I spent most of February traveling in western and north-central India, dividing my time more or less evenly between national parks or wildlife areas (Sasan Gir, Kanha, Bharatpur/Keoladeo Ghana, Ranthambore and Corbett) and the cities of Mumbai, Delhi/New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.  I’m forwarding an album of 53 of my photographs of birds and other wildlife from the trip to all the recipients of this e-mail, via Shutterfly. 
Needless to say, the trip was spectacular, both for the monuments of Hindu, Mughal and British Colonial culture, and for the birding and wildlife viewing.  166 life birds out of 248 total species!  The pictures are just a sample; many of the most spectacular birds, like the Black Bittern, Coppersmith Barbet, Crimson Sunbird and Orange-bellied Leafbird, were seen at a distance or too briefly to photograph.  I had only a 70-300 mm lens and no tripod; carrying any more equipment would have been difficult.  But the Grimmett/Inskeep field guides are very helpful, and I was able to bird at each location with knowledgeable naturalists who spoke good, if heavily accented, English.  February is the dry season, and the deciduous forests (there are virtually no conifers in peninsular India) had lost many of their leaves, which made it easier to see the birds, although of course some migratory species were absent.  There was dust everywhere, which was sometimes uncomfortable, but almost no mosquitoes.
Beyond that, the life of modern India is startling, to say the least.  The 12th and 21st Centuries flourish right next to each other.  Women in full burkas, women by the side of the road making plates of dried dung with their hands (to be used as fuel), or carrying it in big metal bowls on their heads, and women in beautiful saris and jewelry talking on cell phones, side by side.  Men riding working elephants to transport loads of sugar cane.  Men talking about the visits of Bill Gates and Paul Allen to India, and pointing out the opulent residences of the heroes they are emulating--Bollywood stars and local billionaires.  India has noisy, highly partisan and uncooperatively diverse democratic politics, together with a sclerotic, corrupt, pseudo-socialist bureaucracy, but it struck me as the most capitalist place on earth.  
This kind of travel is not for the faint-hearted.  The fourteen-hour nonstop flight from New York to Mumbai--fifteen on the way back from Delhi--is hard enough.  Getting from one place to another on the Indian roads, which apparently are never maintained once they are built, is much harder.  Getting anywhere without hitting a water buffalo, or a camel-drawn cart, or a farm tractor hauling a little trailer packed with thirty people, while trucks and cars are trying to pass the rest of the traffic in both directions by crossing into the path of oncoming traffic, is nearly a miracle.  I had expected to see the cows wandering the streets unmolested, and wasn’t surprised by the goats, but had no idea that pigs would be nearly as common.  Lots of dogs, too, but almost no cats. 
Having visited elsewhere in the developing world, I wasn’t shocked by India’s poverty (and it actually didn’t seem as bad as what I have seen in parts of Mexico, Egypt and Kenya), but it’s not pretty.  In contrast, the opulence of the luxury hotels in the big cities is at least as amazing, and the food was really good, too.  The trip cost A WHOLE LOT of money, so it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  As it was, I didn’t get to the high Himalayas, the northeast areas bordering on Bangladesh (where the bird life is reputedly more like that of southeast Asia), the far south or the nearby islands such as Sri Lanka.  More things to dream about, if not actually to see. 

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Sent: 4/13/2012 4:58:49 P.M. Central Daylight Time
Subj: Mark, your pictures were shared
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Hello Mark,
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From: Mark Mittleman

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