Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Day 7 (February 17). Tiger hunting

We spent the night in a rather interesting place: The Sariska Palace.

This was hunting lodge for the local maharaja, who built it in the 1850’s to host the visiting British prince in his hunt for the tiger! It has all the verandas and smoking rooms that one associates with the British Raj, but a more enlightened age has turned it into a wildlife preserve and national park. So it was that at 7 am, in a brisk morning, we piled on an open jeep to do some wildlife sightseeing.
The Sariska Mountains are part of a Paleozoic fold-and-thrust belt, where tightly folded slates and quartzites have given rise to a series of long and narrow canyons much favored by antelope and spotted deer. We also saw wild boars, wild peacocks (definitely not an endangered species), a diminutive owl, parakeets, and a large number of exotic birds. Alas, no tigers or leopards, though we saw the footprints of what the guide thought was a leopard. The administration of the national park has also dug a few watering holes, and in the largest of them we saw crocodiles, two types of cranes, waterfowl, and a family of jackals. A very interesting visit overall.

A 3 hour drive through the state of Rajasthan brought us to the capital city, Jaipur, which is quite spectacular. Surrounded by walls and towers that remind the Great Wall of China, the public buildings were built at the shore of a large man-made reservoir, and include a fortified dam and a water castle.

Our excellent driver took us to a carpet shop where we got a crash course on carpet making (and a very strong sales pitch for a beautiful carpet that would look so nice in the library), and to an antique and jewelry shop. I escaped the latter and took a walk through the residential neighborhood, because I am beginning to feel that we are being shielded from the real India. It was a delightful stroll, away from hawkers and begging children, and I got a glimpse of a normal afternoon where families seat in the porch, ladies gather to sing at the local temple, and children run around flying kites or learning from dad how to play cricket. Everyone was smiling and polite, and not once was I approached by a beggar or street vendor.
I suspect the rest of the group was feeling a bit like me, so against the best advice of our driver we decided to take a walk through the market place. It was quite fun and colorful, because Indians have no fear of brilliant colors and sparkling baubles, but once again we were beseeched by hawkers. They are quite charming in their own particular way, but their continuous pressure eventually gets on your nerves. I think this is one of the big challenges that India has in developing its tourist industry, but I have no great ideas on how such a change can be effected.
To finish the night we took back a couple of chug-chugs back to the hotel. These are motorcycles that have been modified to carry a cab where three people can sit comfortably, and would be a quaint mode of transport were it not for the fact that the drivers feel the need to break all speed limits and traffic rules. I am normally not skidish, but on at least a couple of occasions I had to brace myself anticipating a glorious collision (but as you can see from the fact that I am writing this note our daredevil driver managed to pull us out of danger in the last second!)


Fabs said...

So you felt shielded from the "real" India...I would expect no less from my father! As usual, you explored a bit on your own and found a really pleasant area! =)
Your photos and stories are amazing (again, I would expect no less) and DJ and I look forward to checking the blog for updates! I love all the pictures!!

erin said...

I whole heartedly agree with fabs :o)