Bharatpur. A birder’s myth. Vast expanses of water, home to thousands of birds fleeing winter, and some more thousand staying there all year round.
Even before thinking of this trip to India, I talked with a friend about this place, one of the last winter refuges for Siberian cranes (Leucogeranus leucogeranus). Alas, victim of hunting and habitat destruction, these majestic white birds haven’t been seen in India since 2002. Sad as it is, I knew there would still be birds there.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park is the official name of the place nowadays. It’s an artificial wetland next to the city of Bharatpur, built in the 18th century and formerly used as a hunting ground by the local Maharaja. It protects the surrounding land from flooding, and provides the necessary water for life to thrive. The area was protected as a bird sanctuary in 1976, and as a national park in 1982.
A few hours in Delhi, a day in Agra… and already we felt exhausted. Crowd, traffic, pollution, it all added up for a massive and unpleasant cultural shock. Bring me back to the Subantarctic! Bring me back to Finland! There was a lot to see, of course, a lot to discover, but overall, I felt completely overwhelmed. It hadn’t taken long: just a few minutes after exiting the airport, the aggressions of taxi drivers had made me feel disorientated. Luckily, my parents and my two brothers had joined me soon after, and it’s as a family that we had started this Indian adventure.
Like I said, the cacophony of cities had taken its toll, and it’s with evident relief that we reached the Chambal Safari Lodge – Mela Kothi, in Jarar. We had just stepped through the entrance that we started to regret spending only a night in this welcoming compound. The sun shone, the birds chirped in the trees and the bougainvillea were in full bloom. Bliss.
After a few epic days in the Mackenzie Country, I drove to Christchurch and arrived there without delay. My plane left on the day after, bound to Singapore, where another flight would take me to Delhi.
For this 11-hour flight, I had selected an aisle seat, to be free to move however I pleased. Fortunately, on this Christmas Day, I had no neighbour to my right, and could enjoy 3 seats for myself. After flying over the Southern Alps of New Zealand, we crossed the Tasman Sea, and I got hooked by the book I was reading at the time.
The next thing I saw was an ocean of red dust far below – we were crossing Australia!
Finally free. It’s Thursday afternoon, December 20, and I’m leaving Wanaka after being stuck there for ten days. The reason? My car broke down while climbing a mountain pass, in the middle of the night… the transmission needed to be changed, and it took some time in this busy pre-Christmas period.
Luckily, I found a nice place to stay in Wanaka (Wanaka Bakpaka hostel), and I enjoyed relaxed days there. The internet connection was good as well (not something you should take for granted in New Zealand’s hostels…), so I spent some time updating my website (check it out here: samuelbloch.weebly.com).
All this is behind me now, though. After the trauma of my car’s breakdown, I’m terrified of going up the mountains again, but to reach the Mackenzie Basin, there’s no choice, I have to go over Lindis Pass. I go very slowly in the last steep slopes, but we manage and glide down on the other side. Phew!
Staying on Stewart Island, it’s a bit like living in a bubble of tranquillity, while the world keeps rumbling away in the distance. You step out of the ferry, the sun is shining, people sit at the bar’s terrace, parrots fly over town, and life feels good. It has this feeling of a village in the south of France, in summer; not a touristic one, but one that some people visit because they know it’s a haven of peace.
That’s actually not why I went. To me, Stewart Island had two appeals: the kiwi, and Ulva. I introduced you to the emblematic bird of New Zealand in a previous article, so I’ll focus on the rest today.