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March 17th 2014
Published: March 17th 2014
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The Indian part of this trip was great. I didn't think much of Kolkata but Assam was just like southeast Asia and therefore brilliant. I aim to return to cover some different parts of the subcontinent in the future. If I did the same Assam trip again, with the benefit of hindsight, I would probably give myself only half as long at each place. It is difficult knowing beforehand how long one needs anywhere, and I like to spend time and not just rush about helter-skelter like a mouse in a cheese factory, but really I didn't need as much time as I gave myself. I could have fitted into the month some of Gujarat like Gir and the Little Rann Of Kutch quite easily and still seen the Assamese parks well. Instead I was bound to Assam by the date of the return flight from Guwahati (a reason I don't like booking things ahead!), and because there was no internet over most of the route I couldn't find out about any other nearby parks I could visit as additions. If I'd been smart enough I would have only booked the flight into Assam from Kolkata but left the exit open with the plan to take a train back. If I'd done that then I would have been free to leave earlier and fly to the west to fit in some more animal-watching. Instead I ended up just passing time until the flight and that was a bit annoying.

There were numerous frustrations with the way the parks in Assam (and presumably all of India) are run, with the ridiculous fees and the ridiculous operating hours and the ridiculous bans on night visits. I was impressed at the very high numbers of genuinely interested local tourists visiting the parks, a stark contrast to places like Indonesia or China where as far as most locals are concerned the sooner the forest is razed to the ground and replaced with cities the better. However the huge difference in local-vs-foreigner fees is galling (50 rupees versus 500 rupees), especially when you see the types of camera lenses these local tourists are usually carrying – I mean, these guys aren't exactly poor! Often at Kaziranga I would be sitting in the restaurant with literally hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment surrounding me. Most of the local tourists didn't even know there were different rates for foreigners; they would look shocked when I told them the price differences. But at least the park rules and regulations annoyed everybody, locals included, and not just me!

Most people in Assam seem very open and friendly, except at Bansbari (at Manas) where people in general seemed very unfriendly and I got a lot of blank zombified stares when I said hello as I passed people by. English is not often spoken in Assam except in the tourist lodges; elsewhere some people speak a little, most people speak none. I felt perfectly safe where-ever I was, although there was a bit of a feeling of an undercurrent of violence ready to erupt at any moment (which probably wouldn't have been the case if it hadn't been for the strikes and road-blocks and bombings and self-immolations while I was there!). The local tourists from other parts of India were always quick to point out that Assam is “still wild” and the people are basically “tribal” with a “feudal nature”. I don't know how accurate that is, but it is probably fairly true. A lot of southeast Asia is like that, and as I've said before Assam is really part of southeast Asia in nature.



Some other observations about India:

*There are baby goats everywhere in Assam. Everywhere!!! There are always animals on the road – sheep, cows, dogs, chickens, you name it and it will be on a road somewhere – but the baby goats are like flies. I have no idea why or how there are so many baby goats because there don't appear to be enough adult goats around to produce them all.

*There are also mosquitoes everywhere in Kolkata. I don't think I've ever been anywhere with such a consistent level of mosquito ubiquity as Kolkata. They were in the buses, they were in the taxis, they were in the airport, they were even in the planes.

*Poached eggs in Assam are not poached eggs. They are fried eggs cooked just enough that they are still half raw (not just runny yolks but runny whites as well).

*Shaking the head means “yes”. Shaking the head harder means “no”. And they will never say “yes” while shaking the head, they just shake their head without saying anything. One of the Indian tourists I met (from Delhi) said that this is confusing even for Indians not from the north. It goes something like this:

Me, entering shop: “Do you sell Bengal floricans?”

Shopkeeper: shakes head

Me: “OK thanks” - goes to leave

Shopkeeper: “No, sir, Bengal floricans?”

Me: “Yes, do you sell them?”

Shopkeeper: shakes head

Me: “Oh, OK thanks” – goes to leave

Shopkeeper: “Wait, sir, you wanted Bengal floricans....”

Me “Yes, Bengal floricans. Do you have them?”

Shopkeeper: shakes head

Me: “Er, right.... I'll just try the next shop then” – goes to leave, again

Shopkeeper: “Sir, sir, Bengal floricans!” Puts a box of Bengal floricans on the counter.

Me: “Oh you do sell Bengal floricans!”

Shopkeeper: shakes head

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