Homeward Bound! - Final Report from India

Dusty, footsore, a little weary, a little sunburned, still smiling, the travelers have packed their bags for home. After goodbyes (and some tears) in Chaukori, we bobbed and weaved and squeezed through any number of mountain passes on our way to a “glamping” site a few miles from Nainital. The real glamour of the place was the location: a pine woods at the intersection of two canyons, fenced in to keep leopards and Himalayan black bears at bay.

There we met up with Suraj, a former HIC student in Chaukori, now graduated and studying Geography at the university in Nainital. Mr. Nemitz had given Suraj his first guitar lesson back in 2014, but the riffs he was playing now around our campfire—from Robert Johnson to the Red Hot Chili Peppers—showed he’d made the instrument his own. Who knew the American R&B tradition had found a foothold in these highest of mountains! With Zoe on the ukulele and Mr. Walters on the harmonica, the whole group sang old favorites around the fire and made up new verses to our own “Himalayan Blues”:
 
            …Well we haven’t seen a fork now for two or three weeks
            Haven’t seen toilet paper for two or three weeks
            Nobody’s complaining ’cept me and James Speaks
 
            Got my bindi on backwards, got no rupees at all
            Cravin’ some maggi, got no rupees at all
            Keep those stomachs churning, from here to Nainital…
 
The next day we drove down to the Jim Corbett National Park near Ramnagar and spent the afternoon exploring together in a big open-sided cargo truck. Exploring on foot is not allowed, as the park is home to over 400 Bengal tigers. While we didn’t see any of the big cats, we did come across plenty of other wildlife: a monitor lizard, spotted deer, a larger deer called sambar, crested serpent-eagles, hoopoes, red junglefowl (ancestors of our domestic chickens!), a crocodile sunning itself on a riverbank, and elephants, seen from afar. (We would explore a different part of the Ramganga river the next morning, on the backs of elephants.)

This will be our last post from India! Faith Lewis has been giving out free lessons in Hindi arithmetic, and we’ll need them to haggle in the street markets of Nainital; from there, back out of the hills to Kathgodam to catch the overnight train back to Delhi. We’ll have most of Sunday there in the city before heading for the airport that evening. Then the long flight westward, being chased by the sun the whole way. At some point in the last week, all of us have been caught fantasizing under our breaths, “Remember the taste of…?” We’re smiling, even as our blues verses start looking homeward:
 
            Well my heart’s in the mountains, leaving feels awful
            Looking back at those mountains, sure feels awful
            But I’d give anything, mama, just to order a waffle…

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