India: a princess in the wilderness

November 21, 2013
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Panna National Tiger Reserve

 Pashan Garh Lodge features clusters of stone cottages huddled atop a small hill, offering spectacular views over the forest and a large nearby waterhole where resident antelope gather. ~from the A&K itinerary

I’m sitting in our cottage in a wilderness lodge in the middle of Panna National Forest. The accommodations are luxe for a wilderness lodge, but the art leaves something to be desired: there’s an angry-looking monkey hanging over the heater and a photo of some scary exotic beetle blown up as big as me on the bathroom wall. I hate photos of bugs more than anything.

I am a princess. I am reminding myself of that so when I plan our next trip I have no further lapses in judgment.

We got here after an arduous, 12-hour journey that began with a three-hour trip on Indian Railways, an experience you’ll want to miss, if at all possible, even in Executive Class.

After that, we got in a bus with no toilet and drove for nine hours.  I’m not sure I understand this, since our bus until now for trips way shorter than nine hours had a very serviceable toilet. This one? None.

Wait. Is that the snuffling of a Bengal tiger I hear outside the cottage in the dark?  No. It’s our houseboys, here to turn down the bed, light candles for us and clean the bathroom we have yet to use.

Back to our journey.

If you think a huge roller coaster is a thrilling ride, you haven’t ridden on seriously potholed dirt roads at 50 mph with all sorts of traffic coming head on because the road’s too small for two-way traffic—trucks, other buses, motorcycles, bicycles, water buffalo, dogs, cows, goats—you name it—we all shared the road with much honking of horns. For all nine hours. I was seated in the second row with a great view of every minute of excitement.

“Holy Mother of God!”


“Oh, my God!”

“Holy shit!”

Just a few of the phrases I uttered during our drive.  Indian drivers are either the worst in the world or the best, I haven’t figured out which.  It was better not to look, and the wisest among us sat further back so they didn’t have to.

bus scene insideWhen we finally got here in the pitch dark, we were greeted by a group of wilderness bellmen-jeep drivers-chefs waving both hands above their heads in some sort of jungle greeting.

I was in no mood.

That’s because at the tourist hellhole we stopped at for lunch, I ate something that didn’t agree with me. Considering I am hardly eating anything at all, that was a real feat. (India is missing an opportunity to market itself as a fat farm. The entire country.)   And while other people have gotten “Delhi belly” on the trip, this was my first time. The restaurant rest room? Required a face mask. But it wasn’t enough. The urge hit again shortly after we resumed our drive. And since we were driving through rural India without a bus bathroom and since I was in extremis we had to stop the bus so our cabin boy could show me to some bushes.

Yes, our bus came with a cabin boy and his job description included showing affluent American tourists to bush-toilets.  “It’s my job,” he told me.

Thankfully, all the climbing o  f gigantic steps and hills we’ve been doing plus my trainer’s good work had honed my low squat to a fine point and I managed to avoid falling over into some poisonous anthill. Back at the bus, I took meds real quick and they did the trick.

I am a princess.  WTF am I doing squatting in the bush? Such a good question.

We are off to look for Bengal tigers and other wildlife in the morning. This is the place that inspired Rudyard Kipling to write The Jungle Book.

I, however, am inspired by something else: power-shopping in Delhi in just a few days. And the day when we will sit on our own bed, having showered in our own shower, used our own clean toilet, and hang out with Riley, watching Ice Road Truckers, and laughing our asses off about this.

I am, after all, a princess. And I won’t soon forget it.


14 comments on “India: a princess in the wilderness
  1. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    Oh My-more memories-I got sick, too. And it was the day we made a 6000 step pilgrimage to a temple on a montain top on a relatively ‘bare’ landscape (read: no where to poop privately) And yes, those roads(several flat tires) and the public highway bathrooms-better to go outside!
    I took a box of Luna bars, and my friend, having been before, took adult diapers. Both came in handy. This is not a trip for wimps! But I was thrilled when I came home to learn I finally got off those annoying 7 pounds I ‘d put on a Christmas time!
    Really enjoying your posts. Wondering where Panna is in relation to Dehli? What state are in?

    • admin says:

      Oh, I wish I’d thought of diapers!! LOL Yes, I have dropped weight, too, and you are right, this is not a trip for wimps. Three more nights (it’s night time now) and even though I’ll be THRILLED to be home, I’m already teary about leaving these experiences. Some of them, anyway. Panna is southeast of Delhi in Madhya Pradesh.,maybe around 300 miles away? Enjoying your comments!

  2. A princess living in a kingdom, eh? What can I add except I hope you find some solace, beauty and good food here on out. Okay, something at least to eat that won’t make you sick. Well, I’ve read there is beauty there, and with your artistic sensibility I know you’ll find it.

    Take good care, Carol!

    • admin says:

      This has been the most powerful, the best, the worst and the hardest trip of our lives. I can’t wait to leave and I don’t want to leave, if it makes any sense. Home Sunday night late and it may be a rough re-entry. I keep asking Michael, “What do you think it’ll be like to eat fresh fruits & vegetables again?”

  3. So identify with this. I’m such a princess I consider a motel without room service a hardship. I’m pretty sure this trip would have killed me, or gotten me killed because of my constant complaining. I admire your spirit!

    • admin says:

      Well, get this: It’s a 5-star trip. There IS no more luxurious way to do this kind of thing. It’s like being on another planet. I’ll never forget it and can’t believe it’s almost over.

  4. I love traveling. Except for the actual traveling from one place to another part. Then I love teleporting exactly for the reasons you list. I hope you are feeling better and able to find food you can keep down and enjoy. May the Delhi shopping be worth it. Reminds me of the hike with the leeches my sister and I took this past March in Thailand. Or the bus ride in China at dark, up windy roads, into high altitude, after I ate something way too spicy. Keep posting as I am visiting India via you.

  5. sandra tyler says:

    what a delightful post though I’m sure it wasn’t delightful at the time:) I would love to use it in our upcoming issue of The Woven Tale Press. I also really loved the post about your mother in ICU but then saw that it has already been published in another magazine. You retain all rights to your material but wish I’d found that one soon:)
    If interested, and I hope so, please email me at referencing this post’s url. And if you have other (otherwise unpublished) posts you’d like us to consider, send along those urls as well.
    Sandra Tyler

  6. chuck house says:

    My first trip to India was in December 1978, coming off stops in Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Taipei. Taipei was ‘interesting’ because President Carter chose to disavow the treaty while we were there; the locals didn’t take as kindly to Americans the next day as they had the day before, so we were thrilled to leave for Bangkok and then Bombay. Until we got to Bombay.

    After two weeks all over India, I had eaten maybe four times–each one resulting in the Delhi belly routine. Eat, get sick for three to four days; starving, you decide to eat again–repeat, just like a software “Jump to… subroutine.” Carol, your thought about India as one gigantic ‘fat farm excursion’ is apt. The worst was the beheaded monkey in Hyderabad, where since I was the guest of honor, I got to ‘eat first.’ Oh, boy….

    We were in Bangalore long enough for me to decide the town could use a satellite connection for our HP work; in combo with Bell Labs, Motorola, TI and the Indian Institute of Science (NOT the Indian Institute of Technology that is touted so much in America by IIT grads–of which there isn’t one in Bangalore), we got one installed in a mere seven years. And created the ‘Bangalore miracle’–or debacle depending on your point of view. Growing the population by 12x in 30 years is essentially a recipe for disaster if the infrastructure isn’t there or built concurrently. It wasn’t.

    Carol, your images are so graphic I almost relived my first trip. I think I thank you!
    Welcome home

    • admin says:

      Beheaded monkey? A&K would NEVER let that happen to us!! Yes, I am thrilled at the opportunity to jump start a diet before the holidays and take yet another course of antibiotic–NOT.

      I haven’t mentioned that our pilot from Agra to Varanasi forgot to put landing gear down and had to go ’round again before landing the other day. Michael & I look fwd to having a beer with you and discussing our trips to India. I know you have the tales!

  7. Haralee says:

    What a great experience, that is to read!

  8. Susan Cooper says:

    Travel is definitely an adventure. You help on like a queen. 🙂

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