Friday, June 04, 2004

No wonder one horned Nepali rhinos are endangered...

Back in ol’ India. I am sitting in an internet café by the Burning Ghats on the Ganges River in Varanasi. As it comes closer to time for the 4 pm cremations, the groups of people carrying flower draped bodies to the river is increasing. They pass right by the door.

But first things first. After rafting, I got the bus the next day to Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal. The trip was only 160 kilometers, but it took 13 hours. The road through the mountains was built on what seems to me to be a seriously flawed premise. Instead of being cut into the mountain, they are kind of built onto the side. When the rains come, they wash out large chunks of the road at a rather alarming rate. Thusly, there is usually just one passable lane in each direction, leading to massive backups and frequent road rage. Reading only when stopped, I got through 125 pages of War & Peace.

When I got there I thought I would be thrifty and checked into a 75 cent room. During the 15 minutes that I stayed in that room, I counted 10 different SPECIES of spiders. The kicker was the palm sized wolf spider that thought it would be okay to take a shower with me. It was too big for me to confidently try to kill in one blow, and to just wait until it went away would certainly guarantee a sleepless night. I nodded, got dressed and moved across the path to the $1.50 room, which was cleaner and infested alternatively with geckos.

Next morning it was “jungle walk” time. This involved me, with my two guides, walking through the jungle, looking for wildlife. (They used to only require one guide, but a couple of years ago a guide was gored by an overprotective mother rhino, leaving the tourist in a lurch…) The idea is to sneak up on the animals and observe them. Unfortunately with me getting caught on every branch, briar and vine, we were about as inconspicuous as the Rose Bowl Parade. At one point we were walking through 9 foot high grass, which was filled with things aptly describes as two inch long biting horse flies having a bad day. There was a rhino walking around somewhere nearby because we hear it, but never did manage to get close enough to see it. We did, however manage to see an endangered long nosed crocodile, some monkeys, and a really big deer. Mostly running away. At top speed.

That afternoon I was a little more successful getting near some animals. First I got to play with Beauty, the town baby rhino. She was orphaned somehow (accounts differ on whether it was poachers or natural causes), and the town adopted her like a stray dog. She is the size of my sister’s Rav 4 and has the disposition of a golden retriever. When I first saw her, there was a guy sitting on her back using her as a stool for his card game. She didn’t seem to notice him. I went and petted her and took my picture with her. She didn’t really notice me either, but she did sneeze at one point so I know she was alive. When she is hungry, she apparently just walks into whatever is close by (restaurant, guide shop, book store…) and nudges things over until someone gets her some hay. Good life.

Later that afternoon I took an elephant safari to look for the endangered one-horned Nepali rhino. Man those things are dumb. You see, the elephants and the rhinos are homeboys, so the rhino don’t mind when the elephants come over, but the rhinos don’t notice the gaggle of camera toting tourists on the elephants back. We got within 6 feet of these big guys (and they are big). We saw two males, and two sets of mothers with their babies, one no bigger than a large dog. It was fun, even if we did get caught in the monsoon on the way back.

The next day began by 20 hour bus odyssey back into India and on to Varanesi. You make not believe this, but it actually got 10° hotter as I walked under the “Welcome to India” sign. I won’t bore you with rest of details, but it involved lots of me sitting on an uncomfortable bus and eating the ever popular “things fried in oil and bought on the side of the road, likely involving curry.” I spent the majority of the trip trying to get comfortable on the hard wooden bench seats. Towards the end of the trip I had so pissed off the old man in the seat in front of me, who was apparently tired of me flopping around like a sturgeon out of water, that he shouted at the occupants of a 3 man bench to move elsewhere so I could lay there and sit still for a while. I even got 2 hours of sleep.

I arrived at 4 am at the guesthouse and 5:30 found me on a boat on the Ganges, watching the activities on the ghats. Everyone had told me how dirty the water is and how there are dead babies floating everywhere in it. I can’t say I would drink it, but it wasn’t any worse than some parts of Long Island Sound. The ghats were buzzing with color and activity, people bathing, brushing their teeth, washing their clothes, being cremated. I was impressed.

I spent the rest of the morning trying to find the Golden Temple and the Gyana Vapl Mosque. I was eventually successful. I was especially interested in the Gyana Vapl Mosque because it is the one that radical Hindus want to raze. A train was firebombed and killed a few hundred people a couple years ago as part this. It didn’t look like much to me, but then again I don’t even think the Taj is impressive enough to justify wholesale slaughter.

The afternoon was spent in a nightmare of train planning. India has a lovely railway system, and no way to ever get a ticket on it. Trains are sold out weeks in advance. I got a ticket to a national park in the south, but literally every train out of there is booked for the next 3 weeks. Guess I am going to have to wing it with buses and, if it comes down to it, planes. Wish me luck! Right now, I am headed out in search of a sitar player and a decent plate of saag paneer.

I hope everyone is enjoying the start of the summer. It is 120 degrees here, and my room has no windows and a sickly ceiling fan.

Time out for : Fun with Indian Spelling!

Pick your favorite type of cuisine:

* Itayan

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