jim corbett tiger reserve: habitat for….chickens.

Friday, March 11:  Jayne and I climb into the jeep at 6 a.m. for our tiger “safari” at Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve.  It’s freezing and the jeep, like most jeeps,  is open to the elements.  As soon as we start riding over the bumpy roads, the morning air drives through us like thousands of metal knives.  Brrrr.  We are definitely not prepared for this.

me in our jeep for the tiger "safari"

me in our jeep for the tiger “safari”

Our “guide” stops and picks up a friend on the way to the reserve.   We bump along about a half-hour through mango groves, teak forest and eucalyptus groves, listening to the chit-chat of the “guide” and his friend.  The guide is not much of a guide as he really doesn’t speak much to us.  At one point he discusses the large numbers of chickens we see along the way, acting as if they are some endangered species.  He goes on and on about them and we are laughing and making fun.  Yep, we’ve seen chickens before, we tell him, rolling our eyes.

"safari" girls

“safari” girls

We pass another jeep with three dudes in it.  They all have professional-looking cameras with huge telephoto lenses.  One of the guys has a black silky ponytail.  They are intently snapping pictures of the brush along the road, and we peer into the thickets where they are aiming.  We’re looking for what ever spirits they have seen.  We see nothing, no trace of movement, nada.  We drive by peacocks and deer.  Again, our “guide,” taking a moment’s break from his continual prattle with his friend, points out the deer.  Then he starts going into a long description about these rare creatures.  We can’t hear him over the drone of the engine and his accent is bad.  It’s a strain to understand him.  Besides, we have no interest in hearing about deer.  We brush him off: Thanks but we see deer at home!  You don’t need to point out every deer!  He can’t understand why we aren’t totally bowled over.

map of Corbett Tiger Reserve

map of Corbett Tiger Reserve

All of a sudden, around a bend, we come to a jumble of jeeps stopped in the middle of the dirt road.  As we drive up, everyone shushes us.  “Tiger! Tiger!” they tell us in loud whispers.  We stop on the fringe of the other jeeps and everyone is standing up looking around.  We ask our guide, “Where is it?”  We can tell he can’t see the “tiger” himself, but he peers through his binoculars in the direction of some brush into which everyone else is staring.  We see nothing. “See, it’s a flash of orange,” he points out.  “He’s lying there.”  We peer and peer into the bush, but we see nothing.  After quite a long time, at least a half hour, with absolutely nothing happening, we decide to drive on.  Jayne decides it was just a “pretend” tiger sighting.  Something to get the tourists all riled up, to make them think they are getting something for their money.

me, our "guide" and his friend ~ no tip for them

me, our “guide” and his friend ~ no tip for them

the dirt roads through Corbett

the dirt roads through Corbett

We drive on.  We make a stop at the “Banyan tree house,” where we climb to the top and look at the monsoon river, which at this time of year is just a dry rock bed.  We go on our way again, passing trees whose branches are filled with chattering monkeys.  We end up at a kind of resting spot for tourists, where we see monkeys hanging out and posing for pictures.  Someone has given one of the monkeys a Bourbon Creme, a kind of cookie, and he’s munching happily on this.  I try to take a picture of one and he hisses at me and climbs up a tree.

the "Banyan" tree house

the “Banyan” tree house

the view of the "moonsoon" river from the Banyan tree house

the view of the “moonsoon” river from the Banyan tree house

 

views on the "safari"

views on the “safari”

safari views

safari views

more safari views (notice there are no tigers in sight!)

more safari views (notice there are no tigers in sight!)

monkeys in the trees

monkeys in the trees

more safari views

more safari views

playful, and mean, monkeys

playful, and mean, monkeys

mischievous monkey

mischievous monkey

another monkey

another monkey

On the way back to the hotel we decide that this “safari” was a total farce and our guide didn’t actually “guide,”  thus we will not give a tip.  We jump out at our hotel, barely saying goodbye, and go eat a breakfast of an omelet, coffee, toast and some yellow rice.  Then we are back in our car again for our trip to Agra.

rural landscape after leaving the reserve

rural landscape after leaving the reserve

a farm along the way

a farm along the way

On the way, we pass a guy with an elephant who sells rides to tourists.  We ask if we can just pose sitting on the elephant, and he agrees, for a fee of course.  After our pictures with our elephant friend, we are on our way.  It is around 11 a.m.

the elephant handler and me

the elephant handler and me

"riding" an elephant ~ only a photo shoot

“riding” an elephant ~ only a photo shoot

Another long day of driving.  We pass a wedding party south of Aligarh, all dressed in their finery, marching down the street in single file.  The groom rides a horse all decked out and women in bright saris walk along beside him.  Singh comments, “Tonight this man’s life is finished.”

We make a stop at a roadside snack stand where we buy Lay’s India Magic Masala Chips and a bottle of Sprite.  We are not allowed to take the bottle with us as it must be returned.  So we sit on a covered platform along the side of the road and drink and eat.

I grow to hate potatoes on this day as we get stuck behind literally scores of huge trucks carrying potatoes to put in cold storage.  We can’t believe the numbers of these trucks, lined up along the roads, blocking our passage.  They slow our trip considerably. We pass an overturned truck of potatoes.  Another potato truck has a flat tire and to change it, people have stacked up tall columns of bricks which look very unstable.  It’s like an exaggerated Jenga game. We pass a bus  stuck in a ditch, its passengers sitting inside silently at an unnatural angle.  Other rickety buses are packed with grimy people, hanging out of windows and doors and sitting on the roofs.

We pass fields of green with yellow flowers and women in colorful saris working in these fields.  I don’t know what the crops are. We ask Singh and he goes into a long diatribe which we  can’t understand.

Everywhere women in saris walk with bowls of cow dung paddies on their heads.  Horns on Indian vehicles make every sound imaginable from “Oooooaaawwwwoooo” to “balabla balabla” musical tunes to “squeeeeaaaallll”  and “eeeeeekkkkk” to “beep beep beep.”

The towns we pass along the way are clogged nightmares, where traffic tangles into muddles with no discernible rhyme or reason.  Each town is a chaotic knot of filthy people, cows, animals, carts, auto rickshaws, and anything else imaginable.  They swarm all around our car, pressing hands and faces against the windows, begging for money.  We are totally surrounded and can only inch along.  There is no clear path in any direction.  We encounter this in every town along the way to Agra.  Along the sides of the road are hovels with disgusting fat men covered in red betel juice, snoozing on their sides with bellies hanging out of their shirts.

On this day, I know what one billion people feels like.  And it hits me hard that India does not have the infrastructure or the will to take care of 1 billion people.  It’s horribly sad and upsetting that so many people are living in such squalor and disarray.

Finally, at 8 p.m., we arrive in Agra.  We have spent another 9 hours on Indian roads and we survived.  I don’t know how we did it.  Frankly, I don’t know how anyone survives these roads.  All I can say is that Singh must be a good driver if we have made it safely through this mess.

dinner at Lakshmi Vilas in Agra

dinner at Lakshmi Vilas in Agra

Singh wants us to go to his recommended restaurant, but we have a look at it and decide we don’t want to eat there.  We have picked the Lakshmi Vilas out of the Lonely Planet and we insist that he take us there.  It’s a vegetarian restaurant and our dinner is excellent.  We have Idli, which is lentils and rice ground to paste and steamed in an oven with sambhar coconut chutney; Vada, or lentils ground to a paste and deep-fried, also served with sambhar and chutney.  We have Mysore Masala, or Dosai, which is a rice pancake made in butter served with sambhar and coconut chutney, and mixed vegetable uttapam, or thick rice pancakes.  All this topped off with fresh lime soda, an Indian specialty.

After dinner, we finally check in at the Hotel Pushp Villa.  We are entirely too tired to think about what a dive it is.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements

corbett hideaway: the land of roar, trumpet & song

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.

jayne in our the lovely breakfast room in rishikesh

jayne in our the lovely breakfast room in rishikesh

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.

the lovely dining room at the Corbett Treff

the lovely dining room at the Corbett Treff

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?

Our room at the Corbett "Treff"

Our room at the Corbett “Treff”

our room at the Corbett Treff

our room at the Corbett Treff

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.

Manmeet the Sikh naturalist and Jayne

Manmeet the Sikh naturalist and Jayne

interlopers: having beers at Corbett Hideaway

interlopers: having beers at Corbett Hideaway

Manmeet with me

Manmeet with me

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!

the grill at Corbett Hideaway

the grill at Corbett Hideaway

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.

Today's Sightings A La Carte

Today’s Sightings A La Carte

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.

the manager, me and my masseuse after my spicy rubdown

the manager, me and my masseuse after my spicy rubdown

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.

the cute Flintstones-like bar where we have a light dinner after our massages

the cute Flintstones-like bar where we have a light dinner after our massages

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.

a common, and pleasing, sight in Indian hotels

a common, and pleasing, sight in Indian hotels

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