[Last month I spent a couple of weeks in India, there mainly for a Global Exchange rights of nature study tour. I managed to squeeze in a safari trip to Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh just prior to the study tour.]
As an “outsider,” nothing really prepares you for the India experience. I’ve now been to the sub-continent four times, and each time I have to relearn the pandemonium that is India.
The sights – cows in the road, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, begging mothers, horse and cart, dogs, goats, pedestrians; I’m sure I’m leaving one or two things out. The sounds – car horns, truck horns, rickshaw horns, firecrackers, dogs barking…did I mention the horns?
I spent my initial days (escaping the chaos that is Delhi) at a lodge outside Kanha National Park in central India, in hopes of seeing a wild tiger. Getting there was one of my more brutal car ride experiences, and believe me, I’ve had my fair share. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep or lack of food that made this four hour trip from the Raipur airport to my lodge especially taxing, but the roads certainly left a lot to be desired.
Funny how you can look at a map and assume what looks like a major road would be paved and not full of potholes the size of boulders. Silly me. My driver was 25 years old and his age belied his driving experience. He was top-notched. How he missed hitting the hundreds of cows, and potholes, in the road is beyond me. And not just cows, but goats, dogs, children, motorcyclists, trucks, buses, and other cars. I will never complain about drivers in California again (okay, that’s probably not true, but I will do so with an asterisk for India).
When we finally got to the Chitvan Jungle Lodge, it was a little piece of heaven. A small posse came out to greet me and gather my belongings which had scattered in the backseat of the car. After I settled in to my gorgeous room, I had a lunch fit for a king – an Indian sampler platter of locally-farmed organic ingredients. The pumpkin was particularly tasty. Almost everything I ate while at the lodge was delicious.
The highlight of my trip, and certainly my year, was sighting a tiger while on jeep safari. I only saw the one, out of a total of three safari excursions, but what an experience! It was a very emotional moment. I was of course thrilled to see a tiger, but mixed into that feeling was an overwhelming sadness that this species may be wiped off the Earth forever, possibly in my lifetime. How someone can poach such a beautiful and majestic animal is beyond my comprehension.
Of course there were plenty of other animals to see, including monkeys, spotted deer (there are so many you become blasé about seeing them), barasingha (swamp deer), peacocks, hawk eagles, jungle fowl, and even a python. It’s also a beautiful park, especially at sunrise and sunset.
It was rejuvenating to be at Kanha, after the polluted grey skies of Delhi. (Ironically, there are billboards and signs all over about planting trees to keep Delhi green. Right now it’s an uphill battle.) My time there was all too short, but it was worth the journey.
My short visit also reinforced my deep belief that humans should do everything possible to protect wild tigers and increase their numbers. People and tigers must find a way to co-exist. Humans are part of the web of life; we do not own it. More to come on this.