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Northern India Trip Report - Jan-Feb 2010

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Old Sunday 30th May 2010, 16:48   #1
Gavia
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Post Northern India Trip Report - Jan-Feb 2010

Northern India Trip Report
25 January - 17 February 2010

by Blake Maybank
for the Maritimes Nature Travel Club


Introduction


Our little nature travel club is extending its reach, this time to India. As there is little shortage of Indian birding trip reports we'll not go into too much detail here, but will mention highlights and other information that might be useful to readers. I had been to northern India once earlier, in 1989, on a trip with Kingbird Tours. That trip was focussed solely on Birds, Birds, Birds, but I drew from my experience to help plan this trip.

For this trip, as is our practice, we utilised the expertise of local operators and guides. This not only usually results in lower trip costs (not paying for a non-resident leader(s) to accompany the group) but is also, we believe, a more responsible approach to eco-tourism, providing business to in-country enterprises.

We did our research and, with Bo Bolean's (The Fat Birder) hearty endorsement, we contacted Asian Adventures. We wished to design a trip that included a 50/50 mix of history and nature in northern India, and with the careful advice of Mohit Aggarwal, one of the two co-owners, he and I created a 23-day itinerary that seemed to capture that balance.

And we were not disappointed. It was a spectacular trip.

It was, however, marred by an unforseeable accident near the end of the trip, one that seriously injured one of our group. Any eco-tourism company's reputation is built upon not just how well they plan and implement a tour, but especially by how they react and respond to the unexpected. And Asian Adventures handled our crisis with commendable speed, efficiency, courtesy, and concern.

The accident occurred in Corbett National Park, at the Dhikala Forest Lodge. We were embarking via elephant on a tiger safari, and one of the elephants (domestic, female, and typically calm and placid) decided to charge a neighbouring elephant. Four of our group were thrown to the ground, along with the mahoot. The mahoot and one of our group were badly injured, requiring medical evacuation. (An aside -- this accident was unprecedented, and news of it spread like wildfire. Upon our arrival at the local clinic we were beseiged by dozens of local paparazzi, all anxious to get the "scoop" on this unique accident. We made the front page of various Hindi daily papers the next morning, as well as the national Hindi TV news.)

On the plus side -- Asian Adventures. Once we were able to contact them (an adventure in itself, as there was poor cell reception in the park) they organised the following: an ambulance from Delhi to meet with the local ambulance; alternative accommodation for our group for that night (no-one wished to remain near the scene of the traumatic accident); a consultation with a local doctor; a private room for our injured participant in a good hospital in Delhi; a hotel room for me nearby the hospital; a bilingual staff member to be at our injured party's bedside 24 hours a day (to facilitate communications with hospital staff, and to communicate with me); transportation for me so that I could commute back and forth between the hotel and hospital as the situation warranted; obtaining whatever supplies we required; providing me with a cell phone so that I could communicate with our group and with family members; and assisting in the convoluted bureaucratic processes required to facilitate the air transfer of our group member back home to Europe. And so much more. . . My heartfelt thanks to Mohit and all his staff.

On the negative side -- the Director of Corbett National Park. He hid in his office for over an hour after the accident (though the office was only 200 metres distant), and only emerged once I threatened to go inside. His first words to me were to remind me that the park is not responsible for any accidents that occur within its boundaries. He refused to permit a helicopter evac (we were concerned regarding the possibility of spinal injury, and the roads are bad), and cited the inflexible regulalations in the Park's Constitution regarding helicopter use. He did not offer the use of his cell phone, though his office was the only place in the area with a good signal. He did not talk with any members of our group, most of whom were in some degree of shock. He did not offer the use of the park's first-aid kit (we had our own, but still. . .) He provided no guidance to his staff who, in the absence of his direction, stood around doing nothing (with the exception of various contracted park guides, who were quite helpful, taking us to the only site where cell phone coverage was possible, and also offering us the use of their cell phones). He completely ignored the injured mahoot. He retreated, with a fellow park director, to a nearby salon for tea and bisquits, so they could determine how best to minimise the impact of this accident on their respective reputations, especially in light of the conference they were going to host the following day, on Tiger Conservation.

The Director's name is R.K. Mishra, and he has no park nor conservaton expertise, but is, instead, the beneficiary of a political patronage appointment. I fear for the future of the park and its tigers with such an incompetant person in charge. It should come as no surprise that everyone in the area who is passionate about, profits from, or works for, Corbett National Park, detests Mr. Mishra.

End of sermon, and on to the trip report.

Part One (of three parts) is available for viewing here

Note: Our complete pre-trip and post-trip bird checklists are available for download here. The guest password is:

tigermahal


The remaining two parts of the trip report are in preparation.

I have attached a few photos to intice you into the full report.

Good birding, and safe travels,

Blake Maybank
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