The journey between Shimla and Rishikesh welcomes us back to the India we left two or more weeks ago with warmer air and a more humid climate. The pace of life too appears more relaxed with an abundant growth of everything green sprouting from the once more fertile soils. I’m pleased to report, we found an outstanding new road curving and twisting through the hills and valleys south of Shimla with almost no other traffic. It was wonderful to enjoy the heavy tropical growth pressing on the road and to snatch views across the hills framed by lush vibrant growth with monkeys dancing in the foliage above us.
Nearing a bend, I caught glimpse of a large shadow falling from sight; it was obviously an antelope or deer? As I slowed and moved to the edge of the road Lally peered into the undergrowth and suddenly became very animated. A high-pitched voice began squealing, “It’s a Leo_ard, it’s a Leo_ard”! I have several years experience of excited Argentine vocabulary, I am also aware of Lally’s love of aerobics and exercise, however I was reasonably certain she could not be so excited to see a leotard; therefore it must be the other…. a leopard, and sure enough we had spotted our first leopard just ten feet from the car.
We arrived in the vicinity of Corbett National Park close to evening and booked into the lodge where we hope to overnight our group. The rustic feel and simple rooms are welcoming rather than basic and relaxing amid the natural surroundings was very pleasant. There are safaris available for those wishing to get into the dense bush of the area although Tigers’ are not easy to come across. Our original itinerary for this section includes a leg to overnight in Nainital but having found almost nothing at the road’s end except narrow congested streets and what can only be described as overenthusiastic write-ups in the guidebooks we decided to modify the route. There seems little reason to travel the extra distance when we can use the time to enjoy a more interesting location.
The drive from Corbett National Park sees us moving back into regions more intensively cultivated with beautifully manicured fields where every last corner is expected to be productive. It is a long day’s drive to Agra filling the entire day but we pass through many and various rural settings each being lived with a fervour that we, as Europeans, should take note of and learn to respect. These people make use of everything, they waste not, they work themselves to the bone, and you will never hear anything but laughter and see anything but smiles.
However, in the next breath I must utter…. ‘Ghastly and glorious’ …all at the same time. India! Adjectives fail me! Exasperating, exhilarating, exciting, invigorating and infuriating to name but a few. Undoubtedly, you will at times become frustrated with the culture but likewise I’m sure some foreigners become frustrated with methods we consider to be correct and indeed normal in our own societies. Nevertheless, I must also stress that India really can provide outstanding service. Some may describe it as ‘fawning’ others as ‘exemplary’ but, universally the standards of service have been exceptional. The juxtaposing scenarios of one single day defy explanation; the perfect hotel in Agra with drinks by the pool and views of the Taj Mahal having just experienced another Indian traffic-jam where, it appears, common sense isn’t that common!
I can remember hammering along the road between Aligarh and Agra with John Brown some years ago on a previous survey and after much to-ing & fro-ing we came away with nothing usable; for this reason I’d built-in some time to cover the various options. And yes we did thrash up & down some portions of the same road trying to smooth the path but those 95 kilometres have received vast improvement since 2007 and apart from one bottleneck entering Hathras we hope the route we have surveyed will not clog-up. As mentioned previously, and I want to drive the point home, early starts are the best alternative.
This video gives a snapshot of everyday life on the streets of India.