Remind Me Again: What Are We Doing Here?

“A brave heart and a courteous tongue,” said he. “They shall carry thee far through the jungle, manling.” —The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)

We’re in India for a few weeks and currently we’re riding in the back of an open jeep. We spent the better part of 5 hours each day on really bad roads to get here. D31_9982_DxO8Now we’re layered in the few long-sleeved clothes we brought along. How cold can it be if you’re not way up north trekking in the Himalyas?

How cold? Man, it’s effing freezing.

It’s shortly after 6 a.m. in the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and we’ve been up since 5. “Remind me,” I beg. “What are we doing here?” I wrap the blanket the tiger lodge lent us tighter around my body. (What I really want is a sub zero temperatures sleeping bag.) “Remind me,” I ask again. “Why are we doing this?”

“You wanted to come back to India,” Uwe prompts.

“Oh, yeah. Now I remember.” And it’s true: I was really excited to return. I fell in love with the subcontinent when we visited a decade ago. In Goa we walked miles of pristine beaches. In Karnataka we attended an astonishing Nandi Purnima, the full moon festival, and Hampi was a bare landscape filled with gigantic boulders and ancient temples.

In a country this exotic and large, surely we’d experience something new when we came back. What I did not expect was that I’d be freezing my ass off.

***

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Entrance to Bandhavgahr National Park

We’re doing a mix of culture and nature. India is one of the two most populated countries on the planet, and we thought it would be smart to schedule some time in quieter areas too. I’m glad we did. The north central region of Madya Pradesh is green and varied and home to some of the few remaining wild Bengal tiger populations.

So for two days at Bandhavgarh and a day at Kanha National Park*, we haul our sorry butts out of bed at the crack of dawn, pull on all our clothes and drape ourselves in borrowed blankets. 6 a.m.-1 p.m. for the early safari; 3-6 p.m. for the afternoon attempt. If we’re lucky, we’ll spot a big cat.

We’re not lucky. We’re cold.

***

Later we shed layers as the day warms up. The parks contain barking and spotted deer, D32_0066_DxO8gaurs, nilgai, D31_9870_DxO8

lemurs and langurs, D31_9944_DxO8

D31_9854_DxO8wild peacocks and other birdlife, D31_9997_DxO8

Green bee-eater
Green bee-eater

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Crested hawk-eagle
Crested hawk-eagle

wild boar, D32_0649_DxO8and a landscape filled with watering holes and high grasses, forest and farmers’ villages. On the second day at Bandhavgarh our jeep carries a park ranger to inspect a water buffalo kill from the night before. It occurred just outside the official boundary of the preserve and the farmer will be reimbursed for the animal the tiger took down.

One dead water buffalo
One dead water buffalo

We aren’t allowed to leave the jeep – ever – and the ranger approaches the carcass very slowly.

Park Ranger inspecting water buffalo carcass
Be sure you notice that the ranger’s got on lots of clothes too.

Where there’s a fresh kill, the big cat can’t be far.

I mean it: it's really cold out.
I mean it: it’s really cold out.

By the third day I’ve perfected what I name the mummy wrap. I have myself wrapped so tight that I literally can’t move, but this way the blanket doesn’t unwind in the cold wind.

Brr.

And, suddenly, a tiger leaps from the forest, followed by his mate. He moves into the reeds and returns dragging a dead spotted deer by the neck.

D32_0369_DxO8

D32_0376_DxO8

D32_0398_DxO8

D32_0402_DxO8 We see them for less than a minute and those seconds are absolutely worth the days of waiting. My God, they’re magnificent! During the afternoon safari we get lucky again: 10 seconds of spotting a shyer, rarer leopard.

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The leopard moved unconcerned in the back through the high grass

Uwe captures the group of spotted deer nervously fleeing the leopard. He’s in Photographer Heaven.

Naturally we’re already dreaming about an African safari (… and I’ll pack a wool jacket, just in case…).

NOTES: *Kanha National Park provided the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. Go to my earlier post Travel Karma to read about our first visit to India. More pictures from India and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandhavgarh_National_Park

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanha_National_Park

Travel Karma

Travel karma is the bad luck, bad weather, bad room, bad case of Montezuna’s revenge… all the moments that you hope you’ll look back on and laugh about someday. That Jamaica honeymoon your brother booked, and the hotel had a fire? Blame it on travel karma. Our week on Malta in the autumn month that the travel agent swore got only 2-3 days of rain, and we were there for all 5 of them? Oh, yeah. It was travel karma.

There’s nothing you can do except shrug your shoulders, find a comfy café to hang out, and pull out the book you brought along.

Travel karma is other moments, too. It’s serendipity, the magic of being in the right place at the exactly right time. It’s the town festival you stumble into while out exploring. Travel karma is the restaurant with the fixed price menu that turns out to include champagne throughout the meal. It’s when you jump on a train 10 seconds before the doors close to leave.

Every so often travel karma gives you a heady dose of both moments…

We booked a charter flight to India.

Where we were headed
Where we were headed

I don’t always sleep well on the eve of a trip, and slept especially poorly this night. The next morning we were on a very early ICE train to Frankfurt to get our flight to India. The ICE is a sleek, fast train that makes few stops and great time.

I hauled my train pass out of my travel purse out of my day back for the train attendant to check. Tired, I reminded myself that I would need to put the pass back in the purse and the purse back in the day pack.

I didn’t.

We got off the train and headed up into the airport. A few horrified minutes later I realized my purse was right where I’d left it, on the seat of a train now heading to Amsterdam… containing my passport. And my credit cards. And my train pass. And $$s. And €€s, all the ready money I was carrying as we weren’t sure how easy it would be to find cash machines.

We could get more cash in the airport and use Uwe’s credit cards, but I wasn’t going anyplace unless I got my passport back. The helpful folks at DB (Deutsches Bahn) contacted the train and they checked: my purse still lay on the seat where I’d left it! The problem was that the next scheduled stop for the ICE wouldn’t be until Köln, several hours up the tracks. DB would hold my purse for me there. There was no way I’d have my passport back in time for us to make our plane.

It was too late to do anything but rebook the flight to India. If I said “Uwe, I’m soooo sorry!” once, I said it 100 times. Man, did I feel awful. But – it was travel karma.

Uwe climbed on the next train heading back to Stuttgart (looking a whole lot less happy than he had early that morning) and I caught a train to Köln. The DB personnel hadn’t been able to report if my purse still contained my valuables. My passport was stamped with the resident alien visa that allowed me to remain in Germany. And without my passport I couldn’t head back to America to see my country, or my family, or go anywhere, for that matter. I felt oddly vulnerable. This situation was bad, and the more I worried about it, the worse it became.

As I sat on the train I bargained with the travel gods: “Just leave me the passport.”

When we reached Köln I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since supper the night before. I wasn’t ready yet for good/bad news about my purse. I bought myself a sandwich and a coffee and stalled for five minutes. Then it was time… I headed to Lost & Found and told someone my story. Of course, I no longer had any ID to prove who I was. He asked me to describe the purse and what was in it.  I flinched inside as I told him.

The nice man vanished into the back and returned with my purse. “Go ahead and check that everything’s there,” he suggested. I know my hands shook as I unzipped it and looked.

Not a pfennig had gone missing. I shrieked Ya-hoo! and he laughed. Then I said thank you and left the little office.

I went directly to the flower vendor kitty-corner to Lost & Found and bought the largest bouquet of white blooms they offered. I marched with the bouquet back into the Lost & Found office. The employees all looked up astonished when they saw me again.

My voice quavered. “These are for all of you. It’s not enough just to say, ‘Thank you for doing your jobs’. It’s so great to know that there are still honest, helpful people in the world!” Nonplussed, they accepted the flowers, but everyone was smiling.

The train trip back to Stuttgart from Köln took 3 hours. The next charter flight to India left 3 days later. When we got finally got there I had one of the most amazing trips of my life. I probably used up a lot of good travel karma on that day I had to journey to Köln, but I hope I’ve added to my karma account since then. And I will never, ever forget my belongings on a train going anywhere. That’s one lesson I’ve learned!

© Jadi Campbell 2013. Photos © Uwe Hartmann. More pictures from India and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

17800_Ind_04_04_032
En route
Hubli
6-8th century Jain, Hindu, and Buddhist cave temples, Badami.
Nandi Purmina festival Hampi, India
Nandi Purmina festival
Hampi
Goa
Goa