Saturday, June 12, 2004

OH! Tigers and ARGH! India

So since you last left your hapless heroine, she has been on safari. Other than being on safari, she has been in a constant state of agitation, spending large amounts of time cursing computers and buses.

I left Varanasi by train to Jabalpur. The 13 hour ride was pretty uneventful for me. I napped, read my book, and ate. For the 10 year old boy sitting across from me, though, it was the most exciting thing that had happened to him EVER. There was a real live white person, just for him. He stared at me for 13 hours. I went to sleep, he was staring, woke up, same position, still staring. I’d give him a little wave now and then to let him know that I appreciated the attention. He’d elbow his sister every time I did something really special, like turning the page or going to the bathroom. (She was about 16 and not impressed with anything, much less me. I think it’s the age.) The real main event was dinner though. I didn’t use my chapti right when eating my daal. He almost fell off his bunk laughing. At one point another little boy came from the next compartment to watch too, but the first little boy chased him away. I was HIS white person and he didn’t want to share.

When I arrived in Jabalpur, it was late and I spent the night at a hotel that was run by a guy who definitely had the air of being the guy that knows the Guy. He offered to get me a train ticket to Udaipur when I got back from safari. It saved me the hassle of the train station, so I decided it was worth the commission, and agreed. That taken care of, I hopped on a rickshaw to go see Marble Rocks, Jabalpur’s main attraction, billed as “towering white marble cliffs and cascading waterfalls.” Right. I think that Central Park has more exciting waterfalls. My guidebook suggested giving the kids 10 rupees if they would swim the rapids, supposed to be a hoot. I gave some guy 10 rupees and he jumped in. And that was it. Hell, if I had better health insurance I would have done that.

But that’s okay, it is all part of traveling! Plus I was only 90 short miles away from Kanha National Park and tiger safari! What could go wrong? How long could it possibly take to go 90 miles? Answer : 8 hours. I almost had a meltdown. I was cursing like a sailor with toret’s for the last two hours. This was slower than Air Yako, which, for those of you who lived on the Ouaga-Ouahigouya corridor know, was routinely passed by ailing elderly African men with malaria on bicycles.

Tiger safari turned out to be a touch on the expensive side, but worth every frigging penny. Kanha was the setting for the Jungle Book, so you can imagine zipping around in a jeep through the forest and grasslands, chasing wild game. All I needed was my monocle and pith helmet and I would be all set. We saw wild peacocks, jungle dogs (which incidentally look exactly like my cousin’s pound-find Foxy. I think the mystery of what kind of dog that mutt is can be officially closed. I wouldn’t let him near any antelope though. It makes a mess.), wild boars, various hoofed things, and the main event, tigers. We saw an unprecedented 3 in a single morning, including a male cub. I got within 6 feet of the cub on the back of an elephant. Luckily Mom didn’t show up. We went back out in the afternoon, and, as my luck dictates, got caught in the first monsoon rain of the year. Flying around on the back of a jeep in the pouring rain isn’t all that much fun, but we did see two more tigers.

Back in the room, I was rewarded with, as always accompanying the first heavy rain of the year, a termite infestation. Hey guys! It’s raining! Let’s hatch! Quick! Quick! We only have a few hours to mate before our wings fall off and we become easy picking for every lizard in the park! Hurry! To the light! I heard there are chicks there! I smashed as many as I could, only to be rewarded with an infestation of black ants. I am not big on those bloody things either.

Now for today. I have had more fun at the orthodontist than today. I left the camp early in a jeep back to Jabalpur. The guy told me my train left at 12:30, so I paid $35 (more money than I spend on food in a week) to get back in time. A bumpy 4 hours later, I show up to claim my ticket. *sigh* Let me see if I can properly explain this. Instead of a 12 hour train ride to Udaipur, leaving at 12:30 in the afternoon, I got a 26 hour train ride to Jaipur, leaving at 7:30 at night. And there is a connection. The first train arrives at 9:00 am and the second leaves at 8:53 am. And I am on the waitlist for the second train. And Jaipur is 13 hours away from Udaipur. And the guy couldn’t possibly imagine why I wasn’t exactly pleased with his handiwork. So I am trapped in an industrial hellhole for the next 6 hours waiting for a train to take me to an even bigger industrial hellhole where I may or may not be able to get a train to someplace I didn’t want to go to in the first place. Gotta love India.

That’s my story. I hope all is well, and the next e-mail is really going to be boring because it will be all about me and a train/bus. Just warning you.

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