Gina writes:

The second half of Corey's parents' visit was much like the first half - filled with nonstop activity, fun (and hedonistic) and exhausting.

After spending 5 nights in Koraput, we went to Chilika Lake, a huge lake just an overnight's train ride north. We were excited to introduce Denny and Lisa to the wonders of the Indian railway system, since we've used it so much in the past 14 months. We reserved a 2AC cabin, which meant that the 4 of us had a curtained area to ourselves, 2 bunks on each side of the car. Apart from the midnight interruptions from people getting on or off, I think they were relatively surprised at the train's comfort.

The train stopped in Chilika Lake at about 6:30 a.m., so we had the full day to enjoy the area. The reason for the visit was primarily to see the birds that migrate their every year at this time, about 1 million birds (160 species) from as far away as Siberia and Iran! After a nice breakfast, we hired a boat and guide and headed out to the main bird area. We saw eagles and egrets and other birds whose names I don't remember. It was a unique experience to see the different kinds of birds and then find them in the guide book.

In addition to seeing birds, it was nice to just enjoy being on the water for 3 hours. We also got to see fishermen pulling in their day's catch.

In the evening, we took a stroll outside of the hotel grounds. Corey and I spoke some basic phrases in Oriya to shop owners, like we always do, but had an interesting reaction. Apparently it was SUCH a rarity for a foreigner to know some Oriya that the "news" spread up and down the street faster than we did! A random guy came up to us just to hear us speak, and the next morning, a hotel worker said something like, "Oh, you're the ones who speak Oriya. I heard about you!"

The next day, we hired a vehicle to drive us to Bhubaneswar. Bhubaneswar is not that big by Indian standards (pop. 600,000), but it's accessible by an overnight train from Koraput, it allowed Corey's parents to experience the feel of an India city, and it's big enough to have some luxuries that we don't have here (like Pizza Hut and bakeries and department stores).

Our first stop was a set of caves on the outskirts of the city. The caves (Khandagiri and Udayagiri) are partly natural and partly artificial, in use starting in the first century B.C. It was interesting to see such an old place, only marginally enhanced by our guide who seemed to want to educate us more about Hindu mythology than the history of the caves themselves.

Here we are sitting where the VIPs sat to watch dance performances. Oh the comfort and opulence, it's just too much!

After the caves, we went to Dhauligiri, an area with a Buddhist temple and a Hindu temple next to each other. This temple was actually a slightly upsetting experience, because we were approached in 3 separate groups by Hindu monks who performed a blessing for us and then demanded money in a way that was not very friendly. We agreed that it felt like we came to the temple and respected their religion, but that they turned it into a money-making opportunity, thereby bastardizing their beliefs. Sad, really.

The main activity the next day was a visit to the zoo. The Nandankanan Zoo is known for its large tiger population, especially white tigers. It wasn't long after walking through the gates that we realized what a great zoo it was! The habitats for each animal are huge, there aren't so many barriers between you and the animals (like in the U.S.), the grounds are pretty and well-kept. It really was a thoroughly enjoyable time!

The monkeys were running around out in the open!

I was literally about 4 feet from this mother and new-born baby for about 5 minutes!

Here's the white tiger, making its rounds.

And the "regular" tiger. There was no fencing separating the public from the animals, just a good amount of space (and the public viewing areas were slightly higher than the enclosures). It felt safe, but so much more natural.

These gargantuan crocodiles were amazing to see. Even more so after seeing this employee walking around them with a bag of fish. Even MORE so when he whacked the one in the picture to get him in the water before throwing the fish!

We went on a 20-minute lion and tiger "safari" through the sanctuaries where they roam freely. We could just barely see some white tigers far in front of the bus, but the chance to see the OLD mama lion drinking water just 6 feet or so from the bus made up for it!

We watched a mama and newborn hippo for awhile from across a pond. Then we walked just a little further to be surprised by an area with 8 more hippos! They're not so cute up close, but it was neat to watch them lumber around, resting their snouts on the ground for balance and rest.

Other highlights from Bhubaneswar:

  • wandering through a big permanent market to see dozens of food stalls and hundreds of street shops
  • visiting Ekaram Haat, a quiet area selling handicrafts from all over India
  • pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut! (my first real pizza in 14 months)
  • chocolate eclairs, cappucinos, and macaroons from the luxury hotel across the street from our budget hotel

A delicious meal (huge chicken cordon bleu, real lettuce in the salad, tasty cream soup) on our last evening together marked a fantastic end to the trip! Thanks for everything Denny and Lisa, see you in 10 months!