We find Ryan, Amanda, and Asher (as well as a friend of theirs and a jeep driver) on a train platform on the other side of the world in New Alipurdaur, India. I have to say it felt great to see someone we knew. We piled in the “reserved jeep” and I told the adventure of getting there. Ryan later said it was one of his favorite parts of our visit; to hear what he knew so well about India from a brother’s new eyes.

A “reserved jeep” is a SUV that is wholly for us. A luxury in India. We drive through country roads, constantly using either side of the road to avoid large potholes, or rather stretches of broken pavement, and we catch up. Somehow we got to the topic of the side-to-side wagging of the head that Indian people do. Though it looks like “no”, it turns out it means an emphatic yes. That had already been the source of quite a bit of confusion on the train.

We went to Jaldapara, where we were dropped off at Jaldapara Lodge. Like most things in India, it looks rundown, but the inside was recently renovated. There were queen beds, a walk-in shower with a small dedicated water heater on the wall, a functioning western toilet, and an A/C unit that was not wired up yet. Lincoln was exhausted from the journey, and fell asleep in the kiddy backpack.

From India 2008

Being about 12 hours different from our home timezone, we were all exhausted but we tried to stay awake till the proper bedtime.

Early the next morning we had tea and biscuits, then it was off to the Jaldapara Wildlife Refuge. This time we were in a micro-van. Snug, but again it was wholly ours.

From India 2008

We bolted down the gravel road at 60 kph for a while until we reached a lodge where we got out and strolled around. Some of the area was nicely landscaped and a path led to a view of a black rhino just across a small stream.

From India 2008

I’m thinking there was a salt lick there… it looked like his typical spot for the morning. Still, no fence or pit like a zoo so it felt more “real” regardless. (You may actually want to click on that picture to see it better, just make sure and come back here).

We were there to ride elephants and as we awaited their arrival, I saw a typical India sign: hand-drawn, interesting spacing and wording. (You know what, I’m going to link bigger pictures even if they go outside the lines! What a rebel I am!)

The elephants were led down the lane toward us. All were decorated with chalk and one said it was “Elephant Day”. I have no idea what that means. I guess it was our Elephant Day.

Before the ride, we got to feed them bananas, sugar cane or bamboo, and pet the little ones.

We climbed the elephant boarding platform and promptly boarded our elephant. We had an elephant to ourselves, which certainly felt like a luxury, and headed into the jungle.

We passed by out rhino friend and into the jungle, lush with thicker and thicker vegetation.

A large, iridescent purple beetle with a bright orange underside landed on Nicole. As she was freaking out, I told her to hold still for a picture. Unfortunately, the picture didn’t turn out.

The rays of warm, morning sunlight spilling through the dense jungle still make me feel good when I think about them. It was a great morning.

We came to another rhino as we crossed a stream.

Then out into are more savanna-like area.

Then back into the jungle.

Finally back to the platform to dismount.

We hopped back in our mini-minivan and headed out. The cool breeze through the open windows and the opportunity to ride a elephant gave me perma-grinâ„¢. It wasn’t even diminished when the mini-minivan started to run out of gas and sputtered down the gravel lane. We stopped at the gate house at the entrance to the Reserve where our driver promptly got out of the van without a word, borrowed a bicycle from the gatehouse, and started off down the road.

We figured he was probably getting gas, so we waited 10 minutes. Then we decided it wasn’t that far to our lodge at this point, so we might as well walk. When we were halfway back, the driver pulls up in the mini-minivan, we hopped in, he didn’t say a word and drove us the rest of the way back.

The rest of the day we relaxed around the lodge. At one point I thought I heard a rally in the distance. Then I heard the megaphone getting louder. Maybe it was a march of some sort? No, it was a huge speaker and a battery tied to a tricycle, so a couple people could bike around sharing a message, or some propaganda. This country is foreign!

Stay tuned for Part III