For our last outing in India, we are treating ourselves to a safari in Jim Corbett National Park,
in the state of Uttaranchal, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, where we anticipate that the weather will be a bit cooler – like that of the famous hill stations where the British retreated during the heat of the Indian summer. Corbett NP is India’s oldest national park, established before independence by Jim Corbett, born in India of English and Irish parents, and a famous conservationist, writer, and hunter of man-eating tigers. It is India’s most successful national park, housing a large population of Bengal tigers and wild elephants.
Today is about getting there. Although it is only about 250 kilometres from Delhi, the roads are so bad that Tibari, our driver, tells us it will take a minimum of 6 hours. He tells us as well that the road we will travel on for most of the way is one of India’s worst. And so it proves: we see 6 overturned trucks, and get involved in the most amazing traffic jam – caused by road construction that has one lane blocked – and made far worse by the incessant need to move forward that all drivers here appear to share. We see a major highway in such incredibly bad shape that it would cause a government to fall at home. Despite this, and despite Tibari getting totally lost, we make it to our hotel in just over 7 hours.
7% Annual Growth in India
This gives lots of time to share some thoughts during our 7-hour drive to Corbett. I spend a lot of time thinking about an article I have read in the Times of India that reports that India’s economy, one of the fastest growing in the world at the moment, is expected to grow by at least 7% this year, and the same again next year. This story also tells that the per capita annual income for India is US$430, about US$1.20, maybe 50 rupees, per day. This puts India far ahead of a raft of countries, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa. I think of what 50 rupees will buy: A meal in a Thali restaurant; 4 litres of reverse osmosis, ozonised and UV purified water; a big bottle of beer, a couple of kilos of bananas. I think of how long the Indian economy will have to continue to grow at 7% annually in order for the per capita income to reach $1,000 annually, or $10,000 annually. It doesn’t give one hope that India’s poor will see the end of poverty in my lifetime, or even my nephew Nimi’s.
I also think a lot about Indian TV we have watched, and the radio I have listened to. Unlike everywhere else we have been, where the satellite TV we watched was totally dominated by the US media (why, we often wondered, do the villagers of Bali need to know about the minutia of the US presidential election?), the media here, both TV and radio, have been created by Indians for Indians. And their marketing skills are clearly well-developed, putting those of Hollywood to shame. The songs from the movies, sung by the stars, are the hit songs on the radio. Everyone’s mobile phone rings with their downloaded ring of … the hit songs from the movies. The music videos on the multiple music video channels showcase songs from the hit movies. The stars sell everything – clothing, mobile phones, political parties in the current federal election, Coke. And those few non-Indian channels that there are, other than CNN and BBC World, have Indian content in Indian languages.
The Soothing Green Colours of Uttaranchal
We arrive in Uttaranchal to find it a soothing green colour, after so much brown. We get to the national park and it is so different to what we are accustomed to. In North America, national parks are almost always remote, pristine, and often indistinguishable from the land around. This is India, where over 1 billion people are squeezed onto the land. Right to the border of the park, there is the intense cultivation of the land, and the people everywhere, that characterizes the Indian countryside. The rooms at our hotel, situated on a river where small rapids create wonderful sounds, with cliffs on the other side, are all separate bungalows – a wonderful place to hang our hats for our last 2 nights in India. We are, as Tibari had promised, well away from the places that Sahibs normally go – all of the other guests at the hotel are Indian families, enjoying summer vacation away from the cities.
Before dinner, there is a show of local music and dancing. Radically different from any local dancing we have seen, the man and the woman actually dance together.
As we are getting ready for bed, I see a beetle in our bathroom, with the most beautiful markings. It looks as though someone has inlaid its back with silver. Greg calls me to the front door that he has gone to lock to see a visitor who has come to say goodnight: it is a small scorpion, coming under the door, not longer than my little finger. We convince it that it really doesn’t want in the room, and make a mental note to check our shoes in the morning before we put them on.