‘No country is quite like India’ – Megan and Mike Jerrard

Australian journalist Megan Claire Jerrard (Mapping Megan fame) has been traveling around the world since 2007. She has also been skydiving, bungee jumping, climbing the world’s highest peaks, mountain biking the world’s most treacherous roads and diving with Great whites. Her husband Michael Jerrard (Waking up Wild), is American wildlife photojournalist who has been recording and documenting animal behaviour since the age of 10. Both of them hope to inspire people to travel and discover the richness of our planet.

Mike Jerrard grew up in the United States where he has done a thorough documentation of North American Wildlife which has included projects such as radio collaring Florida Panthers in the Everglades, tracking Grizzlies in Alaska, and handling American’s most dangerous snakes. He also a fascination with uncovering the past, and his expeditions have seen him unearth massive ice age mammoths as well as discovering artefacts of lost civilizations.

Megan and Mike help travellers make up their mind as which place should be next on their schedule. In an email interview with CSP they speak about travelling and exploring India:

As a travel writer what are the things you would recommend people to experience in India?

MEGAN: I always first ask people what their interests are, and then choose what to recommend. India is such a diverse country, with something to fascinate and delight every traveller, and the only way people are going to have a memorable vacation and fall in love with the country is if they plan experiences around their interests.

For people interested in wildlife, I recommend a safari through tiger territory in the National Parks of Madhya Pradesh. For historians, there are fantastic sites like the Taj Mahal, or Qutub Minar. For luxury travellers, you can stay in palace hotels to feel like a Maharaja. For nature enthusiasts, Ladakh and / or the Western Ghats. And you could easily go on with recommendations for people interested in architecture, food, adventure, shopping, beaches, spirituality, etc.

You could easily spend a lifetime exploring India, there is so much to do, and so many incredible, unique experiences.

India is a deeply spiritual country. Is this something that you could perceive easily?

MEGAN: Absolutely, India definitely has a reputation as being a spiritual country, and I think this is something that people expect will be part of their experience. Every traveller I’ve spoken to who has returned from India has said that this is something that is strongly felt when traveling through different regions. It’s not something that many people can define in words, but all have described being in India as having a reassuring sense of harmony and connection with the world.

How do you usually go about in a foreign country? Is information about hotels, lodgings, transport in India easy to access?

I typically aim for two weeks if I’m exploring a new country, as this tends to be a good amount of time for a focused trip that takes a lot in. That said, if visiting a country like India where there is so much to discover and explore, we’ll spend as much time as we need, or plan return trips to be able to see more of the country.

I’ve found it very easy to access information about traveling through India. My perception is that it is a country that takes a lot of pride in tourism, and is always very welcoming and enthusiastic about visitors, so information has always been very accessible and easy to come by, whether from State tourism board websites, or individually run blogs who are passionate about showing off their country / region.

Does the vast variety of India from state to state appeal to you? Or has urbanisation created a certain uniformity.

We are very interested in getting off the beaten path and exploring the natural side of India; there’s definitely a certain level of uniformity in any kind of urbanization, regardless of where you are in the world, but there’s never any uniformity in nature. We’re very interested in taking a wildlife safari, in visiting Ladakh, and spending time in the Western Ghats. While we haven’t yet made it to India ourselves, we are looking forward to meeting and getting to know local communities and people once we do travel.

Your blog 5 Reasons to take an Indian Safari is very interesting. What are the 5 reasons

MEGAN: We also wrote an article on 5 reasons you should take an Indian Safari (which is our dream trip!), and a post on the types of people you’ll meet in Kerala (and of whom we’re looking forward to meet!). From our time spent researching where we would love to go in the country, we have a number of articles on India, including a post on 7 types of travelers who visit India.

Many of us dream of taking a safari at least once in our lives. And to travel through exotic landscapes and get up close and personal with majestic wildlife really is the experience of a lifetime.

Most people automatically assume they’ll head to Africa to go on safari, but there is in fact another region of the world so rich in wildlife that it might even put some African countries to shame.

India is a land of chaotic charm, but beyond its history, culture, and chaos lies a world of breathtaking natural wonder, where snow leopards roam icy peaks, tigers are the king of the forest, and elephants trek across vast plains.

The five reasons are tracking tigers in the wild – tracking tigers in the wild, a whole new world of wild animals, 166 national parks, diverse range of adventure, it can be super cheap! There are 39 tiger sanctuaries across India, though tiger territory is the central State of Madhya Pradesh. There are 5 tiger parks in this region; Bandavgarh, Kanha, and Pench National Parks are the main three, though Bandavgarh National Park (NP) sees the most sightings.

Bandavgarh is a small reserve, though it has India’s highest concentration of tigers, so if seeing a tiger is your main priority, this is the place to be. The park is open from October to June, though April, May and June are the best times to travel for tiger sightings.

Your blog on meeting five types of people in Kerala is a wonderful way of introducing the hospitality of a country

MEGAN: Travelers flock to Kerala to connect with nature; they travel to spend time on the glistening backwaters, to explore the tea, coffee and spice covered hills of the Western Ghats, and to invigorate their taste buds with delicately spiced cuisine. They travel for the wildlife sanctuaries, where elephants, exotic birds, and wild tigers all roam freely, and for the bliss of pulling up some sand on tropical beaches along the Arabian Sea.

Kerala is the true definition of a melting pot, but if there is one way to describe its people (known as ‘Keralites’), it would be by their free, soaring spirits. And perhaps it’s living in a place which is so intimately connected to nature that creates this approach to life; they go with the flow along slow moving canals to find deep journeys in little country boats. They seek adventure in bamboo rafts to spot elephants, away from the crowds on the cruise boats.

They lead very simple, down to earth lives, but laugh freely, live fully, and aren’t burdened by the glitter of stressful city life. Their lifestyles aren’t complicated, and they truly celebrate the magnificence of ordinary lives.

Your blog is a great help to visitors to different countries. Did you find any book useful when you first travelled to India?

MEGAN: We find personal travel blogs a lot more useful than books or travel guides, usually because they’re more recent, and provide more insight from the perspective of an actual traveller, so it’s very easy to put yourself in their shoes. And you can reach out and contact that person with questions about their article, for instance if you want clarification for planning your own trip – you can’t do that with a book or travel guide author.

How can we attract people to India’s great bioreserves?

MIKE JERRARD: Ecotourism is a very big movement at the moment, and it’s only gaining momentum; people are really very interested in natural experiences, and responsible, sustainable travel. I think the reason India’s great bioreserves are lesser known is because the country is known more for its cultural and spiritual tourism; nature based tourism isn’t often the first thing that springs to mind when people think of India; they think of grand palaces, historic forts, the Taj Mahal, food, festivals, of charmingly chaotic cities. India’s natural wonders get overshadowed by these other more prominent draw cards.

With that in mind, I think the way to attract people to India’s bioreserves would be to raise awareness and market them through campaigns that show people what they’re missing. India’s bioreserves are incredible, and I believe would sell themselves if people were aware of the experiences on offer there.

Even today people portray the roadside bullock and snake charmer. How do we change this narrative?

MIKE JERRARD: Stereotypes change through repetition of something that disproves it; like Australia being known for its culture of throwing a snag on the barbie, or crocodile Dundee, which, in reality is only a very narrow view of the country, a certain element of that narrative may always be there in the background, but you change the perception by constantly showing people something different; an image of the country you want them to perceive.

What would like shooting most in India?

MIKE JERRARD: We are most looking forward to photographing Bengal Tigers in the wild!

In your travels did you find any country similar to India?

MEGAN AND MIKE JERRARD: No country is quite like India – it is unique, original, and the reason we are most looking forward to visiting is for this very reason; because it is unlike anything else, and distinctly one of a kind.

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