India with Rothschild Safaris

This item appears on page 35 of the October 2011 issue.

In February ’11, eight people, including our guide, met for dinner at the majestic Taj Mahal hotel in the heart of Delhi. The members of our group had traveled to India from several different states but had one thing in common: we all had taken trips, which had been spectacular, with Rothschild Safaris (Denver, CO; 800/405-9463). Rothschild’s first venture into the wildlife safari experience in India, this trip was a departure from their usual African tour offerings.

Unlike in Africa, where the wildlife is more abundant and varied, in India the search for the royal Bengal tiger is paramount.

After a flight to Jabalpur, we drove to Singinawa Jungle Lodge, near Kanha National Park, where we were met by a gracious staff and escorted to our private bungalows.

Royal Bengal tiger in Kanha National Park. Photo: Heckman

In early afternoon we started our first game drive, splitting into two vehicles and driving through the park for several hours. Our group saw birds, deer, wild boar, etc., but no tigers, though the travelers in the other vehicle saw four. We were envious but knew the search was just beginning.

By the third day, the angst was rising in our vehicle, as we had yet to see a tiger, but when we went to a place where several vehicles were waiting on the road, after about 10 minutes a tigress sauntered across the road behind us. She was beautiful!

Later, we were alone in our vehicle when another tigress appeared, walking directly toward our jeep. She passed about 10 feet in front of us and walked on down the road, with us following at a distance. Suddenly she stopped, crouching to watch some deer grazing ahead, but another vehicle rounded the corner and caused a distraction. We returned to the lodge that evening with a sense of elation.

There also were men riding on elephants looking for tigers. On the fourth morning, they located one. We drove to the site, boarded the elephants via aluminum ladders, went a short way into the jungle and saw a tiger sleeping under a bush.

At the end of our last afternoon drive, we all gathered on a mountain bluff overlooking the park and watched the sunset — the perfect ending to our safari.

The vans delivered us to Nagpur and we flew to Mumbai, where, after the tranquility of the jungle lodge, we were shocked back into the reality of the big city with the millions of people, the traffic and the noise.

On the following day we took a short flight to Udaipur. The highlight of our two nights there was the Taj Lake Palace hotel, a former summer palace, sitting in the middle of a beautiful lake. Dinner by candlelight in the rooftop restaurant was outstanding.

After a couple of stops in Jaipur, we took a five-hour drive through the countryside to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. We visited the Taj Mahal early to see the sunrise but were somewhat disappointed to see fog rising from the river that flows behind the complex.

Nonetheless, the most descriptive words and pictures are hardly adequate to portray the majesty of this place. No matter where you stand in the courtyard or gardens, it is impossible not to look with awe at the beauty of this structure.

A train took us the two hours to Delhi, where we spent the night before continuing to our last stop, Varanasi.

Arriving at the holy Ganges, we joined the throngs of tourists boarding large rowboats heading upstream to the local crematorium. We saw seven cremation fires burning at one time and more bodies being prepared. The evening ended with a ceremony on the riverbank conducted by several Hindu priests.

I believe Rothschild Safaris is unparalleled in their attention to detail. Each traveler received a personalized itinerary prior to departure.

Our guide, Karan Jung, was very knowledgeable about India and was a great facilitator, getting all our bodies and luggage to the right places in a timely manner. He was with us the entire trip, Feb. 10-24, 2011, but in each new area we picked up a local guide with specific knowledge of the sights.

The price, excluding airfare, was $6,435 per person, double, including all transportation, entry fees, most meals and even gratuities. The accommodations all were five star, with food to match. Our expectations were met and, in some cases, even exceeded.

Huntington Beach, CA