Saturday, October 6, 2007


Urban living is hip. Contingents of people leave behind the throes of poverty and migrate from rural areas to these urban jungles. Definitions of comfort and luxury are being rewritten and luxury is fast becoming necessity. However, from time to time, nature comes calling back. An urge to return to the wild existence of our ancestors manifests itself. To experience what their nights might have seemed like, and to hear that piercing sound silence that a city dweller rarely experiences except in states of unconsciousness. And when this call of the wild comes, it is best to throw caution to wind and submit to it. We got the call, and we answered a positive!!! So began our journey into that untamed world called Kanha National Park. To digress a little, the planning of a journey is sometimes just as exciting as the journey itself. You take a group of 9 testosterone filled 22 year olds, and throw them into a discussion bout an upcoming journey, and then sit back and watch the show. Tempers flaring, irrational suggestions, earth shattering attempts at humor, arguments on time of departure and then finally that discussion on the budget. Even the Finance Minister would have been frazzled. Coming back to the topic, after reaching consensus on budget, transport, shelter etc, we finally set off on the trip.

7 hours can pass by like a snap. That is, unless you cram 9 people in a car meant for 7!! And, unless you are the butt of every joke. I’m sure a couple of them had a nightmare ride. But it was a reunion of friends, and what’s a little discomfort between friends?? ITC laughed all way to the bank. Reaching there at night, we all changed into our comfort clothes (300 km away from city, anything is comfort clothing). Once again the nostalgia and reminiscing of time spent together begins. Nights in the forest seem to be pleasant always, no matter the season. That smell of foliage, shrill noises of insects in heat, a lonely bird keeping watch, even a bristle in the undergrowth become pleasant music. The sky seems flush with stars; the moon seems brighter and bigger. Living in a miasma of sound and sight in the city, we become practically immune to these background noises. But here, in this wilderness, suppressed senses come alive. And along with that, suppressed feelings and emotions come alive. The loner aches for a mate, the heartbroken aches for his lost love, the happy ache for company of loved one, and the distraught aches for closure. Slowly, under the watchful eyes of the stars and the moon, 9 starry eyed boys drift off into dreams. Big day tomorrow.

4 o’ clock the alarm rings. Even the clock is surprised to be set off at such an ungodly hour. It joins in the amusement and screams with more fervor than it would at 9 o’clock. All are dressed, some of them by the use of brute force. 5 o’clock gates open and we venture out into Kanha. We feel the excitement that Kipling must have felt while writing The Jungle Book in the same place. An hour passes by with small rewards of rare birds and herds of deer. The guide tells us about the forest and trees and other species that live there. But nobody is really listening. Everybody is fixated on seeing just one thing. And that Big Cat remains elusive. Eager eyes inspect every movement in the forest for that ultimate prize. We award the second prize to the Bison. 500 kilos of sheer muscle power on 4 feet. And an attitude to suit the built. The alpha male does not appreciate the attention from tourists and charges at a Gypsy, as a warning. We all have pelted stones at cows and buffaloes at some point in our lives. This one charge by the Bison seems like a revenge for that. Everyone holds their breaths as we slowly slither past the herd. Phew! At Elephant Point, we are told that two tigers have been spotted. We see excited tourists shrieking in ecstasy as we near the spot on elephant back. And there they are… we approach a grassy stream, and suddenly as we turn a corner we see two magnificent tigers wallowing in a stream. We all have seen this many times on National Geographic Channel, but nothing can compare coming face to face with a tiger. True to its name, the Royal Bengal Tiger is royal in every sense of the word. Every muscle built to specification, a gleaming coat and that stealth characteristic of a cat. But most captivating are the eyes. That pride in them, that feeling of power, which can only come from a sense of invincibility. He is the king of the jungle, and he knows it very well. Unperturbed by people, the two tigers enjoy their cooling bath. Our guide motions the mahout to return. But we just can’t peel our eyes off this creature of beauty. But its closing time and we reluctantly leave the spot. An eerie silence settles as we leave in our Gypsy. Nobody talks to each other. We have just experienced raw nature and it is humbling, almost surreal. We realize our powerlessness. We may be highest up in the food chain, but we have reached their based on tools and weapons. Take them away and we are helpless.

Exhausted from the excitement, we head back to our hotel for rest. Everyone is looking forward to the evening tour. One more, just one more look at the tiger again please. Our evening tour begins with a promise. Tiger sightings are reported. As we are hurrying on, our Gypsy breaks down. Prospects of getting a lift are nil. So our guide decides to take us walking back to the gate. Nothing can be scarier than this. Still, bolstered by our guide, we start walking. Our guide tells us what to do in case a tiger crosses our paths. It does more harm than good. Because now, we are all thinking of that eventuality!! Possibility of a tiger lurking behind the grass suddenly becomes real. The shades of the forest however offset that thought for a while. The fading sun paints the sky a deep orange. Tall trees draw out shapes in their shadows. Beyond, a hill rising out of nowhere beckons us like a guardian of the forest. A bunch of Gypsies distracts us from these thoughts and then the gravity of the situation dawns upon us. A tiger. With never before seen athletic zeal, we clamber up one of the Gypsies for safety, and sure enough, about 100 meters away sits a tiger. A concoction of fear and absolute awe ensues. We gaze and click the beast admiringly, till he decides that it was enough exposure for a day. He vanishes into the cover. Still heady with the sight, we head back too. Rest of the trip goes in contemplating what would have happened if we, on foot, would have spotted the tiger. It gives rise to nervous laughs and jokes. We are lucky to have seen 3 tigers in a single day and that too in such an adventurous way. We are, and will be, one of the very few tourists who will ever walk on foot inside Kanha. We head back to our hotel with a head full of memories, and moments forever captured in our hearts.

Some celebrations never change. We crack open our drinks and ease up into the day’s happenings. We recount the day’s events. How scared we were, how beautiful the forest was. But etched deep into our psyche is still those two eyes burning like the sun. Kudos to the creator!

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