Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Saving Tigers in India

When most people think of India the first wild animal that comes to mind is the Bengal tiger. This legendary species, largest member of the cat family, truly epitomizes wildlife in India.
As a result, India works diligently to embrace and protect this imposing and powerful animal. Males can reach 10 feet in length and weigh up to 500 pounds; as expected, females are somewhat smaller. The coat of a tiger is short and distinctively striped with patterns as individual as a fingerprint. Geographic differences also affect color and stripe pattern as well as fur density.

During a total of eight wildlife safaris in Kahna and Bandhavgahr National Parks, both located in central India, Larry and I had many sightings of Bengal tigers. We saw males and females, even a mother tiger playing with her four cubs. In the parks, tigers can often be seen resting or walking on dirt paths, which is easier on their soft feet than branches and rocks in the forest.
Although the tigers used to range over a great part of the country, today they are primarily restricted to forested areas of northern and central India. Their habitat can range from 10,000 feet high in the humid jungles of the Himalayas to the swamps of the Sundarbans where they spend much time in water.

Reclaiming tigers
In 1940 there were an estimated 40,000 tigers in India. Thirty years later the count was less than 2,000. Loss of habitat and excessive unmanaged hunting caused the number of tigers to decline significantly. Game shooting of tigers has been legal only since 1971, but illegal poaching continued for decades after that.

In 1973 Project Tiger was inaugurated by the Indian government in conjunction with World Wildlife Fund. Fifteen areas of reserve were set aside throughout India for protecting tigers and the ecosystems that benefit them. Additionally, as a result of Wildlife Institute of India being established in 1976 India now has the best record of any nation for protection of wildlife.
Within 52 national parks and 223 wildlife reserves, none of which have fences although some have villages within the reserve’s boundaries, tigers are free to roam. Our guide in India previously worked for Wildlife Institute of India and offered insight into programs currently in place to track tigers as they move through established corridors to different regions.

Tigers prey mostly on large hoofed animals such as deer, preferring to hunt at night or on cloudy days. Although they have been known to attack young elephants and cattle, they rarely kill people.  That would usually be the result of human encroachment on their territory. Tigers are not social animals; they hunt alone by stalking prey, then rush to attack and kill by choking or breaking the prey’s neck. During the day they rest in sheltered areas like caves or thick brush.
Tigers have become a big draw for tourism in India. Indeed, that was one of our primary reasons for to traveling to this huge country. We were not disappointed. Seeing them in their natural habitat is an amazing experience.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Friday, February 23, 2018

Searching for tigers

We spot the female tiger lying on the soft dirt path, seemingly undisturbed by our approaching safari vehicle. Because they have delicate paws, tigers like to walk on the dirt paths intended for motor vehicles, but being in the open like that makes her easy to see. We are the only vehicle around and watch in amazement as the tiger gets up and walks toward our vehicle. Our driver backs up multiple times to give the tigress space each time she nears the vehicle. Our cameras click continuously recording the experience so we can savor it again later.
We are on our first wildlife safari in KanhaNational Park in central India, a place we have traveled a long distance just for moments like this. Within an hour of entering the reserve we have made our first sighting.

When most people think about wildlife safaris they think of Africa, which is an excellent place to see lions, elephants, and other animals in the so-called “Big Five.”
But Africa doesn’t have Bengal tigers. And that’s why we went to India.

Our tour begins
After flying from Austin, Texas to Delhi, India and spending a day touring the old and new parts of that city, we left for Kanha National Park. That meant a flight to the small town of Jabalpur and then a four-hour drive on dusty, bumpy roads to the Kanha Jungle Lodge, arriving after dark.

Although the journey is not so easy, Kanha is often described as India’s best game sanctuary and a model for wildlife conservation everywhere. The park’s grassy meadows, flat-topped hills, numerous crystal clear streams, and lush sal (a kind of tree) forest were inspiration for Kipling’s Jungle Book. Because it’s an important tiger reserve, it was high on our list of places to search for tigers.
Wildlife drives are regulated by the park service and are only allowed from daylight to 11:00 a.m. and again from 3:00 to 5:30 p.m. During our three-night stay at Kanha, we went on four safaris, two morning and two afternoon.

Going on safari
Wakeup calls for morning safaris start at 5:00 a.m. After we sip a cup of hot tea and munch a biscuit, the lodge’s resident naturalist takes us to the park entrance for registration and to pick up a driver and mandated park guide. Once inside the park, we take off on the main road in a cloud of red dust mixed with fog formed into a mist that hangs over the area most of the morning.

A golden sunrise streams through the trees as Vinod, our driver, checks the dirt path for fresh footprints. We wind around trees, into small valleys, and over simple wooden bridges—all the while scanning the landscape and listening for an alarm call from deer that might indicate a tiger is nearby.
Vinod has lived in this area and spent time in the woods since childhood, so we soon decide that he thinks like a tiger. He is keenly observant and knows where to find the large cats and where they are likely to re-emerge after vanishing into the woods.

We watch solemnly, containing our excitement so as not to startle the tiger. When she finally heads into the brush and disappears inside the forest, our guide tells us she is on the hunt for food and has wandered a good distance from her cubs. So he doesn’t think we will see her again this morning
But we are ecstatic! Almost immediately we have fulfilled our mission to view tigers in the wilds of India. As the morning progresses, we also see spotted deer, black-face monkeys, wild hogs, barasingha (swamp deer), and assorted birds. It’s our first game drive, and what a success it has been.

I’ll follow up with more of our adventures in India in future posts.
Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier




Friday, February 16, 2018

Spring travel trends

Destination experts at Ker and Downey, a luxury travel organizer in Katy, Texas, have identified a few locations that appear to be trending for early 2018. These include North America’s national parks, South American destinations such as Argentina and Chile; European gems like the Italian Dolomites as well as Cadiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain; and a number of locations in Asia such as Bali, Bhutan, China and India.
Temples in Bali

“As we get further into 2018 people are realizing they haven’t finalized their travel plans for the year, and we are starting to see a lot of interest from our clients wondering what they can do to fulfill their wanderlust sooner rather than later,” said Ker & Downey Director of Marketing and Sales Nicky Brandon. “Based on whether someone wants to stay relatively close to home or check off a bucket-list trip half-way around the world, there are a number of locations travelers should be considering this spring based on travel industry trends and the new experiences Ker & Downey is offering,” Brandon adds.

Spring break often means family travel and multi-generational travel as larger family units try to make memories while kids are out of school. American travelers wanting to stay a bit closer to home might consider national parks or Alaska and Hawaii. Those looking for an extra reason to get out and discover their parks this spring need look no further than National Park Week, which begins April 21. If someone wants to discover history as well as spectacular views, Ker & Downey’s “Mid-Atlantic History Tour” sample itinerary includes private tours of the homes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.

Vineyards in Chile
If you want to wander south, the beautiful Chilean wine region in the CasablancaWine Valley offers optimal day trips and excursions. Guests have an opportunity to see the vineyard leaves and Patagonia foliage turn to vibrant autumn colors in April (Southern Hemisphere, remember?). Those traveling in March can raise a glass to their health and happiness during the annual wine festival season.

Thrill-seekers can spring into action with an abundance of snowy activities at the ItalianDolomites, famous for its hiking and skiing slopes. After working up an appetite, travelers can experience the area’s delicious cuisine as they taste their way through Bassano del Grappa and Asiago, then sip prosecco from a personal luxury gondola in Venice.

Offering unparalleled relaxation, the tropical beach-strewn paradise of Bali welcomes the ultimate far-flung vacationer. Ideal travel times are April and May, during dry season and before peak tourist season. Customized trips allow visitors to enjoy the Indonesian province’s beaches as well as tour temples and stroll through rice paddy walks at discounted seasonal rates.
Dolomites in Italy

Anyone who loves a good festival or cultural experience should consider visiting Asia this spring. In March, India celebrates the end of winter with street parties, during which everyone throws colored powder and water at each other in the vibrant Holi Festival. Across Southeast Asia, residents of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and southwest China ring in the New Year with the annual Water Festival. Held mid-April across the region, locals splash anyone and everyone, especially tourists, creating a fun and playful atmosphere for any visitor.

The serene, natural beauty of Bhutan blossoms in spring when the indigenous rhododendron flowers are in bloom. The three-day Rhododendron Festival, held April 20-22, 2018, highlights the region’s eco-tourism and celebrates its culture of peace and enlightenment. Combine this experience with a trip to neighboring Nepal and trek through the Himalayan Mountains, most visible during April before monsoon rains begin.

More information about Ker & Downey and its custom journeys can be found at

Information and photos courtesy of Liz Baker, Thompson & Co. PR 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Forget stereotypes: Cruisers cross age and income levels

Cruising remains one of the most popular vacations for all types of people, reports Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the largest cruise industry trade association in the world.
Cruise ships come in all sizes, from those that carry several hundred
passengers to those that carry many thousands.
Having cruised many times on family-friendly to luxury ships, I wholeheartedly agree. Your experience may also confirm that finding; but even if that doesn’t surprise you, some recent trends might.

One of the most telling stats is that people from all income levels and all age brackets are cruising. Although 50 percent of cruisers have a household income of at least $100,000, a third of cruisers surveyed have a household income of less than $80,000. Shorter itineraries and ships with fewer amenities are attracting people from all walks of life. “There is a cruise for every travel preference, style, and budget,” says Cindy E’Aoust, president and CEO of CLIA.
From basic inside cabins to more luxurious quarters, there are
accommodations for every budget and style of traveler.
Even more surprising is that millennials are booking luxury cruises at a record pace. Yes, 24 percent of those young things just starting their careers and families have sailed on a luxury cruise line within the past three years. Even more, 70 percent of millennials say they will definitely book a cruise for their next trip. Seems they have discovered that cruising is fun and budget-friendly at any age and not just for gray heads with canes.

Even teens enjoy the freedom and
excitement of cruising.
One reason cruises are so popular with millennials, as well as other generations, is that cruising gives them a sample of many different destinations and allows them to decide on places they want to return to later, whether on another cruise or a land-based trip. And there’s a high return quotient: Nine out of ten people say they will cruise again.
Onboard activities like miniature
golf appeal to all age groups.
Another trend: Cruisers like to travel with groups of familiar people, so a cruise can be the perfect family vacation. Although four out of 10 cruisers say they are interested in child care services onboard, only 13 percent actually use those services. Could that be because entertainment and activities are designed to be enjoyable for the whole family?

Pure relaxation in the hot tub with a cool one.
What kinds of cruises bring clients the most satisfaction? Studies put the number at 81 percent for river cruises and 73 percent for ocean cruises. Not sure what the reasons are but could have something to do with length and pace of cruises. Since a prime reason for choosing a cruise is relaxation, a slower paced river cruise fits that bill.
Travel agents are also in on the game. Knowing so many clients enjoy cruising means that travel agents are likely to recommend this vacation option. With so much variety in the cruising industry regarding destinations, length of cruise, type of ship, activities, and luxury level, it’s easy for travel agents to find something that works well for each client.

Features like ropes courses, slides, ice skating, zip lines, and more
are fun for all ages--kids not needed to try these activities!
No matter what your reason for going on a cruise, you can find one that works for you and will leave you wanting to cruise again. We have certainly found that to be true.
Information courtesy of CLIA. More information regarding the report or CLIA can be found at
Photos from Larry and Beverly Burmeier