Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Trip to Rajasthan


The check, or catchment, dam project in Rajasthan held our attention the week of April 6th. A Rotary international vice president was to be in town for a visit on Rotary Club business and the local chapter we work with decided that inaugurating (dedicating) 2 completed check dams would be a nice event for the visiting dignitary to participate in. They added in a ground breaking ceremony for a new dam as a 3rd event. That dam is funded by another group in Delhi, not LDSC, Latter-Day Saint Charities. What made it interesting was the visiting dignitary was Monty Audenart, a dentist from Canada and is LDS. One of his married daughters, Lisa, accompanied him on his trip which took them to the Philippines before coming to Delhi, India.

We left Noida around 12:30 PM with a good car and driver, Rajish. Instead of meeting up with the rest of the group at the Hyatt Hotel, I made a call and we opted to head south to Sariska, Rajasthan, on our own and meet up with the rest there. Ironically, we caught up with the 2 car group on the highway after an hour and followed them to Sariska. If you want a challenge, see if you can find Sariska on a map. It is south and west from Alwar. We wound up in an area south of Sariska. Once we left the National Highway NH8 to Jaipur and headed towards Alwar, we drove through farmland where the wheat harvest was in full swing. No images of giant harvesters cruising across huge fields of grain here, just scenes of brightly colored sarees in the wheat worn by squatting women cutting with hand scythes. The cut sheaves are gathered into bundles that are created without any material other than the wheat. The bundles are then stacked in piles in the fields. A small threshing machine is pulled into the field by tractors and brought to the piles where the wheat is threshed, bagged by hand, and then later hauled to a miller. The guys riding the tractors and hauling the threshers work on a contract basis. I was told the threshers get paid 1 of every 10 bags which they take to the miller to get cash. The fields are small and the process is entirely manual except for the threshing and hauling. Cindy, who has become quite a student of the Old Testament, commented that the process we were observing probably hasn’t changed since Ruth was gleaning in Boaz’s field.

We were fascinated by the designer dung houses. After cow manure is mixed with straw and formed into the circular “patty cakes”, it is left to dry. But once dried, it is stacked and covered in ways to keep it dry until used for cooking fires. The dung houses are the stacks taken to an art form. We were talking with Rajish on the way back about wanting a picture and he jokingly referred to the designer dung and the name stuck.

We stayed at a hotel called the Tiger Den in Sariska on the edge of a wild game reserve of about 50 square miles. The reserve has a long history and was a British Raj game reserve that was hunted out, no more tigers, at one time. It has 3 tigers in it right now, 2 females and 1 male, all introduced in the past year. Apparently tigers reproduce quite proficiently because they were talking about having 40-50 in there in a year, but that includes additional imports from other areas. With a 3 month gestation period, I guess their goal could be possible. The plan for the group was to provide a tour of the game reserve for the dignitary and his daughter. Sometimes being with an honored guest does have its benefits. The hotel was ok, old, but clean. More on that later. We waited while someone took care of the check in, then we were taken to our rooms. The room wing of hotel and an outside wall enclosed a nice garden area where we sat on chairs on the lawn enjoying an absolutely beautiful evening until dinner was ready. Two rangers, including the supervisor, from the reserve were there and suggested that instead of driving into the reserve and then back to the hotel to get the cars, that the group go on through and head to the first dam site from there. Before we sat down with the group though, we watched monkeys playing in a very large tree and on the ground in front of our room. Talk about animals absolutely enjoying life, it was a riot watching the younger ones play what could almost be described as a game of tag - such energy. Cindy observed that they seemed to love to just fall out of the tree, but when you have springs for legs, no problem. Guess I related to the older ones who just sat with their hands on their knees and observed. We convened for dinner which turned out to be surprisingly good and was served buffet style. I’m guessing the word was passed on to the cooks to tone down the spices, because it was fairly mellow Indian food for the most part, or I’m getting used to it. It was probably a combination of both.

Can you find 9 or more monkeys in the picture?

Left click on the picture to get a full screen view, then use the Back button to return to the blog.

Afterwards we headed to our room. Ah, the room. The man who opened it up for us, did a quick sweep down before we went in. I learned why later. The room was clean including the bathroom and it had a western toilet, so life was good. When we came back after dinner, the critters were crawling, in particular, ants coming in under the door from a patio in back. The bed was actually two twin beds pushed together and both hard as a rock, but after traveling for 6 hours or so, a good dinner, and knowing we had a 5:30 AM wake up, sleep came quickly. I did get up around 4:30 and found some of the floor was moving. The little buggers followed the bathroom light and I had to laugh as they started to come in under the door. Our wake-up call was a guy banging on our door, but right on time. I got up and walked in the dark around to Cindy’s side of the bed and when I stepped on one of her slippers, I flinched thinking I’d just stepped on the mother of all bugs. Funny what your mind can do to you sometimes.


The day started out right with a great breakfast of fruit, fried eggs, toast, jam, etc. We packed up and headed out on schedule at 7 AM. I was surprised to find we were going in small SUV type vehicles with benches in the back, ok, small trucks with roll bars front and back of the bed – mini-safari style. The other cars would follow us and head straight through the reserve on a paved road to wait on the other side and we would be free to roam side roads a bit. I had no idea what to expect and was surprised after driving for 20 minutes or so when we began to see other wildlife in addition to the all pervasive peacocks and monkeys.

Showing for the ladies.

We saw elk like animals called blue bulls which are considered sacred. When the sun hits them right, their color becomes a light iridescent blue, at least that’s my best description. We saw a King Vulture, Turkey Vultures, herds of cheetal deer, wild boars, and other antelope type animals in small herds. It was a visual feast cruising around in the truck. I wound up standing and hanging on to the roll bar -- and no one told me to sit down because of liability or insurance concerns. After an hour, we wound up at another entrance, south and east. I believe it was near Tehla. While there, Cindy had birds eating out of her hand ala one of our Australian ventures. The weather was perfect for cruising outside. Some scattered clouds and there had been a few thunder and rain showers off and on during the night and during the morning from the puddles I saw. Just as we were about to load up in the cars and push off to the first dam site, two things happened. A squall formed up overhead and after a crack of lightening, it began to rain on us and at the same time a radio call came in that a tiger had been spotted back down the road about 2 kms. Talk about a Chinese fire drill, everyone ran for the trucks and took off pell-mell down the road as the rain really began to come down hard. It finally forced our driver to pull over and get a tarp cover out so he could see to drive, but by then we were all soaked anyway. Long story short, we took another interesting side trip that wound up back at the entrance where the cars were, but no tigers. But what a hoot, we loved it, tigers or not.

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