26 July 2006

Perils Of The Window Seat

I can't travel anymore... spent 3 weeks between the hostel, mess and the acad block... so I'm recycling some old writings from my Central India trip in March... I wrote this while travelling, sitting in some dingy little internet cafe late in the night...

This whole place is weird... I mean central India. Kanha National park is some 200 kms from Nagpur, yet nobody there knows anything about it. So we spotted this place called Seoni on the map which seemed reasonably close to Kanha and took a good bus. Now that was a (private) sleeper bus (with berths and all, though we didnt need it) and it misled us into thinking that Madhya Pradesh has good buses. The next bus, from Seoni, was this typical dusty, sharp-edges-everywhere, rickety bus straight out of the pre-independence era. The bus passes some 30 kms from Kanha, but they deem that to be close enough to tell us that the bus is headed to the heart of Kanha. It stops once every 25 mins for a 20 min chai break... we spent the night at this dusty town called Mandla.

The next two days were at Kanha. We were the only independent Indian travellers there... there were some big families and lots of foreigners... we couldn't find anybody to tag onto for the safari, so we couldnt split the costs. Anyway, the summer heat brings the tigers to the numerous water-holes... I think we were not too lucky, so we only caught a brief glimpse of a tiger guarding its kill, well camouflaged in the tall grass and quite far away. Lots of deer, langurs and peacocks... this one peacock glided right over our jeep... splendid sight. The jeep driver is one of the typical dishonest clan... someone asked him if there were panthers in the park (the museum, write-ups, audio-visual show and advertisements didn't once mention panthers), and he mechanically said "ah, yes... definitely! Only, it's a little difficult to spot them..." I bet he'd say the same for Great White Sharks and snow-leopards.

The previous evening, I caught up with the local chaps over a game of volleyball, which was played with this rock-hard football. After 2 hours, my right hand was terribly sore, and adamant in disobeying my brain's orders. More than the game, my attention was grabbed by what is surely our national pass-time... spitting! Anyway, that comes later.

That night, as I was generally walking around after dinner, I met this bunch of jeep-drivers by the roadside... and some 15 mins later, I was sitting by the side of the road and sipping this local (alcoholic, of course) drink called 'Mou-wa'... pale white and tasting quite different... the next hour was spent controlling my laughter as I chatted with the two drivers, One of them is from Trichy, so he narrated his family story... somewhere in between, he claimed that Sri Lanka belongs to Tamil Nadu and that it's being illegally occupied. They didn't ask me anything, but that didn't stop me from stuffing them with what I did, where I am from... when I mentioned that Im a mechanical engineer, this chap asks me "oh, mechanic? which vehicle?"

They gave me this crumpled visiting card which looked unworthy of being used as toilet paper, and told me stories about Jabalpur, which is where they're from, just stopping short of claiming that Jabalpur is the best thing India has to offer after the Taj Mahal.

I underestimated the extremes of temperature in the central plains... the morning safari begins at 530, and I was there in my usual minimal clothing - shorts and a sleevless jersey... the 3 hours of shivering that ensued sure made me regret my dressing sense, or lack of it.

Today morning, we caught a bus to Mandla and then got a jeep ride to Jabalpur... the maniac who drove the sumo nearly killed us with his addiction to overtaking long buses over sharp, blind curves and a speeding jeep approaching on the other side... after one close shave, he gave this big grin and even tried to sound philosophical... "Never fear anything... God is there for all of us... what has to happen, will happen..."

Right now we're in Jabalpur, with telecom and internet facilities and all that... but it's so bloody hot during the day that Im feeling half dead even as Im writing this... we're thinking of Varanasi and Bodhgaya enroute to Calcutta. Im just too tired to think right now. I can only think of the blissful sleep that awaits me when I walk to that shady little room we got right next to the bus stand for 120 bucks.

I've never seen anything as dry as Central India... but I think it will be really pretty during the monsoon season... anyway, I doubt if we'll travel much in Bihar... too beaten up right now.

Oh, and the spitting... Nagpur has some 8 pan shops and 3 wine shops for every medical store. The sheer density of bars is mind-boggling... maybe they're just creating demand for the medical stores... and they spit (that reddish brown thingy from chewing pan) just about every goddamn place reachable by spit... car windows, post boxes, even poor stray dogs. Oh, but this has to be the best... today, in the bus, this stupid 30~ yr old female was sitting in front of me, chewing some equivalent of pan, which comes in little sachets (supari or something)... she calmly spit out of the window, narrowly missing my hand placed on the window pane. She didnt seem like stopping, and I realised the futility in explaining my difficulty to her using my Hindi, so I pushed the window glass forward to close her outlet to spit. Even that didn't stop her. She stooped forward to spit thru the window diagonally in front of her... and ended up with her on spit splashing across her face and upper body. Gross! Of course, even that didn't stop her from continuing with The National Passtime.

Ok that's enough.


Hari said...

Hey! Whats up Man? You dont sound happy. Belated B'day wishes.
By the way I saw Shawshank Redemption, the movie which you recommened, a week ago. Got hold of an orginal VCD after hunting for it in vain at DVD rental shops.
Wonderful movie on Hope!!
So, no time for your travelling huh? Thats bad.
Me got a chance to go to Kolkatta on an official visit and then last week had been to kodaikanal and Munnar...
Ok that's it..C ya

Saiku said...

Dude I guess U wouldve seen the Matt Dancing videos. His website is equally cool man. wherethehellismatt.com. Chk it out if u havent.