Day 9 – Thursday, June 19th

WOW….what a day!!!!

We were picked up at the guest house by Suresh who is a botanist with the Institute of Science. He was accompanied by the jeep that we had rented….along with a driver!!! Supposedly this will only cost us about $150 for all three days!!!!

Michael and I are both a bit under the weather this morning, with Michael struggling with a headache and I am having some stomach issues. The headache is not helped by the blaring music that the driver continually plays on his stereo. It all sounds the same to me and the heavy bass and drum start to bore into your brain after a while.

As we are driving out of Bangalore, it starts to become a bit more hilly and we can look down on many of the living areas of the city. There are hundreds of apartment buildings, each housing 3 or 4 units and these are painted in soft pastel colors. There are yellow metal barriers across certain lanes of traffic and Shiresh told us that those were for traffic control and to slow the cars down. As far as I can tell, it is just one more thing on the road to dodge!!! We did pass a building that was proudly proclaimed as the Driving School…..the mind boggles.

I have laughed this morning about the shirt that I am wearing. It is one that was ironed by the people in the neighborhood and it is completely devoid of wrinkles….even though the fabric was the kind that stays wrinkled. It will be interesting to see if it resumes it’s original state after it is washed and dried at home.

After about 45 minutes, the areas became more rural. We stopped for breakfast at a famous restaurant called “Loka Roche”. It specializes in the ethnic food of the state of Karnataka. The waiters were all dressed in traditional attire and they all posed happily as Michael took a photo. The manager got his feelings hurt because he was not included in the picture, so another was taken with him. I did not eat anything, but Michael had the speciality that is made from fermented rice and lentils that have been wrapped in a palm leaf and steamed. The flavor was much like a tamale, but without the meat. All of the food was served on plates that were lined with palm leaves. The restaurant was part of a natural area and we laughed at a duck who was eating out of the empty plates.

As we are driving there are just TOO many images flying past….women with large baskets on their heads, old men on ox carts, vendors with water jugs and food, thatch A-frame houses (built so low that I wouldn’t be able to stand up), granite outcrops, crops of millet, sorghum, maize, coconut, banana and sugar cane. The medians on the roads were well kept, with flowering shrubs and trees. There were HUGE billboards selling diamonds, cell phones and other luxury items. It seemed a bit incongruous as the people are so poor and there is so much poverty. At one point, strong incense wafted into the car, apparently we had passed a temple where offerings had just been made.

There is every type of clothing around. The women mostly wear Sari’s, but the men’s dress can vary significantly, from pants and collared shirt to fabric “towel wrapped” around their waist.

This is a large silk producing area, and Suresh tells our driver to stop on the side of the road and to back up……if you thought that riding in a car traveling forward is bad, you ought to do it in one traveling backwards!!! The place that he wanted us to see was a silk house. Outside of the house, there were a dozen wicker boards that had wicker channels on top. These were woven in concentric circles. Each of the channels was filled with silk cocoons!!! We went into the house and there were long shelves were the caterpillars are raised. The shelves are covered with leaves, the caterpillars are added and they are fed shredded Mulberry leaves (from plants in the neighboring field). Once the cocoons are formed, they are placed on the boards to dry out. When they are dry, they are taken off of the boards and placed on the floor where several women sit and clean off the dirty outer layer of silk and then grade the cocoons and get them ready to be sold to the silk manufacturers. The people were happy to have their photos taken and we really enjoyed seeing this interesting task.

We stopped again about 5 minutes later….this time in front of two small buildings. In the front of the first one was a layer of un-hulled rice laying out in the sun to dry. We walked into the house and found that they were using machines to hull and polish the rice. This was a several step process….on the first machine the rice was laid out in a fairly thick layer This machine was bouncing and beating the rice to break open the hulls. The rice was then moved to another machine that further tumbled it and cleaned it. The dust from the hulls was gathered in one area and will be used for animal feed. The final machine finished polishing the rice and it came out looking white and ready to eat.

The next house was a sugar cane production house. There were three huge, shallow cooking dishes (about 6 feet in diameter) Two of them had sugar syrup slowing cooking, while the third was being actively boiled. There was a woman tending to the fire underneath the vat, pushing dried sugar cane stalks into the fire, and there was a man using a large hoe-type utensil to keep the mixture moving. As it got thicker, he would drop a small drop of the mixture onto his hand and put it into a jar of water, to check for the correct consistency. Once it had reached that stage, they used large buckets to pour the thickened solution into a stone cooling tray. After it had cooled, it was cut up into bars and sold. Once the vat was emptied out, the syrup from the 2nd vat was siphoned into the main vat and the process started again. They told us that it takes about 1 hour of cooking for each batch.

Unfortunately, I started feeling really bad while we were in the building and had to leave quickly…..I think that the sickly sweet smell got to me. I spent the next 20 minutes in the car with my eyes tightly closed, and Michael trying to feed me Oreo Crisps and water. Fortunately it worked because I was not sick.

Our next stop was a turn off of the main road and thru a series of fort gates that lead to the Randanaeha Swamy temple. This fort was built about 300 years ago and was the kingdom of Tippu Sultan….the last kingdom to fall to the British. There was an entire city behind the fort gates!!

As we walked up to the temple, I noticed that there was a man sitting with a bunch of shoes and at first I thought that he was another vendor (We were being confronted by them constantly). But, when Suresh started taking his shoes off, I realized that we would not be able to wear shoes in the temple. The temple was gorgeous and beautifully carved. We had noticed that most of the temples seem to be in two parts and Suresh explained that the outer doors were designed for safety. These particular ones were made of heavy wood and with metal points on them. Then there was a small courtyard that lead into the temple itself. In times of trouble, the people could hide in the courtyard and be safe from attackers.

The entire temple was carved from stone and some of the architecture was amazing. There were several small shrines that each had offerings placed on them. Every so often one of the Holy Men would come and collect the offerings. There were also areas that had the red or yellow powder that the Hindu worshipers used to mark their forehead. Many people were lined up to see the inner-sanctum of the temple, but we did not stay for that.

Suresh insisted that I try “tender coconut” to help settle my stomach, so he purchased three fresh coconuts. The vendor used a machete to cut the top off of the coconut and then stuck a straw in it for us to drink the milk. Unfortunately, you had to drink all of the milk before the coconut could be opened up and the fresh coconut dipped out. There was no way that I could even drink all of the liquid, so I had to be content with the coconut milk only. There were two beggar children who took the coconuts from us and started drinking the milk.

As we were leaving the fort, we drove to a place on the Cauvery River where you can rent Corricle boats (think of Reepacheep in “Voyage of the Dawn Treader”). . These are made of wicker and fabric covered with tar and are round and shallow (about 8-10 feet in diameter). There was a Holy Man by the river as well as a man seining in the river. Once again we were bombarded by vendors trying to sell us a package of photos of the area. The first price was 100 rupees ($2.50), but quickly came down to 10 rupees (25 cents)…..we didn’t buy them.

We then continued our journey into the state of Tamil Nadu, and the Mudumalai Tiger Preserve. I loved two of the signs that said…..”Please do not feed the animals” and “Do not tease wild animals” ……no duh!!! When you entered the preserve there was a guard who opened the gate across the road. The gate was simply a bar that had rocks tied to one end as a counterweight and he would gently pull on the rope and the gate would rise.

We stopped several times along the road to photograph a wild boar, deer, peacock and two types of monkeys….Michael was in heaven!!!

We arrived at the resort that Sukumar had arranged for us (called the “Jungle Hut”) about 3:00 and were welcomed for lunch…..we both ate a small amount. I spent a couple of hours resting while Michael took photos of the Axis Deer that were in the compound. He also enjoyed watching a cricket match between the workers of the resort and was even invited to play….he opted to photograph instead.

Our driver picked us up at 5:00 and we drove to the Indian Institute of Science Research Station which is located in the village of Masinagudi (for the goddess Masina). It is a series of 3 buildings that house the sleeping quarters, kitchen, dining area and computer facility. The station is performing conservation work in the jungle, specializing in elephants and other large mammals, including tigers and leopard. There was 1 student, and several professional members, as well as a cook/tracker and several other part-time trackers.

We climbed into the Institute jeep and drove into the Tiger Preserve and to the Elephant Camp. We first visited a small museum that showed many of the indigenous animals of the area. We were fortunate to have experts on hand to give us additional information about them. At one point there was a huge bang on the metal roof above us……we all jumped, and then someone said “Hey, it’s the monkeys” (are you singing yet) . Sure enough there were Langers (Michael tells me that these are different from the monkey we have previously seen, but you couldn’t prove it by me).

We were directed to a small roofed pen that held an orphaned elephant calf who was only 22 months old. He had been taught to put his trunk outside the pen and would let you touch it and shake it. One of the times that I did this, he curled it around my fingers and started pulling…it was really cool. I was also surprised at the texture of the skin and at the bristle type hairs on his trunk.

Our friends then hurried us over the area where the elephants are fed. This was quite a tourist attraction (15 or so people), but we heard a lot more explanations from the scientists than the general public received. The elephant’s food is made up of millet, rice, grass and sugar. These are cooked (over a wood fire) in separate batches and packed into cubes about 12 inches square. These are mixed by hand for the individual elephants dietary needs. The elephants are fed balls of the food and seem to enjoy it greatly. At the end of the meal, they are given coconuts and Suresh said that they are like chocolate for the elephants. We laughed at one of the elephants who picked up a small stick and was using it to scratch in unusual places, including along his teeth like floss.

As were watching the elephants being fed, the Langers shot up into the trees and started screeching. One of the trackers said “there must be a cat around” and he immediately started scanning the landscape. He finally said…..”there is a leopard in that tree”. We watched it climb down the tree head first as the monkeys continued to scream. Once again we were fortunate to be with the scientists. I told Suresh that I didn’t get a good view and asked him if he would mind circling behind the trees and scare it out again……he graciously declined!!! One of our new friends told us we were “Very Lucky” to have seen a leopard on the first day in the area.

As we were being driven back to our cottage, we heard a loudspeaker calling the Muslims to prayer….a very haunting sound. We fell gratefully into bed after a long and exciting day.

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