India – a soul-stirring experience

Varanasi on river Ganges, India
Nick Hodges

There wasn’t much wildlife in Delhi – unless you count the cows dicing with death in the traffic-choked streets.  Or the domestic pigs rooting in the gutter.  There might have been birds but there were so many people I could see no room for anything else. And even if birds were present, they wouldn’t have been noticed because the pollution was so thick I could hardly see across the road.

I was on my way to two nature reserves in order to sample Indian wildlife and took a flight to Nagpur where the air was cleaner and I could literally breathe a sigh of relief. I’d been trying not to breathe at all for the last 48 hours.

Nagpur was also crowded  but the countryside with peace and space was eventually reached, and the birds and squirrels began to appear.  

I had a priority list and, having driven to Kanha more or less in the middle of India, I got started with excellent views of spotted deer.  Sambar deer and gaur (Indian bison) were also seen.

Common langur monkeys were, not surprisingly, common, and two golden jackals were observed in the grasslands.  Elephants were tearing at the vegetation.

In the second reserve I did much the same: a pre-dawn rising for a jungle drive then back for a short midday rest before another outing in late afternoon.  

However, I missed the sighting of a sloth bear when I tired of the constant early morning departures and the choking dust of yet another jeep ride: I needed a lie in. Luckily I rallied for the afternoon trip when a rarely seen jungle cat put in an appearance.   

My bird list increased: herons, parrots, vultures were all spotted through my binoculars but sickness was claiming me.

The return journey to Delhi was made by train. Unfortunately all of India was at the railway station, or at least that’s how it felt. The sights, the smells, the crush were all unnerving.  I’d be glad to leave India. I’d had enough.

Or had I?  India gets into your soul (as well as your stomach).

I think I’ll go again next year…

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