Monday, February 15, 2010

Sawai Madaipur - Tiger Safari

We got up at 5:30am for our early morning tiger safari. After some chai and toast (for Mary, Josh's appetite wasn't back yet), the 20-person cantor picked us up at our hotel. We filled up the vehicle with tourists on the way to the park. It was surprisingly cold that early in the morning. We had our fleeces on and were still cold. Mary added her windbreaker after a while and was still cold. We drove around for a while, enjoying a nice sunrise over a mirror-still wetland. We saw lots of tiger-food: deer, peacocks, a lot of exotic brown birds, antelope, and monkeys. The monkeys were different than we've seen in Agra and Delhi, these ones had long gray hairs and black faces. Many were carrying babies that were all black. So cute! Sadly, the monkeys didn't seem to rank a photo stop the way the rest of the wildlife did. (In hindsight, this kind of monkey is all over the cities in Rajasthan.) The terrain was also lovely.

After a while we came up on a collection of other vehicles, and not surprising soon spotted the tiger they were watching through the trees. Or rather, heard that the tiger had been spotted. Not sure what we were expecting, but it wasn't much of a view. Some of the other tourists let us use their binoculars, which allowed us to verify for ourselves that there was really a tiger there. We tried to take some photos, but didn't really have sufficient zoom. On the agenda for Singapore: purchase binoculars and a super-zoom lens for the camera.

(There is a tiger in the dead center of this picture)

Later, we circled around and saw either a second tiger, or the same one from another angle.

In the afternoon, we'd thought about going down to the old fort in the park, where you can safely walk around on your own. But it was going to be 800 rupees ($16) for the jeep there and back, which seemed kind of crazy given that we'd pretty much already seen all the wildlife the guidebook told us to expect. Instead we tried to do some planning for the remainder of our time in India, and had a very frustrating time trying to get the rail website to take our credit/debit cards. Instead of selecting Visa/MasterCard/etc, in this country you select your bank. You know, Bank of India, Bank of Rajasthan, or whatever Indian bank you use. We spent a long time trying stuff (particularly the CitiBank gateway), but with no luck. Eventually we decided to make the 3 km trek to the train station, and got there right as the reservation window was closing. Josh was literally talking to the guy when he gestured at the clock and put up the closed sign. So, kind of a frustrating afternoon.

On the way back to the hotel, however, we saw along the side of the road a potato chip bag labeled "Lays American Style Cream and Onion". This really excited us and we crossed the street and found vendors selling the same. Score. They even tasted almost right, just a little less salty than normal.

We also stopped in at a craft market where Mary noticed a fine contra dancing skirt of the style we often seek at the Goodwill in the states and rarely find. They had a lot of patterns, and Mary chose a blue and purple one with peacocks on it. She also picked out a silk scarf while Josh was chatting with one of the shopkeepers about figuring out the train.

The guy explained that after you have your general boarding ticket, you should find a conductor as you are boarding the train and request an upgrade. The conductor knows where there are seats available and will tell you where to sit. Once the train is moving again, he comes by and takes the difference in ticket price. (It doesn't seem totally clear if this is the conductor skimming off the top, or if your money makes it back to the railroad.) This is how we are traveling to Jaipur in 3 AC class without reservations as I write this the next day. More on that later.

Overnight, Mary started to feel unwell, starting with having trouble getting warm at bedtime and then in the middle of the night being awake with severe lower abdominal pain, which she took at first to be a bladder infection. As it got worse, she woke Josh up and they Wikipedia-ed bladder infections (gotta love the free cell service on the Kindle), which started to seem less likely. We were discussing hiring a car and driver to get to Jaipur (where there is something like a recommended hospital) when the diarrhea started. It was a bit of a relief. Something we know what to do about and have medicine with us for! Anyway, our host at the hotel didn't think a car and driver could get us to Jaipur faster than waiting another 4 hours for the train. (Direct train route, no direct highway. Plus, see post from last week about traffic jams in this country.) Anyhow, Mary took some of the antibiotics before leaving the hotel and has been feeling considerably better, aside from one bad cramping spell at the train station.

With our upgraded 3 AC class ticket, we are now on our way to Jaipur. It's expensive: 250 rupees on top of the 50 rupee general fare. But it's comfortable and no one is feeling me up, and I feel safe and comfortable using my electronics. 3 AC is, I think, the closest thing they have in India to traditional European 3 facing 3 compartments (as you've seen in Harry Potter if you've never seen them in person). However, there is no actual compartment. On one side of the train are benches of 3 facing 3. The ones we are now sitting on are the bottom bunk, with the middle bunk down as a backrest. The top bunk is above our heads. On the other side of the aisle there is one seat facing one, with a top bunk overhead and backrests that come down to join one another in the middle to form the lower bunk.

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