During the first 90 minutes, sweat leapt from every pore and marinated everything from my sizzling scalp to my trusty sandals. The next 90 minutes saw nature do its best to put me, and my increasing stench, through the 'spin cycle' - this included thick fog, heavy rain and gale force winds. So, why was I smiling through this entire journey up Parasnath Hill (1450m), in the remote and seemingly unvisited state of Jharkhand?
Besides being enthralled by the view (even after the fog set in - see the Parasnath temple photo) and the sounds of birds, insects and monkeys radiating out of the forest, I knew that I had discovered something new and brilliant about this region. All the way downhill from my hike, potential words and phrases swirled in my head and took my mind off the bulging blisters on my poor toes (who wears sandals on a hike anyway?).
As guidebook authors, we must research the beaten path (after all, the path is there for a reason) but we must also try and break some new ground for people itching for it. While this is often the toughest part of the job, it is also the most rewarding.
Would my luck strike again in Jharkhand's Betla (Palamau) National Park? The park's forest is home to varying populations of animals including tigers, leopards, elephants and bison. Unfortunately, Maoists and bandits have also been known to roam this remote region of the state and this has led the park to receive little attention from LP and visitors. My job would be to lay fresh eyes on the place - that is, if the safety situation permitted.
As the dirt-brown teeth of his smile were being permanently etched into my brain, the head tourist official enthusiastically told me there were no problems in his state - something I knew wasn't true. I did some more research in Ranchi (Jharkhand's capital) and discovered that most of the problems now lay south of the park.
So, after a slightly anxiety-producing but uneventful five-hour drive to the park the next morning, I was bestowed with a sight I could hardly believe. High in a tree was a tiger with its mouth covered in blood, and clutched in its mighty paws was a battered and equally bloody leopard! Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was actually a red-mouthed monkey grooming her baby, however. A mistake anyone could make, right? Expectations can be the biggest blinders....
Later, atop an observation deck, I heard the unmistakable thunder of approaching elephants. Soon a matriarchal group, complete with two youngsters, was bathing in front of me. During my hour-long safari on the back of an elephant the next morning (which cost just $2), I wondered whether my experience of Palamau was the norm or an aberration. I'll have to ponder that question more during my write-up. Either way, I'm happy to have rediscovered the park - for myself, and for future LP readers.