I am preparing myself for another adventure in India: two months of fieldwork along one of India’s greatest biodiverse rivers, the Chambal. Each of my trips to India over the past four years has been incredibly different from one another, so I have no way to guess what this trip will have in store for me.
During my first trips, I felt like a whirling dervish among the bustling trains and masses of humanity as I made my way from one metropolis to another. My later trips have found me setting up residence in a small rural village on the banks of the Chambal River, with blast furnace hot days and nights when I felt as if I was sleeping in a walk-in beer cooler.
Village life is good, although the children are still scared that I am secretly a medical doctor whose role it is to give vaccination injections when they least expect it. I have grown used to sleeping on a traditional short wooden cot with my feet propped on a plastic lawn chair next to my host family’s water buffalo. And, in turn, I think the buffalo has taken a liking to me (I sneak Loraine, as I affectionately call her, treats when no one is looking). However, I struggle with bathing at the communal well; I just am too bashful to be seen in my skivvies in front of the entire village! So, I wait until the sun has set and no leering eyes are present to have my “bucket shower.” This also saves me from becoming a lobster, as my fair Irish skin burns incredibly easily.
My U.S. friends often ask me how I like food while I am away for months on end. I explain to them that Indian food in India is often not like the foods you see in restaurants stateside. There is the typical nan or roti (flat bread) accompanied by lentils and rice, but I do not eat tikka malsala (my personal favorite) for every meal. For breakfast, I really like the fresh yogurt made from buffalo milk, and spicy samosas make a great between-meal treat.
I will be leaving in a few short weeks with my bags stuffed with field gear and plenty of sun block, resting assured that this trip will truly be a new adventure.
Brian Horne, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow for San Diego Zoo Conservation Research. He is working to help endangered red-crowned roof turtles and gharials in India.