Change and travel

You cannot change into a leopard: your eyes and nose are not keen enough, and your circadian rhythm is tuned differently. The best you can do on a holiday dedicated to watching leopards in the wild is to change into a creature of dusk and dawn. The trips dedicated to watching wildlife are structured differently. You don’t get to do much people watching. You sleep in the afternoons, have a quick tea, and jump into a jeep to drive into the granite hills where the leopards live. You arrive back at your lair for drinks and a dinner, and have another short bout of sleep. In the mornings you wake before the kitchen staff has stirred from bed, sit in the jeep again and drive out.

You could stop for a chai in the village. One is full of packaged food, the other uses the LED in the phone for lighting the stall after dark. You largely miss contact with the people of Bera. In compensation you have the sunsets and sunrises. Away from city lights they are spectacular.

At dusk we found ourselves in a jeep on top of a granite hill, still watching the next mound intently. We knew that there was a female leopard in that hill, with two cubs to feed. We’d seen the female watching for prey. She didn’t walk around to this side before it became too dark for us. In the deep darkness broken only by the headlights of the jeep we drove down the 45 degree incline. We are lucky to have one of the most experienced drivers in the place. He told us that on the day we leave he will go to the town to get his second shot of the vaccine. The nurse at the local health center wants him to bring along a refrigerated box of vaccines, since she can’t travel that day.

Under other circumstances we would have spent more time exploring the houses that you see rattling by us in the video above. They are big houses for a village that seemed to have little apart from tourists and agriculture. Baljeet, our host, had the answer. People have moved away to the cities, and with the money they have earned there they build these houses. All are in the traditional style, with little verandas running outside, the inside guarded by doors and gates. The houses are large, but the village streets are still the same.

The way of life may be different from a city, but definitely modern. Many people oscillated between a normal city life and the village. Our host talked about traveling on work to Vietnam and Japan before returning to Bera. A train line cuts through the heart of the leopard country. Trains have to slow down and sound a horn continuously as they pass, to warn wildlife of its approach. Trucks and buses pass through the village, bringing industrial consumables. The tailor promises to courier a bespoke Bera jacket to Mumbai. Everyone has a phone, and the young are glued to theirs like anywhere else. I wish social media were subject to the kinds of rules which bind trains. The Family took me on a brief walk through the village, capturing photos of doors and windows, and the rangoli on the road.

The Spanish countryside

Spain is a large country, as countries in Europe go. Several hundred kilometers between cities is not unusual. We decided to take trains during our trip. There are the high-speed trains (AVE) which travel at about 300 Kms/hour and the slower regional trains which do one-third the speed. You need reservations to enter an AVE. Since we took trains, we saw a lot of the Spanish countryside.

Today, as we travelled on a regional train from Seville to Granada, we looked out at the usual flat landscape. In this season the temperature outside at 5 PM was around 44 degrees Celsius. Fields were dry and yellow. In the rest of Europe you see a mild powder blue sky. Here the sky was like India’s, a blinding blue-white. It looks colourful in the featured photo because I took it through a polarized filter. If I hadn’t, then all the colours would have been bleached out, and the clouds would have been invisible.

The Family looked out and said “The countryside is so flat.” That it is, as you see in the featured photo. We’d seen this flat countryside between Madrid and Barcelona, and then again on our way to Seville. Now it looked like it was going to be flat all the way.

We had a little surprise about an hour out of Seville. An announcement on the train told us that there was work on the tracks, so our train would stop at the next station. We were to get out and follow railway staff who would take us to a bus. We’d noted earlier that changes are conducted very efficiently by the friendly staff who take special care of foreigners, even though they usually speak very little English. We came to some buses parked near the exit from the station. Someone told us which was the bus to Granada.

On the highway we finally saw some hills. You can see one of them in the photo above. Tomorrow we plan to climb one which stands at the centre of Granada to see the Alhambra.

Preparing the mind

The first thing I need to check about China is the exchange rate. These days using a quick conversion of INR 10 to RMB 1 is good. This resonates strangely well with the idea one hears now and then: that a new-rupee which is worth INR 10 would be useful (for example, new-rupee coins might become feasible).

Numbeo has a great idea; it puts together the current cost of lots of different things. Interestingly the cost of one kilo of rice is RMB 6.60. Basic mobile tariffs are RMB 0.50 for one minute of voice call. Rice, tomatoes, beer, apples (and yes, even oranges) are priced similar to India; mobile rates, bus tickets, wine and bottled water cost a little more. It seems that China is a little costlier than India. [But see Manon’s cautionary comment below].

Hard beds on chinese trains

How should one travel in China? Google knows all. It directs me to Beijing Travel‘s website, from which I find that one can fly from Beijing to Xian in 2 hours. The flights cost around RMB 750 in the early morning or evening, but climb to RMB 1000 or above during the day. The fast train takes about 5 hours and a 2nd class seat costs RMB 516. If we plan to get away to Xian on a weekend, then flying seems to be the better option. I should cross check this.

Manon has a wonderful blog post about the nitty-gritty of travel by train in China (it is good to know that you need to arrive early to check in your baggage). There are slow night trains, which seem to be roughly like Indian trains in speed. The interiors look like Indian trains as well. I do want to travel by train at least once. With my time constraints, it looks like I can only do the Shanghai-Hangzhou stretch by train. The web site of China train guide informs me that it takes about 2 hours by the slower K train and half as long by the G or D trains. The prices are about RMB 25 (K train), RMB 50 (D train) and RMB 75 (G train).

Beijing-Shanghai bullet train: 2nd class seats

Bejing to Shanghai by bullet train may take about 5 hours zuǒyòu (I’m proud of my first word in Chinese: it means approximately), and costs RMB 555 by 2nd class seater. The price gradation is steep: 1st class seaters on the same stretch cost RMB 933, and you need to pay RMB 1748 for “Business class”! Then there are sleeper trains which take 15 hours and cost RMB 150 zuǒyòu. The “hard sleeper” interiors look like Indian 3-tier coaches. The equivalent of Indian 2-tier coaches are called “soft sleeper”. I guess the names also have something to do with the padding. Beijing-Shanghai flights seem to be comparatively cheaper, ranging from RMB 350 to 800. Flying always seems to be an option.

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