We will never forget the jungle hike we took in Taman Nagara National Park in Malaysia. Although we wore shoes, socks and long pants, when we took our shoes off, our white socks were red with blood. Tiny leeches had crawled over the shoe tops and into the lace holes and had dinner on us. As we prepared to hike today in Periyar National Wildlife Refuge, we were given special booties to wear over our socks that went up to our calves. But this didn't prevent some of us from getting leeches around our waists, even with shirts tucked in. These tiny creatures about an inch long, move like inch worms, inject an anticoagulant and have their fill. Gross, but no deleterious after effects.
India suffers from having too many people. If it was a dictatorship like China, it could have instituted a one child policy, but India is a democracy. With more education the birth rate is coming down, but this country one third the size of the US will be the most populous country in the world by 2030. Half the people are under 25. With all these people there is little room left for animals.
In 1972 when the Periyar Wildlife sanctuary was begun, many animals living here were endangered, the most high profile being the tiger. Although the park is large, these big cats need big territory and it is estimated there are less than thirty living here today. It goes without saying that we did not see any on our trek today. Our trekking guide said he had last seen one a year ago.
To get to the hike, we had to ride across the river standing on a few bamboo poles lashed together, a challenge for my lousy balance. The forest was thick and green and we heard many bird calls, but didn't see any birds well enough for good photos. A low sound a bit like blowing across an empty bottle was especially eerie. This was from the langur monkeys who cavorted in the branches high above us, swinging on their long, long tails. Our guide was big on spiders and plenty of big spiders were around. Across the river we saw a herd of elephants. He said we were lucky to see them, but they did not compare to our experiences in South Africa.
I have been laboring under the misconception that there is much Indian food that I enjoy, when what I really have been eating is spiced way, way down for our benefit. I discovered just how delusional I was when we cooked our own lunch today. We traveled to a local home where the lady of the house set us to chopping, chopping, chopping all the myriad vegetables that became part of the meal. She kept asking if we liked it spicy and some of our fellow travelers would have liked more zing than I can stand, so she only put half a chili in the first dish. She passed around tasting portions and wouldn't you know it, I got pepper bits and seeds. I could feel the heat going al the way down my windpipe and into my abdomen. Half an hour later when I recovered from that, the rest of the meal was ready. From what I was able to taste, I just don't like the spice mixture that is a staple of Indian cooking. Nearly every dish included coconut which Ken does not like. The only thing we've had here so far that is worth looking for at home is papadam - a fluffy, crisp, fried patty made out of yoghurt and lentils. I was surprised when Charles told us that only 10 - 12% of Indians are vegetarians. There are plenty of veggie restaurants around, but there is also lots of chicken and our home cooked meal today included buffalo meat. I am confident that we will continue to enjoy the food served to us on this trip, but it remains unlikely that I will seek out an Indian restaurant at home.