Ranthambore National Park: the real life Jungle Book

Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, India

There are fewer than 4,000 tigers left in the wild. Over half of them live in India, and it was our mission to find one.

With the Bengal tiger its national animal, India is doing all it can to conserve the endangered animal population. In 1973, a Government sponsored scheme called Project Tiger was launched to protect the environment they live in, monitor their movements and, critically, foil the efforts of poachers. It has seen some success, with some reserves experiencing enough breeding activity to kick-start growth in other areas of the country.

Ranthambore National Park, India

One of the reserves Project Tiger protects is Ranthambore National Park, which is in the north of the country close to the Golden Triangle tourist circuit. With 31 adult tigers and a few cubs calling it their home, Ranthambore is one of the best places in India to see tigers in the wild; Yet, you’d still be very lucky to catch a glimpse of one. Much like everything in India, the park is absolutely beautiful. It’s set in an area of jungle, and is easily identified by the ancient abandoned fort that overlooks the park, giving Ranthambore its name. If you’ve ever seen or read Kipling’s The Jungle Book, you could imagine Mowgli running through the trees, King Louis sitting on his throne and Shere Khan silently stalking his prey. For us, it was the perfect setting for spotting tigers.

Ranthambore Fort, India

Our safari experience was interesting. We had three game drives over two days, all of them in a shared canter, though we longed for a two seater jeep like the one that zipped past us to get the best views. By the third drive, we had come to learn the safari guide’s routine: the leisurely drive along their preferred route, the secret signal that meant ‘no tigers here’, and the very random toilet break in the middle of the park where you are, very much, at the mercy of nature. A tiger could literally jump up on you and rip your face off if it wanted to, and at times, I wished it would.

Ranthambore National Park, Indai

Ranthambore National Park, India

Now, let me tell you about the animals we saw: langur monkeys, deer, mongeese, peacocks, more deer, pigs, a few other birds, did I say deer? We even saw no less than three sloth bears (which are actually rarer than tigers in the park) that kept our carnivorous yearning at bay for a while. But there was only one thing we wanted to see.

Sloth Bear in Ranthambore National Park, India

I started to think everything was a tiger. The orangey colour the sunlight made as it hit a rock, the growl made by the canter’s engine as it changed gear, even the trees growing straight up in formation started to look like tiger stripes, but alas, no.

Sloth Bear in Ranthambore National Park, India

Until…

On a number of occasions we were told by passing guides they had spotted something in a different area of the park. Each time, we raced on a rollercoaster ride through the park in the direction they pointed us. Most of the time, it was a false alarm. But once, it worked.

Yes, readers, we saw a tiger.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park, India

And it was just about the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Hidden under a tree and its thick foliage lay an adult male tiger. He yawned, stretched and heaved his incredible body up onto his front legs, before lifting up on to all fours. He then walked ahead of us, his eye-catching black stripes and orange fur now unmistakable against the green jungle surrounding him. He stalked confidently alongside our queue of jeeps, apparently undeterred by the vehicle engines and shrieking humans who couldn’t believe their luck.

Everyone leapt up on to their seats to catch a glimpse, their heads blocking our view. But then, the tiger crossed in front of the traffic, giving us the perfect angle to see his majestic figure as he disappeared back into the undergrowth and into our memories.

Mission accomplished.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park, India

Our other two game drives were fruitless, and we heard people who took three game drives but didn’t see a single one. We’ve even heard stories of people who travelled to India three times and have never seen anything.

Sadly, that proves our conservation efforts are not enough (or that the tigers are too good at hiding from us – I hope that’s it). But it’s certain that more needs to be done to put an end to poaching and to safeguard the tigers forever. These beautiful creatures are far too precious to ignore and never see again. And let’s face it, zoos just aren’t the same.

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If you’re thinking of visiting Ranthambore to see a tiger, do it soon. Before it’s too late.

Have you ever seen a tiger in the wild? Would you want to? How do you think we can better protect the remaining population? Share your thoughts below.

What makes a good travel buddy

How to find your travel buddy

I absolutely respect people who can travel alone; I’m just not one of them.

Sure I’ve had a couple of trips where I’ve jumped on a plane with no one to hold my hand, but I’ve always met a tour group or some friends who have opened up their houses for me at the other end.

For me, I like to have someone to share the memories with and give me a hug when I see something I don’t like. Now this could be anyone – a friend, a family member, your other half or simply someone you got chatting to in the queue to board, but I’m lucky enough to have found my travel buddy in WouldBeTraveller Husband, or Tim as I should really call him. We’ve been on tens of trips together (I wish I could say hundreds) and I now can’t imagine going away with anyone else.

But it’s not always easy to find the right person to travel with. I’ve met countless people who say “we don’t travel well together” about their best friend, or “I could never go abroad with him!” about their brother, so what should you be looking out for in your travel companion?

It’s good to have similar interests meaning that you absolutely don’t have to traipse after them around an art gallery when you’re far more interested in what it looks like from the outside and then want to go for a beer. Instead, Tim and I both know we’re going to enjoy an open top bus tour to get our bearings in a new city and plan the rest of our trip based on what we liked the look of. And we follow quite a typical pattern on these – Tim listens intently to the facts from the audio guide while I switch it to Spanish mode and realise I haven’t learnt anything at all as I’m desperately trying to pick out facts I understand. The truth is, we enjoy the same things in very different ways, and that’s a great aspect of travel companionship.

Conversely, we also have dissimilar interests. Descending into the depths of a cathedral in Vienna to mingle with the dead did not sound like my idea of a great day out, but Tim has always been intrigued by catacombs so I was willing to try. And do you know what? I really enjoyed it! There were some parts I couldn’t look at (the window through to the strewn about skeletal remains of the Black Plague was particularly harrowing), but walking through the tunnels guided by a man who reminded me far too much of the shopkeeper in Frozen was fascinating. Had Tim and I not had dissimilar interests, I may never have been there so I was grateful for the opportunity to try something new.

Patience is a virtue, and this is no more true than when travelling. Of course, unexpected delays can happen, and they’re not always your fault, but what about the delays that are? I’m not ashamed to say it (though I probably should be) but I have an incredibly weak bladder, which means that a lot of our day can be spent trying to locate a toilet. Tim, bless him, never complains. At the same time, I have a set selection of souvenirs I like to pick up from each destination. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s pretty difficult trying to find a Christmas decoration in Morocco in the middle of September, but Tim has the patience to let me try.

Being caring is probably the thing I am most grateful for in a travel buddy. I still get nervous when I fly, and Tim can sense that a mile off, reaching out to grab my hand and kiss my forehead before I even realise I’m scared. Similarly, when a trip to an elephant orphanage tourist attraction in Sri Lanka left me in tears, Tim was ready with a hug and the promise that we would get to see them in the wild one day, where they belong. And he kept his promise.

Despite the excitement of seeing new places and the escape from every day life, travelling can be hard and stressful. As I’ve mentioned, delays are all too common and you might be left stranded for days. Who would you want by your side in these situations? Someone you occasionally enjoy a beer down the pub with (your fair weather friend) or someone you’ve faced challenges with before and got through them together? Even after long delays at Copenhagen airport when all we wanted to do was sleep, Tim ands I bonded over a bag of maltesers thrown to us by the apologetic easyJet staff. If I was with anyone else, I think I’d have lost my rag.

Perhaps the most important trait of a good travel buddy is open-mindedness. I’ve come across far too many people who travel to Marbella to top up their tan and drink piña coladas. Every year. They only eat pizza in the all you can eat restaurant and turn their noses up when offered anything slightly ‘foreign’. The fact they’re eating pizza doesn’t seem to have sunk in… I love that they’re enjoying themselves enough to go back each year, but I would prefer to travel with someone who is willing to try that bizarre looking egg bowl from a local restaurant or take part in a tribal fire dance in a village hall, because that’s the beauty of travel. You can try new things and witness how other cultures enjoy life. There’s more to travel than the poolside.

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It’s all of these things that makes me sure I’ve found the ideal travel companion and I hope you can find your very own one day too. (Unless you’re good travelling solo, and if you are, don’t let me stop you!)

What other traits do you look for in the person you travel with? Do you think you’re a good travel buddy?

How to avoid Delhi Belly

How to avoid Delhi Belly

Having just returned from a trip to India, the question I’ve been asked most isn’t “did you see a tiger?” or “what was the weather like?” No, it’s actually “did you get sick?!” Well dear readers, no I didn’t.

An upset tummy – affectionately termed ‘Delhi Belly’ – is a very real danger in India. Travellers aren’t used to eating rich and spicy foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, and unfortunately hygiene and food preparation standards aren’t always as high as they are back home. For that reason, stomach upsets are very common and can completely wipe out days of sightseeing.

In this post I share my tips for avoiding Delhi Belly and what to do if you’re struck down with it.

How to avoid Delhi Belly

Despite the number of people who get struck down with the bug, it is possible to avoid. Here are the precautions I took, and take it from me, they work!

  • Practise good personal hygiene. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and before meals. If there’s no soap available, bring hand sanitiser from home and use it! Also try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth without washing your hands first.
  • Send that dirty plate back. If you’re handed dirty cutlery or crockery in restaurants, ask for a cleaner set. They won’t mind!
  • Only drink bottled water. The water in India is totally unsafe to drink, so don’t do it! Bottled water is readily available in shops, restaurants and hotels so keep a good stash of it in your bag. You should also use this water to brush your teeth.
  • Hold the ice. You can never guarantee that ice in your drink is made from purified water, so it’s best not to have it. Drinks are usually kept delightfully cold in restaurant fridges anyway, so you don’t even need ice.
  • Avoid salad. Similarly, restaurants might wash their salad in contaminated water so don’t bother eating it. If you must eat fruit from markets, wash it first in your own drinking water or eat peelable fruit like oranges or bananas. Better yet, bring your own peeler from home for apples and pears!
  • Make sure food is piping hot. Buffets are ridiculously popular in India, as they can keep lots of tourist groups happy throughout lunch and dinner service. Unfortunately, the food is usually less than hot, making it more risky to eat. My advice is to wait for the fresh stuff, or order a la carte.
  • Eat at reputable restaurants. If you have a tour guide, they’ll usually be able to recommend ‘safe’ restaurants with good standards of hygiene. If not, check TripAdvisor to see whether other travellers have had a bad experience at that restaurant you’ve got your eye on.
  • Try not to eat street food. Yes, those pakoras from the little old man on the street might look delicious, but are they really worth ruining the rest of your trip for?
  • Be picky with what you eat. If you’re not a vegetarian already, consider becoming one in India. With 31% of the population being vegetarian, the meat free food in the country is very special and less likely to give you food poisoning. *whisper* you also HAVE TO try a MaccyD’s McSpicy Paneer. I’m salivating at the thought of it…!

 

How to treat Delhi Belly

Don’t panic if you’ve already got Delhi Belly – it can be treated quite easily with a few home remedies and by looking after yourself.

  • Stay hydrated. This is the most important thing you can do, especially in hot countries! Keep drinking bottled water and consider taking electrolyte to replace all the water you’ve lost during your sickness.
  • Take digestion medicines. There are hundreds of medicines out there to treat upset stomachs. Remember to bring some from home as pharmacies can be quite hard to find in India. Follow the instructions, and you’ll be feeling better in no time.
  • Take some time out. It’s worth taking a day out of sightseeing to stay in your room and make sure you get much better. Plus, how much fun can it be staring at another beautiful building when all you want is a toilet?
  • Get plenty of rest. I don’t know about you, but I feel so much better once I’ve had a good night’s sleep. Make sure your room is dark, get yourself comfortable and try to sleep it off.

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What are your tips for avoiding Delhi belly? Share your advice in the comments below!

Where is India’s Golden Triangle?

India's Golden Triangle, the Taj Mahal

If you’ve ever planned a trip to India, you’ve probably heard of the Golden Triangle. No, it’s not a flavour of Quality Street, but a well-trodden path through India’s three major cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Easily accessible by expressways and major roads, the total circuit is 720km long and characterised by beautiful landscapes and drivers that should be constrained to dodgems.

Having just returned from an On the Go tour of the Golden Triangle, we can safely say that nothing can quite prepare your senses for it. India is a riot of sights, sounds, smells and tastes that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the world, and the Golden Triangle is a great place to start.

Here’s what we saw on our three sided trip.

Delhi – India’s bustling capital

India’s capital is the world’s third most populated city behind Tokyo and Jakarta*, and it certainly feels like it. As soon as you step outside the tranquility of your hotel, you’re transported to the noisiest, busiest and smelliest streets in the world. Think Oxford Street on Christmas Eve, only add motorbikes and tuktuks to the pavements.

The city is one of huge contrast. The old half, cleverly named Old Delhi, is a jumble of stone walls and buildings in a part of the city first founded in the 17th century. Conversely, New Delhi was designed by British architects in the 20th century and is typified by wide, tree-lined streets and modern buildings.

Yet in both halves, Delhi is blessed with some incredible sights. Our first stop was the Red Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the former residence of Moghul emperors until 1857. It gets its name from the red sandstone making up the numerous buildings within its defensive walls.

Jama Masjid, New Delhi in India's Golden Triangle

Next up, the most exhilarating ride of my life: a rickshaw ride through the streets of Old Delhi. We were warned to hold onto our belongings as we sped through narrow lanes, desperately trying not to collide with the locals rocketing towards us. In comparison,  Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India, was a relative oasis. We covered up in robes to explore the beautiful building that can house 25,000 people for prayer.  After lunch, we headed to Humayun’s Tomb, which is the final resting place of Moghul Emperor Humayun, commissioned by his son in 1569. It’s another stunning structure, typical of Moghul architecture with domes and archways set out in perfect symmetry.

India's Golden Triangle - Humayun's Tomb

With a jam-packed itinerary, Delhi had certainly started our Golden Triangle tour off in style.

Agra – Home of the Taj Mahal

The drive out of Delhi towards Agra was a bit of a nightmare. Thanks to the heaving rush hour traffic, it took us two hours to get out the other side of the city and on to the expressway. But reaching Agra three hours later made it totally worth it. Of course, the jewel in Agra’s crown is the Taj Mahal. Our guide pointed it out to us on the road, but we were determined not to look until we were right in front of it. And we were very glad we didn’t. It’s one of those places you dream of seeing, and I actually welled up to see it with my own eyes instead of on the TV. The building is perfectly symmetrical, except for the tombstone of the Emperor Shah Jahan set next to his beloved wife in the centre. We stayed until sunset, which gave us enough time to study the intricate marble carvings and semi-precious stones laid into the walls.

India's Golden Triangle - The Taj Mahal, Agra

The next morning, we visited Agra Fort which was where Shah Jahan was placed under house arrest after his son declared him unfit to rule. High up on a hill, it’s got a magnificent view of the Taj Mahal that, due to the smog, makes it look incredibly eerie and almost mystical. The fort itself is very typical of Moghul architecture – lots of pillars, stone walls with intricate carvings and apartments set around wide open courtyards.

Agra Fort - India's Golden Triangle

On our way to Jaipur, we stopped off at Fatehpur Sikri, an ancient Moghul city that was abandoned in 1587 after its fresh water supply was exhausted. It’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site (you really rack them up in this part of the world!) with the usual apartments and a deep, scarily green swimming pool that locals will jump into for 100 rupees. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Jaipur – The beautiful pink city

The final point of our Golden Triangle trip was Jaipur, where we visited the stunning Amber Fort. I’ll admit – by now, I was getting a bit bored of beautiful buildings. They were still obviously attractive, but the architecture was getting a bit samey and they didn’t feel that special any more. Yet, the Amber Fort completely brought the magic back. High up on a hill overlooking the city, the Fort is accessible via jeeps, elephants (sadly) or a pretty steep hike up through winding lanes. It’s laid out over four levels, with buildings made out of carved stone, marble and semi-precious stones. Of course, it’s another very well-deserving UNESCO World Heritage Site. Much like all sites in the country, it’s incredibly busy and we even bumped into Murad Osmann on his ‘Follow Me To’ tour of India.

Murad Osmann at India's Golden Triangle - Amber Fort

Next, we visited Jaipur’s City Palace that houses a collection of the Maharaja’s clothes and other belongings including the world’s largest silver water container! The palace complex features buildings with beautifully painted walls, temples and gardens. Just across the street, Jantar Mantar is an observatory housing 19 astronomical instruments, including the world’s largest stone sundial. Gosh these claims to fame are exciting, aren’t they?

After dinner, we walked into the market when it was beautifully lit up for Diwali. Thousands of locals were out on the streets buying festival decorations, gifts and food as we negotiated our way through the crowds, motorbikes and cows. Yes, cows.

And beyond…

Following our Golden Triangle circuit, we went on to Ranthambore National Park in search of tigers, but that deserves a blog post of its own… Coming soon!

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Overall, the Golden Triangle is a rite of passage for travellers to India, and certainly somewhere everyone should go at least once in their lives. For me, it was the perfect way to start our Indian adventure. 

Have you been to India’s Golden Triangle? What did you see while you were there?

*http://www.newgeography.com/content/005219-largest-cities-world-2016

Where to eat in Marrakech

Where to eat in Marrakech: La Maison Arabe

Marrakech is a bit of a foodie heaven. There’s something for everyone from traditional food stalls, romantic dinners for two or palatial feasts punctuated with the flick of a belly dancer’s hip. 

Yet, with so much on offer, it can be hellishly difficult to decide where to go. I’m pleased to say all of the places listed below come with personal recommendation from my friends and work colleagues and, now that I’ve been there and tried them out, my own personal recommendation too.

For those that want relaxed and authentic food

La Terrasse des Epices was recommended to me by a work colleague. As soon as we got there, we could see why. Shady tables were set all around the outside of a terrace overlooking the heart of the Medina. They even give out sunhats if you’ve been silly enough to take one of the tables in bright sunshine.

The food was typical of Moroccan dishes – a myriad of flavours and aromas, with a bit of French influence thrown in for good measure. It was our first taste of Morocco when we arrived, so we wanted to try something quite typical – stews cooked in tagines, served with cous cous. The fish version comes highly recommended! Everything was very reasonably priced and delicious too, so it’s definitely worth a visit (if not two!)

La Terrasse des Epices; 15 Souk Cherifia. Sidi Abdelaziz. Marrakech Medina; Website

Where to eat in Marrakech: Terrasse des Epices

For those that don’t want to leave

Thanks to the wonderful hospitality of Moroccan riads, you might not even need to leave your accommodation for dinner. 

For those that don’t know, a riad is a traditional Moroccan house that welcomes guests to stay. Nearly all of them offer breakfast, and I’d guess most offer dinner too. The one we stayed in, Riad Jnane D’Oh, was a beautiful example. With only four rooms the place was the perfect solitude we needed following hectic days getting lost in the souks and desperately trying to lose our tails (“you’re going the wrong way! It’s this way to my cousin’s rip off shop!”)

I’ll be honest, we only ate breakfast there but as there were more staff than guests, we were pretty much waited on with teas, omelettes, fresh fruit, traditional pastries, breads and porridge. To this day, it’s still the best breakfast I’ve ever had and it’s all because we didn’t want to leave.

Riad Jnane d’O; 28 Derb Arset Aouzal Marrackech Medina; Website (TripAdvisor)

Where to eat in Marrakech: Your riad!

For those that want to party

I was surprised to find there is quite a lot of nightlife in Marrakech. While some restaurants do not serve alcohol, others make it their selling point that they do. The Comptoir Darna is a huge restaurant designed for groups who want to eat good food in pretty spectacular surroundings.

I don’t remember the food that well, (and I’ve probably got the alcohol to thank for that), but the free cake and flowers from the staff to celebrate our anniversary was a special treat.

But to be honest, you don’t come here for the food. As soon as we had finished our main course, our table was completely cleared and a stream of barely dressed women descended the stairs to dance in on and around our table! Despite how crude that sounds, it was all done quite tastefully and we felt we had witnessed some culture there. Just be warned – the experience comes with some of the highest prices in the city.

Comptoir Darna; Avenue Golf, Hivernage, MarrakechWebsite

Where to eat in Marrakech: Comptoir Darna

For those with a stomach of steel

The Fna Square is an absolute riot of colour, smell and noise. You can’t miss it. And after being lost in the souks trying to find it, the wide open space is incredibly welcoming.

At night the square comes alive with food stalls serving fresh and tasty food with Moroccan roots. I’ll admit I didn’t get to eat anything from the market as my delicate stomach and vegetarian mind told me not to. But all around us, people were enjoying themselves sat up at the long picnic tables that separate the food from the snake charmers.

Jemaa El Fna, Derb Chtouka, Marrakech

For the romantics

Without doubt my favourite restaurant in Marrakech was in a hotel around the corner from our riad. La Maison Arabe is set in a beautiful courtyard overlooking a pool, with familiar Moroccan architecture, beautiful archways and exotic lanterns. It’s an incredibly romantic setting and that’s why I loved it. Tim and I had our anniversary while we were there, so it was the perfect place for a celebration. 

Of course, the food has to be good too, and La Maison Arabe certainly delivered on that front. The restaurant serves a mix of traditional Moroccan dishes and slightly fancier French plates if they take your fancy. We finished off with a yummy chocolate fondant that oozed as well as any other I’ve tried. Yum!

La Maison Arabe; 1 Derb Assehbe, Bab Doukkala, Marrakech; Website 

Where to eat in Marrakech: La Maison Arabe

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Where are your favourite places to eat in Marrakech? Did you brave the markets?