Africa Wildlife Trust Travel

What I also found out subsequently was that the Keoladeo National Park has a good population of Indian Pythons. They apparently often take over the burrows of other animals such as mongoose or Asian Porcupine, often killing the burrow-holder first.

We retrieved our bikes on the roadside nearby and cycled off along the road, Satto leading, me – Mark – wobbling behind. It had been years since I had pedalled a bike and re-learning proved to be a bit of a shambolic experience.

I had agreed to hire Satto the evening before. I was staying for a few nights at the rather gloomy Bharatpur Ashok Forest Lodge, the only accommodation within the park boundaries but a rather utilitarian concrete building with little charm. Let’s just say that ‘location, location’ is its best feature. I had met an American couple who had hired Satto for a few days and they recommended him thoroughly. So the deal was done. When I was there he charged 750 rupees (£8) a day.

In India, as in many countries, hiring a guide makes life so much easier though it can be something of a lottery. If you get a good one (and many are not) they know the best wildlife spots and can be extremely good at identifying what you are looking at. Satto was both. Having a guide also reduces hassle. The cycle rickshaw wallahs with yellow national park badges on their bikes who hang around the Bharatpur National Park entrance are authorised guides and they seem to be reasonably knowledgeable about the wildlife, at least the commonly spotted animals. They are certainly good at pressing you to hire them. But it’s impossible to know who is good and who is mediocre…or worse.

Africa Wildlife Trust Travel Photo Gallery

Competition between guides is pretty severe. That’s not surprising; their families depend on the income. In 2002, one man was killed and several seriously injured in a dispute here over under-quoting for guide services. And all over 200 rupees. That’s little more than £2.

Booking a guide in advance from the UK is an alternative. In my experience, that doesn’t always work out. On one occasion, I’d bloged a guide for a day to take me into the tropical forests in the Dominican Republic. Spotting forest birds, often small and not always vividly coloured, high up in tall tree canopies is the most difficult – and neck stiffening – aspect of watching birds I know of. I needed a guide who knew what we might see.

All was arranged, though happily no money was required in advance. But when I got there, he had evaporated. No answer to my phone calls or emails. Presumably, he’d had a better offer and didn’t want to admit it. Or he’d left the country. Whatever it was, any other local guide I contacted at short notice was fully bloged. My only time in some tropical forest was with the young son of a local villager who, I was told, knew the best paths to use around his village in the Los Haitises National Park, an isolated area of unusual, mostly conical-shaped hills clothed in rainforest. But the forest we walked into, muddy and damp in the humid heat, wasn’t especially natural; lots of the trees had been planted by the villagers for fruit and other crops. There were few birds.

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