Monday, February 26, 2007

Corbett National Park

After an inevitably delayed flight from Hyderabad to Delhi on Air Deccan, the Southwest Airlines of India minus A-round boarding, we struggled to make it across Delhi for our overnight train to Ramnagar, Uttaranchal. Uttaranchal is the state wedged in Northern India between Himanchal and Nepal, Tibet and Uttar Pradesh. It's also the state in which Jim Corbett tracked the legendary 'Man Eaters of Koumon,' or tigers. Following an F-1 drive across New Delhi, me piled atop bags in the trunk, we shuffled our way into Old Delhi train station. I've slept in statioins before, namely Milan, and seen grime, but nothing compares to the Dickensian squalor of Old Delhi station. We happily traded the scurrying rats and festering pools of urine for the clacking night breeze aboard our six-hour ride to Uttaranchal.

Although the day began before 5AM, stumbling off a train into an ever-foreign world, riding on a safari jeep that sliced its way through the frigid night air under a blanket of glittering stars, after two-hours of sleep we were ready. We spent the day on safari, making our way through the forests of Jim Corbett National Park, and the open plains under the rolling foothills of the Himalayas. We saw hundreds of monkeys and spotted deer mingling in the golden grass, but failed to see a tiger. We closed off the night with a delectable curry and paratha dinner, and kept adding logs to the bonfire that kept us company until morning, through discussion of Ghandi, caste-life, and education with friends from Bangalore, Delhi & Mumbai. It was a memorable night of iPod jams, a blazing fire and lodge entirely to ourselves, an endless sky of stars, and wonderful company and conversation laced with laughter, smiles, and an exchange of cultures.

After a relaxing morning chai and a series of pseudo-adventure sports we piled into smaller jeeps and made off for safari day-two. Today felt more auspicious, as we silently bumped over softer leaves and muddy waters, deeper into the park. By noon we had spotted hundreds more spotted deer and monkeys, kingfishers and crocodiles. Soon thereafter we spotted the elusive leopard and her cubs. While not a man-eater, we didn't stick around to find out... overnight train back to Delhi.

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