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Into the Thar Desert

India day five


View Rajasthan 2015 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Onwards to Khimsar

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Friendly locals

Leaving Jaipur we headed west, deep into Rajasthan. Now we were truly in the desert state. The first part of the journey was on a good multi-lane toll road, less interesting for us than the rural roads. After a while though we left this and took a fairly rough road that wound through small villages and into the Thar Desert. In places there was construction work that meant we had to leave the road altogether, at times driving directly over the desert sand! As we passed through the villages some locals would wave to us, and in one these two guys spotted my camera and indicated I should take their photo - so I did!

The most notable sight on the journey was our first Indian antelope, a Nilgai, which Mehar spotted, stopping for us to take photos from the car, but other than that we didn't stop until we reached Khimsar – a journey time of about six hours, although it would have been less without the road works. As always we had enjoyed watching life beside the road, but this was among the less interesting of the several drives we had in India.

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Nilgai

Khimsar

Around a 450 year old fort on the edge of the Thar Desert a small town has grown up, consisting of little more than a market, some shops and a bus station. These serve the surrounding rural community and those who work in the fort, which is today is both home to the Thakurs, former rulers of the Kingdom of Khimsar, who built it, and also a heritage hotel. Confusingly the town is also sometimes referred to as Khinvsar or Khinwsar, but the fort always (as far as I can ascertain) as Khimsar.

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Khimsar Fort

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We spent one night here as a break on the long drive between Jaipur and Jaisalmer. There are no sights as such in Khimsar, unless you consider the magnificent fort, but as we wanted to see something of ordinary daily life in the region this suited us perfectly.

Arriving quite late in the afternoon we decided to resist the temptation of the rather lovely swimming pool in favour of a stroll around the village with our cameras. We found that most people were friendly and didn't mind those cameras in the slightest – indeed, many asked us to take their photo. This shopkeeper and his son were among these, and he gave us his address so we could send the pictures (which we have since done). A couple of women did shake their heads, no, so we respected this of course.

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Local people, Khimsar

The main street is lined with small shops and is also a bus terminal, so there is plenty of activity. Cows and goats wander freely, men gossip or play cards in the shade, women pick through vegetables to select the best for the evening meal. Several small boys, and not so small ones, posed on motorbikes or scooters - one teenage lad rushing from a shop to do so as we passed. The bus sounded its horn multiple times to signal departure, but there was always one more person to squeeze in first.

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Local cafe

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Market scene

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More of the locals

Near the entrance to the fort is a small temple and a couple of statues. One of these, near the fort, is I think of a former Maharaja. But as I said, a walk here isn't about finding the historical sights but those of daily life as it unfolds here in this Thar Desert village.

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Statue and temple, Khimsar

Khimsar Fort

We spent the night in this rather stunning heritage hotel, the first of a number that we stayed in on this trip and although not my favourite (that honour goes to Narlai), it was probably the grandest and certainly the largest. Quite apart from the photo opps to be had on its doorstep when wandering around the town, the hotel itself provides plenty – beautiful flowers, lovely old architecture and views of the surrounding countryside from the ramparts.

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This is a historic fort now converted to a hotel, although the owner (a descendant of the Thakurs of Khimsar who once ruled this region and were themselves descendants of Rao Jodhaji, founder of Jodhpur) still lives in one wing. Construction of the fort was started in 1523 but apparently the family only lived here from the 18th century onwards (I don’t know what they did with it prior to that!) It is a large sprawling complex of buildings built in beautiful honey-coloured sandstone. The grounds are quite extensive and include a lovely looking pool. There is also a spa, tennis court and small gym. Entertainment in the form of traditional musicians and dancers, and a puppet show is laid on in the evenings. For car enthusiasts, there is a collection of vintage cars on display in the royal garage.

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View from the hotel

We had one of the standard rooms but it was nevertheless very large and comfortable. It was located towards the back of the main building on the upper floor, and we had a small staircase in our room that led to a door out on to a roof terrace – perfect for star gazing, although it was a rather hazy night.

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Pool with our block beyond

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Our bedroom

Traditional Thar Desert musicians

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Musicians in front of the ruins

When we arrived at Khimsar Fort we were told that local musicians would perform below the ruins of Fateh Mahal that evening. There is a story attached to these ruins. They are named after Fateh Pir Baba, a Sufi saint who blessed the ruling family. When he died, he was buried here next to the fort walls. At that time a residence was being built just next to the spot chosen for his tomb. The ruling chief died during the construction and people said that this showed that the saint's spirit was not in peace. Work was halted and the building was left incomplete.

A small performance area has been created here, with a semi-circular seating area. We went along as directed and found a group of five here. One of the musicians tried to teach us to play his traditional castanet-like instruments, but we couldn't get the hang of the grip, so left him to it! We certainly weren't going to emulate the girl who danced on knife blades (even if these weren't sharp – we had no way of knowing) and on nails!

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Musicians

The performance was quite short but we enjoyed it and I loved the colourful costumes too. I made a short video which I think gives a good flavour not only of the performance but also of Chris’s reaction when the knives were brought out!

After the show finished we went for dinner. With very little available in the village we decided to eat in the hotel, as I imagine most guests do. As far as we could gather (the staff have quite limited English compared with other hotels we stayed in) it's possible to get an a la carte meal in the restaurant, but in the dry winter months most people, including us, opt for the buffet served up on the ramparts. While buffets are not my preferred option, the setting made up for that – a lovely view of the fort itself, a pleasant breeze after the afternoon's heat, and music drifting up from the village.

We stayed on a while after dinner enjoying the setting and another beer. To be honest the setting was the best thing about this meal, as the food was really just ordinary. They have something of a captive market – as I said, few visitors are likely to venture into the village to eat (it's very much just a local village with no tourist facilities, even of the most basic nature). Still, the location was lovely, the service friendly (our waiter kept bringing more poppadums to go with our post-dinner beers!), and the price very reasonable, so we were pretty happy with our evening.

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And after dinner, a stroll around the ramparts back to our comfortable room, to rest before another long drive tomorrow.

Posted by ToonSarah 11:27 Archived in India Tagged people india hotel fort village dance music rajasthan khimsar Comments (12)

Of cranes and camels

India day six


View Rajasthan 2015 on ToonSarah's travel map.

The road to Jaisalmer

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Flowers at breakfast

Today was another long but fascinating day on the road in Rajasthan, starting from Khimsar Fort hotel where we experienced a uniquely Indian twist on the buffet breakfast. Food was indeed set out on long counters for us to help ourselves, as you might expect, but somehow the staff were too keen to be helpful to have really grasped the buffet ideology and they kept bringing us things – a second glass of juice, toast, bananas … The room itself was lovely, with sunlight flooding in through tinted windows and portraits of generations of the family staring down at us as we ate. Had we not been excited to see what lay ahead for us on the road we would have been somewhat reluctant to leave this magnificent hotel.

Our drive to Jaisalmer from Khimsar, with the ever-helpful Mehar, took about five hours (not including stops). The road took us through small villages and across the Thar Desert landscape. Some may find this dry flat landscape dull, but I have always loved deserts and I enjoyed this drive a lot. And we made some particularly interesting stops en route too.

A warm welcome

As we drove through the Thar Desert towards Jaisalmer I asked Mehar if he thought it would be possible to stop to photograph some of the small round grass-thatched houses that we saw either side of the road.

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A desert home

I had in mind a few shots from distance with the zoom, if he felt that would not be resented. But when he spotted a suitable home and stopped the car he suggested that we walk over to it. Would they mind, we asked - not at all, he replied.

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The welcoming committee

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The family

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Our hostess

So we strolled among the succulents and a few low-growing gourds to be welcomed by two children near the entrance (it was festival time and there was no school). Their mother came out to join them and when Mehar asked if we could take photos, agreed willingly - and not just of the house, we could photograph her and the children too. An older brother came over to join us, then children from another nearby house came running. We were causing quite a stir!

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The neighbours arrive

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Decoration on the ground
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The family shrine

Mehar explained how the hut outside the wall was for the cows, while inside there was a large sleeping hut, a slightly smaller cooking hut, and two little ones to store grain. The family also own a nearby stone house, which has electricity, but prefer to use that only when the weather is cold and during the rainy season. The rest of the time these grass-roofed houses are cooler and they are happy there.

On leaving we offered the mother some rupees in thanks, so she might buy some things for the children perhaps, but she didn't want to take it, saying she was simply happy that we had visited. Mehar persuaded her though, helped by her small daughter who took the notes willingly!

Most of the children then followed us to the car, insisted on posing for more photos there, and then waved us off. Mehar had never stopped at this place before, so this was far from an everyday occurrence for them, and I do feel they enjoyed it as much as we did - it certainly didn't feel at all voyeuristic as some of those contrived "visit a village home" tourist experiences can do.

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The family

The cranes of Khichan

On the road between Khimsar to Jaisalmer we passed through Khichan, a rural village that would be unremarkable were it not for the fact that it has become the wintering place of choice for a huge number of Demoiselle cranes. Mehar suggested a stop here on our drive from Khimsar to Jaisalmer, and always up for seeing as much as possible on our sometimes long drives between the various cities we visited, of course we said yes. He said there would be lots of birds so I imagined a nature reserve of some sort, but this is something rather different.

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Demoiselle crane in flight

On arriving in the village he turned off the main road for just a short distance. He parked up and we paid the small fee (10 IR per person, plus 20 IR for the car) and walked up a short slope to the edge of the lake. There on the far side was a large flock of the cranes. The noise was considerable and it was fascinating to watch them as they were continually on the move – some taking briefly to the air before landing again on or near the water, others wading and drinking or feeding.

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The cranes of Khichan

But why are they here in such numbers? Well, this is a village with a significant population of Jains, who value all living things. In the 1970s a married couple here were given the job of feeding the pigeons, something that Jains do all over India (as, from what I observed, do many Hindus). As winter approached some demoiselle cranes started to join the pigeons and eat the grain that this couple were spreading on the ground. During the course of that first winter about 100 cranes came, and the next winter 150. But the local dogs started to hunt the cranes, so the couple asked the village assembly to make land available to create a safe feeding place for the cranes. This was agreed as the people here loved the cranes because of their vegetarianism and monogamy. Other villagers helped to build a fenced-in chugga ghar (bird feeding home) and local traders donated grain. From this small beginning a major migration has grown up, with thousands of cranes visiting the village every winter.

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There are tiny frogs too!

Feeding them has become a major initiative for the locals. There are now a number of feeding houses where the cranes congregate each morning for breakfast, before moving on to spend their day by the lakes on the edge of town, such as the one we visited. At night they leave to roost in the fields around the village, before returning the next morning to feed again. It’s possible if you are here early enough to watch the feeding, but if you come later as we did you can visit the cranes by the lakes. The small fee you pay goes towards buying the vast amounts of grain needed.

It’s not a bad idea to bring binoculars if you have them as the cranes congregate on the far side of the lake. We let Mehar have a look through ours, which he enjoyed, and some of the local village boys who were hanging around also had a go and seemed to find the new perspective on their avian visitors rather fun!

Other sights along the road that day included several of the colourful lorries I never tired of photographing (and one of these was possibly the best of the trip, featuring a vibrant Taj Mahal!), several antelopes, a group of camels crossing the road, and a stop at a level crossing for the Brikaner to Jaisalmer train to pass.

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Antelope

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Colourful trucks

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Passing train

Fort Rajwada, a beautiful heritage hotel

Jaisalmer is known as the "Golden City" because of the sandstone with which it is built, which glows gold in the sunlight, and arriving at Fort Rajwada in the late afternoon we could see that golden glow on the ornate entrance gate as well as on the building itself.

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Hotel gate

As everywhere, we were given a friendly welcome, with a cold drink, cooling towels and a garland of artificial flowers. We were then shown to our room, which was lovely, as was the building overall. The pool looked tempting, but we decided to leave that for the following day and instead made use of the hotel wifi to catch up on messages (the hotel offers a small amount of free wifi, after which you have to pay for a package according to the amount you want, although slightly annoyingly you can't use and then pay for what you had, but instead have to say in advance what you want).

At about 5.00 pm there was a knock on our bedroom door. Opening it I found a couple of men with a cleaning trolley offering "evening service". They insisted on closing our curtains for us and switching on the lights – both tasks we could have done easily for ourselves had we wanted to. As it was, with more than an hour of daylight left, we immediately reopened the curtains as soon as they had left, and switched off the unnecessary lights! It was helpful though to have our supplies of bottled water topped up and that alone was maybe worth the tip they so obviously anticipated.

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Flaming tomatoes!

We could have had a barbecue dinner by the pool here, but it was rather a warm evening we decided to eat in the air conditioned restaurant, Sonal, where you can choose between a buffet and a la carte meal – and naturally chose the latter as I’m not fond of buffets. I like to be served at table rather than scramble for access to the food among sometimes over-eager diners, and I also question the hygiene aspects when food can have been siting there for some time. This proved be a good decision – the food was all delicious and was brought to the table in rather spectacular style, with small tea lights burning inside the delicately carved tomatoes that ornamented each main dish. We returned the following evening and were equally happy with our meals and the service. Perhaps our tip on the first evening had been on the generous side, or maybe the waiting staff appreciated guests who chose from the a la carte menu – either way the head waiter welcomed us back with a broad smile and insisted we move from the table near the door where we had been seated to one he considered much better on the far side of the room!

Overall Fort Rajwada made an excellent base for our explorations in Jaisalmer – explorations which will follow in my next entry …

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Our room, and the pool

Posted by ToonSarah 09:35 Archived in India Tagged people birds desert india hotel rajasthan jaisalmer khichan Comments (11)

A return to Gambia

Senegal day one


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

In 2014 we had visited Gambia for some winter sun so in search of similar two years later we decided to check out Senegal. But initially that meant a return visit to Gambia!

There are two options for flying to Senegal from the UK, either to Dakar (via Brussels) or via Banjul in neighbouring Gambia. While the former may seem to make more sense, and is convenient for the hotels on the more developed coastal strip a few hours south of the capital, flying to Banjul is the preferred option if staying in the handful of hotels just across the border in the Sine Saloum Delta region – and that is where we were headed.

The Gambia Experience and sister company Senegal Experience have pretty much of a monopoly on travel and hotel bookings to the region from the UK (many of the hotels can only be booked through them) and charter flights come as part of the package. On our previous visit to The Gambia with them two years before our flights had been with Monarch; this time they were with Titan.

Because the flight left Gatwick very early, we opted to stay the previous night in the South Terminal’s Hilton Hotel. The cost of this was balanced by not having to leave our car at the airport, and it also meant we avoided the anxiety of getting to the airport on time, especially in unpredictable winter weather. So we were in the airport the next morning in good time and stress-free.

While nothing special, there was also little to complain about in the flight. The plane, an Airbus, was new and the leg-room generous. Service was friendly, and passenger announcements clear and comprehensive. While the flight was late in leaving this was through no fault of the airline – a checked-in passenger failed to present himself at the gate so his luggage had to be unloaded. Don’t you just love people like that?!

The flight lasted a little over six hours. Unusually, in-flight entertainment was provided via an app which we had to download in advance to our tablets. Presumably if you have no such device you have to do without, but that isn't a great hardship as the selection of films on our flight at least was quite limited and uninspiring. Meals were included, as were tea, coffee and fruit juice, though other drinks had to be paid for. The food was unexciting but quite tasty for an airline meal - pasta salad, chicken fricassé, chocolate cake.

Our route took us over Spain, Portugal, Morocco and down across the Sahara to West Africa. From my window seat I had good views and the pilot pointed out landmarks such as Lisbon and the Moroccan coast line.

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Over Spain?

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Off the coast of Portugal

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Coming into land in Banjul

We landed about 30 minutes late at Banjul (thanks to that non-appearing passenger) and cleared immigration after not too long in the queue. After collecting our luggage, we were met by a Gambia Experience rep who directed us to the bus that would take us to our overnight accommodations in the Gambia. Stage one of our journey was completed.

Overnight at the Kombo Beach Hotel

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Kombo Beach Hotel

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Our room

Our choice of hotel for this evening was pragmatic. Our brief stay didn’t justify a splurge on the lovely Ngala Lodge where we had stayed on our previous visit, so we just went with the travel company’s suggestion of Kombo Beach as being close to the airport and mid-priced. This is a rather large hotel which, while it wouldn't be our choice for a holiday base (too large and ‘packaged’ for our taste) was adequate for our one-night stays either side of our time in Senegal.

Rooms are in four big three-storey blocks – ours on the first night was in the fourth, furthest from reception, bar and pool. This was a bonus as it was quieter and also had a good view across a tennis court to some palm trees and the beach beyond.

Our room was very simply furnished but provided with a safe, small fridge to chill drinks, and air conditioning. It had a balcony with a couple of plastic seats, a good-sized and comfortable bed, and an over-bath shower in the en suite. While the shower was good, the curtain was of the horrible flimsy sort that seems to attack anyone showering within a foot or more of it!

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View from our room


We watched the sun set over the beach from our balcony, then spent the evening in the bar, where drinks are reasonably priced and snack meals (burgers, panini etc) are available. We could also have eaten in the adjacent open air buffet restaurant, but I'm not a fan of buffets in hot climates, and in the dark we failed to spot the smarter table service restaurant on the far side of the pool. So we had a pleasant enough evening and retired to our room for a prompt night as it had been an early start that morning.

Posted by ToonSarah 11:21 Archived in Gambia Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises hotel flight africa gambia senegal Comments (11)

Travelling to Fathala

Senegal day two


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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River bank in Banjul, from the ferry

Having spent the night at the Kombo Beach Hotel, we were up early and eager to set off for Senegal. But first came breakfast. This was included in our stay and served buffet-style. We didn't have time to sample everything because of our early departure for the ferry, but what I did have was good - a roll with pineapple and ginger jam, a croissant and wonjo juice (made from hibiscus flowers – delicious). The exception was the coffee which was weak and flavourless. However, on our second visit to the hotel at the end of our trip I found the coffee rather better, so maybe I was just unlucky this first time.

The Banjul ferry

We were picked up after breakfast by a driver who took us and three other tourists to catch the ferry in Banjul. We arrived at the port in good time and stood chatting for a while before the boat arrived. When it did so it was packed with people travelling to the capital to start the working day – some carrying goods to sell at the markets, some coming to buy; some dressed, it appeared, for office work, others labourers probably seeking day work; school children in uniform and a few goats and chickens!

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Ferry passengers in Banjul

After the people, the cars and lorries trundled off, and then it was our turn to board. Thankfully at that time of day the northbound voyages are quieter so there was plenty of room.

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Boarding the ferry in Banjul

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River bank in Banjul, from the ferry

On our driver's advice we secured seats up on the top deck while he guarded the luggage down below. It took a while for some lorries to come aboard but once they had we were off.

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Departing from Banjul

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Ferry passengers

The crossing took about thirty minutes (I gather though it can be as much as forty or fifty) and we then disembarked, being careful to stay out of the way of the lorries doing the same.

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The north bank of the river

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Disembarking in Barra

Fathala Lodge

We were met here by a driver from the lodge we were heading to in Senegal, Fathala. The drive took about an hour, with a stop at a police-check and further stops at both the Gambian and Senegalese borders. The scenery was dry, dusty but rather attractive bush, and the road well-surfaced, so we enjoyed our journey - indeed, I would have been happy if it were a little longer!

[Aside: this was perhaps just as well, as two days later we were to repeat the trip – a broken tooth meant a return to Banjul for a morning for dental treatment, helpfully arranged by the hotel manager and staff.]

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On the road to Samé

Fathala Lodge lies not far from the border near a small village called Samé. It claims be a unique hotel for Senegal – a tented lodge on a private wildlife reserve. Accommodation is in large tents set along boardwalks that lead away from the public areas on either side. As we were shown to our tent, about halfway along the row to the left of the central area, we were warned to stay on the boardwalks at all time, as the long grass below often harboured snakes. You can believe that we followed this advice to the letter!

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Our tent

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The tents all have mosquito nets, free-standing bath tubs and twin washbasins. In a separate block behind are two outdoor showers (I love outdoor showers!). There is plenty of storage, a small fridge, tea and coffee, but no TV – this is an away-from-it-all destination.

The public areas are all open air under a large thatched roof. There is lots of comfortable seating, a bar and restaurant, and a small plunge pool with sun loungers. The atmosphere is one of casual but well-designed comfort, with local crafts, a few antelope skulls and similar African decorative touches. There is free wifi available here, although not in the tents.

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Bar and lounge

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Plunge pool and deck

We had arrived in time for lunch which we had on the terrace overlooking the lodge’s small waterhole just beyond the plunge pool. This naturally attracts local wildlife. If you are lucky (we weren’t, either today or throughout our stay) this will include the resident white rhino, as well as the frequently-visiting waterbucks. But we did spot some warthogs this afternoon, getting us in the mood for our planned afternoon activity.

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Warthogs at the waterhole

Safari drive in Fathala Reserve

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In the reserve, Fathala

The lodge has a variety of activities on offer (all of which are available to non-residents, by the way, who come on day trips from hotels in nearby Gambia). We signed up for a number of these as soon as we arrived, starting today with a safari-style drive in Fathala’s own game reserve.

The reserve has been stocked with some species that would once have been at home in Senegal, such as giraffe and rhino, and of course has still-native species including a wide variety of birds and several monkeys. A highlight of the reserve is the rare Western Giant Eland (also known as the Giant Derby Eland) which is bred here as part of a rescue programme for this endangered species.

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Western Giant Eland

We went out in the late afternoon with a driver plus a local guide who spoke good English and was adept at spotting the animals and telling us something about them. We didn't see all the species that the reserve has (you would have to be exceptionally lucky to do so) but we did see a lot, including several of the Western Giant Eland. On our drive this afternoon we also saw ...

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Plains Zebra

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Giraffes

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Patas Monkey
- we saw both Red and Green Patas Monkeys, but I'm not sure which this is, although my guess is red!

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Warthogs

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Roan Antelopes

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Waterbuck, and another Western Giant Eland

We also saw lots of birds.

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Both Red-billed and Grey Hornbills

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Abyssinian Roller

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Blue Glossy and Purple Starlings

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Stone Partridge

Plus some I failed to get decent photos of:
African Harrier Hawk
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Red-eyed Dove
Guinea Fowl
Drongo

We stopped a little before sunset, when the light was at its best, to enjoy a beer and some nuts while photographing the starlings at a waterhole. I also videoed them, and later combined that footage with some taken earlier of the giraffes:

So while we didn't see the hoped-for White Rhino this was still a great outing and we thoroughly enjoyed the more than three hours we had spent driving around the reserve. The light was fading as we drove back to the lodge, ready for our dinner.

Evening at the lodge

Our stay at Fathala was on a bed and breakfast basis. I found it surprising that they didn't just make it half-board, since there is nowhere else to go to eat round here! So of course we took all our meals in the restaurant and found them very good on the whole, although the choice was understandably limited.

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Thai fish curry

Dinner was a set three course meal, with no choice of starter or dessert and just two options for mains. Although we didn’t have any specific needs ourselves, we were told that the chef will cook for these, e.g. vegetarian, with prior notice. We got chatting this evening to a young vegetarian girl (another Sarah!) who was staying here with her mother, and she told us that she was very impressed with the variety and quality of the dishes prepared for her. As indeed were we – the choice might have been limited but the meals were excellent and I loved this evening’s main course of a butterfish fillet in a Thai curry sauce.

Before and after dinner we enjoyed drinks in the Baobab Bar, an informal spot with views across the dried up river channel and, after dark, a fire pit. Then we walked back along the boardwalk, watching carefully for snakes, and settled down in our cosy tent, excited about what tomorrow would bring ...

Posted by ToonSarah 06:33 Archived in Senegal Tagged people animals birds boats wildlife hotel africa safari zebra giraffes gambia senegal fathala Comments (12)

Travelling to the Sine-Saloum Delta

Senegal day five


View Senegal 2016 on ToonSarah's travel map.

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Waterbuck mother and baby visiting the waterhole

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At breakfast today we were treated to the sight of a couple of waterbucks, mother and baby, who came to drink at the waterhole and lingered for some time. A lovely ending to our short stay at Fathala.

Our journey to Fimela

After spending three nights at Fathala we left to travel further into Senegal. We drove (or I should say, were driven) north on what was at first a good road but which soon deteriorated into a dusty red sand track, made worse by the fact that work was in progress (February 2016) to surface it properly.

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Roadworks

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Scenery on the road

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Passing through a local village

But after 25 kilometres of bumping along through a string of very traditional-looking villages, each with a number of the family compounds so typical of rural Africa, we turned west, and back on to a properly surfaced road. Our driver explained that rather than travel through Kaolack, as we had expected, he planned to take the ferry from Foundiougne, cutting off a corner of the journey and avoiding another long stretch of unmade-up road. We might have to wait for the boat, he said, but that would still be preferable to the much longer alternative by road. This suited us, as the boat ride would break up the journey and sounded more interesting.

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The Saloum from the road

This better road led across salt flats and along causeways lined with mangroves to the town of Foundiougne, from where we were to catch the ferry across the Saloum. The queue of vehicles was too long to allow of us crossing on the ferry that was then loading, so we had to hang around for about 45 minutes while it crossed and returned.

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The ferry in Foundiougne
- this is the one that was too full to take us!

This unscheduled break gave us time to stroll around and take lots of photos, as well as to try to converse a little, in our sometimes inadequate French, with the local market traders etc. They were naturally keen that we shopped at their stalls (we didn't) but less keen on our cameras, although most tolerated them.

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Locals in Foundiougne

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Drums for sale in the market

The favoured local transport option of a horse or donkey and cart was much in evidence, carrying both goods and passengers.

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Local transport in Foundiougne

I rather liked the design of the building housing the port offices here - very 1930s, it seemed to me!

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Port building

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Decorated bike waiting for the ferry

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Ferry approaching Foundiougne

When the ferry returned we paid the foot passenger fee of 50 CFA francs each while our driver drove on separately (no passengers are allowed in vehicles). Life jackets were much in evidence, but thankfully not needed!

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Leaving Foundiougne

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On the ferry
- a white-breasted cormorant, I think, and two gulls

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Approaching Ndakhonga on the far bank

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Disembarking from the ferry in Ndakhonga

The crossing took only about 15 minutes, and once on the far side it was an easy drive of around an hour via the small town of Fatick and on to Souimanga Lodge near the township of Fimela.

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On the road to Fatick

Souimanga Lodge

When I booked our stay at this fairly remote small hotel in the Sine Saloum I opted to pay a little extra for what they term a ‘lagoon’ rather than ‘garden’ bungalow, as these face directly on the water and have their own private boardwalk and shaded jetty overlooking the water. But when we arrived it was to discover that for some reason we had been upgraded to a suite. These (there are just two) have the same lovely waterside setting as the lagoon bungalows, but the extra bonus of a small private plunge pool and a separate inside seating area. What a treat!

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Seating area

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Bedroom area


The room was beautifully decorated with interesting art pieces and lighting. It had plenty of facilities including air conditioning, mini bar, espresso coffee machine and a TV with French channels. The bathroom was very attractive with a monsoon shower.

At the end of our boardwalk was a deck with large beanbags and some shade, perfect for bird-watching. After a quick dip in the rather chilly plunge pool we spent what remained of the afternoon relaxing there and taking photos of the many birds who live among the mangroves.

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View from the deck, with next door's hide, and the boardwalk to our private hide

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Our suite from the hide

The Sine Saloum Delta is known for its bird-life. While I wouldn’t describe myself as a keen birdwatcher, as a photographer I am drawn to them and the challenge of capturing the beauty of something that hardly ever keeps still for long enough!

I also like to know what it is that I am photographing, something I found slightly frustrating here. The local guides here seemed much less knowledgeable about the names of the bird species than those in Gambia, and naturally when they could name them, they did so in French. A comprehensive guide to the birds of West Africa on the bookshelf in the bar area was also in French, so I resorted to Google and to sharing photos with well-informed Facebook friends! All bird photos labelled in this blog therefore come with a disclaimer – I am pretty sure I have the names correct but not 100% so. I’d be grateful to readers who can correct any errors, either on this page or the following ones!

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Bird-life among the mangroves

Today we saw herons, egrets and more, including several pelicans swimming among the mangroves.

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Pelican

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Black-winged Stilt

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Cormorants
- too far away for me to be sure which kind!

Back on the deck we saw a few more birds who came to drink from our plunge pool. There were Senegal Doves, also known as Laughing Doves, and also a Red-Eyed Dove.

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Senegal or Laughing Doves

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Red-Eyed Dove

We also saw several Common Bulbuls and a Weaver – either Village or Little, I wasn’t able to determine which.

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Common Bulbul
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Little (or Village?) Weaver

We were to see many more of the same species during the week we spent here, and more besides, so expect to see lots more bird photos in my following entries too!

Evenings at Souimanga

In the evening we had dinner on the decking by the main building. This is on several levels with only a few tables on each, and you have the feeling of eating in a tree-house – wonderful!

Dinner was a set menu but with a choice of two main courses, which seemed almost always to be either beef (served as a steak or brochette) or fish, again served either as a single piece or a mix of fishes on a brochette. One of the kitchen staff came to seek us out each afternoon to ask for our choice and also at what time we wanted to eat. Before our choice of mains, there was always an amuse bouche and an entree, and after it a dessert. There was no choice of these, but generally we found them tasty and they were thankfully much more varied than the main courses. We also really enjoyed both our pre-dinner drinks each evening (a beer for Chris and a cocktail for me), which came with what we still talk about as the best olives we have tasted anywhere in the world!

Posted by ToonSarah 07:15 Archived in Senegal Tagged landscapes animals birds boats views hotel river roads africa seabirds senegal street_photography Comments (10)

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