The Wild Side of India

The Wild Side of India

» Featured Columnists | By Steve Winston | November 12, 2012 10:51 AM ET

India's one of the great destinations of the world. A place of mysterious cultures and traditions; colorful cities bursting with energy; an invigorating symbiosis of old and new; natural beauty; and some of the world's most exotic wildlife.
Now, with the Indian government's recent lifting of the "Tiger Ban," even more of these wild creatures are accessible. And a company called Wild Planet Adventures can take you to see them.
You'll go on a Leopard Safari by jeep - and by camel. And besides the elusive leopards you'll see on the safari, you'll also see rare blackbuck antelope, Indian striped hyenas, jungle cats, desert cats, chinkara (Indian gazelle), desert fox, and bluebull (nilgal antelope).
You'll stop at the famous "Blue City" of Jodhpur, named for the pale blue clay with which its buildings were constructed. On a cliff overlooking the city - and built to guard it - is the Mehrangarh fort and its royal palaces, constructed in 1459. 
In the city of Doli, you'll interact with the Bishnois, a sect of Hindus who revere wildlife as part of their religion. The Bishnois do not allow any killing of wildlife - or even cutting of trees. Large herds of rare Blackbuck Antelopes and other wildlife graze near their homes, unafraid because they're never hunted or killed. How devoted are the Bishnois? In the late-1700's, a local prince sent troops to cut timber for a new palace. The Bishnois promptly began hugging the trees. More than 300 of them were killed, but they never gave up. And the king intervened and stopped the massacre.
In Doli, you'll be invited into local homes, where families will show you the art of Indian cooking, in addition to putting on a wonderful performance of folk-music.
You'll stop at one famous city after another, seeing the Jain temples at Ranakpur, the ancient fortress at Jaipur, and the Palace of Winds in the city of Rajasthan, aptly named the "Pink City of India".
Along the way, you'll stop at the Bharatpur Wildlife Sanctuary, home to 400 bird species. The park's surrounded by desert; but its shallow waters and marshes are an oasis for migratory bird species from Central Asia, and as far away as Eastern Europe. This park is filled with Golden Jackal, Striped Hyena, Fishing Cat, Jungle Cat, Nilgai, Sambar, Blackbuck, wild boar, otters, and Monitor Lizards. During the winter months you may see huge Indian Pythons.
At Keoladeo National Park, there's also excellent wildlife viewing - which you'll experience from a rickshaw, believe it or not.
Later on, you'll visit the Sloth Bear Rescue Center at Sur Saravar (Keetham Lake). And that night, you'll experience perhaps the greatest joy of any visit to India - sunset at the Taj Mahal. The Taj was built by Emperor Shah Jehan in memory of the love of his life, Mumtaz Mahal. It's one of the Seven Wonders of the World, a magnificent mausoleum of white marble that changes color as the sun moves through the sky. 
On this leg of the trip, you'll enter Rudyard Kipling's India. You'll enter Kanha Park, setting for "The Jungle Book," considered the best place in India to see tigers. Here, you'll travel by jeep - and elephant - on a Tiger Safari, on which you'll also see langurs, jackals, barking deer, sloth bears, and jungle cats.
This is just the tip of the iceberg on this trip. It's a feast for the senses - every one of them. You'll see - and feel - the wild, natural pulse of this vast country. You'll experience up-close-and-personal encounters with wildlife that few people will ever see. And, to do it, you'll travel through some of the most breath-taking sights in the world.  
Bring your binoculars. You're going to need them!

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