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Micato Safaris Photo Contest: May & June Winners

  • July 19th 2015

We received many wonderful photographs for the May and June Micato Photo Contest, giving our judges the challenge of selecting a mere four shots total for our winners and honourable mentions.

Here now the winners, who not only gave us their stunning images, but also shared a few words about what these special moments on safari meant to them.

Enjoy!

May 2015
WINNER
Satish Nair

three cheetahs by Satish Nair

Three cheetahs on the hunt by Satish Nair

 

Satish recalls the memorable moment when he and his group encountered these three cheetahs on the Micato Safaris/Lindblad Expeditions Photo Safari earlier in 2015:

“We were out at first light at Samburu, and came upon this cheetah trio emerging from the bushes.  The sun was just peeking over the hills, burning what remained of the overnight fog, and bathing the entire landscape in golden light.  Our Micato driver expertly maneuvered the vehicle so we could get backlit shots as the cheetahs marched forth with laser-like focus, having caught wind of an impala herd several hundred yards away.   We stayed with the cheetah for well over a half hour, as they stalked the herd, in and out of the bushes.  In the end, however, their efforts came to naught when a sentinel grant’s gazelle sounded the alarm, and the herd scattered.”

 

May 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
William Merrick

Lion cub on rocks, East Africa

Lone Sibling, lion cub by William Merrick

William’s story behind this photo shows how we can really get to know certain animal families while travelling on safari:

“We were just getting ready to hit the tents when this cub was spotted.  At the time, this appeared to be the only lion.  The next day we returned thinking we might see mom as well.  No mom, but two siblings to make three.  After about 15 minutes, a lion’s roar was heard and it was mom coming back to get her kids.  A fresh breakfast was about a mile away.  We followed them and that’s when we found the kill, on the other side of a small stream.  This then offered additional shots of the lions jumping across the creek or the cubs swimming across.  In all, we spent several hours following the family from their evening bed under the tree trunk to breakfast the following day.”

June 2015
WINNER
Anna Drake

Elephant in East Africa by Anna Drake

Elephant in Tarangire National Park by Anna Drake

Anna remembers this moment from her first day on safari in Tarangire National Park in Tanzania:

“We had come upon a herd of about 40 elephants and it was an amazing sight! I never thought I would see so many elephants in one place like that. There were so many all around us and I wanted to get some close-up shots of individual elephants. I saw this one who I caught just as it was chewing a mouthful of grasses and it seemed to be looking right at me! The elephant appeared unfazed by our presence and continued eating its lunch before it moved on across the road to join the rest of the herd. It was so special to be so close to such a magnificent creature and to watch it living its life in the wild!”

June 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
Maribeth Venezia

Giraffe in East Africa by Maribeth Venezia

The Peek-A-Boo Giraffe by Maribeth Venezia

This is Maribeth’s second Honourable Mention with a giraffe photo. We’re beginning to wonder if the giraffe is Maribeth’s totem!  About this photo, she recalls:

“This was our last afternoon game drive in Samburu National Preserve. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw a giraffe, or did I? I certainly did a double-take. I asked the driver and guide to stop the vehicle and if possible to back up a little bit. There it was, a beautiful giraffe, playing “peek-a-boo” behind a bush. It looked like the he was wearing the bush for clothing. The giraffe stared at us, never moving away from his camouflage outfit. We all got a good chuckle!”

It is never too late to enter the Micato Safaris Photo Contest. Photos are eligible as long as they were taken on safari with Micato. Each monthly winner receives a $250 credit for Micato’s Safari Shop and at the end of the year we award a $3000 Micato Safaris credit to put towards a safari or to use in the safari shop.

March and April Micato Photo Contest Winners Announced

  • May 22nd 2015

In March and April the submissions to the Micato Photo Contest were nothing short of spectacular!

Here now the winners, who not only gave us their stunning images, but also shared a few words about what these special moments meant to them.

Enjoy!

March 2015
WINNER
Dr. Allan Gold

Micato Safaris March Grand Prize Photo by Dr Allan Gold

On his recent Photo Safari with Micato and Lindblad Expeditions, Dr Gold captured this leopard resting in a tree.

In describing the moment, Dr. Gold says “I vividly recall being captivated by this stunning female leopard resting and observing from a low tree limb.  Late in the day magical light filtered through the yellow-barked acacia forest behind. We approached at the back of a small loop of road after crossing an open plain where impala and gazelles were grazing. We had ample time in the rich but fading light to photograph while the lady stood, stretched and readjusted her perch a few times before finally leaving for work. ”

March 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
Maribeth Venezia

Giraffe Centre in Nairobi

Maribeth was given a warm ‘Welcome to Kenya’ at the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi.

 

Maribeth describes her Giraffe Kiss moment in this short story:

“Our transportation to Kenya proved challenging. We left in a snowstorm and had to endure delayed flights, cancelled flights rerouting and finally – delayed luggage! However, once we arrived in Kenya we were in heaven! We were escorted to our hotel, had a delicious breakfast, freshened up and we were off to see the sights.  One of our stops was the Giraffe Center in the suburbs of  Nairobi. We ascended onto the viewing platform where one can interact with the giraffes. A gorgeous giraffe decided to give me a welcome kiss! I must say his tongue was a bit rough and hairy but I was thrilled to be part of this experience. Subsequently I had nuggets of giraffe treats and was most generous to my new friend. I did not want to leave. This was our  first day in Kenya, what a fantastic start! ”

April 2015
WINNER
Lucie Fjeldstad

sunrise-namibian-sand-dunes

Sunrise over the Red Sand Dunes of Namibia.

 

Lucie recalls her recent trip where she captured the sunrise on Namibia’s sand dunes:

“It was our first time in Namibia. We were told the dunes were best with sunrise shadows so off we went at dawn. When we saw this serpentine ridge and its natural contrasting shadow we slammed on the brakes and shot this photograph. Fabulous unique landscape … truly beautiful!”

April 2015
HONOURABLE MENTION
Steve Kuriga

close-up-giraffe

A Young Reticulated Giraffe Looks on with Curiosity.

Steve recalls the moment he captured this photo of a young giraffe:

“Dawn broke to a cloudless March sunrise as we ventured from Larsen’s Camp to Samburu. While alongside the wildebeest trails we came across a tower of giraffes feasting on nearby acacia trees. This calf was in constant visual contact with the vehicle as I focused and captured his innocence.”

It is never too late to enter the Micato Safaris Photo Contest. Photos are eligible as long as they were taken on safari with Micato. So set aside some time to look through your photos… next month’s winning photo could be sitting on your hard drive and might earn you a $250 credit for Micato’s Safari Shop.

The Ultimate Trunk Show

  • May 8th 2015

By Leslie Woit

Even the smallest elephant is too much for an arm’s length selfie. Yet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry couldn’t resist trying during his recent visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya’s Nairobi National Park.

Former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, also visited another of Kenya’s elephant reserves, highlighting the huge threat the animals face.

As Kerry clearly found, a visit to the celebrated David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is both entertaining and educational, promising the ideal pre-safari primer. Home to dozens of infant elephants, this nursery-with-a-difference lets all visitors experience the magic of feeding time.

 

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Visits Sheldrick WIldlife Trust

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry takes a selfie on a recent visit to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi. May 3, 2015. Photo by Andrew Harnik/Reuters

 

What you’ll see…

A flush of dust rises in a fine red cloud as the herd gambols toward us. Oltaiyoni and Olsekki chase each other back and forth. Young Mbegu faces up to Kauro, flaying her trunk playfully behind the flaps of his ears. The trumpet section comes alive with a high hoot.

What began as one long, orderly line of elephants quickly dissembles into a rollicking band of wrinkly hooligans. It’s Babar comes alive meets playtime for Elmer. It’s lunchtime for a herd of hungry baby elephants.

Since 1977, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has successfully hand-raised more than 150 infant elephants in their Nairobi centre – most elephants rescued are orphaned by poachers (Every 15 minutes an elephant is killed for its ivory). Elephants typically stay in the orphanage around six years before released back into the wild.

elephant feeding at sheldrick trust

Feeding Time at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Photo by Leslie Woit

These magnificent beings are the world’s largest living land animals, their 200 pound birthweight a mere wisp of their eventual 15,000 pound comeliness. Highly social and tactile, not only do they respond to their names but each has its own bunk and human keeper to sleep alongside them in their stable at night. Their human “family” is encouraged to interact with and talk to the babies as they would their own: according the Trust, elephants can read a person’s heart and mind.

Once a day, visitors are welcomed to the orphanage to observe feeding time. This is just one of many meals: the youngest of the herd require bottle feeding no fewer than eight times per day. Micato Bespoke Safari guests often “sponsor” an elephant, a valued deed which earns them the opportunity for a memorable visit with their foster elephant during sponsors-only hours. A private visit of the facility is another treat Micato guests may like to request; the visits led by Dame Daphne Sheldrick and/or her daughter are a particular pleasure. Similarly, guests may choose to pay a visit to the facility in Tsavo, the second phase of transition for the elephants.

For now, the great midday spectacle: bottle feeding a garden full of baby elephants the size of Smart cars. Trunks twine agilely round milk containers while younger ones are hand-fed the finger-length nipples. Either way, leathery babies of varying bulks guzzle down their five-litre allotment in fairly uniform times of around 30 seconds flat.

elephant keeper and elephants at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

An Elephant Keeper at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust teaches a young orphan to mind her manners. Photo by Leslie Woit.

After lunch comes playtime. Kicking soccer balls, chewing on giant toothpicks, languishing under showers of cool earth shovelled onto their hides by the keepers.

The 18-month-old Arruba pauses at my feet, her long trunk swirling searchingly around my legs. Tusks smooth and white, dark lashes supermodel long. Her hide is soft as a giant Shar Pei puppy. For now, all safe and sound.

 

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is on the edge of Nairobi, a short drive from downtown. DSWT baby elephants may be fostered for a minimum of $50 per year. 

 

4 Great Books About India

  • April 10th 2015

The first quartet of a very personal, not to say idiosyncratic, list.

by Tom Cole

Some of these books I read a while back. But they pop up for me, in different times and places. And now, just back from a heart-sparking trip to Micato’s India, I present four of the books that seemed to be at my side, glowing in memory, during that journey. I guarantee you that you’ll find at least one of them safely and enjoyably incendiary.

(I’ve stockpiled a bunch of others, including what may be my all-time favourite, and will blog about them as time goes on.)

* If you love India, or are interested in it, or just enjoy wandering in new worlds, you’ll savour just about anything by R. K. Narayan. One of 20th century India’s most beloved writers, Narayan created a fictional town in the south called Malgudi, a kind of less melancholic Lake Woebegone. Narayan’s prose is simple and unwriterly (that’s a compliment from a too-often writerly writer), but you feel the air and smell the tea and he brought his cast of local characters to vivid and sympathetic life. I love Malgudi because it showed me an India in which people love to sit around and chat without being compelled to grind away at self-branding and getting ahead in the world (which, in Narayan’s India, didn’t really need much getting ahead of). I talked about Narayan with Micato Tour Director Puneet Dan and was thrilled when he launched into a little Narayan set piece, “Oh, yes, we were visiting just now with Ramaji, and Ramaji said….”

* William Dalrymple is a smart and talented writer who combines a love of India (see his The Age of Kali) with a scholar’s temperament and a big heart…not a very common combination. Any of his many books are worthy of your consideration. My favourite is The Last Mughal, perhaps because of my fascination with the Mughals, the weird improbability of the British Raj itself, and with imperial end-times (check out Ryszard Kapuscinski, the master of this genre). The last Mughal, Bahadur Shah II, called Zafar, was a poet and shy aesthete, guy who would probably have fared well in Narayan’s Malgudi, sitting around the tea shop under the banyan tree discussing metaphysics. Instead the British cooped him up in a tottery palace in Shahjahanabad, in Old Delhi, the last few square hectares of the once-vast Mughal Empire. Dalrymple tells his poignant tale expertly and kindly and along the way you learn a lot about the Mughals and about British India. (Dalrymple is one of the directors of the Jaipur Literary Festival, which has established itself as India’s dazzlingest gathering of literati and, these days, Bollywood luminaries. We were in the Taj Rambagh Palace during our Micato India trip, and the exquisite old place was buzzing with festival-goers and celebrities, including a sadly diminished but game V.S. Naipaul.)

Micato Guest at Taj Mahal

Micato India Tour Director Puneet Dan and a happy Micato traveller, Mary Marenka Poxon, wife of this blog’s writer.

* The Hill of Devi by E.M. Forester. Most lists like this would include A Passage to India, a wonderful book made into a disappointing film by David Lean (tarnishing, unfairly, my memory of the book). The Hill of Devi is a non-fiction account of Forester’s stint as a private secretary to Tukojirao III, maharajah of the small, rather listless Maratha state of Dewas Senior (Tukaji Rao, as opposed to Dewas Junior, or Jivaji Rao). I have an almost guilty fascination for the British Raj and all the maharajahs, rajahs, nawabs, wadiyars, badshahs, and walis of the princely states the British allowed–with supervision–to bump along in their eccentric ways. Forester is an acute observer and reporter of his “bewilderment and pleasure at plunging into an unknown world and at meeting an unknown and possibly unknowable character,” the ultimately tragic maharajah, “certainly a genius, possibly a saint.”

* Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominque Lapierre. When we were in Mumbai (which a surprisingly lot of Indians still call Bombay) we visited Mani Bhavan, where Gandhi spent much of the 1920s and 30s, writing and planning his non-violent–satyagraha–campaign against British rule. His bedroom in the house, borrowed from a well-to-do supporter, was simple: a mattress, some books, a spinning wheel (the joke among Gandhi’s supporters was that “it costs us lots of money to keep Gandhiji poor”). Not far from Mani Bhavan is Antilia, the science-fictiony, near-insane skyscraper home of India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani.

I’m not sure what this vertiginous contrast means, except that India has changed hugely since Gandhi’s day (though perhaps no other nation is so in touch with its civilizational wellsprings). Of course, there’s much more to the story of India’s hard-won independence from the British than the enlightened efforts of a man universally referred to as a Great Soul (or Mahatma; he was also popularly known as Bapu, father). In fact, the wider story of that independence is crucial to any understanding of modern India (and Pakistan, and–not so indirectly–the Taliban, for that matter). Luckily, Collins and Lapierre tell the story marvelously; in many ways Freedom at Midnight is the one indispensable book for anyone interested in India.

(This is a Micato blog, and I’m a Micato guy, so excuse me for name dropping, but: during our trip we had lunch in Delhi with Micato India Director Lisa Alam Shah at the historic Imperial Hotel. We sat at a table on the verandah of the Imperial’s wonderful 1911 Restaurant. Lisa told us that our table (the one with the heavy white cast iron chairs, in case you’re wondering) was favoured by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. I wondered if he shared lunches there with Edwina, Countess of Mountbatten, wife of India’s last viceroy, Louis Mountbatten. Nehru, the elegant freedom fighter, is known to have had a deep and occasionally physical relationship with the Countess. That’s an irrelevant but tasty bit of what an old history teacher of mine used to call, harrumphingly, “cake history.”)

Upcoming: Rudyard Kipling’s Kim (which could well be my number one, all-time India tome); The Pax Britannica Trilogy by Jan Morris; Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children; V.S. Naipaul’s India: A Million Mutinies Now; and Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.

We get a good immersion in the glorious monuments and spectacularly colourful histories of the Mughals and the Rajput maharajahs who were their vassals and rivals on all our private India trips, India South to North, The Spirit of India, and Magic and Majesty of Northern India. Similarly, any trip to India is—if you care to track it—permeated with the still-tangible history of the British Raj and Indian independence. India South to North takes us to Mumbai and Mani Bhavan, where Gandhi lived at the height of the independence struggle; it is a profoundly moving place for those of us who believe the Mahatma was one of the most splendid and unusual human beings of all time. And as for R.K. Narayan’s India, the India “in which people love to sit around and chat without being compelled to grind away at self-branding and getting ahead in the world,” well, that India is still just about everywhere, despite the country’s amazing rush to get ahead in today’s world.

Micato Safaris Photo Contest: January and February Winners Announced

  • March 23rd 2015

In January and February we received more stunning submissions to the Micato Photo Contest.  Our judges pored over the photos and have selected the following images as Winners and Honourable Mentions.

We asked the winners to tell us about the circumstances surrounding these incredible moments they captured.  We have included some of their responses here, along with the winning photos.

Photo of the Month WINNER, January 2015:  Eric Green

Elephant-Family-Eric-Green

Elephant Family by Eric Green

Eric recalls the moment he took the picture in this story he sent us:

“This photograph was taken in Tarangire Park, Tanzania in August 2013. While out on a game drive, we encountered a herd of elephants slowly approaching the road. The herd consisted of about 20 elephants of all ages. An adult female elephant with 2 youngsters (one juvenile and one calf) crossed the road directly in front of us. The rest of the herd remained on the other side of the road. As another vehicle approached, the adult female and juvenile immediately placed the calf in between them. The adult female then raised her trunk, followed by the juvenile, and finally the calf— the latter two were clearly imitating adult female. It was almost as if they were posing for a group photo!”

Photo of the Month HONOURABLE MENTION, January 2015: Lucie Fjeldstad

Tiger-Canyons-by-Lucie-Fjeldstad

Tiger relaxing at Tiger Canyons, South Africa by Lucie Fjeldstad

Lucie tells us of her passion for tigers in this short story:

“We first heard about John Varty’s Tiger Canyons Project two years ago (2012) right after a trip to Africa and wished we had known about his conservation efforts before we had gone. After seeing the National Geographic documentary “Tiger Man Of Africa” on his work with tigers and his plans to try and preserve wild tigers by moving some to a private reserve in South Africa we wanted to see them for ourselves.

When we travelled to South Africa in late 2014 we found Tiger Canyons to be totally engrossing. John took us around and showed us, up close and personal, his then 20 tigers (a month later the white tiger gave birth to 3 cubs) and 4 cheetahs (and a month later one of the cheetahs gave birth to 5 cubs).  Well, our timing may have been wrong to catch the young cubs but EVERTHING else was a feast for the photographer and a lifetime experience for the tiger lover!  We had a chance to see them sleep, play, eat, roam and even stalk each other in mock attacks.”

Photo of the Month WINNER, February 2015:  Bob Fjeldstad

Lilac-Breasted-Roller

Lilac Breasted Roller by Bob Fjeldstad

Bob says, “This photograph was not planned as I was primarily shooting video with a new Nikon Coolpix camera but when we bounced along on a bumpy track my wife shouted out that we had just passed within twenty feet of Lilac Breasted Roller (LBR) which strangely enough did not fly off.  By the time we stopped we were easily 60 feet away and if you know LBR’s you know how little movement it takes to cause them to fly away.  But this new camera had a built-in lens that went from 24mm-1500mm so I changed the settings from video to still images, braced myself against the back of the seat, told everyone else to stop talking and not move a muscle, sighted in on the LBR, zoomed in as close as I could, held my breath and took the shot.”

Photo of the Month HONOURABLE MENTION, February 2015:  Chad J. Simmons

Photo by Chad Simmons

Mt Kenya by Chad Simmons

 

We asked Chad about spotting Mt. Kenya without the usual cloud cover, he replied: “Locals say he is sleeping. He must be very tired because as many travellers to this region of Kenya can tell you, getting a good photo of Mt. Kenya can be frustrating.  Even when the days dawn clear, the mountain is quickly covered by clouds. But one morning, as we were leaving for our game drive in Lewa Downs, we rounded the side of a hill, I looked through the trees and there it was.  We backed up to catch this image that characteristically was gone a few minutes later. My good luck and nothing more!”

It is never too late to enter the Micato Safaris Photo Contest. Photos are eligible as long as they were taken on a safari, or journey to India, with Micato Safaris.  So set aside some time to look through your photos.  You never know, next month’s winning photo could be sitting on your hard drive and might earn you a $250 credit for Micato’s Safari Shop.

Cheetah Takes the Prize as Micato Photo Contest Winner

  • February 26th 2015

Every month our past safari travellers submit scores of eye-catching, often breathtaking photos to the Micato Photo Contest.  And every month, our judges have the unenviable task of poring over these very deserving images and selecting only one monthly winner as well as a runner-up.

We’ve long posted these winners to our website — they’re simply too good for us to keep to ourselves! — and going forward we’re also going to share them more regularly with our gentle readers here at the blog.

For December 2014, Micato traveller Lori Simmons was selected as the Grand Prize winner for her stunning cheetah photograph featured below.

We got in touch with Lori and asked her to share the story behind the photograph. Here’s what she told us:

My husband, son and I were on our morning game drive in Lewa Downs, Kenya, with our Micato guide and our two guides from Lewa House.  My husband noticed that all of the impalas near us were looking in one direction, and when I followed their gaze I saw what I thought were two big cats in the distance.  He confirmed through his camera lens that there were two cheetahs in the grass, so we drove to their location to get a better look.  After a few minutes of viewing at very close range, the young male walked over to our open-air vehicle and jumped on the hood.  He remained on the vehicle approximately 15-20 minutes and at one point he looked as if he would climb over the windshield and into the interior, but he did not.  We assumed that he just wanted a better vantage point, but we were very still while he was on the vehicle.  We all shot some wonderful photos and videos and will always remember this experience.  The six of us, “Our Team” as we referred to ourselves, forged a special bond that day.”

Cheetah-Seeks-Vantage-Point

This photo of a cheetah seeking a high vantage point earned Micato traveller Lori Simmons the Grand Prize in the Micato Safaris Photo Contest, December 2014

It certainly sounds like a safari moment to remember!  Thank you to Lori for sharing this story with us.

The Micato photo contest is open to all Micato travellers, recent and not-so-recent. So dig out your old photos and get in touch with us at photos@micato.com to submit your entry.  To see past Grand Prize winners and Honourable Mentions, visit the Micato Photo Contest online. 

 

Getting Wrapped up in the Wonders of Jaipur

  • February 11th 2015

by Becca Hensley

Today, I’m in Jaipur, the largest city in Rajasthan, India’s most awe-inspiring state.  Visiting for the second time with my friend, Kevin, we are ensconced at the Oberoi Rajvilas, a lavish five-star palace meant to mimic a maharaja’s country estate. Not far from the city’s frenzy in the countryside, with its own temple, walled gardens and private villas, this stately hotel has the appeal of a haven from pandemonium. We’re waiting to be reunited with our Micato guide, Hem Singh—a resident of this ancient capital, known for centuries as “the Pink City.” Hem has promised to join us for tea to make plans for our foray into this undisputed capital of intrigue, shopping and the arts.

A dead ringer for a Bollywood cast Sean Connery, sporting a prodigious mustache, Hem is sometimes called the most famous guide in India. I’m certain, though, that his celebrity extends beyond this nation to embrace the entire world.  Nobody having seen Hem can forget him. Dapper and jaunty, Hem mirrors Jaipur, his luxuriant city. Forever bedecked with a hat, he dons jodhpurs, immaculately pressed shirts and leather shoes which curl at the toes and vaunt gold filigree—like what you’d expect a magical genie to wear. Walking through town with him is to trek with royalty. I personally have seen people bow to him, cars and elephants stop at the wave of his hand, and bartering hawkers tremble in trepidation.

Today, he surprises us by remembering our interest in turbans. “So, I thought I would teach you to wrap a turban today,” he says. That’s so Hem. He doesn’t miss a thing. We’ve been entranced by Hem’s headwear both times while travelling in India. You see, Hem doesn’t just wear handsome hats. Hang out with him long enough and you’ll likely find Hem’s debonair head capped with a silk turban. Rambling through India, we’ve seen our share of turbans, and Kevin and I had been wondering about just what they mean and how in the world you get one to stay on your head. Hem brings along a bolt of orange and gold cloth. He tells us it takes nearly 30 feet of material to create the perfect head wrap. And, I’m stunned. I wore a sari the last time I visited Jaipur with Micato, which meant I was wrapped by the Oberoi “ladies in waiting” in 18-feet of emerald green raw silk, an adventure that opened my eyes to how much cloth it takes to create this elegant national Indian outfit. But 30 feet atop your head? That’s another story entirely!

Hem Singh, Micato India

Hem Singh with 30 feet of Turban Cloth!

Hem, utterly unperturbed, enjoys our excitement and lust for knowledge. Here, in the majestic gardens of Oberoi’s Rajvilas, he proceeds to wrap a turban for Kevin. It’s a sight to behold—like watching a fairytale character spin gold from straw or make stars from dust. Within moments, Hem’s created the Rajasthani version of a crown, and Kevin’s rocking it. Instantly, he is transformed from curious American photographer to noble sire.  Though women don’t normally wear turbans in India, I can’t help myself. I want one, too. And, bless Hem Sing’s dignified heart, he wants to make me happy. So, he wraps one for me, as well. He does it right there at the Oberoi, where the coral-colored stucco walls and garden’s white columns form the perfect backdrop for our game of dress up. Peacocks croon their otherworldly song as background music. Long lengths of cloth puddle on the floor. Hem Singh’s covered with sunbeams of orange and gold as he works, twisting and rolling the fabric. At last, he finished mine. Giddy with turban joy, we do a photo shoot. We’re American tourists in turbans, and Hem Singh, laughing at our ebullience, smartly attired in blazer and cravat, leather hat at a rakish angle, poses, too.

Becca Hensley and Hem SIngh in Jaipur

The Fine Art of Turban-Wearing in Jaipur

As it happens, it takes some training to wear a turban. After an hour or so, we feel like we’re carrying the weight of the world, so we leave our turbans behind and head to the city centre to sightsee. “How DO you do it?” I ask Hem Singh, as I rub away the slight headache left from the weight of the thing. He smiles, demurely. “Its an art,” he says, shrugging, giving me his arm so he can escort me through traffic as thick and unyielding as molasses. We’re off to explore the Spice Market in the centre or Jaipur. Here, an exotic perfume greets us amid the grit of the immense city. There, carts, stands, buckets, wagons and store windows hold golden curries, black, smoky cardamom, pungent coriander, shelled pistachios and salts. Men in white gowns (and snow-colored turbans) make tea using outdoor burners, their silver ladles dipping into the masala-spiced liquid. We taste betel leaves wrapped around spices—aniseed, cloves, rose petals. And, we devour sweets, such as mawa kachori and deep fried, honey-flanked ghewar.

That night, we’re in for another surprise. The day before Hem has asked us to choose some colours and textures from a room full of cloth. A tailor measures us. When we arrive back to our suites at the Oberoi, we find that someone has filled our bathtubs with bubbles and rose petals, and left us each a parcel. Inside, I find a beautiful sari, and Kevin discovers a long, Hem Singh-worthy tunic and a matching turban—each made from the cloth we had chosen the day before. With today’s parcel, we also receive a written invitation from Micato to join Hem Singh and a host of locals—including the Maharaja of Jaipur and other luminaires– at the City Palace for dinner. This is something unique which only Micato can offer—and it is worth every string they pulled to make it happen. We arrive though arches and colonnades to be doused in flower petals, to see life-size marionettes dancing, adorned elephants standing at attention, camels swaying to flutes and other instruments in play, and a legion of dancers twirling. In the Maharaja’s royal dining room, we dine like members of the court on platters of rich Rajasthani cuisine.

And, all through the fete, there’s princely Hem Singh. His turban, as orange as the full moon that illuminates the sky, shines bright, a symbol for the glamour of Jaipur itself.

To discover the secrets of Jaipur with Micato India, contact our India Specialists at India@Micato.com.

Helpful Tips for Overcoming Jetlag

  • February 5th 2015

By Leslie Woit

Apparently, you know you’re getting old when you consider the quality of your sleep a valid topic of conversation. Thankfully that doesn’t apply to international travellers like us.

Trans-meridian travel is tiring and jet lag can affect anyone. We ask Dr Rozina Ali, microvascular plastic surgeon and presenter of the BBC science program “Horizon, The Truth about Looking Young” for a hard science approach to battling jetlag.

What is jet lag?

international-time-zone-clocks

Crossing time zones can make you feel ‘zoned out’.

It’s a temporary sleep disorder caused when your circadian rhythms — the body’s internal clock – are out of whack. Your eyes may see Zanzibar, but your body says “zzzz”.

What can we do on the journey to encourage sleep?

The first thing to do on a night flight is to put yourself in a place where sleep is a possibility. Wear comfortable clothes, pack your bed socks, try to relax yourself, avoid adrenalines, caffeine and drink plenty of water: Dehydration can make jet lag symptoms worse. Get yourself in dark, quiet conditions by wearing an eye mask and blocking up your ears. We have a hormone in us that responds to darkness: the melatonin in you is saying ‘It’s dark, go to sleep now’. After, in order to wake up and stay awake longer, we can use sunlight as a powerful tool for regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

How does light therapy work?

Your body clock is influenced by exposure to sunlight. When you travel across time zones, your body has to adjust to a new daylight schedule. A good walk in the sunshine can ease that transition.

How about coffee and a cold shower?

We often don’t have the luxury on a holiday of adjusting gradually, an hour per day. So you have to give yourself a new sleep cycle straight away, or risk missing out on precious moments of our hard-earned vacation. That means staying up as long as you can the day of arrival. A little caffeine and some stimulants can keep you awake longer.

Is there a more natural approach than sleeping pills?

Melatonin is a hormone that controls the day-night cycle. As a supplement, it can be a sleep aid taken in the evening together with light therapy in the morning — a standard treatment for sleep disorders. When used several hours before sleep, small amounts of melatonin shift the circadian rhythm, helping you get to sleep quicker. It is a hormone and not available in some countries and there have only been a few long-term clinical trials. Melatonin is used, but it doesn’t mean it works. As a placebo, if you expect it to work, it may work for you.

What if I can’t access melatonin?

You may choose to supplement your body’s melatonin by taking 5HTP, a naturally occurring amino acid. It is required in the biosynthesis of two really important neurotransmitters: serotonin and melatonin. So in fact it’s even better than just taking melatonin because it may make you happy too!

What makes you happy?

The weathered sandstone of Petra, the Sydney Opera House, the boutiques of Paris… sundowners during an African sunset, the low golden light in Zanzibar, the friendly bustling markets of Dar e Salaam, the red sands of Mali and being utterly lost… and found in Timbuktu. These are moments worth staying awake for!

Sunset-in-Africa.

Sunsets in Africa are worth staying up for!

 

How do you overcome jet lag? Please share your travel tips in the comments space below.

 

Micato’s India and the Magic of Hem Singh

  • January 23rd 2015

They say it’s not what you know, but who you know. And while that old adage shouldn’t dissuade us from learning as much as we can, it’s true that it can be helpful to have the right friends on your side.

At Micato, we’ve seen even the savviest of travellers breathe a sigh of relief when they hear of our offices in-country that exist to act as that friend away from home. And whether you’re looking for a restaurant recommendation, emergency prescription refill, or virtually anything else, Micato ensures that a friend with trustworthy advice is only a phone call away.

But sometimes, it helps to have friends who are capable of solving the unsolvable, be it by magic or pure talent. Such is the case with Micato traveller Becca Hensley, who recently wrote the following story of her travels through northern India with Micato and our indispensable team on the ground there including our extraordinary Indian Tour Directors.

“When my camera breaks just an hour before my friend and I reach Agra in central India, I slip into despair. It’s bad enough that I’ve missed the chance to photograph my first snake charmer and his undulating cobra, lost the opportunity to record a painted elephant walking down the road amid cars overstuffed with people and camel carts, and been robbed of the shot of a group of women, colorfully clad in saris, balancing towers of cow pies on their heads. But now, just minutes away from my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal, I must face the fact that I’ll be documenting that “wow factor” moment only with my eyes.

It’s then that I decide to share my gloom with our private guide, Mr. Hem Singh. “Give it to me,” he says. “I know someone who can fix this.” In a jiffy, Singh makes a call in lilting Hindi. As we bump through the glutted city traffic, I spy unattended little children in school uniforms boldly crossing the busy streets, and marvel over a man riding a bike loaded precariously with a tilting mountain of poppadums, or Indian flatbreads. Suddenly, as we idle at a red light, a motorcycle with two riders pulls up beside our van. Without saying a word, Singh hands my camera to one of them – just as my jaw drops and the motorcycle whizzes off in a whirl of traffic .

Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Taj Mahal

Five minutes later, checked into the fanciful, Mughal-inspired Oberoi Amarvilas, my camera has become a distant memory. The vision of the Taj Mahal from the hotel’s balcony, lit violet by a golden ray of sun, obliterates all other thought. Nearly close enough to touch, the Taj floats in the air like a mirage. As my friend frantically clicks his camera beside me, Singh approaches and asks: “Do you want to use mine?” Without taking my eye from the view, I reach for what he presents and, upon focusing, realize it’s my camera – not his, but mine – that he puts in my hands. “What?” I mutter, ecstatic, but utterly confused as Singh laughs heartily at my amazement, then shrugs as if he’s used to waving his wand and conjuring such magic.

And so begins our journey of contrasts and enchantment,  led by the miracle worker, Hem Singh – a guide so famous he’s reputed to be the most photographed man in India. Fortunately, for the next 12 days, Singh is ours alone as we travel from Agra to Udaipur to Mumbai, all the while admiring his singular ability to follow one magic trick with the next.”

To experience the true magic of India, and that of Hem Singh, contact our Micato India Specialists today.  And while we can’t guarantee that your camera won’t break, we can guarantee that Mr. Singh has many other tricks up his sleeve that will provide you with an incomparable glimpse into the heart of India.

Becca Hensley’s article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Virtuoso Traveler and this excerpt is reprinted here with their permission. For the full article, please visit the Media section at Micato.com. To request more information on Micato’s India, email us at India@Micato.com.

Happy Holidays from Micato Safaris

  • December 24th 2014

Happy Holidays from Micato Safaris