Wednesday, April 4, 2018

An overview of my Indian adventure with Exceptional Escapes.



 Mr. Eftkhar Khan, the CEO of Exceptional Escapes. 
Our experience with him is that he leads from the front, 
and that is what makes his company EXCEPTIONAL!

This is a snapshot of the recent trip that Carolyn and I undertook to India.
Our itinerary was organised by Mr Aman, the senior travel advisor at Exceptional Escapes.
 It was a joint "project " between him and my wife,
 who does all the research for the Travel & Things international trips.
I have to say at the outset that the company was 
EXCEPTIONAL in every aspect.
Seeing that they are based in Delhi, and our trip started in Mumbai,
 there was a lot of communication, 
both telephonic and via Whatsapp with Mr Aman,
While in India, we were also contacted telephonically
 by Mr Dewanshu, a recent addition to the operations team. 
Each question/request/query that we had was answered promptly
and the company response was almost always 100% positive.
From requests for the same guide in Mumbai, 
to a taxi in Goa to take us shopping,
each was dealt with in an EXCEPTIONAL manner.
This posting is just a brief overview of what we experienced
 at each of the destinations that we visited.
There will be more in-depth postings to follow.

When you arrive in a country where the first language is NOT English,
a concern can be the airport pick up.
Several years ago we were left stranded at the airport in Hanoi when our driver was delayed.
Try and ask to use a phone...stressed before that trip started.
This was NOT the case during our time in India.
We were met at Mumbai airport by Suresh, 
an English speaking representative from Exceptional Escapes 
and a driver whose smile was his "language" of choice.
Driving from the airport to our hotel was a mini city tour in itself,
but being 02h00 local time and after an 11 hour flight from Johannesburg,
we absorbed only a little of what was being pointed out to us.
Even though it was VERY early in the morning we were greeted
 by the friendly staff  at the Fariyas Hotel and whisked off to our room.
The hotel is well situated to enable visitors to walk along the promenade to
 tourist attractions like the Gateway to India.
The food, service and rooms were above and beyond what we were expecting.

This is sort of the Mr D of Mumbai.4
(Mr D is a home delivery service that we have in South Africa)
These bicycles are peddled around the city by vendors who will cut the coconuts
 and serve you one while you wait.

Part of a day tour took us to the local fishing harbour.
It is a little like a combination of Kalk Bay and Hout Bay back in South Africa.
The small fishing vessels were leaving as we arrived, so there were no fish on sale.
We were told that these vessels leave port for between 3 and 15 days, depending on their size.

I do enjoy walking in a new city in the early morning.
Often before the locals are awake.
Here in Mumbai there are 24 million people, and many of those were up with me!
This is the impressive Gateway to India, visited by both tourists and locals alike.

The lord of all he surveys?
Not many cats to be seen, but dogs rule the streets.
Unlike many feral dogs, I found them to be very friendly and they appreciated human contact.
Much like the canine population in Istanbul, they seem to be cared for by the community,
rather than being a pet for a single family.

If you are in Mumbai, you have to pay a visit to the Dharavi Slum.
Home to 1 million people, this has become a city within a city.
This, unlike other slums that are usually on the outskirts of a town or city,
 is situated in the centre of Mumbai
It is the 3rd largest slum in the world, the top two being:
2nd] Orangi Town, Karachi, Pakistan, 1.2m
1st]Neza-Chalco-Itza, Mexico City. Mexico,4m 
Complete with running water, electricity, a postal service and schools,
it is home to a thriving and industrious population.
The inhabitants earn a living through one of the four major industries that operate here.
Plastic recycling, pottery, leather work and textiles.
You come away with a sense of wonderment that so much can be achieved
 in such confined spaces.
The slum gained fame in 2008 when Slumdog Millionaire was filmed there

Although the water was not the cleanest that I have seen, 
it did not seem to stop these local lads from cooling of on a hot afternoon.

Good bye to the organized chaos that was Mumbai,
and hello to Tuli Tiger Corridor, just outside Pench National Park.
It was in this area where Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book, 
and this becomes evident when you see that many of the hotels/guest houses
 have Disney images from the movie or at very least appropriate Jungle Book names.
After a rather eye opening 2 hour drive from Nagpur airport
 (where again our driver awaited us) we arrived at this haven of tranquillity.
Once more the food, service and accommodation were superb.
But more of that in later postings.

There are two gates to enter the Park.
This is our early morning arrival at Khursapar Gate.
During our four days in the area, this is was where 
most all of the tiger sightings were taking place.
It meant that we had to change our game drives, at an extra cost, 
but it turned out to be worth every $ as we saw tigers on all six drives.
We did one drive from the more tourist orientated Turia Gate
and although we did not get to see a tiger, 
we did see a leopard and a jackal!

I had never come across this primate species before.
There are vast troops of these Langur Monkeys in the park.
Although they are not the main prey species of the tigers,
they are usually the first to sound the alarm when a tiger is in the area.

And this is what we had come to see!
Meet Baras, a tigress that we came to know intimately...as we saw her every day.
Despite numerous vehicles with cameras pointed at her, 
she went about her business in a relaxed, almost disdainful manner.
There is no way to accurately describe the emotion when seeing a tiger,
 in the wild, for the first time.

We found this, as yet, unnamed cub during one of our drives.
At about 5 months old, it was the most dominant of the trio in the area.
It was quite happy to be alone in the waterhole with us watching.
We only saw it on one occasion.
Interesting fact: Tigers like water, but they enter in reverse...

We were told that our sighting of this 4-horned Deer was a rare one.
I looks similar to a South African Steenbok, only with an extra set of horns!

One of the local forms of transport.
There are many farms in the area surrounding  the unfenced Pench National Park,
and it is not unheard of for farmers to lose livestock to tiger attacks.
That being said, that is the exception rather than the rule,
 given the fact there are sufficient prey animals within the park to satisfy the food requirements.

The final stop on our Indian adventure.
The superb Lemon Tree Amarante Beach Resort in Goa.
Once again we discovered that the staff will go above and beyond when asked to do so.
We got to know the housekeeping staff intimately on our first night 
when we needed our mattress replaced after a late check-in.
Not a problem...and it was resolved to our satisfaction almost immediately.
They have a restaurant called the Republic of Noodles attached to the hotel,
and we recommend that you have at least one meal there.  

There is a beach just a short walk from the hotel,
and aside from spending time there watching the sun set,
I came across this group of fishermen pulling in their net.

On our final day we spent the afternoon at the Mapusa Bazaar.
This is where you want to be if you are looking to shop with the locals.
Not many tourists to be seen, and unlike many of the African markets I have visited,
the traders do not hound you for business.

The fruit and vegetable Panjim market is a sensory overload.
It did have much of the produce that we can find back home,
but there were some items, like cashew apples, that we had not seen before.
And the mangoes...DELICIOUS!

A regular sight in all the Indian cities.
Cattle are considered sacred and beef is NOT to be found on the menu.
Chicken, lamb and fish, yes...and a LOT of vegetables.
It is considered correct etiquette to acknowledge the cows as you walk past them.
Many of the locals will feed them for good luck.

Just one of several temples and churches that we visited.
They were not the main attraction of our tours, for which I was most grateful.
But it is of interest to see how the different religions exist side by side.
Unlike the churches where I was allowed to take interior images,
here it was prohibited and the security made certain that my lens cap was in place.

An unexpected surprise during our stay in Goa.
A dolphin Safari in the Arabian Sea that actually produced five sightings.
It was not on our original itinerary, 
but was on our route and suggested by our guide.
The Exceptional Escapes Goa manager was most accommodating and helpful.

And before we knew it, our adventure came to an end.
And we were back where we started...
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai.
Goodbye India, we will return.

With our exceptional Mumbai guide, 
Oves Ahmed.
Our itinerary was superbly handled by this travel company.
And more specifically, Mr Aman, their senior travel adviser
I would highly recommend that you contact them,
should you be considering a trip to India.
For more information on what they offer,
visit their website:

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