Sunday, January 22, 2006

So many species - and we are only one!

Well, I've made it - off to India for the third time. Apologies to anyone reading for the rough-and-ready nature of this as it will be cut and pasted from e-mails to friends - so some diversions are inevitable!

Anyway to cut to the chase: Flight went well as far as Bahrein, although delayed nearly 2 hours! Went a bit frayed after that - lots of extra delays and a landing in what I thought was thick fog at Delhi was somewhat hairy. Still, safe on the ground and with A PLAN! The key was the railway booking office at the airport, which conveniently got me a seat on the afternoon train from Nizamuddin (station in south Delhi) to Bharatpur. Then taxi to station and general kicking of heels in a harmless and non-boring way. There is always plenty to amuse just watching India going about its business. The place is certainly no cleaner and no quieter than when I was last here!The train was OK and gave me the chance to display the"calm but firm" persona that seems to work best for me (and I like to be in) - when person occupying my nice breezy window seat tried to maintain mine was the aisle! Only worry: falling asleep (as I did a lot) and missing the station (and - as happened - playing sleep-footsie with the married woman opposite: wake covered in confusion). On arrival at Bharatpur, the"calm but firm" worked again to sail me through the throng of autorickshaw wallahs until, almost clear, I sealed a deal at the Lonely Planet-approved (!) price and was soon at the pleasant guest house, quietly situated off the main traffic road. Took a stroll along the road to the gate of the park and as I turned to look at a stall of oranges a chorus of "Arthur!"s sounded from across the road. Celia and Nigel were not due until the morrow but had fled Jaipur (by car, no less: must have been desperate) a day early. Really good to meet up and catch up on a tinsiest bit of their travels. Next day up early to get into the park betimes, them leading me to places their guide had found interesting birds on the previous day. That was fine by me and the day passed gently and interestingly (and peacefully - in India but out of it, as you might say). Saw a lot of birds (Celia seems to specialise in owls, I prefer the bright ones: kingfishers, rollers (we saw a splendid one, apparently green not turquoise in the setting sun) a Saras crane (great red-and-charcoal-grey head!) and various I can't name) Yet to see my favourite, the bee-eater. Met someone who said the birds at Udaipur were just as good, if that's any consolation for missing Bharatpur. We lasted till sunset although neither Nigel or Celia's camera batteries did - the bane iof digitals, apparently! Good sunset shots on mine and then we collapsed ravenous and tired onto our supper.Today we were on different tracks (and in fact I've yet to meet up with them, although we were meant to) with me going to the station to book a train for Sun eve from Agra to Jabalpur - for Kanha National Park. I went through various route/destination options in my head but I knew I wanted to go there so why not first, particularly sinceI've given up on the thought of striking south from Kanha. Then perhaps Varanasi after that, followed by a bit of Rajastan maybe before going south. Cutting a long story, I did get the ticket on second choice train at second attempt - fortunately the queue was short both times although no tourist window/quota. Laughing Jackie-wise through the utter chaos of everything there and back on my bike (failed to mention: best thing here, doing it all on a sit-up-and-beg, although my bum's quite sore today!) Yes, Forster had it right in Passage to India in his description of the chaos of it all: all human life is there and quite a bit else. Then another good day inthe park, with some ace sightings of the beautiful Saras crane, with me doing the classic stalking technique to get really close. Of course at this point MY camera battery fails (should have got a second to use while first re-charges)..

Two more days at Bharatpur bird park were just right to help me adjust to "incredible India" in a relatively painless way. Lots of interesting birds seen but also just the experience of exploring and relaxing in the park for hours at a stretch. "Being not just seeing" (current watchwords!) But if you want a thought provoked by the park - it's in the title.

[This was typed in Agra (tourist hell, despite the heavenly Taj) but only for the afternoon while I wait for a train to Jabalpur from where I hope to visit two game parks. More in a later blog: my patience with these slow connections is a tad limited!]


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