Posted tagged ‘India travel’

Mountain Goats (In Munnar)

April 17, 2013









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.

Internal Rebell(y)ian in Ahmedabad

April 9, 2013


Sickness sits in wait in my stomach, all day within striking distance. Meaning I feel pretty yucky but have managed to walk around, more or less.

One searches for the culprit. (Although hopefully from a lying down position.) In this case, I think it was the habit of having filtered water at certain apartments and good restaurants that led me to have a big gulp of a cold glass that may not have fit that description i.e. was not filtered.

But then again it could also have been about ten other things, boiling (unfortunately not) to one main problem – overconfidence.

I feel a bit idiotic. In the “old” India, because I traveled alone, I was pretty good about the rules. Bottled water was not readily then so I had a small vial of iodine crystals that I carried with my passport case around my neck. Every day, I would mix a little water in its glass, shake it till it turned brown (almost immediately), and pour the stuff into my big green canteen. (Once the water inside tasted like skinned knee, you were pretty sure it was safe.)

Now, we go through six plastic bottles a day, and then, in our zeal to avoid plastic rely on the benefits of certain filtration systems used by good restaurants and certain homes we visit. (My daughter swears that the filtration systems are fine. For some reason – mainly that she is not also sick – I believe her.)

Still, I should have distinguished between filter systems and non-filter systems. (I guess.) (Or maybe I should have not eaten the mung bean salad, the raw tomatoes, the mint leaves, the ras malai, or shared lunch with about ten other people, all trying out each other’s tiffins.

Even in the old days, in the heat, it was hard to always stay strong. Then, my big risk (also go-to item) was a fresh cucumber. Indian vendors at that time loved to have their merchandise decoratively displayed so a sundial of pale pre-peeled, pre-fly-studded cucumbers would sit on an array of deep green banana leaves. These tended to glisten as every once in a while the guy would take his hand (right one) and flick water on them from a big can of murky fluid.

But I’d be so thirsty, and hungry–skinned knee gets tiresome–so I’d have to go through a series of fairly elaborate hand gestures and gutteral ne’s to clarify that (i) I wanted one of the unpeeled ones, even though (ii) the vendor should then peel it for me, and (iii) I’d buy the whole one; and (iv) he should not either dip his knife in the large can of dark water or (v) wipe the blade, mid-peel, on the gunny sack of cloth he kept by the tin. By the time I (vi) got him not to cut the thing into quarters and (vii) eschewed the spicy salt he sprinkled on each slice – salt – I am not someone that likes salt much, and frankly I was also a bit suspicious of his salt container which seemed to have a fair amount of other stuff in it (as well as on it) – he would think I was completely nuts. (Which, because I was Western, was to be expected.)

Anyway, I know it was not a cucumber this time. They are not, apparently, in season.

(Above is my daughter eating from a tiffin prepared for her on a regular basis for lunch. I do not suspect the tiffin.)

(Bad news – we have a dinner tonight with a family that I am very excited to spend time with, I mean, that I would otherwise be very excited to spend time with.)

(Good news – my daughter has found some fizzy water!)