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Tdgraves posted a topic in South AfricaThis TR has been delayed by my trying to finish my big year in time http://safaritalk.net/topic/14834-tdgraves-big-ish-year-2015/, but also as @@Alexander33 and I were in Tswalu at the same time and he was doing his TR, I thought I'd leave it a while. However, we are off to the Kruger in two weeks and I did not want to have two TRs hanging over me, so I thought I'd at least make a start on this one before leaving, but there may be a long gap...... Given the brilliant (from our perspective) exchange rate, we thought we'd go back to South Africa again in September. The original plan had been Namibia, but given that it is relatively cheap anyway, the savings were more apparent in South Africa, especially at high-end lodges, such as Tswalu. So we thought we'd go back and base the trip around Tswalu. We had been to Tswalu in the Summer of 2012 (Jan) and really enjoyed it. We had been intrigued that the guides had mentioned it was one of the best places in the world to see rare nocturnal creatures, such as aardvark and pangolin and that in winter, these were visible in the daylight at the extremes of the day, as temperatures were lower. We had been very lucky during our last trip and had "ticked off" all of the desert/rare species that we had not previously seen (except for the pangolin). But fleeting glimpses under a spotlight are not conducive to photography. Despite booking in February, we struggled to get accommodated in Tswalu as it is peak season and exceedingly popular. They have a 5 nights for 4 offer, which I wanted to do, but there were no free rooms for 5 nights, so we did the 4 nights and fly free offer. However, the only way we managed that was because our friend (a TA) managed to persuade them to let us have a family suite for the price of a normal room! After the success of our visit last year to Mashatu http://safaritalk.net/topic/13650-mashatu-madnesstuli-tastic-our-first-trip-to-botswana-august-sept-2014/, we really wanted to include that as well, so we did and we added a night compared with last year. This will be in a separate report, as it is in Botswana. So that left us a choice of where else to go. As we would fly to Tswalu and drive to Mashatu, somewhere between the Tuli block and Johannesburg seemed appropriate. We did not feel like the long drive to Sabi Sands was worth it for three nights, on top of everything else. I wondered about Marakele National Park, but our friend suggested Welgevonden. This was the place that we fell in love with safari. We had been travelling to South Africa annually for a while and thought that we would like safari. Before taking the plunge on an entire trip to a safari destination (we already had Zambia on our minds), we thought we'd go somewhere for three nights to see if we liked it, instead of a beach or other destination, as a sort of glorified B&B. Of course we did. So back in January 2009, with our entry level DSLR and a 70-250mm lens, we had three days in the bush in green season and we loved it. The lodge which we stayed at then had burnt down and was still in the process of being rebuilt, so our friend suggested Makweti, which seems to be one of the top-end lodges looking online (these are the sorts of clients he deals with). So the trip was completed with three nights here. It was an ideal lodge for us, as there are only 5 rooms. Having finally worked out the British Airways reward flight programme, we were lucky enough to travel business in both directions, although this meant travelling on weird days. So, as an added bonus, our trip was longer than usual. We flew out on the Thursday night and back on the Monday night, extending by three days our normal trips. We filled this with a trip to our friends' lodge on a game farm. We have only been there in January before, so thought it'd be interesting to compare to "peak" season. Also, we had never been there with our TA friend and he and his family came as well. So our itinerary was: 3 nights Ditholo Wildlife Estate, Limpopo, RSA (our friends' lodge) 4 nights Tswalu Kalahari, RSA (31/8/15-4/9/15) 1 night Johannesburg 5 nights Mashatu tented camp, Tuli block, Botswana (5/9/15-10/9/15) 3 nights Makweti, Welgevonden, RSA (10/9/15-13/9/15) 1 night Johannesburg Here we go....
The swamp tiger, the man eaters, world's largest mangrove delta... there are numerous tags which point to just one name, 'the Sunderbans'. A huge protected area spanning more than 10,000 sq. km. of untamed swampy wilderness forming the delta of the River Ganges. It is spread in both Bangladesh and India. The Ganges before it meets the sea, forms numerous channels of murky water ways and islands covered in mangroves, tiger palm and is inhabited by plethora of wildlife. Some islands have human population as well. There are said to be more than 400 tigers living in the jungles here, more than half of which are known man eaters. Sunderbans is one of the most exciting destinations that we covered on the Prayaan India Overland's 61 days Delhi to Gangtok trip. Finishing up with the beaches in southern West Bengal we reached Kolkata. It is one of the busiest and craziest cities in India and reaching late in the afternoon, we were extremely tired and hence retired to our rooms. The next morning Sunderban adventure was to begin. Everyone woke up early. We met our guide who was to be with us the whole time in Sunderbans and left the maddening Kolkata behind. But the traffic madness was not going to end soon. It took us another 2 long hours to reach our jetty at Godkhali, negotiating on the way things like, cars, buses, trucks, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, bicycles, bikes, people, kids, cows, goats, sheep, vegetables(yes), chicken, fish (yes we don't lie), speed bumps... ohh god knows what else!! But we made it to the houseboat. This houseboat named Flotel Banzara was to be our home for the next 3 days. Although not a 5 star luxury, it had pretty much everything that one needs to be comfortable in the middle of Sunderbans. It featured a clean western toilet(with toilet paper), a shower, beds, a top viewing deck, a kitchen with good cooks, 2 skippers and guides. The boat guys had already stocked the boat with all the supplies, and as soon as we settled down, the boat left the jetty. We had to get our permits for the entry in the Sunderbans tiger reserve. This was all sorted out quickly. On the way we saw several boats loaded with people ferrying them from one side to the other. As we were leaving the villages and entering the jungle, we came across our first wildlife, a Bengal monitor and some mud skippers. The very first encounter with this wilderness was very appealing. We began our search for the ever elusive swamp tigers. We all knew that for seeing a tiger here we will need all our luck. Keeping a lookout for the big cat, we enjoyed everything that came our way. Sunderbans has amazing bird life. We had an amazing sunset that evening and then moved towards Bali island where the boat was to be anchored for the night. The skipper told us that we will be anchoring in the middle of a wide water channel so that we stay away from the mosquitoes. The place where we were anchored was just outside of the tiger reserve and was a busy water way. Whole night we were passed by cargo ships from Bangladesh ferrying fly ash. The next morning we all woke up determined to track the big cat. The kitchen guys had to replenish fresh water and some other supplies, after which we set off again to explore the creeks and channels. It was quite a pleasant morning and birds were very active. We recorded several species which were new for us. Some glimpses of the life on the houseboat: We also got to spend some time watching these amazing creatures called mud skippers. On the very last day after we all had thought that tiger sighting is just not going to happen, we were slowly cruising out of Sunderbans. On one of the bends someone spotted a lesser adjutant stork. With some time in our hand we decided to pull the boat to the bank and get some good shots. As we turned the first word that most of us heard was TIGER!! TIGER!! ..Where ?? Where??? There??? where?? Under the tree?? which tree??? That tree... small one... There it was... A swamp tiger .. sitting and watching us in all its glory... First few secs was all a mess... then some of us managed to frame a few shots before it was lost!! This pic was take by our trip leader for sunderbans - Saumyajit Nandy We had an amazing experience at Sunderbans! We loved it so much that we are already looking forward to visit again as part of the http://www.prayaanindiaoverland.com/61days_camping_tour.html trip in the coming Nov.
TRIP BRIEF This is my first trip report, so please bear with me. The photography, while not spectacular, is slowly improving, although I do need to take more landscape/scenery shots and some on the road pictures too. The ramblings may get out of hand at points in the report! The initial plan was 4 nights in Tarangire at Oliver’s Camp over New Years 2015. We were going to drive from Nairobi and back. As we started planning, we decided we wanted to see more of Tanzania, but our time was limited, so the final self-drive trip looked like this: 1 night Kibo Palace Hotel, Arusha 2 nights Oliver’s Camp, Tarangire 3 nights Dunia Camp, Central Serengeti Although we drove into the camps ourselves, once there we used the camp vehicles and guides on safari. I always prefer this, as the camp guides tend to have great local knowledge of their area and of the wildlife. This usually lends itself to superb and unusual sightings.
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