The Birds, the Bees, and then the Peacocks!

Trip Start Apr 24, 2011
Trip End May 13, 2011

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Flag of India  , Rajasthan,
Friday, May 6, 2011

We drove south, yesterday morning, headed for a trailhead that would lead us into Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary. The road wound through the mountains, taking us by small well-tended plots of land divided by rock walls and irrigated from wells.

The method of getting the water from the well and into the irrigation ditches involves the investment of drilling through solid rock to reach water, then constructing a system of gears that transfers power from a team of oxen walking in a circle to a loop of buckets being dipped in the water below then dumped into a trough at ground level. We stopped and watched one such operation, invited to come closer by a turban-bedecked old man sitting comfortably in a cart behind the oxen.

Before hitting the trail, we stopped to review another hotel possibility in the vicinity of the trailhead. We are learning that hotels in India can be very much a part of the travel experience. Our travel philosophy includes looking for "character" or “heritage” properties to weave into the program at opportune times, but what we are experiencing in India is the concept of “heritage” taken to new heights.

Much of this seems driven by the displacement of the royalty and nobility since independence from the UK in 1947. In the past 20 years, since tourism started to blossom in India, many of the “royals” have taken property that was left to them by the government and converted their palaces and hunting lodges into accommodations for travelers – “hotels” is far too minimalist a term for these luxury experiences.

We enjoyed the walk-through of one such property, nestled among statuesque subtropical trees, then joined the jeep that was waiting to take us into Kumbhalgarh. The trail down was a steep, stone road, and we quickly decided to use the jeeps to transport the group over this section when we return in February. The road levels out after about four kilometers, and winds along the valley between huge trees – ficus, banyan, butter are a few of the species names.

Along the way we encounter blue bull antelopes and a plethora of colorful birds including an iridescent blue kingfisher, bright yellow orioles, paradise flycatchers, egrets, ibex, peacocks, woodpeckers, and more. Our turnaround point was a dammed up pond called Thandi Beri, where we plan to have a picnic-style lunch. While we scanned the pond from above with binoculars, we spotted a crocodile cruising the far side.

One of the more memorable revelations of the morning came from our local guide. He told me, with a straight face, that peacocks mate without mating. That is, procreation occurs through a veil of tears. That is, male peacock shed tears carrying sperm and the female peacocks then suck up those tears. I gave him every opportunity to back off from the story, but he insisted it is a biological fact. I can't wait to Google this one!

After a photo stop at Kumbhalgarh Fort, boasting an impressive defensive wall over 30 kilometers long (2nd in the world after the Great Wall), the main event of the afternoon was a visit to the most significant Jain temple in India.

Jainism is an offshoot of Hinduism. India, as Girish says, is a land of religious “isms”, and the overlap and contrasts between them can be bewildering. Distinguishing characteristics of Jainism seem to be: extreme pacifism; extreme vegetarianism – priests always cover their mouths to avoid ingesting, and thereby killing, any organisms; use of leather and any other animal products are strictly prohibited; transport is only by walking, again because other forms of transport kill bugs and organisms; wealth – Jains are known as canny business people; nudity – though we were spared the spectacle, priests swear off clothing since we are created naked, but make an exception and wear grass coverings to ward of winter's cold. There is much more, but these are the primary points we’ve now heard the couple of times we’ve encountered this Indian “ism”.

The evening was spent back at our very pleasant hotel, and today we drove south to Udaipur, the so-called Venice of India in preparation for the last two days of the main portion of our trip. From Udaipor, we fly to Mumbai on May 9th, where temperatures are reported to be pleasantly cool – in the low 90’s!
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