Stories from a Weekend at the Caves - Part I
Nighttime in India is a very loud affair.Due to the warm climate, most windows are permanently open, and there is typically only a mesh screen and some steel bars separating you from the outdoor elements.While this may protect a person from the larger physical nuisances that haunt the streets, it certainly does not guard against the plethora of sounds that emanate from the cracked pavement.The most unnerving (and disturbing) of these sounds comes from the substantial stray animal population, which seems to own the streets at night.
For the past three weeks, Stephanie and I have been staying with our local medical director and coordinator, Mr. and Mrs. Dabak, at their residence in a nice suburb of Pune.Unfortunately, a very large - and very loud - pack of stray dogs seems to find the place equally agreeable.During the day, these dogs remain elusive and quiet.However, at night they come out in full force.An unoccupied patch of land just across the street from my window becomes their frontline in a war that seems to be re-fought each and every night. At times it sounds as if they are going to battle with their vicious growls and barking, and at other times it is as if they are suffering from unspeakable acts of violence and violation.Needless to say, earplugs have become an invaluable possession, and I invested in a pair soon after arriving in India.
This weekend, Stephanie and I traveled to Aurangabad in order to see the ancient Hindu and Buddhist caves of Ajanta and Ellora.While we were very excited to see these incredible World Heritage sites, we were equally excited to have a few nights of peaceful sleep, without having to wake-up to the heart-wrenching and almost human-like wailings of a violated dog.
As we settled into bed on Friday night, we talked excitedly about the blissfully quiet night's sleep we were about to have.We were not on the ground floor, and we also assumed that the watchman would not allow a pack of stray dogs onto the hostel grounds.However, since these windows were also kept open, we went ahead and put in our earplugs - just to be safe.
Right as the soft and inviting tendrils of sleep began to creep over my mind, I found myself crudely jerked awake by what sounded like a person half-screaming and half-moaning in pain.The sound was incredibly high-pitched, and was made over and over (and over) again. With each screeching howl, I became more and more awake, until I was coherent enough to realize that it was a cat that was making these horrendous sounds.The noise penetrated through my earplugs and lodged into my eardrums; they were impossible to ignore.
I was sure that the cat had managed to get up onto the roof of the hostel, and was outside on the ledge of our open window.I got up and pushed the curtains aside, planning to hiss at it in an attempt to scare it way.However, when I looked outside, I saw no cat.I went back to bed in a state of denial, not ready to admit defeat in my fight for a quiet night's sleep in India.
For the next three hours, I fell in and out of sleep, in rhythm with the cat's infuriating yowling. Finally, at 3:30 in the morning, I couldn't take it anymore.I asked Stephanie if she was awake. . . of course she was.We turned on the light, and decided that we must find this cat.As we began to move around, the sound become louder and more insistent , reverberating in a loud echo throughout the room.Once again, we looked out the open window, to no avail.
Finally, Stephanie said, "Maybe it's in the room."
I thought this was ridiculous.How could there be a stray cat in our room without us knowing?We had been in the room all evening without seeing any trace of a cat.However, just to be sure, I checked under my bed - there was no cat.Stephanie leaned over and looked under her own bed.She then slowly straightened up and looked at me unbelievingly, her mouth half-open.Finally, she was able to speak:"It's.Under.My.Freakin'.Bed." (censored for readability).Picturing a number of blood-thirsty things that I would like to do to this cat, I jerked open the door to our room.Without having to do anything else, a mangy, scrawny imitation-of-a-cat darted off into the hall, howling all the while.
Up at 6:30 the next morning for the bus to the caves, we ran into the manager, and groggily conveyed our displeasure at having a stray cat in our room for most of the night.He told us cheerfully that this cat is known for roaming around the hotel, and that "most of the hotel guests really like it. . . no, really!"Hmmm.So needless to say, after very few hours of sleep, Stephanie and I were not our buoyant and energetic selves while hiking through the caves on Saturday.And every time we yawned and faltered on the numerous stone steps, we found ourselves cursing that cat and the innumerable other stray animals that have robbed us of so many hours of sleep at night.
And with that, we also realized that it was time to give up on our dream of having a quiet night's sleep in India. . .