Monday, March 30, 2009

Jungle Book

As the sun rises over the white stones along the river, children in brightly tattered t-shirts scamper into the water, laughing as their shadows land on paw prints in the sand. From underneath the thick layer of green scrub, lazy eyes watch the village. A flash of reddish orange and the eyes are gone, deep into the jungle to wait for dusk when sambar deer venture towards the water. I watched the sun climb high over the Himalayan foothills, waved at the children, and wondered if those eyes were watching me.
An old faded green book leans precariously on my bookshelf at home. Set apart from the other books, its plain cover bears no words, simply an outline- sher kahn, king of the tigers. The spine reads Man Eaters of Kumaon. Written in the early nineteen hundreds by British officer Jim Corbett, the pages are filled with nonfiction accounts of Corbett’s efforts to protect local Indian villages from renegade tigers with a taste for man. Today, that same region is known as Corbett National Park and Tiger Reserve. This is where I spent my weekend.
Now before I go into too much detail, I’ve decided that some stories are better told in person and some are better left to the imagination. Corbett is a little bit of both. I will say that Shanta and I embarked on this adventure without any plans or reservations outside of the train ticket (and yes it was another overnight train). It was also the first occasion the two of us have traveled outside of Delhi alone. Both factors proved significant to the outcome of our weekend, though I won’t say how. Just to get your imagination going, did we find a place to stay? Cross a jungle in a rickshaw? Go on a safari? See a tiger? Wild elephants? Snowcapped Himalayas? That you’ll just have to ask. While you’re at it, ask about Goa (the weekend before last)- where hippies and malaria are well and thriving, where hut-hotels line the beaches, and where gender defines your experience. For now, I intend to leave you wondering.
I have two weeks left and so many more stories to gather. Eventually I’ll go to the Taj Mahal, buy a second scarf (three months and only one scarf is just sad), start my schoolwork (maybe), attempt to get a video of the NBCC kids dancing, and say goodbye to the people and places I’ve come to know as home over the past few months. As with every aspect of India, contradictions and complexity will prevail. A myriad of thoughts and emotions accompany the close of this crazy adventure and I’m certain I’ll never really sort them out.
I came here hoping to give something to the people- my culture, my time, myself. But instead India has given me so much more than I could ever imagine: blue bangles given to me by a young Afghan girl, new songs stuck in my head (and by songs I really mean mumbled words that sound something like the Hindi lyrics), quotes I will never forget, and a new perspective of my own country and of myself. Two weeks from now, I’ll be sitting on a plane listening to my ipod and wondering what comes next. Ask me, and I'll tell you.

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