Thursday, June 2nd
4:45 am meet time at the jeep. I got up, flicked on hot pot of water heater they had, tossed on clothes, washed my face, braided the hair. Quickly sipped the cup of tea I’d just made, and was out the door on time. (be surprised. It was a trend I maintained throughout the three days! Yes, the being- on-time trend). Carefully locked my door behind me with the old skeleton key they had given me (attached to a 3” by 2” plate of heavy metal with the room Lark 3 inscribed).
I got the backseat, and away we went, bouncing and jerking along road. We picked up our guide on the way, and then entered the park by a guarded entrance. Although monsoon season is still far away, today was the first day there was a heavy downpour during my stay in india. It rained on and off for the whole morning. Sometimes coming down in big fat drops. Sometimes in absolute buckets of water. I managed goosebumps for the first time! The cover to the jeep would come on and off as needed. (but despite damp discomfort was certainly preferred…better visibility!!)
I really liked our guide though. I could understand him really well (though, I feel part of that is due to practice from being here has helped my over all comprehension). And he seemed genuinely interested in the wildlife around us. He pointed out birds of all kinds that were sometimes visible when they paused on a tree limb. There were parakeets and their robins, kinds that I can’t remember… but all different shades, some familiar standard bird colors, some brightly marked. It was light out by 5am, so it was plenty bright to see the forest by the time we arrived there.
We drove on a somewhat maintained path. Sometimes crossing rocky river areas, where the rain had created a foot plus deep flowing current across the road. No problems! The very open sides and bouncing, swaying ride made it preferable to have a hand or two securely grasping the jeep’s frame or seat in front of you. Luke laughed at my very white fingertips.
Besides the birds, we saw many deer, of all kinds and sizes. Two primarily: the small Spotted Deer, and the very large, dark colored Samba. We did not see, only heard, the smaller Barking Deer. No trace of tigers or elephants. But a rather enjoyable morning!
Back at the resort for breakfast, then rested in the afternoon (ie: slept) it was hot as well as humid up here in the northern part of india.
Returned to the Jeep that evening. We went to a different area of the park. This time, I often stood up in the moving to look around and get a better view of the forest around us. Braced myself holding onto the bar that made up the top of the jeep as well as the back bar too. But I liked It better standing, besides the challenge of balancing was a bit fun as we bounced over holes and around bends. Still had a death grip, unlike the guide who lounged with one hand lightly resting on the bar in front of him.
This time we were (supposedly ) close to seeing a tiger. A call came from another jeep, and we went racing off to an area of grasslands. A cluster of other jeeps stood by, engines off, people attentively and quietly sitting or standing. They help each other, these guides, spreading words of sightings and giving word where a tiger may be. We returned to the spot three times during the evening drive. Once, because he heard a Samba deer give a warning call. A warning given that he said was never wrong, it meant that a tiger was definitely around.
Although we did not see the great, stealthy animal. I really enjoyed the safari. I learned some about the wild life here in India, and though I would have preferred just walking around the park..it was some fun in the bouncing jeep.
Back at the resort for the evening. Dinner was the same dishes as lunch. And repeated endlessly. But it wasn’t bad, and I had a lot of the Nom bread, which seemed to help digestion not be so rapid. Once the sun set, it cooled off nicely. The cleaning service replaced my bar of soap, used, towels, replenished tea and sugar bags, and topped off my pitcher of drinking water. Tonight, my room had the company of a toad and a very small salamander.
Friday, June 3rd
4:30 am meet at the jeep. Did not feel that bad. Maybe because I am in India, and not dragging myself out of my warm bed to sit at the cold kitchen table and frantically finish a paper/go over study materials one more time. Perhaps it is because the sky was already lightening a little by then.
We bounced along the main road today, following it as it wound and curved up the mountains. Eventually through the trees we saw that the slopes of the tall hills had become the tall, curving Himalayan mountains. Or the foothills anyways. The sides of them were ridged and areas had been sculpted into sharp edges. We climbed through the mountains and rocks, getting out frequently and taking pictures at the scenes that flashed through the gaps in the dense trees. Some areas, the jeep passed along the edge of the drop off, where here was no guard rail at all. When we were driving around the curving road up, often bridges over the gullies had no edge at all, tightly stacked stones acted as re-enforcements beneath the paved road. When we were high up, and less trees obstructed our view, often protection on the edge were little white painted posts…barely bigger than two stacked bricks. Only in a few spots were there great big blocks of concrete spaced out to separate the road from the edge. Recall, the absence of doors on this jeep!!
I really liked the mountains though, I could have walked around for a couple of hours happily up there. Glad I wasn’t driving though, it felt like a single lane sort of a road, but every now and then we would pass a bus, or come upon two buses slowly passing one another. I may have fallen in love with the driver strictly on the psychological disorder that arises when one’s life is endangered and they feel “saved” by an individual .
Breakfast had been packed for us the hotel staff. Some flat bread, hard boiled eggs, cheese sandwiches, baked potatoes (cubes with spices) and a banana with some juice. We pulled over and enjoyed the scenery, eating food. Then, “marked my spot” over a small hill and amongst some rocks…and we were back to the road.
Passed through a couple town like settlings. Which consisted of a couple store like structures, a place where some chai tea was probably simmering in the tin pot on the single stove burner. People were sometimes walking along the side of the road to a nearby well to pump water. Or walking along, balancing a bundle on their heads.
At one pause, we looked down over the embankment to a depleted river, where an alligator was sunning himself next to the water. He looked small below, and content and happy in the sunshine. So much for any thoughts I had of swimming in those waters… no thank you.
It had been cooler up in the mountains, with a nice breeze. We returned to the hotel by the time the sun was just starting to uncomfortably make the sweat drip off my body if we paused for more than 30 seconds. Hindsight, I am rather glad we stopped so often, even if we were just taking pictures of more monkeys. You saw more when not moving. Like this one spot, where the tree tops were below us. The tree leaves reflected the light so perfectly, they shimmered silver. It was as though a fresh morning dew clung to the leaves in order to reflect the sun.
We opted to ride elephants to go out to the thick woods this evening for a couple hours, instead of the longer jeep ride. The driver maneuvered the very tall, very large animal over to a stand where you could easily hop into their back. The driver got on by grasping an ear in each hand, and pulling them as we walked up the trunk before settling with his feet on the elephants head, and sitting on the flat platform where we sat. Atop the elephant, A large, thick layer of mats made up the seat, with polls at all four corners, and a nifty metal bar to keep you from sliding off. But once I got the motion down, that wasn’t a problem. We sat with our backs against each other, and both feet dangling off one side. Before walking up, I paused for a moment and petted the elephants trunk, it was so tough and leathery! The tip of his trunk wandered up to my hand, probably hopeful for food. Their flat ears constantly flapped back and forth to keep off flies. And he held in his trunk a small branch in order to swat off flies, or to scratch the bites. Luke, Joel, and I sat on one, while Mr. and Mrs. Bennett sat on another elephant.
The elephant has a lurching, rolling walk. We turned from the road, down a trail where kids played while their parents worked. Their steps were slow, and careful in the rocky areas. We slowly crossed the river, and those sturdy animals never slipped, stumbled or missed a step. Just slowly and deliberately walking across the rocky bottomed river. They filled up their trunks with water, and curved the trunk under to their open mouths to squirt in the drink. On command, the one we were on would fill his trunk with water, then toss it up in the air, spraying the water out into the air in front of us.
I realized with much dismay that not only am I able to be plane, train, boat, car, metro sick…but I can also be elephant sick. Luckily, I adjusted and was not miserable, except for a few brief moments while I adapted. Who knew? I have done really well otherwise this whole trip. Even in crazy traffic with fanatical drivers of all kinds.
The elephants followed a tiny trial through all kinds of brush, trees, bushes, little streams and gullies, sandy or rocky footing. Did I mention never stumbling or tripping? I feel like this is impressive. We picture these HUGE animals as bumbling around, stomping down the underbrush, making plenty of noise as they level an area. But that is not so. I can no longer compare myself to an elephant when being particularly cumbersome in my movements.
The driver directed the elephant by tapping on his head with his foot, or with a stick and Just giving a couple little pokes on the side of the head. If an animal is being particularly disobedient they have an iron rod that is pointed at the end, so that the driver can tug an ear or give a little more demanding direction. Very little force was required to direct the elephant, they were very responsive to verbal direction too!
At the river we saw a king fisher bird hover over the water, peering down looking for fish before diving, becoming very briefly submerged, and often triumphantly returning to a nearby rock to swallow his catch. Also by the river, kids played or washed naked in the water. Mothers crouched next to the river, washing clothes in the water. A man was scrubbing out the aluminum pots and pans there as well. Some people lounged on rocks, a little bit away from the river’s edge as the day cooled with the setting sun.
We meandered through the woods, the guide kindly lifting branches that swept too low, or moving the brush that pressed against the elephants sides, where our feet dangled.
Again, no tiger. However we did see his paw prints in a sandy area beneath the elephant’s feet. They were big too, maybe just a smidge smaller than my hand with the fingers spread.
The other few elephants that were meandering through the dense area had drivers that talked to one another, alerting us to a very large python snake at the base of a tree. It was slightly hidden by the underbrush. The snake did not slither away when we came over, because it’s middle was all stretched out and bloated, due to a spotted deer it had recently devoured. The driver turned around and excited explained in broken English how that snake had swallowed the deer whole. And would take about a week to digest it. Whew! The elephants seem unconcerned by the snake, though if he had not recently eaten, I would question what the ground to air range was of the snake out of pure discomfort of venturing so close.
Also, among the underbrush a little farther along, we saw a monitor lizard, probably 5 feet nose to tail. Maybe a little more! He blended right in among the dusty brush of the forest floor.
Where we wandered, the trees were not very high in most of the areas. Mostly shrubby type bushes and short, squat trees. So we could see plenty of deer meandering through. They were less concerned about the elephants than they had been about the jeeps! Lots of spotted deer, and some of the larger samba.
Despite the complete lack of tiger seen, it was really great to meander through the woods. Especially exciting to be on top of an elephant and doing so! It is not the animal to choose for speed and movement from point A to B. but in taking a casual amble about, they are definitely a fantastic creature. (Or, you know, to haul serious amounts of heavy material to build a fortress, castle, palace and such.)
It would have been nice to go out once the sun was going down. On a big enough animal that would make the surrounding forest not scary, but I bet it would be interesting to see the forest out here at night! (yes, this is coming from the girl who does not linger in the dark coyote friendly woods around western PA… it’s the principle of the thing though! The spirit of adventure! And the security of having a trusty guide/ driver who would conveniently be knowledgeable in everything needed, who would not be chased down and shot to death with poisoned darts by the angry natives, leaving me stranded. See, I learned from Indiana Jones).
Spent the evening in my room, with the window’s glass doors opened outward, and the screen doors shut tight (well, the two that shut anyways. Didn’t open the other glass doors which closed with a large gap. Not that it would have made a difference. Nothing is tightly sealed here. The toad probably meandered in through the gap beneath my door and the floor. Windows were good for keeping out birds and rodents, but nothing small and crawly would have been inhibited. Such is india. It is true in Delhi too. ) I was kept company by a different toad/frog and an even larger salamander. When I saw him scamper up the wall, I probably shot 12 feet straight up. But he settled quietly in the top corner by the ceiling…where he remained through the morning. Slept with the crickets chirping merrily, and the cool air seeping into my room. Nice, but not enough to motivate me to actually want to return home.
Saturday, June 04
Woke up at 5am. The sun already turned the sky a light grey, and the air was cool and comfortable. I took my cup of tea out to a chair they had on the lawn at the resort. And read a book, or tried to catch up with my journal. Mostly, I just wanted to sit outside without sweating where it was peaceful. The sun brushed the far off mountains with her “fingertips of rose”. The grass was not damp or dewy at all.
The common monkeys ran along the stone wall at the edge of the small yard. Big ones, little ones, mama ones with little babies holding onto their underside. They scurried along, shimmying up and down the bamboo, and playfully chasing each other. It was a secluded, peaceful start to the day, that did not mimic the busyness that had already begun on the streets and in the town outside of the resort’s walls.
Workers were erecting a building closer to the entrance. They brought in mules or small ponies that carried bags of powder concrete mix. Holes were dug and steel (ish) rebar was spindled together. Which I suppose would at some point support an actual building. Probably wouldn’t walk into any building if I focused too much on the structural tactics.
Train ride home, plenty of stops along the way on this express train. Including some 25 minute long stops. I sure would dislike the slow train.. Arrived in Delhi with the heat and dust and crowds enveloping you like that distant relative’s hug who you don’t really like, but have to tolerate anyways.
“Home” at the Bennett’s house to frantically pack for return to home…stateside. The idea of home in Zelienople feels weird. Not bad at all, just when I picture it in my head, it has the feeling of high heeled shoe after wearing flip flops for so long. or how a heavy, fleece hoodie feels after wearing tank tops. But that means there will be campfires, and tree covered rolling hills!
Quick stop at Café Coffee Day (CCD) with two of the sisters. Between the laughing and talking…and the chocolate brownie fudge ice cream dessert…leaving did not feel as awful.
Hugs all around and then to the airport…to see if I could get a ticket.
After stressing in line, as they slowly and unhurriedly checked people in, I was assigned a seat. I do not think I have ever before been so disappointed that everything went according to plan.
Made it through immigration check and metal detector to be gestured to the most direct route through the terminal to the plane which was already boarding (yes, they had a man with a walki talki waiting for the other few people on the flight to get through the lines to give directions on how to get to the gate most efficiently). Made it, only a little out of breath, to settle into the middle seat for the 14 plus hour flight home.
Made a list with fabricated reasons why I should be excited to go home while waiting for take off. It was a list of genuine optimism mixed with sarcastic commentary.
So I slept scrunched, in all kinds of upright and tightly curled ways. Successful snoozing occurring. (it is a talent…don’t be jealous)