Swimming in this sea of humanity that clogs the roadways are plenty of animals as well. Creatures of all kinds, from cart-pulling camels and horses to stray dogs and cows, make up the menagerie parading outside your bus window.
My Globus FAM trip last week was an abbreviated version of the company’s 13-day “Secrets of India,” a journey that includes game drives in Ranthambore National Park, famous for its tigers and other exotic wildlife. Our group did not make it to tiger land, but in cities like Delhi, Agra and Jaipur—and countryside in between—animals lurked wherever we turned, offering limitless photographic subject matter.
Among the animals to watch for:
- Holy cows. More than once our bus had to stop for cows in the road, giving the driver yet another excuse to honk his horn. Stray cows are the result of owners who’ve abandoned them after their milk-giving days are over, according to our guide. Strays were banned two years ago in Delhi, the capital, but you’ll see them everywhere else in India.Cows have always been sacred to the Hindus because of their importance in an agrarian society, our guide said, and they are not butchered for their beef or hides. They are considered the source of life and can never be killed. Out of respect for Hindu traditions, McDonald’s restaurants in India serve only chicken, lamb and vegetarian burgers. On a hotel breakfast buffet one day we saw lamb pepperoni. On our flight back to Newark, we met a State Department employee going home after a year in India and asked what he was most looking forward to at home. “A cheeseburger,” he answered.Besides milk, cows in India are used for transport and plowing the fields. In addition, their dung is used as fuel and for walls and floors in mud huts. Making “cow pads” is a woman’s job, and we saw some women really going at it, slapping the stuff around with their bare hands. Along the road from Agra to Jaipur were rows and rows of the brown disks baking in the sun or stacked in piles.
- Water buffalo. We especially noticed these horned black beasts in Agra, where they were swimming in the Yamuna River, which runs past the Taj Mahal. At one point our bus stopped so we could get out and take photos of buffalo coming out of the water. We saw them throughout town, sometimes being led by a herder. Water buffalo are prized for their rich, sweet milk and a source of leather.
- Elephants. A trip highlight for our Globus group was an uphill elephant ride to the Amber Fort, north of Jaipur. The 20-minute ride in a two-passenger metal basket (howdah) secured on the back of an Asian elephant is a standard activity at the fort, a sprawling complex offering stunning vistas. As your beast of burden trudges up the ramparts, you’ll have lots of photographers taking your picture and they will hound you afterwards to buy. Other vendors selling postcards and books also demand your attention. And your mahout (driver) will hound you for a bigger tip (baksheesh) than your guide recommends. The elephant ride is only one way; we took a Jeep down the hill.
- Snakes. On our downhill walk to the Jeeps at the Amber Fort, we encountered a snake charmer ready to wow us with his “skills” and collect a few tips for the photo opportunity. Many of us got into the act, posing with him and his young companions (perhaps his son and daughter?) He had a turban we could put on and a flute to hold. The brave even touched a snake or had it wrapped around their shoulders. Talk about touristy! According to our guide, snakes are tone deaf and respond only to motion, not sound. In this case, the snake in the basket was a cobra.
- Camels. Just outside our gated hotel in Jaipur were stationed six or eight camels decked out in decorative garb. These were tourist camels ready to ride, but it was so hot (over 115) that I never saw anyone (locals or Westerners) on them. I walked over one afternoon and tipped their keepers to take some pictures. In Jaipur we saw a few camel-drawn carts, and on the way to Jaipur noticed a number of camels in the fields or tied up in the shade.
- Horses. In Agra we awoke at the crack of dawn to take an open-air horse carriage (“tonga) to the outer gates of the Taj Mahal for an early-morning visit before the crowds and intense heat. Our clip-clopping ride for two put us right in the middle of the street life, minus the barrier of a bus window. Throughout our trip we saw horses pulling loads, their carts sometimes stacked with sacks or boxes 20 feet high.
- Dogs. The first animals I noticed were the dingy dogs lying outside the shops in the pedestrian commercial area next to our hotel in Delhi, the Hotel Suryaa. They all looked the same—short-haired, thin, almost lifeless. We saw the same kind of dogs on the streets throughout India. I can’t recall seeing a cat. Our guide said dogs are the preferred pet.
- Monkeys. When we arrived in Agra, we noticed rhesus monkeys roaming atop walls and scampering across rooftops. We spotted them again in Jaipur as we toured a private haveli (mansion) that was hosting our group for dinner. As we gazed out from the home’s terrace, our host cautioned us not to provoke the monkeys as it was mating season and they can be aggressive.