Saddle Sore

Posted on February 26, 2014

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This morning I opened my wallet to find I had less money than I expected. The daily park fees are 400 rupees and I kid you not, I was just short – I had 390.

“Christ what am I going to do now?” I thought somewhat peeved that I had been careless not to keep a careful eye on my spending.

I walked to the nearest gate to explain my situation.

“Namaste,” I said clasping my hands together and tilting my head to one side to the park guard.

I told him my dilemma and he told me to go to the main gate where I could pay by credit card. So I turned on my heels and off I went. Except when I got there I couldn’t pay by credit card at all. The till looked like it was from the 1960s. Note to self readers – carry petty cash for all national parks.

Thankfully I had some sterling on me so I decided to hunt out a money exchange. I trundled out of the main gate and onto the busy main road. It also gave me a good opportunity to take a look at the local area outside of the park. To be fair there isn’t a lot around. A few shabby hotels, eateries, local corner shops, a clothes shop and rickshaw rank. The main town centre has a market place and a train station which is remarkably busy.

When I finally made it back to the park gate I paid the entrance fee and picked out a bicycle. There’s not a lot of choice. They are all rusty and caked in dirt. I brushed off the saddle, tried it for size and tested out the brakes.

You can hire a bike for just 40p for six hours. Indian bicycles are not built for comfort. They just about pass the suitability test. Mine was a bit like a supermarket trolley. It tended to veer to the right. After a wobbly kilometre or so I worked out the art of going in a straight line.

I cycled for four hours stopping to take some incredible shots with my camera. My ride began with a sighting of a jackal. It ran out in front of me and I had to slam on the breaks. We locked eyes for a few seconds before he scarpered into the buses. He was beautiful. It was still pretty early in the morning and there were very few people around, hence his surprise when we crossed paths.

Then further up the path I spotted another python. This one was smaller, brown and curled up on the ground in the morning sun. A little further on I witnessed a fight between two Cormorants in the water. They flapped and splashed squawking for ages. It was quite a spectacle.

As I headed off the main road and down one of the dirt track for bikes I was completely alone. There was a magical sense of tranquility in the air. The literature I had read about the park said that there has been no permanent large predator inside the park. There have been sightings of certain cats though throughout the decades.

From September 1987 until May 1988 a lone leopard was spotted feeding on mainly cattle and wild boar. There has also been sightings of a tigress since 2000 mainly restricted to the area of Koladhar of the park. That was close to where I was headed.

I did wonder what would happen if I got my wish and I saw a tiger on this path. I thought, “I’ll be stuffed, there is no way in hell I’ll get up a tree fast enough and I can forget about trying to out peddle that beast on this contraption.”

My first encounter with another creature came in the form of a band of rhesus monkeys grooming each other. I was delighted. I have only seen two species of money since I have been in India – macaques and langurs. I stood back and watched as they turned suspiciously to eye me every now and again carefully picking through each other’s coats.

The road I was on was headed towards Python Point an area of wetland famed for specific birds and reptiles. It was here that I saw a huge antelope. As I braked to be able to take a photo he became aware he was being watched. He stopped feeding and started to make long heavy strides through the grassy water further into the lake.

It’s been a pretty exciting morning, but I must confess that my front and backside is killing me. Those saddles are not built for comfortable, hats off to anyone who cycles solidly for six hours. I just about managed four.

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Posted in: India