Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Vellore to Gudalor

By: Siobhan

Saturday we packed all our bags into a single room before heading to our half-day dermatology clinic. We came home in the middle of the day to one shower, one toilet and two twin beds for 10 people.  We took turns napping and showering, and we tried not to bump into each other too much while we waited for our 9:30 pm departure.

Our first traveling experience within India began with a party bus! Our driver tried to make up for the fact that there was no A/C in the sweltering van by pumping the jams and Folu preformed some of his famous dance moves in the aisle. We arrived at the train station with ample time to spare and decided that we would embrace the spirit of India by passing out on the ground like the locals do.

The Mysore express arrived at 11:40pm and we were very grateful for the sleeper car. Most of us had never traveled by train in this fashion and we were pleasantly rocked to sleep. Why can’t airplanes be this comfortable? In the morning we woke up many miles from the chaos of Vellore to find ourselves rolling through rice patties and palm groves. The air was fresh and clear and those of us who were never meant to live in the city took a sigh of relief. Walking to the end of the sleeper car we discovered that the doorways were wide open and there was nothing to stop us from hanging out of a moving train (very carefully)!

We arrived in Mysore around 8am feeling almost rested and excited to see a new part of the country. Already we could tell that we had entered a different environment. The foliage seemed more lush and the air more cool.  Our driver warned us that he had driven through buckets of rain on the way to pick us up. The Monsoon! Just the night before Chandy had warned us that two years ago there was so much rain and flooding on this trip that the UCI students found themselves wading through waist high water. But that’s not the worst of it, those students got leeches from wading through that water. Leeches! But don’t worry too much about us because we are armed salt so we should be able to withstand any impending leech attack.

We decided to take a few fun detours along the way from Mysore (state of Karnatica) to our final destination of Gudalor (state of Tamil Nadu).  We first checked out the Mysore Palace, which we were surprised to find open on a Sunday.  The palace looked impressive from afar but having been on some tours of fancy buildings in the past, I didn’t expect too much.  But I was wrong, this palace was like no building I have ever seen before. There were cast iron pillars with gold leaf paint, hand carved teak ceilings, doors inlayed with ivory, solid marble banisters and peacock stained glass. We all decided that Patrick should propose to Cristina in front of the palace and he obliged so now they’re engaged! Actually this happened several weeks ago in Minnesota but now they’re doubly sure!

Our next stop was a temple with a marigold draped statue of a sacred bull carved out of the stone of the hillside. Here Dawn ran into someone she knew from college in California, what a strangely small planet we live on.

Finally we undertook the three hour drive to Gudalor through intermittent rain and two national parks. Mudumali park is actually set aside specifically as a tiger reserve but we were not lucky enough to see a tiger. Instead we saw spotted deer, wild bore, a red fox, peacocks, macque monkies,, and a family of three elephants!

Arriving here in Gudalor we were delighted to find a jungle landscape rich with the sounds of life. We chatted with Chandy on the front porch about all the incredible work that Doctor Nandu Kumar and Doctor Shila have done to improve the lives of tribal people in this area. We can’t wait to learn about the comprehensive set of projects they have set up here to not only improve health but better the lives of these indigenous peoples.

Our house in Gudalur

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