English Literature – Not what it used to be!

 

Shakespeare

Pic Courtesy Wikipedia

The Boss and I were spending a couple of days in a home-stay in the beautiful Chikmagalur Hills, a major coffee growing region of Southern India.

Every evening the owners would light a bonfire and the guests would sit around for a chat before dinner.

One evening in conversation with a young lady, she mentioned that she had a degree in English Literature. This was the second time in two months I was meeting someone in a remote rural area who professed to a love of English literature!

Intrigued and wanting to learn more I asked her who her favorite English writers were.

“Shakespeare” came the standard answer.

Well everyone says that, I thought to myself, so probing deeper I asked her if there was anyone else.

“Let me think” she said, pausing for a minute.

“Oh yes! Taylor Swift”

A Slice of Life in an Assamese Village

_MG_4178_tonemappedsmall The early morning elephant safari and breakfast over, the other members of our group retired to their rooms to catch up on sleep. The Boss and I however consider sleeping during the day a waste of valuable time, particularly when travelling so we decided to explore our surroundings.

The early morning chill had eased by now and warmed by the sun we wandered out of the resort and down the dirt tracks that make up the access through the village.

A mother passes by, dressed in a traditional sari with a woolen shawl draped over her shoulders. Her young daughter walking beside her on the way to the village school, a picture of Mickey Mouse smiling back at us from her back pack filled with school books. _MG_4147 A row of Safari jeeps waiting for their next trip into the jungle, their would-be occupants still breakfasting or napping after the elephant safari.

_MG_4150 small The village is spotless, not a speck of garbage to be seen. It’s a sad fact that in India most populated areas are strewn with plastic and garbage yet here there is nothing.

As we venture further up the lane we see the villagers busy tending their gardens, collecting eggs, or just drying their luxuriant black hair in the sun. Without fail we were greeted with beautiful smiles and a cheery “good morning”. Tiny goats and cows wander freely around the lanes their diminutive size making one think that we had wandered into some lost Lilliputian world.

_MG_4164small A boy runs past chortling with glee as he pushes an inner tube in front of him with a stick. More pleasure than any PlayStation or Xbox can provide.

Spotting a sign for craft teas we wander tentatively through the gate to see what we can find. A young boy runs out of the house, all eyes and sparkling white teeth. “Good morning “he greets us, “would you like to see our looms?” Captivated by this little angel we follow him into a large hall, where a number of bamboo framed looms are set up. A lady appears, silently seating herself at one of the looms and proceeds to weave a traditional Assamese pattern. The boy explains what she is doing and then shows us another loom where cloth is being woven using a mixture of cotton and recycled materials. The result, a table runner sparkling with the colored foil in the weft, yet still soft to the touch.

_MG_4168small We are joined by the boy’s mother, an attractive, effervescent lady, and she explains that she is running a self-help group to empower the local women, teaching them skills and providing them with looms if they are unable to afford it themselves. She also has a shop selling the finished goods as well as organic teas.

By now the whole family has joined us and we chat for a while, eventually making plans to join them for a traditional Assamese breakfast the next morning.

We leave their compound still stunned by the eldest son telling us that he is studying English Literature and that his favorite writer is Christopher Marlowe! India never fails to surprise!

Exiting the gate we look back and see the entire family lined up waving and smiling.

Walking back into the resort we hear a strange sound from high in the trees. A gardener beckons me over and points to a large bird perched on top of one of the trees. It’s a Great Hornbill and as I frantically grab for my camera and remove the lens cap it launches into flight, the whoosh whoosh from it’s 1.5m wingspan like the sound of a helicopter’s rotors starting up. It’s an incredible sight and though I fail to take a decent photo, the sight and sound of this magnificent bird will remain with me forever. _MG_4195small

_MG_4197small

A great omen for the days to come when we journey to Nagaland for the Hornbill Festival. ( KiwiGypsy, The Boss, and Tommy, traveled to Assam with India Trail)

Close Encounters in Kaziranga!

Dawn, Kaziranga National Park

Dawn, Kaziranga National Park

The elephant pauses to grab a trunkful of elephant grass and stuffs it into it’s mouth. Breakfast on the move.
From my vantage point on the elephant’s back I scan the surrounding grass lands for signs of movement, hoping to get a glimpse of the One Horned Indian Rhino that Kaziranga National Park is famous for. I’ve never seen a Rhino in the wild and I am desperate to see one up close.

We had arrived in darkness, late the previous night, from Guwahati, and this morning is the first chance we get to take in the surroundings. It gets light early in these parts and we sacrificed a full night’s sleep to ensure that we could be in the park early enough to view the wildlife at the optimum time before the animals retreat from the heat of the day.

The elephant’s rolling motion resumes and we pass silently through the grass, in places the grass long enough to brush against our legs high up on the elephant’s back. The air is cold and crisp, the sun’s rays not yet strong enough to burn off the early morning mist still clinging to the ground.

I glimpse an ear flickering in the grass ahead and as we slowly approach we spot a Sambar Deer grazing in the thick undergrowth. It seems unafraid, perhaps unable to distinguish the humans astride the elephant, and as we move closer we see that it is in fact injured, a big wound in it’s side. The unfortunate result of a lost sparring match with another deer. The mahout explains that sadly it may not live for long. Kaziranga has one of the highest concentrations of tigers in India and a wounded deer will be easy prey.

Sambar Deer, Kaziranga National Park

Sambar Deer, Kaziranga National Park

We move on and the elephant grass gives way to an open plain filled with deer. All different types and sizes, Sambar, Swamp deer, Muntjac, Hog deer. Hundreds of them moving slowly across the grassland, pausing now and then to graze on the sparkling dew-covered grass, but ever watchful for signs of predators.

The tranquility is disturbed by the sounds of shouting and banging of drums from a distant village. A rhino has strayed too close to the houses and the villagers make as much noise as possible to send the rhino back into the park. We spot it in the distance moving slowly back into the grasslands and the mahout urges the elephant towards it.

By the time we get close, the rhino has disappeared into the thick elephant grass and we move slowly and silently forward, breaths held in anticipation, eyes feverishly scanning for signs of the great beast.

And there it is! Staring back at us from amongst the grass, clouds of steam billowing from it’s nostrils. A strange conglomeration of parts, plates of armor and lumpy skin, all combined into the oddest looking creature I have ever seen. It’s like something left over from prehistoric times, unusual to look at but at the same time magnificent. Even from our perch high on the elephant it is obvious that it is a huge animal, filled with power. We take photo after photo trying to capture it in all its glory, while it stands and looks placidly back at us, chewing grass while a group of Mynah Birds stand line astern on the prominent ridge of it’s backbone.

One Horned Indian Rhinocerous, Kaziranga National Park

One Horned Indian Rhinocerous, Kaziranga National Park

Eventually tiring of us and our stage whispers, it turns and moves off into the undergrowth eventually disappearing from view, leaving us to excitedly discuss what we have just seen.

Our day is complete.

The first time any of us have seen a Rhino, and the first time for some of us to ride on an elephant.

NOTE: Our trip to Kaziranga was made possible by the awesome team at The India Trail

Grazing Deer, Kaziranga National Park

Grazing Deer, Kaziranga National Park

The North-East of India

 

Hornbill Festival

I have just spent the past two weeks in the North East of India, an area that not many Indian tourists visit let alone foreign tourists. I loved it so much that my original one week trip was extended out to two weeks.

The countryside is spectacular, the people unfailingly friendly, hospitable and kind, and the food delicious (even the more, shall we say “exotic” dishes which I will discuss in a later post.)

The main focus of the trip was the annual Hornbill Festival in Nagaland, a celebration of all the tribes, where they get together to showcase their customs, costumes and food. It is spectacular and I highly recommend anyone traveling to India in the first week of December to make sure it is on their itinerary.

I travelled with The India Trail, run by a couple of young guys passionate and extremely knowledgeable about the region. They are very professional and can organize a wide range of activities to sort all interests.

I will write in more depth soon but in the meantime here are a couple of photos from the festival.

Hornbill Festival

Post-Trip Blues

Khonoma Village, Nagaland, North-East India

Khonoma Village, Nagaland, North-East India

Back from a long trip. Happy to be in familiar surroundings again, the comfortable bed, hot shower, regular food. More than 3 changes of clothes to choose from.
Busy unpacking, washing, cleaning, catching up on sleep.
Back into the routine.
Days pass slowly.
But something is missing.
That aliveness, that intensity of living, it’s not there anymore.
Flashbacks of events, people I met, experiences, pop into my head randomly throughout each day.
I wake up in the morning, excitement and anticipation missing. A dark mood descends upon me.
Like a junkie I need my fix but my drug of choice is travel.
I have to get away again.
Where to next?

5 Star service in the Lodge from Hell!

Luxury AccomodationI lift up the pillow and a nest of beetles scurry away from the light.

I do the same with the next pillow, sending more beetles scuttling away in to the darkness.

I quickly brush them away before The Boss spots them and throw my own clean bed sheet over the whole bed, pillows and all.

The pillow is the same shape and consistency as a bag of cement and within 10 minutes I have a throbbing headache.

The bed too short for my height so I am forced to lie at an angle with my feet hanging over the side. The room bathed in a dim glow from the fluorescent yellow street light outside the window as I listen to late night wedding revelers returning noisily to the rooms next door, shouting at each other in Tamil despite their proximity and the late hour. I wouldn’t be getting much sleep that night.

Earlier that evening after a fruitless search for some quality accommodation in this small rural town we finally settled for the best of the rest and took a tiny room in a lodge down a noisy side street. It’s wedding season and everywhere is booked solid in a town that is not big enough to warrant a hotel of any kind.

The room qualifies as luxury accomodation as it has AC and a TV. One thing it lacks though is hot water. With hand signals and a few words in English and Tamil we explained to the owner that we wanted hot water to bathe in and he explained that he would supply us with an immersion rod, an electric element which you suspend in a bucket to heat the water. It needs to be suspended using a wooden stick so that you don’t get an electric shock but it is surprisingly effective.

Immersion heater

By 8pm it hadn’t arrived so I climbed down the narrow stairway to what functions as the reception. The lodge owner was still there juggling calls on his two cell phones.

“Hot water, hot water” I asked him.

“9 o’clock coming” came the answer. “Fresh piece.”

As good as his word, at 9 o’clock there was a loud banging on the door.

The elderly watchman, barefoot and clad in a white vest and dhoti, handed me a plastic bucket, a wooden stick and a brand new immersion rod still in it’s box.

Closing the door, I looked at the price stickers still on the bucket and the immersion rod box. The total cost was Rs650.

The rent for the room was only Rs600!