Saturday, 12 December 2015

Jabalpur Diaries-Part 3

 spent the night before twisting and turning wondering whether the noise is a tiger growling or someone from the near by tent snoring. I am pretty sure some wild boars were circling our tent too...
We woke up at the crack of dawn to get ready for our morning Safari. We realized the elephants were closer than a hundred feet to our tent. There was just a 3 ft high wall between us. One elephant in particular was very restless. It was chained to a tree and was pacing around it, visibly agitated. It was shaking its head, putting its trunk inside its mouth, twisting it around its tusks. 
Our guide informed us that this is Ram Bahadur, and it's time for Ram to mate. But he is so aggressive that last year he pierced the side of the oldest female elephant of their clan, Vatsala, with his tusks. The 95 year old Vatsala still hasn't recovered from that attack. So this year, they have chained him. Quite sad 
By 6.30 we were in an open jeep, entering the Panna Tiger Reserve. The reserve is spread over 543 sq. kms of which only 20% is open for tourists. It houses 35 tigers and an assortment of other animals like spotted deer, antelope, bear, and langur.
Our guide Kailash Tiwari has been working here for so long that he can spot the location of the tigers just from the sounds of the other animals. Mr. Tiwari told us that the reserve is divided in two, the male and female tigers live separately. They meet for mating and then the female tiger takes her cubs to her territory so the male doesn't eat them.
Our first spotting was the
spotted deer (ha!). Our guide asked us to look up and there was a langur hanging off the tree. Our guide said the deer and the monkeys are best friends. The langur spots the hunting tiger from its vantage point and screeches to inform the grazing deer. It's a one way relationship though, the deer do nothing to return the favour.
The deer still are amazing, they are just so graceful, even when just munching on some grass. They are the meryl streep of animals. 
Since it's winter, the trees are naked and the long grass is mostly hay. It lends the place a very Savanna feel. We drove through narrow dirt tracks, driving past 'kardhai' trees, the wood of which is used for the Indian railways sleepers. There were bamboos, teak, and a ghost tree. Yes, a ghost tree. It's a gum tree that glows in the dark! The gum collected from it is used to make laddoos.
Some areas were charred, the grass burnt to the ground. Since hay is highly flammable, just a spark will lead to a fire. But the beauty of nature is such that once the winter passes and the sun shines and clouds shower, the tiny green saplings will wake up and stretch. Soon what was black will be green. And this cycle has been turning from the beginning of time. Subhanaallah.
We drove through vindhyanchal range to the hinauta range, stopping occasionally to look at peacocks or click pictures of the amazing landscape spread out around us.
I felt so alive being so near nature on such a crisp day, filling my lungs with fresh, sweet air, feeling the wind on my face, watching the sun rise over the valley, over combed clouds.
It was hard not to be overwhelmed by the beauty of it, the serenity of things left untouched. Then my aunt, Zakeena, made a profound reflection, we humans feel compelled to possess beauty wherever we see it, instead of just enjoying it and letting it be. That really got me thinking, why is that? It's this impulse that makes us pluck a flower instead of just smelling it. Click a picture, instead of just breathing in the sight. And conquer lands and people instead of lifting each other up. This desire to possess everything that is true and pure and beautiful will drive us to our end.
Soon our guide heard something and asked the driver, Uttam, to stop near the watering hole, kein. There were a few other jeeps there too. Some Italian tourists, a Punjabi couple, and some Germans (I presume, based on their accent). For a few minutes we were quiet. The only sound that of the wind weaving through the leaves and a monkey screeching loudly, letting the other citizens of the jungle know that the tiger is on the prowl. I could hear my own breath as I strained to hear or see this elusive tiger we were all waiting for.
After almost ten minutes we started the jeep. The engine roaring to life felt intrusive after those minutes of pure silence, of being in harmony with the nature around us. As we trundled over the dirt track, going to the next spot the tigers are likely to be at, we all waved at each other; indians, Germans, or Italians...nothing mattered here. The unconditional camaraderie was touching, especially in a world where humanity and compassion is being divided by borders.
After four hours at the safari, we made our way out, having seen everything but the royal Bengal tigers, who decided against gracing us with their appearance.

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