Day 1: Nameste!
After 28 hours of travelling and what felt like an entire day of 'dinner' (time zones, plane food blah blah..) Mr. Paneth and Mr. Jess (our Indian Costa Coffee names) finally reached their destination..asleep and were kindly awoken by our taxi driver. In the characteristically Indian abrupt, yet friendly manner we were instructed to attend lunch and be ready for a jaunt up to the Ranthambore Fort, after a short nap. It should be said that having never considered myself an exotic specimen or worthy of bedroom wall fame, I'm choosing to take the constant stares and photos in good faith - even if I remain somewhat bemused by it all. The fort itself was 7km area upon the cliff top with areas of dilapidation juxtaposed next to new projects with the inhabitants of Langurs, Macaques, parakeet, chipmunks along with the usual array of domestic livestock, the fort felt as alive and bustling as the towns and forest below. The centre of activity was clearly the temple to Ganesh which we visited with our guide who donated some biscuit-type mixture and prayed.. Whilst we stood like dummies in the background still too tired, hazed and confused to pick up on the goings on.. and considered with bemusement our newly acquired bindi. Gladly I can assure you that with a little more sleep, humanity is returning to my body and India is starting to make some more sense..
Ranthambore National Park is a vast nature reserve with an estimated tiger population of 50-55, discussions are being held around extending the boundaries, which would hopefully allow this successful breeding and with plentiful prey should see this continue to rise. I would list the animals we saw here during the safaris, except it would be rather extensive - but I have listed them at the end of their sections (as far as I can remember). On both days, we went of two safaris, one at 6am and one at 3pm.
#1 in zone 2, we thought was fabulous despite not seeing any tiger - we saw almost every other wild animal that we would see for the next two days, including a chance glance of a spotted eagle, laggar falcon and a wise old owl sat in a tree! The dawn light of the morning safari gives such a dreamy and ethereal light - it was definitely my favourite time of day and the eerie calls of the peacock and langur monkeys sat in the Banu trees all added to the ambience! After an hour or so, we heard the bark-like alarm calls echo throughout the forest and in a haste only possible for Indian drivers, we followed the tracks to the location of the alarm calls of the spotted deer. Unfortunately, despite great attempts to locate the cat alerting the deer, the thick undergrowth made this impossible - nevertheless, I felt very excited and couldn't wait for the next safari!
#2 in zone 3, often suggested as the 'best' zone, didn't fail us - after another hour or so we just happened across a group of 20+ jeeps surrounding a beautiful juvenile adult tiger, ‘Arrowhead’ who is 2.5 years old, resting in the shade. To begin with I would've been happy with a slight glimpse, but to see her in the open 10 meters away I just wanted to get closer -it seems that she agreed becuase as soon as we pulled in close, she got up to walk towards us and laid down in the large puddle in front of us! After getting our fill, we allowed other groups to move closer and we headed back to the rest of the zone to see what else we could see, giddy and feeling as though if ever there was a good omen for the rest of the month – this would be it!
Arrowhead in Rathambore
Upon our arrival back at the hotel we were greeted with a whole gang of over exuberant American children and their accompanying adoptive parents.. Clearly it’s a fashion to adopt Indian children in Arizona.. Anyway, since their arrival we have eaten all our meals together with them at their table- safe to say they haven't proven themselves to be incredibly open to new cultures, despite being 'extensively travelled' but at least they were friendly to us!
#3 safari was just magnificent, it was in Zone 4 and within 10 minutes of driving into the reserve the driver suddenly shouted 'tiger tiger' and in the thick bush he had spotted her! He raced ahead as he predicted she would walk along the road (tigers are very precious about their soft pads) and as prophesied she did just that. This tiger was T22 - Krishna, mother of three juveniles: Arrowhead, Lightening and Pacman (the male). After following us for at least 10 minutes her expression instantly changed from one of disinterest to fixated obsession - she had spotted a sambar deer in the forest. The sambar deer have such poor eyesight it had yet to see her, despite her being in the open, she lay in wait stock still. However after a short while it moved on, out of ambush range. But in an instant she moved on to another deer behind the truck, yet for a moment I thought she had decided I looked rather tempting as I hadn’t noticed the deer right behind me and the truck! It caught her scent and stood alert calling and she disappeared into the undergrowth so we left her be for her hunt. Since there was most of the safari still left - we continued as within this zone are three females territories. Only 2 minutes around the corner we see another jeep all intently snapping at a distant figure between the trees, a tigress called Lightning.
More shy than her sister, she stayed laying at a reasonable distance for a few minutes before moving off deeper into the gorge. A sighting which was more than I could have hope for before today! Moving on for a second time to see whether this would be a hat-trick we listened for any alarm calls to give us some bearing.. Eventually after driving around there we found a huge group of safari vehicles on the border or zones 4+3 - arrowhead being the usual poser she is was strutting her stuff right in front of everyone. Female tigers have a range of 7 square Km, compared to males with 20 (according to our guide), this means a males territory covers around three females. Also, as it the case with these three females, the daughters are accepted to remain in the mothers territory until 3.5 years-ish, this courtesy is not extended to their sons who have to leave at 2.5 years old. Without wishing to be repetitive, we went on a fourth safari, having previously thought that the likelihood of seeing a tiger would be so small we should make the most of the opportunity - well guess what, we saw another tiger in zone 5 T21- a big male though, son of a tigress known to eat crocodiles for breakfast! *Who unfortunately I heard had died since I have arrived back in England :( * On the way back from this safari we saw three snakes in a tree being attacked by a very disgruntled Mynah (bird) - it was hilarious to witness and we all felt ourselves backing the birds plight to save its eggs!!
Our last breakfast at Raj Palace felt sad, the Indian man-friend (un-pronounceable name) we had made seemed a little sad too - but all three of us were pleased to have a selfie and we gave him a rather large tip to help see his little boy and wife back in Mumbai over the low season!
Okay – so I know we were typical white tourists, and yes I’m sure he was nice to me in the hope of some money, but at least he was polite – which is more than can be said more-often here… so we justified it to ourselves, despite telling ourselves we must get a little meaner!
So there appears to be a mis-understanding regarding time or pre-arranged agreements - we agree 09:30 for pick up and at 08:50 our transfer arrives and argues that we should be ready.... I won’t begin to rant. After a brief stop off to meet the taxi mans brother on the side of a main road where wads of cash and many smiles from brother and nephew were exchanged (whilst we began to come rather concerned we may have just been sold for 1000 rupees), we did arrive safely in Jaipur. Upon arrival we were directed to our rooms - a confusion in itself - then we were given a mammoth portion of curry which defeated the both of us during the heat of the day (which was over 45 degrees!!), and I am not a ‘small portion’-type girl. We then spent the rest of the afternoon fretting that we had offended someone greatly, since they commented – ‘oh don't you like rice?!’. The language barrier may well prove a difficulty with communicating with the compound staff, yet the vets have all studied in English and even if accent increases the difficulty, we hope to become more ‘tuned in’! We are still practicing our Hindi - can't say progress is particularly fast, but we take the mick out of ourselves plenty and that seems to go down well! After meeting Jack Reece, a Liverpool alumnus who has been here for 20 years, we had a brief tour of the inner workings of the ABC, rescue, camel and large animal work that goes on - there are still a lot of questions to be answered but one thing I agree with him whole-heartedly on is that I would rather be a cow anywhere else in the world! I won't elaborate now as I feel that throughout the next 4 weeks, the reasons will become clear! For now at least, I am going to wipe the distinctly large globules of sweat from my forehead.. Looks like we will be living without Air conditioning for some time! God help me.
As predicted I'm covered in ant bites and slept barely a wink. The best way to describe the weather last night I must quote from a German man we met in Ranthambore - he said India is like being in a 'constant hairdryer'. Well, until now I would have said it was bareable, but after last night I agree with him whole-heartedly. We found out that it was 48 degrees yesterday, with lows of 30 overnight - quite enough I can tell you! Moving on past my exciting but sweaty sleep, the morning brought the relief of a little English rain. Because of the rain, no dogs were caught for the ABC - this meant there was little for us to do and thankfully Jack talked us through all the ins and outs and tried to explain some of the more confusing details regarding Indian culture and the cast system. Some of the vets had started to explain this last night and it surprised me how open they were about it. All the vets are from 'lower' casts with illiterate parents who after saving and working hard were able to put themselves through the five years of veterinary in one of the 40 veterinary schools in India! One of them has spoken to us in detail about his time at veterinary collage and his recent masters qualification - it was awful to hear about the fact that due to his tutor disapproving of his cast becoming educated he refused to mark his undergraduate work resulting in him being very late in graduating! That very English part of me felt embarrassed and unsure how to respond to the outright discrimination some of them suffered due to being low cast, despite the fact that back at home people have told me the cast system has been demolished, no one here has concurred at all! What we are, it seems, going to take a while to adjust to is our role in this complex social hierarchy - being white instantly puts us in higher social circle, and being veterinarians (or in fact students..) does, however being women seems to confuse this entirely. It is not that women are not high cast however there seems to be some confusion with regard to white women and what is appropriate. We have been advised to shake hands with high cast men who offer, but not those of lower cast - though really it is impossible to tell for us on the most part. Both myself and Jessica have come to agree that the confusion surrounding opinions of white women, actually stems from Hollywoods impression of us being rather 'easy' in comparison with the expected behaviour of their own women, particularly the 'outreachable' high cast women. Whether this assumption holds any truth has yet to been ascertained, but so far it is the most probable explanation I can attain. It would also explain a lot of their questions and assumptions. Anyway, after this history lesson and lunch we assisted or rather watched, the treatment of the rescue cases. To generalise, all were of body condition 1/5 and dehydrated, most with diarrhoea +- vomiting +- or mange. A few others had wounds, mostly minor, however one with a severe spinal injury and hindlimb paralysis was there. Clearly this dog will not recover given the treatment available however it is law in India to keep an animal for 2 days before it can be euthanased. Moving onto the cow shed we saw a heifer calf with a complete open fracture of the metacarpal. One vet, who has told us since that he is non-religious feels that the calf will ultimately die and to provide pain relief only, however another vet was more determined to splint the break. This was done, before the other vet had had time to administer local anaesthetic, however at least this would take effect for after the procedure. Euthanasia of cows in India is illegal, however buffalo are not considered sacred and therefore euthanasia is allowed. At the end of the day, after lots more chatting and getting to know people we attempted to head out in search of fruit - we went the wrong way (my fault) and ended up meeting some men from HIS who called us over for chai – 5 rupees a cup! And then one took pity on us (Manoj, atheist vet) and went fruit shopping with us where we bought 1kg of mango (Aam) for 80 rupees, 1 kg if bananas (kele) for 25 rupees – very excited about the prices!
This morning was again a little muddled, but eventually operations began and we watched Jack do the fastest and most adept neutering procedures I have ever seen. The ABC system works something like a factory, whereby compounded (essentially vet nurses) collect animals and induce anaesthesia whilst the vet operates on another, the dogs are swapped and the vet continues, with barely any delay. There is no doubt that this is unbelievably efficient and very much unlike anything found in the UK. Additionally, because flank spay are conducted, there were some differences to the common midline spay at home we are used to - so my confidence in my abilities has already fallen. However, after one month hopefully I will get the hang of it. On a more confident note, the IV fluid bags I have placed using a butterfly cannula were all easy and correct.
Day routine at HIS: Without wishing to become somewhat repetitive, as our routine continued along the lines of: 08:00 - 10:30 neuter, 10:30 - 13:00 assist rescue center, lunch, 14:00+ assist rescue, attend rescues, help in surgeries, assist in dispensary. We discovered that the cows of India are incrediably different to those at home - they have neither respect nor fear of humans and if you deprive them of the chapattis they have come to expect, they will butt you.. hard! Within an short number of days, both of us, saw our skill and neutering technique take off dramatically. The intra-dermal sutures which began a little loose, a little tight (those that accidentally became non-intradermal and needed un-picking) were coming together and by the end of the month - we had cracked it!
Life started pretty early this morning, 0530 in fact as we were to get to Yoga for 0600 in the local botanical gardens. It transpires that meditation is a spectator sport in India and if there happens to be a couple of white girls attempting to copy a young Indian - all the better! Apparently morning yoga will suppress the appetite and improve your mood and wakefulness throughout the day.. Can't say I found any of this true for myself except perhaps the appetite - though I truly think the heat and humidity is to blame there! I am happy to attempt any yoga positions in public, however during this rather casual morning class sitting in a circle with eyes closed saying Om was rather too much for my British nature. I resorted to humming instead, and I think Jess kept to a silent smirk during this section. The day progressed in much the same way as normal - I was in the rescue centre attempting to get my hands into as many cases as possible but on the evening we decided to head to Jaipur to explore. It was getting dim as we arrived but the bazaars don't close until 22:00 in jaipur so that wasn't anything to worry about. Crossing the road however.. Was. In he day it can only be described as a leap of faith.. So in the dark when you are poorly visible and the street lighting is poor and most cars don't feel the need for headlights - crossing the road can only be described as a miracle of stupidity. Nevertheless - we have survived and thanks to our casual adoption to any group of locals, some of which will even gesture to us to cross with them, in some kind of pity. Anyway - we arrive at Agmiri gate and start shopping along the bazaar.
I felt less able to wuss out of 'Ohm-ing'.. so I did, in a painfully higher pitch than all other yoga-goers in the gardens.
At Choki Dhani
At 07:30 was told to meet the camel vet to leave with the mobile clinic.. Well at 09:30 we left but this is India after all. On Fridays Dr Swami visits two villages and any camels en route. Most of the clients are 'regulars' as the camel clinic provides a free service to all owners in the vicinity and routine 3 monthly de-worming medications, replace horrible wooden nose pegs and if young providing halters and cart reflectors in addition. At the first camel, who was lying in the central reservation of a duel carriageway - contrary to your probable assumption - it was not recumbent and unable to walk, rather his owner had chosen this as a suitable location to meet the vet...! Anyway.. During the treatment of this animal who had a large abscess just behind its eye I naively asked dr swami if it was common to attract such a crowd as we found ourselves encircled by 20+ men and a smattering or women and children. Of course I was thinking that in England perhaps a camel and ambulance would attract a great deal of attention from passers by. No, it doesn't as camels are as common as tuk tuks. But a girl stood with such camel and ambulance is In fact entertainment worthy of pulling over on your commute to work. Well, let's be frank - a white girl irrespective of her location appears to be worthy of a solid 30second starteat the very least! And.. (I'm positive this is the truth as so many were busy yabbering on their mobiles) it seems I am worthy of ringing friends to come see the wonder that is this sweaty, freckly, slightly overweight white girl who, to the general Indian is either a monster of gods creation of some pasty exotic species. So anyway, moving on past the curiosity that I am - Trypanosomes are a common intra-erythrocytic parasite in India of camels are cause general lethargy and anaemia - we saw a number of cases today and dehydration is also regularly seen, despite the camels amazing ability to minimise water consumption, complete lack of will eventually result in dehydration. I gave fluids, IM injections, helped poor litres of liquid paraffin down a rather unappreciative camels throat and lance an abscess just by the eye. Treatment generally was a combination of the following - pain meds, antibiotics, vitamin b, herbal dietary supplement with debridment of wounds and application of antiseptic and anti parasitic spray if necessary. Mange is also commonly seen in camels here and we treated one exactly the same way as the dogs at HIS.
So today we visited the Amber fort or Amer fort (if your Indian) which is the last residency of the maharaja of jaipur as its situated at 'old jaipur'. It is recommended to get a tour guide to assist you as there are never any signs etc to help or give information - so Manesh lead the way. You can ride an elephant up to the fort however we were uneasy and unsure of the welfare, plus the fact it was bloody expensive! Manesh was good in insisting of taking photos, painfully so in fact and he did provide good accurate information (I think, but I must admit I got bored easily). The fort is really spectacular in size and you can see the longest wall in India too, which is rather how I imagine the Great Wall of China to be like. We saw the vast water well that underlies the entire structure by which every drain flows into and the well pulley system to reach this rainwater which is rather impressive and something we rarely worry about in England. But other than this - I can't say much about it.. I never was a history boff. On our return to Jaipur, we had a nice afternoon shopping, followed by dinner at the Indian coffee house (recommended as stomach -afe food by Jack)... It isn't a coffee house.. I think they misspelt curry instead.
We went to Pushkar! and ate.. Nutella and banana pancakes! Okay, this is outrageously 'un-indian' BUT banana pancakes are in the lonely planet in the section about pushkar... So, I justified it! And really all we then preceded to do it potter around the town, do some shopping which is significantly cheaper than Jaipur (for westerners!), visit the Holy Lake where I took undercover photos and a Sikh temple, because to be honest we've all been to enough Hindu temples for a lifetime now. But most importantly we met some university friends and relaxed - something which, without realising, we hadn't done since arriving at HIS!
We were supposed to go dog catching, but when combined with intense stomach cramps and, okay, vigorous peristaltic movements, both oral and aboral... we opted out of a 5:00am start. Later, not knowing whether I could successfully undertake surgery or not (as felt like the sterility of operation theatre may be compromised of I projectile vomited all over it), I tentatively began to scrub in. Thankfully - all was well, and I completed my highest number in a day, 10 neutering procedures. Feeling relatively proud of myself distracted myself slightly from my stomach pains, we got on with the day.
We took a bull to the Guyshala (cow sanctuary). Euthanasia is not permitted, and it is strictly adhered to here, so you can imagine some of states of these cows. In this Guyshala, which only serves Jaipur and is NOT the only Guyshala in the area, there is 17,000 cows! That, please believe me, is an in-ordinate number of cows.
We were invited to see a well rescue! After stopping numerous times along the way for directions to this remote village (and for Chai!) we arrived to find a dog, appearing to be healthy and unscathed, at the bottom of an empty 120ft well where it had been for four days. Previous attempts to rescue the dog had been to put vegetables inside a crate and wait for it to trap itself inside and pulley it up. Safe to say the dog wasn't inspired by corn and chose to stay outside the well. So take 2: lower a looped rope and aim to hook the dogs body inside the loop and pull up. This took a considerable amount of time! Whilst there was light in the sky, me and Jess drew a lot of attention, but as darkness set in people barely seemed to notice us. So much so that a lady placed her baby on my head to peer into the well, when I turned around amused, to smile at the typically Indian intrusion of my privacy, the lady exclaimed with shock - Clearly having assumed I was a fellow Indian! After she had recovered from her apparent embarrassment she invited us (in 100% Hindi.. hand gestures were vital) to see her house. We obliged and saw the women working and living by firelight, cooking dinner and making chai. They lived such a basic life, it was really nice to see. Oh and, be happy - the dog was rescued and ran off before we could get a good look at it!
In the evening, we all ate dinner together and the men taught me to make chappatis, which was really fun, even if they did mock me bitterly to begin with (until I began to show an acceptable chapatti rolling skill)!
Today we chose to spend our day off with an elephant vet - what a great day off!!! Ravindra, the elephant paravet collected us from Amer and we went to the elephant village, created by Rajasthani govn. Predictably they'd been a little over zealous with the planning and therefore, in true Indian style it was only partially completed. Though the good bits look excellent - so hopefully, one day it will be completed. We met a mahout - a very fluent English speaker who talked to us about his elephant, ginjai (sounded like this) who was 35, whilst he prepared a water and herb body rub. He'd only been with her 4 years after his previous elephant passed away and from 'Ginjai's' poor diet previously ,she had a cataract in her left eye. He's from a family of generations of mahouts and talked about his idyllic (seemingly to us) childhood playing with elephants! Ginjai knew 36 words, as we were proudly informed and she was so sensitive to his commands, in a good way, it was incredible! She would take steps forward, backward, sideways, stop and he told us that she had commands to graze leisurely and to eat up fast! This is the elephant we had lots of photos with as she cooled herself and blew saliva all over is both!
Ravindra spoke to us about some of the common problems - principally they suffer wounds, not maliciously inflicted but from pressure sores from sleeping. For this reason the charity is trying to suggest and aid the use of rubber matting over the concrete so soften the surface and with a long term view to supplying electric fencing to the wider area so that elephants can wander in the day freely, and only be tethered over night. All of this would bring health benefits to these BFGs!! JEWEL has ensured certain standards are maintained by the mahouts, and elephants work one day at the fort, and have every other day off (in low season certainly). The metal spiked ankur is banned and use of a wooden one only is allowed. Training of mahouts in positive reinforcement techniques, good harnessing and loading has been conducted by JEWEL too. All elephants are vaccinated against foot and mouth, rabies and tetanus, regularly wormed and given vitamin supplements to try to make up for a poor diet, for free. Due to the climate, the diet varies hugely in rainy and dry seasons (and even with 15kg of chappatis a day per elephant,) this simply doesn't provide the nutrients they need and vitamin D deficiency (ricketts) and vitamin A deficiency (cloudy eyes) are really common.
After moving to the next elephant we were shown a place where tourist bathe and paint the elephants, unfortunately the pool was being cleaned because Ravindra said otherwise we might have had a go! Oh well! Most of the other elephants we saw had old/healing abscesses that had been successfully treated daily for months (so nothing too gory for us!) but the last case was an elephant with foot rot. I have no idea what agent causes this in elephants but one hind leg was extremely bad and the other was mod-severe and I'm not going to discuss this in much detail, but I will say - the elephant and mahout were not part of the elephant village system.
On our last evening in Jaipur, we attended a cooking class - fantastic. It was extremely expensive, but I happily gave him every rupee! We spent 3.5 hours there and made more food than necessary for a family of 5 rugby players. He had previously spent 11 years working for various sheiks and the prince Royal of Dubai - a little high pressure I think. The skill of this man was not in question and perhaps for our level of culinary expertise he was a little too fancy, but there was no alternative in Jaipur so there we went. I'm so glad we did too. They had a Great Dane rescue that they had found in the street with ricketts which help in suffering had successfully casted and treated!