We leave Jaipur this morning and we are heading for Bharatpur. Breakfast is the usual where Nicole kills and half eats 3-17 hard boiled eggs and Gary and I do lines of Immodium. Chris is fine. Keeps saying “I’m SOLID” and grinning like he just made the best dad joke ever.
It is a 5 hour drive that will be cut into two parts. We drive for 2.5 hours to our first stop. The Chandbaori Stepwell. These step wells are all over India, and provide water, and a way to get to the water. They could have just dug a hole, made concrete walls and stuck a ladder in…but not the Indians. They made it decorative and complicated.  It is breathtaking, with the steps creating repeating diamond shapes. They put steps all the way to the bottom, and the water fills the well as the weather dictates and that way they can get to said water weather it’s 2 inches of water or 30 feet during monsoon season. We notice lots of parrots along the walls, swooping down to get a drinks, and we can’t believe that this beauty is out here-we literally drove into a bunch of shacks, hopped out, walked though a rickety gate, and boom. 1000 year old beauty. This area is a little more rural, so we are looked at with curiosity-locals standing and staring at Chris like he is a mythical god with his bald head and blue eyes.
On the way out, we stop by a Hindu temple to watch the locals come to pray and worship. We have to take off our shoes to get in through the courtyard gate, and it is so hot we have to run to the shade-tears in our eyes, and I’m sure the temple patrons think we are moved by the creepy statue that we can see through the doors of the temple…but not so much. It’s the burning feet. So the bad news is we have lost the first 4 layers off our feet. Good news is this is the first time they’ve been clean in 5 days.
ON the way back to the bus we stop by some shops and buy some trinkets – I get myself some block printing stamps! Just a few. And some carved elephants. On the way out we stop at a bathroom and have our first squat toilet so far on the trip. And I have to say, I didn’t miss them. Still pee all over my self and my purse, still almost fall on the floor, still takes me 15 minutes to do it. I come out of the bathroom and notice Nicole is still in her cubicle. I think-wow…..the curry is strong with this one…then I hear her go “CLEAR”. And realize she has been in there with my phone checking for toilet snakes for the past 15 minutes.
Once done in the bathroom we get back on the bus and head for what I think may be the highlight of the day- the Change for Children school program. Our tour outfit, On the Go Tours, donates to this and 3 other schools in India- and makes sure the money donated goes to upgrades and necessary changes. This particular school is about the size of my kitchen at home. And has 8 classrooms housing about 40 students per classroom. The classrooms maxing out at about 12 x 15 feet. The school has 3 ½ year olds to 17 year olds. As we stand checking out the facilities-the children start to gather and my heart hurts again. They are beautiful, one of the little girls model level beauty- tiger colored intense eyes and shiny dark hair. I ask if I can take a picture with her, and she takes my hand and leads me over to the face the backyard, selfie level: expert. Then her friends gather around her, and she picks one of the youngest kids and holds him while we take more pictures. Then I get the hard sell- she looks at me with those big amber eyes and says “rupees?”. Cowboy Sam just gives me a look and I do as he had trained us: say “later”…and keep interacting with the kids. They come by this honestly, knowing we have hundreds of Rupees, one hundred being equivalent to about $2 CAD, and more money then they will see in a month. But Sam told us that we are much better off to give them gifts of food, and we have saved chocolate for just such a reason.
The staggering thing about this school, is that until On The Go got involved, this school had no washroom. Which for the boys is okay maybe? Unsanitary but doable? But for these little girls, the thought of no private bathroom still brings tears to my eyes as I write this. These beautiful young woman, coming of age, with no privacy at school, no facilities. If you have a chance, watch “Period. End of Sentence” on netflix. It won oscars, and deals with the difficulties of girls in India reaching womanhood without sanitary products. On The Go provided the money to build a bathroom with running water and walls. These girls are so thankful, and make sure we come see the bathroom they are so proud of. We help check on all the kids, making sure they are happy and healthy-and they are from what we can tell. Some version of me is permanently here- helping these children. Some part of me feels like I could do this forever, mentor these kids, make sure they are treated well and have everything they need, Making sure these little girls and the little girls at all the other schools have sanitary napkins and private bathrooms. I am full on sobbing by the time we leave them, wishing I could take them all home with me and spoil them. How would they feel if they knew what was in my cupboards? If they could see my Jacuzzi bathtub, if they knew how upset I get when Tim Hortons gets my coffee order wrong? I leave feeling full of love for the children, and feeling smaller then I think I ever have. SO inept and helpless. Thinking I’m such a strong and capable woman, yet everything my whole life has been passed to me. I consider it a huge accomplishment that my sister and I try to look after my parents (which mainly consists of driving them to appointments and making sure they are eating well and not sick-more often then not- them taking care of us more then we ever do of them). THESE kids? They will be helping to provide money for their families by 10- most likely will fight for every morsel of food they get for the rest of their lives, sharing their living quarters with livestock, and experiencing preventable heartbreak I can’t even fathom.
We board the bus, with all the kids in tow, and bring back treats- Pringles, multigrain bars, Panty snickers. We clean out the entire Muppet Buffett. Feeling guilty for even owing such things. The kids scramble to get the treats, stuffing them in pockets and sharing them amongst each other. Sam says that they will actually save a small bit of each item to feed to their animals or to leave for the birds… Much as the People in the markets yesterday in Jaipur have tables set up where you can buy seed to give to the birds- done for good karma. And Do I believe in karma? Slippery slope, because I don’t think some force is behind me giving something like good or bad luck…. But believe that the good you put out in the world comes back to you. And maybe all it is it that you see the good in others because you’ve been good in some uncharacteristic way, and this makes you appreciate things you may not normally. For example, when someone at work buys me a coffee from now on, I will remember these kids, and how they save even small pieces of candy bars to feed the family goat-to make sure he gets a treat too. And I’ll savor it more. And feel more blessed then before this trip that someone used their resources to buy me something. Or at least I hope I will.
Driving away I feel SO DAMN EMPTY. Like I left pieces of me back there-but I know India will help fill them back in-as she has done so far as long as I allow her. And after seeing these children? I don’t think I’ll ever say no to any act of kindness again-I will appreciate the compliments and allow the help every chance I get-and learn to be more thankful for it instead of feeling awkward about it. We drive another 2.5 hours to our hotel- I sleep most of the time, dreaming of those children.
Cowboy Sam says we can have a few hours of down time for a swim and rest, and then we are going to a bird sanctuary. We actually consider not going, we are tired and it is about 43 degrees today, and this bird visit will be all outdoors…..but in the end we decide to go. Well, he may have undersold this a little. When we get to the Bird park we are walked through a gate off a crazy busy road. As we walk through the gate we are met with a sign that says:
“Due to Leopard Movement Into the Park, Tourists are advised not to Roam Outside the Track Allowed for Tourism. And take necessary precautions”.
HUH? Unless there is a rare species of bird called a Orange with black spot breasted Leopard- this is shaping up to be quite the “bird sanctuary”….we board TukTuks (Nicole and I deciding we will travel together today- leaving the boys to cuddle up in their own vehicle) and are slowly driven along a narrow pathway with open grassy Knowles and jungle like trees on each side. LEOPARDS???? I start to wonder what the “take necessary precautions” is…like…should our driver have a large spray bottle or something??? At the very least should he not have a laser pointer in a sheath of some sort????AN AMAZON BOX FOR AN “I FITS I SITS” DISRACTION????? As we drive I start to see “clearly not bird poop” patties on the path way. Yes, I’m thinking he undersold this just a little when he lead with the BIRDS.
We are joined by a Naturalist who leads the group on his own Tuk tuk at the front- dodging more not bird poop- and tells us more about this “WILD LIFE PARK” (muttering SAMMMMMiii under my breath). He explains that there are many species of animal in this park, From Antelope to deer, cow to jackal, water buffalo to macab monkey-LASTLY mentioning…oh yeah. There’s birds too. He also explains that there is a nice amount of snakes – 300 cobras. Some up to 8 ft long..water snakes and tree snakes and get in your ears snakes and toilet snakes. All the snakes. I look over and Nicole has quietly fainted. Her adorable feet up in the fetal position. So peaceful.
Well then, since its been demonstrated that I’m going to be used as the human shield in this situation, lets Get this tuk tuk rollin.
We drive along and we start to see the wildlife, its like a ride at Disney world, except I don’t think anyone ever died of being attacked by one of their robot animals……we have antelope playing with storks, bulls grazing, Jackals cackling and running around. Then we see the Monkeys!!! Our driver hears our squeals and stops the tuktuk, making sure we get to see the monkeys up close and personal. They have BABIES!!! He explains that these are about 6 days old and we watch as the mommy monkeys hold them up for our inspection, and then drag them away while they cling to their stomachs. IT IS SO FREAKING COOL!!!!
About 15 minutes later our tuk tuk stops and we are motioned to get off. Scared, I drag Nicole off the comfort of the tuktuk, tickling her to get her to let go of the rails so I can yank her to the ground. She basically climbs on my back, and we start to walk down the path way. The monkeys follow us at a distance, and our guide starts our bird tour (??) by pointing out all the different wildlife around us. It is astonishing how many different animals Surround us, all staying a good distance but completely un-fazed by our close proximity. They just go about their business. We see owls, and herons, storks and sparrows. Other then that, the antelope and deer steal the show, most with incredibly large Antler racks. We do spot some snakes! Water snakes, more akin to the size of anaconda’s in my estimation, long and black and sleek…I mean I think they are…I can’t see on account of Nicole on my shoulders with her hands around my face screaming. Sigh.
We walk for about ½ hour, where the TukTuk’s meet us again and carry us back to the entrance of the park where we began. Soaking up every last second of being this close to the animals, especially the new mom monkeys and their adorable alien looking babies.
We leave the park along with the cows that are being chased out of the entrance way, and board to bus back to our rooms. Each of us going, “what did we just see???” wondering why this was only explained as a “bird sanctuary”. I think they don’t realize how strange it is for us to see this type of animal interaction at home. If we see a deer, we all get excited, stopping cars and whispering- but here, monkeys and deer and antelope? Not a big deal. Birds…that’s where its at?? Oh well, we decide that we are glad we had no idea what we were in store for. It made it that much more special. And special is the only word I can think to call it.
We arrive back at the Hotel in time for a nice sit down dinner-and we let the restaurant serve us whatever they deem their best-overserving us curries and sweet and sour mixtures. Rice and noodles, fresh HOT naan and paneer. It is heavenly- at least my brain thinks so. My stomach is quite confused-wondering why I’m trying to kill it.
We enjoy a few rum and cokes to end the day out in our private sitting area, and talk about what is still to come….Taj Mahal tomorrow….If it is anywhere near as special as the days leading up to it have been-we are no where near prepared emotionally. And that’s okay. We haven’t been so far either.