Now and then, one has an experience or two, that makes one think over the fleetingness as well as silliness of one’s behaviour and existence. There are two such experiences that I remember clearly.
March 1996, Corbett National Park
Six of us, friends, were on a jungle safari in the Dhikala zone of the Jim Corbett nationalpark. It had been over a couple of hours and apart from a herd of deers and an elephant, any other sighting still eluded us. We had had a close brush with a young elephant who got upset with our presence and chased us. We heeded to his anger and got away as fast as the canter would take us. After wandering around a little more, we came to a junction of jungle trails. The driver of the canter we were in, decided to take the trail on our left. On both sides of this jungle track, was elephant grass. As we drove a little further in, a mother elephant with her calf stepped right on to the track from the right. She could not have been more than 20 ft, away. We stopped immediately. The driver reversed hurriedly but realised that there was now a Tusker on the road we had just left. We looked towards the left to see if we could somehow go through the tall grass and thats when we realised the presence of a rather large herd of elephants on our left. We had failed to notice their presence when we had turned left. The grass hid them well. Well and truly trapped, all of us went super quiet, waiting for at least one of the sides to clear, hopefully, without hurting any of us. It is amazing how humans sense danger instinctively. We figured that the only way out was to keep absolute silence and hope they won’t notice us, and that was when the driver decided to loose it. He left hold of steering, got out of the canter, and started shouting at the top of his voice, ‘mar gaye, mar gaye, aaj nahin bachenge’ (we are going to die, we won’t survive today). It was sort of a kodak moment. Our collective incredulous focus shifted from elephants to this madman. Now, all of us started screaming too, at him, telling him to get back into the canter. Another person got off the canter to pull him back in. We shouted at him too. His arms up in air, the driver was thrashing about, shouting ‘mar gaye’. This went for a couple of minutes. During this entire chaos, thankfully, the Tusker had walked on ahead. The driver finally got in, quickly reversed and drove away. I managed to get a last look before we turned a corner. Not a single one of the elephants had raised his/ her head or paid any attention to our melee.
I have always been afraid of humans.
December 2016, Jungle surrounding Corbett National Park
I reached a farmhouse on the outskirts of Corbett, early in the morning. It was cold and refreshing. The farmhouse was nicely located with fields on two of the sides, a dry river bed on one and a forest on the last. This forest is what interested me the most about this place. I had been here earlier too and had walked through the forest a couple of times. A trail in the forest took one through a teak plantation followed by walking on an unused but still tarred road. Further ahead, the forest opened up to a dry river bed on the right and yet further ahead was a watering hole. All excited about the jungle, I decided to go for a walk later in the evening. In the evening though, I was told that a tiger has been sighted a couple of times and it may not be wise to go as the night falls early in December.
Next day, around 7 am, my friend and I started our walk through the forest. It was a lovely morning. Sun was not out yet and there was a little fog. There is something very satisfying about being in the middle of a well lit but misty forest. Everything looks fresh, alive, nourishing and pure. The same misty forest in dark can be terrifying. That’s the thing about light and dark. What is not visible can be frightening. Anyways, we were on a narrow trail with thick bushes on both sides when, we saw a stag about 40- 50 mtrs. ahead of us. He stood absolutely erect with ears cocked up. In the middle of that track in that misty forest, he was such a beautiful sight that I just stood there watching him. I even forgot to take a picture. I said to my friend that, ‘he looks so otherworldly and just look at how still he is’. My friend said, ‘don’t get all excited, he probably heard something’. I felt my heart beat go faster. I stood my ground nevertheless and continued watching him. He looked right back at us. And sure enough, a couple of minutes later, he gave a loud alarm and jumped into the bushes on the right. From the left side however, I saw a movement. A flash of yellow, and out came a tiger. I freaked. I am sure I did. He didn’t bother to even look at us straight. For a split second, I thought, what an arrogant beast. Later, I thanked god that he didn’t. He turned his right leg ever so slightly towards us and gave a very low, barely audible growl. By now, all our sensory organs had started working overtime and we definitely didn’t need to be told twice. We ran. As fast as we could. Not that we could have outrun him. I was told later, one shouldn’t run in such situations but back away slowly. I realised though that I didn’t need to outrun the tiger, I only needed to outrun ‘My friend’. There was only one problem though, he was already outrunning me. Yup, he got scared too. I knew that because all the way back home, he made sure to walk ahead of me.
Back at the farm, I had a huge breakfast.