Bea goes to India 2006

A place to house periodic comments from Bea while she backpacks her way through India and Nepal.

Friday, March 31, 2006

tigers and corpses and philosophy

my job this week has been Team Leader -- a bit more effort required to have the schedule for the week and which room everyone is in and answers to their questions like "what time is dinner?"... I also carry the group shelter, which is a tarp-like item we could all huddle under in an emergency. If we were trekking, I would be at the front or the back of the group, with the second-in-command taking the other position... this allows Andy to be at any point in the group -- he knows who are bookending the line of us, even if our positions change in the middle. I can also notice things like not enough room for all our rucksacks [we ordered two jeeps with roof racks, at 6:30 in the morning had one with and one without... I got the pleasure of breaking the news to Andy, which I tried to soften with a cup of coffee -- he promptly went and ordered a third jeep so that our 2 1/2 hour trip to the station was manageable] it hasn't been a particularly difficult job, but it has given me even more appreciation for Andy's efforts on our behalf.

We were near Bandhavgarth royal tiger reserve for three full days... Did both morning [5:30-10:30am] and evening [3:15-6:30mp] safari within the public area of the park. There were 22 tigers that we could possibly see, with about 30-odd additional animals in the private part of the reserve -- our first trip in the gypsy{jeep} I was in didn't see any [other animals, but no tiger] the second time one crossed the road behind us. The next morning we were thrilled by a distant sighting of a family group -- mother and three 16-month-old sons -- we then drove closer and were able to take photos of them as they were right above the road from us -- amazing power and grace in them. All of us thought that we were fortunate to have seen them and to have them watch us with such a calm demeanor. The next morning we were again able to see the youngsters [who look full-grown to us!] -- this time from the back of an elephant!!!! Our last safari into the park we drove to the back edge of the area to see the elephant-training area with a baby elephant -- 2 1/2 months old and very cute.

while we were there we celebrated Jess' birthday. She is a wonderful, easy-going person -- we kept telling her she wouldn't have a cake while we were furiously asking the staff if they could somehow find us one! It came damaged -- but she smiled and said it must have a tiger-track in it -- It also tasted more than a little like soap... Not at all nice, but she was so appreciative of the effort that was expended and grinning ear-to-ear said it was the "best birthday ever" -- we are still looking for her official present, but after two days of attempted shopping we haven't found something we like yet, so will keep a look out for the perfect small item she can pack for another 4 months [Jess and Bex will be spending two additional months on their own after our itinerary -- south India in the monsoon season -- they are still laughing at the possibilities!!!]

We went to Allahabad for a night and then drove about 1/2 the way to Varanasi -- caught small row/sail boats for a float down the Ganges -- we were in three boats with a fourth boat devoted to kitchen tasks... Well and truly spoiled -- they lashed us together when we were to eat, then stopped on a sand bank for camp overnight -- they set up tents for us and even a toilet tent... it was a fairly mellow experience -- the river was often quite calm -- each boat had two boatmen -- the one in the front rowed, the one in the back steered, poled with a bamboo stick when it was shallow, directed the sail... In some areas one even got out and pulled us along since the wind was dragging us in the wrong direction. All we had to do is shift ourselves around once in a while to stay in the shade and lift our pinkie if we wanted to pee on the bank.

on the way, we passed villages, fields planted on the flood plane, temples, herds, fishermen, huge nets that were not currently in use... It felt a bit lonelier than I had expected -- we were the only river travelers I saw for the entire experience! As team leader, I had the pleasure of distributing tips for the group to each of the boatmen, the cook, and the trip leader... It was a pleasure to prepare and to greet and thank them all, even though I recognized only our boatmen in detail.

Varanasi is a rough city -- people are groped and robbed and sold to here quite aggressively. Fortunately, we are in an incredibly nice little bubble that allows us to ignore the world outside -- complete with a clean swimming pool, decent restaurant, internet cafe, gift shop... Several of us have commented that it has been a while since we had accommodations with a gift shop [our last stay was much more basic -- the room was dirty, hotter, 1/2 the size, had only an oriental/squat toilet, and didn't provide toilet paper... How our standards have evolved!!!!]

this morning we got up early for a sunrise boat trip inside Varanasi proper -- I was a bit nervous about this, since I know they do open cremations at the water's edge and I didn't want to be overwhelmed by the experience. I read too much and saw pictures that had led me to expect an absolute mad house....... It was much mellower/calmer than I expected -- one body being prepared to burn at one end of town, two cremations in progress at the main cremation ghat at the other end of town... The guide asked that cameras be shut off when we were particularly close, which I like -- it STILL felt like we were a bit voyeuristic as families grieved and others worshipped the rising sun -- perhaps they all were able to ignore us.

I am surprisingly tired for having done so little the last couple of days -- perhaps it is the heat. I've been reading, doing laundry, re-organizing my pack and trying to become mentally prepared for the first trek, which starts next Wednesday -- visualizing myself as graceful and strong, even if a bit slow!

For the first part of the Sikkim trek I am journalist/photographer -- then I move to First Aid role -- can't journal much when we are on the mountain, but when doing first aid role I will carry the group's medical supplies and each morning and evening I will interview everyone to see how they are doing -- it gives Andy and the team leader a sense of details about each of us, plus everyone will know who to come to if they need a plaster [bandaid] or something!

Tomorrow is our last train ride, for the entire trip! I find it a little bit stunning, actually. I have become used to sleeper trains, for the most part -- a couple of things annoy me -- like the beggars and snake charmers... they are a bit easier to avoid on the street than when you are confined!

Language is a continuing challenge -- for instance, we stopped by the side of the river and were once again presented with baskets of cobra, which I really don't like....... I asked Gazzi, our escort from Delhi "How do you tell a snake charmer firmly to go away, so that they know you mean it?" -- to which he mysteriously replied "we will stop for snakes later, and you can get whatever you like" -- it was only after I had told Andy his reply made no sense and we had stopped for snacks that Gazzi came to me and apologized profusely -- he said he couldn't understand why I would even ask him to make snacks go away!!!!

Keeping a sense of humor, b