Where Can You Go In India?
Rajasthan train is the way to go in this part of India. If you drive any distance in rural India you “get it”. A train ride cannot be beat for getting around expediently and without worry of accident. And they are more or less timely, given the part of the world you are in. A Rajasthan tour is probably tops on most “what to do in India” lists. Blue City of Jodphur, Pink City of Jaipur, Ghats of the Ganges. Princely states, harems, ladies palaces, all can be seen easily by Indian train. Most of these sites can be seen in a busy, but not frenetic week of Rajasthan train travel. The largely intact forts and palaces are full of centuries old antiques from elephant palanquins to ornate hookahs. After the tiger safari, riding an elephant up to a palace, marching around a fort and a smattering of local colour side trips to equally fascinating Fort Chittaugarh (Fort Chittor) and erotic Khajuraho temple can be easily arranged by India Rail.
You can get a view of the Indian countryside outside of the teeming cities. In the middle of nowhere you will be surprised to see an Indian Rail employee who looks like a local farmer, and most likely is one. He may be quietly waving a flag with full sense of purpose having fulfilled the days rail duty. Occasionally there will be children playing or locals just gazing at the wonder of the train lumbering through their regular schedule. So take in the big sites but be sure to admire the everyday living in this exotic and colourful land.
For more on Indian railway travel, see also:
All Creatures Great and Small
at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park
We know who the great creatures are at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Bucks accompanied by does and even fawns, the occasional coyote. And, flying by, the big birds, hawks, owls and osprey. But what about the far more secretive yet abundant small ones? A diverse group of songbirds make their home at the park in the summer. They migrate up from southern climes to breed and feed off insects and other northern hemisphere delicacies.
In Alberta, Clay-coloured Sparrows’ most common occurrence is in the prairies and parklands, not treed areas. A walk along a park trail can have them flitting out of the grasses every hundred feet. Listen for the insect-like buzzy calls of the male Clay-colored Sparrows from May through July. They can be distinguished from some other sparrows commonly found at Glenbow, the Vesper and Savannah, by their relatively unstriped buff breast. They search out insects in the shrubbery and seeds in the grass. Nesting habitat is typically a shrubby area with wild grass, situating the nest on the ground or in a low shrub above ground. They build open cup nests out of grass, weeds and twigs, lining it with rootlets, fine grass, and hair. This is another reason to keep dogs on leash in the park to avoid disturbing these or any wildlife shelter.
Spring after spring, Mountain Bluebirds return to nest boxes placed at strategic locations in the park. They can arrive in Alberta as early as March while fall migration for many migratory birds is an extended affair from mid-August to late October. Bluebirds can’t resist the open country with occasional trees for shelter offered at the park.
As members of the Thrush Family (such as American Robins) they feed mainly on insects, spiders or other invertebrates, which they glean from short ground vegetation. Nest boxes are paired, with Tree Swallows often taking one box, and the bluebird occupying the other. The former seeks out insects flying high and the Bluebird will not compete with its ground watch. Unlike other Bluebirds, they often hunt by hovering, obviously inspecting the ground below for any potential food item. The striking turquoise blue is unmatched against the prairie setting.
The next time you see an insect at the park think of the food source and protection it is offering our beloved small avian creatures.
For these and other nature sightings at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, see also:
Havana, Cuba Wins
Hanging out in Havana, Cuba is getting easier every year.
Rustic, historic, charming and crumbling, Havana is a city of contrast. Take architecture, ranging from every era since Columbus landed over 500 years ago. Streets marching out European colonial, Art Deco and mid-Century modern, deteriorating gracefully as locals eke out a living in a world caught in the past. And then, there is transportation for every speed from horse pulled buggies to “American cars” and variations in between. Vestiges of the flight of owners who did not agree with leftist rhetoric of the mid century coup. And the people, except for the odd hustlers who usually take the first “no” as a definitive answer, Cubans are “mind your business” and “make do” kind of people.
And here lies the contrast. When Cubans have access to colour they apply it with a heavy brush…youth meandering down the Prado (a wide boulevard built in the late 18th C) in sexy, current, bright attire- chatting vigorously, they dress as well as they can. Where paint is desperately lacking in the architecture vivid colour is applied liberally in the recycled cars, the street costume/attire and the street art. And the rest have been making do as best they can. Cubans are the ultimate recyclers. Most travellers expect interesting sites, activities that miles of sandy beaches will satisfy, friendly people, good food (well, 3 out of four isn’t bad). Cuba offers what a lot of developing countries offer but they don’t have …, well, almost all, the cuisine is sketchy. Havana deserves more than a daytrip for those willing to slip down a few side streets, take in live Cuban music at the Café Paris.
The traveler to Havana has something to learn resourceful.
For more on Havana and Cuba, see also:
Superbloom Death Valley
Wildflower Peepers Delight
Roadside extravaganza. Desert floribunda. Botany bloomfest. Superbloom Death Valley is on again as wildflowers sprinkle and spread a dramatic carpet of colours in one of the bleakest places on earth.
Death Valley is having a flower show? Unpredictable and even more rare, this floral showing is wilder than just wildflowers. Once a century, and recently with El Nino, once a decade, a wildflower extravaganza hits the dismal emptiness of this valley turning a typically hostile environment into a flower festival.
Less than occasionally and sometimes once in a century Death Valley gets more than it’s allotted four trickles a year in rainfall. AND a critical amount splatters the blistered desert in the fall. Wildflower seeds wait for decades for enough moisture to wash off their outer coating allowing germination to perform nature’s magic. The following spring, after a lot of hope and anticipation that this year will be The Big One, Mother Nature nods in approval and the valley turns into a superific extravaganza of colour. Superbloom Death Valley explodes continuously for weeks as the seed to flower to seed cycle progresses from floor (sea level) to ceiling (mountains over 5000 feet) across and up and down this typically barren landscape. With climate change and wet events like El Nino, “normal” is uncommon, and for the second time this century, a “once in a century event” has imploded again.
Everywhere. Watch your step! Please do not step on the desert sunflowers. They are responsible for the entire desert floor taking on a sunshiney yellow hue.
Missing the 2005 Superbloom Death Valley meant a chance of the century passed you by. But last fall the rain gods descended on the desert seeds again with another superbloom. If you miss it you may have to wait another century or a lifetime or maybe just a decade this time.
For more on fragile places and California spring, see also: