Thursday, March 10: In the filthy breakfast room at Narayana “Palace” Hotel, the menus are sticky and stained. The waiters’ uniforms are embedded with dirt along the seams and the coffee pot looks like it has never in its entire existence been washed. We unhappily eat some chapatti, a puffy white Indian bread, and some vegetable curry. Drab is the operative word in this place. Overall, it’s not a good breakfast experience. A “palace” this isn’t.
However. It is a lovely day. It’s too bad we can’t stay in Rishikesh longer. But we have to make another road trip today, this time to Corbett Tiger Reserve. When we walk out to the dreaded car, we’re greeted by a grinning Singh. He is so pleased with himself about this place he found us yesterday, and he reminds us again how he has never seen a place so nice. He’s so happy he is getting the privilege of standing on the grounds. If only he knew the truth about the common rooms and the insides of the rooms. Yes, the grounds are excellent, but they hide pathetic interiors.
With a big smile, Singh says, “Your hair is so silky and shining in this sunlight!” I’m taken aback by his compliment, and I thank him. I ask him if he had a good night and he says he’s happy because he stayed in a kind of dormitory for drivers and had a shower. Jayne and I are both very happy about the shower part. We all load our stuff into the car, and head off on the road again. It’s 8:30 a.m.
Yet another road trip in India. We whiz past whole families lounging on wooden horse-drawn flatbed carts. Cows stand along the roadways munching greedily on plastic wrap and garbage. Artfully arranged produce stands beckon with their tantalizing but forbidden fruits. Motorcycles congregate in unlikely places. Buildings are in various states of decrepitude or half-completion. Rusted pieces of scrap metal lie around haphazardly. We pass multitudes of colorful Hindu temples and shrines and trucks piled high with sugar cane and bamboo stalks. Roadside stands boast colorful aluminum foil ribbons of breath fresheners. Bicycle tire repair shops dot the landscape. Tire stores, piles of gravel, crumbling walls with half-ripped notices and posters: these create the decor along India’s roads. Garbage is strewn everywhere, and countless men stand peeing against walls and into fields of debris or grass or just into the dirt. The strange thing is that we never see women squatting to pee along the road. We wonder if there’s some law that forbids women to pee in public, but allows men to do so.
There are the strangest things we see everywhere along the drive. There are whole mini-“villages” of honeycomb-looking structures made of cow dung, some kinds of cow dung teepees. They’re too small to be houses. But they’re so neatly arranged they look almost like something artistic. We ask Singh about them and he says they are used in construction to pack into holes in houses, thus keeping out the rain. Or they’re used as cooking fuel.
At 1:30 p.m., 5 hours after leaving Rishikesh, we arrive in Jim Corbett National Park. This ride wasn’t as bad as our Tuesday drive, for one because the length was much shorter (!), but also because it was through more rural, less-traveled areas. We’re happy about this, and happy that we didn’t have any mishaps like the car breakdown or missing permits we had on Tuesday.
We pull into our hotel, the Corbett Treff Hotel. I have no idea what a “Treff” is. Our room is not quite ready yet, but we’re famished so we head directly to the dining room for lunch. We thought our breakfast experience in Rishikesh was bad, but this experience at the “Treff” is unrivaled in the slovenliness and incompetency of the staff and the discomfort of the dining room. The windows are all closed, and neither air conditioning nor fans are on. It’s stifling and the sun is burning through the window onto our table. It takes forever for anyone to even come in to check on us, so I start opening windows and turning on fans. The lunch, when we finally get it an hour later, is so mediocre and the service so bad that I erase the experience from my mind. There is nothing to report here about this meal except it is bad.
Our room itself is not so horrible, but there is nothing to do on the grounds. No swimming pool, no common rooms, no massages being offered. We’re out in the middle of nowhere and our tiger “safari” is not scheduled until dawn tomorrow morning. What will we do all afternoon?
We decide to wander down the dirt road in front of our hotel to see what there is to see and as we’re walking an Indian man with a big mustache falls in step with us and begins to chat. His name is Manmeet Singh and he’s a naturalist from Rajasthan who is working at a nice hotel down the road called the Corbett Hideaway. He’s very bored today because it’s off-season for tourists and he invites us to come to his hotel because it’s quite nice. So we follow him onto the grounds of the Corbett Hideaway. Now THIS is what we’re talking about!! It is ten times nicer than our hotel. We’re greeted by a sign that says: Corbett Hideaway: The Land of Roar, Trumpet and Song.
Here is the description of Corbett Hideaway from their website: Spread over an area of 13 acres the Corbett Hideaway is concealed in the thick of a mango grove, where in season, the mangoes hang ripe and luscious right against the door. Exotic mixed shrubbery, alive with flowers, is crossed by pebbled paths leading to charming cottages with open sit outs. The wonderful stillness is broken only by the sound of the Kosi River and myriad birds. Apart from the hundred and seventy-six mango trees that one can count at the Hideaway, a bountiful jackfruit tree near the reception, variegated bamboo including sacaram, bushes of hibiscus, rainflower, gandharaja, ticoma, raat ki rani and haemilia, azalea aplenty, guava trees which yield fruit three times a year are some of the resort’s inhabitants!
We wander around the grounds with Manmeet and then we go to a deck overlooking the Kosi River and drink a beer and eat mungfali nuts, roasted peanuts with fine chopped onion, green chili, tomato, and coriander leaves . We are having so much fun because we haven’t had a drink since Varanasi and these beers are exceedingly refreshing.
Manmeet tells us he’s 30 and he has a girlfriend he wants to marry who is 23. He’s Sikh and she’s Hindu, so her parents don’t want her to marry him. He gets a phone call and promptly disappears for 20 minutes or longer. After the phone call he is very distracted; it was his girlfriend and he is all wound up. He has lost interest in his idle chit-chat with us. He tells us he likes to live out in nature and hates the big cities of India.
After enjoying our beers, we wander around the grounds of the hotel. We want to stay here as long as possible because there is nothing to do at our bland hotel. We come upon a spa and though the hotel is not supposed to offer services to non-guests, the staff makes various calls to obtain permission to take our money. We don’t see the problem as it’s not like they have any other guests. We decide on our massage packages. I get a Udhvartanam massage, which is a vigorous dry massage done with various herbs and spices. This is the most expensive massage I get here in India, at about 2200 rupees! Here is a description: Udhvartanam is a special Ayurvedic massage therapy, which includes the use of Ayurvedic herbal powders mixed in oil or milk. It is mainly to regain lost luster of the skin. It reduces the amount of accumulated wastes from under the skin and opens the channels that bring energy to the skin surface, thus giving it a youthful glow.It enhances blood circulation. The choice of medicines in the herbal powder mix can reduce skin diseases. It is also usable in treatments of paralysis.
After our hour-long massage, we head to a little indoor bar where we have fresh lemon soda and fish tikka Amritsari, generous chunks of fish marinated and shallow fried, lightly flavored with caraway seeds. While there, I call my son, Alex, whose 20th birthday is today. I miss him so much, even though he came to see me in Korea in December. I know I will see him on March 22, only 12 days from now.
After our light dinner, Jayne and I walk back down the dirt road to our hovel of a Hotel Treff, where I read a book I brought along, Brick Lane, by Monica Ali. Before going to sleep I happen to feel a little irritation in my belly button, where I poke my finger to see what’s going on. Inside are a bunch of spices, and when I sniff my finger, I smell curry, coriander and anise. Leftover spices from my dry massage. I drift off by 9:00, the smells of India drifting out of my belly button into the night.
Though we didn’t officially stay here, we WERE officially interlopers here. Thus we can speak with confidence when we highly recommend the Corbett Hideaway: Corbett Hideaway