Looking for tigers in the Sunderbans, West Bengal
Sometimes when you go on a journey to find something, the search can be just as rewarding as the ultimate find. This was the case when I ventured out into the West Bengali Sunderbans in the hope of spotting the elusive tiger.
I boarded the “Jungle Boat” as the sun rose one morning and it was a little surreal – the silence, the early morning nip in the air, the orange hues of the sun, now high in the sky, beginning to evaporate the remnant greys of the diminishing night – it was exciting.
The boat made its way slowly, stealthily into the serenity of river passing lush mangroves. We saw troops of monkeys frolicking by the river edge while egrets wondered nonchalantly amid them. Throughout the day all sorts of birds came out to loiter on the mudflaps, flying overhead or were perched on branches. Colourful Kingfishers stood out against the greens and browns of the vegetation.
There was excitement when our guide spotted tiger footprints in the silt. We followed them but these led back into the mangroves where no human is allowed to tread.
Wild boar turned up every now and again munching on something or other and deer looking on in surprise. Fishing boats and those carrying hay stacks passed by as if it was just another day in the office.
But the headliner stayed evasive and even when spotting a tiger remains a promise it was a superb day out on the river.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE: Spotting a tiger in the Sunderbans National Park, West Bengal, India
Grindelwald, Jungfrau Region, Switzerland
By Lucy Woods
This summer I travelled to Grindelwald, an alpine resort in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland. It is a little known gem for outdoor enthusiasts during the summer months, with the added bonus of cosy bars and restaurants that serve up traditional fare such as fondue and schnitzel. The village is picturesque but it is the surrounding snow-topped mountains that, for me, set it apart as a truly stunning destination.
On my first day there I took the gondola to Mannlichen, which looks over the Lauterbrunnen valley. I enjoyed whizzing down the mountain on a summer gemel – a three-wheeled gravity powered cart that takes you on a winding path past cheerful cows and acres of greenery. Another popular area is Grindelwald First, a minor summit that offers loads of fun activities including mountain carting, zip lines and a vertigo-inducing cliff walk.
The highlight of my trip was my visit to the Grindelwald Glacier Canyon, the home of the Interlaken Canyon Swing. This involves harnessing up and jumping off the edge of vertical rock face and falling 70m towards the roaring Lütschine River. I travelled at speeds of almost 120kph (70mph) and after catching my breath, took great pleasure in marvelling at the amazing scenery as I swung back and forth above the river. This was by the far the scariest thing I have every done and I loved every second of it.
READ THE FULL ARTICLE: Summer in Grindelwald mountain resort, Jungfrau region, Switzerland
For an intrepid traveller, like myself, the challenge is always to get to new places. Countries that were once part of the Soviet Union are now opening up to tourism and Moldova is one of the poorest in Europe. The capital, Chisinau, suffered a devastating earthquake in 1940 and what was left was flattened by fighting in WW2. It was rebuilt by the Soviets in classic Stalinist style, dark crumbling concrete blocks of flats and glum people.
To get a real insight into what life was like during the Soviet period, I take a day trip to Tiraspol in Transnistria, originally part of Moldova, but now a renegade state, created after a brief civil war in 1992, when the people decided to stay with Russia. It’s known as “the last remaining Stalinist dictatorship in Europe”.
At the border crossing, officious soldiers in Russian uniforms, hand out day passes, written in Cyrillic, and the city feels like a Soviet theme park. There’s a huge Lenin statue outside the parliament building and opposite a T-34 tank stands proudly guarding a monument to those killed in WW2. Empty streets border leafy squares with well-tended flower beds, and first impressions are that nobody steps out of line.
In the market, however, the atmosphere couldn’t be more different. The stalls are piled high with walnuts and pickled vegetables and in one corner there’s a band playing folk music. I get closer and suddenly am sucked into the crowd, someone offers me a glass of vodka and I’m given a dancing partner. Now I understand why the Soviet Union lasted as long as it did.
Botswana’s Gomoti Plains
It takes a lot to make me cry, but the first time I came face to face with a rhino in the wild, tears ran down my cheeks. Botswana’s Gomoti Plains is a safe haven; Rhinos Without Borders relocates at-risk rhino here from South Africa. They’ve settled in well to their new home in this lush part of the Okavango Delta, and an up close encounter is the unforgettable highlight of any game drive.
I stayed at Gomoti Plains Camp, where the luxurious safari tents are spread out along the bank of a water channel. Giraffe amble by in the mornings, and a kudu might well block your way to breakfast. The grunting of hippo is a surprisingly alluring soundtrack, and every now and then the quiet of the wilderness is broken by a lion’s roar.
It is possible to walk, drive, and explore the channels by mokoro canoe. Local guide Motte has an encyclopaedic knowledge of natural history, a warm personality, and an acute sense of when and where the best wildlife sightings will occur. He quickly becomes in equal part teacher and friend.
READ ALSO: Mokoro Safari, Okavango Delta, Botswana
Batad Rice Terraces in the Northern Philippines
By Tommy Walker
This year I’ve visited multiple places twice, including Russia, Taiwan and the Philippines whilst living in Hong Kong, so it’s a hard choice. I would say, visiting Batad Rice Terraces in the Northern Philippines has been my favourite. I’ve had the opportunity to explore lots of Hong Kong’s wilderness as well as experience the FIFA World Cup in Russia, but Batad simply felt like one of my best experiences ever. Looking down at the rows of highly-saturated green rice terraces really made me feel in the moment.
Mass tourism hasn’t hit the north of the Philippines yet because of the transport options to get there, so it’s still a place under the influence of who manages it best, the locals. The area feels protected and quite surreal, it’s like the setting of a myth or fairy tale. Batad Rice Terraces is actually up there with being one of my favourite experiences ever and it’s no wonder it gets the nickname the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’.
A February encounter in the New Forest
By Ferne Arfin
In February, the New Forest was warm during the day, piercing cold overnight; just right for photogenic wisps of morning mist to rise over the pond near my hotel. I’d never succeeded in photographing morning mist but this trip was going to be different. I scouted locations the day before and set out my gear, ready to go. Next morning at 6:15 I felt my way along the edge of a golf course by moonlight, trying not to leave foot prints in the silvery frozen dew. With open woodland behind me and a pond between me and a rolling golf course, I set up a tripod, pointed it east and waited.
Something small and grey moved, barely visible across the pond. A tiny muntjak deer with finger-thick, unbranched antlers munched mosses at the water’s edge. Then something else stirred behind me and the started deer looked up as a New Forest pony ambled out of the woods to drink from the other side of the pond. Of course, my elaborately arranged tripod was nowhere near this unfolding tableau. We all saw each other. None of us moved. The only picture I made that morning was the mental one I won’t soon forget.
Make it Malawi
By Karl Cushing
For me 2018 has been largely about Africa with northern Ethiopia, South Africa’s Western Cape and Uganda’s remote Kidepo National Park among my most memorable trips. That said, no destination has put a smile on my face quite like Malawi, the self-proclaimed Warm Heart of Africa.
While Malawi can’t offer the luxury or service delivery of countries such as South Africa and Botswana therein lies part of its charm, and it’s incredibly accessible. Hikes and bike rides yield myriad shouts of “hello, how are you!” from furiously waving kids while on Lake Malawi, its vast inland sea, fishermen break from untangling nets at dusk to strike poses by their boats for my camera.
And what a lake; it’s rich charms ably served up by romantic retreats such as Mumbo Island. From snorkelling among technicolour cichlid fish and feeding swooping fish eagles to spying on weaver birds and kingfishers flitting amid its reedy margins from the comfort of my kayak I was in rapture. A sunset cruise aboard Pumulani Lodge’s private dhow offers the opportunity to observe a crash of frolicking hippo between necking G&Ts.
Equally enchanting is my stay at Huntingdon House, on Satemwa Tea Estate. Set amid the country’s rolling tea country the old plantation owner’s house hooks me instantly with its idyllic setting, easy hospitality and innovative tea-infused cocktails and meals.
With other draws including hiking Mt. Mulanje massif and the Zomba Plateau, events such as the Lake of Stars music festival, and new products such as Robin Pope’s Kuthengo Camp the case for visiting this fascinating country is getting more compelling all the time.
14th Busan fireworks festival, Korea
The best trip that I have taken this year was to South Korea. With the assistance of Korea Tourism Organisation, I gained privileged access to the 14th Busan fireworks festival in the country second largest city. Impressively-loud and colourful firework displays over the Gwangandaegyo bridge by some of the world’s top pyrotechnicians just about made up for the sub-zero temperatures and strong winds that hit as I sat on Gwangalli beach.
The sound and visual spectacular was unexpected. Before I went, I knew the festival was world-famous, but I didn’t know why. Now I understand! My visit to one of Asia’s most underrated countries was split between Busan in the (warm) south and Seoul in the (rather chilly) north. Travelling from Busan to Seoul on the high-speed KTX train offered an insight into what everyday life is like in one of the most high-tech countries in the world – 325km in less than 2 and a half hours. Witnessing the government’s commitment to the preservation of the past in Seoul – palaces, traditional streets, temples and tea houses – standing alongside glistening skyscrapers and sombre war memorials was the highlight of my trip. Seoul’s Changdeokgung Palace, standing in its vast tranquil gardens, was a refreshing finale to my visit to this historic country.
Overcoming the fear of heights in Millau, France
Situated in the Aveyron region in the South of France the town of Millau is famous for the world’s tallest bridge, overpassing the Tarn river at the height of 343 meters. But when I signed up to go bungee jumping off a bridge, it was not off Millau Viaduct but off the nearby Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon Viaduct, merely 50 metres heigh. Then again, being scared of heights, those 50 metres were terrifying. But I was determined to overcome my acrophobia.
From the top of the bridge the other members of the group were admiring the splendid view of the mediaeval village of Sainte-Eulalie-de-Cernon, once the base for the Knights of the Templar, but I was nervously looking down towards the curved arches. “I can’t even look down, how am I going to jump into the abyss? What am I doing here, what am I trying to prove to myself?” All sort of questions were obsessing me as the guide was telling me to look straight ahead at the horizon, count to three and jump. I jumped! Those first few seconds of free falling, before the elastic pulled me back were terrifying, gradually turning into exhilaration with every bounce. The moment I reached the ground I run back up to the bridge for another jump, this time enjoying every second – the fear was still there but the adrenaline took over. I would have done it over and over again.
With my new found passion for heights I decided to try a different adventure: via ferrata in the Montpellier-le-Vieux boulder field north-east of Millau. After 10 minutes hike through the forrest, we reached an area surrounded by massive boulders, some several hundreds of meters high. Attached to steel cables, we walked along the rock face, climbed to the top to admire the panoramic views, and slid along ziplines up to 200 metre long between boulders. This was an amazing experience combining nature, adrenaline and some breathtaking scenery.