Night train from Bilaspur to Muniguda, India – Tuesday, Feb 8
We woke for safari at 2:20am today, meeting our driver for a 2:30 departure we left around 3:00am IST – Indian Standard Time as Anil describes the more lax time measure in India.
Our driver deftly navigates the night roads at speeds up to 145 kph (~90 mph!) But at the edge of Chattisgahr state, the roads suddenly become concrete patches from a bygone era. I describe the final 50km of pavement as a road that was created 50 years ago, then forgotten. In places the only pavement left is in the center ridge. There are long segments of pock-marked gravel, with patching gravel neatly piled every 30 feet or so, but unused.
We arrive to the Kanha Tiger Reserve a little early and get registered for the day and find our driver. A 6:30am departure finds our jeep, with driver and guide, ready to find tigers. I decided not to bring my jacket so the first two hours is pretty cold in only a long-sleve shirt over a t-shirt. I had purchased a scarf in the market yesterday, so that helps a bit.
Although we see tiger tracks, hear tiger roars and take in an amazing landscape and variety of other animals, we don’t see a tiger. Indian bison, peacocks, spotted deer, another huge type of deer, lots of monkeys, but no tiger. Oh well, it was a beautiful day and we’re on the road back to Mungeli a little early. This is good news because we have to pack and prepare for a trip to Bissamcuttack that departs almost immediately after we get back to the hospital.
Another harrowing car ride back over the same roads gets us to Mungeli with over two hours to get ready. Unfortunately, Lisa has become sick to her stomach. Maybe a combination of the food, the lemonade and/or the car ride, but she is out for the count. She and Nate will stay behind as the rest of our group heads to Bissamcuttack.
We pack day bags and drive with Anil to Bilaspur. He is amazing – cruising through the dense traffic, avoiding bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws, other cars and cargo trucks, all while talking on his cell phone or telling an elaborate story.
In addition to my bag, Anil asks me to carry a speaker box through the train station. About the time I notice some alcohol smelling liquid leaking out, Anil says, “You should probably make sure that box stays upright, there are biopsy samples in there.” Yep, I’m carrying the carcinogenic jawbone, a uterus, part of a liver and other goodies that are now spilling their stabilizing juices onto my hands. Biohazard transport – India style!
On the train, we are in sleeper car style seating. It’s really just a row of bunks, two or four to a compartment, in a long row. Kelly and I share a compartment and I’m typing this from the bottom bunk while she sleeps above. The train is super noisy, cloth curtains separate the compartment from the walkway with an identical compartment across the walk.
They are pretty good accommodations, and given that I’ve slept, at most, two hours in the past 40, it won’t be a problem sleeping while underway. The gentle rocking of the train is soothing – I’ll be blasting the iPod to drown out the people noise though.
We boarded about 6:30 and will arrive in Muniguda about 2:00am. A short drive to Bissamcuttack and we’ll have 4-5 hours to sleep in the guest house before attending morning chapel at the mission hospital chapel at 7:30am. It’s about 8:30pm – I’m going to grab a bite to eat from Anil and another cup of tea from the chai kid before turning in for a few hours.
Click here for the safari and train photos on Flickr.
More on our travels to Bissamcuttack in the next blog entry.