Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Moving On

I'm closing my India blog -- but will add our upcoming trip to Sri Lanka in a few months.

In the meantime, I'm starting an American blog, tentatively titled "No Turn on Red", to follow our adventures in the United States.

Here's the link:

Thoughts on Leaving India

What to say after 2 1/2 years of living in India?
Here are my answers to my most frequently asked questions.

What do you like the best about India?

Without a doubt, the best part of India is the people. Indians have been incredibly welcoming, patient, understanding, patient, gracious, patient, tolerant, and patient. We thank everyone we met for putting up with crazy, ignorant Americans.

Secondly -- food. The food here is exceptionally good -- as I have told many people, if the rest of the world cooked vegetables like India does, we’d all be more inclined to be vegetarians. Now I'm back in the land of bland overly-cheese-sauced veggies. Dump the cheese and get some masala in those veggies!

What one thing do you like the least about India?

This one is also easy -- the trash. It takes a change of mind, but it's not difficult to put trash in a "dust bin" rather than just drop it on the street. Indian homes -- at all economic levels -- are immaculately clean. But the streets and river banks and beaches can be trashy and polluted beyond description.

Personally, I also felt defeated by the climate from time-to-time. Monsoon is clean and refreshing, but everything is damp and moldy. "Summer" (April-May) is unbearably hot and dusty. On the other hand, "winter" (December-January) is fabulous weather: Cool nights, and warm (not hot) dry days.

What do I miss the most about the U.S.?

It's not peanut butter or beef.
What do I really miss? #1: Clean water. #2: Clean air. #3: Sanitation. #4: Weekends.

More thoughts

India is at heart an optimistic country. It has many problems, but many young and enthusiastic problem solvers.

India's biggest problem (IMHO) is sanitation. Poverty, lack of health care, and lack of sanitation go hand-in-hand. It's a big challenge, but cleaning up trash, sewage, and industrial pollution is possible.

Health care. If you get to a major hospital, you can get decent to excellent care. The main problem is getting to a hospital if you get sick, or worse, if you get in a major accident. Good hospitals are few and far between. The traffic woes make it even worse. When it can take an hour to go a few km in Mumbai or Delhi, even being close to a hospital may not be enough. And too many "hospitals" are not even close to western medical standards. Some are downright dangerous.

Corruption is a fact of life here, but the expectations are changing. Say what you will about the heartlessness of multinational corporations, but they are in the lead on fighting political corruption.

Regulation is on the books in India, but enforcement can be lax. Pollution is tolerated for the sake of jobs and wealth. Medicine and education are definitely caveat emptor industries. And yet, I repeat the first paragraph in this section. This is a young and irrepressible country.

So, fir milengi ("'til we meet again"). We'll be back for a visit in 2017. India has gotten into our blood, and it's not going away!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Farewell to Vapi (for now)

More miscellany from our last days in India.

On a hot, dusty night, Vapi can take on a Blade Runner look without the need for special effects.
The local tollbooth on NH8 does not charge tolls for tuk-tuks, officially called "auto-rickshaws". The tuk-tuk side line is enforced with this semi-portable "headache bar".
Two Senior-Kindergarten girls discuss their assignment.
This overloaded tempo was in Mumbai, but it could have been anywhere in India.

Kanha Mammals

No tigers, but lots of other animals to be seen.

We saw a number of golden jackals.
Kanha has a fourth species of deer -- swamp deer or "barasingha".
A male barasingha with a nice rack.
Kanha also had a lot of gaur ("Indian bison"). These huge animals could hide just a few feet from the road. You could hear them, but not see them.
A gaur eating (lots of) plants.
This gaur calf was very frisky.
The calf is well-protected by the adults in the herd.
Tiger sign: claw marks on a "ghost tree" ("kullu").
We saw many very fresh pug marks, but nary a tiger. Again, I think the tigers must have been laughing at us.

Kanha Birds

Birds, birds, and more birds!

Two scops owls blending into tree bark. I could have looked at this all day and not seen the owls.
A brown wood owl (so we were told, but it isn't on my checklist. Gotta wait for my bird book to come on the "slow boat".)
Crested serpent eagle.
A grey-headed fish eagle. I had hoped that my photos of this bird would have come out better -- but it was difficult light to focus in. I loved the all-white legs.
The ever-present lesser adjutant stork.
Black stork?
An egret with a "goodie" in its bill.
This kingfisher looks to be eating a dragonfly.
A cormorant and an Indian pond heron.
A solitary grebe.
All of a sudden, two grebes rose up from the pond waters.
Peacocks were everywhere.
Peacocks were especially iridescent in the early morning light.
Hoopoes were quite common.
Another hoopoe.

Kanha National Park

Kanha National Park is the location of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. It's in a remote area of Madhya Pradesh and is denser forest ("jungle") than Bandhavgarh. The tigers were just as elusive, but Kanha has even more diversity of mammals and birds.

Since animals and birds tend to be most active at dawn and sunset, we started in the jeeps before sunrise.
On the way between the park and our resort hotel, we drove through the midst of lush agricultural lands.
This is typical of the several villages we also drove through. Cattle live in the street-side structures; homes are on the other side of an interior courtyard. Not all the villages were electrified, but obviously this one was.
One of our adventures was to ford a river in the jeep. We had made a few trips across small streams, but nothing like this river. It was even more exciting fording the river in total darkness on our return trip.
Obviously, the river is quite shallow, but it was still unnerving to be driving through so much water.
The grasses in the meadows were among the most beautiful I have ever seen.
Another sunrise photo.
Just after breakfast on our last morning. No safari, because we had a 6.5 hour drive to the airport.

Bandhavgarh Mammals

There are three species of deer in Bandhavgarh.

The spotted deer were the most common. The males still had velvet on their antlers.
Sambar are very large deer. The males have a rough mane a their neck, and most had already rubbed away the velvet on their antlers.
The does are a bit smaller, but still large.
Another sambar doe.
A small langur sits in the fork of a tree.
Langurs were the most common monkey. We also saw rhesus macaques.
Wild boar looked to be best left alone.
A wild boar family.
The smallest mammal we saw -- the Indian hare.
This is the closest we got to tigers -- fresh pug marks.
Lots of fresh pug marks -- they are huge -- close to 6 inches across.
The tire tracks are fresh, but the pug marks are even newer. This tiger must have been laughing at us from the bush it was so close.

Bandhavgarh Spiders

Who knew that I could make an entire page just with spiders?

In the early morning, there are hundreds of huge spider webs glistening in the dew. 

From a distance, all the spiders look alike, but some are more colorful than others.
These are all large spiders -- about 4 inches in length.