10/5/2004: 1900 – Series of observations

1)      About 60 km northeast of Delhi we came to a bridge over a large river.  Spanning the river was a bridge with about a 3 ½ foot guard rail.  The concrete guard rail was solid and was around ¼ mile long.  About 100 ft. from the south end of the west side of the concrete guard was a man in a turban.  He was fully squatted on his haunches painting the wall white with a paint brush.  Based on the height of the wall, its length, and the area he had painted, my estimate was that he had covered about 350 sq ft of a 47,000 sq ft job.  It is hard to guess how long he had been painting, but it is likely that the completion of this job will be passed on to the painters children.  It is this type of long view approach to tasks that made the building of such wonders as the Taj Mahal possible.

2)      In a small, but very busy town north of Delhi, on a single motorcycle, traveling at a good rate of speed, was a father in a white robe and skull cap. Behind the father sat a young boy of 6 or 7.  Behind the boy a woman in a black burka sat side saddle.  The woman was holding a baby about 1 year old.  The ultimate in family togetherness and motorcycle pooling.

3)      Half way between Delhi and Corbett National Park we stopped for lunch at a road side restaurant.  Our driver warned us that it was not 5 star.  Outside of the cities there are really no enclosed shops or eating places.  Everything opens up to the road and is generally on the road.  The temperature was around 32oC or 90oF with high humidity.  The air was smoky from cooking fires.  There was also a very strong and familiar smell I had encountered on a few occasions near home in Steamboat.  It was the unmistakable smell of a land fill, better known as a trash dump.  The reason for this soon became clear.  Stepping around the right side of the restaurant was an open area that was serving as one of the community trash disposal sites.   I soon figured out that waste disposal was done at the beginning and end of town and any open places in between.  Except for a few areas in the cities, there are no trash trucks or formal disposal sites in India.

While our driver dug in to his meal, which looked like a raw onion covered in a sauce the color and consistency of French Dressing, Mo and I ordered a Fanta soda, in the bottle, and no ice please.

In to this oppressive haze entered apparitions.  Bright colored, almost luminescent pinks, reds, blues and yellows.  They moved smoothly through the crowds and along the roadways by themselves, in pairs and small groups.  Their bright clothing was printed with repeating sharp contrasting designs.  The apparitions stood straight, moved gracefully and calmly and brought a certain cleanness and welcome contrast to an otherwise gray and turbid world.  These are the woman of India in their saris. 

The woman of India are in general beautiful and exotic.  Their bright flowing saris and jewelry have something to do with the image.  It is interesting that there seem to be three ages groups of females, young smiling girls, young smiling woman and old serious woman.  I got the feeling that once a woman reached the age of eligible reproduction she aged rapidly or just disappeared for a few decades.

 

 

 

 

10/6/2004:  0834

 

Last night went on an elephant safari into Corbett National Park.  We had an elephant driver and were accompanied by two Swiss girls from Zurich.  Because of some recent out of season monsoons and flooding we four were the only visitors in the park.  The Swiss women were at Corbett for the 4th time. They had fallen in love with the elephants and the jungle and had advanced beyond being tourists.  They had learned passable Hindi, could mount an elephant by stepping barefoot on to his trunk and then stepping up to his head and back, and had become certified elephant jockeys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning from elephant safari in Corbett National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corbett is the largest Bengal Tiger reserve in the world and we hoped to see a real in the wild tiger.  Unlike many wild life refuges, Corbett is thick jungle rather than open planes or savanna.  We rode until after dark, but other than seeing languor monkeys and possibly hearing a tiger we struck out.  Still the ride was fun and the company interesting.

We spent the entire morning today with Gayon Safin, the director of the Corbett Foundation.  He is a remarkable man who has led regional and country wide efforts to conserve land and to protect natural resources and endangered species.  Considering the environmentalist challenge we have in the US where we are “enlightened”, Gayon has to create ways of saving animals and land in a country where people struggle to feed themselves and find space to live.

The solution has been three fold, ecotourism, ecocoalitions and find a poster child (Bengal Tiger). 

Ecotourism has become a multi-billion dollar industry world wide and India is one of the leaders.  As natural habitat and animal populations shrink around the world, people flock to places that can conserve these environments and species in roughly their natural form.

In spite of India’s large land mass, its population is challenging China for #1 on the planet.  This puts huge pressure on efforts to conserve land.  India has only 5% of its land in pure conservation, designated “National Parks”.  That means no human activity other than travel permitted.  There are several millions of acres of land that are in “Sanctuaries”.  These areas tend to be remote and include populations of people who have lived in these regions for 100’s of years and who carry on agricultural work as a means to survive.

Ecocoalitions in India have overcome some of the problems we have faced in this country when conservation confronts local economics.   The Kosi River runs through Corbett and a popular edible game fish called the Masheer or Golden Tiger, lives in this river. It is renowned as the hardest fighting fresh water species in the world and reaches as much as 100 lbs.  It just so happens that a large pool in the river, that sits about 200 meters below our bungalow, contains one of largest concentration of these fish that exist on the planet.  The fish had almost been hunted to extinction by local villagers using dynamite and electrical current, and visiting sportsman.  Efforts to just block off this section of the river led to local hostility and poaching.  Gayon went to the local town and had them select a committee of town leaders to work on the problem.  Corbett, along with the town council, hired 8 unemployed fisherman and youth and trained them to be guards.

They started classes in the local school on the importance of conservation.  The village board was able to give out a limited number of fishing permits.  The guards now are on duty 24 a day every day. When you look down at the river from our railing you can see them standing on the river edge.  They make more money from guarding than from fishing.  There is a community pride about what they are doing and the sport fishing permits bring additional money in to the community.  That is what we call a win-win.

 

10/6/2004: 1800

Drove from Corbett to Ranikhet today.  We were told that the week before our arrival there had been a severe out-of-season monsoon type rain that had caused road and bridge damage on our route.  In retrospect I would say that under the best of conditions traveling this road would be an adventure and post flooding it was near epic.  Where small streams or gullies crossed the road there could be 1 to 6 feet of rock and debris piled up in the road.  An occasional  bridge was completely washed out, which required a short detour on a makeshift path through the forest.

The word “road” is used in its most liberally definition in this description.  The road ranged from 7-10 feet wide, ran continually along precipitous cliffs and alternated between paved and dirt.  Our driver negotiated the road, the debris, other cars and objects with near heroic skill.  He did loose points when he hit a small monkey that ran into the road.

 

 

 

National tree of India, Banyan tree, Ficus bengalensis, whose branches root themselves like new trees over a large area. Because of this characteristic and its longevity, this tree is considered immortal and is an integral part of the myths and legends of India. Even today, the banyan tree is the focal point of village life and the village council meets under the shade of this tree.

There is a Hindu shrine on the left hand side of the tree.

 

 

A short (by geologic time) 7 hours later, with only one episode of getting lost, we arrived at the Rosemont Lodge in Renikhet.  Renikhet is at only 6,000 ft, but it sits by itself near the top of a hill that looks unobstructed to the Himalayas, a mere 50 miles (as the crow flies not as the car drives) away.  We were met at the lodge by the owner who took us around the back of the lodge and pointed northeast, saying “look, there are the Himalayas”.

Even 50 miles away, my first view of the high Himalayas was spiritual.  It stops you in your tracks.  The sun was just setting, which enhanced the effect even more.  The summits of Trisul (24,395 ft) and Nanda Devi (25,643 ft) were  caught in full sun light while the rest of the valley was fading in to darkness (see picture).  Trisul was the first high Himalayan peak climbed.  Shipton and Tillman climbed it in 1936.  The Nanda Devi Sanctuary is what is called a World Biome.  It is a region surrounded by a continuous wall of mountains with no point lower than 19,000 ft.  This has effectively cut it off from the rest of the world.

If all goes well, in a few days we will be standing high on Trisul at Rook Kund at 16,500 ft.

 

 

View from Rosemont Lodge of Trisul (center left) and Nanda Devi (right, I think) at sunset.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go to India Journal Part III

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