Just when you think it can’t get any wilder, we arrived at the Sariska Tiger Reserve in the Alwar district of Rajasthan in our search for tigers.  It is amazing how in just one-two hour drive south of Delhi the landscape and people can change so dramatically.  Colourful saris, mud houses, and camels brought delight to the eyes and made it nearly impossible to catch a nap enroute to our next destination.  We arrived at Sariska Tiger Heaven, our beautiful and comfortably rustic home for the next four nights, located in the jungle of Sariska Tiger Reserve and home of the Sariska Tiger Foundation, operated by our guide and tiger enthusiast Dinesh (aka ‘Danny’).   This place really is ‘a naturalists dream come true’ – as it so accurately says in the brochure left in my cabin!  After another long day’s travel of visual stimuli and dodging pot holes the size of small cars, we settle in for a good nights sleep with tigers on our minds.    Two days of Jeep safari tours through the jungle, and an amazing display of wildlife including spotted deer, sambhar, wild boar, nilgai and an array of birdlife featuring peacocks, kingfisher, quail and woodpecker, we unfortunately did not see the tiger this time!

Sariska is an incredibly special place, not only for it’s natural beauty and wildlife, but as the first place in the world to re-introduce tigers into the wild.  Once home to over 25 Tigers, they were extirpated in the 90’s due to poaching.  In 2005, as part of the National Project Tiger, the Government of Rajasthan in co-operation with the Government of India and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) planned the re-introduction of tiger to Sariska as well as the relocation of some villages in this area.  The first aerial relocation of a male tiger from Ranthambhore to Sariska occured in June 2008, the first of six (three male and three female) relocated over the next three years.  Unfortunately, the villagers of Garh-Rajore killed a male tiger in 2010 through poisoning the carcass of the buffalo killed by the tiger.  There are over 25 villages in the park area, bringing major challenges in mitigating human/animal conflict, deforestation and habitat loss and the management of the Pandupole temple located in the heart of the park attracting thousands of devotees everyday.  The tigers have radio telemetry collars and are tracked daily by an impressive roster of over 150 conservation officers working around the clock.  The world is anxiously waiting for the successful breeding of the tigers in this park.

After Sariska we stopped in Jaipur for a few nights, providing some shopping therapy and serious bargaining practice for all, as the capital of semi-precious stones and silk in India, it is a bustling city where everyone is looking for a deal!  We spent the days visiting some incredible historical sights, including the Alwar and Amber forts – leaving us in awe of the Maharaja legacy in this rich area.  Of course no trip to India is complete without a visit to the magestic Taj Mahal, a World Heritage Site located in Agra.  Up at 5 am, I have never seen the girls so eager to get back on the bus (without morning chai no less)!  We spent three hours on a guided tour of the Taj, learning about the history and Mughal architecture of this masterpiece.  There are few words available to describe this palace – breathtaking, inspiring – an illusion of optics and symmetry – pure genius!

We finished our final day of the field course at the PRIA headquarters where the students weaved their observations into thematic presentations covering areas of conservation, development and resource management – there were some especially creative pieces!  We were pleased to have the PRIA staff and visitors from the Canadian High Commission attend – all seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed the students projects.  The month has come to an end and it is amazing to think of all the places and people we have met along the way, surely these experiences will continue to resurface over the next weeks, months and years.  India has touched us all and our lives have been forever enriched.

Take a look at the best photos from the students over the last month.

The following student journal entries are from the final weeks of the field course:

“This morning we went to a village where they were all digging this water hole. I felt really weird being this privileged Canadian watching all these people work who get no more than $3.00 Canadian a day. I was asking Susan if she would come and help interpret for me because I had water questions I wanted to ask. I learnt a lot about how effective the water hole was, how many times they needed to dig it, what they needed to resort to when it dried up, and how much they needed to pay for personal water wells. It seemed like the government was not helping a lot with supplying these villagers with water sources not only for agriculture, but simply for survival. I wanted to try and help them dig the hole to understand what they go through. Boy, it was really hard labour! The tools alone were very heavy. The heat was even worst. Then I carried this container on my head filled with dirt and rocks up to this hill. It was so heavy on the neck.”

Lauren

“After arriving and getting settled in, a group of us went on a little exploratory/shopping adventure before dinner. I felt like it was the first time I was really experiencing the true India. Walking alongside the road, I was overwhelmed by all the honking; men staring and even a few commenting, “Oh my god!” as we strode past; little children following us; a thousand different smells within a short distance of travel (many of which were not very pleasant!); men defecating in the streets, few women to be seen; and having to dodge buses, cars and bikes galore. It was thrilling! Wow, shopping in India is unlike any shopping I’ve ever done before. When we first started out, I was still pretty intimidated and felt a bit uncomfortable. It’s hard to adapt to men getting in your face and trying to coerce you into their shop, yelling their price over the man next store yelling his price in immediate competition. After a few of the shops, I relaxed a bit and got into the groove. I realized that you just have to be confident, know what you want (or more importantly, what you don’t want!), stand your ground, have fun with the shop-keepers and barter down with good humor.”

Laura Leigh

“I can’t believe that today is day 19!!! It doesn’t feel like I have been here for 19 days! Where has the time gone? It seems to have just flown right by me without me noticing! My time here in India has really touched my heart and soul, time does not matter here, just the experience you are having and the memories you are making. It will be bitter sweet to leave India, I will miss her smells, her colours, and her people.”

Sarah

“After dinner we were able to ask the park director some questions about the park.  Julia and I are looking at relocation and it was very beneficial to speak with him. My overall impression was that he is a little more aware of the issues of the park and the goals that need to be achieved in order to have a sustainable park compared to the director of Rajaji National Park.  He was very clear that a positive relationship with villages living in the periphery was necessary and that education is imperative to reach out to these people.  I was surprised at how many people were living within the park.  There are 28 villages within the core area, which he said was about 6,000 families.”

Victoria

“I continued the trek down the mountainside to the bottom where the museum of Alwar is. It was so great. Just to get out and use my legs was welcomed, but the walk itself was so beautiful. Everywhere you go in India music follows you, and along the way we saw shrines along the path that you know has been followed for centuries. We came across, I don’t even know how to describe it, but the priest of Shiva live there and it was like a scene straight out of the jungle book. I wanted to explore it so badly, and when the monsoon rains come they flood through the place washing away all that isn’t hidden.  We ran into some naked boys playing in a stone pool/lagoon, and I found myself wishing I was them, that I had grown up somewhere so beautiful and historic. Finally we came out to the area surrounding the museum. The architecture is so beautiful and there was such a great feeling about the place, it reminded we of really old parts of Europe. The museum itself was interesting, but the best part was just the feeling of the area. It was so solid. I was jealous of the people living there. What a great place to live. I wonder if they know how lucky they are.”

Kayla

“Although India is dirty and almost always overwhelming I love it here.  The poverty saddens and amazes me, but what amazes me even more are the smiles that those in poverty have on their faces.  Sometimes I wonder how or why they could?  I wonder if it has to do with spirituality – something that we in the west are so disconnected with.”

Brittany

“I’m overwhelmed – overwhelmed with joy, appreciation, satisfaction and inspiration.  This school was more than I ever could have hoped for.  I’ve learned so much, I’ve changed, and I’ve found so much more to explore.  It’s hard to believe it’s only been a month.  I’m proud of myself for my work and proud for my peers.  Watching them present layed out how vast our knowledge spread and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn form these people.”

Ellen

“And now, to end my India field school journal, I’ve come up with a list of things in India that I find hilarious, scary, interesting, and most of all inspiring:

  • Men who are friends hold hands
  • Riding in a rickshaw is really fun, especially because it feels like you are in Mariocart!
  • The head bobble can give you any answer to choose for yourself
  • Eating with your hands (well, hand) is ok
  • Squat toilets give your thighs a great workout!
  • Cows rule the roads
  • Women ride side-saddle more than they do on horses in the West!
  • Hoarking and spitting is a great way to clear out your throat…despite it being one of the grossest things EVER
  • Chili peppers look like green beans – beware!!
  • Indian eyes are the most beautiful things I have ever seen
  • Travel time: times by 2 and add an hour = )
  • Cell phones are the most popular way to take photos of tourists
  • The best mangos, raisins, almonds and papaya are found on the streets
  • Kids here are the most adorable kids in the world
  • Indian wine is a struggle to get down- mix with some orange fanta though and it is kind of delicious! Good idea Hil = )
  • Foods with the strangest names are usually the best – gulab jammun??
  • Being hassled by people selling things is actually kind of funny – maybe that’s because I just laugh when they hold things 5 cm from my face haha;
  • And.. India is a place that tests you to your core, both mentally and physically, and although at times, when you are sweaty, hungry, dehydrated, tired, and you have to go pee but the bus just left the last hotel there’s something about that feeling that just makes you happy.”

Amanda