Kanha National Park, a remote 750-square-mile tract of forest in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, was the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” Most visitors can expect to see a tiger if they stay for two or three nights. We were in luck on our first morning. Our guide stopped by a ranger station to inquire if a tiger had been seen, and 30 minutes later, we were perched on the swaying back of an elephant heading off-road into the forest. It turned out to be a young female, perhaps 4 years old, with dramatic markings on her rich orange fur. She was lying in a glade gnawing at the hindquarters of a young gaur—a species of wild cattle—which she had apparently managed to bring down with the help of her three nearly full-grown cubs. We sat watching her, mesmerized, at a distance of perhaps 30 feet, for around 15 minutes.
After an unforgettable day exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we returned to the caldera of Kilauea at dusk. This is believed to be the world’s most active volcano, having been in continuous eruption since January 1983. As the sky darkened, a deep orange glow suffused the massive cloud of gas arising from the Stygian depths. For Hawaiians, the volcano’s Halemaumau crater is the home of the fire goddess, Pele. She was clearly in residence that evening.
At the delightful Sumahan on the Water hotel in Istanbul, a private launch shuttles guests from the Asian to the European shore of the Bosphorus. It wasn’t until our first crossing that we realized just how magical it is to be out on this majestic waterway in a small wooden boat. Not only are the views spectacular—the sky pierced by minarets, the shore lined with palaces and the stately wooden mansions the Turks call yalis—but it is endlessly fascinating to observe the shipping as it glides down to the Mediterranean, or forges its way back up to the Black Sea. Russian warships, Greek tankers, Bulgarian freighters, all thread their way through the throngs of brightly colored fishing boats and ubiquitous black-and-white ferries. On one occasion, our eyes were caught by a brilliant patch of silver light on the water, through which a dozen dolphins abruptly flung themselves into a shaft of sunlight. The magical and the transcendent never seem very far away in Istanbul.
During a memorable journey on the M/V Aqua, we set out in aluminum skiffs one evening, just as a tangerine sun sank into the impenetrable jungle. Slipping over the river’s black water in the darkness, we could see dozens of glowing red eyes, those of caiman watching us intently from the shore. The guides began to search the sky with powerful spotlights, and suddenly, from all directions, large, ghostly bats swooped down onto the surface of the river, darting away with squirming fish in their claws.
Poring over a map one searingly hot day at Tortuga Bay, Punta Cana, we noticed a 1,500-acre ecological preserve on the grounds of the resort. This appeared to contain a number of freshwater sinkholes. We decided to investigate, and along a half-mile trail that looped through dense subtropical forest, we discovered 12 limpid pools sunk in the coral limestone. They reminded us of the great cenotes in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Schools of fish hovered lazily. Being completely alone, we decided to join them. The water was cold and delicious.
The so-called “sky terrace” of our suite at Amangiri was a solar oven by day. At night, however, it was transformed into a magical refuge and a private stellar observatory. We lay back on the cushions and gazed upward. From this patch of desert to the center of the galaxy is 27,000 light years, or thereabouts. But the Milky Way pressed down, seemingly close enough to reach out and touch.