Trip to India
- Submitted by: Tom Roach
- Submission Date: 09th Feb 2005
The longest voyage starts with a single step, but the first step on my dream trip to India was mostly a giant and awesome bore. I left home and headed for airport in friend's car after my battery failed moments before I was to leave. Got to San Francisco International about three hours early so I could get an aisle seat. Trip going and coming on a Singapore Air 747. The first leg is 14.5 hours from SFO to Hong Kong (nonstop). Singapore Air is the finest airline I have ever used. Even in cattle car section, where I was, they do their best to make it pleasant. No headset charge, electrical headsets, good stereo, slippers, incredibly beautiful stewardesses. Still, the trip was long. Hong Kong is about two hours from Singapore where the trip required a 6 hour layover before the last leg to Delhi, another 5 hour plus flight. Got a room in the Singapore Airport Transient Hotel. Very nice, but make sure you have reservations well in advance. I lucked out and got the last room. Others had to sit it out in a very nice lobby and airport filled with great shops. Singapore is a wonder. Airport clean as could be staffed with friendly, efficient employees. Lest I forget; these monster flights have a nice feature where a computer generated map with airplane icon keeps you posted on just where you are. It also shows: time where you were, time where you are, current time where you will land, the plane's ground speed, the estimated time of arrival, the tail/head wind velocity, and the number of kilometers remaining before you land. And, in more than one language! Still, at the start of the flight it is disheartening to see you still have 16,000 plus kilometers to go before land!
Finally after over 48 hours on the move the plane made one more perfect landing at Delhi. Now the fun began. Hit immigration only to find the piece of paper the Indian Consulate returned to me with a receipt for my visa and stamped with mysterious numbers and signatures was NOT a visa! A very stern immigration official informed me that I would have to get a visa at some obscure office in downtown Delhi on Monday (it was late Friday night). Not even a chance since by then I would be chasing wild asses in the wilds of the Little Rann of Kutch (in NW India about 100 miles from friendly Pakistan in the state of Gujarat). Anyway I collected my bags and emerged into the lobby to be met by Vishnu the Wonder Guide. He said not to worry about the visa and rounded up five of my fellow travelers in our group, which totalled nine. Then I realized I had left my new goose down jacket on the plane! Back through customs to look for the coat. Singapore Air was waiting for me. After about 20 minutes I had my coat and returned to the group.
On the bus and off through the filthy and smog infested night air to our hotel, the Great Western Surya. The front of the hotel was splendiferous. A giant man clad in and white mufti greeted us with a salute. The hotel featured a marble constructed lobby of great splendor. What a lovely place to stay! Unfortunately when the door to the hotel room was opened to the room it was a shock. The place looked seedier than a by-the-hour rent a room off 42nd Street in NYC. I inspected the bathroom next. I lifted the toilet seat with its sanitary paper strip still in place to find a turd of immense proportions smiling up at my tired face. The rug in the room looked like several water buffalo had rolled on it after a heavy mating session in the mud. The sheets appeared a pallid grey but no lice were noted so I crashed for a night's rest.
Awoke to the break of dawn and the chant of the Muslim call to prayer. Looked out the window onto filthy streets to see the mosque. Numerous cattle were wandering up and down the road, beggars were noted sitting by their little fires, and what I thought were vultures (turned out to be Pariah Kites) wheeled overhead waiting for the first body to drop so they could feast. Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore!
Went down to have a buffet breakfast and ate everything in sight, sausages and all (I have felt vaguely to quite ill almost constantly since my return, so will soon look up the warning signs of trichinosis. There were all types of eggs, and endless types of hot Indian food as well as delicious pastries to feast upon.
As I mentioned before I was part of a group of nine who had come to see India's flora, fauna, and culture. We went off to see some temple of great historical interest to some, but only of mild interest to me. I looked for birds. I saw some interesting crows, mynas, etc. There were also men with flutes playing to their pet cobras whose head emerged spread in the classic appearance from the wicker basket they called home.
Our tour bus driver was a wonder at navigating the vehicle through narrow streets filled with man and beast. Downtown Harlem in New York looks like Palm Beach compared to what we drove through. Except for one major difference. These people were alive and seemed filled with the joy of life; quite unlike the surly scum who abound in your typical American 'slum' (which would be like paradise to what these people lived in). Nobody tried to shoot, mug, molest, or insult us. Let me say this early on. I really liked the Indian people, even the beggars were quite pleasant, although we were warned not to give them anything! The streets were lined with small shops serving almost every need possible. Food, tires, pieces of metal being worked upon, the variety of little enterprises seemed endless. There were herds of cattle, goats, and hordes of people. The tour bus managed to get us through it all with lots of horn blowing, locally encouraged, and great skill on the part of the driver who never seemed flustered by any of it. I saw an elephant cruising down a freeway at a stately five miles per hour, and camels, cattle, and ox were common means of locomotion for the carts which carried huge loads of sticks, cloth, and who knows what. I never lost my admiration for these people who managed to eke out a life in what would be hell for me.
A second guide arrived during a mandatory side trip to a rug merchant seller who was going to great lengths to explain the skill required to produce a fine 'Persian' rug. He came to take those with visa problems off to the building where our visa problems would magically be fixed. We arrived and soon found ourselves seated in a room with other unfortunates. Soon a new official would appear and we would all be sent off to another room. At the third room the three of us in our party were taken to still another room where we explained our predicaments to a pleasant official. Our pleasant sojourn ended abruptly with the arrival of the dragon lady with child in tow. She obviously had had her weekend off ruined by stupid tourists who couldn't manage to do something so simple as get a proper visa. [I later read in an Indian tourist book that screwed up visas are quite common]. We told her of our plight. She said that she could do NOTHING for us and that we must return Monday and sort the whole thing out. A lady in the group started getting a bit hostile with the dragon lady, and things appeared to be getting even worse. I finally managed to get everyone to leave the room except myself and the dragon lady. I then held my hands in the classic prayer position and exclaimed 'Dear lady I must apologize for ruining your weekend by having to attend to such an unfortunate failure on our part to not in failing to acquire the proper documents. Nevertheless if we were to be forced to remain in Delhi our trip to your most gracious and beautiful country would be fatally wounded. So I ask you as a personal favor to allow us to return on Wednesday, when we will have returned to Delhi as part of the trip to correct this oversight on our part.' With what she knew was the biggest crock she ever heard, she finally broke into a big smile and agreed to let us do just that. When we did return that Wednesday our tour guides had seen that she was properly rewarded for her forbearance and we had our visas and all the necessary papers stamped and fees paid and were on our way in less than ten minutes. I also learned later that the American Embassy treats Indians who apply for visas in a manner that would offend even a sleazy criminal, so suspect that all the nonsense with the visas is probably some sort of bureaucratic quid pro quo between the officious assholes who are relegated to such tasks by Embassies throughout the world. This was the only part of the trip that approached unpleasantness.
We soon left by air to fly to Ahmadabad in the state of Gujarat. We had learned ahead of time to remove ALL batteries from any radios, flashlights, and cameras. I managed to lie through my teeth and convince the official at the gate that the two strange metal lumps that I had overlooked and which were actually batteries for my Sony DAT recorder were not batteries at all. We were thoroughly frisked by a soldier before boarding the plane. One marvelously endowed lady in our party had a bra with metal supports which kept setting of the metal alarm. The lady who was frisking the females broke down in laughter when she finally understood what was setting the device off.
After about an hour we landed at Ahmadabad and boarded another tour bus for our drive to the Little Rann of Kutch. Here we were met by Raj, a son of Muslim 'royalty' or nawbab, the Muslim equivalent of a Mjarajah, who was a handsome fellow in his late twenties. He commanded the staff and all the members of the some three hundred villages under his command with a kind but unmistakable authority. His every command was met with immediate response. One night he was not pleased with the state of the bonfire we were sitting around and a servant arrived and rearranged the burning logs with his bare hands without a grimace. Raj was the most gracious and perfect host one could hope to find and our stay at the Desert Coursers camp was made quite marvellous by his constant attention to our needs. The caste system is still well in place and it is nice to be under the wing of someone who is clearly at the top of the pyramid.
A minor aside here. When I was in my twenties I used to sneer at the silly sheep who had signed up with a group to take them through a foreign country instead of doing everything on their own and not having to be led about like some placid beast. Well, this approach is fine for those with the youth and stamina to put up with the indignities of carrying their own luggage, arranging transportation, and understanding the 'system' of a strange land. Many of the complaints I read in rec.travel are the result of such independence. All our tickets, rooms, food, and baggage were dealt with perfectly. As for the lodging, as I have noted, it was not always what I would have expected in a 'five star' hotel, but without expending a great deal more money with possibly no better results, it was probably as good as could be had. Our trip was described as an 'Experience' by the advertising brochures. It was just that. During the trip we stayed in every thing from cow dung huts with thatched roofs and no hot water to, on a single occasion, a hotel with superb accommodations good enough for visiting royalty (apparently an 'oversight' graciously bestowed on us for who knows what reason at mid-trip). The unexpected, whether it is illness or a screwed up visa, is part and parcel of the best planned trip. When the inevitable happens, it is a great feeling to know that no matter what happens the guide will take care of you with minimum fuss. I personally won't leave the United States again unless I am confident that the tourist service administering to us is totally reliable, as was ours on this trip. [Name of service available by email upon request].
Back to the Little Rann. We went there as our group was an 'eco-safari' a rapidly growing segment of the travel industry. We were here to see the Wild Asses which exist only here. Also the area is known for its birds and mammals. This trip was somewhat different than most 'eco-safaris' in that it managed to fit in some visits which allowed us to see villages, villagers, ride camels, and visit places like the Taj Mahal. I have been on other trips which were total 'birding' from dawn to dusk, with no concern for anything human or cultural. These are fine, as long as that is what you want. I much prefer this sort of excursion where we still saw over 200 species of birds and fantastic looks at deer, tiger, mongoose, etc. AND the people. We did have a couple who were more than a bit miffed to find that the trip had an interest in anything that wasn't covered with feathers.
I had expected the wild ass to be somewhat of a bore, but in fact I was enchanted by the incredible stamina and appearance of this animal which was indeed a thrilling creature to observe in the wild. I also managed to become the best of friends with Raj because of my having brought my 'toys' on the trip. These consisted of a Sony ICF-2010 shortwave receiver, a Nikon 8008S camera and the Sony DAT recorder, which enabled me to record some interesting broadcasts on the Sony as well as muslim prayer chants, the villager's drums and singing, and the bark of a hyena. Raj was fascinated with the incredible clarity and fidelity of the DAT recorder. On one occasion I played a tape back to one of his servants who I had recorded of Raj when he had directed the fellow to get a rum and coke in Hindu. To get a drink of an alcoholic beverage in this predominantly Muslim and dry state was only possible since he had been given special dispensation. Of even greater interest since Raj was a Muslim himself. As he said 'There are some advantages to being royalty.' The fellow started saying 'Yes sir!' to the recorder which he was certain was his master. That broke us all up, including the servant when he realized what was really happening. I mentioned that I would like to be able to record the muslim call to prayer a bit better than was possible since we were some distance from the mosque. Within ten minutes the gentleman who made this chant was standing in front of my recorder and I was able to record the whole chant from close up. When I played it back to him he also appeared astounded. In any event the toys were truly enjoyed by Raj and Vishnu and from that point on I was taken care of with special attention not bestowed upon the other members of the group.
Strangely enough I was the only one with a 35 mm camera that was much more than point and shoot. Special thanks to Nikon for the 8008S camera and their never failing 70-300 mm zoom lens which held up to all the battering and dust we encountered on the trip. I managed to get some truly wonderful pictures, so the extra weight and trouble of lugging the thing around were well worth the effort. Raj and his staff were especially pleased with the shortwave receiver as it allowed them to hear the broadcast of some major cricket match which took place in equal portions of Hindi and English.
At the Little Rann we saw numerous birds ranging from the incredibly beautifully colored Indian Roller to the majestic stature of the Demoiselle Cranes. We also saw numerous falcons, a Bustard, and Sarus Cranes. Of equal joy to us was an unexpected chance to ride a camel decked out in it finest riding apparel. Our procession which was led by drum beating villagers followed by all the men, women and children of the village. Once there I managed to break out a huge bag of combined jelly beans, M&Ms, and licorice 'bears'. The whole village lined up to get their treats and I had just enough to supply every one in the entourage with a single piece of candy. The villages themselves seem to have changed not a wit in the last two or three thousand years. The women were involved with gathering of cow dung to build with or burn as fuel and the endless foraging for fuel, gathering of water from the well, and cleaning of clothes by beating them on a rock in the stream or river goes on daily. The men seem to be fully occupied with managing the goats, camels, or cattle when they are not attending the crops. Thank heavens that we were here in January when temperatures ranged from the 40's at night to 70's in the day. In mid summer the temperature is said to hit 160 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade! The men whose job it is to rake the salt ponds function even in this heat in bare feet. Hard to believe. An odd side note is that men who have spent their life raking the salt in the salt ponds, have their lower legs 'infiltrated' by salt. When they die their legs will not burn when they are cremated and remain a grim reminder of the horrible conditions they endured while alive.
The next part of the trip was to take us to Keoladeo Ghana, a great sanctuary for birds and will be described in part two of this three part series. Also, a complete list of the birds and mammals seen will eventually be posted to rec.birds.
Trip to India (Part II of III)
In part I of the trip report I discussed how I survived arriving with no visa, the long trip to India, accommodations in Delhi and details on the portion of the trip to Gujarat to see the Wild Asses at the Little Rann of Kutch.
Before I go on about the next portion of the trip a bit more about the lovely cow dung huts (koobas), shower, and sleeping accommodations at the Desert Coursers Camp in Jainabad. I find it quite amusing to make great fun out of the fact that I slept in cow shit huts, but let's be serious about them. First of all they are cool, second they are inexpensive and the building material is produced quite naturally and in vast quantities. Also, they are totally free of odor, and the thatched roof seemed quite effective, although I did not experience the dwelling's waterproof qualities during the monsoon. Also, as was demonstrated to us, the material is easily repaired, requiring only the application of a fresh portion of cow dung with the proper consistency. In addition, by applying green plant leaves to the wet surface, you produce lovely shapes which decorate the exterior of the hut. Some foolish yuppy would probably pay big bucks to attend a class in producing such charming designs.
We washed our hair by taking a bucket of water and pouring it over our heads back of the hut, although the 'cold' shower was more than adequate to cleanse our dusty frames after a day of rushing about the dusty plains in an open jeep. The beds were simple frames with rope to support a 'mattress' of perhaps a half inch thickness. By the end of the day, with a nice meal eaten, a rum and coke under my belt and an hour sitting around the bonfire I slept just fine. The old Army blanket and sheets kept out the cold and I can't say I sleep any better on my Healy Posturepedic or whatever lies beneath my overly pampered butt now that I have returned to 'civilization'. Still, I would be the last to say we didn't grouse about it at the time.
I also failed to comment adequately on the incredible color feast of the lady villager's native garb. Helen Gurly Brown would probably have apoplexy if she saw the class distinctions and work assignments that are the fabric of these nomadic muslim villager's existence. The women walk miles with jugs of water atop their head or bundles of sticks to burn or greenery for the cows to convert into huts. Still, they had time to care for their children and drive by gang slayings of the sort we experience here are totally non-existent. There are no fatheads on the radio talking about the latch key children or homeless. Nobody is 'homeless' in India, and untold millions live in tents made of rags or worse in the cities. Can't recall any 800 numbers to call if your wretched karma and sorry excuse for a life makes you want to pull the plug. Instead there is a vitality and natural happiness that will make even the most crass dimbulb American start to at least think about just whose ultimate lot is worse. If I were to spend a day in the shoes of some overindulged bozo like one of the Menendez brothers, maybe I would come home and bemoan the poverty of my current circumstances. The most fantastic part of the trip to India was the clarity and forcefulness of the sights and sounds that made you rethink some of your most precious and fatuous bilge about how we need to 'help' these people. Makes me want to plug the next asshole in Congress who thinks we have a clue on how to make a better world. Ugh.
We did run across a group of village women who all seemed to be wearing great silver bracelets. These very same women were still actively hauling huge bundles of twigs on their heads, so we wondered how they got the money for the bracelets. Turns out some male chauvinist pig decided he would shut the women up by letting them keep or manage some small part of their minuscule income. As it turned out, they did such a good job they managing the funds that they made enough money to buy these expensive bracelets.
We left Jainabad on our bus and headed back to Ahmadabad where we got to visit a Jain temple and visit Gandhi's 'ashram' or residence in Ahmadabad. Here we saw just what splendor he lived in. The residence had a beautiful view but to call his personal accommodations anything other than sparse would be a gross exaggeration. There were many enlargements of Gandhi's most interesting correspondence with the leader's of the world. As soon as I got home we rented the movie Gandhi to even further appreciate the courage and stature of this man. I must state that my personal philosophy about how to solve most of the world's problems makes that of Curtis LeMay seem kind in comparison. Still, as I once told the Episcopal minister who was in charge of my mother's burial and who was trying to get some clue as to what I personally believed, 'I never confuse what I believe with the 'truth', nor do I invest a great deal of effort in being 'right''. The reader can feel very safe in knowing thousands of people won't be visiting my 'ashram' after I croak.
We flew from Ahmadabad to Delhi for a single night's stay at the Great Western Sewerya as I like to call it. Then a quick trip to the Indian Palace of Passports and Visas (which I commented on ad nauseum in Part I of this report) before we headed south on our bus to our next great nature stop at Bharaptpur's Keoladeo Ghana Wildlife Sanctuary. Here we stayed in the Forest Lodge in accommodations that were adequate and apparently a bit more clean then the Great Western Sewerya's in Delhi.
We got there at close to dusk and as soon as I could grab my binocular I was off in search of some local fauna. I wandered about with the avid birding couple but as it started to get really close to nightfall they returned to the lodge. About this time one of the lady member's of our group who was travelling alone (our group consisted of 7 women and two men) asked if I would like to explore further. We had no idea where we were going but managed to find a trail to walk along till it became totally 'dark'. We had no flashlight but enjoyed just sitting on a bench overlooking a vast expanse of swampy area and listening to some truly strange night sounds. We managed to get lost on our way back and eventually came across some villager who pointed us in the general direction of the Lodge. We finally jumped over a wall and found our way back to 'safety'. I relate this 'adventure' for as is so often true in life, the best things happen to us when we are foolish enough to do something truly stupid. I think this brief hour of my life will remain one of my brightest in my journey through this life.
The Preserve abounded with life. We saw endless numbers of birds and beasts: Sambar, Chital, Blue Bucks, rock pythons (about 12 feet long), a dead jungle cat, cranes, rails, etc. We also experienced the quiet joy of being poled about in a boat near dusk out among the wildlife. There was also a nice book and souvenir shop where I managed to find reading material that ranged from the Kama Sutra with its especially wonderful explanation of the 'Congress of Cows'. The book described a most pleasant and erotic congress between a man and more than one woman. I thought of our own Congress and realized that while the end result was one getting screwed that the version in the Kama Sutra was by far the more pleasant of the two.
I also would recommend the almost 'quaint' books written by Salim Ali and published by the Bombay Natural History Society and available for about $5 (American) in the right store in India and for about $35 (American), shipping included, from nonprofit (gasp) organizations such as the Audubon Society here in the United States. Those posh Audubon headquarters where the animals and birds are saved by people in three piece suits don't come cheap.
Inside the Reserve there are licensed rickshaw drivers who will peddle you down the paths. While this certainly appeals to the lazy part of my nature, the real joy is that these guys can see and point out to you birds and beasts that only the most trained eye can pick out.
At last our time was up and we left for Agra, and the Taj Mahal, and what turned out to be a night in a superb hotel, the Moghul Sheraton. We arrived at Agra just about at dusk but had time for to stop off at the Kohinoor Jewelry Store. The store is located in a most nondescript and wretched street in Agra. Here we saw jeweled treasures and tapestries whose prices would make even Liz Taylor wince. In fact there was one incredible tapestry that was more or less in the form of a chess board but whose edges had incredible 3 dimensional images created by layering silk thread and featuring wild animals inspired by the artisan's trip to Africa. Beyond adequate verbal description, this masterpiece was once displayed to some visiting ruler from one of those sandy hells which sits atop enough oil to keep America's cars rolling for the next century. He offered the owner $2.5 million on the spot for the 'rug' and was promptly told to pack sand. A great story whose verity is probably questionable.
We then went off to the Taj Mahal. While I am sure most people have marvelled at pictures of this monument to a man's love for a woman, I can only say that it left me stunned. I am ordinarily a person who can say ho hum to Notre Dame de Paris and other classic pieces of architecture, since they hold little appeal to me. But the Taj transcends all description. So I won't bother to describe it further. Oh, just to rub it in, when we left it was a full moon and we could see it in this most romantic of lights.
We returned the next morning after a sumptuous meal and a good night's rest at the Moghul Sheraton. What a hotel. Motel Six it ain't. It seems like just the sort of place Michael Jackson would take his next victim to after he is elected President of NAMBLA. Liz could enjoy the juicy details of his newly found love at a quaint breakfast in the swank restaurant the next morning.
Soon we were to pay for our brief moment in heaven. The next portion of our journey was to Bandhavgarh, a 'jungle' where with a bit of luck we might hope to see a tiger up close and personal! To get there we were required to travel by second class sleeper on our own hell train. The voyage would take 14 hours, and there were no beautiful temptresses in exotic erotic oriental cloth a la Singapore Air, not to mention movies, food, and hot towels to get us through our overnight voyage.
The train station would cause Dante to revise his description of hell. An inspiration to a student of tropical medicine, immediately apparent were rotting stumps of leprous flesh and a marvellous case of elephantiasis. The air was abuzz with swarms of noisome flies which had been dining on a cholera drenched dropping before they landed on us. After an endless wait the hell train arrived. Once we boarded I had at least hoped to be able to peer from our 'air conditioned' (turned out to be a stinking fan that made so much noise and annoyed the natives to a degree where it had to be turned off) bunks. The damnable steel tube had windows that Superman would have had a hard time looking through.
The compartments were filled with other passengers who had come from God knows where bound for East Jesus, I'm sure. Here is where my twenty years of military training came into play! Since I have arthritis and am taking a blood pressure medicine that makes me micturate every hour on the hour, I was not looking forward to having to clamber up and down the god damn rails to lie motionless until my next impulse to empty my bladder through the hole in the floor toilet that dumped out onto the rail bed crawling by at snail pace beneath this wretched mode of transportation. The air was filled with the tooting of numerous passengers passing gas, not to mention the snoring and gasping of tuberculosis ridden passengers. I finally found an open seat and plunked my self down there for the whole voyage, which to my great joy finally faded into hell, when we arrived early the next morning at Bandhavgarh. This was part of the Indian experience that I surely could have done without!
Jeeps awaited us at the station we soon were hurtling down the roads, for the most part empty, except for a jackal crossing the road every now and then. We arrived at our lodging and had barely gotten out of the jeep when I was told to grab my camera and binos. A tiger had been spotted and we were going to see if we could get close to it.
Stay tuned for part III!
Trip to India (Part III of III)
After the grueling, and seemingly endless train ride, made all the worse by my intense desire to arrive at the final jewel in our Indian wildlife triumvirate, we arrived at our lodging just in time to drop our baggage in our room before we were told to come to the jeep. A tiger had been spotted and we had to rush off to the Bandhavgarh National Park to see, and hopefully for me, photograph this magnificent animal.
Tigers are the main drawing card at Bandhavgarh. Thus a combined natural and man made warning system combining nature and technology has developed to ensure that the tourists can see the tiger from close at hand. When a tiger is on the prowl, it almost invariably attracts the attention of the deer, all species of which, have a special warning cry to alert others that danger is nearby. The Black-faced Langur, a common type of monkey also found at Bandhavgarh, also have an alert cry. The Park has specially trained Rangers who function as mahawats, or elephant riders. The Rangers are all equipped with hand held radios, which is used to notify them if a warning cry is heard. Thye then ride off on the elephant in the direction of the warning cry.
The tiger is almost indifferent to the approach of an elephant, so by putting a cushioned platform atop the elephants back, four tourists at a time can be transported in almost complete safety to where the tiger has been found. The elephant can traverse the most difficult terrain, so there is almost no place 'safe' where the tiger can stay undetected.
We drove about a mile or two into the park, and clambered aboard the elephant using the jeep as a ladder. This is actually quite easy to do, and there are also bamboo ladders available for climbing aboard the elephant's back. The mahawat guides the elephant by voice, and directions given by his bare feet (much as a horse rider uses his feet to direct the horse). He also has a metal bar which he will use to whack the elephant if it doesn't respond properly (doubt if this hurts the elephant, but it sure get's the elephant's attention). The whole training process whereby an elephant and a mahawat are trained to act as a team takes a couple of years. Once paired, they are almost like a married couple, and a very intimate relationship exists. One mahawat can not just jump on the back of another mahawat's elephant and expect to ride it. Thus the relationship is somewhat more intimate than many human marriages where couples are able to ride a new partner with far fewer complications.
Our elephant wandered off into the brush about 100 yards from where the jeep was parked, and voila, there was a large male (450 pounds?) tiger trying to get some sleep after a night on the prowl. In spite of its huge size and the relatively open foliage, it was almost difficult to see because of the incredibly effective camouflage its orange and black striped pelt. We circled the elephant a few times and I got some pictures from about 20 feet distance from the lens to the tiger. On one occasion he became irritated and hissed at us. Soon a second elephant with the other members of our group arrived and we all had seen the tiger. It should be noted that sometimes you could be at the park a week and not see a tiger, so we considered ourselves most fortunate.
The Park is open from about 8 AM till noon, when it closes to allow the critters some undisturbed time, until it reopens at about 3 PM and stays open till 5:30 PM. The general routine is to get in the park and drive up and down the miles of roads listening for warning 'barks' from the deer or cries from the Black-faced Langurs. Even if you don't see the tiger, the park is filled with wonderful spotted deer, sambar (a very large type of antelope), mongoose, Nilgai (Blue Bulls), wild boar, etc. There are watering holes where the animals gather at dawn and dusk, and an old fort, with a thousand year old statue of a recumbent Vishnu within its bounds. For the photographer and naturalist it is a dream come true. There is one restriction though; you are NOT allowed to get out of the vehicle at almost anytime (exceptions made when you go to the bat cave and the old fort). This keeps tourists from bothering the animals and safe from being eaten by tigers (VERY unlikely under any circumstances). Villagers are allowed to walk the roads with no restrictions, and 'know' what to do if they come upon a tiger, i.e. say 'Hail Vishnu, full of grace...' or 'Allah Akbar'.
I saw the tiger on three different occasions, getting great photographs each time. Perhaps the most interesting time was when we were no where near an elephant and heard the deer bark its warning, soon to be followed by warning cries from the Langurs. We stopped by the side of the road and looked down a draw. In about ten minutes the tiger emerged into plain view about 70 yards away. It made a loud 'roar', which we were told was a cry indicating it wanted to mate (it was a male). It was ultimately joined by a female, but we had to leave the park since it was already 5:30 PM, so we missed the great mating.
Our stay at the lodge was most enjoyable. We could watch the elephants come to bath every noon in the river that ran in front of our lodging. Birds came by, and deer and mongooses were also to be seen. A very relaxing atmosphere. This section of the country was not as crowded with people and villagers as the other parts we had visited. At nights there was always a great meal followed by a bonfire, and on one special occasion, by a slide show featuring birds and animals of the park. The lodging was actually located within the bounds of the park, so at night tigers could have been quite close by. I took many pictures, and the ones of the tiger turned out especially well.
After three days we left, ending this most delightful portion of the trip. We then took a six hour plus bus ride to see the erotic temples at Khajuraho. These temples show in graphic detail the magnificent athletic ability and imagination of the Indian people at work (?) making more Indians, and enjoying the natural pleasures of man and woman alike. There was one temple where group sex was practised during the full moon. A lot of pontifical Hindu religious nonsense is set forth by the guides to explain the reasons for the various practices. Two immediately come to mind.
Our temple guide went on at great length explaining how the air intake between nostrils had to be exactly evenly shared for the woman to conceive while having sex. I told the guide this erroneous belief probably had much to do with explaining why the Indian population is approaching one billion! Much other silliness about the phase of the moon etc. Perhaps the funniest incident was when I was taken aside after the women wandered off to see another of the numerous 'positions'. I was taken back to examine more closely a view of a man entering a woman from behind as she bent over, almost touching her toes. The man had a single finger placed about midway up the passionate wench's back. I was told by my snickering guides that this was done to help the woman have a strong orgasm and that the position of the finger on her back varied with the phase of the moon. If done properly, they assured me the woman could have a powerful orgasm almost ten percent of the time! They wanted me to tell the ladies in the group this, but were too embarrassed to do so themselves. I got the women together and returned to this portion of the temple and told them the story adding 'however, as we Westerner's know if the man had placed his finger in a bit more erotic and vital spot, the woman's orgasms would have been powerful more likely 90 percent of the time'. This remark caused the guides and the women to laugh loudly.
We then went off to a very nice hotel for lunch (sorry can't remember the name of the place) before we departed by plane for Delhi, and two last days before returning to the United States. The remainder of the trip was uneventful, except for something that happened in the last hour there in Delhi.
I looked out the hotel window from the sixth floor room and witnessed a marvelous street scene that seemed to summarize much of the trip. It was like a mini-soap opera. There were five street urchins who were probably all from the same family and ranged in age from about three to twelve years old. They would look for strangers to approach from a distance, confer on a strategy, and when the stranger approached, one of the children would be dispatched to see if they could get the person to give them some money. They had much greater success with the Indians then they did Westerners. There were also two huge Brahma bulls fighting in the street, holding up traffic. They were egged on by a young man in his twenties who would throw a rock at one, which would then increase its attack on the other bull, apparently thinking that the other bull was the source of irritation. An Indian in a Mercedes drove up and bought some flowers from a street vendor. A 'Dempsey dumpster' dropped its load of garbage and three young men started sorting the contents looking for food for themselves and something for a cow. This bizarre tableau seemed to summarize the mystery, enchantment and fascinating world of India. It was time to leave.