Monthly Archives: September 2014

Tryst with Relatives

The operatic and mournful Indri songs, akin to a whale’s vocals, punctuated by crackling of twigs under our footsteps, put us into a trance. Our walk through the rain forest was overwhelmed with the smell of bark, moss and leaves. If it were not for the trails, exploring the Mantadia National Park, Andasibe, Madagascar would be difficult. Thank God, it was not monsoon!

We came across a trio of diurnal Woolly lemurs. Like sloths, they were full of energy! Virginie said that they were a couple with their juvenile offspring. These brown unwashed teddies did raise our hopes of spotting an Indri.

#Indri Indri

Indri Indri

Aina, our grumpy guide for the previous evening’s night walk into the National Park, had mysteriously fallen sick. It could be because she did not receive any tip. I was glad, because her knowledge of lemurs and English seemed rudimentary. We had met our new guide, Virginie in the morning. Looking us in the eye, she had flashed her brown teeth. “Manao Hoana”, she had greeted us in Malagasy.

“Indri!”, Virginie exclaimed, pointing towards the canopy of the forest.  Some say that early guides had pointed at the lemurs and shouted, “Indry” or “there it is” and French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat mistook Indri to be the name of the largest lemur. That is how Babakoto was re-christened to Indri.

We looked up trying to peer through the dense foliage.  These divas live on a specialised diet and cannot survive in captivity. So, we tried our best to capture them in our cameras.

#Diademed Sifaka #Vakona Lodge #Madagascar

Diademed Sifaka

As I watched their graceful movements from tree to tree, I thought of the previous afternoon when we had been to Vakona Lodge, Andasibe.

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Cold-Blooded Encounter

#Leaf Gecko #Perinetpark #Madagascar

Leaf-tailed Gecko

The Common House Gecko in my hand looked tame. Its blood shot eyes looked enigmatic. My heart felt a connection with this reptilian. My instinct as a ‘gecko-whisperer’ kicked in, may be this was my calling. I brought the gecko closer to my eyes.

I saw my reflection.

Red eyes stared.

I blinked.

Breaths stopped.

It pounced.

“EEEhhhhhhhh” I screeched like a girl and tried in vain to duck.

My karmic friend had landed on my head.

Karmic connection...

Karmic connection…

My photographer friend, Shannon could not hold his laughter, yet he managed to get a shot of my ordeal. Our local guide, unabashedly, flashed his half-rotten smile and picked up the brute, clearly ignoring my near death experience. Where was the human compassion?

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A Memorable Arrival !

Antananarivo sign at the heart of the city!

Antananarivo sign at the heart of the city!

“Have you got any gift for me?” asked the immigration officer at Antananarivo International Airport Arrivals.

 I smiled uncomfortably, “I am an average traveller … sorry don’t have any gifts”

My Australian photographer friend swiftly handed his business card to the officer. “If you ever come to Dubai contact us”.Unimpressed, he let my friend go and asked me to speak to his colleague seated next to him.

“You are from India, Paisa nathi?” he spoke in Gujarati. (‘Paisa Nathi’ means ‘No money’). “I don’t speak Gujarati and Paisa nathi”, I replied.

 To my surprise, the immigration officials stamped my passport and let me into their country. We collected our baggage from the carousal and headed towards the customs clearance gate.

“My friend, you are from India,” said the customs officer “got any gift for me?”

“I got you my Love from India” I replied with a big smile.

When he realised that I was a true Indian and will not loosen my wallet; he let me go.

Interestingly, my Caucasian friend escaped being harassed. I was confused whether to be impressed that my fellow compatriots have made their mark in this African nation or be shocked by the level of rampant corruption.

No sooner had we stepped out of the exit than the taxi drivers swarmed us. Our eyes were searching for the pre-arranged pick-up. It was 2:00 a.m. and there was no sign of him.

As we exchanged our money at the airport, we realized that we were being watched. A lanky, bearded man, probably in his thirties was standing just a few metres from us. He solicited money from us. “Sorry Monsieur”, so saying, we brushed past him and went up to a taxi at the taxi stand in front of Airport Arrivals.

 “How much to Manoir Rouge Hotel, Ivato? ”

“20,000”

“20,000 Ariary is too much”, (nearly 10 USD). “It’s not even 2 kilometers”

“Sorry Monsieur that’s the rate”

We walked away, ignoring our welcome committee and our bearded friend, to sit in front of the Arrivals gate. A short moustached man approached us.

“Monsieur, where do you want to go?”

“Manoir Rouge Hotel, Ivato… How much?”

 “20,000?”

I started bargaining and we agreed at 5,000 Ariary.

No sooner had I said yes. He grabbed my stroller bag and started running towards the crowded car park in front of the airport arrivals. Afraid that I will lose my bag, I ran behind him and my friend scampered after me.

He stopped next to a car, placed my bag in the boot. There was a man already sitting next to the driver’s seat. All eyes were on us. The word ‘xenophobia’ does not come close to describe my feelings.

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Lost in Bejing- part 2 (City of Angels)

“Is this the road?” I enquired pointing at the map. The security guard looked at me blankly and said “30 yuan, taxi.” I replied, “No yuan, no taxi, is this the road?” A bit confused, he rushed towards the glass building and spoke to a woman. She had just stepped out of the office.

I looked around; the office block, the motorway, and the subway station, nothing looked familiar. I had been walking for an hour on the dusty streets. Undoubtedly, I was on the Airport Express Road.

Earlier in the day, we had driven through the smoggy city  and had taken the rope-way to the Great Wall of China. The little market on the wall, selling Chairman Mao T-shirts and various curios, was a display of Chinese entrepreneurship. Following that was our endless drive to the Forbidden City, which was like an expansive onion with layers of palaces and courtyards.

Our Pick up from the Forbidden City was around 4:00 p.m. By that time we had lost our bearings hence we missed our shuttle.

The walk from the Forbidden City had taken me nearly an hour. Later on, I realized that the nearest subway  was Chaoyangmen

The walk from the Forbidden City had taken me nearly an hour. Later on, I realized that the nearest subway was Chaoyangmen

Stranded in a foreign city is a daunting feeling but then we were a group of eight. Unable to find a taxi, we asked for directions. Each person we probed nodded their head, gesticulated and pointed east – the hotel was not far away. As we walked on Donghuamen street, I spent all my money on a spider. (Read the story here- https://biswadarshan.com/2014/09/01/lost-in-beijing-part-1-spiderman-2/ ) A bit later, I was separated from my colleagues. Continue reading

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Lost in Beijing – part 1 (Spiderman)

IMG_4313           IMG_4311

Walking down Donghuamen road, we came across food stalls selling centipedes, crickets, snakes, frogs, cicadas, silk worms, starfish and many mouth-watering treats. The aromas were a mix of fish and acid(maybe due to smoke coming out of the hot coals or the cars)…it was rather indescribable.Everything looked alien and of course, none of us spoke mandarin.

IMG_4315   

I came across a stall selling black spiders along with other delectable grubs. My eyes lit up. I always wanted to eat a giant spider.

“How much?” I enquired pointing at the black-fat-eight-legged-hairy things.

The vendor with his index finger made some figure on his palm.I was quick to decipher, “20 yuan?” and looked at him for affirmation. He nodded vehemently. I asked for one spider. In went a black spider, into hot oil.

Excited with my snack, I handed over 20 yuan to the vendor. He was displeased and now he pointed a stick at price list at the top of his stall.

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