Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wildlife Institue of India & Rajaji National Park

Two wildlife excursions I neglected to write about were in the first week. The first day we visited the Wildlife Institute of India. First of all, they gave us all Pepsis, so that was an auspicious beginning. There were three presentations-first on the overview of the institution, then the best one on statistical methods for tiger counting (my dream job!) and a third less interesting one on the history of India's environmental legislation. Dr. Eaton may have dozed a little during these, which made the rest of us feel better about subsequent days' presentations at various institutes when we wanted to do the same thing. We then went on a nature walk with a few stops to point out interesting flora or the occasional fauna. There were very cute and very angry monkeys. One shook his tree at us menacingly, but he was adorably impotent and knew it. Still, glad I got those rabies shots. After a good bit of flowers and herbs, we made it to the guest house for samosas, chips, and a bit of cake, and really good tea. The following weekend we went to Rajaji National Park. When we got there, we learned a bit about the elephants that were chained up around and being ridden around with lots of straw on their backs. Most, they said, were younger and/or being rehabilitated. After standing around a while, waiting for a group to use the guest house's single bathroom. During the wait we found a couple of chained up elephants and Dannie wanted desperately to touch them, but we persuaded her not to. I know the agony of not being able to touch though-I still want to pet every dog I see, even the mangiest, most pathetic. Especially them. Eventually, at Rajaji, we piled into jeeps and a safari bus (very Jurassic Park of us, which was way awesome) and roamed the roads, through mud and rocks we got jostled more than a bit, and many of us ended up with a headache. One of the muddy rivulets had that smooth-looking mud that then made me think of the Swamp of Sadness, and through subsequent talk of the Neverending Story, it was revealed Sarah and I are the same age. I had a weird knowledge of all the child actors' "where are they now"s, which I shared. Our guide had an amazing eye for animals, and even animal prints-he somehow spotted tiger pawprints in the mud, which was weirdly, very tangentially, exciting. I was glad to be on the bumpy bus with that amazing tour guide. The next day I was covered in welts from what must have been insect bites. Wouldn't it make more sense for the bites to hurt while they're being delivered?

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