Almost Famous: Our Experience as Pretend Indian Celebrities

P1050255The new regulations governing national parks in India mandate a once-weekly closure to allow the wildlife to recover from the rigors of being tracked by large, green metal monsters with four wheels.

We decided to cut our visit to Bandhavgarh short and move camps during the day of closure.  Not that we would have complained about a day with nothing to do but being spoiled by the wonderful staff at Mahua Kothi Jungle Lodge but the hunt for Tigers must continue.

So we were prepared to move camps via a 5.5 hour drive.  But our travel company arranged for us to have a chartered flight between safari camps due to our earlier car difficulties and still slightly frazzled nerves.  And a 45 minute flight in lieu of many hours of sitting sounded like a fantastic idea.

We arrived at the airport about 10 minutes before the plane landed. Giving us enough time to inspect the safety equipment – a fire truck complete with water canons – and an ambulance that made me sincerely hope that no one got sick and required a trip in said ambulance.

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Then the plane landed and everyone gathered on the Tarmac. Also known as a paved square just large enough for one plane. And I would like to point out that the emergency vehicles stayed a distance away.

The pilots jumped out of the plane and introduced themselves … The captain went to flight school in San Fran. And then they introduced us to the airport official – who came with them on the plane.  I told you it was a small airport.  So small that it did not have its own airport official and required that one be transported in.

While the pilot called (on his cell phone) to get clearance for take off, the official handed us our handwritten boarding passes.   Complete with seat numbers and boarding groups (I was boarding group 4, Keith was boarding group 5, you get the idea…).

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Then he checked our identification and tagged our luggage with another handwritten sticker with our destination and flight number.  There was only one plane, six passengers, and one destination.  I’m not sure how they could lose the bags as they were carried the four feet from “next to the plane” to “on the plane”, but I they wanted to be ultra careful.  Not unsurprisingly, our luggage made it without a hitch.

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Also not sure how this qualifies as “security checked” because the only scrutiny that this bag underwent was a cursory glance that said, “Yep, this looks like a bag that belongs to one of the foreigners.”

Around this time, we noticed that the crowd had swelled from the 5-10 “emergency workers” to a more than 35.  They were either on location to admire the plane.  Or to admire the “foreign celebrities.”

So I’m not sure what was the main attraction, but by the time we boarded the plane, the crowd had grown to at least 70 people. Mostly male but a few schoolgirls, mothers and infants rounded out the number.  I suppose it could have been the plane that attracted their attention (apparently it is a rarely used private runway) or the pale foreigners who were set to depart … but if you want my opinion, I think they were in most amazed by girls in pants.

Many more were stationed at the end of the runway – so I guess they only came to see the plane.  A fact later confirmed by our pilot and mostly ignored by the passengers.  It’s more fun to think of ourselves as celebrities.

Once we boarded the plane, the official collected our boarding passes and took a seat at the rear of the airplane.  He didn’t comment on the fact that we did not sit in our assigned seats … But in our defense, there were no seat numbers listed on each seat.  Although counting to row 3 shouldn’t have been too difficult.

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By the time we were ready to depart, The crowd had grown even larger and they all waved during our departure.

Once we were airborn, the pilot announced the flight time, cruising altitude and expected turbulence. Then he took off his headphones, turned to us and gave us a huge thumbs up.  I guess the official part of our 30 minute flight was over.

When we landed in Khana, the situation was repeated. Except with fewer people and even less interest in the pale foreigners … Unless you count the one driver that kept taking photos for his website.  Still think it might have been the girls in pants thing but our safari guide told us he owned the car company and pretended to be the paparazzi because he wanted photos for work …

So somewhere there is a website full of photos of hot, maybe slightly smelly, and definitely tired tourists getting into a truck that wasn’t even one of the ones that belonged to his company.  If you happen to one day stumble upon these photos, I will swear up and down that it wasn’t me.

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