I looked at my watched; 3:45am.
I answered the door in just my undies; a young Indian guy stood there, “Safari!” he said.
“Now?” I asked, still half asleep.
“It is 4 o’clock!”
“What? The safari has been bought forward to 4 o’clock?” I asked, a little confused.
“It is now 4 o’clock.”
I looked at my watch again and it was still 3:45am. “So the safari is now 4 o’clock?”
“Yes.” He replied.
“I thought the safari was 5 o’clock!” I was still confused.
“Oh, ok!” he said looking at his watch.
I’d been awake less than a minute. I glanced at his wrist and noticed his watch was 15 minutes fast. “Are you saying the time now is 4 o’clock? Or are you saying the safari has been bought forward to 4 o’clock?”
“Yes!” he replied.
“Mate! I’m going back to bed, knock if a jeep turns up!”
Sarah asked, “Who was that?”
“But its only 3:45 has it been bought forward?”
“I don’t know. In fact I don’t even think he knows!”
‘Knock knock’ it was 4:45am
“Jeep is here!” said the same Indian guy.”
“So the driver’s watch is fast too!” I quipped
“Never mind. We’re ready. We’ve been up over an hour!”
“Very good sir.”
The National park registration office was 30 seconds up the road, we were there by 4:46am – it opened at 5:30am. “Jesus, this guy likes to be early!”
We arrived at the park gates at 5:50am.
“What time do they open? 6:30 by any chance?”
“Yes sir, how did you know?”
Not surprisingly we were the first through the gates at 6:30am. Our park guide joined us and we drove into the depths of the park.
“Look!” Said the guide! “Tiger droppings”, he pointed to a huge turd in the middle of the track, cynical as ever I replied, “That’s got rice in it, I think that’s from a park ranger!”
The park it’s self was stunning; a mixture of jungle, open plane and huge dry riverbeds. It was great to see.
Another hour of driving round the park with binoculars came up with no tiger sightings.
We saw spotted deer, giant deer, monkeys and even a jungle fowl (chicken) but no tigers.
This was our second tiger hunt that had come up zero.
After the safari we arrived back at the campsite to find Noel with the camp kitchen set up. After tea and cornflakes we set off to Nainital.
Few things scare me as much as mountain roads and it was another seven hours of hairpins and shear drops before we arrived at Nainital.
As we drove into the town I saw something “o-oh” there was a huge mosque in the middle of town, that means no beers or us tonight.
We ate dinner and checked into a hotel.
On the rooftop bar a huge sign said “soft drinks only” – it was another sacred and dry town. Our hotel owner Ali had a quiet word with us and offered to supply some black-market beer accompanied with the usual conditions. We can only drink the beer on the roof and we must not tell anyone. For some reason he could only supply about four bottles at a time. We had a few beers and watched the sun go down over the beautiful lake surrounded by pine clad mountains. 120 indian rupees was the most we’d paid for beers in India but it was worth it. Cool beers and a beautiful view,
We had a tip from an underground source that the beer ban expired just outside the town, (a certain distance from the mosque) and this was in fact a hotel just up the mountain that sold beer. Thinking it might be cheaper than Ali Capone was charging, we set off. On the way we managed to pick up an American couple Randy and April, the only other westerners we’d seen in Nainital. Randy offered to buy the first round if we showed them where they sold beer. The seven of us jumped into a four-seater taxi (Noel and I were in the boot) and asked for the Manu Marahaj Hotel. Five minutes later we were pealing ourselves out of the tiny car in front of the huge marble steps. White pillars and impressively decorated fountains. The three impressively dressed doormen welcomed us to the immaculate grand hotel. “Beers for under 100 rupees, do you really think?”
There were five sharp intakes of breath when the barman told us the price of the beer was 230 rupees. Randy and April didn’t seem too phased, “ that’s only about 5 bucks,” he said in his thick Canadian accent. “We might as well have one, after all I’m paying, we agreed”. The five sharp breaths suddenly turned to “well if that’s the case ……. Might as well have one”.