Monthly Archives: April 2016

Which is the best riding safari in the Okavango Delta?

Every day at In The Saddle is different, but one question that regularly comes up is “Which is the best riding safari in the Okavango Delta?”

I’ll try to address this specific issue but even if you’ll never consider a horseback safari, the same process applies to all our holidays – whether you’re thinking of a ranch in Montana or a week’s riding in Europe, we can help you choose the ride that’s right for you. We’ll give you all the detail you need and nudge you in the right direction but we always respect the choice is yours and we won’t push you to make a decision.

I suppose the reason the Okavango Delta question comes up so much is there are three camps within a small area that, at first glance, appear to offer the same thing. If you look a bit deeper you can see they each provide unique experiences. The camps are Macatoo and Kujwana in the main Delta and Motswiri, just on the edge on the Selinda Spillway.

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Map of the Okavango Delta

Firstly, let’s look at what these safaris have in common. They are all based at luxury tented camps. By luxury we mean spacious walk in permanent tents with made up beds, en-suite loos and showers.

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Twin tent at Macatoo Camp

The other features they all share are great horses and guiding. First time guests are often surprised at the quality of the horses and the attention paid to their welfare.

The Okavango Delta is famous for its variety of wildlife. Large herds of elephant are resident year round as well as buffalo, giraffe, zebra and a multitude of other less well known animals. There are also specialist swamp antelope like the lechwe and sitatunga which you are unlikely to see elsewhere. Lion are present throughout the Delta and while we don’t seek out lion on horseback (for obvious reasons) you may come across them and you will often hear the males roaring at night. At all three camps, because there are potentially dangerous animals around, you must be a confident experienced rider. Non-riders are welcome at any of the camps and riders can combine time on horseback with wildlife tracking on foot, jeep safaris and game viewing by mokoros (canoes).

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Exploring the Delta from a different perspective

So, if you can’t choose your safari on comfort, quality of guiding, horses or the wildlife, how can you decide? The differences between the camps are quite subtle and it’s worth taking a moment to look at what makes each one special.

Set up by PJ and Barney 30 years ago, Kujwana is the longest established horseback camp in the Delta. It’s also the smallest taking just six guests at a time. This gives the safari an intimate feel and means the guiding can be more personalised. Single travellers get their own tent without a supplement and you ride to a different camp every three or four days so you get the feeling of going on a journey.

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Elephant approaches PJ on Lamu

Macatoo is a larger camp, taking up to 16 guests, but rides are split so that only eight ride out together. Those who want fast splashy canters can get their adrenalin fix and others can enjoy a more sedate experience tracking game. Macatoo has just one single tent without supplement so you need to book early to reserve this, otherwise, if you are happy to share then there is no extra to pay. The larger group size at Macatoo means it’s very sociable in camp and this, combined with the flexibility of riding options, has made it our most popular safari for several years.

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Cantering across the flood plain at Macatoo

The most recent camp, Motswiri, opened in 2011. As it’s on the edge of the Delta visitors can experience riding through Mopane woodland as well as the typical delta scenery of islands and channels so there is a wider variety of terrain. While the other two camps may have one or two non-riders staying at a time, at Motswiri the split is more likely to be 50/50 so this is usually the best choice for mixed groups of riders and non-riders.

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Hippo surfacing in front of water lilies at Motswiri

I hope this has given you a feel for what makes each of the riding safaris in the Okavango Delta different. If you’d like to talk further about the different riding in the Okavango Delta or if you have any questions please contact me or one of our specialists for a chat.

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Call us for a chat

Abbie tel: 01299 272 239 abigail@inthesaddle.com
Chris tel: 01299 272 237 chris@inthesaddle.com
Sarah tel: 01299 272 234 sarah@inthesaddle.com

We look forward to helping you choose your next riding adventure.

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Talking About Tanzania

Amboseli 2Our safaris in Tanzania will take you far off the beaten track, deep into the bush where you can experience the true wonders of Africa. Magnificent wildlife, interaction with local tribes and breath-taking scenery are sure to spellbind you.

New 8Ride out over desert flats and open grassland in search of game as the giants of Mt Longido, Mt Namanga, Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro tower above you. This is big cat country so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for what you may see around the next corner!

New 23Journeying from camp to camp allows you to experience the magic of a bygone era, as if you are on a safari of old. At night, drift off to sleep on a comfortable cot bed in your spacious bell tent with the sounds of Africa all around you.

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This safari is perfect for experienced riders with a sense of adventure. Not only will you have the chance to see game like elephant, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and gerenuk, but you can be sure of plenty of fast riding as well as some jumping.

New 32The horses are specially-trained safari horses; a mixture of thoroughbreds and local breeds ranging between 14.2hh and 16hh. They are fit, forward going and very well-loved.

New 1In The Saddle guests have understandably been raving about our safaris in Tanzania. Here’s some recent feedback:

“We came very close to the animals, but we always felt safe. We galloped with zebra and herds of giraffe – it was absolutely incredible”. (Ellen, Norway).

“The way Jo takes care of her horses out on safari is really unbelievable; a standard we don’t even achieve back home in the comfort of a Western setting”. (Philippe, Belgium).

“The horses are very fit thoroughbreds who love to run. Easy to control but with a huge turn of speed; not for the faint-hearted”. (Debbie, Oxfordshire).

New 7“Challenging riding on very fit, responsive and obedient horses. I cannot fault it.” (Julie, Aberdeenshire).

“Exceeded my expectations. It was amazing – very exhilarating but I also always felt safe. The horses were fit, responsive and had lovely natures. They were extremely well cared for by the team, as were we”. (Jess, Hampshire).

IMG_0228Would you like to join one of these amazing safaris? We have the following safaris in 2016 confirmed to run:

Kilimanjaro Elephant Safari 30 May-7 June
Kilimanjaro Elephant Safari 25 August-2 September
Kilimanjaro Elephant Safari 14-22 September
Amboseli Elephant Safari 8-14 October
Amboseli Elephant Safari 12-18 November

Please contact Chris@inthesaddle.com for more information, or call us on 01299 272 997. View the website page here.

 

 

 

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from Hola Mohalla to Shimla (Olwen Law writes)

Shimla, one of the most famous hill towns of India, is a relatively easy journey from where we’ve been riding on the Hola Mohalla ride, so everyone on the exploratory ride takes the opportunity to visit. And also to ride the world famous “toy train” which runs from Kalka (just two hours’ drive from Anandpur Sahib) to Shimla.

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Shimla is famous as the former summer capital of the British Raj. From the 1860’s the Viceroy of India would move the entire administration between Calcutta and Shimla, a journey of some 1000 miles! And all to get away from the heat on the plains. As I write this (in mid April) India is in the midst of a heat wave with temperatures in Kolkata (Calcutta) reaching 40C while the temperature in Shimla is 20C. It’s easy to see why the journey would be made.

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And also easy to appreciate what an amazing difference the train must have made. This marvel of engineering was opened in November 1903. Some facts: it is 96kms long, goes through 102 tunnels and over 886 bridges and climbs from Kalka at 655m to Shimla at 2,100m.

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It doesn’t travel very fast (25kms/hr) and there is plenty of opportunity to watch the world go by.

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Some of the stations we pass through – at others we stop and get off to stretch our legs or buy tea.

It’s a single gauge railway and there is a clever system to make sure there is only ever one train on the line. As we pass through a station the train driver collects a token which is held in a ball within a circular frame. If there is already a train on the section ahead, then we have to wait until the train arrives and we get our token. At other stations, we continue moving along and our driver simply throws one frame out of his window and collects another from the guardsman standing on the platform.

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There are a number of different types of train on the route. As a group of 12, we are in a private Motorail car – a 14 seater carriage which runs by it’s own diesel engine – formerly the Viceroy’s mode of transport.

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There are many highlights – Bridge 541 is the highest arch gallery bridge in the Indian railway. It has a total of 34 arches in a four storey construction.

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After a relaxing and fascinating journey we see Shimla in the distance – a sprawling town stuck onto the hillside although in fact, it’s almost another hour until we arrive into the station.

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We take the train in both ways to Shimla and back again and I enjoyed it very much. But it is a slow journey (between four and five hours), and so, with the benefit of hindsight, I would probably suggest taking the train journey into Shimla and coming back to Kalka by car (car is about 3.5 hours).

We are in Shimla for the Holi festival and that is another story again.

You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:

Arriving in Delhi

From Delhi to Chandigarh

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens

From first camp to Siswan

From Siswan to Nalagarh

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib

At the Hola Mohalla festival

From Hola Mohalla to Shimla

We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email olwen@inthesaddle.com or visit  www.inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel | 3 Comments

At the Hola Mohalla festival (Olwen Law reports)

Today has been the focus of our ride – to visit Hola Mohalla – a Sikh festival initiated by the tenth guru in 1757. Technically Hola Mohalla is on the day after Holi, the Hindu festival of colour, however the Hola Mohalla festival at Anandpur Sahib is now a week-long celebration with Sikhs travelling from all over India and further afield to listen to poetry, lectures and music with displays of martial arts and horsemanship.  As we’ve ridden towards the town of Anandpur Sahib we’ve seen people travelling by bike, tractor and car. And now that we’re camped just outside of town, we can hear booming loudspeakers and know that the festivities are well under way.

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It was clear from our short visit last night that it would be easier to visit the festival if we weren’t in western dress. The tailor who took our measurements just a couple of days earlier has been hard at work and our new outfits arrive. With only some guidance on our favourite colours, we have left the choice of fabric to the colonel’s wife and we all agree she has done an amazing job of getting them just right for each of us.

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The men too must have their heads covered.

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So, from behind at least, we feel that we look the part.

A very hard working tourism official has arranged for us to get early entrance into Virasat-e-Khalsa, the beautiful museum of the Sikhs at this holy town of Anandpur Sahib. The museum, opened in November 2011, celebrates 500 years of the Sikh history and the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Khalsa.

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The architecture is stunning and the exhibits fascinating. We spend ages studying a three storey high colourful mural with hundreds of illustrations depicting Sikhism both historically and today, all the more real to us as we’ve ridden through rural Punjab for the last five days.

We learn that the Sikh religion is one of the world’s youngest religions. Between 1469 and 1708, ten Gurus preached a simple message of truth, devotion to God, and universal equality. See http://www.allaboutsikhs.com.  The tenth Guru strengthened the Sikhs as a strong military force, skilled in archery, horsemanship and swordsmanship, whilst also promoting their spiritual faith. He fortified Anandpur Sahib and created the “Khalsa” – who observe and follow a strict code of conduct to call themselves Sikhs.  The Hola Mohalla is particularly a celebration for the Nihang Sikhs who were the elite fighters in the Khalsa. They are easily recognised by their distinctive blue dress.

We spend about one and half hours at the museum and could probably have spent twice this time but for the fact that there was so much in the town to see.

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The Colonel has arranged for some Nihang Sikh from his home town to meet us and escort us. These are architects, doctors and teachers in real life, but today they are celebrating their history.

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The height of our main guide made it much easier for us to see him and keep together to navigate the crowds.

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Having taken off our shoes, we join a huge crowd visiting a temple. We walk around the outside of an open area where many people are relaxing and listening to the teaching and singing. The volume is turned up to the absolute maximum.

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The crowds are carefully managed and ceiling fans keep us cool as we walk around the temple.

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One of the features of the Sikh religion are langars (voluntary community kitchens) organized by the local people and there are a number of them at the Hola Mohalla. Here anyone can receive a meal, with everyone eating on the floor to symbolise their equality.

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There are a number of impressive turbans, some really huge.

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We see a number of horses in a separate area.

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These are horses used for demonstrations and go from town to town, although the Colonel recognises this one.

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The main horsemanship events are happening later in the week, but we see one fellow riding bareback doing some daring displays of horsemanship and making his horse leap – with a rear and buck at the same time (like a capriole in Spanish classical dressage).

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The atmosphere walking around the town is light and fun – and as we have found all week, there are as many people taking pictures of us, as the other way around.

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Later in the afternoon we attend the opening of the martial arts displays. We have front row seats, although that does mean we need to be early and have to sit awhile (in the sun) through a lengthy opening ceremony attended by the leader of the Nihang. There is a rather impressive display of arms – swords and lances carried by the Nihang and machine guns carried by police.

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We see team displays all carried out to a background of very loud booming music (in the past it would have been loud drumming creating the beat and atmosphere).

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It is impressive and fast.

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The swordfighting was a bit like fencing.

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It has been a truly amazing day and a fitting climax to the week. A memorable day of intense colour, mesmerising noise, friendly and welcoming faces, history and culture.

You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:

Arriving in Delhi

From Delhi to Chandigarh

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens

From first camp to Siswan

From Siswan to Nalagarh

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib

At the Hola Mohalla festival

From Hola Mohalla to Shimla

We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email olwen@inthesaddle.com or visit  www.inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel | Tags: , | 3 Comments

News from Namibia

Preparations are well under way for the month-long Epic Safari in Namibia – the very first of its kind.

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The Namibia Horse Safaris team are busy preparing the 70 horses required for this incredible ride. Vehicles are already beginning to transport 45 tons of food, water and equipment in readiness. The horses will require some 28,000 litres of water during the safari – that’s a heck lot of water in a desert environment!

The Epic Safari route will run from Damaraland in the north to Lüderitz in the south.

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The first leg of the journey will include mystical Twyfelfontein with its famous rock engravings, the incredible landscapes of Damaraland home to desert-adapted elephant and the forbidding Skeleton Coast.

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Next the group will cross the oldest desert in the world, the Namib, from Swakopmund on the coast to the Namib Sand Sea of Sossusvlei.

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On the final leg of the trip riders will journey from the beautiful Wolwedans reserve, over wide open landscapes and remote plains until they reach the coastal town of Lüderitz. Here the adventure comes to an end.

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What an amazing sense of achievement the riders and guides will feel dismounting at the end of this Epic Safari having covered an amazing 1,000km on horseback!

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Will any other trip ever compare to this unique adventure? Memories of this Epic Safari are sure to last a lifetime.

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There is just 1 place remaining on this ultimate adventure. Are you intrepid enough to take up the challenge? If so, please contact Abigail@inthesaddle.com or call us on 01299 272 997.

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Categories: Equestrian Travel, Riding expeditions, riding holidays africa, riding holidays namibia | Leave a comment

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib (Olwen Law writes from the Hola Mohalla ride in India)

There is a sense of sadness that it is our last day on horseback but also of anticipation of the Hola Mohalla festival lying ahead.

 

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We dally awhile leaving Bharatgarh Fort having our photos taken in front of this splendid building. The owners have tastefully renovated rooms in the oldest parts of the fort and are currently building a new dining room and bar in a small windowless tower which was previously the armament store.

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I’m riding the 5 year old grey mare Udjwalla again today. She is a lovely horse, walks out well (most of the time) and has a steady canter. Some of the horses (including Udjwalla) have been jogging when they should have been walking, which has been a bit annoying. Bonnie is aware and reckons it might be something to do with the fact they were all on new territory. For horses used to sandy desert like terrain of Rajasthan, they have coped amazingly well with the sometimes stony river beds.

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Due to the stony terrain and the weaving in and out of the gullies in the river bed so far there have been only a few places where we can canter. But today we are riding along the canals and there are plenty of opportunities for long fast canters (or if you have ridden with Bonnie before you will know its called “trotting!”).

These canals run from a huge dam called Bhakra – one of the highest gravity dams in the world.  The dam holds excess waters during the monsoon and releases it into this huge network of canals which provide irrigation and run all the way to western Rajasthan – almost 500kms away.  The water in the canals flows very fast and is a bright blue.

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Every riding day (as on the Rajasthan rides) we have had a super cooked lunch and then time to chat, relax, read or sleep.

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As would happen on the rides in Rajasthan, we have been accompanied throughout by cheerful grooms riding backup as well as a larger team in the support vehicle and at camp. The horses are very well looked after – untacked, groomed and fed at lunchtime and of course again at the end of the day. This is the end of the season for them and I don’t see any evidence of saddle or girth sores.

As we get closer to Anandpur Sahib we can hear a huge roar of music and voices coming through loud speakers, as well as the throbbing engine noise and air-horns from turbo-charged tractors and bikes that people are using to get to Anandpur Sahib.

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We don’t see many people using this means of transport now.

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Most arrive into Anandpur Sahib on bike or turbo charged tractor.

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We arrive into camp on the outskirts of Anandpur Sahib by about 5pm and decide to have an early dinner so that we can drive into town.

It is hard to describe the enormous crowds of people filling the streets. We somehow have clearance to drive through in our vehicles and so attract attention even before we get out of the car. As the crowds cluster around the “westerners” we quickly decide that perhaps it will be easier to observe the night time goings on from within the car. The overall atmosphere is one of good humour and merriment but the crowds are, at first, quite overwhelming. We are told that this is just day 1 of the festival and by day 5, at its climax, there will be ten times the number of people in town. Quite unbelievable.

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As night falls, the Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) are lit up spectacular lighting. From within we can hear religious lectures taking place, each one even louder than the one next door.

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Back at camp, which is about 1.5 miles away, the sound is only slightly muffled; the party goes on well into the small hours – I waken about 4 and think it might be quiet for a little while, but certainly by 7 as we breakfast, the lectures, horns and engines are all going again. We are excited about what the day will reveal.

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You can read all the posts from the Hola Mohalla trip by clicking on the links below:

Arriving in Delhi

From Delhi to Chandigarh

First day’s ride to Pinjore Gardens

From first camp to Siswan

From Siswan to Nalagarh

From Nalagarh to Bharatgarh

From Bharatgarh to Anandpur Sahib

At the Hola Mohalla festival

From Hola Mohalla to Shimla

We do hope to do it all again next year, with only a few modifications to the itinerary. For more information email olwen@inthesaddle.com or visit  www.inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel | 2 Comments

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