture is more difficult. The natural resources of the country include limestone, phosphates, graphite, mineral sands, clay, gemstones and hydro-power. Fourteen percent of the land is arable and tropical fruits and some EU countries. One of the most important exports from Sri Lanka is, of course, its tea, grown in the highlands where coffee was first cultivated until the British transformed the coffee plantations into the vast tea plantations still persisting today. The real strategic importance of Sri Lanka through the millennia, however, has been its position in the Indian Ocean sea lanes. In centuries past, Arab traders recognized the island as a convenient stop on their voyages and finally they began to settle in the coastal areas as well. Next came the Portuguese who also coveted its location in the area. In the 16 th century, the Portuguese took control of the coasts from the Arabs and kept it under their control until the Dutch pushed them out in the 17 th century.

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In 1796, the Dutch government ceded the island to the British and in 1802 it became a crown colony. The British united the disparate parts of the island into a single entity, then called Ceylon, in 1815. Following World War II when Great Britain was enervated after the terrible costs of that conflict, she granted independence to many of the former colonies. In that devolution, Ceylon gained its independence in 1948 and in 1972 it changed its name to Sri Lanka, meaning Beautiful Island. Sadly, the country was ruptured by civil war from 1983 to 2009 when the government brutally repressed the Tamil Tiger efforts to break the northern part of the island away from the rest so that the Tamil peoples could have their own separate country. The origin of the movement has its roots in the long ago history of the populating of the island. There was an indigenous people on the island but they were never numerous and it is believed that they probably originated in Indonesia. There are a few thousand of their descendants still living in Sri Lanka as a tiny minority. They are called the Veddahs today and they have played no role in the civil strife. The current population of the island really has its roots in India. The first wave of Indian emigrants came from Northern India bringing with them the Buddhist faith around the 6 th century. They had probably left India because the Moghuls there were introducing Islam to the area and Buddhism had lost its dominant position. These people quickly overcame the Veddahs and established kingdoms chiefly in the central plains and highlands areas. These civilizations lasted through the waves of Arab, Portuguese and Dutch occupiers and persisted during much of the British hegemony. The people of this culture called themselves the Sinhala and today they are the majority ethnic group in the country at seventy-four percent. There is also a group of Indian Tamils who call themselves natives of the island as well. They claim to have been in Sri Lanka even before the Northern Indian Sinhalas. They make up 12.5% of the population and have usually stood with the Sinhalas in recent times in the civil war with the Tamil Tigers who are chiefly descended from the third wave of Indians who were brought over by the British in the 19 th century when they needed workers for the tea plantations and the Sinhala were not disposed to accept that type of “grunt” labor. These Indians came from Tamil Nadu, the province in extreme southern India, as willingly emigrants in search of work. They presently comprise 5.5% of the ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. The remaining 8% of the population are the descendants of Arab traders, now called Sri Lankan Moors, Europeans, and the Veddahs. The official languages of Sri Lanka honor both the Sinhalese and the Tamils; those languages are called Sinhala and Tamil. However, as the years went by, the Northern Tamils, those most recent immigrants from India under the British, grew more and more restless under the Sinhala hegemony. They felt that they were not fully recognized as equals in the society, the government

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structures, or the cultural milieu. So they began to agitate for a separate state of their own in the Northern part of the island. The Tamil Sri Lankans from the earlier period of immigration in general stood with the Sinhala against the newer Tamils or attempted to remain neutral in the confrontations. The Civil War raged on from 1983 to 2009 and gradually became more and more violent as the Tamils became more disillusioned and desperate. Finally, they began to earn their nickname, the Tamil Tigers, as they resorted to terrorist tactics and killed many civilians in their efforts to force the Sinhalese government to recognize the legitimacy of their claiming the right to secede and establish a separate state. At last, the government decided that the island had suffered enough from the Tigers' violence and decided to crush the rebellion once and for all. The economy had been damaged seriously, there was no tourism to speak of, people on the island could not be secure in their homes, cities and towns, or even in their places of worship. In 2009 the government struck the enclaves of the Tamil Tigers and literally crushed the movement through the annihilation of its leadership. When it was admitted by the remaining Tigers that they had been defeated, a truce was reached and the government began to try to put the country back together. Concessions were made to the Tamils, including the right to instruction for children in Tamil, more representation in all levels of government, complete freedom of religion, and other demands of the rebels. However, they were NOT granted even autonomous governorship of their region of the island. While we visited the island in March of this year, there was an atmosphere of calm everywhere we traveled and our guide assured us that Sri Lanka was at last at peace! Except when we were in “tea country” we never saw much evidence of differences in the physical a ppearance, dress, or social behaviors among the people. In “tea country,” the people were definitely darker in complexion, wore different styles of clothing and were much more reserved with us. Nonetheless, we believed in the propaganda that all was well in Sri Lanka and that the government had acted in the best interests of the nation as a whole, even though the repression had been so violent. Upon our return, we began reading news about Sri Lanka with greater interest and have since learned that there is still considerable unrest among the Tamils who continue to believe that they are treated as less than fully entitled citizens of their own country. A UN report is due out in a few weeks from this journal's preparation and it apparently corroborates some of the Tamil Tiger claims both about the harshness of the repression and the continuing denial of full rights of citizenship to Tamils. The President of the country has asked that the Report be delayed for a

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few more months before it is published to the world because he states that the details and the conclusions may inflame already smoldering tensions and possibly cause violence and terrorist acts to recur. So far the UN is refusing to hold back its report which was two years in the researching and compiling and there have been some isolated terrorist attacks in the island nation. Once again, we are very happy to have visited when we did and before the Tamil Tigers turned treacherous once more! In the meantime, while tiring of waiting for their demands to be fully implemented and their place of equality assured, many Tamils are returning to the Indian mainland to live again where their recent ancestors lived before the British recruited them to work on the tea plantations. Around 300,000 have returned permanently in the years since the destruction of the Tamil Tigers. Still others have joined the already significant numbers who have become part of the general diaspora of Tamils to all parts of the world other than India. Only time will tell whether or not there will another bloody uprising among the citizens of Sri Lanka. So sad if it does recur, because the island is large enough to accommodate all segments of its population if people of goodwill can rise to the occasion and create fair conditions for all. The history of the world does give much hope that such will ever be the case. Majorities always tend to victimize the minorities when those factions want to be treated equally. More recent case in point: the Egyptian Muslims and Christians worked together peacefully to overthrow Hosni Mubarak a few months ago and now the Muslims seem to have turned against the Christians and are again attacking and persecuting them, altogether forgetful of the harmony they shared to produce the end of the Mubarak dictatorship. Sri Lanka up close, with an excellent guide who really knew birds and where to find them, made our to the island nation different and special. So the four of us can only hope that the government can resolve the Tamil Tiger problems peacefully and justly so that the people can resume their lives without fear and violence. Micki, Dan, Kay and I need to ask ourselves a very important question? Why is it that after we have visited a special place, some kind of unrest stirs the countries? What did we do wrong while we were in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and now Sri Lanka? Oh yes, we fully realize that we are not the centers of the universe, so our visit had absolutely nothing to do with any of that phenomenon!

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