---This post is way overdue as I'm posting it on July 31, 2010... over two years later... better late than never.---
Wow, time flies fast. It has almost been three week since I returned from India. You may be thinking "What did Henry love about India?". You have read about things that like and the stuff I really don't like there. I even got a bit of criticism for comments on Mumbai and New Delhi.
So, in general, what do I love about India?
For starters, the people are welcoming, quite friendly, and kind. While I constantly had people on the streets trying different angles to help me part with money, I never felt physically in danger.
The food in India is outstanding and they do vegetarianism very well. I ate a LOT there... almost every night I was stuffed (part of this was from being taken out to dinner many nights at amazing restaurants). Here in the States vegetarianism seems like such a sacrifice... almost masochistic to live a vegetarian diet/lifestyle (for me, this is from the outside looking in). However, India doesn't hold back or lack or imagination in coming up with amazingly great tasting
vegetarian dishes... sometimes the dishes were so rich that it was too much and I loved the naan... especially with lentils and butter. The mix of spices, vegetables, herbs, butter/oils, and breads combined for meals that were completely new to me and (despite a case of the Bombay Blues, jet lag, and exhaustion) delicious as well as very interesting to see and smell. With the spices... besides the abundance of flavors it was almost always hot... hot in a way that makes most Mexican food seem almost mild --- even through my tears and my nose running from hot spices... it was awesome.
Next up is the dress of the women, which was an explosion of bright colors and flowing saris and scarves. I love how their dress is very beautiful, feminine, attractive, and yet modest.
Another thing is the music. Interesting mixes. I've been a minor fan of Indian music for sometime, but I'm not always in the mood. However, some of the upbeat Indian music goes particularly well with the rhythm of Mumbai and New Delhi, as well as such things as a fast night drive through Mumbai while darting in and out of traffic with
lights flashing and horns honking. :)
Outside of the city. To me this is where India is most beautiful. But that is me... I prefer nature over concrete and steel. My visit to Pench National Park was amazing. And by the end of it I was picking the brain of the naturalist to find out what other National Parks I would want to visit in India (which added up quickly... from the coastal areas to the thick jungles in the south to the mountains in the north... there are plenty of things I want to do should I ever have the chance to return to India).
Also, I loved hanging out with my brother-in-law, Jamas. Celeste and the children were able to spare him for two weeks so he could fly to the other side of the world and hang out in India with me. He is a cool guy to have on a trip, and he also loves nature, too, so we were both stoked about the trip to Pench National Park. In addition, we got to know each other better and I'm really glad he made the trip.
Pench National Park
got the Bombay Blues on Friday at work, and thankfully, my co-worker and friend, Roberto, and his wife Lizzie had some Ciprofloxacin, which helped shorten the illness to one day. I haven't been hit that hard since coming back on a trip from Sri Lanka. Jamas and I ended up missing the day in Kahna and only made it to Pench.
The day we missed we lounged around (on Saturday) and I got more sun and pool time :). We then headed to the airport in the afternoon for the short flight to Nagpur.
Our goal was to go on a safari, enjoy nature, and experience as much of it as possible (plants, animals, insects, the clean air, the dry heat, and the terrain/geology/hills/rivers/lakes). To see a tiger or a leopard that would be a plus... but we didn't (except a tiger briefly from a distance... Jamas and the guide saw it but I missed it).
Sidenote: There are only about 1,400 tigers left in India and they are becoming harder to find, so I never got my hopes up. Still, I hope to go on more safaris in the future. Of course, their population is shrinking
do to poaching and population/infrastructure growth. The Indian government recently decided to focus much more on preserving the tigers and I hope they succeed.
In Nagpur it was warmer than Mumbai, but it was a dry heat (Mumbai is very humid). The airport was having new construction done on it, as were the airports in Delhi and Mumbai. We quickly got our bags, found our driver, and headed off to Pench on the two hour drive.
This drive was the craziest drive I've ever been on (and I've been on many crazy drives). It was night and the roads didn't always have street lights. The road had two-lanes which were were used by the drivers more as "suggestions" than solid rules for where to stay on the road; meaning everyone was all over the place and we were often facing headlights coming towards us as our driver negotiated around carrier trucks, scooters, bicycles, cows, and people walking in the road -- at NIGHT. Jamas and I were both floored at the ride. I've never experienced anything like it... not in China, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Mexico, Ecuador, or Guatemala... nothing in memory was close to this craziness.
We pulled into Tiger Corridor
around 10:30 PM and as we did lights came on all over the place and people came out to welcome us, transport our bags, check us in, put tilakas
on our foreheads, and toss flower petals in our hair (seriously).
After checking-in, they took us in a golf cart to a free-standing luxury tent and then back to the main area where they then prepared dinner for us.
We dined in the open-air restaurant while listening to the sounds of frogs, insects, and other wildlife. It was so beautiful to hear. The warm night air was fragrant and had a gentle. Absent was honking and the other endless 24 hour Mumbai noise. Absent was the smoggy air.
It was a deliverance from the intensity of the past two weeks.
It was an oasis.
The next morning they gave us our wake-up call at 5:15 AM and soon brought us coffee and tea. We then sat at a table beside the tent to take in the morning sunrise.
They then picked us up in a golf cart and took us to a jeep for
the morning safari. Our guide was a naturalist and had many years of experience guiding safaris all over India. We also had a driver and also picked up a park guide at the entrance.
The first stop was staring at a tree. For an owl... the naturalist, guide, and driver could see it. Jamas and I searched the tree intently for about a minute before we finally spotted it. We were surprised at how well it was camouflaged. And at closer inspection with binoculars we realized there were not one but two! Their little round grey and white heads were looking out of their tree hole at us.
We then traveled deeper into the park seeing numerous birds, monkeys, wild boar, deer, and other animals. The dry heat air of the park felt and smelled wonderful.
We would periodically stop for ten or fifteen minutes... searching the trees and listening to warning cries of monkeys, birds, or other animals which might signify a tiger or other predator nearby. Once we heard it, we would drive towards it.
One time, the guide and Jamas spotted a tiger in the distance, but I couldn't make it out. Another
time, we waited for about 20 minutes a little bit above a pond, amidst animals letting out all kinds of warning calls, but didn't see a tiger... yet, we found out later from another guide that he was actually just below us at the lakes edge.
Both days we had two safaris... dawn and dusk... when many of the animals are most active.
The resort itself was off the charts... service was outstanding... the furnishings in the tents were luxurious... and we were the only ones there at the time. Basically, there whole staff was serving us.
After safaris, upon returning, we would sit in a kind of open-air lounge area where they served us juice while we relaxed and talked with the naturalist (who spoke English quite well).
Between safaris, we'd nap a bit or go for a swim. It was so sunny and quite at the heat of the day... for me it had a peaceful, serene, quiet, and purifying aura to it. Just resting as the worries and stress from two intense weeks melted away.
The whole experience left me hungry to return to India and see more of her beauties. God
willing, one day, I'll have the blessing to visit again and tour about more.
In the end, there is plenty to love about India, especially in nature. In the city, it is wildly intense on all of the senses and will not soon be forgotten. I hope they can preserve the best of it for future generations to relish and enjoy.
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