From the Kerala backwaters, we headed up into the mountains to visit Periyar National Park, famed for spotted deer, elephants, and tigers. India has a surprising number of species that we think of as African - besides those already mentioned, there are rhiconceros, leopards, wolves, wild dogs and more. Periyar is best known for its elephants. We were jaded, having already seen so many elephants in Sri Lanka, but we were up for a hike through the jungle anyway. There were plenty of deer on the drive up to the park itself. We weren't five minutes into our hike when we came across a very large, very dead deer, its neck brocken and head turned 180 degrees, just like in The Exorcist. It was a fresh tiger kill from the previous night. Apparently, the tigers likes their meat "aged" and often let the kills rot for a day or two before eating. We were thrilled to find such recent evidence of tigers so close (though, being on foot, it did make one wonder if the tiger might still be hungry). Alas, that was to be the extent of our excitement for the day. Another three hours worth of trekking bought us nothing more than an ability to identify porcupine poop (common along the trails) and a couple of very big, very sharp quills left nearby.
No, that's not how we ate our meat that evening. After the arduous wildlife trek, we opted for our first ayurvedic massage. Ayurveda is the practice of traditional Indian medicine. An ayurvedic massage is somewhat different than a traditional massage, but not by that much. We were separated, then stripped and the same-sex practitioner gracefully donned us in sort of paper (throw-away) loin cloths -- closer to a diaper, preserving our modesty -- but just barely. Scott said he looked like a well-oiled Tarzan (ok maybe more like "George of the Jungle"). Herbal oils are used, which isn't that unusual either. Unlike most western massage, this procedure used a huge quantity of oil -- probably a full pint (half litre). The oil is massaged just about everywhere, including into your hair and scalp as well, leaving one looking a bit punky at the end. Long, repeated strokes are used, more than the "deep tissue" approach used in Swedish massage etc. At the end, the massage therapist wipes down the entire mess ("you") requiring multiple towels -- then with the same deft delicateness with which the "diaper" was donned, it was doffed, and another towel supplied for self-removal of the remaining bits of oil.
At the very end comes a sauna, where one is put, naked, into a plastic box with a seat (see picture, right), with a hole in the top for one's head to stick out, as the nearby (visible) flame heats water into steam and pumps it into the box. Low tech, but it works. Scott gave the steam part a miss (he sweats like that normally), instead, getting another 15 minutes of massage. An interesting experience that cost about $10 each for 90 minutes.
After the massage, I headed off to the local Internet cafe. As I was waiting for a seat to open up, an elaborate parade went by - first the women, in beautiful saris, then the men. Occassionally, someone would carry an elaborate ceremonial umbrella. As is often the case, I had no idea what it was, but turned on my video recorder in case something exciting happened. At the end of the marchers came midevel-looking, long-bearded priests, followed by an ambulance with a wooden box it it -- at which point I realized it was a funeral procession - probably Syrian Christian.
Girl's bedroom. Sleeping mats in cornder - a gift from Intrepid Foundation Orphanage Kitchen Orphanage Bulding
As we were saying our goodbyes at the orphanage, an unexpected elephant parade passed by. This is something that seldom happens to us in New Hampshire (actually, it's never happened), but in India, all sorts of unexpected occurences are commonplace. The elephant was all dressed up, and was accompanied by music -- going right down the main drag into the center of town. It turns out there was some sort of temple festival that evening, and the elephant was on his way to kick things off. You can watch the parade here.
All these things happened in just one day in India -- and I've left several additional activities out. You can see why India is such an intense place to visit, and why it is so irresistable.