Hotel Tsaritsino, Moskva,
The cab touches my hotel at 0730 tomorrow.
I have to attend to my professional assignment at 0815. I have been left tired, bruised and sore after a 2 day trip to Dmitrovsky Pogost.
Yet, what inspires me to write is the underlying fear that tomorrow may not be as beautiful as today and tomorrow’s difficulties may overpower the joy of the last two days.
Somewhere on Profsoyuznaya Street, Moskva,
I was feeling a little sick because of the unusual heat in Moscow, aggravated by the absence of a fan in my hotel. The hotel people probably never anticipated the heat wave.
The office was a big relief because of the AC. I was already dreaming of a relaxed Saturday and a quiet Sunday where I would do nothing & sit like a rock.
Every 6 hours, I would get up to cook something and then get back to the being a rock.
The dream suddenly snapped, Sankar offered that we should make a trip to his fiancée’s country home. Initially I was a little skeptical, thinking of things that general urban idiots think of.
For me, lying like a stone was very important and relieving.
Then Amit pushed.. and when the boss asks, you don’t deny.
I am glad I didn’t. And you’ll soon know why.
Hotel Tsaritsino, Moskva,
The alarm rings, like a robot instructed to wake up, I get going. Run to the kitchen, make some Indian breakfast , pack it in the box and head to the metro with Amit.
At Kolomenskaya metro we meet Sudarshan, Divya, Jaspreet, Kiran, Sankar, Natasha, Marina & Natasha Ivanova.
For ease of understanding, let me codename Sankar’s Natasha as N1 and my colleague Natasha as N2.
We buy lots of water at & start the train journey, the heat was getting to us, but slowly the body adjusted, and the country scenery whizzing past only added to the pleasure.
We reached a place called Shatura (N1’s mom tells us that this is very famous for wood and furniture).
The place was looking good and calm, but the way to an Indian’s heart is definitely through his stomach and there was a McD just 50 mtrs away.
Jaspreet and I started making hungry noises, Sankar like a responsible father goaded us to move on.
We then boarded a mini van and made our way ahead to the village.
Pine trees on both sides, a winding and traffic-free countryside road, what else could a city-bred idiot wish for?
This was really beginning to inspire me! I wondered, if the prelude was so good, what would the main course hold for me?
Dmitrovsky Pogost village,
150 kms south east of Moscow.
Few minutes later, we reached N1’s home.
It was over a hundred years old. An old wooden house, very beautiful in structure and in location.
From the inside it just reminded me of my great grandfather’s home that I had seen in pictures. Very nice and cosy.
We were a little dirty, so we got a garden hose and without thinking much started it and the freezing cold water hit Sudarshan first, then Jaspreet and then me, but we enjoyed it.
We made a barbeque and had a wonderful time.
The vegetarian barbeque took a while longer and much to the chagrin of vegans like Amit, Sudarshan and others, the potatoes did not come out that well.
Meanwhile N2 was waiting for someone who could eat meat and me and Jaspreet jumped! This was after a long while since we were denied food at McD’s :P
We were hungry, had our hearts content and set out for a walk.
I had a badminton racquet in my hand which came in handy for killing the flies and mosquitoes.
We were trying to reach the river. The vegetation grew and so did the mosquitoes and blood sucking parasites.
The pine trees towered 50 feet over us on each side and the mosquitoes surrounded us!
The racquet could help only to an extent, there were red marks of bites on all our bodies. Huffing, puffing and jumping like Jitender we reached the river, or rather a rivulet, or maybe a canal, or say just a water stream.
[TRIVIA : Jitender was an Indian film actor who was famous for jumping and dancing]
Vladimir(N1’s cousin jumped and swam effortlessly, Amit followed, but stopped at the shore, me and Sid braved our instincts and said.. why not!
In the river, we drenched ourselves in mud, when we came out, we looked like two fat bears.
Black, huge & hairy. The mud had piled everywhere on us.
We somehow washed ourselves, but we were still very very dirty. My white and green shots had turned black and black. Once I came out, I realized I had cut my feet somewhere, and I was bleeding.
The sight was a little overwhelming while the pain was not.
But N1’s mom just did something that amazed me. She took the bicycle and rode up at least 4 kms and back just to get me an antiseptic and a band-aid.
I was touched, but couldn’t thank her much because of my language issues and I did not want someone to translate because it was not an official matter.
Once back home, I had a numbing cold water shower to clean myself, but the shorts I had worn were beyond repair.
Went in, had some rest.
When I came out after an hour, I saw my shorts on a cloth line almost white and green again!
Puzzled, I enquired and Kiran told me that Marina(N1’s mom) had washed it clean.
I don’t know what went through me, I was feeling like a kid. She took care of us more like a mother than like a host.
I was touched.
Somwhere in the Dmitrovsky Pogost village,
N2 went to sleep, however we all thought we should be having some fun. So we went out for a walk.
There N1 had called a friend of hers, Julia who played guitar.
It was 1 am in the night and we all eagerly sat like children in a row on the road in front of her.
That was the last time we felt reality that night.
Once she started singing and playing the guitar, we were all taken into a different world altogether.
She sang Russian, but music has no barriers they say.
We connected at a level which was way beyond watching or listening to an artiste on television or movies.
I could not believe the talent that was being showcased. It was an out of the world experience.
The songs were all wonderful and her voice – SURREAL.
I have never seen a better singer.
On the bed, Dmitrovsky Pogost,
My alarm rings.
Amit : “Hey Akshay, get up man”
Me : “Amit, nobody is up, what will we do.. lets keep sleeping for some more time”
Amit : ”Damn.. I think I have become old, because old people sleep less”
Me : “Oh no, don’t worry… by the way.. look at Sudarshan, going by your theory, he must a 6 month old baby then!”
We all have breakfast a while later and proceed to Belayaozra lake.
All through, I was expecting this to be a secluded lake with little human activity.
Once we reached there, we saw a bikini clad sea of humanity!
This part of the world, the crowd really enjoys sun bathing! It looked no less that a mini Goa or a Miami.
We were all eager to jump in.
I was a little skeptical because of my cuts and bruises, but then it was a fresh water lake and I wasn’t able to resist myself any longer. Took the dive and never wanted to come back.
All of us had a whale of a time playing throw-ball in the water. It was a superlative afternoon spent. We went in, came out, again went in and had multiple rounds of dips.
Very refreshed through the soul and tired through the body we came back home at 5 in the evening and started our trip back home.
Back in Moskva, in my hotel, the comfort and environ is something else, the 1 centimeter mosquitoes are gone, there are no flies.
What there is, is a bath tub, some neatly arranged utensils in the kitchen and a nicely set up living room.
But still there is something amiss.
That thing is a human’s connect with nature.
All of us are so tied up in the daily race that we indulge in, that we forget the smaller joys of life. We had our heart’s fill of these joys in the last 2 days and I have to thank Sankar for that.
I have to thank Natasha who let us in to her wonderful home. We were a bit clumsy because we were too many in number, but never did we even once feel out of place.
Natasha’s mom was the perfect host. She took care of us all to such a degree that we all started feeling at home from day one. She made it a home away from home for all of us.
We would never have imagined being at such comfort in a Russian village 5000 kilometers away from India.
It was a weekend that all of us would remember for a long long time to come.It was Russian countryside explored like very few people had done.
At least like very few Indians had done.
To us, it was a gift, a gift – From Russia with love.
Yeah some of the things i love!
done with the holiday planning for this year.. somehow it just reminds me of the holiday last year..
It just feels like yesterday.
Though the holiday consisted of Corbett, Nainital and Agra.. for the sake of my love for wildlife, i would call it the Corbett trip.
Lots of planning had gone into it. Right from the bookings for the trains and flights to the stay in the forest.. everything had to be taken care of.
Thankfully for me, Tina my wife, also has an eye for detail and that makes the planning part a lot easier. Had even one of us been the causal, 'chalta hai' traveller who is content with 'flight-nahi-toh-train-and-train-nahi-toh-bus' attitude like the current XBox generation, our holiday life wouldn't have existed.
We readied the plan for March in December itself. Took half a day off from office to go to the KMVN office at Hyd to book the forest lodge. Got the air tickets to Delhi done and we were done to go!
Day 1 : Flight from Hyd to Delhi -
4 people, me, Tina, Vijay(my college pal) and Vyanks(the Finacle wonderboy) were onboard. Night flight, what else could you expect? Dozed off till we reached Delhi.
There, my overzealous cousin picked us up from the airport and took us home for the nightstay and we were served yummy home food.
Day 2 : The trip begins -
Early morning, a decent looking car picked us up from our house and we started the trip to Corbett. The journey was dusty as expected on Indian roads.. but the highway was pretty good except for places where we encountered villages and overcrowded towns. We stopped somewhere in UP hinterland at a dhaba for breakfast which was amazingly cheap and good in terms of food. Paranthas aren't the prescribed food for road journeys but with a Punjabi foodie on board.. paranthas were the way to go!
The journey lasted for about 5 hours and we kept ourselves busy by talking ... mostly about college :)
Once we reached KMVN in Ramnagar, we were taken to a decent looking but old guesthouse where we were asked to wait for getting the permits. It pretty much functions the old sarkaari way, but then they cannot let every tom dick and harry into the tiger territory :). I just couldnt wait to get in, the wait was killing me.
Half an hour flat, our over friendly driver, Sunil got us inside the gates of Dhikala which is one of the four zones that the park has. Do not confuse Dhikala to be a small area... it could be of the size of a small city like Mysore or Pune.
The entry was symbolic. Something like this :
Once inside, the feeling was surreal.. our driver was over enthusiastic but had a very good eye which amazed us. He kept spotting fauna which were camouflaged. We then had to use Binoculars or the video cam to zoom in and see...
He also tended to exaggerate a lot.. he said that the last time he came here, he saw a tiger on the road which we all just laughed off :)
Dhikala FRH(Forest Rest House) is about 40 kms inside the jungle from the gate.. the road is anything but motorable, so dont take your car :) .. but if you are in a taxi.. then there are very few things that you will ever compare to the nature beauty on platter.
We reached FRH by 3 pm. It was a nice decent block with a few buildings. The mistake people make is that they book resorts.
I just wanna say, are you in tigerland to do the sauna? You need to be close to nature and feel the pressure of living in the dark. Thats what makes the experience worthwhile.
Anyways, had very nice tea with some snacks and the person at the front desk was kind enough to us.. he was ever smiling.. the pahadi people always do. Thats why i love them!
He got us an elephant safari arranged for the next morning.
We wandered outside the cafeteria when we saw some commotion in the grasslands in front of us.. people said.. "Tiger, Tiger..."
I got my binoculars out and saw a tiger chasing a herd of deers and scaring away a few kid elephants far away...so far so good..
It was dusk and darkness was approaching.
The beauty was surreal...
We had dinner and were walking to the rooms.
Then the fun began. Suddenly we realized that we couldn't see the path. The darkness in Corbett is to be seen to be believed.
To add to that, there were all kinds of sounds and calls of animals. Tina was afraid if there was a snake on the way to the room or worse still if there could be a tiger looking at us with his night vision eyes.
But then it was just about 10-20 metres which was dark. We heaved a sigh when we saw our rooms :)
Me and Tina went into our room when Vijay called out from the other.. "Akshay, do u need odomos??"
Boom.. not again.. i stepped out of my room in total darkness.. and before taking the next step jumped back in again.. "Vijay, you get it in my room please" I shouted back..
Vijay : "No ways"
Then i just took Tina to the door and showed her the darkness. It's hard to believe but i haven't seen anything as dark as that night ever.
Somehow i managed to go to their room and get the damn thing.
Day 3: Corbett -
Next morning, elephant safari was wonderful.. we got onto an elephant whose name was 'Chanchal'. I wish i had a better camera.. there were so many birds and other species that my point and shoot couldn't click.
Just before the end of it, we saw couple of other elephants which had stopped in the middle of the path.. just waiting and doing nothing.
The mahout told us that there is a tiger around. We could see the deers in alert state ready to sprint. The sound of the air was twitching their ears. The hunt was on the cards and the silence deafening.
But nothing happened. The king was around but chose not to show up in front of so many people.
All great beings on earth are solitary. I am solitary too :)
We went back dejected, but the feel of the jungle had gripped us by then.. our hearts were pounding sometime back but now we were having the yummy breakfast in the middle of the jungle.
Evening 3 pm :
We were ready for our jeep safari... we roamed the grasslands, the riverside and the reservoir.. clicked some amazing snaps.
Few of them :
We were more than happy with the sighting of the herd of wild elephants and hyenas and deer.
Just then our tour guide got a call on his walkie talkie..
watering hole 24.. he asked the driver to rush.. watering hole 24.. 24.. quick...
our jeep zipped through with amazing speed.. it was a 4*4 drive.
We were asked to hold ourselves firm.. the ride was bumpy but we were there in about 3 mins... We saw an elephant charging towards the bushes.
We were told that whenever a tiger is sighted all the resort elephants charge and create a huddle so that the tiger doesnt get violent.
Everyone waited with gasping breath. Minutes passed.. one .. two .. three... there was a countdown.. so silent. Nowhere do a group of Indians sit in such silence.
and then, an overwhelmingly idiotic moron from Delhi who had lost his senses in his Alto just before us got down from his car. People yelled at him.. "Kya kar raha hai be?? Mar jayega(What are you doing man? Wanna get killed?)"
And as lightening strikes, yellow stripes leapt 10 feet maybe couple of metres away from the lost Delhiite.
It had leapt 10 feet from one side of the path into the deep jungle the other side.
It was a tigress.
Our day was made. People were spellbound.
But that guy from Delhi, i am sure would now never get down from his car even in Delhi. His pants were wet.
But we were happy. We just saw the king of the jungle in his territory in full glory.
By now, we got used to the rules of the jungle. We thought like animals. The feeling had sunk in and we were happy that our holiday was so successful.
We had our dinner and slept peacefully.
Day 4 : Corbett -
We got up to another jeep safari.. This time we went to the other part of the jungle.
Had a long drive of about 3 hours.
By now, we were so mesmerized by the aura of the king, that we anticipated it everywhere.
But then, if the sightings were so easy, the fun would be lost. It was like an Indo-Pak match of the 90s, which happened once a year and the tension was palpable.
The joy of seeing the king in its territory is something which cannot be explained in words.
Catching him in his habitat is so different from watching it in a zoo.
We saw a lot of pug marks which indicated that he roamed the territory not so long back.
We did not get to see the king today, but our holiday was so enriching that we had forgotten the mundane city life by now.
We just did not want to leave the place.
But as they say, parting is the most difficult part.. and we had to part.
We recorded our sighting on the tiger sighting board too :)
With heavy hearts and very refreshed minds, we took leave of the king's territory.
We asked the king for permission to leave.. and he gave us a 'Roar of Approval'
We proceeded to Nainital and Agra thereafter which were beautiful too, but were holiday destinations that people generally do. So you would get a lot of matter on that elsewhere too.