Posts Tagged ‘India’

Agra and Kanha tiger safari, India – March 2018

Taj Mahal at sunrise

There are precious few manmade monuments that can rival the Taj Mahal’s magnificence and beauty

Touching down at the new international airport in New Delhi marked my first visit back to India since we left our home in Anand Lok seven years earlier. It was both strange and thrilling to back in the country where Katherine and I spent three years of our lives. While many of our expat friends had moved on and returned home to the UK, South Africa and Hong Kong, I was able to catch up with a few old friends and colleagues, including Vaibhav Kala – the owner of Aquaterra Adventures ( the premier rafting and trekking operator in India.

Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra

Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra

I was in India with the Penry family with whom I had enjoyed a couple of great African safari adventures over the years. With only limited time at our disposal, this would be a whirlwind visit and, as such, we decided less was more and chose to focus on just two key destinations…

Our first stop was Agra. The new highway from Delhi is a revelation and has dramatically improved the travel experience and reduced the time required to drive between the two cities. After a painless journey, we checked into the opulent Oberoi Amarvilas ( It is hard to do justice to this amazing hotel in a couple of sentences, but the fact it recently scooped the ‘Best Resort Hotel in India’ award in this year’s Travel & Leisure World’s Best Awards, should hint at what a special place this is to stay. The Mughal hotel enjoys an unrivalled position amongst luxury hotels in Agra, being located just 600 metres from the iconic Taj Mahal with every room enjoying uninterrupted views of this ancient monument to love.

Itmud-ud-daulah – often referred to as 'Baby Taj'

Itmud-ud-daulah – often referred to as ‘Baby Taj’

We started our sight seeing escapades at the tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah – more commonly known as the Baby Taj – that provides a great introduction to Agra’s cultural sites and monuments. It is an enduringly peaceful, white marble monument alongside the Yamuna River. An afternoon at the Baby Taj was followed by a trip to Mehtab Bagh – the 25 acre Mughal garden complex known as the Moonlight Garden. The garden lies directly across the river from the Taj Mahal and it provides spectacular views of the Taj at sunset, hinting at what lay ahead for us to enjoy the next morning.

The Penry family enjoying the Taj

The Penry family enjoying a visit to the Taj Mahal

My visit to the Taj the following day was my sixth visit to the ultimate monument to love. And I can honestly say that every time I step through the gate and behold the Taj, it is as impressive and as arresting in its beauty as the first time I saw it.

Both the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort have been deservedly been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and these are two unique places you will never tire of exploring or appreciating. We took our time and basked in the splendor of the memorial to love along with Agra’s nearby fort.

From Agra we retraced our steps to Delhi airport and flew to Raipur: the gateway to Kanha National Park – India’s foremost tiger reserve and a hotspot for Asiatic wildlife viewing. Five days on safari here would yield a diverse array of birds and wild animals. Notable sightings included dhole (the Indian wild dog), gaur (Indian bison), barasingha (the endemic swamp deer) and tigers!

Male tiger displaying flemhen

Distinctive grimace of a male tiger displaying flehmen

We chose Taj Safari’s flagship Banjaar Tola lodge ( as our safari base. Built within 90 acres of privately owned Sal forest, the safari lodge is split into two nine room camps strung out along the banks of the Banjaar River and overlooking the heart of Kanha National Park. Each elegant camp boasts its own swimming pool with indoor and outdoor lounge areas and a variety of intimate dining spaces under the stars. The cuisine at the camp celebrates tribal flavours presented with all-time Indian favourites to titillate every palate.

Peacock in flight

Peacock in flight

Sadly, the luxury tented camp was looking a little tired and rundown compared to my previous visits shortly after the &Beyond (formerly Conservation Corporation Africa) and Taj Hotels joint venture launched nine years earlier. While the lodge and food were perfectly adequate, it was the enthusiastic head naturalist guide assigned to show us around Kanha that made our Kanha safari such a win. Nara Rangaswami is without doubt the best field guide I have ever had the pleasure of exploring the wild areas of India, and I would certainly wholeheartedly recommend him to anyone fortunate enough to be visiting Banjaar Tola on safari.

Indian wild dogs - locally known as dhole - hunting spotted deer at dawn

Indian wild dogs – locally known as dhole – hunting spotted deer as a pack at dawn

Good bye India and Nepal here we come, India – March 2011

It has been a hectically busy and enjoyable month with plenty of travel on the go … the month kicked off with a trip down to Chennai to watch South Africa choke against England in the cricket .  It certainly wasn’t fun to be seated in a sea of Poms as the last wickets tumbled, but it’s worth checking out this entertaining and accurate blog that a friend Will did upon our return from the heart-breaking match.  I was then straight off to Assam in the northeast for some more CRS photographic work, followed by a highly enjoyable escape to Corbett Tiger Reserve and Camp Forktail Creek  It was a highly memorable nine day wildlife safari in the Himalayan foothills that included plenty of great wild elephant action, a big male tiger and – the absolute highlight – a couple of days walking through the Loachaur Zone in the north of the park while accompanying a multi-day elephant-back safari.  An absolutely superb experience and a rare treat to be able to walk inside one of India’s premier national parks.

Somewhat surprisingly, all March’s travels and experiences have suddenly faded to a seemingly distant memory as we stare at our empty apartment knowing that after three action-packed and adventure-filled years in India, this chapter in our lives will draw to a close in less than 48 hours from now.  All our worldly possessions fitted into 49 boxes and they’re already loaded aboard a ship and headed for Cape Town and greener pastures.  So it’s with a surprising amount of sadness that Katherine and I bid farewell to our home in India and a country that has fascinated and frustrated us in equal measure.  On balance our time living in India has been an overwhelmingly positive experience, but we feel ready to embark on the next exciting adventure and look forward to the next chapter in our life together.

After a braai and some beers watching India take on Sri Lanka in the much anticipated Cricket World Cup final, we fly out of Delhi bright and early on Sunday morning bound for Kathmandu and two months of exciting adventures in Nepal.  A month trekking in the Annapurnas (rated the number one trek in the world by National Geographic) will be followed by a rafting expedition down the wild waters of the Karnali River, a wildlife safari in Royal Bardia in search of Indian one-horned rhinos and perhaps a final tiger sighting.  We finish off our two month outdoor extravaganza with a trek into Everest Base Camp and I’m running the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon on May the 29th!  So much to look forward to in the Nepalese Himalayas … fresh air, the great outdoors and some long overdue quality time with my wife!

April is most definitely going to be a month to savour…

Typhoid, the CWC and India Whitewater, India – Feb 2011

The International Diner has a lot to answer for.  This newly opened establishment in GK1, New Delhi, is the worst restaurant I have ever had the sorry misfortune of dining in.  With some minor assistance from the loathsome Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), who seem to unrelentingly torment and test cricket fans on a near daily basis, this shoddy eating place has tried its utmost to singlehandedly ruin my February. A couple of friends joined my wife and me for dinner at the new diner earlier this month; the very same night three of us succumbed to chronic food poisoning.  A couple of weeks later two of us contracted typhoid from the contaminated food we had eaten in this unhygienic eatery.  Eating out is supposed to be an enjoyable treat, but this is not always the case in India.  Our Friday night dinner outing certainly turned into a nightmarish debacle from which I’m yet to fully recover.

It’s a common adage that everyone makes mistakes but only the real dumbasses don’t learn from their booboos and keep repeating the same schoolboy errors.  And it must be said India’s preparations to host major international sporting events definitely falls into category two.  It seems no lessons were learnt from their diabolical Commonwealth Games fiasco and the Cricket World Cup has ignominiously followed suit … Eden Gardens stadium renovations not completed in time, last minute venue changes for matches, difficulties in purchasing tickets, ticket delivery problems, archaic security protocols (no digital cameras, lip balm or even sunscreen are allowed into many of the match venues) and, most shockingly, we see empty stadiums for almost every game the host nation isn’t involved in.  In a country of 1.3 billion cricket fanatics this is nothing short of criminal and a serious indictment of the BCCI and the inane bureaucracy that thwarts cricket fans at every turn.

Despite the challenges of watching live cricket in India, Katherine and I overcame the gauntlet and joined a few friends at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in Delhi for a fun night out watching South Africa cruise to victory against the West Indies at the start of the CWC group stage.  Lets hope it’s a sign of good things to come at the business end of the tournament towards the end of March.

My India Whitewater book project is progressing well.  It’s presently marginally behind schedule, although the plan remains to try and have the inspirational coffee table book completed by mid-April and for it to hit the shelves by mid-year.  Keep an eye on this website and for further updates.

Travel wise it was a relatively quiet month, although I was also fortunate to travel to Orissa on a livelihoods assignment for CRS and I will be headed to the northeast early next month for some more work covering their HIV work up there. What I’m most excited about, however, is a weeklong trip to cover multi-day elephant-back safaris in Corbett Tiger Reserve during March.  So, there are plenty of exciting travels and assignments to look forward to in the near future before Katherine and I undergo the daunting task of packing our life into boxes as we prepare to ship out of India in early April.

The next exciting chapter awaits us…

CWC Build Up and a Cold Winter in Delhi, India – Jan 2011

It has been a brutally cold January – by Indian standards anyway – and, although Delhi has not suffered the same foggy weather and associated delays as last winter, it has been bloody cold.  We have had heaters running day and night in a place that spends eight months of the year above 40oC.  It is a bizarre climate and, more than once, I’ve longed to be back on the white-sand beaches of the idyllic Andaman Islands!

The cold weather, however, has been good for productivity, so, on the work front, my India Whitewater book is roaring along and looking on track for our March 31st deadline with its release still scheduled for May 2011.  In stark contrast to my book’s speedy progress, preparations for next month’s Cricket World Cup have been somewhat less impressive…

The only thing colder than the January weather in Delhi was the heart of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) scoundrel who announced on last the day of the month that India vs. England, arguably the biggest match in the first round of the Cricket World Cup, had been shunted from Kolkata to Bangalore.  Speculation about a venue switch had been rife ever since the International Cricket Council (ICC) announced after a recent inspection of Eden Gardens that renovation work was so far behind schedule that the ground was unfit to host the big World Cup showdown: a grudge match between India and the former colonial masters.

So here we go again … you remember the Common Wealth Games fiasco?  Well, history is repeating itself as India, yet again, fails to impress on the world stage.  While cricket fans are left reeling from the ICC announcement that Kolkata’s Eden Gardens isn’t ready for the World Cup (which starts in less than three weeks), it’s the financial sting of the decision that hurts supporters the most.  Cancelling flights, hotels and match tickets without recourse to compensation is the final insult and a sharp slap in the face for avid cricket aficionados from India and abroad.  Yet, nothing changes; the same inept villains retain their jobs, no one is hung out to dry by the Indian media for incompetency and all we get is the same nonchalant head bobble, a shrug of the shoulders and the far from placating phrase … “Well this is India!”

So I’ll sign off with the news that twenty mates and me are about to get cracking on cancelling our Kolkata flights and hotels, before investigating whether heading to Bangalore is even a feasible option.  Well done India – you very successfully punished our forward planning and thwarted our best attempts at efficiency, yet again!

Subansiri, Varanasi and the Andamans, India – December 2010

Without doubt this has been my best month in India to date!

December kicked off with an epic 10-day descent of the Subansiri River.  Snaking its way through the rugged wilderness of Arunachal in the remote northeast, the Subansiri is arguably Asia’s ultimate river journey.  With idyllic weather, exhilarating white-water and picture-perfect beach campsites nestled under star-studded skies, it was a rafting adventure to savour.  The Aquaterra ( trip afforded an incredible opportunity to paddle through wild jungle-clad valleys devoid of people: a rare privilege in India.  I feel incredibly lucky to have been one of the fortunate few to experience this rare and unique Indian wilderness.  In April 2014, this amazing river trip, along with 38 000 square kilometres of pristine jungle, will be lost forever when the new Hydel hydroelectric dam on the Lower Subansiri is flooded.

With the arrival of our first Christmas visitors, we headed off to Varanasi to share an authentic Indian cultural experience with Katherine’s family ahead of two weeks in the Andaman Islands.  Varanasi was a pleasant surprise to me and, although I feel its claim of being ‘the Venice of India’ is dubious at best, we did spend a thoroughly enjoyable long weekend in the holy city.  We boated along the Ganga at dawn spellbound by the scenes unfolding all around us.  From the wood pyres of the busy crematoriums with gangs of stray dogs chewing bones to the swimming Ghats and evening religious ceremonies, exploring Varanasi proved a lively, invigorating and eye-opening experience.

Between Varanasi and the Andamans, I squeezed in a work assignment to Hyderabad to document a CRS-sponsored project rescuing and reintegrating woman who had been trafficked into sexual slavery.  These brave ladies shared their harrowing tales with me recounting the unthinkable abuses they’d suffered after being enslaved as sex workers before eventually escaping or being rescued.  It was a sobering experience that stood in stark contrast to our family excursion to Agra and the Taj Mahal the following day.

The month culminated with an epic two-week trip to the Andaman Islands over Christmas and New Year.  The Andamans were nothing short of superb.  The laidback island lifestyle couldn’t have been further removed from the frenetic pace of mainland India.  We alternated our days between scuba diving and chilling on ‘the best beach in Asia’ (according to Time magazine) with body surfing, biking and beach bats to keep us suitably entertained.  Every evening we feasted on platters of delicious fresh seafood and cold beer.  However, the unanimous highlight of our time in the Andamans was chartering our own boat for a four-day excursion to explore little-visited Long Island and its surrounding waters. Lalaji Beach and diving on Campbell Shoals were the ultimate highlights of this great island adventure.

Returning to work in cold, foggy Delhi on January, 7th was a real shock to the system.

Jaisalmer, Amritsar and Manipur, India – November 2010

Half marathon done and dusted!  The morning began with a typically hectic and disorganised start to the event – which involved a small contingent of security personal trying to frisk 18,000 lycra-clad runners for hidden weapons of mass destruction – before Katherine and I ran the entire 21 km race together.  After finishing in a very respectable time, we headed home with friends for a boozy braai and some well-deserved R&R.

The month actually kicked off with consecutive weekends away to Jaisalmer and Amritsar, as we looked to take advantage of the great travelling weather and extra days off work due to Diwali (The Festival of Light).

A small, lively city sprawling around an impressive fort, Jaisalmer is India’s gateway to the Thar Desert in far western Rajasthan.  Although Diwali was an action-packed and somewhat noisy time to visit Jaisalmer, we found the rooftop terraces of hotels and bars atop the Havelis (heritage hotels) to be a godsend, providing some much-needed respite from the firecrackers and mayhem raging down below.  We also took a day out to drive further west into Desert National Park where we explored the dune fields of Khuri and Sam on foot.  With chinkara (Indian gazelle) nimbly picking their way across an arid peaceful landscape of pristine dunes, Khuri provided a genuine desert experience to savour.  By contrast Sam was manic.  The dunes were obscured by thousands of people, tons of garbage and a gazillion camels carrying their screaming passengers charging over the dunes.  It was a sight to behold and we stayed just long enough to take a few photos and videos of the crazy scenes unfolding all around us.

Barely a week later, we were in Amritsar appreciating another equally bizarre spectacle.  The daily border closing ceremony of the only land transit point between India and Pakistan is the quintessential Indian experience.  Thousand of patriotic citizens turn out on both sides of the fence to support their soldiers as the flags are lowered.  While the soldiers try to out perform and out march each other, DJ’s belt out popular Hindi tunes, people dance in the streets, sing, scream, cheer and hurl regular abuse at their neighbours.  Fervent nationalism oozes from the jam-packed stands of patriotic fans, making for some very humorous and animated exchanges between the legions of Indian and Pakistani supporters.  A visit to the world-renowned Golden Temple is another must-do experience in Amritsar and the temple complex is well-worth appreciating both at night and during the day.

A mid-month work assignment took me to the northeast of India on my first visit to the small state of Manipur, which is located on the border with Myanmar (Burma).  I was collecting photographic material and interviewing people involved with Project LIFE AID: an HIV/AIDS programme assisting affected people in the high prevalence states of northeast India.  It was a very productive and enlightening assignment that revealed a project that is doing a lot of good for a lot of very grateful people.

Next month sees me return to the northeast to join the final descent of India’s spectacular Subansari River on an exhilarating ten-day rafting expedition, and then it’s off to Varanasi for a long weekend before finishing up the year by enjoying Christmas in the Andaman Islands with visiting family.  Roll on December and the good times…

CWG, Kali-Sarda & Bandhavgarh’s Tigers, India – October 2010

October proved to be a great month in India!  After an incredibly wet monsoon, the rain eventually abated, the humidity disappeared and the weather became tolerable once more.  The changing seasons signalled that it was time to start travelling again and, hopefully, enjoy some fun-filled adventures along the way.

The month kicked off with a visit from an old Welsh friend, Huw Roberts, and his Australian girlfriend, Celi.  Their stay happened to coincide with the much-maligned Commonwealth Games taking place in Delhi, so we decided to brave the terrible traffic, collapsing pedestrian bridges, high security and a dengue fever outbreak, and headed to the main stadium to watch the Athletics finals.  It was without doubt the most spectator-unfriendly event I’ve ever experienced, highlighted by the fact that the stands were, at best, only 15% full for the men’s and woman’s 100 metre finals.  What a pity, especially for the athletes.

I decided to escape the rest of the CWG carnage in the capital and joined Aquaterra Adventures ( for a weeklong expedition down India’s most under-rated Himalayan river.  The Kali-Sarda traces India’s international border with Nepal as it snakes its way through deep valleys and a pristine wilderness dominated by wildlife, warm water, enjoyable rapids, idyllic weather and picture-perfect riverside beaches for camping.  Twice, when we beached our rafts and kayaks for the night, we found fresh leopard tracks criss-crossing the beach we were about to sleep on!  It was an action-packed and highly entertaining week on the water and I succeeded in collecting some great photographic material, as well as cool experiences on the ‘ducky’ (an inflatable kayak), for my book India Whitewater.

After a frenetic week back in Delhi processing photos and chasing magazine deadlines, it was time for the highlight of the month… A stay at the Taj Safaris luxury lodges of Pashan Garh and Marua Kothi courtesy of AndBeyond India (  After spending a day marvelling at the spectacular and erotically sculpted temples of Khajuraho, we headed to Pashan Garh: an ultra-luxurious bush retreat on the outskirts of Panna National Park.  Panna was a true wilderness experience and, with almost no other vehicles in the reserve, our enthusiastic naturalist guide, Dipu, shared the park’s secrets with us.  On top of some great wildlife viewing, quality birding, boating on the crocodile-infested Ken River and soaking up the beautiful mountain scenery, he also managed to track down a staggering four leopards during our 3-day visit!

From Panna we drove four hours across Madhya Pradesh to reach Marua Kothi, situated a stone’s throw from India’s premier tiger reserve.  Bandhavgarh was the antithesis of Panna.  Peace and solitude went out the window the second we entered the fray in the revered Tala tourism area.  This is India’s most famous tiger-viewing zone, renowned for having the highest density of relaxed tigers in all of Asia.  The frantic nature of the tiger search took some getting used to, but in the end Yugdeep tracked down a couple of the iconic cats for us.  We enjoyed an especially memorable sighting of a 4.5 year old male silently stalking cheetal (spotted deer) right past our vehicle.  When the spotted deer eluded him, the King of the Jungle proceeded to roar: an unbelievable sound that capped off the quintessential Bandhavgarh sighting.

The action looks set to continue throughout November with trips to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, Amritsar in the Punjab, and a photographic assignment to Manipur in the remote northeast of India all on the cards during the upcoming month.  To top it all off, Katherine and I will be tackling the Delhi half-marathon on the 21st of November!

Monsoons & Dissertations in Delhi, India – September 2010

September has been a month of all work and no play.  While relentless, heavy monsoon rains wreaked havoc with the mad rush to complete stadiums and infrastructure for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, they provided the ideal environment for me to finally sit down and complete my Master’s dissertation.   I had done much of the research work and background study during the preceding months, but in August I stepped it up three gears and pulled long days and nights pulling everything together and writing up the research report.  It was a really great feeling to submit it at the end of the month.

I did manage a couple of all-to-brief study escapes during the course of September.  The most notable was definitely an excursion to Gwalior with Katherine and a few friends.  Our good South African mates, Guy and Katie, treated us to an extremely enjoyable weekend away at the luxurious Usha Kiran Palace (,GWALIOR/).  Long lazy days drinking beer around the swimming pool, champagne on the terrace and wine at dinner were the perfect tonic for a relaxing and recharging break.  We did venture out on the Sunday and explore the huge hilltop fort and palace that overlook the city; otherwise, it was very much a poolside retreat.

With my backlog of magazine stories and newspaper articles pretty much cleared, I am no longer staring down the barrel of multiple deadlines, so I look to October with my sights set on exciting new assignments, adventures and travels.  The Kali-Sarda beckons for a river rafting adventure through the pristine wilderness along the Nepalese border in mid-October, while tiger tracking will be the order of the day when Katherine joins me on an assignment to cover two more of &Beyond India’s luxury safari lodges in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh towards the end of the month.

It’s always good to finish off on a high note, so I’ll leave you with some unexpected good news… I finally have a bank account!  After sacrificing a small forest in a bid to provide all the paperwork required, two months of heartache and suffering drew to a close last week when Katherine and I were finally deemed worthy enough to deposit our meagre riches with Standard and Chartered Bank.  A very happy ending to a long soul destroying confrontation with some of India’s finest bureaucracy!

Ladakh Floods & Climbing Mountains, India – August 2010

Two days before I was supposed to depart for Leh and an expedition through the Grand Canyon of Asia on the Zanskar River, disaster struck Ladakh.  The torrential rain that had uprooted millions across Pakistan spilled over the border into northern India.  Massive thunderstorms and heavy rain triggered flash floods across Ladakh.  Villages were washed away, landslides blocked roads, bridges were destroyed and hundreds of lives were lost.  The runway was even submerged and all flights into Leh were cancelled.  Aquaterra Adventures was forced to take the extreme decision to abandon our river trip as tour operators and travel agents across India scrambled to cancel their Ladakh departures and expeditions.

A week later the situation in Leh had stabilised, a massive relief effort was underway and I climbed aboard my Kingfisher Airways flight to check out the situation on the ground for myself.  Vehicles wedged inside building, massive boulders and collapsed buildings provided irrefutable evidence of the scale and ferocity of the water by the time it reached the downtown areas of the city.  Higher up in the tourist zone, there were virtually no signs of the calamity that had ravaged the city just a week earlier and the Ladakhi people were unanimously happy to see the few tourists who had stuck with their holiday plans to visit Ladakh.  The words of a local shopkeeper summed up the viewpoint of locals in the face of the terrible situation that had befallen them: “We all survive off the tourists.  Visitors come here and spend money and that is what sustains us during the long cold winter.  Now everyone is staying away because of the flood and we don’t know what we will do.”  I estimated that tourist numbers had plummeted to 20% of what they were in August last year.  The bottom line is that people who cancelled their visits out of respect for the Ladakhi people, not wanting to burden them during a difficult time, were actually exacerbating the problem and perpetuating their woes.  Now is the time to go to Ladakh and by spending your money up there, you can really  help the locals get back on their feet.

After a couple of days acclimatising and exploring monasteries, we headed for Zingchen and the start of our trek.  During the course of the following days we crossed the Stok La pass at 4890 metres before making our way to Stok Kangri Base Camp.  The campsite had a picturesque setting on a high altitude meadow next to a stream in the shadow of towering snowy peaks.  This was our base for the next four days as we adjusted to the challenges of walking and climbing at altitude.  During these ‘rest days’, we practiced walking in snow shoes with crampons and tested our climbing equipment on the Stok glacier above camp.  It was necessary preparation for the summit bid that lay ahead.

On Friday the 20th of August at 10pm we set off from camp on what would prove to be a 14 hour round trip slog to the summit.  We reached the foot of the glacier at midnight and stopped to attach crampons and rope up for the journey across the ice.  Under the expert guidance of two seasoned Stok Kangri climbers our group of four intrepid amateurs concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and not falling onto any of the crevasses.  It was hard work as long snow sections were interspersed with tricky obstacles of slippery ice and exposed rock.  Throughout the night we continued climbing upwards in the dim glow of our headlamps.  Just before dawn we reached an exposed ridge with steep drops on either side that demanded a careful traverse.  A final push over treacherous rocky outcrops and deep snow carried us onto the 6,153 metre summit.  Our celebrations on reaching the peak were anything but raucous as everyone collapsed exhausted and it took real effort just to gather the tired troops for a victorious summit photo before we retreated to a more hospitable altitude.  After a half hour on the top of Kanglacha, we turned and retraced our steps towards home.  Descending in the daylight we enjoyed spectacular views down onto the glacier bowl and noticed that our route descended between the debris of two recent avalanches!  Climbing Stok Kangri was a seriously exhilarating and exhausting adventure.

Finally, on the subject of my Indian admin woes… After six weeks of trying I still don’t have approval for opening a bank account, but at least I am legal.  Thankfully my visa extension finally went through on the 25th of August allowing me to remain in India until the end of January 2011.  An Indian friend recently told me that India is officially rated the sixth most difficult country in the world for foreigners to conduct business in… I have no plans to try and track down any of the top five!

Monsoons & Bureaucracy, India – July 2010

July has been an extremely hot, humid and frustrating month in India.  Faced with a growing list of commissioned stories to write and with deadlines looming, there was no option but to put the travels on hold and get writing.  Unfortunately, the spectacularly frustrating and tediously slow bureaucracy of India has tried its utmost to thwart my best efforts at productivity and efficiency.

Trying to open a bank account and extend my Indian visa have drained Katherine and me of all our reserves of patience, persistence and politeness.  As the month draws to a close, we have devoted many long days to the Ministry of Home Affairs and FRRO, but I still do not have my new visa (police verification of information still pending) and, after seven visits to the bank and sacrificing a small forest for all the paperwork we’ve had to submit, our bank account has yet to be approved.  Amongst the many reasons given by Standard & Chartered for refusing to open the account, was that my signature didn’t seem authentic enough for them!  India certainly seems to be trying its hardest to wear us down and this is compounded by the unrelenting heat and humidity of the monsoon season, which refuses to abate.  This has not been our happiest month in India to date.

The good news is that (provided my visa gets approved this week) I will be headed to Ladakh and the Himalayas for 3 weeks in August.  Having recently agreed with a publisher and sponsor the terms for my book India Whitewater, I will be collecting more photographic material and experiences on an expedition down the Zanskar River and through the Grand Canyon of Asia.  After that trip I will join a friend, Ben Sheppard, for a climbing adventure as we tackle the 6,153 metre peak of Stok Kangri in the Indian Himalaya.  So, fingers crossed, I’ll be headed to Ladakh at the end of the week.

Otherwise, the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about… I’ll be given 36 hours to leave the country and will be back in South Africa before the end of next week. Lets just hope that the Gods of Indian bureaucracy decide to be a little more friendly during August and deign to let me to stay and explore some of the great rivers and wilderness areas of the spectacularly wild and beautiful Indian Himalaya.

Return top