|(This entry is backdated and really long) I started this journey with more apprehension than any before. Disease, Terrorism, Crime, Poverty all were on my mind. The unanticipated terror this morning was that if I lost my grip I would slide off the elephant and into the tiger's mouth. But more on that later. I got up and left the questionable Greenwood hotel Khujaraho. Sheikh and I drive to Bandgarvah National Park outside Tala which is just few miles from absolute nowhere. The Indian hillbillies call it the sticks. The drive is about 6 long hours. Some notes from the road- - Dogs (cows and people too, mostly dogs) Like to sleep right by the road or right on it. The road is just wide enough for two Honda Accords to pass each other without tearing both mirrors off. Just wide enough. The dogs lay there to pick up the artificial wind from the traffic. It's hot here, upper 90s, but it's a desert heat. Any wind or shade and it feels perfect. I still haven't figured out if it's just the end of the dry season, there's a drought or India has dammed every bit of flowing water but everywhere water levels are down significantly or absent. Many dry river beds. - The people cut the wheat by hand. It's a marvelous sight. The woman all wear the brightest saris they own at all times. Cutting the wheat, getting water, shoveling and making kindling pies out of dung. They are dressed to the nines. Always looks like a party. or my neighborhood. At high noon when the shadows almost disappear (I am in the tropics) the wheat glows brilliant yellow highlighted by the fresh growth of green in the stalks. It looks like a dream. - No one says thank you. We use it in English not just to show appreciation but to indicate the transaction/conversation is over. Not an Indian thing. So the Indians look like they're being very impolite to each other. - Although there are one billion people in India there are two billion cell phones. I thought this was strange until I realized each Indian has one for each ear so the can talk simultaneously to two people. This seems difficult if you don't understand that Hindi is a made up language like twins speak. The words don't mean anything they just convey some vague emotion. The emotion transfer rate actually improves the faster you "talk". I have found that cell phone reception is particularly bad at sacred temples and on safari rides necessitating that you speak as loudly as you can. - When we stopped for chai on the side of the road the people started the teapot by laying a bar wire directly onto a live wire. In India where you have a billion people safety is never an issue. We arrived in the mid afternoon at the Royal Tiger Hotel. This is the place Tennessee William's would have invented if he were Indian and not a southern sodomite. The place according Lonely Planet is the best place around the park. Once again except for some French people who will depart Thursday morning I am the only one here.All of the plants are dying. The much touted swimming pool has a foot and a half of opaque filthy liquid somewhere between brown and green. When we drove up there were no cars around. We thought the place was closed. There are no buildings just tents which are surprising comfortable but are far shy of Lonely Planet's description of comfortable. I sit outside and read. The locale is a little frightening. Two examples. They killed a snake about a hundred feet from my tent and fed it to a crow. I asked if it was poisonous and they nodded. The locals walk sing file through the fields on the other side of the three foot barbed wire fence. The person in the back bangs a drum. I asked why. "To scare way the tiger." This brings to mind a lot of questions. Does that work? Where's my drum? What the hell am I doing here? For dinner I want to get away from the things I've been eating which boil down to Curry chicken and Tandoori chicken. Pretty much no matter what I get it's very similar to one of those two. The other day trying to get away from this cycle I ordered a chick pea entree. Replace chicken with chick pea and that's what I got.I ordered the Murgh Makhani Andaz. No idea what it was except I think that's Urdu for Chicken Curry. Indian food in India starts of delightful and ends somewhere else. The first bite is a panorama of spices, pepper cloves, ginger. To get those spices like that they throw the whole thing in. By the time you are half way through your meal you realize that 70% of what remains is twigs, leaves, nuts and whatever else raked up from the back yard. Apparently the butcher cook cutting the chicken is blind as most of the pieces are nothing but bone. I know I am in the land of rampant poverty but if they are going to charge me three weeks wages for a meal it should have a real leg or something in it. I slept surprisingly well given that a) there was a spider as big as my fist which kept running under the bed and all through the night the sounds of the "jungle" were constant. I loved waking at 2 in the morning to monkey calls. I woke at 5:30 and showered. The hot water was hot and given the almost lack of electricity in this place a surprise. After making a fool of myself trying to make tea I found my jeep waiting to take me into the park at 5:45. The drive to the park was about 90 seconds. I found out the hotel is next to it. We start off. We is my driver and my guide. The park requires you to have both, but if poverty has taught me anything it's that sometimes one dumb compliance officer can afford to hire a couple of Indians for the day for less than a meal at McDonald's. It's in the 60s. Big Fat Whitey has no coat and feels great. Everyone else is bundled up and staring at him. Bandgarvah is a fort cut into a mountain. The mountain has 1000 foot cliffs on all sides. Vultures live in caves on the side of the mountain so the cliffs are all white with droppings. The park surrounds the mountain in a big U shape. The mountain is at the top of a plateau which is fairly high up. The jungle is mostly bamboo with a variety of other trees growing as well. There is a large meadow that looks like a wheat field in the middle. The meadow goes on for a couple of miles. on the far side of the meadow is a stream. The ground is mostly pink sands stone and some igneous rock which seems do have been blown out of the volcano in February. The sandstone in the area of the paths has been ground back to sand so the trees are green the fields and bamboo yellow and the paths a dark red. We drive looking for things and part of me thinks it will be worth it even if we see nothing. But wait a minute. There's movement ahead. About sixty feet in front of us gliding down a hill is a large leopard, about six feet from nose to tail. He runs from right to left and then turns in the direction of the jeep and hunches down. A jeep further back punches it to catch up and see and scares the beast off. He turns to his right and dashes off into the woods. The driver, who has taken a hundred and twenty of these safaris says he has never seen a leopard. From his enthusiastic retelling of this when we get back I think he's telling the truth. Things quiet down. We see a peacock in the fields doing his thing, shaking the tail and all that. There are estimated to be 20,000 spotted deer in the park and by the end of the day I was only 98 shy of seeing all of them. The superabundance of deer is what has created this remaining refuge of the Bengal tiger. After a couple of hours the driver checks in with the park rangers to see if there are any tiger spotted. Once again we are lucky and there have been and the park is bringing an elephant up for closer inspection if we'd like to see. I don't know why they are asking. We fly of toward the top of the stream and a couple of jeeps and a huge elephant are waiting. I climb up the jeep and onto the elephant where there are a couple of dread lock headed hippies waiting with the gruff elephant driver. I don't exactly sit on the elephant as lean toward the center. There is a bar in front of me so I won't fall straight off but if gravity has anything to do with it I'll just slide underneath. There is a bar in the center which I hold onto for dear life - literally. Jumbo marches of into the jungle. After a few minutes we go down a hill into a dry creek bed and continue on. There is not one but 2 tigers a male and female which seems peculiar to me as they are a solitary creature. Later it is explained in February and March they "make man and wife". The are both big but he is particularly so. Neither seems more than passing interested in this human clad elephant that's strolling up. The are on the bank of the creek so the are on;y about 3 feet below if that. The driver brings one side of the elephant up so we can take pictures then the next. he does this a couple of times and each time he moves I feel myself slipping so I try to wiggle back up. I have the ridiculously bad camera in one hand and keep pressing the trigger while I wriggle and hold on. The female tiger gets up and gives a head but to the male then rolls around for a while. He just keeps looking at us with the bored "I'll eat you later" look. She gets up and walks a few feet and then throws herself down. At this point the elephant realizes that the best looking bamboo is right next to the tiger and walks over and starts pulling it up with his trunk. The driver begins hitting the elephant across the forehead with his can and uttering what can only be swear words. From the next few moves of the driver and the elephant I know we are head out probably to the tiger's short lived relief as there were more jeeps pulling up as we got back. Despite the jokes involving ducks it's pretty easy getting down from an elephant, the only thing is get in the jeep. The driver and guide flipped out when I stepped on the ground. Apparently there are some tigers nearby. We drove for a while. Saw some sleeping owls and a wild boar. Around 10 am I was back having breakfast. 3 pm brought another safari. It was a hot afternoon. There had been a kill earlier of a deer and everyone took there jeeps there. The tiger was done eating and laying in the grass somewhere. There was a spotted deer sounding the alarm quite loudly. He just stood there "Yip, Yip, Yip" Letting all the other deer know there's a tiger nearby. I guess when the yipping stops you know the tiger's full. We circled the area several times trying different spots. The weather was delightful, the woods felt like fall. I was happy as a clam just sitting there. I scanned the yellow fields looking for anything that might be a tiger. We found foot prints in the sand. After an hour and a half I asked a question which wasn't meant to be passive aggressive...or was it? "So we know there's a tiger there so we wait. Eventually it will come out. On the other hand there are 50 tigers scattered around the rest of the park and they hide pretty well. So we will go with the sure thing. My question is this - You all tell me the tigers get up and walk around between 4:30 and 5, will the tiger do if it ate a big lunch?" The driver and guide spoke for a minute then the driver started the car and we left the meadow. A couple of miles away we saw 4 jeeps parked. "Someone thinks they saw a tiger." We pull up and wait. 90 seconds later a tiger comes out of the weeds a hundred feet to our right. He is heading for us... but only for another twenty feet then he turns right and sprays a bush and ambles on by the edge of the field / marsh. He crosses the marsh again and goes to the hill on the other side maybe 100 yards away. He scratches a tree for about 3 minutes and them wanders back to the road. He is ahead of us and walking by the other jeeps that have arrived. Those people could have lean down and pet the tiger and pulled a stump back. He crossed the road and ran up a large hill. All the jeeps went in mad pursuit. Indians swearing at each other. My driver almost flipped the vehicle getting around. We spotted him further up the road and then he disappeared over the hill. That night determined to escape the curry tandoori fiasco I ordered Sweet and Sour Chicken. Exactly the same as the chicken curry except more ginger. Despite knowing that tigers were only a couple miles away and could come hunting over at the Royal Tiger anytime they wanted, I slept pretty well. Me, the monkeys and that huge spider.