Never smile at a crocodile
No, you can’t get friendly with a crocodile
Don’t be taken in by his welcome grin
He’s imagining how well you’d fit within his skin
—Music by Frank Churchill and lyrics by Jack Lawrence for Peter Pan, 1953
Our driver—I’ll just call him S for reasons to be revealed in their own post once I’ve calmed down and stopped kissing the ground—wanted an early start to get clear of Bangalore before the real traffic hit. Jaya, who never met an early start she didn’t love, wanted us to be out the door by six. Janine and I just wanted to get horizontal and sleep through the alarm and possibly the next day or two. But after knowing each other for more than forty years, the three of us have worked out a foolproof approach to travel: we do what Jaya tells us. It’s simple, requires absolutely no effort on our part, and it works. Always. We left at six.
We’d only been on the road long enough to get clear of Bangalore before pulling into Kamat, a beautiful roadside restaurant with open-air pavilions sheltering under trees. The hostess sized us up and informed us that we wanted the full buffet. Jaya sized up the line of people waiting, and informed her that we’d be ordering a la carte. Surprisingly quickly, our food appeared and my tastebuds fell in love. There might be a better breakfast than a deep-fried spicy donut vada served up on a fresh banana leaf, followed by the slightly tangy sweetness of glistening lace-swirled jelabi, and accompanied by coffee as the day brightens under the trees. But if so, I haven’t had it yet.
On the road again, we headed for Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary north of Mysore. We’d barely cleared the entry when all three of us yelled “STOP!” Driver S reluctantly pulled over and the three of us piled out on our respective quests. Jaya had seen a tiny bird who needed spotting. Janine had seen a statue of Shiva in midstream which needed photographing. I’d seen a herd of goats scrambling over rocks and banks which needed to be amateurishly captured on my phone camera.
— Goats. Because, you know—goats. (Stop 4)
After a few more stops, we finally made it to the ticket booth. Of course, being India, the fees for foreigners (300 rupees) were five times the charges for residents (60 rupees).
Our entry fees duly paid, we wandered down to the water where we found rowboats waiting to take us on a tour of the sanctuary—at an additional fee-times-five for foreigners, of course. As the boat moved away from the dock, the ranger/rower pointed at a log and said a number of words, one of which sounded suspiciously like “crocodile“. I was just begging Jaya to tell me that meant large toothless bird in the local dialect when the log we were approaching opened one eye and grinned at us. I felt my need to view any more birds decrease with each stroke of the oars.
The family behind us had no such doubts. As the smallest kid ran back and forth rocking the boat, the father laughed, the middle kid demanded to know if that was a real crocodile, and the mother told him, “Why don’t you stick your hand in the water and see what happens?” I can only suppose either she thought her three kids were one too many, or they had started their vacation with several additional kids and were still winnowing the numbers down to acceptable odds.
I assume there were birds and bats around, but frankly, I was too busy watching for crocodiles to pay attention. I counted sixteen. No, seriously. Sixteen crocodiles that I could spot. But that might not have included stealth crocodiles lurking under the boat waiting for that kid to stick his hand in. I’ve seen Jaws…
Several trees were home to flocks of large birds including egrets, storks, and heron. There was even a tree full of bats. But I was too busy measuring the distance back to the dock—and wondering if I could make it while the crocodiles chowed down on that kid with his hand in the water—to really pay attention, so there could have been lots more bird-related activity going on.
Actually, I do know that there were flocks of amazing birds and things out there because Jaya and Janine are made of much sterner stuff, and they happily snapped away several photos which I saw after we made it back to the docks about a year and a half later (ten minutes by my phone clock).
But I was too busy trying to put distance between us and those crocodiles, and explaining to Jaya that the sign she just noticed for an even longer tour of the croc-infested lake was a mistake and should be ignored at all costs.
And that was just our morning. Wait until you hear what happened in the afternoon!