Monday, January 26, 2009

Trip to India: Day 9: Into the Jungle

(First of all, I apologize that there was a 3 or 4 week delay in between the 8th day and the 9th day, but I am going to finish this thing if it's the last thing I do!)

Day 9:

(Cold on our way to the Periyar Preserve)

So for our last day in India, we decided to take full advantage of the fact that we were outside of a wildlife preserve and headed into the park at 6:00 in the morning. A jeep picked us up outside our hotel and we headed out towards the park entrance. The jeep was FREEEEEZING so we were all just compacted in on ourselves to keep warm.

As we made it closer to the preserve the sun was up and it was more manageable temperature-wise. Plus, we were all so excited that we were hanging out of the roof of the jeep anyways to see if we could find anything. The light was absolutely incredible as the fog started to burn off and the sun came peeking through the trees. Our driver made the first sighting of a herd of buffalo. I couldn't really see at all what he was talking about, because they were so far away, but when I finally looked at Stephen's photograph, all I saw were a few dots on the horizon. How our driver spotted that from the car I'll never know.

Tara made the next find of a nilgiri langur off the side of the road. It was so close and was just sitting there as we watched it. It was so amazing to see an actual wild animal. This thing you see in zoos and nature documentaries is just sitting there next to you, 10 feet away. Even more amazing was when we saw a langur leaping through the trees off at a distance a bit. When they're as close as the roadside one, you almost feel like it's been propped up waiting for you and gets a tip from the driver when you leave, but when you see them swinging and leaping through the trees, it's such an amazing thing to see.

We kept on driving down the mountain, deeper into the preserve, with our driver hanging out the front door of the car while steering to look for animals on the side of the road. We were all perched up on the open roof of the jeep staring intently into the trees. We saw all kinds of
eagles and parrots (bright green!) throughout the drive until we made it to the base camp-ish area. Here we had a nice meal, they put a bindi on each of our foreheads for New Years and we got with our guide to take us on the hiking trail.

(We stopped for a snack at a beautiful valley in a streambed where I painted with genuine, Periyar stream water!)

We went deep into the forest and saw evidence of elephants, deer, and bison that had passed through at some point, such as footprints or tusk marks in the sides of the mountain. We tried to be as quiet as possible (although the little screaming girl with us didn't get that memo) so as not to scare anything off. We saw a couple more langurs leaping through the trees. These ones looked humongus! It's crazy to think how many of these must actually be in this enormous preserve, and how impressive it is that we only see one or two. We didn't see anymore wildlife through the rest of the hike (although the little girl did scream out "LOOOOOK!!!!!" at one point. We all jerked around to see what she had found. "Earthworm!") but we saw some incredible views and hiked all the way to the top of a grassy hill that looked almost 360 degrees into a valley dotted with little blue flowers.

(Just look at the sinister stare on that little girl. You can tell she's up to no good.)

After a little break, we headed back down to the base camp. We had dinner (or lunch? I can't remember) before heading out in a little paddle boat into the lake. My brother and I are pretty much expert boat paddlers, so the ride was smooth and relaxing (no thanks to the two backseat drivers without the paddles in their hands...).

(Back at the base camp there was this hilarious little bird, about the size of a cotton ball, who must have been absolutely terrified, but just stayed in this screaming position for an absurdly long time)

We saw a kingfisher while we were out on the boat, but no monkeys, but when we got back to shore we saw a whole bunch of monkeys leaping around on the island we had just been near (bastards!). Again, though, it's pretty amazing to even see them off in the distance, so we watched them for a good hour or so before heading home.

On the drive back we were all hoping for that last little glimpse of a tiger riding an elephant across the road, or something like that, but no luck. We did see some gigantic squirrels, which look kind of like lemurs, and a several more langurs on the side of the road, just as close as before. Even though we didn't see a tiger, it's pretty amazing to actually be in a place where tigers are roaming freely and could pop out at any moment. Our guide, of course, had seen them many times. But the fact that there are only 28 tigers and some 60 leopards in the entire preserve makes it a pretty good bet that you're not going to see one unless it wants you to. The elephants, though...I mean, come on, those things are huge. Next time, though, I want to go on a deeper, multi-day hike so that I can get away from the touristy areas. I think that would be amazing.

Anyhoo, we headed back down into Thekkady and then back into Cochin to catch our flight home. We got a flat on the drive back (which I still say we could have patched with some rubber from the rubber trees on the side of the road), but we got to the airport with plenty of time. We said our goodbyes and boarded the plane back to Delhi. After that it was just a simple hop skip and a jump back to New York (by way of the ever pleasant Moscow, of course).

Of course, though, once in Delhi, our hopping, skipping, and jumping, hit a few snags along the way. We got onto the plane fine and I fell asleep within seconds of sitting down. I later woke up, feeling rested and refreshed, to see everyone clearing all of their stuff out of the overhead bins and getting off of the plane. "Perfect!" I thought, "I slept through the entire 7 hour plane ride and didn't even have to listen to take off or landing!" Not so. Turns out, after asking the charming flight attendant, that we had never taken off. Actually, all she said was "Delhi." But after asking some of the other passengers, we realized that we had never actually left Delhi, we had just driven around in circles on the runway for FOUR HOURS. Apparently, the fog was too thick for any planes to take off from Delhi, but instead of telling any of us, they just drove around twiddling their thumbs. We all had to be ushered back into the airport (with a coupon for one free drink at the snack station! (Which was nowhere to be found)) and wait until the fog cleared up. Well, the fog didn't clear up for another 9 hours or so, so we spent the night in the airport, but we finally left off and managed to make our flight in Moscow (because we originally had a 12 hour layover in Moscow...*shudder*) and back to New York.

We thought our troubles were over once we got back to New York, but no no, apparently all of the bags from the transfer flights had never made it onto the flight to New York. No one knew where they were. The Aeroflot attendant told us that sometimes, they just don't put the bags onto the new plane if they're from a transfer (what?). The Russian woman (who had left Russia) in front of us in line told us that she didn't trust the Russians and that they probably had just thrown our bags out after we left. Then about an hour later, they found all of the 50 or so passenger's missing bags (what? where had they been hiding 100 bags?) and brought them out to us. No harm done, I suppose, but I think that was the end of any future relationship between Aeroflot and I.

The trip to India was an incredible experience. It was unlike any place I have ever seen, and is something that I feel like I've only just scratched the surface of. I can't wait to go back to India, and to other places I've never been, and see just how different the world can be.

PS: Tarleen (baby steps), you have no idea how hard it was for me not to put the infamous coughing picture up here.

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