Trip Number: 13505B
Staff: Wayne Martin
- Search for big cats and endangered wildlife
- Hike the Western Ghats mountains
- Cruise inland waterways on a houseboat
- Meet with environmental activists
- Most meals and all accommodations
- Ground & water transportation
- Guide services, national park admissions, and gratuities
Photo: Pritpal Singh Kochhar
Please note that the leader has changed from what was originally published. If you
have questions, please
Join us on our journey through south India in search of sloth bears and Bengal
Tigers. Along the way, we'll see elephants, profound religious traditions, ancient
spice ports, maharaja palaces, tea plantations, and forbidding forests and mountains
chock full of critters of every conceivable ilk. While our whirlwind journey
focuses on wildlife, we will also immerse ourselves in the history, beliefs,
customs, values, and lifestyles of those who inhabit this ancient land.
The India of the south is noticeably different from the north. In the south,
life is more laid-back, nurtured by balmy tropical weather and lush vegetation.
This is where Hindus have sought unity with God through reincarnations, where
Christians and Muslims have peacefully pursued their eternal reward through
good works, and where Buddhists continue to wrestle with the problem of suffering
and the meaning of existence.
This trip is suitable for any adult who enjoys nature, adventure, and cultural
exploration. All the sites on our itinerary are well-removed from areas and
provinces where unrest and political instability very occasionally occur. Most
of our ground transportation is by private bus. Lodging is in stylish hotels,
jungle lodges, a comfortable tented camp, a houseboat, and a maharaja hunting
camp. A major objective of this trip is to experience India's incredible natural
history, much of which is endangered. We will also alternately explore India's
rich culture, and political, environmental and religious issues. Finally, we
will hopefully have an opportunity to observe tigers in their natural state
and to understand the tiger's role as "top banana" in the Indian subcontinent's
Day 1: All participants should arrive in Bangalore today (or
earlier). Opportunities for touring Bangalore, sometimes referred to as the
"heart of modern India," can be arranged for early arrival participants.
A welcome dinner is scheduled for the early evening. Overnight: Bangalore hotel.
Photo: Pritpal Singh Kochhar
Day 2: Early in the morning, we travel either by train or
bus to Mysore, arriving in the early afternoon. Once the seat of the Maharaja
of Mysore, the city has an interesting cultural and architectural history, which
can be explored after we check into our hotel. Mysore is famous for its silk,
sandalwood, incense, and pleasant climate. Our time here should be a restful
prelude to the pending excitement of the next day's first tiger safari! Overnight:
Days 3-5: Arriving at the Kabini Jungle Lodge, an 18th-century
hunting camp originally built for the Maharajas of Mysore, we will get our first
taste of Nagarhole National Park (a/k/a Rajiv Gandhi National Park.) Encompassing
an area of nearly 2,000 square miles, the park and several adjoining protected
sanctuaries are the former hunting preserve of the Maharajas. In spite of being
on the edge of the Western Ghats, the terrain is fairly gentle with most of
the park on a plateau at about 2,200 feet above sea level. Nagarhole National
Park gives us the chance to experience what all of India was once like -- seemingly
endless forests, waterways, and grasslands teeming with all manner of wildlife!
Highest on our list of "sought-afters," of course, is the majestic
Bengal Tiger. Both tigers and leopards thrive here; however, neither are easy
to find given their nocturnal nature and the general avoidance of their only
enemy -- man! Nonetheless, our chances of seeing a big cat here is better than
50%. With the aid of open-backed jeeps we will traverse the park in the early
mornings and late afternoons in search of any and all wildlife possibilities.
Overnight: Kabini Jungle Lodge.
Day 6: After a final look-around, we depart Nagarhole and
the State of Karnataka to climb the seemingly vertical face of the Nilgiri Hills
into the heart of the Western Ghats mountains. Our destination is the sprawling
hill station town of Ooty. Located at 7,250 feet above sea level, Ooty (also
known as Ootocamund or Udagamandalam) is a tea plantation community in the State
of Tamil Nadu. Here we will hike into patchworks of evergreen forest interspersed
with rhododendrons and magnolias (called "sholas"). Birding and/or
hiking are specialty activities of this area! There are a number of endemic
bird species here difficult to find anywhere else, e.g., the absolutely beautiful
Black-and-Orange Flycatcher, the Nilgiri Laughingthrush, and the White-Bellied
Shortwing. Overnight: Ooty hotel.
Photo: Pritpal Singh Kochhar
Day 7: Today we will board the famous and incredibly scenic
"Blue Mountain" train to take in spectacular mountain scenery. All
told, there are 13 tunnels, 19 bridges, and wild elephants along the railroad
right of way. The Blue Mountain Railway has a special pinion rack system with
the locomotive pushing rather than pulling the carriages. In the afternoon an
optional forest hike with an environmental activist will be arranged. In the
evening over dinner, we will hear about the threats to the biological integrity
of the Western Ghats. Overnight: Ooty hotel.
Days 8-9: On the morning of day 8, our bus will deliver us
to Parambikulam National Park in the State of Kerala, where we overnight in
a very comfortable tent camp with walk-in tents, beds, and hot water. Through
a combination of walking safaris (!) and jeeps, we will again search for elusive
tigers and leopards, wild dogs, sloth bears, pangolins, and various other species.
Thickly forested with stands of bamboo, sandalwood, rosewood, and teak, Parambikulam
is an arborist's and botanist's delight! Overnight: Tented camp.
Day 10: After breakfast we will drive to Madurai, site of
the famous Meenakshi temple. We will arrive by lunchtime, check into our hotel,
and after a short rest, visit the temple. The enormous temple is dedicated to
Shiva (of the Hindu trinity) and his consort Parvati, known locally as Sundareshvara
and Meenakshi. It was built several centuries ago, but brought to its current
splendor in about the 17th century. Time permitting we will watch an evening
service with its amazing rituals. Overnight in Madurai hotel.
Day 11: We will leave Madurai after breakfast and proceed
to Munnar, stopping at local markets for a flavor of the village life in South
India. After a simple lunch we will proceed to a birding area called Bodimedu
where we hope to see, among others, the yellow spotted bulbul. We will transfer
from the coach to jeeps to penetrate the forest. Then we will drive to Munnar
for a restful evening. Overnight in Munnar hotel.
Day 12: Munnar is a breathtakingly beautiful place of spice
plantations, pristine valleys, and mountain forests. Hiking, conservation discussion,
and exploration of flora and fauna are the activity of the day. We will visit
the Eravikulam National Park to see the endemic Nilgiri Tahr -- a mountain goat
found nowhere else in the planet. Time permitting we will visit a tea estate
for a firsthand experience in tea production. Overnight in Munnar hotel.
Photo: Pritpal Singh Kochhar
Days 13-14: Another long drive through the interesting countryside
will bring us to the Periyar National Park. Periyar is one of the most popular
of India's wildlife sanctuaries. The forest is dense and lush, teeming with
all varieties of wildlife including a healthy population of tigers. (They are,
however, hard to see given the tiger's natural camouflage and rainforest-like
vegetation.) We will stay at a former maharaja's hunting lodge located on a
lake well in the park, which we will have all to ourselves with our own cook.
Access to the lodge is only by boat or an approximately one-mile forest walk.
Elephants, antelopes, deer, monkeys, and rare and beautiful birds (e.g., hornbills,
trogons, and raptors of all ilk) should make this an exciting natural history
adventure! Our naturalist guides are from neighboring hill tribe villages. Overnight:
Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary.
Day 15: Traveling toward the coast and arriving at Kottayam,
we'll board private houseboats for a day-long and overnight cruise through a
series of idyllic waterways nestled between the hills of Cochin and the sea.
The waterways are tranquil and the way of life completely unique for the boat
builders, fishermen, and rice farmers populating this area. Each houseboat carries
four to six passengers and a crew of two to three staff who will attend to all
our needs and comforts. At night, bewitched by palm trees, balmy breezes and
superb southern Indian food, we should be able to look up at a spectacular,
star-studded sky. Overnight: Houseboat.
Day 16: After arriving in Cochin (also known as Kochi), we'll
have the majority of the day to explore the city's fascinating old quarter and
the colorful outdoor fish market. Walks along the narrow passages of Fort Cochin
and Mattancherry should reveal Cochin's European heritage, as well as the still-present
allure of the spice trade. One of the country's major port cities, Cochin hosts
numerous busy ferries, large ships and gamboling dolphins following in their
wake. Overnight: Cochin hotel.
Day 17: After one last stroll through the historic district,
participants are free to fly home anytime this afternoon from Cochin.
Photo: Pritpal Singh Kochhar
You should plan to arrive in Bangalore, India, no later than the evening of
February 2. Your flight home will be from Cochin (Kochi) through a major hub
such as Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), Bangalore, or New Delhi. The trip
leaders can assist with scheduling internal India flights between major hub
cities (e.g., Mumbai) and Bangalore or Cochin.
A visa for entry to India will need to be obtained in advance in the USA prior
to flying to India. Once you have registered for this trip, the trip leader
will assist you in obtaining the necessary visa.
Accommodations and Food
Our hotels will be of 3-star and 4-star quality; the eco-lodges and tent camps
will be comfortable but not luxurious, allowing us access to the natural settings
that we could not otherwise explore. All of our accommodations on this outing
have beds, private bathrooms, running hot water, and showers. We will be eating
typical south Indian cuisine -- in most cases with hot spice adjustments for
those of us having delicate palates! Vegans and vegetarians fare well in India
where there are probably more vegetarians than anywhere else on the planet.
All meals are included with the exception of one lunch in Periyar National Park
and one lunch and one dinner in Cochin. As participants will have free time
to engage in optional itinerary activities at these times, they are free to
eat in restaurants of their choice at their own expense for these meals.
Photo: Pritpal Singh Kochhar
Potential trip members should be aware of the nature and demands of adventure
travel. You do not have to be in excellent physical condition to make this trip;
however, there will be bumpy jeep drives on rough terrain as well as occasional
long bus rides. Except for Parambikulam National Park where we will be accompanied
by a ranger, our opportunities for walking will be restricted when we are in
tiger habitat. Remember -- the tiger is at the top of the food chain in his
territory! Otherwise, we will be on foot for a fair amount of time each day.
We are likely to have some 90-degree Fahrenheit temperatures -- especially when
we are in non-forested areas. Emotional balance, flexibility, maturity, and
a spirit of adventure are essential to making this an enjoyable experience.
There might be some itinerary variations depending upon road conditions and
Equipment and Clothing
A water purifier or filter, in conjunction with a Nalgene-type water bottle,
is recommended for every one to two participants on this trip. We do not want
to contribute to the problem of landfills teeming with plastic bottles! Good
hiking shoes or boots, a day-pack for hikes and bus rides, and head-lamps are
also required. A complete packing list will be sent out to all registered participants
well in advance of the start date of the outing.
- Das, Gurcharan, India Unbound. The history of India’s
rise to being an economic superpower with the accompanying socioeconomic implications.
- Grimmett, Richard, Carol Inskipp, and Tim Inskipp, Birds of India.
The best field guide on India -- for serious birders only!
- Gurung, KK, and Raj Singh. Field Guide to the Mammals of the Indian
Subcontinent. The best field guide to the mammals of India.
- Hockings, Paul (Ed.), Blue Mountains Revisited: Cultural Studies
on the Nilgiri Hills. A study of the languages, tribal customs, beliefs,
and anthropology of the hill tribes of the Western Ghats.
- Plunkett, Richard, Teresa Cannon, Peter Davis, Paul Greenway, and
Paul Harding, South India Lonely Planet Guide.
- Roy, Arundhati, The God of Small Things. Award-winning novel
about life and social class in areas of Kerala we will be visiting!
- Smith, Huston, The World’s Religions. A primer providing
the basic tenets of Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism.
- Thapar, Valmik, Land of the Tiger. A pictorial and narrative
account of the natural history of the India.
- Watts, Alan, The Philosophies of Asia. Spiritual and philosophical
analyses of the differences between Eastern and Western thought.
Photo: Pritpal Singh Kochhar
The last century has not been good for India's natural heritage. The sheer
size of India's ever-increasing population -- currently the staggering sum of
one billion people -- has led to increasingly destructive environmental practices.
India has lost almost 90% of its forest and 96% of its tigers since 1900. According
to recent estimates, there may be only 1,500 critically endangered Bengal tigers
left in the wild. A century ago, India had more than 40,000 of them.
South India's three major eastward-flowing rivers -- the Godavari, Krishna,
and Kaveri -- originate in the Western Ghats. These rivers provide drinking
water, irrigation, and power to people in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka,
Kerala, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu. Conservation International recently declared
the Western Ghats a "Biodiversity Hotspot" -- a region that harbors
a great variety of endemic species that, at the same time, has been significantly
damaged and altered by human activities. The United Nations Environmental Program
weighed in, too, declaring closed-forest preservation "critical" to
The Sierra Club has also responded to the growing crisis. In 2000, the Club
began working with Indian environmentalists to preserve the rich biodiversity
of the Western Ghats. Drawing on more than a century of experience -- in particular
the lessons learned campaigning for the protection of the Sierra Nevada mountains
-- the Sierra Club is working with Indian environmental groups to develop effective
conservation strategies for this threatened region. We will discuss and explore
these strategies with some local activists during the Western Ghats portion
of our itinerary. Also, a small portion of each participant's trip fee has been
designated as a contribution to these conservation efforts.
On this outing, we will see first-hand how overpopulation and poverty affect
not just humans but the entire natural world. Perhaps nowhere else on the planet
are man's impacts on the planet so readily visible -- from scant protections
for water and air to deforestation, poaching, and overhunting. In India, as
in most of the world, conservation can only work if culture, socioeconomic realities,
and the human psyche are taken into account. There is much fertile ground for
discussion and many conservation conundrums to be addressed when one immerses
oneself in the frothy, aromatic cauldron of one of the most fascinating and
complex countries of the world -- India!
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Wayne Martin began his adventures with the Sierra Club more than two decades ago, when he went snow camping in the Sierra Nevada with the Bay Area chapter. Two years later, in 1984, he led his first national Sierra Club trip. Since then he has led more than 50 trips and served as chair of the club's International Outings Subcommittee.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips