As our plane taxis down the runway I catch a glance of the man that Narayan has pointed out.
He's wearing a reflective vest and not much more.
"I guess you didn't hear the pilot announce that it's 80 degrees out there."
We stepped down from the plane to the asphalt.
"This is what I remember airports being like when I was a kid, open air, walking across the airstrip to the terminal."
Checking through customs I couldn't help but worry, wondering if our ride was waiting for us.
Our flight had been adjusted, we were arriving 5 hours later than originally planned. We're in a foreign country, it's dark, we don't speak the language and don't even have an address for our destination.
Clearing customs we walk out to find two devotees smiling and waving.
Audarya Lila is an old friend. We were bramacharis together in the Berkeley temple during the late 70s. He still looks the same.
"I would recognize you in a crowd."
Audarya says the same to me, though I think he's just being polite, he always has been polite.
The 2 hour drive sped by as we caught up on each others history and discussed our destination, Madhuvan.
"The electricity may be hit or miss. One of the batteries was installed backwards, it shorted out some parts of the system. Luckily they were still under warrantee so it's all back together now."
"You've got micro hydro ? How's that working?"
"During the rainy season there's no problem. During the dry season it slows down to a trickle. We've got some solar panels hooked up, but like I said, we've got some battery issues."
"We're in the dry season now?"
"Yes, don't expect to see any rain while you're here."
"What's the rainy season like?"
"It can rain nonstop for two weeks at a time. I haven't been here for that, only heard about it."
"I guess that's a good time for planting trees?"
"Yes, you see these tree lines along the road? They'll drive a stick into the ground for a fence post. Many of them take root and the tree grows around the barb wire."
Turning off the paved road, Audarya Lila announces, "6 more kilometers."
It's a rough dirt road, at times very steep, I see why they've got 4 wheel drive.
"I wouldn't want to try this in my truck. With 2 wheel drive I'd make it half way up, then have to back all the way down for another try. This must be a real mess when you get snow. "
"Yeah, snow would really make a mess out this place."
The half moon showed outlines of mountains and farms, the headlights gave glimpses of tropical trees.
"The tree with the spines ?"
"Yeah, they grow a lot of it here. I guess they get pretty good money for them."
Arriving at the temple, I saw that teak is the main wood used for construction of the small building. We laid out on the dining floor. "Sorry, that's all we've got available right now. Mangal aroti will be at 5 tomorrow morning, then the monkeys usually start up."
"That's fine, we're glad to be here. We can sleep through anything."
Both temple and dining room are simply screened in porches surrounding a kitchen. A pleasant breeze is blowing through.
5 Hours later, a very loud conch shell blast announces Mangal Arotik. A pleasant kirtan follows, and as promised I'm able to sleep through most of it. Monkeys are in a tree almost directly above us. They make a sound unlike any I've ever heard from monkeys. It resembles a loudly amplified stomach growling. They repeat this sound several times, then get very loud when the kirtan is over. Their chorus is echoed by another group of monkeys across the valley. This is repeated several times, back and forth, sometimes louder than others. I see the branches moving, but don't get a clear view of them.
wikipedia gives a sound sample http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Howler monkeys are widely considered to be the loudest land animal. According to Guinness Book of World Records, their vocalizations can be heard clearly for 20 miles (32 km). It is hypothesized that the function of howling relates to intergroup spacing and territory protection, as well as possibly mate-guarding.
We woke at 8:30 for a breakfast of watermelon, bananas and rice, all grown on the farm.
"Last October," I announced, "I ate the final watermelon of the season in NC. At that time I had a strong desire to go somewhere that watermelons would still be available. All I could think of is somewhere near the equator with no idea that it would actually happen."
After walking around, Narayan reported that he feels like he's in the Avatar movie.
"What's the name of that planet?", I ask.
"Pandora, and the people are called Na'vi."
"I can see why you feel like that.", as a group of monkeys howl across the valley.