Bats in the Belfry - India
Jaisalmer, Rayastan, India August 26, 1998
The sweat was pouring down my brow. Even after sitting along the edge of the fortress rooftop downing a couple liters of water and a cold beer. Today was the hottest day we've had in Rajastan. Pabu, our Guest House manager, told us, "It must be at least 47 degrees centigrade outside!" That is 115 degrees Fahrenheit!! The problem wasn't the temperature, it was just that there was no breeze and no way to cool off. It instantly drains you.
We came back from our camel safari in the Thar Desert around l pm. We were tired, hungry, and incredibly filthy after being outside atop camels and sleeping on sand dunes for three days. We even endured two full-on sand and dust storms, one during the day and one while we were trying to sleep. They were awesome.....the kind you see in the movies! But, it is quite a bit scarier in person!! Now, we are back in our fortress Guest House. We are clean, ready to relax, unwind and savor the memories of our camel safari adventure.
We both had sore inner thighs from attempting to gallop the gangly beast around the dunes. Our skin was parched from the intense desert sun, and my bum was itching from breaking-out from all the sweat and dirt that was ground in after eleven hours on a hard camel saddle. We were ready for a good night's rest!! The room was perfect. The fan was on high. The windows on all three sides were wide open to allow as much cross-breeze as possible. We had cold, wet bandanas across our faces and chests to create natural refrigeration as the water evaporated. Sleep came quickly......but not for long!!
At 1 am, I awoke to the loud banging sound of our shuttered windows. The room was in a dusty, brown haze, highlighted with bright flashes of light from outside. "What the hell?" I jumped out of bed. My body was covered with a thin layer of dirt. Still half asleep, I ran to the nearest window to see what was going on. About the same time, Courtney shouted at me to close the windows. Peering out, I could only see ten to twenty feet into the thick dust. "Another sandstorm!" This one was far more severe than the previous ones. It took both of us pushing against the wind to close the windows and latch them down. I really thought the small glass window panes would blow out and shatter into our faces. We could hear crashing sounds all around us as flimsy roof tops blew off buildings and signs tore from their posts. I peered out from a single broken window pane and could hardly believe the intense power of the monsoon wind. Thank God we were not still out in the desert!! Our stone-block room was scary enough. Soon the power was out across the entire fort and surrounding city. Our room was hot and dusty with closed windows and no fan. It was very stuffy as we lay on our bed stuck to the sheets, grit in our teeth, eyes wide open, listening and watching the windows, wondering when they would break with the force of nature.
The room lit up from continuous flashing of sheet lightening to the South. We tried, but couldn't sleep. The dirt and sand finally settled in our room as well as outside. A fierce down-pour of rain took its' place. The strong winds continued and even stepped up another notch. I lit a candle and we lay there naked in the heat, half scared, half excited and ready to bolt out of bed, grab our "lives" (money belts and packs) and find another shelter if the windows exploded. After what seemed an hour or longer, it quieted down. We opened the windows and looked out. The cool air felt great against our bodies. There was still a lot of rain, but the wind had really died down. We held each other and just stared out over the dark city. Our bodies lit up in the flashes of lightening. Perhaps now we could get some sleep.
We opened all three windows, savored the light breeze and climbed back into bed. Lying there, Courtney heard a familiar noise, "cheep, cheep." "Do you hear that?" she asked. "No, what?" I replied. We both listened carefully. "Oh my God," she said, "BATS!" "No, it can't be! They've never flown in here before, and we've always slept with the windows open," I said. But, maybe this time they were disoriented and scared from the storm like we were. I slid out of bed and lit another candle. "AHH,” Courtney shrieked...me too! "Oh Shit!" six bats were flying around the room and hanging upside down on the ceiling and walls, staring at us with their beady little eyes. With their little pointed ears, they cocked their heads as we squirmed about the bed wondering what to do. Courtney pulled her sarong up over her head and hid in a little ball. I didn't know what to do. How do you get bats out of a room and not piss them off?..........This was definitely a situation I hadn't "fixed" before! (Courtney teases me about being the fix-it-man.) Well, this time she was paralyzed under her sarong with exposed "cheeks" (bum) and wasn't teasing me about anything. It was a pretty funny sight.
At first, the bats flew about the room in the dim flickering candlelight. Occasionally, they would take a dive toward us, but always managed to keep their distance. I guess bat-radar really does work!! Soon they settled on the walls and ceiling all around us. It was eerie! I'm sure they were just as spooked! There was no way we could blow out the candle and go back to sleep. NOTE: These weren't your little tiny hummingbird-sized bats, nor the giant "flying-squirrel" type fruit bats that look more like cats with wings....but, they were BIG ENOUGH (about the size of hamsters and had individual expressions on their little faces.)
I again looked over at Courtney and was proud that she managed to suppress herself from screaming, especially when they were flying just inches over her head. "Kai Garne?" (a popular Hindi expression...."what to do?" I reached into my pack and found my Petzel headlamp. This is the floodlight that I had been carrying around the entire trip, continually threatening to get rid of it. It was heavy and rarely used. Maybe this was what it was meant for??? I turned it on and focused the beam on a single hairy little creature. He, or she, or it, (do bats have a sex?) just peered back and cocked it's little head to get a better view of me.......Who said bats can't see? I didn't get the reaction I was hoping for.....like being scared of the light and flying out the window!! It eventually flew towards me instead. There was only one choice left.....I grabbed by wits, (whatever that means) jumped off the bed and, in the buff, started my pursuit. I was swinging my sarong at all six bats as they panicked and began flying frantically around the room. They were bumping into walls and furniture, me and, maybe, even Courtney's bum! I couldn't tell exactly what was happening as I ran around the room like a wild man, tripping over everything. I was half on the offensive trying to shoo them out and half on the defensive trying to shoo them away as they charged towards me. Earlier that morning (or the previous day) our camel driver told us that bats will dig their back feet into your hair or skin and hang on persistently. I tried to forget about this information! One by one, I managed to shoo the little critters out of the windows. Maybe, better said, they managed to rid themselves of the crazy maniac in the room!! At last PEACE!
Courtney peered out from under her cover. "It's ok, babe," I said, "at least for now." I wondered what was next. I partially shut the windows (we needed some air or we would never sleep) and lay back on the bed. Nestled in our little fortress room, high on a hill in the old fort overlooking the city of Jaisalmer, sleep again came very quickly, but this time with some very interesting dreams!