Journal -- Day 15

January 2nd

Nagarhole National Park

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The morning finds us on the road again, leaving behind the palace and civilization of Mysore to drive 3 hours to the Kerala border and Nagarhole National Park. We had some debate about this trip last night, as Steve's rash was worse, he had a bit of a fever, and was feeling generally terrible. Nagarhole is several hours from good medical care, whereas in Mysore he could be quickly admitted to a good hospital if necessary. Our friendly and helpful physician considers the possibility of a drug interaction or reaction, and we determine that the most likely event is that he's allergic to the anti-malarial drug he's been taking. This poses a particular dilemma, as Nagarhole is rife with mosquitoes. However, he hasn't been bitten as yet, and tends not to be. We decide to go on to the park, covering him in DEET, and resolve that if he hasn't been bitten by the time we leave he can halt the anti-malarials. That will give him several days to recover before we have to fly. It's a tricky morning of debate, but he's just not sick enough to justify staying in Mysore, and despite the itching can manage the car trip. Good thing I packed that much cortisone cream.

Nagarhole was once the hunting preserve of the maharaja of Mysore, and is now one of the largest and best-protected game parks in India. There are around 5000 Asian elephants, 60 tigers, 80 leopards, several kinds of deer, goar, and many birds. Similar to Periyar, the Kabini river has been dammed to create a large watering hole. The park isn't too far from several cities, though the closest airport is probably Bangalore, roughly 7 hours away by car. It seems a popular getaway, though not a day trip like Periyar. The visitors are fewer and in a larger area, so that we only occasionally see other jeeps.

Interestingly, there are several villages on the outskirts of the park, some even within its bounds, and farming takes place right up to the boundary. Is that a chicken or a jungle fowl? A feral cow or an un-tethered bullock? Hmmm. Apparently from time to time the elephants decide to go for a stroll outside their park. There are 3 levels of deterrent: the first is a trench that elephants find hard to cross, the second is a low-voltage electrical fence. Should the elephants remain determined to take the air and avoid these pitfalls by walking down the road, there are watchtowers. Villagers drop fireworks and bang drums to dissuade them. It seems that the elephants don't really notice, but it's something to do. While there is certainly danger of fences and crops being trampled, the larger danger is that of poachers. As the elephant population continues to happily expand, they may need to revise the fireworks plan. Besides, how can you tell the differences between a festival and a stampede?

In the afternoon, we embark on our first game drive. While very, very few people see tigers, we remain hopeful. I suggest dangling Steve outside the open-roofed truck to attract a hungry tiger, but for some reason he objects. Of course, he's pretty weak at this point, so I figure I can probably manage it even without his agreement. We are able to see some lovely deer and bird species, and we are just about to get our first really good elephant sighting when the rain starts. At first it is light - just cover the cameras and wait it out. The driver backs toward a tree, which seems like a good idea until the leaves start falling on us. Then the heavens open. We all dive for camera bags and backpacks, desperately trying to keep everything electronic dry. There is a tarpaulin to cover the top of the truck, but it takes us a while to unroll it and tie it down, during which time water is pouring in from every direction. Steve and I are in the back row, the last under cover, and are completely soaked by the time we get a roof. The sides remain open, however, so we are still getting drenched, just from one or two directions instead of all. Nagarhole isn't particularly cold during the day, but sitting in a pool of rainwater certainly makes you chilly. (Good for the rash, though, I guess.) The driver and guide take us back to the lodge, but inexplicably keep stopping so we can peer out through the downpour at soggy deer. Stop for tigers, ok, but deer? Brrrrrr

At least we figured out how to turn on the hot water heater in the hotel, and power stayed on long enough for me to even dry my hair. We draped our clothes over every flat surface in hope that they would eventually dry out - at least we have a full day left before we have to pack them - and all in all we survived just fine. It was actually incredibly funny, the 12 of us bouncing along with cold rain pouring in the side, sometimes in gushes, soaking whoever wasn't moving to the middle fast enough. Naturally it stopped raining in time for dinner.

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