Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Challenging India, Part 2.

From Singalila, drove down from the Himalayas to New Jalpaiguri to take the overnight train to Guwahati.  When the vehicle got to lower altitudes, tea plantations bordered the highways and women in their colorful outfits were picking tea leaves. Some of the plantations had the famous brand names found on the tea bags marketed in the USA.

 Boarded a sleeper train car for an overnight ride to Guwahati. It was clean and I was provided with clean sheets, a blanket and pillow.  There was no restaurant service so I survived on a granola bar. Upon arriving at Guwahati, was driven to Kaziranga for the next few days.  Driving in India is a hazardous ordeal. The one who blows the horn the most and gets closer to having a wreck gets the road.  The roadside is full of all kinds of wrecked colorful vehicles; if those blue eyes could talk what stories would they tell? (These are iPhone unprocessed images; I am getting lazy).

While walking in Karingala looking for a Wi-Fi hotspot, ran into a group of friendly kids trying to practice English and a couple of goats having the noon siesta. The accommodations were fine but it had the strangest bathroom arrangement I have ever encountered.  As you entered it, the sink was first, then an open shower and then the toilet.  When one takes a shower, the whole floor gets wet, making it impossible to get to the toilet without getting the floor messed up wearing shoes.    I also found the brand of the toilets very appropriate: HINDWARE.

Had a morning and afternoon drive to in Kaziranga National Park every day, just like a safari in Africa.  The park appears to be in a river flood plain with lots of water and tall grasses; the latter made photographing the wild animals difficult.  There were elephants, water buffaloes, samba deer and the one-horned Indian rhinoceros; the park claims that the largest concentrations in the country are here.  The tame elephants (below) are used to work in the maintenance of the parks; there are also wild ones.

 The Indian fish eagle, a relative of our bald eagle and the African fish eagle, was relatively easy to approach.  The bar-headed geese were a surprise, never having seen them before; the black stripes make their color patterns unique. The Indian roller was similar in coloration to the African one but the latter, in my opinion, is the second most beautiful bird in the world.  The Indian roller, the white-breasted kingfisher and the emerald dove were the colorful birds but there is always an ugly duckling, in this case the Greater Adjutant Stork

From Kaziranga, was driven to Pakke National Park, a distance of only 104 kilometers that required four hours of driving.  Crossed the Brahmaputra River Bridge in Tezpur. The river is wide at this point but with very little water; India is currently undergoing a drought. After arriving at the park, I was driven to the Forest Rest House after crossing a larger river and other smaller ones through the forest. The house had all the amenities of a modern home but…they were not working. Anyhow, I did not go Pakke for the facilities but to take pictures. 

There is no India without elephants but I was appalled about the beating that I witnessed of two working elephants…I thought that the relationship was more benign and this may have been an exception to the rules.  There were numerous wild elephants in Pakke and was lucky to observe them coming to a cliff near the bank of a river to lick the minerals in the rocks.  The wardens are supplementing these minerals by dispersing just regular cooking salt. I was at the top of the cliff looking down on them; what a great experience.  The yellow fruit below is known as an elephant apple since it is part of their diet; it also eaten by humans.  It is tough and fibrous with a kind of bitter taste; I prefer to leave them all to the elephants.

Few birds were seen and these, as most of the other wildlife except for the elephants, hard to approach.  At the end of one day, a large flock of bee eaters landed in the trees around the forest house and were just playing around, giving the opportunity to get great shots. The same evening I noticed thousands of “worms” hanging down from the end of what appeared to be silk threads. When closer to the ground, they just dropped and formed into line marching to the base of the tree.  There they marched around and around in a close circle.  The next morning, there was a tent made of fine treads and all the caterpillars were just under it. I uploaded a video of the caterpillars that is the last entry in the blog; do not if it will work.

The Pakke Tiger Reserve was heavily poached and deforested in the past and now the government is trying to restore it to its natural state.  There are tigers as well as other animals but not abundant - scarce due to the past heavy hunting.  A cat was the most interesting beast I saw in one of the camps; its markings may make it eligible for entering into the certified pedigree registry of Cat International Association. The park is renowned because of the variety and abundance of rare orchids.  The government has established more than 20 anti-poaching camps with about 100 wardens forming the anti-poaching team.  There is a large school program to teach the children about protecting the forest and the fauna that makes it their home in the surrounding villages.  Because opportunities of seeing wildlife are scarce and the conditions of the facilities and transportation, the park may have a difficult time becoming an important tourist attraction.  Below is one of the warden camps headquarters and small hutch used for observation.

 This was a demanding trip.  It required walking at 10-12,000 feet high in the Himalayas, long drives, being feasted upon by the local fauna and the typical maladies suffered by the world travelers. I was feasted upon by fleas on the train. On a night drive got stung by a giant wasp that caused my left hand to inflate like a red balloon; it was painful and took 3 days to get better.  The last day while walking in the forest, the guide told me that my right pant leg was bloody behind the knee.  I lifted the pant leg and found 5 leeches feasting on me.  My reaction was to pull them but the guide said not to because I would bleed worse because of the anticoagulant substance they inject to able to suck the blood . So I was watching them feast on me until they dropped. Upon departing Pakke, drove back to Guwahati airport for the night flights to Amsterdam and then home. Looking back, it reminded me of the trip to Mongolia but I would do it all over again…to both places.