Ti(g)ger and Pooh in India

on Monday, March 05, 2007

"Hey, lookover there. It's Pooh!"


Have you experienced an embarrassing moment? Surely all of us have but many try to forget these moments and successfully hide them in the depths of their psyche. My embarrassing moments tend to re-surface from time to time and appear in my mind's eye like an electric neon sign at night, flashing the words "Shame, shame". My memories have a good laugh as they party in my brain and mock me.

One such occasion was when I went to Coimbatore, India for a meeting about bird conservation. I am not a birder. I enjoy occasionally looking at birds through the binoculars but I am a general nature lover. A birder is one who makes it a hobby to watch birds and is equipped with decent binoculars and a field guide. Twitchers are birders with a consuming passion. They are recognizable by the fact they are kit out with powerful binoculars, telescopes, cameras, field guides and a checklist of birds they are hoping to see. Needless to say, at this meeting, I was surrounded by twitchers who have come all prepared and loaded with optical toys.

We were there from all over the world, some 40 of us and we were to participate in about 10 days of working meetings. For many though, the highlight would be the final day when our Indian hosts were going to take us on a bird-watching excursion in an Indian Wildlife Reserve. All were looking forward to that day with anticipation.

I was a little apprehensive about spending so many days in India because of the high likeliness of coming down with diarrhoea or as it is colorfully called there, "the Delhi Belly". Visitors to Mexico may be familiar with the Mexican counterpart, "Montezuma's Revenge". However, when I arrived, my colleagues and I were all surprised by the wonderful Indian vegetarian cuisine that was available at the hotel. I love Indian food and this was some of the best. Some delegates who stayed at other hotels quickly fell ill but all of us at our hotel had no such problems and thoroughly enjoyed the food.

After, the third day, the euphoria began to dissipate when we began to realise that there were only so much variety of dishes and we began to recognise that we were being served the same dishes over and over again for each meal. No matter how good the food was, it wore on us for 9 days. Furthermore, there was no meat. Some of the Asian delegates began to talk incessantly of meat and felt that their jaw muscles were wasting away on vegetarian mush, a,so refered to as baby food.

Invariably, there was a revolt and on the ninth night, we wandered the town and found a Chinese Restaurant ( a Chinese restaurant in the heartland of India seems very surreal). At last, something different, so0mething with meat. We had to have meat. The menu even had seafood! We had to have seafood! The more prudent members of the group interrogated the chef but he reassured us that the seafood was fresh. He just received it that day. So placified, we had a real hearty meal.

The next day was our long anticipated field trip. Everyone was in great spirits and fully armed with bird-watching gear except me. I only had a small amateur's binoculars but more of a concern, I felt a little quesy.

We travelled for about 2 hours by bus and had to go through a manned checkpoint. Our guide told us that once we crossed the checkpoint we were in a well-known forest reserve and it was tiger country. It was also of course, great bird-watching terrain. Basically we were in a valley with steep hills on either side. Although the base of the valley was flat, you could not see very far because there was a lot of low, dry shrubs. You could see why it was ideal tiger country as there was so much cover for the tigers. The guide told us that tiger attacks do occur every year but we would be okay if we observed several basic rules. Rule One: Stay close to the trail. Rule Two: Always be in groups of at least two. Rule Three: Tigers prefer to attack smaller prey and are actually intimidated by the height of a man but this advantage disappears if we squat or bend down. Do not bend down.

We proceeded down the trail that was to end in a small waterfall. Superb birdwatching was promised all along the 3 hour walk. The twitchers soon had all their optical equipment deployed and sightings came fast and furious. Over there, a rare something or rather and over there a lifer (i.e. first time seen by the individual). There was much activity. Being the non-birder, I tried to enjoy the scenery and learn a thing or two from the twitchers but before too long, I was feeling quite unsettled in my stomach.

About half way down the trail, essentially in the middle of nowhere... no, correction.... in the middle of tiger country I had to go. I could tell there was going to be a lot and it was going to be very fluid. But where? I was surrounded by men and women with binoculars and they had spread themselves over a long stretch of the trail.

I wandered back up the trail where there was a curve. I hoped I was out of sight from the forward group as well as the rear group that was slowly walking towards my position. I then scrambled up the slope for about 100 meters and went behind some low brush and dropped my pants and relieved myself.

Imagine my position. I felt nauseous; I was trying to hide from 40 twitchers armed with high powered optics and cameras and I was constantly looking behind me cause I knew I was voilating all three rules on tiger safety. It was among the most wretched 15 minutes of my life and at one point the rear group did come on to my position and scanned the slope with binoculars. I think they didn't see me but they may have decided to be polite and move on.

Moral: If you are heading to do birdwatching in tiger country, stay away from the seafood the night before. ( When I later related my agonising tale to our guide, he looked at me with pity and said " When someone tells you the seafood arrived today, he means it has been travelling 5 days by non-refrigerated transport and arrived today at Coimbatore".). So ends this sad story of Ti(g)ger and Pooh in India.

25 comments:

Becky Wolfe said...

hilarious & embarrassing. I've had the same 'squatting discomfort' in the depths of Africa. You think you are totally alone along a road & then out of nowhere, people or children especially appear and come right over to you. Made for many 'squat & run' encounters.

I know a few 'twitchers' also. fanatical about their birds & don't seem to understand when others don't share their passion & excitement.

Proxima said...

Ah, you poor fella, that would be quite unpleasant for anyone!

I spent a month in in India, so I know how old having the same food gets. Especially coming from Seattle where we have a different ethnic dish every night of the week.

I am a vegetarian and was the only one in the group that didn't get sick at some point. We were mostly concerned about the water. It's important to remember the small things like brushing your teeth with bottled water and not drinking the water at a resturant unless it comes in an unopened bottle.

Even in the U.S. you need to be careful about drinking water from private wells in remote, rural places, they aren't regulated by the state .
-P

squirrel said...

Your title was GREAT!

Janice Thomson said...

How funny LGS though at the time I'm sure you didn't feel that way...was in the same quandary a few years back in Jamaica...we decided to eat outside the resort and then carried on with a hiking trip...some of us paid dearly for that excursion into local food. LOL

Here on Vancouver Island in Canada there are a lot of birders and although I admit I really like birds I also can get as excited about a certain tree, or rock, or wild flower, or creek, etc etc....loved the metaphoric title :)

Dr.John said...

First thanks for your comment on my blog. In all my visits to foreign countries I never ended up with even an upset stomach but I did worry a lot. It must have been a really tough time for you. Glad you didn't get eaten by a tiger.

Josie said...

LGS, I can't post a comment, I'm laughing too hard.

Omigosh...!

I have had "Montezuma's Revenge", so you have my deepest sympathy.

Well, look at the bright side, at least a tiger didn't get you. Now that would have been embarrassing, under the circumstances :-)

Josie

adelym said...

Uncle LGS, don't worry too much about doing it in India. Don't even consider it embarassment. It is very natural in India. The 'squatting' is part of the everday life in India. I know cos I was there in 1993 for 2 months. You are fortunate at least you are in the jungles. The ppl in India actually do it in the padi fields or vast field basically open air.

Molly said...

I'm with josie---falling out of my chair laughing!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

becky,
we share a common bond of having squatted where we shouldn't and have runthe gauntlet of embarrasment and more important did not end up as some kitty's dinner.

proxima,
yes, the same food for breakfast, lunch and dinner gets to you after awhile. Curry for breakfast also isn't everyone's cup of tea.

squirrel,
thanks. I think so too. ;)

janice,
it's an important lesson; not to be adventurous with food when you have no conveniences the next day.

Dr. John,
Thanks for coming by. I would love to learn more Finnish so I'll be over often. I too am glad I have not been eaten by a tiger.

josie,
Imagine the headlines. "Eaten while shittin'" and the whole thing documented by digiscopes and cameras. Yah, I'd die of embarassement. Oh, wait. I'd be already dead. Will I still blush?

Adelym,
you're absolutely right. The people in India do it naturally in the open but I think they too would be upset if surrounded by camera and telescope totting tourists.

Molly,
please ensure seat belt is engaged before you read one of my posts. I cannot afford to be responsible for any injuries (no insurance). :))

geewits said...

Oh my! I wish you had talked to that guy earlier!

hershal said...

had a good laugh! ya must have been quite a lot embarrasing, especially with binocs around!!

well, i enjoy being with twitchers. get to see birds perfectly camouflaged to my eyes..

got link to this article in google alert for 'wildlife india' & i peeped in 'coz i love tigger n pooh

...Kat said...

wonderful and funny story (and with a happy ending) ! but do not let embarrassment endanger you next time in Tiger Country....tell someone and have a comrade with you to be on lookout (for tigers and the birders too)...they will certainly understand about the seafood issue

...Kat said...

In Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur slight tremors lasting for about 15 minutes were also felt. The Malaysian Meteorological Department issued a statement ...


Did you feel the tremors?

hope all will be as well as can be.....

Canada said...

Oh my, oh my!!! Poor you!!!

adelym said...

Not sure if the Indian nationalities would mind the cameras. I mean it is like they don't seem to bother even if ppl are looking. It is like their culture. Thats why I had culture shock for the first 1 month there.
After that it was part of scenery.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

geewits,
very true. ah, the wisdom of hindsight. :)

hershal,
Thanks for dropping in. Sorry that the post was not really about wildlife in India nor is it about Tigger and Pooh. I agree, we can learn a lot from twitchers. India has a very grand tradition in Ornithology with people like Salim Ali.

kat,
very good sensible advice. I should have done that. Instead a succumbed to the Asian "save-face" mentality and did not feel up to distrupting twitcher fever.

As for the tremors, apparently it caused quite a stir with many people fleeing tall buildings in KL but being very unobservant, I didn't feel a thing. Todays news though indicated about 100 dead in Indonesia.

canada,
thank you, thank you. I am always unashameably looking for sympathy.

adelym,
Got your point. When in Rome, do what the romans do.

CSL said...

Ah,you see, there is much wisdom in a vegetarian diet. Of course, I do eat seafood, so I probably would have gotten sick, too. And your guide forgot the most important rule for avoiding tiger attacks - Don't be where there are tigers!

Michael C said...

That is definitely a tip I won't forget! I usually embarass myself at work by going off and getting all worked up about something and then someone politely points out that the point I am making is wrong.

Odat said...

Funny, story...you poor thing!
But just think if this didn't happen we wouldn't be laughing right now!
Peace

Odat said...

Funny, story...you poor thing!
But just think if this didn't happen we wouldn't be laughing right now!
Peace

Tai said...

As I read, I could forsee the tummy troubles...but I must be honest, that's not anywhere near as em(bare)assing as I thought it was going to be.
I thought that as you crouched, vulnerable and ill, a mistaken sound of a tiger would have sent you scurrying out into the path again, pulling up pants as you went, only to have your friends see you in an unforgiving state of panic and stomach stress. (of course, only to learn later that they had spotted a 'lifer' right near where you were, and so had several pairs of high powered binoculars focused in your general direction, anyway. And that of course, it was that bird that had been making the fake tiger rustling noises which sent you scrambling!)
Fortunately, that didn't happen, so all's well that ends well!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Maybe the tigers in India know better than to eat seafood-stuffed human.

India has always seemed to be a magnificent mixture of spiritual advancement and physical squalor.

I share your stance on bird watching. I love all the many facets of the natural world, but it isn't especially important to me to label everything.

HeiressChild said...

this was funny. i felt it was ok to laugh now since it already happened. hope you didn't have to use leaves (know what i mean? lol)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

csl,
Maybe I looked so sick that no self-respecting tiger would eat contaminated food.

michael,
we have a knack of creating embarassement for ourselves.

odat,
are you laughing with me or at me? Hmmm? :)

tai,
wow. what a story! it's like you were there too.

hearts,
my birder friends may give up on me but I am happy to refer to "the yellow and black bird" or "the purple stork like thing".

Sylvia,
Ummm. Leaves were used. Ahem.

Top cat said...

LOL..fresh seafood.
This is a great story and I enjoyed reading about your adventure except of course the squatting part.
tc

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