How Much is a Good Story Worth?

Lodging in India is always an uncertain thing. Especially as bike tourists operating with the plan of no plan on a daily basis we're never sure where we'll end up resting our heads each evening. India is a big place and travel guides such as the Lonely Planet do not include most of the towns we've traveled through.

Recently we biked from Cochin on the coast to Mysore in a high plateau area on the far side of the Western Ghat mountains. We were rewarded after a decent climb over the mountains with rolling hills of coffee, tea, and teak plantations. These transitioned in to two different, but connected Tiger Reserves.

The signs asked visitors to minimize sounds in order to reduce stress on the wildlife. Silence on any roadway in India is an absurd and unachievable expectation, as the honking of horns is its own language that will never be silenced. Being serenaded by horns, we traversed the beautiful landscape, and imagined the tigers and elephants roaming behind the tall grasses, having dance parties to the disjointed beats created by each driver, ringing our bells to add to the melodies.

As dusk arrived we cruised in to a town only to be met with very high hotel prices. The lowest offer we received was a room for $16 US dollars, an absurd amount for the sub continent. With the confidence of fools, we decided that we would have dinner and then search for a camp sight nearby. In the dark with our headlamps attached we headed for the perimeter of the park. Rationalizing that we would be safe because no animal would likely be on the perimeter of the park or near the road where horns continued to honk and trucks slowly rumbled uphill.

Mikey was more confident than I was. As we laid in our tent I kept asking questions about why our current location was safe. The eagle scout in Mikey was able to provide excellent answers and we had moved all of our scented belongings away from our tent (a bag that contained oranges, cashews, and peanut butter). Reassured I fell asleep with the sound of cars and horns nearby. An hour and a half later we were awakened by the sounds of bells and the clanging of chains.

Bells and the general clanging of things is normal for nights in India when Hindu temples are around. But in the Tiger Reserve there were no temples around and we were quick to figure out that domesticated elephants were grazing on the road near by. To our surprise the sound of traffic had ended too. When I asked Mikey "What do you think we should do?" He responded "This is new territory for me, I'm not sure."

Together we made the decision to pack up our tent and bike back to the town. The elephants didn't seem too concerned about our presence, but we still worked quickly as they slowly grazed and moved in our direction. As they got closer they found our bag of goodies and in one mouthful consumed our snacks. After a taste of the delectable treats they were more interested in examining our goods. Haphazardly put together we rolled down hill to avoid any further inquiry.

It didn't take long for us to realize that with the traffic and noise gone, we were not alone, and wild elephants were sounding alarms to let us know we were not welcomed as guests. Adrenaline can bring power to tired legs, and we bolted down hill. At the park entrance the gate was shut, and the light in the guard house was on. Assessing the situation we found a path around the gate and continued to accelerate as the guard was commanding us to stop. Hollering support to one another in the form of "go, Go, GO!!!"

The chase didn't pass the verbal stage and we rolled in to the hotel we'd declined earlier inquiring if the $16 room was still available. The staff asked no questions and showed us to our room, humbled by our stubbornness we shut the door. In hidden safety we laughed ourselves to sleep.

In the morning we reviewed the circumstances of the night and vowed to make better decisions next time.

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