My Startup Story #12: India (Part 2)

I spent the entire day in that state between asleep and awake, battling nausea at first and then battling the opposite throughout the afternoon. This was the “Delhi-belly” I was anticipating. Finally, at around dinner time, I slept a few hard hours in our hotel bed while Rob updated Pam on our successful week with KiwiTech.

At around 9 pm, I abruptly woke up and ran to the toilet. I honestly don’t remember which end expressed itself first, but I remember the internal battle I had between seeking relief and maintaining my dignity among my business partners. The battle didn’t last long. Dignity was out the window. My body’s hydration was dangerously low at this point, something I have experienced in the past and was well aware of at the time. The joints in my fingers, wrists, and elbows began locking in a tensed state. The last time that happened, I was on an IV 30 minutes later, but I didn’t like the sound of that option as a tourist in Agra. As calmly as I could, I told Rob to grab some rehydration salts from my bag. He brought them over, filled the small Dixie cup next to the sink with water, and poured in the entire bag of salts. Each of those bags is designed for a liter of water. In my moment of panic, I didn’t realize what was happening and reached for the glass.

I was still feeling nauseous, but my body had nothing left to give — or so I thought. When the hypersaline water touched my tongue, it was rejected with brute force. Remember that scene in the new Casino Royale where Bond suspects he was poisoned so he dumps a shaker of salt into a glass of water to force-vomit? It was like that. Except I didn’t look remotely as suave. “Dilute it!” I exclaimed from inside the toilet bowl. Rob poured a bit into a separate glass, diluted it, and I tried again. This time, it was easy to get down (thanks to Rob, who claims that was his plan all along), and minutes later, I was feeling relatively normal. I slept for a long time that evening. My apologies to Rob and Pam for what the room probably smelled like.

Sleeping soundly before all hell broke loose.

The next day was a much more wonderful road to recovery and adventure. We visited the Taj Mahal in the morning, which was one of the greatest architectural experiences of my life. As we said goodbye to the squads of macaques, we started the long drive down to Ranthambhore: the land of tigers. The whole trip should have taken less than six hours, but a tall bump in the road put a quick stop to that pace.

Our hired driver’s car was toast until we could find the right part, and the only towns we could search had populations in the hundreds at best. To make things even less comfortable than asking every person in town for car parts, it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

From left to right: myself, Rob Whitehair, and Pam Voth waiting for the right car parts to show up.

As the sun began to set, we decided we weren’t going to find the part and needed to convince one of the locals to drive us the rest of the way. With some help from a hotel owner’s translation skills, we offered a man cash if he could use his personal car to drive us to Ranthambhore. He accepted.

We resumed our journey in the dark just as a dust storm had rolled in to greet us. Even with the low-beams on, you could barely see the cows crossing the one-lane road 50 feet in front of the car. Ranthambhore was desperately trying to hide its secrets, but we were determined to experience tigers and the park’s hundreds of other unique species in their natural habitats. Two hours later, we finally made it and were greeted by our hosts. With a 4:30 am wakeup call the next morning, we headed straight to bed.

Before I knew it, the three of us were hanging on tight, hats blown around our necks as our jeep flew down the dirt roads of Ranthambhore National Park. Our two guides knew exactly where to start scouting for tigers and today, they had an extra incentive to find one. It was my 27th birthday. The landscape felt like a hybrid between the Jungle Book and an Indiana Jones movie; a diverse ecosystem of tall grasses, lush green trees, and lakes with fantastic ruins of mosques and old temples scattered everywhere you looked. It was hard not to sing the Jurassic Park Theme out loud each time we entered the massive gates that guarded the park’s entrance. Rob, Pam, and I were lost in a dream world.

One of many ruins within the national park.
Pam photographing a peacock perched over the sunrise.
Rob and I listening patiently in the heat for any signs of tigers.

As the afternoon sun warmed the air to its peak temperatures of nearly 105 degrees Fahrenheit, we waited, listening for the distress calls of deer. Ungulates in distress usually meant one thing: tiger nearby. Suddenly, one of the guides whipped his head around and shushed us. “Haw! Haw!” It was the high-pitched warning call of a spotted deer. We barely had time to hold onto our cameras before the jeep accelerated toward the sound. Veering just off the side of the road, we stopped and searched the riverbed for movement. About 200 feet away was an adult male tiger, resting from the heat in the shady stream — AKA the best birthday present I could have asked for.

We patiently waited for nap time to be over so we could get some photographs of the tiger. The guides knew this tiger’s name and they knew his territory. They had positioned us strategically between the tiger and his next rotation, hoping he’d walk right by us as he continued monitoring for competitors. Preparedness met a bit of luck and fifteen minutes later, that’s exactly what happened. Not 30 feet from our vehicle was a 400 lb tiger, cleaner and more vibrant than I could have ever imagined. He strutted right past us with a soft, nonchalant growl. To my surprise, I was shaking. Excitement, yes. Fear, definitely. I’ve been in the water with manta rays, toothed whales, tiger sharks, blue ring octopus, and barracuda, but never before had I felt this exposed to a predator. I recorded the tail end of the experience with my phone because the tiger was too close for my telephoto lens. I needed some evidence to convince my future self about what just happened.

Pam and Rob photographing crocodiles in one of Ranthambhore’s ponds.
Showing off some crisp videos from earlier while the birds stormed our parked jeep.

Throughout that week, we had up-close experiences with several other tigers, one of which was napping in one of the abandoned mosques. The guides said they had never seen her do that in over a decade of observing. We sat and watched dozens of other animals as well. Langurs, crocodiles, sambar deer, kingfishers, jungle cats, leopards, sloth bears… the list goes on and on. Exploring Ranthambhore reinvigorated the passions we all had for wildlife, conservation, and adventure. The best part about it all: while we photographed bucket-list animals, our team was building a new way to share experiences like these with a worldwide community on a daily basis. We were going to have some good first posts.

Note: If you want to see more video clips and photographs from this trip, including all of the animals I listed and more, follow Rob, Pam, and myself on Mammalz.

Before returning to San Diego, Rob and I spent one more weekend in Delhi with some of our team members at KiwiTech. Central Delhi’s nightlife was a stark contrast to the pitch blackness of the national park, but it was a welcoming way to come back to reality. The following morning, as we sat in the airport with our copious amounts of newly purchased spices and way too much camera gear, reality hit a bit too hard. In a few months, we would have a completed version of the Mammalz MVP on our hands. We needed a real team back at home, fast.

Rob and I going through our treasured photographs and videos after one of many adventurous days.

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Alexander Finden

Co-founder of Mammalz, underwater cinematographer and Divemaster