Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mysore - Day 1

Fireside in my parent’s backyard – Gripping a foamy, red, Solo cup I hear the joyful laughs lap their way from the pool. The happiness just seems to have a way of echoing through the fields at my parent’s place. John is strumming out some Bowie, confirming that it is indeed Saturday night. Then the wind shifts, wafting the smoke to my stinging eyes. I roll over and awaken to an attack burning plastic wafting from the alley below as castanets ping from the hallway. A new dream begins: India.

After over 35 hours of travel via car, jet, prop plane and now bus, I’ve been awake for well over 40 some odd hours, maybe 50. It’s tough to sleep on a plane when the passenger behind you confuses a touch screen monitor with one of the punch-screen variety. Not to mention my ankle sprain developed into quite a purple, throbbing cankle while en route. Tired, groggy and limping we at once decided it best to keep our momentum and leave Bangalore immediately to continue south to a town of less severity. Three highway hours of cow dodging swerves eventually brought us here to Mysore.

Doing our best to dismiss the jetlag after an eventual pass out session, we dropped 20 rupees on an auto rickshaw and buzzed right to the zoo. It was here that we accepted our fate that we were more of an exhibit than the animals themselves. Traveling with a blond-haired, blue eyed girlfriend certainly draws some attention on the streets. But here in a place of education and wonder, these qualities instantly give you celebrity status. For hours we smiled as people shifted their gaze from the suddenly uninteresting animals to Lisa’s “opposite” complexion. Posing for group photos and responding to the inquisitive, this was a zoo experience like no other.

Heading over to the reptile exhibit, we were greeted by a smiling man in his 20’s by the name of Hariesh. A zookeeper, he had learned the trade from his late father who had taught him the zoo keeping trade since he was a young boy. In broken English and an open heart, he explains the details of his job while taking us on a tour of his vast region of responsibility: the entire retile and hippo collection. The cleaning, feeding and daily maintenance that these animals require is unsurprisingly constant. Not to mention it’s very dangerous. (not long ago, Hariesh’s father was attacked by a bull elephant, injuring him severely) But Hariesh has no qualms about jumping right in the cage and slapping a hippo on the rear with a stick to stop her from destroying a gate. And we watched in awe as he lifted a hefty 5-foot crocodile by the tail to give us closer look. He truly loves his job and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Group photos with strangers, personal zoo tours, new friends, perfect sunny weather – we were thinking that this day couldn’t get any better. Then there were the bonnet monkeys. A local troop, these free range little buddies were not caged and were truly in full effect. Anybody who knows me, knows of my fondness for these guys. We were so enthralled by the troop’s antics as one turned on a faucet to take a sip of water, then respectively turned it back off when he was finished. Others tangled and bounced their way through the trees above. And still more wrestled in the walkway. We were surrounded by the troop, who paid us no heed whatsoever. For me, this is paradise found.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the added bonus of the sweet signage displayed throughout the grounds. Here are a few of our personal faves:

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