Monday, January 4, 2010

New Years

Yes, we did finally make it to India. We're just back now, with a memorable family experience still bouncing around our brains. I will attempt to document it all, or at least the high points – and low points, which may be more amusing. As a first installment, let me recount our 2010 New Year's, this the year of the tiger.


Our wake-up call came early this New Year's eve, 5 AM to be exact. Five minutes later our personal butler appeared with a pot of masala chai, shooing away the monkeys from our porch as he arrived. Outside darkness prevailed, but birdcalls permeated the bungalow, laying as it was on the edge of a grassy clearing with the awakening jungle just beyond. We swaddled ourselves in our warmest clothing in deference to the unexpected chill. For Simone, this meant donning improvised 'sock mittens':

With our grips firm on the cold steel of our anti-tiger weapons (flashlights, actually) we steadied our nerves and set off down the unlit, meandering path through the bamboo and various creepers to the main lodge. Exclamations of "Daddy, this in NOT THE RIGHT WAY" notwithstanding, we eventually arrived at the stunningly appointed common area of Mohua Bothi, the Taj Group's outpost on the edge of Bandhavgarh National Park in the heart of India.

Awaiting was our guide Arwind, originally from Goa. He dove into a chalk talk on the game plan, hazards, and the all important do's and don'ts when confronted with large cats. Duly informed, we happily signed the liability releases, our heads swimming in a pre-dawn fog. Before long we climbed into our three-tiered game viewing jeep – at last I 'get' the vehicle of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland.

We bumped and lurched along the pothole strewn road through the pre-dawn activities of the local village (mostly consisting of men imbibing chai and ganja), across the shallow river-cum-community-plunge, soon finding ourselves grid-locked with the 44 other jeeps awaiting the 6 AM opening of the park gates. At this point I feared we were headed into a sad developing-world disappointment, overcrowded, strewn with trash, etc.

But I could not have been more wrong. Once we passed the entry, the various jeeps fanned out into assigned tracks within the 1200 square kilometers. The first light of dawn revealed stunning landscapes, with pods of spotted deer along the road, and various other creatures roaming about.

At the dead center of the park lies its namesake, the Bandhavgarh Fort dating from the 2nd century and mentioned in the Ramayana. It is perched on top of a spectacular outcropping, with a winding, steep elephant track carved from the rock as its only approach. Our TATA jeep was capable, and before long we passed through the formidable entry gates.

I was convinced that not only did this place inspire the Ramayana, but also Jungle Book, complete with roots growing through the ancient edifices:

A tablet engraved with Sanskrit was resting in the weeds...

..and nearby a spectacular reclining Vishnu carved out of solid sandstone, alongside a mossy, spring-fed pond carved from the same rock:

It was in a perfect state of neglect and decay, simply marvelous.

We zenned on it all with our morning chai and naan. After warming in the sunrise...

...we again descended to the parklands.

Before long, we spotted rather large kitty tracks along the road:

Following these for about 600 yards, Elie was the first to spot a large beast lounging in the shade of some bushes. Pamela scopes in (follow her gaze)...

...on this magnificent creature:

There was a moment of pure adrenalin when a sambar (large ungulate) wandered by, then scented the tiger and started to run. The motion caught the cat's attention, and he bounded to his feet in pursuit. With three gigantic and incredibly graceful leaps, covering what I estimate to be 20 feet per hop, he closed some distance. But then apparently gauging that he was too late, he just watched the sambar disappear into the bush (above).

Much better than a cup of coffee to get your heart going!

For Pam, there was only one way to complete this amazing day, and finally dispel the chill...

...a marigold-strewn bath complete with sandalwood incense and India's finest Sauvignon Blanc, prepared by the staff immediately prior to our return to the lodge!

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