Sunday, January 25, 2009

Day 14, 15, 16, Madurai and Periyar

Day 14 - Jan 20, Madurai to Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

- Medical update

- The vote is in and it’s official, rage in the streets

- On the train

- Off to paradise

- Elephants, boars, otters and birds

MHB is feeling better, I am starting to feel more feverish and am upping the dose of Excedrin. The two down-and-outers are ready for the train, only looking very worse for wear.

I know by the time you read this, the upsetting news about the vote will all be forgotten; since we are in the land of cricketeers with bats in their hands, there will be a lingering discontent in the hearts and minds of many: Rickey did not get voted into the Hall of Fame unanimously. Here, we’re hanging In effigy the guys who forgot to vote for the best power/speed leftfielder of all time (that did not enhance himself with too many performance enhancing drugs). We’ll see if we can get a pic or two of the effigies.

Up very early, too early for those of us dragging, and off to the train we go. It’s nice, we’re in 1st class, which means there are cushions on the seats, and some sit 2 across and some 3 across (both if you’re small). At the first station, every car is loaded with metal shoes about 2 feet long and probably weighing 40 pounds. Now you can’t get the restrooms very easily. Hmmmmm…are we better off? I did use the toilet when we were in a station. Of course, it’s a hole down the area between the tracks. The train starts up. Now we’re on a hole different plane when it comes to hitting a moving target (as one the tour put it: you weren’t sure what to hold on to).

The van meets up at the station down the tracks (it’s a slowwww train comin‘ - one of my faves when the Dead back up Bob) with our bags and we head up into the mountains. We cross the border from Tamil Nadu to Kerala {the lights just go out, I think we’ve left our flashlight in Chettinad, and it is REALLY dark here without lights}. Kerala is primarily a spice growing region, tons of agriculture dedicated to various spices. Martin tells a long, very good myth about the area (sum: the 4th son cuts off his mother’s head at the request of his father, later an arrow is shot out to sea and the distance from the shot to where it lands in the ocean becomes Kerala). We also hear a bit about the history of the area, going back to the Portuguese (came for the spices to use in Europe as medicines), the French, the Brits, and finally this area is now governed by a freely elected communist party. The highest literacy rate in India (closing in on 99%), very progressive, and very densely populated.

The wildlife sanctuary is at the top, along a lake created by a dam the Brits put in around 1915. The lodge is quite nice, sort of a mini-Ahwanee. Everyone shows up for lunch, including some monkeys outside that steal someone else’s meal. First time in several days we’re all at a meal together (If I don’t feel better, the streak ends at one). For lunch I have mulligatawny soup and veg biriyani (rice dish) with raita side (yogurt with red onions) and a lime juice soda. It is served a la carte and we had to order ahead of time. Not sure why (and why is he telling us this? The blog goes on and on and on…as it is).

Much talk of the big event of the day, Rickey you were honored…er, rather, Barry you were honored. In fact, Carol (co-leader) has arranged for the bar to stay open so those that can make it to 10:30pm, not me, will be watching the inauguration live. We have a 7am boat tour, a boy needs his beauty (and health) rest. I will watch later on you-tube.

For Hindus, paradise is jungle rather than garden (of Eden) and jungle means any uninhabited land. This does not look like jungle, for forest than tropical. Garden is an environment controlled by mere mortals and a jungle is uncontrolled and dominates mortals!

Rest up, meet at 3:30 and we take a boat tour on the lake. We’re on the top level, it’s quite hot (though we have all brought layers in case it gets cold. It does not get cold). The people behind us are from Chicago (much bemoaning about Rickey and just a touch of pride in their adopted son becoming president). They forgot binoculars, so we take turns so they can see the wildlife ashore, they seem very appreciative, I am sure they will be writing to the HOF soon).

It’s very hazy, so since we start around 4 the visibility is not great. As the sun goes down, we get lots of great shots of the animals, some very close and some off a way.

We see: elephants, boars, sambar deer, bison, and a frolicking family of river (lake?) otters, maybe 10 or so, squirming along the shore and diving in periodically and snagging fish. Thrilling for all, including us otter snobs who think they grow on (slough) trees.

Birds: Kingfisher, cormorant, tern, snake, egret, white necked stork, doves, babblers, laughing, night heron, regular stork, cormorant babies.

Regroup for dinner, we haven’t been at full complement in quite a while at a meal and this is no different.

Day 15 - Jan 21, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary

- Morning boat ride: Calling Bruce Wayne

- Medical update

We get up early, and head back to the docks for another boat ride. This time is just our tour on the boat and the ride is a lot longer, we go much further up the lake than yesterday. This morning it seems much more like Ha Long bay in Viet Nam, without quite as much diesel fuel, the mist is similar…

The most interesting site is the snake (aka anhinga) birds with there wings outstretched to dry off in the first light. Perfect imitation of the Batman call. We see jungle crows, shrikes, wagtails, mynahs, a pair of black monkeys, more boar, bison (with calf), and then return to the hotel (one of three in the park). At the hotel, during lunch, I am fading, fading, fading. MHB and I decided to stay by the pool and pass up the afternoon walk (the first event I have missed on the trip). The group goes off, split into two, and see elephants up close, vipers, many birds, all thrilled.

Ahh, the ragman draws circles up and down the block,

I’d ask him what the matter is, but you know he don’t talk.

And the ladies treat me kindly and furnish me with tape

Deep inside of my heart, I know I can’t escape

Ohhhhh, mama, can this really be the end, to be stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues again….

At 5pm, I head to the room and get under the covers and shiver (not chills, just shivers) for the next 9 hours. MHB brings dinner in, soup with rice and with what is a true act of incredible will, I move from bed to table eat a small amount. Cipro, the wonder drug, is taken, then get up and take aspirin at 2:30am, shivering symptom seems to be fading. Sleep must have occurred, it is now 7am.

The railroad men drink up my blood like wine…….OHHHHHHHH mama, can this really the end??????

Day 16 - Jan 22, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary to Kumarakom

- Medical update

- Two truths and a lie

- Another myth

- Ah Hah : the Fred Holtby moment

Another tour member shows up this morning with a cold, and another does not show up as he has the shivering virus thing. We start trying to figure who has been healthy the entire trip besides our co-leaders and eventually decide it is only one couple. The good news, half of the couple is the doc, and we are thrilled that he’s hanging in there. The cough/cold types are considered vital humans compared to the four us that have the viral thing (and at least one of us has both: me).

Two truths and lie (for those of you novices, pick the lie out of the following three statements):

- Once upon a time in England, pacemakers were installed as outpatient procedures, local anesthetic only, and the pacemakers were used (ie, not new), and came packed in olive oil from Italian cadavers (hey, not bad for the first one, right?).

- To prep for a specific pilgrimage, the month before starting you switch to an all veg diet, bath twice a day (hmmmm….since we see where they are bathing, we definitely think this a true devotion), and give up sex (hey honey, not tonight, I’m gonna be a pilgrim). Then you wear a black sarong, and after getting to the trailhead, walk 8 torturous days through the jungle (or 3, if you’re found the shortcut) all the while wearing a cocoanut on your head.

- The driver of our van drove extra-cautiously in order to ensure we all arrived safely and maximize his tip. The driver and his assistant slept every night in the van, watching dvd’s on a screen set up at the front of the van. Only the assistant was allowed to load and unload the luggage while all the hotel folks lugging bags in and out watched (and kibitzed).

- We are now at a gorgeous resort, very Hawaiian, open verandas, infinity pool, spectacular sunset, native music in the evening, sipping mai tais and in general feeling closer to human than we have in several days.

Post your answers (that means write them on your palm).

First, we stop at a spice garden. This is one of the gardens featured on a BBC series called 80 gardens in 80 days (David Niven was the host….I’m making the host thing up!). We are led around by Abraham who clearly is in the top three all-timers in the ear hair division. His garden was started by his grandfather, and his dad is wandering around while we’re getting the tour. In about 20 feet, we have seen an amazing number of spice trees, vines, climbers, shrubs, all with their own unique pollinating and harvesting methods. Vanilla is expensive (#2 to saffron) because each bud needs to be pollinated by hand. After 45 minutes I repair to the van, where the most recent viral victim has remained. We nap for another 45 minutes and the tour proceeds up and over the mountain. We might get as high as 4,000 feet, hard to tell since we don’t see any signs that would tell us.

HAH!! Bonus points to those of you who figured out there were four questions, in India all paths lead to more paths and we’re now in the moment: a pilgrimage is a painful trip of devotion, and for some on the trip we are reaching for that destination which is the center of things. The pain puts you in the moment.

Here’s the pilgrimage story: One of Shiva’s (or was it Vishnu’s) sons grows up to kill a demonic water buffalo. As he slays the buffalo, it turns into a beautiful young woman who thanks him profusely (kiss frog prince) and he realizes they are destined to be married. He agrees to be married with one condition. They create separate abodes on two mountain tops, and he will join her after the first year in which no first time pilgrim visits his house. 800 years later….they are still coming and coming and coming, every year there is at least one first timer in the crowd. She’s waiting. The billboards show him tied in such a way that he can’t get an erection. We hear that Paneer, the guide that hosted us to dinner, has made the trip 8 or 9 times. Some men (it’s always men) start the walk from their house. This is one of the truths, even the cocoanut stuff on the head.

We don’t make it to the hotel until three, so maybe the driver was going slower than usual. It’s so hard to tell, as we get closer Carol, who is sitting in the back, has to shout up to Martin to slow down, it is bouncing too much behind the rear axle (best seats are up front and reserved for the most deserving pilgrims, er, the most ill pilgrims).

Now, we also hear the story of the bare breasted Nadars. The Nadars were a low caste that for centuries untold the women had to appear topless whenever in the presence of a member of the Brahmin caste. The Brits some time in the 1800s decided that this was taking things a bit too far in the wrong direction and banned the practice. The caste just above the Nadars was furious, some of their place in the vast hierarchy that is India was being usurped, and they went on strike, caused major problems at the local level, and forced much discussion between Calcutta and London (via the mail boat?). Brits refused to back down and finally some genius in London (male) came up with the answer: make the cloth covering the breast flimsy enough to see through. Order was restored…apparently the Brahmins didn’t care that much though we didn’t hear too much on their side (front) of the story.

After late lunch, most of us repair to the pool for swim, chatter, more Kindle lessons (it’s the e-book I’ve brought along and as usual for those not familiar with it, very intriguing…terrific for weak eyes and those that don’t like carrying heavy reading weight with them on pilgrimages). There are no drinks to be had here, it is another hotel that doesn’t serve alcohol because it is Muslim owned. So, this is the lie.

For the few: Martin comes out to swim and it finally comes to me, this guy is very much like Fred Holtby, Uni High English teacher, of which I managed to have 4 of my 6 high school semesters (or was it 2 of the 7? It was a long time ago in a very distant place). MHB thinks it is a remarkable fit except for one (prominent) aspect: there do not appear to be any UCLA coeds monitoring the trip from the back of the van and fawning all over the guy during breaks.

We have drinks on the veranda with Boulder couple, he’s brought Scotch in with him and he and MHB partake. I feel fortunate to still be awake and semi-chatty. We skip the traditional music and dancing show.

One other note about the hotel (OH NO, now he’s going to start comparing hotel rooms….ARGHHHHHHH). The bathroom is actually huge and half of it is open to the sky, a very nice touch. Not so nice, it also is conjoined the bathroom of the room next to ours, which means MHB and her potty pal are once again as one. Let us say that on this trip there has been more discussion of toilets and toilet habits and toilet goings than in all others I have ever taken.

Dinner and to bed.

Two more notes, MHB advises me that this is bacterial, not viral (and thus why I am not the one administering drugs or advice, we have a real doctor to do that).

And, all words in the blog are by me and me alone. I get plenty of help from various sources, I own all the great material you are plowing through. MHB is not reading along, so is she in for a treat or what when we get home….Honey, not tonight, YOU are going on a painful pilgrimage of devotion…repeat.

Ralph and MHB