Mountain Goats (In Munnar)

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We are very lazy today in the way of travelers (i.e. exhausted.)

We got up early (i.e. not really terribly early) in order to “feel like we were walking among the clouds,” as one Indian tourist had put it to us. This meant going to the Ernakulum Wildlife Sanctuary, just outside of Munnar, and the home of the Nilgiris Tahr (a wild mountain goat).

Our host put breakfast just outside our room at 7. All we had to do was pour ourselves into the balcony’s wicker chairs. The tea on the ledge offered ample enticement to me, but my daughter is not quite as involved with caffeine as I am.

Steamed bananas in their skin, coconut with rice flakes (and, of course, sugar), fresh mango, pineapple, home-hived honey. Not quite as enticing as cups and cups of chai, but pretty darn good, I thought, though someone grumbled beside me that we should have gone to bed earlier; that we should try to get more sleep.

All true. (Chomp chomp.)

One of the hard things about traveling in the digital age is the ability to experience, in real time, substantial parts of a very extended day in two different hemispheres.

The screen’s eye view, the shortened shouting distance, afforded by things like Skype, G-chat, the digital NY Times, allows you to be both here and there (sort of). This shortened tether can be comforting (as in, yes, he does miss me right back), annoying (as in, okay, so there’s a burst pipe you’re trying to fix — don’t you miss me?), also extremely disturbing (as it was last night, with the news out about Boston).

But the truth of it is that the body is not geared for living one day in two different hemispheres.

So, yes, we were very tired this morning. But our determined Munnar driver, Sabu, had arrived, and, with a couple of changes and re-changes of the dregs of our dirty clothes – everything else still out being laundered–we were off.

Though Sabu too seemed subdued. (Maybe because we had not hired him yesterday to go for three-four hour trekking, or to his house, or shopping, as he had wished.)

So instead of his slightly mocking, but somewhat overly protective bossiness, he drove swiftly but quietly, at one point, becoming almost sombre as he pulled up next to a Christian shrine, and feeling in the slot at the side of his car seat, came up with a few rupee coins, which he tossed silently into a stone slot.

“A very good idea,” I said. After a brief and weighted silence, on he sped.

He would meet us right here, he said at the in the middle of the little tour bus sand at the Park.

One gets up to the top of the Park by these little buses. As is typical, there is a separate (relatively high) price for foreigners (and cameras), and a separate lower price for Indians. It is hard to be upset by this, as it is a way of making the experience affordable for people who actually live here. Also, and perhaps because we paid a higher price, the bus monitor moved us past all the elbows to a better place in the bus line, so we got seats. Useful as the bus hairpinned us up the mountainside, to a bus stand just above the clouds, as it were.

One walks the rest of the way up, and there are in fact plenty of beautiful ochre-eyed mountain goats. This being India (where somehow the news that bad things happen to good people does not seem to have fully filtered down), at least one family put a small toddler over the fence separating the road from the grassy slopes so that they could get a picture of him patting one of the wild goats.

The child, sensibly, froze. The goat, sensibly, froze. The crowd stayed active enough, urging each to do something.

Local hiking gear is admirable. (The uphill walk is fairly long.) Many girls were dressed to the nines, in filmy white chemises, spangled kurtas, strap sandals. Many boys were making a special effort at hip, with tight low slung jeans, and an odd fashion of those back-of-the-head ear muffs. (This may be in part because there is a school vacation and many, in holiday mode, expected to have their pictures taken.)

For some reason, many Indian tourists (not sophisticated Indian tourists, but less sophisticated ones) crave pictures of themselves with Westerners. “One snap?” they will ask, meaning will you pose with us, or for us.

This is often preceded by waves of snickers and giggles, as some brave or jokerish soul is either pressed or volunteers to be the one to pop the question. Or, if there is no camera available, the group’s representative will simply be the one enjoined to ask us “Your name?” “Your native place?” “Your country?”

It’s difficult to know quite how to handle this. If you are young, female and blonde, a certain level of aloofness is probably recommended. On the other hand, if you are old and decrepit (i.e. me), the situation feels more conflicted–especially if you yourself are busy snapping away. (Though, on my behalf, I typically do not slap people on the arm to get their attention.)

Part of the problem, which is part of the problem of almost any situation here, comes with the sheer numbers. A picture with one person leads to pictures with several people.

Then, there are the issues with attitude. Some people – typically little girls, are typically very sweet in their questions and requests. They are shly proud of their English. Often a man with one or two children in tow will also exhibit this kind of gentle approach.

But sometimes (especially with the low-slung sort of boys and even sometimes with girls and women), the questions feel such a stunt– a showing-off for friends, a verbal cockiness.

So, you walk on. Or you answer crisply, and walk on. Or you wait and let the group behind you pass, so at least you do not have to be immediately followed by snickers, but can let the laughter go ahead.

As the group goes by, you pick up bits and pieces of your own words passed around – some version of your name and “USA?” Today this was even transmuted to “U.S.S.R.?” (You kind of want to shout out there – no, not U.S.S.R.)

In the meantime, you take pictures of the mountain goats. From above the clouds.

(On the Sabu front, his mood picked up considerably as the morning proceeded, especially when I told him what a good driver he was for hanging out behind a bus in a no-passing situation. He did later, laugh wildly, if sheepishly, when we almost collided with a tractor around one corner, but then, when we said Christina was car sick, drove with exaggerated care, and at about ten miles per hour, letting – at what cost I can only imagine–even rickety rickshaws go past. We drive with him several hours tomorrow to Thrissur – a temple city. Wish us luck!)

PS – pictures above are our breakfast from the balcony; a park guard cleaning one of the ledges at Ernakulum Wildlife Sanctuary (where the bus stops towards the top of the mountain), what I thought was a snake, a picture of the Nilgiris Tahr (the mountain goat), but turned out to be a lizard, the little boy’s end of time on the wrong side of the fence when the dad at last leaned over and grabbed him; one of the dressed-up little girls at the top; an older man in traditional garb–the picture is reddish because my iphone turned on some weird filter, and a view along the way of the Nilgiris Mountains/ called here the Western Ghat.

PPS – thanks for kind comments re pictures. I do have a lot and will try to put up more and maybe less text! or somehow caption – but that seems to be difficult on the app I am using. k.

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3 Comments on “Mountain Goats (In Munnar)”

  1. hedgewitch Says:

    Love, love ALL the pics, and the travelogue/diary/random and directed prose which gives such a clear picture of your experiences, almost looking over your shoulder, as it were, really and not metaphorically. Thanks so much for my vicarious journey in your backpack(or I-pad?), and all your reflections, which are unfailingly interesting, whether profound or mundane. I almost feel guilty, because it’s like I’m getting all the benefits of the trip without any of the annoyances and difficulties. ;_)

  2. janehewey Says:

    you have a fantastic way with words which I am going to attribute to your own integrity re. authenticity. i hang on your words, reading carefully abt. your crisp images and emotional insights. enjoyed this time esp. the pic of the little girl dressed in red, smiling a child’s smile and wearing the sun smartly.

  3. the Gunslinger Poet Says:

    i found this post engaging and enjoyed my vicarious travel through your eyes. the colors of the photos are fantastic, especially photo #7 of the man walking. 🙂


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