After dealing with an unexpected twist in plans, Han Zhou and I have spent the last few days on the mainland while the rest of the group enjoys the incredible wonders of the Andaman Islands. Though Han and I are obviously disappointed not to be with the group for this time or to get our time on the reefs, beaches, and forests of the Andaman Islands, we have had a great experience ourselves. Here’s an update:
Han and I were sent back to Delhi directly from the airport in Port Blair – we only caught glimpses of the Andamans through the window of our plane. We flew to Port Blair at 6am and were back in Delhi 12 hours later. It was a surreal day…
With a few days at our disposal, Han and I decided to rest for a day in Delhi to catch up on sleep, make plans, and explore some new parts of the city. We enjoyed a morning stroll around Connaught Place before the shops opened and the crowds descended. Han was impressed by the colonial architecture but surprised at home many dogs were sleeping on the sidewalks – this was nothing like China, he told me. It was interesting to compare the two developing world powers and to learn more about Han’s childhood. Though India is quite different than China, I was left feeling that perhaps the future of the two countries would bear more similarities than differences.
After our quiet morning, Han and I decided to try a much heralded restaurant that I had never had the time to visit before. We took the long way to Chor Bizarre, a unique establishment that offers some of the best Kashmiri food in Delhi in a surreal setting – each part of the restaurant is themed and meant to look like a market where thieves peddle their wares. The food was incredible. Han and I both ate more than we should have and left in something of a food coma.
We took a much needed siesta and then drove south through rush hour traffic to Saket, one of the fastest developing areas of Delhi. We worked our way to India’s only IMAX theater, where we selected our seats (so Indian) and sat down for a viewing of the new Black Panther movie. Indian movie theaters are cultural experiences. Before the opening credits rolled, we had to stand for the national anthem, order our snacks, and adjust the electronic controls on our assigned seats. Han really enjoyed the experience and we both enjoyed the movie. Go see it!
That evening, we made the final call to travel to Rajaji National Park the following day for a few days of safari and animal watching. We slept well, waiting for our early morning train the following morning.
The train ride north was interesting. We saw the bowels of towns and farmland – the areas that aren’t designed for people to see as the roadside is. It was a window into life in rural India. Han took full advantage, taking pictures and walking up and down the train car to get a better view.
When we arrived in Haridwar, Han and I were greeted by a driver who took us directly to our jungle lodge. There, we spent the afternoon exploring. We saw monkeys, deer, and many birds and hiked a nearby ridge to get a view of the area. We’re in the Shivalik hills here, on the periphery of Rajaji National Park. The surroundings are spectacular and it was really fun to explore with Han.
We also bonded with the two young men who run and manage the lodge. Han enjoyed talking with them and playing with their young chickens. That evening, the two guys excitedly called us over to a lookout point and shown their flashlight at the eyes of a leopard across the dried out river bed. Han and I got to watch two leopards in the next 30 minutes – a truly unique experience. Han is officially the first CCS student to see a leopard on one of our trips and he got to see two!
The next morning, we wet out in an open air safari truck for a trip into the national park. The game drive was exciting but we did not have the chance to see a tiger or an elephant until literally the last 5 minutes of the drive. Then, coming around a corner, we spotted him. The juvenile male elephant was standing in the middle of the road, caught looking at us as we approached. He flapped his ears before walking into the jungle and going around us to rejoin the road. We got some great pictures and both felt so lucky to have seen a leopard and now an elephant in just 12 hours.
Han has had some great quotes during our time and I have asked him to write a post, which will be posted soon. Here are some good snippets:
“I feel like my curiosity has overcome my fear.”
“India is amazing. I am so happy to be disconnected from my phone, though I miss the wifi. It’s great to know that I can have fun without technology.”
“I love to explore.”
“That monkey is not very friendly…”
Today, we are going to enjoy the festival of Holi and then travel to my family’s house in Mussoorie. Then, tomorrow, back to Delhi to rejoin the group!
Time flies when you’re having fun.