Travelling by train in India is always an experience and our first and only night train conjured up in my mind picturesque images of an old fashioned luxurious journey.
We had pre-booked bunks and when I was told it was three bunks high, Class 3 and there were no private carriages available for us to share so it was communal. I knew it wouldn’t be quite as I dreamed.
So the good thing was it was very late just a few minutes to midnight when we embarked so we were tired, we found our bunks quite easily, stowed our cases, climbed up into clean but very thin bunks, luckily I was on the middle bunk not the very high one, and tried to sleep.
It was noisy and very full and stopped every hour or so but we all got some sleep, awoke early, found the washrooms which were very basic by which time the bunks were able to be folded down into seats again.
Watching the last few stops fly by was lovely and we got chatting to an Indian headmistress who was on her way to a school inspection, she told us a lot about the train system and translated the calls of ‘Brooke bond’ to be the coffee seller but persuaded us the chai tea was the better to drink.
We eventually disembarked and were driven to our next stop high in the mountains of Wayanard at a place called Fringe Ford. The road became a dirt track and we switched to a jeep for the last hour or so.
Fringe Ford is absolutely breathtaking, a group of just five rooms set in 520 acres atop a mountain surrounded by Jungle Book trees and forests. It is run as a conservation project to protect the wildlife and is well regarded worldwide. India has a breeding programme for tigers as the numbers had diminished to just 1500 in the whole of India ten years ago but had doubled in the last 5 years due to breeding and anti poaching programmes at various conservation projects, I was also hoping to see some wild elephants.
We were settled in our individual small houses, fed some late breakfast then invited on a walk through the forest later on, Shaji who looked after us was the perfect host dressed always in camouflage with a gun around his shoulder his knowledge and familiarity with the area was outstanding, he had been working there for seven years, the chef for 45 years and was totally committed to the cause living away from his wife and young son for most of the year.
Our first walk was relatively gentle with meandering waterfalls through forest tracks getting to know our bearings and just soaking in the wilderness. We had our first introduction to leeches, even wearing leech proof leggings, we had to leave our walking boots well away from the camp to prevent them entering our rooms. They managed to squirm their way through well sealed clothing.
The next day we were promised an afternoon walk up the mountain, were told it would be relatively gruelling but with sights that were too good to miss. We were warned not to wander off ourselves as there were tigers, bison, wild elephants, snakes and scorpions about.
So after a great night's sleep and a delicious dinner under starlight we had a lazy morning before setting off on our trek, we were accompanied by a lovely couple Sophie and Matthew. Sophie runs an amazing a tourism business in India, Holidays in Rural India, and together with Matthew, a lawyer lived between India and France. We set off and were soon walking steeply through thick greenery and literally pulling ourselves up by our hands as it got steeper and steeper all the time with Shaji commenting on the flora and pointing out animal tracks and dung, different monkeys and squirrels in the trees, huge spider webs, brightly coloured birds and flowers, we came close to a large wild bison and had to all stand very still until he lost interest until eventually reaching the peak around two hours walk, by this time I was so hot and wondering how I was going to make it to the top and suddenly we were there, I made it to the top and it was so worth it, views you would only dream of.
We could see for miles and Shaji had to finally insist we started to return as it was starting to get dark and we had a long trek ahead, downhill it was obviously easier but we were in a hurry as there were a lot of creatures in that forest, we saw only fireflies but they could have been eyes as we stumbled down.
I would love to return to those mountains as it was so interesting, we did see wild elephants on the hills the following day and on our last night sat around a campfire listening to Shajis stories and photos of the tiger that lived close by, the various snakes he had wrestled and the morning visitors had woken to a herd of wild elephants on the camp. When I awoke early the next morning I had a sneaky peek outside just incase.