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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

India: The South and the Andaman Islands

Tour Information

Note: The information presented here is an abbreviated version of our formal General Information for Tours to India: the South. Its purpose is solely to give readers a sense of what might be involved if they took this tour. Although we do our best to make sure what follows here is completely accurate, it should not be used as a replacement for the formal document which will be sent to all tour registrants, and whose contents supersedes any information contained here.

TRAVEL TO INDIA: This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird, and starts and ends in Cochin (Kochi), India.

ENTERING INDIA: United States citizens will need a valid passport and a tourist visa. These can be obtained from the Indian Embassy in Washington, D.C. or Consulate in New York. Visas can also be obtained through a visa service, such as CIBT. As a general rule, your passport should be valid for six months after you plan to return from India.

MAPS AND COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can view maps of India in the University of Texas series here. You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information here, and the CIA World Factbook background notes on India here.

HEALTH: Although we will not see many mosquitoes there might be a few, especially in the lowlands at the Mudumalai, Anaimalai, and Periyar National Parks. There are typically a few more mosquitoes on the Andaman Islands. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a malaria preventative. The CDC are currently recommending one of the following antimalarial drugs: mefloquine (Lariam®), doxycycline, or Malarone®. Please consult your doctor or public health clinic as to which of these drugs is best for you.

While no vaccinations are required, the CDC are currently recommending the following vaccinations: Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG); typhoid vaccination is particularly important because of the presence of S. typhi strains resistant to multiple antibiotics in this region; as needed, booster doses for tetanus-diphtheria and measles, and a one-time dose of polio for adults.

You can review the latest CDC traveller’s advisories here

CLIMATE: Most of our days are in the lowlands around Cochin as well as in the Mudumalai, Periyar, and Thattekad Sanctuaries. The weather should be pleasant with daytime temperatures in the range of 20-30°C (68-86°F). However, it can be quite humid, especially on the coast. Ooty (Ootacamund) in the Nilgiri mountains is nearly 7,000 feet above sea level and is noticeably cooler, with nighttime temperatures occasionally dropping to almost freezing. Rain is unlikely anywhere but should not be totally discounted; it’s perhaps slightly more likely at Ooty, Munnar and Chennai (Madras).

The Andamans have little seasonal variation in climate. Continuous sea breezes keep daytime temperatures within the 23°-31°C (73-88°F) range, though again the humidity is high.

PACE OF TOUR AND DAILY ROUTINE: This tour will not be particularly physically strenuous. There will be optional early morning birdwatching excursions on several days. On a couple of these we may leave the hotel as early as 5:30am (it’s typically light at about 6:15am) and return for breakfast, while on other days we’ll depart shortly after breakfast. We’ll take packed breakfasts on several occasions and packed lunches on a good number of days. There will be the opportunity to stay out birdwatching until dusk many evenings or, on occasion, to return earlier to the hotel if you so wish. There will also be a couple of evening owling excursions - these will usually take place after dinner and may last an hour or about one-and-a-half hours.

Much of the birdwatching will be done along quiet roads and jeep tracks. We’ll frequently walk downhill ahead of the coach with our driver catching us up at intervals. There will be a few occasions where we venture off onto forest trails. Hardly any of the walking will be over rugged terrain, and most of the walks will last a maximum of four hours. Exceptions will be at Periyar Sanctuary where we hope to be able to make an excursion in search of the Indian Broad-tailed Grassbird. This excursion, if we are given permission to enter the core area of the park, initially involves an hour-and-a-half jeep ride and then about an 800 meter walk through one metre high wet grass overlying a spongy bog. The walking is not easy, but the group will take it slowly. Also at Periyar we’ll have one full day’s walk, setting off after breakfast and taking our own packed lunches and drinks. We anticipate walking about four or five miles and will return over the same route in the mid to late afternoon. Although our coach is not allowed inside the park’s ‘core zone’, it is sometimes possible to arrange for park jeeps to pick us up.

On the Andamans, foreigners are allowed to stay overnight only in Port Blair, which is an hour or an hour and a half away from the two best areas of forest. As it will be hot during the middle of the day, with an attendant decrease in bird activity, we anticipate making a series of very early starts (often leaving the hotel at 3:45 am) to take advantage of the early mornings when the birds are at their most active. On such days we’ll take packed breakfasts to eat in the field, then usually have lunch and a midday break back at the hotel. However, since we expect to be using several vehicles, there will usually be the option of remaining at our hotel for breakfast and joining the group later.

Several of the Andamans’ ornithological specialties are night birds, and seeing them may involve staying out as late as 10:00pm. On this and other days there will obviously be the option of returning to the hotel earlier.

ACCOMMODATION: Accommodation is of a moderate to good standard throughout this tour. In Ooty, Cochin, and Chennai (Madras), and on the Andaman Islands, we’ll stay in good-quality international-style hotels. At Mudumalai we’ll stay at a beautifully situated safari-style lodge in a wooded area outside the Tiger Reserve. The accommodation and food is of a good standard. Most of the accommodation here is in small cottages, again with single or double rooms, each with a private toilet and private washing facilities.

At Munnar we will stay in a good, privately-owned hotel. The rooms are well-appointed and clean, the restaurant serves excellent food, and the staff are very amenable. At Periyar National Park we will stay at a Government Hotel right in the center of the park; the accommodation here is of a good standard, as is the food. At Thattekad we’ll stay in a privately owned hotel outside the sanctuary; the rooms are of a good standard, and all have air conditioning and a ceiling fan. The food is excellent.

FOOD: Throughout the tour we are served a wide variety of good quality Indian food. Salads or salad garnishes are frequently offered, but these should always be declined or left on the edge of your plate. The food we are served always includes a good selection of vegetarian dishes. In some of the places where we stay meals are buffet-style with several different dishes available, while in other places set meals are provided. However a typical Indian set meal actually consists of three or four different dishes to choose from. We appreciate that not everyone likes to eat Indian food (which can occasionally be a little bit spicy) everyday or even at all. Several of the places we visit will, if requested, provide western food. If a buffet is being served this normally includes a western-style dish or two. However if you require western-style food and cannot eat Indian food please advise the WINGS Office in advance and the leader once you are on the tour. Not everywhere that we stay will provide a western-style meal, and it must be said that even those places that can cater to westerners are able to cook Indian food to a much better standard than they cook western food.

DRESS: Dress is informal throughout.

TRANSPORT: Transportation between sites is by coach or internal flights. We are not allowed to use our own vehicle inside Rajamalai National Park and instead will use local jeeps. We will use similar jeeps when we search for Yellow-throated Bulbul on our way from Munnar to Periyar National Park and similar jeeps again if we can obtain permission to visit the Indian Broad-tailed Grassbird site at Periyar.

Some of the roads in South India are poorly maintained, rough and pot-holed. This can make for bumpy, slightly uncomfortable journeys on a couple of days. Note, however, that we operate a seating rotation within our vehicles and, especially on the bumpier roads, will be travelling slowly and stopping frequently to stretch our legs and to birdwatch.

SMOKING: Smoking is not allowed in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists etc. If you are sharing a room with a non-smoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, we ask that you do so well away and downwind from the group. If any site where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail.

TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF WINGS AND SUNBIRD TOURS: Please take a moment to read the About WINGS Tours portion of our website. This section contains important information about how we conduct tours, e.g., what is included in the tour price, refund and cancellation policies, pace of the tours, and other information that will help you prepare for the tour.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: A more complete General Information for Tours to Southern India will be sent to each registrant on rceipt of their booking. Final information with instructions for meeting the group, hotel addresses, etc., will be mailed about three weeks before trip departure. Other news will be communicated as necessary. If you have any questions, please contact us.

Updated: February 2014