Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Camels and Tigers and Elephants, OH MY!

I love animals. I have always grown up with pets (dogs, cats, an iguana, a duck, etc). Going to India, I got to interact with animals that I never dreamt I would see up close. So basically, the whole country was a petting zoo for me.

I have to get out of my system my excitement over monkeys being everywhere. Well, actually, they are everywhere in Delhi and UP (Uttar Pradesh)...like literally...here, look at the pics:
Monkey hanging out at the Delhi train station....like, in the MIDDLE of a gigantic city there's a shit ton of monkeys!

Monkeys on the telephone wires in Haridwar!!! Every tour I went on, people got such a kick out of how crazy I went over the monkeys. People even starting spotting monkeys for me so I could get picks of them.
Monkeys at Agra fort!
 Look at how cute the baby monkeys are?

The monkeys like invaded the fort! There were so many of them.

These monkeys in the gardens of Agra fort were so hilarious. Like, this mom monkey was chasing after some monkey that pissed her off and they leaped over those hedges while hauling ass. And, the little baby monkey was running after the mom and just jumped right through the hedge, I was cracking up so HARD!!!
That's a monkey at a major metro station in Delhi!!!
Like, no joke, THIS is how close you can get to the monkeys! Me posing with a Sunderbans (East Indian) monkey :)
Look underneath this sign...MONKEYS on the way to Ooty, so these are South Indian monkeys

Climbing up on the hill and everything

One monkey even got on top of our bus and was eating out of the bag of peanuts the bus was hauling! It was hilarious because everyone got out of the bus and was yelling at the monkey to get down.
So the people at Elefanta Island make sure to warn you. What's hilarious is all my friends from Mumbai tried to prep me for Elefanta, telling me that there are monkeys everywhere. So I was bracing myself, but the moment I got there I was like, "Psht, I've seen more monkeys in UP." These would be West Indian monkeys

Another animal I saw a ton of in India were these little lizards. Everyone thought I was crazy for calling them cute and little. One friend told me they signify that your house has good air circulation :)
Ok, now that I have shared with you the escapades I had with monkeys in India, now onto the theme of the post. So, there are tons of animal reserves in India, and I had the pleasure of going to these reserves in the east and the south.
First, I went to Sunderbans, the UNESCO world heritage site and tiger reserve. http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/798 I was so excited to see a tiger in it's natural habitat. This isn't like the Wild Animal Park in San Diego...this is like legit the tigers' home. No cages, nothing. The tour was SUPER cool. It was two nights on a boat riding through the Sunderbans. For more info on the tour I took, check out here:
Here were are, gearing up to get on the boat

Instead of a mermaid on the front, they put a coconut :)

I'm on a boat!

Here we are arriving at our first camp

I saw a shit ton of fiddler crabs. Also mudskippers, and they just kept on reminding me of Ren and Stimpy:

So I was the only Westerner in my tour group of like 20 people...and of course everyone took me in like a family member. You go on this boat from one camp to another. Here I am entering another camp.

The people who live in Sunderban do a puja (prayer) to this goddess in the hopes that they won't run into a tiger. Me, being the jackass that I am, kept on asking people "What puja do I do if I WANT to see a tiger?"

The view from the look out tower

One of the boats with the sunset.

Me with our boat. OMG, the food was so good that whole trip. Everyone got a kick out of me being a vegetarian, and that I was eating with my hands.

A wild boar.

Those are tiger tracks going to and from the water.

I even made a littlest best friend on the tour! She was so awesome cuz she had these shoes that would squeak when she walked. So when I did the 'Cha Cha Slide' with the group it was awesome once we got to the "left foot stomp" part....she went crazy with the squeaking!!

Super crazy elevated steps we had to take to avoid the mud

Big cat tracks!!!
Walking to the lookout tower

The view from the lookout tower
Of course, since I'm just a gigantic kid myself, I made friends with all the kids on the boat.
Here's a map of where all I went :P
Another altar to pray to so you don't see a tiger. No seriously, it's sad, like guys go out to gather honey and die from tiger attacks all the time.

THAT my friends, is a tiger track!!! I got SUPER excited over that. There was no hope in actually seeing a tiger. I say this with all the love in my heart, because my family is this exact same way, but every time we got off the boat people would all of a sudden start talking more than they ever did on the boat, and of course, louder. 
Sunset in Sunderban

Just riding the boat around. OH, and the darkness at night was PITCH black. It was mind blowing, but then you would look up at the clearest stars you had ever seen.

Fishing boat.

Fog clearing up.

One of the towers that we went up.

The mangrove forest

Our tour guide

Me with a lake...

...that had a crocodile in it!!! Look in the middle of the pic between the branches, you can see the head.

The welcoming party for the next camp. There were SOOO many monkeys here! I even went to try and pet one that was up on a fence and it went to jump at me (you know how guys do that "What?!" move to intimidate you? Yeah, the monkey did that)...everyone on the tour got a kick out of my "OH SHIT!" reaction.

Another alter to pray to so you don't see a tiger.

This was awesome, they list the tiger sightings at this camp. Even awesomer...there was a tiger sighting the day before we got there! Actually, I had a running joke with the girls on the tour that I had called the tiger and made an appointment to see her at 9:00 on Saturday. And we joked that we had the time and day right, just we were both at the wrong location. The tiger even waited for an hour and a half for me to get there before she peaced out.

But, I did get to see a water monitor. You see that gigantic lizard in the bottom left of the pic? It was hilarious because I saw him slither out of the water and then he was just hanging out. I wanted someone else to see him, so I bring him to the attention of some passing Bengalis, and of course they start yelling "OH MY GOD IT'S A HUGE LIZARD!!! HEY! COME AND CHECK IT OUT!" and the women started screaming. So of course, the water monitor goes "Deuces, I'm out!"

Indian flag flying proudly on a docked boat.
I'm on a boat motha fuckah

This guy was waiting for me LOL

 The closest I got to a tiger during the trip LOL Oh well, it's an excuse to go to Sunderbans again. One day I'll see a tiger in it's natural habitat

Me with my newest friend from the trip LOL Her parents were so happy that she had someone to practice speaking English with. I swear to God, she's a genius! There's no way I could speak a THIRD language as fluently as she could when I was her age.

And of course, Sanjoy, my tour guide. It was really funny because my friend's dad in Delhi is named Sanjoy...and my friend said "But it's pronounces Sunjee"...so when I saw my Bengali tour guide's name tag that said "Sanjoy" I was like "Sunjee! Sunjee!" Only to find out later the Bengali pronunciation of the name is "Shonjoy"....a girl can't win :P
I was so lucky that my host family in Kolkata are animal lovers. I got to spend 3 weeks with this little guy! His name is Bochka (bundle).
Next nature reserve stop was this beautiful part of southern India called Ooty.

On the cab driving to my hotel, Mount n Mist: http://mountnmist.net/ It was a great place to stay, definitely recommend it.

 The view from my hotel balcony. Those are bunches of tea plantations.
I was only there over night, so I hit the ground running and went on a tour around town to a lake. I could have hypothetically gone for a horse ride around the lake.

Cool view of the forest leading to the lake.

This is called dolphin head mountain...maybe rock...but at any rate it's called Dolphin Head

It was so great to get to the top of this hill and almost be alone...such quiet.

Selfie queen :)

View of some tea plantations

Then I got to go to these waterfalls.

It was a bit of a hike from where the car dropped me off, but a beautiful view all the way there.

Me with the waterfalls.

Just gorgeous nature in Ooty
 So the next morning I woke up super early to this sound coming from just outside my apartment. Some amazing morning wake up ceremony was happening:

This was the gorgeous view I got to enjoy after the sun came up. So serene

And of course at my hotel they had not one, but TWO adorable dogs!!! I forget this little girl's name, but she was so sweet because she loved getting pets! I asked if they would let her sleep in the room with me, but the owners said no :(

And then this little guy and the birds!!! OMG he was such a little PUG! So cute! The owners loved how excited I got over their animals.
So the next stop was Periyar Wild Elephant Reserve in Kerala. The only reason I knew to go to Periyar was because the bride at the wedding I went to in Chennai is Keralan and she told me all about the places in Kerala that I should go visit :)
I just couldn't believe the view from the bus I took.

Oh, so random thought. I took most state buses when I was getting around India via road, and it was a great experience!

I guess I had practice from taking buses so much around Romania. Cheap private Romanian buses are pretty much like cheap public Indian buses...they get you where you need to go safely.

People were like "How can you spend 8 hours in a bus?" and I don't know what it is about road trips, but I love just being able to look out the window and completely zone out.

Plus, this kind of gorgeous scenery that I got to take in really helped me to find peace.

Here's a vid taken from the bus just to show you how serene it is.
Tea field! The place I stayed at in Periyar was this super awesome homestay called "Mickey's Homestay". The owner is this super awesome lady, and this guy who worked there gave me a ride around town in his "scooty" as he kept on calling it. They were extremely helpful, and were even disappointed that I wasn't staying with them longer: http://www.mickeyhomestay.com/

Ok so it says "Tiger Reserve", but I was holding out on being able to see a wild elephant.

Closest I'll get to a tiger :P I went on the nature hike because all the other tours were booked up. They have like jeep tours of the reserve and bamboo rafting tours. But honestly, the walk was great and just the exercise I needed. Read more on what they offer here: http://www.keralatourism.org/periyar/ecotourism-programme-periyar.php

We ran into some deer early on

This trench separates the two states of India, Kerala and Tamil Nadu

 Monkey up in that tree!
Elephant droppings

Wild elephant tracks (the closest I would get to a wild elephant on the tour)

The whole tour was westerners...I missed having Desis to commiserate with.

The lodge where we stopped for a break.

Deflated hive.

That door was torn off  by a bear!

And they still haven't replaced it (it is a great conversation starter)

Termite mound

The broken off clump

A pack of wild boars.

We kept on running into these plants that would react when you touch them! Check out the vid

See the spider web?

That spider was just that gigantic!

Another hive


You see those weird brown sock looking things we are wearing? We had to put them on to keep the leeches from getting us. The tour guides would also dust this powder on those of us that did get leeches crawling on our feet that automatically killed the leeches. It was some completely natural powder, and I'm pretty sure it was turmeric.

Selfie hiking

Here's a vid of us during the nature hike
So of course I end up talking more with our tour guides than anyone else. Two of them were Keralan and one was Tamilian. So they had a field day teaching me how to say things in Malayalam and Tamil :)

Me straddling the two states, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

There's the line that marks the border.

 Wild buffalo, look in the middle of the pic between the trees.
Just a gorgeous view.

One of these pics is of Tamil Nadu LOL

Selfie walking.

So on our way back we found these awesome branches to swing on!
Of course I had to get in on it :)

 There's an animal up in that tree LOL It was like a squirrel monkey, or something with a weird name.
The next thing happened that happened that day was pretty much the best thing that has happened to me in my entire life. I went from the Periyar Reserve to this place where they give you package deals on interactive sessions with elephants. I pretty much threw my money at the ticket counter and said "I want as much time with the elephant as humanely possible!" Please look through the pics to see all the amazing things I got to do with elephants.
Here's the view you get when you're on top of the elephant.

THIS is how excited I was to ride the elephant

They took SOOOO many pictures!

My elephant's name was Rani.

The trainer said that Rani is a boy...but I've seen Queen and I know now that Rani (meaning Queen) is a girl's name...maybe it's also a boy's name in Kerala

At any rate, I could have pet and snuggled with him all day!!!

Such a sweet little elephant!!!

Of course I had to get a pic looking like Prince Ali

Here's the forest they walk you through

A vid of me riding Rani...wait for the jackass pose at the end.
It was like a full 45 mins riding him!

Here's the trainer. I annoyed him so much because I kept on asking questions about elephants in general, but referring to Rani in particular: "Does Rani eat bitternut?" "How old was Rani when you first started training him?" "What is Rani's favorite food?" Yeah, I'm a 5 year old.

I really wanted to take Rani home

I officially want an elephant for a pet.

Then they had a different elephant demonstrate to me how smart and strong elephants are.

A vid of the elephant moving a log.
Elephants are SO SWEET!

The trainer told me how loyal the elephants become with their trainers and how much they love them.

It's such an amazing thing to me that such a huge and powerful animal can love and respect man so much that she submits to him and doesn't overpower him, even though she totally could.

This pic sets up what became the best moment in my life...

...getting to bath an elephant!

She even let me sit on her little neck and wash her ears! Look at that adorable little face!!!

Taking orders

I forget this little girl's name :( I just remember that she was a girl and that it was her turn to get baths. The elephants rotate shifts between giving rides to people and getting baths.

Then commenced the moment that I will never forget. The elephant returned the favor and gave me a bath right back!

People were gathering around because I was laughing so loudly...plus I'm a big tall goofy white chick getting water sprayed on me by an elephant, so it was a pretty hilarious sight.

Hugging elephants is the best.

Gearing up for it...

...there it is!

Trying to pose

I think she got a huge kick out of it, too!

Barking orders.

Oh shit!

I really want an elephant now

I was totally talking with her the entire time...her eyes were so gentle.

I even got to feed her guavas and say thank you.

If I had an elephant I would never need antidepressants...look at how happy I am!!!
It was so hard to say goodbye to the little girl!

Look at how gentle and sweet her eye is.
Not so much wildlife, but when I was at a Tibetan restaurant in Kochi, Kerala, I heard a whistling that I thought was a recording. But then I saw it was a real live parrot! The owner said it was fine to have me hold the parrot and let him sit with me at the table while I waited for my food.

He was the sweetest little bird!! So well behaved

He was even smart enough to crack open and eat a walnut if you gave it to him!

I also went to get tickets for a typical Keralan folk show, and look who was waiting in line with me :)
Even walking around the streets in Kochi I ran into goats (which is actually typical of most of India).
I went to Rajasthan and got to have another amazing animal experience. So my homestay in Jaisalmer  has this thing called a camel safari and I was like, "Sign me up!" Here's more info on the place I stayed (but I'll have more on Jaisalmer in another post too) http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g297667-d1378668-Reviews-Residency_Centre_Point_Guest_House-Jaisalmer_Rajasthan.html
I first got to look around some old palaces (a topic for another blog post) and got to see the Indian national bird, a peacock! There were actually tons of them ALL over the place!

Now down to business...riding a camel.

Me with the trainer on the camel. The reason he hopped on with me is because I asked "Don't you guys race camels? Can you make him run?!" And he was like "Yeah, but I have to get on with you." OMG, riding a galloping camel is the most amazing experience you will ever have next to getting bathed by an elephant!

Since I was solo, we went past this group of western tourists who were all like "Why does she get to go fast and we don't?" ....that or they all thought I was insane. At any rate, I was having a ton of fun!

Shadow in the dunes.

Camel tracks

The sun in Rajasthan

It was so nice to walk barefoot with the sand squeezing between my toes!

Sitting on a camel while it is sitting up or down is like being on a roller coaster LOL

The trainer had to gather wood because my guides were going to make dinner for us out in the desert by campfire!!! (Again, topic for another blog post)


WAY too happy to be riding a camel!

I'm sad, I forgot the little guy's name. But he was so well behaved!

Both of us are all "What?"

Selfie on a camel!

Last shot of being on the camel

You can see the guides at the end of this vid :) and of course, wait for the jackass ending :)
I went out and explored while the guides and trainer were making dinner.

Pretty rock I found in the middle of all that sand.

This completely reminded me of camping in the desert with my family growing up.

It was good I was only doing a day safari and not an over night one, because it would have been too much for me. I was already crying from missing my dad so much just sitting in the dunes.

Selfie with the dunes.

Selfie with the sunset

Camel with the sunset

Amazing panorama shot!
This cute little puppy that was out there with us! I got to share my food with her :)

Rajasthan is THAT gorgeous!

Last peek of the sun.

I hope to come back here with my mom and bro one day to do a two or three day long camel safari where you get to camp out in the desert. It will be so much like old times.

Look at those clouds

That's the moon peaking over those dunes.

I forgot how GORGEOUS the desert is at night!
 So that's my animal blog! Tune in for the next installment of  my Indian escapades.