Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two lions and a wedding in western India.

ROOM AT THE INN: Roger Allnut | April 18, 2009
Article from: The Australian

IT is still cool in the early morning as the safari vehicle jolts along a dusty road in Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Above the noise of the engine I can hear the twittering and calls of birds greeting the new day. A couple of monkeys swing from branches and I glimpse a small group of spotted deer in the undergrowth.

Sasan Gir is famous as the last place where Asiatic lions can be found; only about 300 remain and I am on edge, hoping I might be lucky to see one (safari groups the previous day were disappointed). The guide steers the vehicle along a bewildering maze of roads, although he clearly knows exactly where he is within the confines of the sanctuary. Suddenly the air is pierced by a great roar and, quickly diverting towards the sound, we come across two magnificent male lions strolling unconcernedly along the road ahead of the vehicle.

The lions stop occasionally to strut, pose and spray their scent while I hang out the open window trying to get a decent photo. Losing interest in these invaders of their territory, the two lions amble into the undergrowth.

The sanctuary is also known for its (nocturnal and rarely seen) leopards, jackals, wild boar, spotted deer, monkeys and birds, including large numbers of peacocks and peahens. At the end of the game drive it is back to the Lion Safari Camp outside the sanctuary's borders; this is the base from which the game drives leave each morning and evening. The Lion Safari Camp provides comfortable tented accommodation beside a small river. Water buffalo splash about in the reedy ground beside the river, while a bit further downstream women from a nearby village vigorously wash clothing and other household items before spreading them on the grass to dry in the sunshine.

A small causeway links the banks of the river, and my wife and I are asked to pose for some publicity photos being shot for a new website. We eat breakfast at a small table carefully laid with white tablecloth, sparkling silverware and even a large vase of flowers. Later I discover one shot has made it to the website.

During breakfast the sound of loud drums reverberates across the land, but any sign of habitation is shielded by the tall crops growing in the field. We are drawn by the sound to the nearby village of Bhachal to discover a local wedding in progress.

The village is a maze of tiny alleys lined with quite substantial rural houses and other buildings. Outside the entrance to a small enclosure the men are gathered, four of their number beat frenetically on drums as the time for the wedding draws close. Inside, the enclosure is packed with local women, all dressed in brilliantly coloured saris. I am always hesitant at intruding on private functions but the men of the group usher us inside, parting the crowd so I can take photos. The women all love posing and since they are dressed in their most colourful saris, the results are good. They enjoy looking at their images on the digital screen, laughing as they see themselves on camera.

We watch as the nervous groom and beautifully dressed bride tie the knot: literally so, as part of the ceremony involves tying together two lengths of material attached to bride and groom. The ceremony is long and involves many exchanges of gifts and other tokens, and we slip away, not wanting to intrude too long on their special day.

Source: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25333341-5013903,00.html

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