A day in the Jungle – Part II
If you go beyond Khinnanauli FRH and onto the Kanda road, you come across the most beautiful park of the forest. Streams full of fish gently gurgle past grasslands against the backdrop of the hills. This is not a usual place for tiger sightings because of the high hills beyond, but wasn’t this just our lucky day!
When our superhero guide told us that there was a particular tigress who had made it a habit off late to have her afternoon siesta in this area, we made our way slowly but surely for the spot. As the clock ticked to half past one, we came across high bushes of bhang – marijuana. The bushes were high enough to hide an elephant comfortably and yet as we the bushes brushed past us I didn’t feel any fear, just thrill. Bhang is a favorite hang out of the tigers as well since it is cool in its shade. This tigress however was lounging in the pool!
As the gypsy got around the bhang bushes, there was a frenzy of activity. About ten gypsies carrying people with all kinds of zoom lenses were parked in a single file at the very edge of a small embankment. One-inch forward and the embankment would fall and we would all collapse and land next to the tiger. The tigress though was blissfully uncaring of our presence. With just her head and some parts of her back above the water surface, her tawny stripes were magnificent in the gray blue water.
More gypsies started piling up and the tigress continued her repast in the stream, occasionally flicking her tail, letting out a yawn, having a drink, changing her side a little, nodding off, shaking her head, throwing a lazy glance at all her admirers and then looking away bored with our lack of initiative.
Birds chirped afar and a turtle surfaced creating a stir amongst the photographers. Then there was trumpeting! While the tigress was on our right, the trumpeting came from the left along with some visible bird movement. A herd of elephants was afoot. Were we all going to be caught between these two? What adventure awaited us?
After considerable passage of time (maybe five minutes in reality), one tusker broke cover afar and came forward near the river. He was still some distance away from the tiger and yet as soon as he stepped forward, he noticed her and making some quick mental calculations, continued to walk on the stony bank. He circled around to come to the other side and took stock of the situation again. Deciding to carry on walking, he too another 4-5 steps forward and then paused to think again. Now, keeping the tiger in full view, he walked back towards the river and entered the water. He stood sideways presumably to continue keeping a watch on the tigress, and started to drink water. He thought it was a good idea to take a small shower.
Then he left the water from the side where he had first come out and once again circled the tigress on the stony bank and went on ahead, leaving the tigress once again to herself. After about 20 minutes and a total on an hour of me watching her, she decided to leave. The flurry of activity it accompanied on the bank was nothing short of a fish market unfortunately. Dripping wet, she gently lifted herself and flicked her tail about. Precisely placing her foot on the rocks nearby, she gracefully exited the water and got into the bhang bushes. The gypsies snarled their engines to life and flowed her to cut her on the path out of the bhang. She however took cover there. It was after all a rather hot day in June.
No sooner that she exited the water, the herd of elephants emerged. 7 of them in batch 1 followed by another 11 in batch 2 emerging a minute later. Was there some silent communication then? The herd had a large number of young calves and sub adults so presumably; the first lone tusker had come out to do a recce and then signaled all to come out in a few minutes. Perhaps he also notified the tigress to scoot! We marveled at the massive beasts silently making their way through the water and the grass till they became specks afar and leaving them to their business, we hurried back as fast as permissible in the jungle to our rest house.
The caretaker took the supplies from us and got busy making our dinner of Maggi. While we were taking a breather and going over the phenomenal sightings of the day, the guide came hurriedly. A herd of elephants was headed for the FRH! Now Sultan, unlike the other FRH, does not have an electric fencing. It is open for animals to move across. All residents have strict instruction not to step out of the porch area post sundown. In any case, with absolutely no visibility, one would have to be crazed to attempt to go into the forest at night. So this herd could very well join us for dinner. It was still daytime though, so with the guide, I rushed to the adjoining quarters (located 300 meters way approx.). There were at least 20 of them – young and old altogether. They were making their way through the trees and headed straight in our direction. The guards told us that they had come this way yesterday and entered the complex. The guards had to fire a blank shot in air to warn the herd off, before they got destructive. This is of course a last resort and the animals (big or small) always have the right of way here. This evening however, they continued on their branch breaking and eating spree and steered clear of our complex. Even though I had secretly hoped to have them come close to us, I was happy for this distance and prepared for a night of rest.
Waking up from dreams of tigers and elephants, we got ready for our last excursion into the park before heading back into the world. I requested the guide to take us to Ramsingh road. He was skeptical as it was a favorite haunt of elephants and as it is there was warning of increased elephant activities. Looking at my pleading face however, he acquiesced. Surprisingly though Ramsingh road was devoid of any action or sighting. Not even a deer! So we headed back the way we came to our exit towards Dhangari. Just then a tusker appeared on the road.
The tusker was by himself and it did not appear as if he was part of a herd. He saw us and continued down the road. We backed our gypsy. He stepped off the road and into the shrubs next to the road. We could see him turn around and face the road. His massive tusks were in clear view. The guide moved the gypsy forward and promptly the elephant stepped out of cover onto the road. It appeared as if he was determined not to let us pass. We immediately reversed again. He then ambled purposefully towards us. We reversed some more, nearly 500 meters. We crossed a bend and then seceded to turn the vehicle around. As we were in the process of turning around, he appeared around the bend. He was taking strong and purposefully strides indeed. After 10 minutes, we went back. He was there, almost as if waiting for us, and knowing he had won this waiting game, he again came forward. We reversed again and went about 1 km back. And waited. This time we were not going to let him win. After 20 minutes, we saw him approach. We were waiting beyond the cut, which led to Ramsingh road on one side and to Kamarpatta road on the other. Luckily for us our pachyderm here had read the warning signs about elephants abounding Ramsingh road too. He promptly turned the corner and went down that road. Not sure if he was just waiting it out there, we continued to be rooted to our spot. Then thankfully, a gypsy came from ahead. It seems that the elephant had held the 2 of us in limbo with his early morning antics. With approach from the front clear, we were now finally free to move and headed out.
This was perhaps my hundredth visit to the forest, and by far the most thrilling. I have always enjoyed the forest and all its inhabitants irrespective of a tiger sighting or not. This was the first time however that I was blessed with so much activity in such a short span of time. To the age old question which irks me no end – did you see a tiger – I just want to say…wait and there will be a day when you will see and experience so much more than just the tiger – the hunt, being the hunted, the watchers, and having a front row to the unending drama of the strips and the tusks.