Friday, December 27, 2002

Going back a couple weeks, we spent a long Saturday hiking to Narayam Ashram high in the hills beyond Dharchula. It was our second "low-altitude adventure" in the Pithorogarh region, which means that we had to cover several thousand meters of climbing in just a few miles. Let me say that going up these hills is not mean feat, and reminds me of why I had utterly discounted the suggestion that Texas had any mountains way back when. C has shown her self to be a trooper on these treks, too! You cut through all sorts of different landscapes as you ascend, tracing terraced agricultural slopes maintained by small, multi-family villages along stoney paths built with government help who knows when. It's always a little disheartening when some tot in flipflops and his barefoot grandmother blaze by you, hauling 25-30 pounds of firewood or tending a few skinny cows and goats. As I've observed more than once: "While we're doing this for fun, the Indians are doing it for survival."

Which is not to say that such travel doesn't have its own rewards. We are learning the landscape for one thing: Charting the various valleys and rivers of the Kumaon Himalayas, spotting the tributaries of the Kali Ganga, the river which sets India apart from Nepal, and its tributaries; spotting huge vultures and the ocassional eagle coasting on thermals; seeing where the roads intersect traditional trails (and where potential mountain-bike routes might be explored). Plus, when you leave behind the city-like squalor of Dharchula, you also leave behind the corruption of new development, and are measured by a different set of locals who have long seen pilgrims pass through to these temples and ashrams in search of enlightment. So if ours comes in the form of a little hard sweat and great views, who are we to complain?

This machine is quitting, so so am I, but we'll be back online within the next couple days for fuller updates.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Apologies to any loyal readers: We have been on the road for the past week, stopping only briefly at spots where the Web was handy and useful.

It's Christmas eve, and we are in Agra, home of the Taj Majal for the night. So HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all! C and I left Dharchula just over a week ago, catching a ride with a Frenchman who's working on the dam project in a valley upstream from our temporary Kumaon home. We made Delhi in record time with Frenchie Frederic and his drivers, taking in the rough scenes of the high plains but not really seeing much in the way of sights. Given the overall travel time -- a two-day journey by jeep and train reduced to one 12-hour car ride -- that's quite alright. Before leaving Dharchula we did have time for a second trek high into the Middle Himalayan hills, where we spent the night at the Narayan Ashram (closed for winter) and were fed a wonderful, much-needed stew of potatoes and squash before making a mini-epic descent back into town. The views during this hike, including the tiny villages we passed through, made for a wonderful couple of days. Sparkling mountain streams and snowcapped peaks in the near distance remain one of my favorite climates of all time.

Since then, we have skimmed through the Eastern boundary of Rajasthan's desert clime, taking in the sights and sounds of Jaipur's old pink-painted city -- a welcoming color indeed. During this visit, we spent two days visiting with vulture researchers, including a should-be legendary Indian conservationist Harsh Vardhan. A prince among men, Harsh extended his hospitality to C and I, letting us crash on his floor, feeding us loaves of toast, and generally taking care of two weary travelers. There will be more details on this leg of the trip forthcoming... Finally, as we will bolt shortly for the Taj and a hot meal, we spent the past day at a stopping point between Jaipur and Agra at the internationally renowned Kaledeo Wildlife Sanctuary. Saw many birds, including the beautiful Black-necked stork, as well as jackals, spotted deer, a couple of species of small owls roosting and a nice sample of flora as well. Used to be substantial vulture populations in this neck of the woods, but they've been crashing (quite literally, in some cases falling out of the sky) and so can no longer be found in Kaledeo. Again, more details on all this later.

But I wanted to be sure that folks curious about our whereabouts and thoughts from the subcontinent would not be disappointed to find this blog in a fallow state. Those interested in writing feedback or asking questions might try montana_danoko@yahoo, which I've set up for the pupose of this trip. Otherwise, be in touch when we reach Delhi later this week -- with plenty more news before the New Year.