Five o'clock we had to be up to start our jungle safari, five o'clock on holiday! Glad of the fleeces and kagools I had packed, we tumbled into the back of a jeep and negotiated our way out of the town and into the hills. Rain challenged the weak windscreen wipers, the driver was struggling to see out of the window for a montage of election stickers, misty drizzle and poor headlights. India is still busy at 5 o'clock in the morning and we all hung on as the jeep beeped its way past juggernauts, having us flying out of our seats on the hairpin bends - no seat belts for the kids let alone car seats.
"Tea stop!" the driver pronounced an hour into the journey and he leapt out of the vehicle, we all followed into a dark tea stall on the side of the road. A thin, gaunt man was busily making parathas at the back of the dingy shack, layers of flaky bread being deep fried as the morning arose. We were ushered to the only table were we huddled for warmth and nodded to offers of sweet tea and coffee. I loved that tea stop, it was a highlight of our trip to India, sipping brown liquid out of unwashed glasses watching the mist rise to reveal the tea plantations opposite.
The day was an adventure through the tiger reserve, and although we were prepared to see no tigers, there was joy in seeing jungle fowl and langurs and huge flying squirrels, chameleons, a mongoose and stunning, colourful butterflies as big as our hands. We spotted kingfishers azure and nippy, gorgeous green beetles, a deer's bottom and thankfully no tigers.
We did however, see lots of leeches.
On getting closer to nature we were advised to pull our socks over our trousers to avoid leeches when walking through the forests. And to avoid the bamboo where vipers might be lurking inside. After calming the kids down a little we set off on a walk, spotting frogs and birds and admiring far-reaching views imagining where the tigers roam. Looking down I could see a 5 inch 'thing', actually lots of 5 inch 'things' pointing vertically towards the sky and then leaping onto my trainers as I walked past. I screamed, the kids screamed, the guide picked them off his flip-flopped feet and calves nonchalantly, letting the blood run down his legs, grinning at our inability with a leech.
Oh my goodness they were everywhere, our guide had kindly brought a bag of salt and sprinkled the leeches to their deaths if we could cope no longer with them trying to invade our socks, or creep through the eye holes of our Converse. The only way to avoid them was to keep moving in a high stepping dance through the jungle.
Our own jungle boogie. Oh how we all laughed when it was all over.
Recounting our stories to an older Aussie couple after our adventure she poo-pooed the leeches. "We get leeches all the time in Austraya," and leaning the children in closer she continued "they sometimes even get up yer vagina!"
With which I had to resist running to the loo to check.