The last week has been pretty awesome. I got to go on a bit of a trip outside of Jharkhand – and you all know how much I like a change of scenery!
It all started because I volunteered to be part of Vol Comm, basically the committee for volunteers in VSO India. We've got a new batch of volunteers just starting and someone had to go an do the introduction for Vol Comm. I put my hand up and got a trip to Delhi for my troubles :-)
Originally I was only going to go for a day (travel to Delhi overnight on Tuesday and back on Wednesday night), but then two things popped up. First, VSO asked if I could stay for Friday as the Rose of Tralee was visiting. For those of you not from an Irish background, this is a pretty big deal. It's a bit like the Irish version of Miss World, except you actually have to have a brain and earn the title, not just look nice.
Anyway, this year's winner has an Indian father, so she's travelling around India and meeting a load of VSO people (specifically the VSO Ireland group). She was in the Delhi office on Friday and there was a party. In the words of Malc, she's a “lovely girl”, but the whole thing was a bit weird. She has a camera crew following her everywhere, so it's a bit bizarre trying to have a conversation with a boom mike right in your face. Obviously my previous experience with the media was extremely helpful here.
Being in Delhi for an extra couple of days gave me the opportunity to meet the new volunteers properly and also catch up with some old friends. Watching the India vs. Pakistan game in a bar was a great laugh. Drinking beer and seeing Westerners was a nice novelty! On Thursday I also had my first Western food in 4 months. I had a burger. A beef burger. A rare beef burger. With chips. It was sooooooo good!
So, I said two things popped up. The second one was Andy (a friend from IBM) coming to Delhi that weekend. He's in Chennai for a few days with IBM and was free over the weekend. They were going to Ranthambore Tiger Reserve – did I want to come? Um, does the Pope shit in the woods?
So Friday evening, at 9pm, I left the Rose of Tralee (she didn't cry, but I could tell she'd miss me) and jumped in a cab and headed to Delhi airport. I met Andy, Chris and Rajesh there and off we set to Ranthambore. One 9hr journey later, we arrived....
...and what a place to stay. For those of you who've forgotten, this is my flat in Hazaribag. I love it. The toilet is, shall we say “basic”, but it's a nice flat. However, it's definitely not a palace in the middle of a desert. That is, however, what the Nahargarh is. A palace. It's insanely beautiful.
We were supposed to be on a game drive that morning, at 6am. Those maths graduates among you will probably have spotted the problem here. 10pm journey start + 9hr journey = 7am arrival. Yep, we missed the morning drive! Although, to be honest, no-one had really slept very well in the car, so after a quick bit of brekkie, it was off to the room for a quick nap.
At 2.30 we set off on game drive no. 1. We had our own jeep (thank you Mr. Kapil Darg) and our guide was called Yogi. Yes, we found that amusing. We're not very mature.
The park is actually extremely beautiful. There are some very old colonial buildings dotted around and dis-used. We saw vultures, kingfishers, crocodiles, deer, owls, wild boar, snakes and monkeys. It was pretty awesome. But. And this is a fairly big but. This is a tiger reserve. There is no tiger on that list. Gutted. Never mind, we have two more game drives booked for Sunday. Plenty of time.
Saturday night there was some sort of cricket match on. Nothing to get excited about.
Sunday morning, a nice 5.15am start. Off on the drive with a guide who wasn't called Yogi, Rupert or Paddington. Disappointing. He also had a distinct knack of not finding tigers. His speciality appeared to be driving down a particular route, changing his mind, doing a 3-point turn and heading back to the previous place we stopped just to make sure that the tigers hadn't arrived in the last 5 minutes. They didn't.
One game drive left. Bit nervous now. Spent the hours in between drives relaxing by the pool (got a bit burnt for the first time since arriving in India – not bad for a ginger). 3Pm we set off. Different route through the park this time. Route 4, not route 3. Better luck?
Oh yes! A great spot from our guide, we were the first ones there. Nicknamed the “Lady of the Lake”, this tigress is one of the most famous in the park, she's about 16yrs old. We spent the next 2hrs just watching her. Amazing creature.
At one point, we thought every dream was going to come true. She was lying in the shade on a cliff by a watering hole. Slowly, some deer came to get a drink. Would she make a run at them? She certainly showed interest. The deer were blissfully unaware. Unfortunately (or not, if you're a deer fan) none of them decided to take a swim and so stayed just out of range.
Still, it made the trip all worthwhile. We even saw a jackal on the way back and had time to grab some pics of a stunning sunset. Awesome ;-)
All that was left was a 26hr trip back to Hazaribag. Obviously I'd had too much good fortune in the previous 5 days as we had a puncture in the taxi back to Delhi and then another on the bus from Koderma to H.bag! Then, after all that, I got back to my flat to find no running water. Down to the hand pump out the front to fill up and then a nice bucket shower. Welcome back!
One last update. Yesterday Efren left Hazaribag on his way back to the Philippines. That means I'm the only volunteer left in Hazaribag now. Efren's been a great friend in my first four months in India and will be missed. He's a great guy and I wish him all the best for the future. :-)