The proud mother

Help! The jeep suddenly veered off the track and headed straight into the bush. It looked a little like this, but denser:

Logs broke underneath the jeep, branches cracked against its sides, branches and leaves bounced as our guide navigated the vehicle with great determination. It was the first morning of my first real safari, and I was in Botswana, in the Khwai private concession.

I was very excited.

But what was the destination of this off-road expedition? We stopped in front of a hollow log and were asked to be very quiet. And then we saw a tail, a spotted tail, a leopard tail! Inside the log!! Never before had a tail caused such excitement and been the object of so many photos (I was with a group of Swedish photo enthusiasts).

But those small spots …? There was also a cub! The excitement reached new heights. I’m not ashamed to admit that tears started filling my eyes: here I was, on the first morning of my first safari, sitting a couple of metres from a leopard cub!

We waited very patiently for a while, but mother and cub didn’t come out. We decided to come back later and headed towards new morning adventures that brought more tears of happiness to my eyes (I mention this just to make you curious and alert for upcoming posts).

We all held our breath as we headed into the bush a few hours later: would we see more than a tail? The reply was very soon very obvious:

And as if this beautiful sight of a proud and vigilant mother wasn’t enough (notice how one of her ears is listening in to something), the spotted little creature was now quite visible inside its home:

Our guides told us that the cub must be less than eight days old since it hadn’t yet opened its eyes. We were in awe.

The Varanasi weavers

The weavers were so quick in their movements that it was difficult to see what they were doing. There is a long tradition of silk weaving in Varanasi, and the silk from here is renowned for its quality and design.

These men were devoted to their job and proud of their skills. Of course I couldn’t resist the temptation of these fine textiles so the visit made my luggage slightly heavier.

Floating on the Ganges

The sun was just rising and I was absolutely sure that it was a corpse I saw next to our little boat. It was with some relief that I noticed that the man moved, he was just praying in a floating position.

Traffic on the river was quite intense, as I suppose it is every morning. People weren’t on their way to something, they were out on the holy water to witness the sun rise over the horizon and to pray.

The light, or rather the whole atmosphere out there on the river, was a unique experience.

Many years ago I used to take singing lessons. One of the first songs I learned was Già il sole dal Gange by Scarlatti. I didn’t particularly like the song at the time, but for some reason I have never forgotten it. Now it rang in my head all morning. Listen to it! (No, it isn’t me singing. And in case your Italian is a bit rusty, the singing is accompanied by an English translation).

Già il sole dal Gange

As dusk fell I was again out in a small boat. The main purpose was to see the suggestive Aarti light ceremony that takes place every evening in Varanasi. At the end people put offerings in the river, a candle on a little tray with marigolds all around. I wanted to do the same, but clumsily failed at my first attempt – the tray immediately took in water and sank. The problem was that I had dropped it in instead of gently putting it down, my guide explained. You had to lean quite far out to reach the water, and I was sillily a little afraid of falling in myself. (How can you be afraid of falling into a holy river, a river people travel thousands of miles to get into?) The second time I was more successful and could see my candle float down the Ganges. It may seem like nothing, but it was a great moment.