India was an amazing and immense experience, it would take a 1000 pages to describe everything!
Main point is everything went surprisingly and almost mysteriously well with Radi’s parents, family and friends. They were all very excited, sweet and accommodating. So we are now officially finance and fiancée! Provisionally the wedding will be at Saj Resort in Mahabaleshwar, 5 or 6 hours inland from Bombay, on the weekend of the 13-15th of January 2011. We’re hoping to have a “small wedding” of 100-150 people.
The landscape of Mahabaleshwar is stunning, it’s high in the ghats with deep valleys, huge waterfalls (Lingmala Falls) and forested plateaus and hillsides. We visited at the start of the trip and loved it. It’s a small town of less than 15,000 full of strawberries and sandals.
After Mahabaleshwar we were driven down to the coast to Tarkarli, a relatively undeveloped resort quieter than bustling places like Goa. Rajeev, one of the families drivers, was hilariously inept at directions (but great at avoiding seemingly inevitably collisions) so everytime Radi fell asleep we ended up getting lost (a lot). Eventually we arrive at a government resort of little bungalows, complete with hammocks outsole, right next to a long stretch of beach. The beach was bustling with people playing cricket, ecstatic kids, swimmers, camel rides, cart rides but best of all where the white-bellied sea eagles and kites gliding close overhead. The next day we took a little boat ride following the coast to see dolphins and gull colony, beyond the shore and beach palm trees loomed mysterious through the thinning morning mist. Next on the agenda snorkelling in shadow of the awesome Sindhudurg Fort, an island completed ringed by thick old stone walls with regular round towers rising straight out of the sea. The water was a bit turbid, and most of the coral bleached (apart from spreading fan-like corals) but judicious use of bread attracted huge shoals of colourful fish to us as we paddled in the intense midday sun.
From Tarkarli we headed 160km south along the coast to Goa, we stayed at a swanky hotel apartment near the famous shacks, clubs and restaurants of Baga beach. Parth and Almitra (Radi’s brother and sister-in-law) came to join us after a day and Goa became a blur of restaurants, bars, rum and karaoke (I gave it all for Johnny Cash’s Boy Named Sue). We visited a really cool bar perched atop a cliff right next to the glittering ocean, an authentic Tibetan restaurant and classy jazz bar which served fancy desserts to die for (including a vegan coconut selection with a yummy Australian coconut cheese which tasted like Wensleydale). Rajeev got the car stuck in the beach sand and was freed by an industrious group of guys who must have set it up as a trap, they demanded 500 rupees for their troubles and gleefully ran off to buy booze from the nearest beach shack, it was all pretty amusing. Parth met an old school friend who coerced us into a night club full of an amazing assortment of clubbers from all corners of the world, the best was a deranged disco-dancing wanabee cowboy. We did manage to visit a quiet little beach hidden around the corner from the craziness of Baga and swam as the sunset into the sea. Radi and I also managed to take a bird watching trip one morning, unfortunately the guide was a reptile expert and wasn’t all that interested or good at birds. We did get to see a Changeable Hawk-eagle and Vernal Hanging Parrots though, very cool.
After Goa we took a taxi and struck south-east inland through farmland and huge verdant hill forests (real forest not little the grotty little remnants we have in the UK!) to get to the Hornbill Resort near Dandeli, which was freakin’ amazing by the way. Radi had booked us into a little slice of paradise, a beautiful rustic tree house cradled in mango and Terminalia boughs above a deep blue river with forest hills all around. Just a little upstream of our arboreal abode dozens of large Malabar pied hornbills played and foraged in the trees of a lush riverine island worrying a pair of Brahmini Kites nesting nearby. White-browed wagtails perched on bare branches poking from the swirling currents, cormorants and herons commuted back and forth and kingfisher could be heard calling all around. We were visited by Malabar giant squirrels in the morning and Gray langurs played the canopy beyond the window. The loo had the best view ever, “www.loowithaview.com” if someone hasn’t invented it they should. Radhika was so excited, she was bouncing of the walls! We did lots in our short time there, kayaking, swimming, white water rafting, morning bird walks, night walks to see giant flying squirrels and nightjars and a visit to a Malabar pied hornbill dustbath a dusk where about 50 birds gather to clean.The white-water rafting was brilliant and exhilarating, we started just downstream of a huge dam and travelled over 10km through 8 rapids. Rahul & I manned the front probably thinking we looked cooler than we did, Radi was at the rear and then there were 3 very weak uncoordinated young indian guys making up the rest of the paddlers making the adventure that little more exciting (avoiding getting bashed by their paddles was a bigger challenge than the rapids!). The ride was stunning, cool, clear, fast flowing water, sparkling in the sun, forest rising all around, no sign of man. As the river was high submerged copses and flooded forest were everywhere, some of the overhanging riverine trees were festooned with scale-like epiphytic orchids so dense that the trunk looked like it was covered in scaly armor.
From Goa it was another long taxi ride to River Tern Lodge (Bhadra Reservoir, Chickmaglur) approaching the dam the arid landscape turned in verdant green rice paddies and betel nut plantations irrigated from the impounded waters. River Tern Lodge was another triumph of Radhika’s brilliant planning. A water landscape stretched out towards the mountainous horizon, the tree clad tops of drowned hills poked from the reservoir and forest ringed the shores in all directions. The lodge was a collection of 30 or so little wooden houses sympathetically set amongst trees and scrub (considerately labelled for the botanist visitors) perched on a hillside above the reservoir. I took a noisy, bone crunching, morning jeep safari on which it was almost guaranteed not to see the tigers in the Bhadra Reserve. As expected no tigers, but the forest was beautiful with the morning light patterning through the canopy. We saw a whole lot of tiger food, spotted deer, sambar deer, barking deer and bush pig and there were some fantastic storks, Wooly-necked and Lesser Adjuntant, near the waters edge. Around midday we had our personal boat safari around the reservoir to see Ospreys and the colony of breeding River terns and Little Pratincole.