Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Best. Day. Ever.

It’s so nice to be outside!  In the late afternoon we pile into layered safari cars, off to hunt tigers.  With cameras.  

A half hour ride on a torn-up road (it will be newly paved by the time you get there - and you really should go!) - thru tiny villages, then we turn onto the tiger preserve.

Our naturalist shows us spotted Indian deer, one with antlers as big as an elk's.  The young deer walk past, wobbling just like the teenage girls on their first high heels. Teenagers are the same no matter what the species.  Or genus.  Kings Play Chess On Finely Ground Sand.  (Kingdom, phylum, class, order- you can do the last three.  Really you can.)

Majestic Saambar deer graze on the banks of the Ken river  - our naturalist tells us they can weigh 350 kilos.   I think about the crazy traffic here, and how many car/deer accidents we have at home, and I say a silent prayer.  For the 350 kilo deer, for us.

We see peacocks and blue bee catchers with their long secondary tail feathers trailing behind like a bride's train.  Our guide spots a fish-eating owl sleeping off his fishy meal in a tree near the river.  But we don't see any tigers, just a paw print in the swept dust by the side of the road.

We see millions of monkeys, one sleek mongoose waddling across the path, two jackals skulking along the side of the road, and a portly family of four wild boar who could not care less about us.  Most of my photos are misty:  the telephoto isn’t great.  If (when) we go to Africa I’ll bring a better camera.  

We listen for the sharp warning barks of the deer - the naturalists locate the tigers and leopards by following the warning sounds of the deer and birds.  If you're dinner, you're paying attention.   So we listen and chase the source of the sounds, and stop often and kill the engine to listen again for the barks.  Or maybe it’s just to let the dust and exhaust wash over us.  No matter.  The hunt is thrilling.

Chasing the source of the barks we come to a sheer cliff.  Oops.  We backtrack and drive to the water’s edge, at dusk, and are treated to a spectacular sunset.  

The animals had been shy in in the late afternoon, but in the deepening dusk as we are leaving the park they don’t even raise their heads as we  drive by.  They don’t stop grazing, don’t skitter off the edge of the road and into the teak forest.  Can’t be bothered.  

When the sun drops so does the temperature.  Like a rock.

Mr. Toad’s wild Midnight ride...home in the chilly starlight, bouncing on the half-made road, the constellations all turned on their sides in a sky like black velvet.  It takes us a while to find Orion and the dipper, and Cassiopea.   Not used to seeing them lying down.

On the drive home we are looking into the warm yellow windows of the roadside villages, watching the kids herding goats and cows back across the road to home, the bright yellow cooking fires warming the roadsides, the pace of the villages winding down as darkness drops and all God's creatures come home to roost.  There is a warm and family end-of-day feeling.  And it makes me miss my family with an unexpected ache.  

As we climb toward Pashan Garh the air cools by 10 degrees at each turn, warms slightly, then cools again. When the sun drops here so does the temperature.

The incredible amazing and really good staff at Pashan Garh Lodge had put thick wool blankets on each seat, and, hot and sweating on the way out, we joked we’d never use them except as cushions.  On the way home, when the temperature drops 20 degrees in three minutes, we bundle up in the blankets and thank God and the fabulous staff of Pashan Garh for their thoughtfulness.  We feel like well cared for children.  

 The Lesson Is Trust

It looks like a head-on collision is imminent every time you pass someone going the opposite direction.   A week ago driving around Mumbai I'm sure we left permanent dents in the armrests.  But driving home this night, our naturalist at the wheel, we are amazed, entertained, astounded, not terrified.  If you think Indians drive on the left you are mistaken...they drive where there is room.  The white line in the center of the road?  Eyewash.  Red lights? (not that there are any here in the wild) Just a suggestion.  And don't cross in the crosswalks, that is where the drivers have target practice.

And yet we trust and relax and know that we will be safe.  People take care of each other here.  No road rage that I've seen.  Just don't try to drive here.  Leave it to the professionals.

At dinner we can't stop chattering about what an amazing day we have had.   And drop into bed exhausted.  If Santa had come down the chimney I don't think I'd have awakened.

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