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Email: Greetings from Rajasthan, India

«Rajasthan National Parks

Date: Saturday, 29 November 2003 07:27 PST
Subject: Greetings from Rajasthan, India

Captions for pictures and sound clips:
1. Jungle scene in Keoladeo Ghana National Park (we took a boat on this river to see the next picture)
2. Storks and other birds in Keoladeo Ghana National Park
3. Sound clip of storks and other birds in Keoladeo Ghana National Park

4. Jackel in Keoladeo Ghana National Park (we saw this during our lunch)
5. Castle Jhoomar Baori in Sawai Mahopur (our lodge for three nights)
6. Langur Monkey in Ranthanbore National Park (outside of Sawai Mahopur)
7. Sambor Deer in Ranthanbore National Park (outside of Sawai Mahopur)
8. Train reservation center in Sawai Mahopur (women go to the front of the line in India)

28 November 2003 – Day #69

With our trek in the Himalayas over, we made our way back to the airport. The traffic, security checks, and crowded airport were a rude awakening. On the way to Delhi, we saw Kanchenjunga from afar (the third highest mountain in the world) as well as Everest from the window. You are not allowed to take pictures from the plane (security measure), so all we have are memories. After a night in Delhi, we hopped onto a train to the western state of Rajasthan. Here, the sights and sounds are quite different. For one, the landscape is much drier. We also see many more camels, turbans and bazaars.

There is a Parliamentary election scheduled for 1 December. It has been covered in the newspapers and on the evening news. We have also witnessed jeeps, auto rickshaws and even horse carts carrying horn-shaped loudspeakers blaring music or political slogans at 120 decibels. The sound quality is so poor that I’m quite sure no one can understand the message. In Bharatpur, our hotel was used by one of candidates running for the seat representing Rajasthan. His entourage could be found on the lawn area outside of our room. Several times, we found him in the dining room making phone calls or giving interviews to the press. The security personnel carried machine guns making it a little tense, but interesting.

The big draw in Bharatpur is the Keoladeo Ghana National Park. KNP is known for its birds. We spent the first four hours of our visit walking through the jungle with our guide. He must have pointed out thirty or forty different species of birds. For lunch, we went to the state-owned lodge. After the kids completed some homework, we then purchased tickets for a one-hour boat ride. During our ride, our guide pointed out even more birds. The neat thing was that from the boat we were able to get much closer than from land. We saw stork, ibis, heron and an Indian eagle (at this moment, our guide put out his cigarette and pointed at the graceful bird in hushed tones).

After three days in Bharatpur, we took a three-hour train to Sawai Madhopur. This is the home of the Ranthanbore National Park. This park also has a lot of birds as well as tigers. We stayed in the state-owned Castle Jhoomar Baori that is a former royal hunting lodge. It is the only hotel inside the park and is located on a hillside. It was quiet and had great views of the park and the nearby city.

Before leaving Sawai Madhopur, we decided to convert more travelers checks into the local currency (no ATMs here!). Since calling a taxi from our lodge was expensive for India ($5 each way), Sandy and I decided to simply walk to the main road. It was longer that we remembered (about one mile). We hitched a ride to the train station were we found an auto rickshaw who knew the location of the bank (there is only one bank in Sawai Madhopur). We were told that the bank stopped performing travelers check transactions after 2pm. Since it was now 1:35pm, we were getting pretty worried. We arrived at the State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur at 1:56pm.

Once inside, we were greeted by a 12-gauge-shotgun-toting security guard. He had several extra shells on his belt (just in case). He asked us to be seated with a friendly smile. After waiting for 25 minutes, we caught the eye of the bank manager as he hung up the phone. He looked surprised that we were still waiting and left his big desk to perform the transaction himself. After staring at Sandy’s passport for five minutes, he decided to turn us over to his assistant. The manager wasn’t completely useless though. We was able to order us some complimentary tea and fetch our cash later in our visit.

We wanted to cash four $100 American Express travelers checks. After Sandy countersigned the checks, the assistant stamped both the front and the back of each one. He also initialed the stamped area and again signed the back of each check. He then stamped it again with another stamp. Sandy’s height and eye color as well as her passport and visa details were entered in a giant ledger titled “Foreign Currency Note Transaction Record”. Here he noted the check numbers and the amounts. A clerk was asked to make a photocopy of Sandy’s passport and visa. After receiving the copies, the assistant filled out a form and used a straight pin to bind the form to the photocopies. He then filled another form called Bills Purchased and used another straight pin to bind it to the traveler’s checks. Finally, he filled out a third form – the receipt – in duplicate. We left the bank 55 minutes after arriving with our Rupees in hand. Our driver also helped us to purchase groceries, train tickets and make a phone call to our next hotel.

In the case of the train tickets, there was a large queue of 18 men in line to buy tickets. However, in India women always go to the front of the line, so Sandy, with our driver’s help, went right to the front and quickly bought the ticket to our next destination.

After one more day here, we will be off to Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan.

Miss you all,
Darren and Sandy