3 days entries follow in this post below as Internet is scarce and unreliable...photos to follow at some point...
Saturday, March 17
With our Kingfisher flight cancelled, we left Kullu early with a local taxi driver called Anuj who did an impressive job getting us down to Chandigarh in 8 hours, including stops for breakfast and lunch. (I thought of you Bruce, as we were together the last time I drove in those hills on those terrifying roads!)
The horns on the highway are constant, with trucks and buses hogging the roads; cars passing where they shouldn’t, motorcycles, cows, donkeys…you name it. Once you deal with the adrenaline coursing through your veins, it’s occasionally possible to enjoy the stunning views of terraced farms up the steep sides of valley after green valley.
Fascinated by the language of drivers on the road in the way that they honk- incessantly – seemingly for a number of different reasons. As far as I can tell, the following are the words behind the honks:
I’m passing you.
I’m coming around the corner.
I’m coming around the corner and I’m nervous so I’m honking all the way around.
Get out of my way.
Move over to your side.
I’m bored so I’m honking.
I’m passing you, so slow down because there’s a truck heading straight for me.
Do you like my truck?
Let me pass, already.
My truck is the best!
I’m passing you on the outside even though there is a sheer drop of 2000 feet and no barrier.
I need to wake up.
Jai Ram! (Praise god) Let’s hope we all get out of these mountains alive!
Well. We did make it on to the plains and then into Chandigarh where we had an excellent coffee with Dikpal from Kullu who was there all week visiting is dentist. Great to see him for a short hour and then we were off to the train station where a porter grabbed two of our big suitcases and swung them up on his head. He adopted us for our wait for the train to Delhi and got us organized on the platform at the right spot to get into our coach. (Indian trains are remarkably punctual and they only stay minutes don’t in the station, so you have to be ready to launch yourself on.)
Arrived in Delhi at 9:30 pm and had a comical time trying to arrange a cab for ourselves. We eventually ended up with what we now think was a non-cab (just some guy with a car who didn’t know where he was going) and it took 20 minutes to get to the hotel even though we later learned it was a 3 minute drive.
Sunday March 18
Up at 4:30 a.m., picked up by Prakash to help us (thank heavens) navigate the Delhi train station, which is an experience everyone should have (only) once in a lifetime. Absolutely WILD, even at 5:30 in the morning – still very dark, hundreds of people screaming out to help with taxis and bags and hundreds more sleeping (or trying to) everywhere. Made it just in time to negotiate our seats with a family who had taken them, and worked out a solution. A quick two-hour trip to Agra with an unfamiliar breakfast of cornflakes with hot milk, juice and a choice of southern Indian or something else – we stuck with dry cornflakes and chai. Two young guys serving food up and down the aisle the whole way there. Arrived to connect with Raju who guided us around the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. As trite as the Taj has become as a world landmark, and despite the crowds, it still brought tears to my eyes when I first saw it through the main gate. Clark and Blair were thrilled to be there for the first time. The white marble gleaming in the sun through the haze, and the whole balance of the Mughal architecture somehow hits you, especially when you know Shah Jahan built it for love! Ran a few errands to the drug store (fascinating booth where you can buy almost anything without prescription)) and picked up a light kurta because it is HOT already – and we haven’t even reached the real desert yet! (Thinking of you, Bob…) Then off to Bharatpur by car which was slower than usual due to a parade of thousands walking 50 km on the road to visit a temple that draws pilgrims for a week every year. Have a lovely driver called Jagdish, who speaks little English, but we manage to communicate.
We crossed from Uttar Pradesh into Rajasthan and arrived at the Laxmi Vilas in Bharatpur to a relaxing hotel with bougainvillea everywhere (Thanks for this suggestion, Ellen!). No time to go to the bird sanctuary as we had hoped, so Blair swam in the very clean pool and I then Clark went for our first aryuvediuc massages. An interesting experience, but not without its surprises, like the undue attention they pay to massaging the eyelids and the (excruciating) cracking of fingers and toes. It will probably take me the rest of our trip to rid our skin of the aromatic oils, but given how dry it is now in the desert, just as well!
News from home had us a little worried about Daisy who developed another bout of pancreatitis a week after we left on our trip. Thanks to MacG and Elysia, she got prompt treatment and Tessie and now Becca are taking special care of her. Bec tells us that she’s looking better…
Tomorrow we leave at 7:30 for our 5-hour drive with Jagdish to Ranthambore, a wildlife reserve and home to 25 or 30 tigers. If we’re lucky, we’ll see one or two, but if not there are supposed to be all sorts of wildlife. Meanwhile, I hear live music and maybe even a puppet show happening in the courtyard outside our room - so we’d best get out there to see what’s happening.
Happy birthday to Ellen tomorrow!!
Love to you all.
Monday March 19, 2012
We left the Laxmi Vilas with Jagdish and it took us 5 hours to get to Ranthambore where we are staying for 36 or so hours. Ranthambore is a wildlife reserve. After a quick and delicious lunch we set off on our first of three scheduled safaris into the reserve on a “canter” – an open truck that seats about 20. Very wild and dry and extremely hot (38 or so) we were driven around and through Zone 2 (of 5) and saw masses of animals – boars, a serpent eagle, monkeys by the hundreds, parrots, many types of deer, antelope, crocodiles – but no tigers UNTIL the very end of our planned tour when our driver suddenly sped up the rough road so we could catch sight of a female tiger ambling by, about 30 feet from us, paying no attention to anything but her path ahead. Chaos ensued with other jeeps joining us to see and our following the tiger for a stretch at a short distance. It brought whale-watching to mind – and similarly, it was awesome to see such an animal in the wild. We made it out of the park by 6, closing time and returned to the lodge and a restful evening with great food and live music. Mosquitoes everywhere and we are indeed being bitten the minute our high percentage DEET wears off. Did I tell the travel clinic people we were coming to this part of Rajasthan, I wonder? Not supposed to start our malaria pills until Goa….
Tuesday March 20, 2012
Out on safari again this morning at 6:30 a.m. and this time with a wild cowboy canter driver who barreled at break-neck speed along the empty morning highway to pick up our fellow safari-riders – too many in fact for our vehicle (but what the hell) and then on into the park. The morning air was delightfully cool and clear with the dew keeping the dust down – as compared to yesterday’s afternoon ride when we were stuck to our seats, drenched within minutes and had trouble seeing any distances due to the thick dust stirred up by the day. Blair chose the very back seat of the canter where we reluctantly joined him for what amounts to an amusement park ride. We were joined there by two women from the US – very fun, especially when one of the hundreds of monkeys we saw on entering the park through the veil of banyan tress branches started running full speed toward our canter and jumped up on the railing right beside the Michigan women. We were all a little alarmed but the naturalist on board found a rather ineffectual piece of string that he waved at the monkey, who grimaced and jumped down and up several more times before leaving. We figure he must have been fed in the past by tourists, which made him fearless and aggressive but not necessarily dangerous. With that hilarity behind us, we drove another few minutes through the morning sun, birds shrieking around us (shades of Jurrassic Park…) and there was a beautiful tiger basking in the sun. We watched her for a long while until she got up and wandered off into the shade where she lay slightly obscured by her stripes. I was amazed at how camouflaged she was then, as we could easily have mistaken her for a log stump – surprising given her loud stripes.( Someone explained that in fact the tiger’s stripes fragment what we see rather than mimicking the surrounding environment.)
We opted out of a third safari as we’d had enough bouncing around in the dust and heat (sorry, Bob…) and instead chose to enjoy our first relaxing afternoon since our arrival. As it turned out, Clark and I spent half of that time trying to deal with illogical issues (familiar to anyone who has ever travelled in India) involving our phone and our room. But a good long rest followed and we are now looking forward to our overnight train trip on a sleeper car to Udaipur, where Jagdish will pick us up in the morning. Time is moving too quickly!
Our tummies are holding out (touch wood) as we hear disastrous tales from other travellers who have been less fortunate. We are laughing more than usual, having a close time together and really appreciating Blair’s eagerness, his interest level and good humour in the face of some strange and challenging aspects of the trip. To Cam and Lorz and Gryff and MacG and Leesh and Naden, we all agree that we have to plan a larger family trip with all of us. We are missing you and think and talk of you daily. Hugs to you all, and to Craig and Paul, and please kiss Dub for us. Thanks Paul for your persistence and patience with tickets home.
Special thanks to Becca for taking such good care of our Daisy and Jerry.