Safari on a budget: Tracking tigers and rhinos in southern Nepal

Nepal tigers

The tigers lurked just out of sight. As we ambled through the dense Nepalese brush atop a lumbering elephant, we steadied our gaze for the minutiae of the jungle. We inspected the crevices of our visibility, focusing near and far, eager to catch glimpses of wild creatures doing wild things. Shifting left and right with each elephantine step, we clutched our splintery wooden seats perched precariously on the back of the world’s largest land mammal, looking for the world’s most elusive – the Royal Bengal Tiger.

We caught muddy rhinos bathing in shadowy watering holes. Peacocks strutted out and disappeared in a flash of color to the other side of our path. Monkeys swung above our heads. A Samba deer stopped to stare at us just feet from our shifting perch, skittishly retreating when our elephant grabbed a bundle of branches and effortlessly snapped them to the ground with his powerful trunk to clear our path. The tigers were illusory, hidden from our sight. Our mahout cackled, “It is okay if you no see tiger. But just remember tiger sees you.”

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And indeed, one of the jungle’s most dangerous man-eaters probably peered out at us on that steamy afternoon. Either from deep in the elephant grass or from a dense undergrowth near the gray wrinkled foot of our beastly carriage, a tiger probably tracked us for a few minutes, sizing up the possibility of a hunt. It is said that a tiger is a thousand times more likely to see you than you to see him. This terrifying statistic is never far from the minds of the Nepalese that live and work in these tiger hunting grounds.


Nepal tigers

The Chitwan jungle of Nepal is one of the world’s largest havens for tigers, and the locals truly fear the man-eating feline. And for good reason, almost ten people are killed annually. Ten years ago, a single Bengal Tiger went on a rampage, killing six in just a weeks time. Also, in an unlikely tale seemed plucked from the annals of fiction, a single tiger called the Champawat Tigress killed 436 Nepalese and Indians in the early 20th century. The beast was eventually tracked and killed by big game hunter Jim Corbett. Appropriately, a divergences of opinions form over the predatory creature. To the excited traveler, a glimpse of the endangered feline is a paramount safari experience. The locals, justifiably, feel differently about it.

When we met our local guide, we asked the question, “Will we see tigers today?”

His buzzkill response — “hopefully no.”

What is Chitwan?
While most travelers’ conception of Nepal involves treacherous snow-capped peaks and friendly Sherpas, Nepal’s southern region provides a range of low altitude outdoor activities such as cycling, rafting, and embarking on safari. At the heart of the southern Nepal experience is Chitwan National Park – the original Nepalese national park and home to a wide range of birds, mammals, and reptiles.

The term Chitwan means “heart of the forest,” and the Chitwan National Park lives up to this billing. Established as a world heritage site in 1984, the jungles of Chitwan are straight out of Kipling’s Jungle Book – stocked with tigers, monkeys, sloth bears, leopards, and lots of rhinos. The park originally served as a gaming reserve for Nepal’s feudal elite. The ruling class would camp out in the reserve during the winter months, sniping the bounty of the forest. As sensibilities shifted in the 20th century, the park was re-purposed as a nature preserve.

Nepal tigers

Safari Options and Experiences
While the tiger is in the back of everyone’s mind in Chitwan, the elephant is front and center in many activities. On safari, it is possible to climb onto the back of a pachyderm, providing better nature viewing opportunities from the vantage point atop the towering giant. Searching for tigers and other wildlife on elephant is perfect for a number of reasons: the other animals do not feel threatened by the elephant’s presence, the height allows views over the tall grass of the Chitwan plains, and the elephant can make its own path by breaking branches and powerfully forging ahead through dense jungle. Also, riding elephants — very cool.

Elephant safaris cost around $17 per person, and the Chitwan park permit costs about $5 per day. Afterward, pay just $6 for the opportunity to hand-wash a hard working elephant with scrubbing stones in the cool river outside of Sapana lodge. It is an unbelievably resonant experience that costs about the same as a morning matinee in the states.

Nepal tigersFor brave jungle travelers, a nature walk is an exciting way to spend a day. A local guide provides direction, information about plants and animals, as well as “defense.” The “defense” is a very meager stick that will cease to inspire any legitimate feelings of safety. The possibility of being charged at by rhinos or trampled by wild bull elephants will not be quieted by the guide’s stick, but plenty of trees provide an ample measure of safety in retreat, provided you can climb well. During our stay, a young American couple angered a male rhinoceros and he charged at them, forcing them to climb a nearby tree and stay put until he tired of the endeavor. A nature walk costs around $23 for a full day of trekking. Expect to see a few rhinos, wild elephants, gharials, crocodiles, monkeys, and birds – lots of birds.

For around $14, travelers can also take a dugout canoe down the Rapti River, observing wildlife such as marsh muggers and kingfishers along the banks en route to the Sauraha elephant breeding center. The elephant breeding center is filled with elephants of all ages, and if you are lucky, maybe a baby elephant will be present. The elephants are all owned by the government of Nepal.

Several other awesome activities exist, check here for details and pricing.

Lodging
While African safaris easily scale into the five digit range, a safari in Nepal can be done with budgetary finesse. Lodging can be found for just $25 – $40 per night at mindful and relaxing resorts such as Sapana Lodge. Local park fees are just $5 per day. Meals should never cost more than a few dollars. Sapana Lodge is a great choice in Chitwan because it is affordable, and they assist the local Tharu community with micro-finance initiatives and employment. Sapana encourages their guests to explore the cultural aspect of Chitwan by visiting villages and interacting with the indigenous Tharu settlers of southern Nepal. Living in these wetlands for a very long time, the Tharu have built up a scientifically baffling resistance to malaria.

There are several lodges within the Chitwan National Park boundaries as well, such as Chitwan Jungle Lodge.

Tigers and company
Chitwan is home to a number of large mammals, including tigers, clouded leopards, binturongs, elephants, rhinos, and even honey badgers. When visiting the park, it is all but guaranteed that travelers will witness wild rhinos and other animals, but tigers are tough to track down. With that said, tiger sightings occur often enough, and the odds of viewing one are better than in other tiger hot spots such as Laos or Sumatra. The best time to search for tigers is in the Spring months when the elephant grass has been cut short by villagers.

Unfortunately, during my summer expedition, no tigers were seen over a three day period. The day before my arrival, a Singaporean couple were creeping through the jungle in the early morning light on the back of an elephant. As the elephant crashed through an especially dense thicket, a tiger slowly stalked across their path. I returned to this story for hope throughout my stay, and now its gravity tugs me towards the subcontinent to track tigers again.


nepal tigers

How to get there
Chitwan National Park is located just four hours south from Kathmandu in the Terai region. From Kathmandu, it is a thrilling ride, as all commutes in Nepal tend to be, and provides stunning vistas around nearly every bend in the road. Reaching Chitwan by tourist bus from Nepal’s capital costs around $6, and an A/C private car will cost at minimum $80.

To reach Nepal, one must first land in the capital city of Kathmandu. Flying to Kathmandu is cheap from locations such as Dubai and New Delhi on Fly Dubai and Air India respectively. Also, flights from Bangkok exist on Thai Airways, though they are not as budget conscious.

All photography by Justin Delaney

Is Dhani Jones the most interesting man in the world?

dhani jones

We have all seen the commercial. “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis.” He’s called the most interesting man in the world. But, beyond the LCD panels in your television, and the din of late night TV, the man is just an actor in an especially resonant role, in a very successful advertising series, mythologized with strange deeds and characteristics. His blood smells of cologne, and he despises gyms. After all, running in place will never get you the same results as running from a lion.

It is all hilarious nonsense.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Dhani Jones may just be the most interesting man in the world. Like the Dos Equis demigod, Dhani spends much of his time defying conventions and curating his own personal mythology. He has conducted orchestras, played a decade at middle linebacker in the NFL, scrimmaged with baby elephants, swam with sharks in Australia, flown a Cessna through a thunderstorm, and even carried a suffering man on his shoulder through the Himalayas to safety at a mountain camp.

He has also played a washboard bass on a corner in New York city for tips, and was once arrested for literally dancing too much in the streets of Miami. For Dhani, life is a journey, an extremely interesting one.Dhani Jones also travels, a lot. Bring up the topic and he leans in a little closer, his eyes light up, and he spouts off philosophies culled from the epic lore of a vagabond sportsman. His eccentric convictions peel back the stereotypical jock persona, revealing that ballers can do more than make plays and cash. They also start philanthropic bow tie companies, write books about life, and travel.

Gadling Labs sat down with Dhani at ‘inoteca in New York to discuss his life, his travels, his partnership with Bing Travel, and his new book The Sportsman.

You recently partnered with Bing Travel. What was your reasoning behind this partnership? In what facets of this service do you truly believe?

There are too many decisions in life. Sometimes, someone has to be the decision maker for you. I wear all black because I don’t want to have to go into the closet and make decisions. At restaurants, 9 times out of 10, I will have the server or someone else at the table choose for me. It’s so much easier. At the same time, you are experiencing the perspective of someone else.

That is why I partnered with Bing: they make decisions for you. So many people think that it is difficult to travel because they can’t find a flight within their budget, or can’t find a hotel room in their budget, or they just can’t figure out where to go. Some people are not to the point of being adventurous enough on their own, so they need helpful coercion. Bing makes it easier to travel with advice and discounts as it pertains to travel. It helps you surf the world.

It also takes the thinking out of the situation. Tools like the Price Predictor pulls historical data with statistical modeling to assist in telling you the right time to buy a flight.

Speaking of flights, have you ever had an especially terrifying one?

I don’t get scared during flights. When there is turbulence, I get kind of happy. I like to look around and think, why do these people not have confidence in the pilots? They have family, friends, and they are in control.

I fly planes, and the worst flight I have ever had was one where I was the pilot. I was in Pennsylvania in a 4-seater Cessna 182, and we were flying, and I was checking out property in Pennsylvania. I was taking one of my practice flights, and all of a sudden I see this storm, but we just keep circling properties. The clouds started getting real dark, and my copilot decided it was time to head back. All of a sudden, we pull this turn, and I see him reach over and tighten his belt down. I ‘m like, oh hell no. The storm was on us. We started dropping 50 feet down and back up, sideways. We finally landed and golf ball sized hail started coming down. If that had happened in the sky, that would have been it. That was my worst flight, and I was at the sticks.

You have been all over the world, what were some of the most racially uncool places you have visited?

Australia. I always knew there was some dissension between the Aborigines and the Australians, but when I arrive in a country I wipe the slate clean. There was an incident where people acted like I didn’t know what sand and water were. People say these things to me, and if I respond negatively, it upholds the negative image. But if I respond in a positive way, then I can change people’s minds. Australia and Switzerland were both a little bit difficult. Everywhere else is pretty cool.

I quickly dismiss the sadness and ignorance of it all and leave it to the past.

Some of these experiences are why I travel. There is ignorance on both sides. In Switzerland, I didn’t feel like they liked me. In Cambodia, they thought I was Barack Obama. Different places have their own ways of things and it’s our responsibility as travelers to make our own introductions. I am like a diplomat of travel.

My favorite travel quote is “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.” As someone who majored in “self-representation” at Michigan, what do you value more, your academic education, or what you have learned from traveling?

Michigan allowed me to understand the world from a diverse perspective, enhancing and encouraging my appetite for travel. I could never say one more than the other. I go to places like Thailand and China and always meet people from Michigan. Michigan is an international school, and they really encourage you to travel the world. You know what I mean. My parents introduced me to travel, Michigan shaped me, the Travel Channel and Bing allowed me the opportunity to really travel.

Aside from the clothes on your back, what are five things you always travel with?

1. a pen and a pad
2. a camera – Canon g11 or 5D, depending on the length of the trip
3. a bowtie – very versatile (Dhani runs a philanthropic bow tie cause)
4. bathing suit – always have to be ready to swim
5. mobile device/phone – for the apps (like Bing travel app) and pictures of family

In your book you mention an especially uncomfortable scene in a locker room in Switzerland. What are some of your other uncomfortable travel experiences?

With every country you travel to, the first day is always a little uncomfortable. You are adapting to speech, trying to get bearings, trying to figure out who to meet up with, and everything falls into place once you start walking. Walking is the key. And opening up to people.

In Russia, we (the film crew for Dhani Tackles the Globe) got caught in passport control for about 7 hours. We went from Cambodia to China to Russia, and after paying a baggage fee in China, Russia also tried to charge us some exorbitant baggage fee. Just stuck in customs, they didn’t want to let us in. It was like that Tom Hanks movie, The Terminal.

Do you ever miss home, or family?

When I’m gone, I’m gone. When I am overseas I am full on into it. I am the country. When I am in Croatia, I am Croatian. When I’m in South Africa, I am South African. When I’m in Brazil, I am Brazilian. I even change around my accent to talk like the locals, eat the food. I ask people how they talk to different types of people: parents, girls, friends. How do they go out, and how do they meet girls. How do they order food. I try to change everything, and just try to find my way through.

I am not thinking of home. I live here now. My hotel is home.


dhani jones

With an excellent career in the NFL, doing the show was very risky. One mix up and your NFL career could be compromised, costing you millions of dollars. And yet here you were competing in some of the most dangerous sports in the world. Did any of it make you extremely nervous?

When we got green-lit for the show, and they told me the first sport I would play was going to be rugby, I thought to myself, shit. I didn’t have a contract. I was in the middle of re-negotiations. I have the opportunity to travel, but I have to play rugby. And I was going to play rugby against professionals. What do I do?

There is no way I am going to back down. I am going to play rugby and I’m going to be all right. Something has to go well. Right?

Then, I get on this horse (in England, during the rugby episode).

I love horseback riding, and when I had to jump, I thought to myself, I don’t know what’s going to happen now. If anything, it’s going to be a telltale sign of why I should be doing what I’m doing.

Falling down off of the horse, I am thinking, I hope I survive this because I really want to keep doing this show.

And I land. I get stepped on by the horse. I look up. Take a moment. I’m okay. From that moment on, I knew that I was supposed to do the show.

Also, in Spain, getting hit in the face with a surfboard – not a fiber glass surfboard, but a Styrofoam one. If I got hit with a real surfboard, my whole jaw would have been broken.

Those situations gave me an indication that I was supposed to do the show. Also the last three years in football, I have played in every game and made every practice. Rather than hurting me, it has allowed me to keep my body fresh. When football started each season, I was not in a lulled state, I was in an excited state. A lot of people are always doing the same thing all the time. As you travel and play different sports and meet different people, your life becomes more fulfilling and fresh, because you never know what’s around the next corner. When you know what’s around the next corner, and you know what you are coming to do each day, there is a complacency factor. I hate to become complacent.

The equation is, do what your passionate about, find a way to incorporate what your passionate about into what you do every day, and you will be alright.

I wrote the Sportsman to allow others a little more insight into why I travel with so much on the line. I don’t have millions of dollars on the line; that is not my thought process. What I do have on the line is, if I am not out there doing it, who is?

Which sport was the most challenging on a technical level during your experiences filming Dhani Tackles the Globe? Also, what sports could you play professionally other than football?

Jai alai is the most difficult. The ball is this big (3/4 baseball size), it goes 200mph, and you have to catch it in a curved basket. If you blink, the ball has passed. If you blink twice, the ball has passed and hit you in the back. If that ball hits you in the back of the head, you are dead.

Other than football, the top three sports I would play professionally are sailing, cricket, and rugby, in that order.

Martin Johnson is the coach of the English rugby team. He would definitely give me a tryout. I would like to play cricket. Sailing is great because you make money, travel, and see the world with someone helping you out.

But, my life is from the middle linebacker position. Playing middle linebacker is equated to seeing the world. From my perspective of travel, you have to have a wide vision. Strong side or weak side has one responsibility. At the mike (middle), you are looking everywhere, seeing the entire field. Looking at multiple different places, interacting with multiple groups of people, it is just like travel. You can’t have a narrow mind and just focus on one thing or one responsibility. My life is from the middle linebacker position.

Now that Dhani Tackles the Globe is cancelled, do you have any television aspirations other than playing on Sunday?

I would love to do another travel show. If I could travel for the rest of my life and tell everybody how amazing it is, I would do that for the rest of my life.

Go on some crazy adventures like travel around the world in a sailboat. Sail the Amazon, or the Nile, or go horseback riding from Montana to Mexico, or drive down to Tierra del Fuego.

Another thing is a talk show. I would love to have a talk show where we give athletes a platform to discuss what they care about and what they are doing. Social media has afforded us the opportunity, and people want to know more about these guys than just the sport side. I think there is a definite spot.

I have dedicated my life to travel so that other people can have the opportunity to understand what it is to travel, where to go, and how to get there. And to just learn, that ultimately is the best type of education to ever be afforded.

After football, you mentioned maybe being a pediatric neurosurgeon in your book. What do you have planned?

I will be the first black James Bond. I am well on my way. I scuba dive. I have a Morgan Aero super sport. Next? I have a 63 mini cooper. I have all British cars. I can fight. I shoot guns and am a sharpshooter. Next? I wear a tuxedo rather well, and I rock the bow tie even better. What’s next?

So basically, a lot of the things you have done have built your resume up to be the next James Bond.

I am dead serious about being the first black James Bond. Once Daniel Craig is done, I want next. I know I can’t be 230 lbs, but I can get down to 215. I’m ready to go. I think the world is ready.

So, is Dhani Jones the most interesting man in the world? Maybe or maybe not. But at age 33, he is well on his way. Check out his blog over at Bing Travel. His book, The Sportsman, was released last month.

photography by Justin Delaney

Montreal sewer geyser tears apart car

With a little bit of luck, I have lived my life hitherto in a relative bubble of innocence. Before today, I knew not the existence of sewer geysers. This terrifying video shot by a youtube user captures the intense eruption of a sewer geyser in Montreal, Canada. The force of the geyser blows open a manhole cover, lifts a car off the ground, and severely damages the vehicle. As the underground waste spills out into the road, the cameraman remains steady. He films as the eruption reaches disgusting new heights towards the video’s end.

A miniature city from up on high


From high above the city, jusojin captured this time-lapse AND tilt-shift video that miniaturizes the bustling city of Osaka, Japan. Trivializing every aspect of the Osaka hustle provides a toyish cityscape where people are reduced to ants and cars look like turbocharged micro machines in a lavish play-set.

Jusojin shot the video from the roof of the Umeda Sky Building – a two towered structure that boasts a sky garden called the “Floating Garden Observatory,” and an underground market designed to resemble the Osaka of a century ago. With modernity clashing with old school Japan in such a cool location, the 40 floor skyscraper is a must visit in Osaka.

Time Lapse (Umeda Sky Building2011) HD from jusojin on Vimeo.

An Island of luxury in a sea of desert: Al Maha Desert Resort in Dubai

al maha

Every city needs a quick getaway spot, even global centers for tourism. Parisians head for the lakes and beaches of southern France, Hong Kongers ferry to Macau for quick gambling fixes, Bostonians head for the cape to be seen and sun, and the people of Dubai escape the city for…the desert? Yes, the desert.

Indeed, the desert seems an unlikely place in which to unwind and be pampered, but a resort just outside of Dubai has perfected the art of luxuriously stranding its guests among the dunes. Al Maha, a desert-resort situated on a conservation reserve, outclasses much of its Dubai counterparts in the hospitality industry, which is no small feat. The property provides exclusively personal villas with private pools overlooking the unique wildlife sanctuary as well as all-inclusive dining and excursions. Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa lends a paradisial quality and adventurous spirit to a land known as the empty quarter.


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Wildlife
The Arabian oryx was the impetus behind the creation of the desert reserve that surrounds Al Maha. After being hunted to extinction in the wild, the oryx was reintroduced to the deserts of Arabia in the late nineties. Al Maha Desert Resort is built around this large oryx refuge, and its name (Al Maha) even means oryx in Arabic. The majestic beast resembles a unicorn in profile, and it is not uncommon to have one creep up to your outdoor breakfast table and stare you and your fruit plate down. Though the Arabian oryx seems ubiquitous on the Al Maha grounds, less than a thousand exist in the wild worldwide.

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Interaction with these and other desert wildlife is the hallmark of the Al Maha experience. Oryx, gazelles, foxes, sand cats, and falcons all lurk just beyond each villa’s epic back porch. The oryx and gazelles frequently creep onto the property to take advantage of the shady groves. The creatures behave very comfortably around humans, so close encounters take place constantly. This is the most fascinating facet of the Al Maha experience. Sharing living space with such beautiful and strange desert creatures is memorable.

Location
Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa is located just a short drive (40 miles south-east) from the Burj Khalifa anchored downtown area. After passing through Dubai and the empty desert, the road turns off into the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve which surrounds Al Maha.

The Villas
Each guestroom at Al Maha Desert Resort is a spacious villa with a private pool looking out towards a stunning sea of unbroken sand. Fashioned after Bedouin tents, the villas provide an air of adventure with art easels for drawing and sweet nocs for peeping at creeping desert animals. The villas are extremely private and lounging in the cooled private pool under the hot sun feels absolutely perfect.

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The entry level Bedouin suites start at around $800 per day, and that includes all meals and two daily excursions for two individuals. Obviously quite steep, but when you factor in free breakfast, lunch, a five course dinner, and two desert activities, the oppressive looking price looks much more rational.

The most expensive villa is the presidential suite. With 5,700 square feet of living space and private residential quarters for a guests’ private staff, it is a different world entirely. Originally, the presidential suite served as a private residence for the Dubai royal family, but when the property changed hands from Emirates to Starwood, there were some changes. The nightly rate for the presidential suite is over $10,000 per night.


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Excursions
Believe it or not, there is quite a bit of cool stuff to do in the desert. Since temperatures skyrocket during the afternoon, all activities take place during the morning and early evening. While it may come with some apprehension to sign up for an extremely early falconry course or dune bashing adventure, rising early is the best way to beat the desert heat. Also, the afternoon provides plenty of down time to nap, swim, and receive spa treatments.

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Dune Bashing is perhaps the most exhilarating Al Maha activity. In a Toyota 4×4 SUV, one of the resort’s expert dune bashers (most of which come from South Africa like my awesome guide Warren) will take you out on the dunes. The ride includes stomach to mouth vertical drops and some serious sand drifting around invisible corners. Not for the feint at heart, the experience is adrenaline fueled mayhem on wheels. The Al Maha guides encourage breakfast to be consumed after the morning tear through the dunes, lest your scrambled eggs appear in an unnecessary sequel.

Falconry is bird and man coming together for sport. Once a sport for the nobles, the Bedouin also used domesticated falcons and hawks in the desert to hunt for small animals. Ancient records of falconry stretch back almost three-thousand years, all the way to Babylonian times. At Al Maha, falconry is taught in the early morning by guides. Many of the birds are kept in air conditioned rooms during the hottest hours of the day. Al Maha has all types of birds, including a goofball owl.

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(An aside regarding falconry: Supposedly, the Jumeriah group hires falcon masters at its properties, which include Burj al Arab, Madinat Jumeriah, Jumeriah Beach resort, and Zabeel Saray to send out birds of prey in the morning that hunt and scare off all the smaller birds. This, in turn, minimizes bird droppings on these properties. I was unable to substantiate this claim.)

al maha Aside from falconry and dune bashing, hotel guests can also take part in horse riding, nature walks, camel safaris, and wildlife drives. One of the most popular excursions is the evening camel safari. A guide takes a group of guests out into the desert on camel-back to watch the sun slowly set over the dunes. Since Al Maha resort is all about pampering its guests, champagne and snacks are provided. Of course, riding camels is quite different than riding a horse, most notably when getting on and off. Camels are very tall, so climbing onto a camels back is done while they are lying down. Once they stand up though, it can be a little disconcerting. Just keep leaning back. Camels are a huge part of Arab culture, so getting to know the oddball desert beasts is part of the experience. In nearby Abu Dhabi, there are even camel beauty contests.

To ride the horses at Al Maha, guests must be very experienced on horseback. Arab horses are notoriously strong and boast too much power for inexperienced desert riders. Many of the horses are gifts from the Sheikh himself, such as Mogambo (right) – the stud of the stable. Even if you are unqualified to ride the speedy steeds, it is worth stopping by the stables to interact with the gorgeous Arab horses.

There is a very good reason that Al Maha Desert Resort and Spa is ranked second out of over four hundred hotels in Dubai on Tripadvisor. It is simply a breathtaking place to visit. Between the excellent meals, desert wildlife experiences, and undeniably epic pool views from each villa, everything about the property is amazing. It exceeds expectations and provides excitement in the most unlikely of places.

All photography by Justin Delaney

Support for this program was partially provided by DTCM, with no limits on editorial or photographic content.