After the booze cruise, I took a few days of seclusion to do something completely random. I left the dust filled city and spent the day in the wild. I left Hyderabad at 4am for the temple of Lord Shiva in Srisailam and had no idea was to be in store for me. All I knew was that I had my trusted friends, Sainik and Sumpath, who we call Pilot (he is a pilot) at my side to experience this adventure.
Hours earlier, I was doing the booze cruise, getting back in touch with a side of me I thought I left in NYC, but before the sun could rise, I remembered where I was, and had a thrill of the path I was heading on. I have never spent more than a few hours at a time in a car in India, so this 6 hour trip really put me in my place. There was no more need for AC, as we were cruising with the windows down at a hot pace of 55mph, by far the fastest I have gone in a car here. I have no idea why Indian highways are full of speedbumps, or why the roads don’t give warning when approaching one.
The original plan was to leave the night before and not drive at 5am, but we found out that a 3 hour strip of the road is closed down after 6pm every day. Why would a major highway from one of the largest cities in the world to such a holy place visited by thousands of pilgrims shut down after sunset? Any guesses?
How about Tigers, Elephants, Sloth Bears, and tribals -yes, vicious tribals. Communist ones.
This week I made my way into the back country of India, the jungle. My friend Jake Thayer once nicknamed me Mowgli on a camping trip in Michigan, after I climbed a tree, and swung from a hose ties to it into a lake we were canoeing on. The name sort of just stuck with our friends, and though some might be offended by such a name, I sort of took pride in it, as I used to watch The Jungle book daily between the ages of 4-7.
Similar to the book, the Indian Jungle has a sense of mystery and uncertainty to it. I couldn’t help but let my mind imagine how many dangers presently lay in store for me. I must say, that the thought of it it is a bit of a natural high. We jumped off the main road when we saw our first tiger. This 30 footer symbolized the entrance of a road that would eventually take us into the deepest part of the jungle any man had gone before. (at least in my mind) I grabbed my battery-deprived camera, took a picture with the animal statue, hoped it was the closest I would get to the real thing, and jumped into the the SUV cleverly named “Tiger Patrol.”
As we speed deeper and deeper away from the Tata Indica, and into land never traveled before by a westerner I started seeing monkey’s all over the place. These monkey’s look a bit sick, red faced, shameless, and not as smart as the monkey’s I hear about. They will steal your watch if you aren’t careful though. After about 10 minutes of staring into the trees, hoping to see some orange, we came across another SUV. This vehicle had been abandoned for several hours. I looked around for traces of human life, a turban or some chuppels (sandals) at least but found nothing of the sort. Of course, it was well explained to the group in Telegu that the vehicle ran out of gas the night before, and the passengers had to walk 3 miles in the Jungle, right at the 6pm closing time to get back to the road. With God’s good graces, Shere khan did not have these people for dinner, and they survived. We grabbed a tank of water from the car and continued our conquest.
I have heard of dangerous tribals, who decide toreject civilian life, and organize terrorist attacks that kill tourists. They run highly profitable smuggling businesses and constantly plot to take over Indian politics. These people are frequently sent to their maker by the many snakes and predators in the jungle. We rode by the Nazim’s hunting getaway house and soon made it to the most beautiful view in Andra Pradesh. We were standing next to a house that looked like an ancient artifact of the region, looking out at miles of jungle thousands of feet below us.
Then I noticed our vehicle was no where in site. Perhaps the driver felt the obligation to run an errand while I was on a Tiger Safari, leaving me and my friends out to dry if we were lucky enough to see what we had come to see. The only thing that helped our chances was that there were only 6 known tigers in the region. The tiger population here is unfortunately nearly extinct.
We played around this ruined house for a while, waiting for the driver to return. I felt more secure being 40 ft in the air, without a ledge or sturdy floors than I did on the ground with the reptiles and man eating cats below me. I did get weak in the knees at one point, and decided it was best to avoid such a silly fatality, and get back down to earth and take my chances with nature. Nature vs Nurture, Nature always wins. (Wedding Crashers)
Finally the car showed up, and we got in. My Telegu tour guide told us that the house used to be a guest house for tourists, because of the beautiful view, but the local tribals decided to bomb it only 3 years ago. I was shocked. These people were still around, and I am just glad I didn’t do anything to draw their attention today.
Unfortunately/Fortunately The ride back was tiger-less. We did see more monkey’s and even a group of deer, who had no fear of human interaction. Eventually made it to the temple. It is customary to remove shoes and I burned the most of the nerves off my feet during the 4k walk on black pavement to get there from the car. I was a bit ticked off to see that I was one of the few people to remove my shoes, as there was a local business that stored your shoes for you when you went inside the temple. The walk back proved to be worse, but I refused a piggy back ride from my 130lb driver.
The temple was fascinating, a lot of things going on. Long lines – you can’t escape crowds in India unless you decide to take mother nature on a date. The temple was built in the 1500’s, part of it was completely made of gold, and people were offering all of their hair on their head to the Lord Shiva in prayer. I have never seen so many bald men and women in one place. I was asked to shave my head, but I didn’t think it would be a good look for me at this point of my life. Apparently the hair collected at this temple, and others especially in Tirupati is a huge business for trade with Europe and the West. The temple in Tirupati collects a ridiculous amount of money ($300 million per year) through offerings made by the 20 million hindu pilgrims. For a business with very little overhead, its surprisingly a global phenomenon, started in the 60’s. The money is used for public affairs, people in Tirupati get a free place to stay for one night on their trip.
My first trip to a Hindu temple was met with a violent encounter. 2 Men got in a fight in the temple over their spot in line, starting hitting and pushing each other. I don’t understand everyone’s hurry. I live by the words in the movie Goodfella’s : “Pauli might have moved slow, but that was just because Pauli didn’t have to move for anyone.
I really enjoyed the beauty of India today, risked my neck, kept my hair and spent some time with the guys, who just enjoy their religious get aways from time to time. Beats the cement jungle any day.
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