Nagarhole National Park
Lobsterboy…er…Steve and I are up before dawn today for an early game drive, on which we hope to remain entirely dry. I notice several people wearing raincoats and heavier shoes, though the shoe trade might have more to do with the need to dry out the others. Personally, I consider the rain an acid test of my new Gore-Tex lined boats, which came through unscathed and dry as a bone. Ha hah!
Apparently last night after the rainstorm a tiger was sited along one of the main roads in the park. This is not surprising, as the rain would wash away territory markings and require the tiger to refresh them. At one point, the naturalist hears the alarm cry of some spotted deer and we all peer hopefully into the brush, but to no avail. Just missed it.
One wildlife sighting of note was a pure white domestic chicken strolling down the road near the park boundary. The going theory is that it escaped a poultry truck going to market that drove by that night. (Speaking of tiger attractions…) Either way, it looked confused and very conspicuous next to the better camouflaged and more savvy jungle fowl. We stopped for a moment next to the chicken. We found out later that our driver was determining whether or not he could stash it in the front seat and have it for dinner. He chose against, but did make sure to inform the gate guard of its location. Yeah, don't worry about the tiger, make sure he can find the chicken. More immediately useful, I guess. It was also about this time that Lobsterboy and I started referring to "feral chickens", as in "Is that a jungle fowl or a feral chicken?" Now this is, as some of you may know, a reference to the hysterically funny LucasArts' videogame "Escape from Monkey Island". Our group, apparently not fans of the games, thought we were serious, and we had several people asking "gee, is that a feral chicken?" from time to time, much to our amusement. Kept his mind off the rash, one hopes.
Fortunately for us, we had a great drive, dry and cool, and saw many animals. Marvelous, even though we're nowhere near peak season. Given our rain yesterday, we decide to stay out over three hours, a delightful treat. In the afternoon, after food and a brief siesta, we go for a boat cruise-style safari. My clothes are still a bit damp, so I leave them hanging in the sun as we leave. The boat is a bit noisy, and you don't get as close to the animals, but it's a nice change of pace after the mid-day heat. We get a brief glance of a crocodile and see many kinds of water birds. As we turn for home we are treated to an excellent view of 4 elephants, 2 cows and 2 calves, calmly walking along the shore. For a few minutes we fear a return of the rain (my clothes!) but fortunately it holds off.
As night falls, we sit to drinks and hear tales of the conservation effort, the creation of the park, and the impact of the local bandit Verappin on business. After many years as an ivory smuggler, sandalwood poacher, kidnapper and general local scourge, he was finally killed earlier in 2004, freeing up this corner of Karnataka from concern. Despite dive-bombing mosquitoes, it's an enjoyable night by the fireside.
As a side note, two days later, one of our group found on arrival in Chennai that he had a frog in one of his (packed) shoes. This intrepid amphibian had hopped into his shoe while it was damp from the rain, had been packed in a duffel, had spent hours on a hot bus being jounced around, had been in the cargo hold of a plane, and had made it through to be released into the wilds of the hotel corridor in Tamil Nadu.