Year 1995. June.
Place Jim Corbett National Park. Time: 11:00 AM
We headed for breakfast, towards a small restaurant in the Ram Nagar santuary guest house.
The place was small but very luxurious for the government unit, it had a library and an amp hi theater apart from the restaurant. There was a ‘machan’ built on a tree near by our apartment and it was near the boundary surrounding the guest house. Few meters away from this tree, there was a stage like structure built about the height of a single story. It was for climbing the elephant.
So, we stood in a que near the stairs to go up and waited for our turn. After about fifteen minutes or so, we climbed the stage and we’re asked to climb the elephant in another five minutes. We all sat on same elephant.
The moment it started to move, it was an experience for lifetime. A wonderful memory to store. The way it swinged while it moved forward gave goosebumps that made me giggle. The ‘mahavat’ asked me to be quiet as we were on the safari and that too for tiger watching, so being quiet and still was for most requirement.
The elephant took us on a trail filled with excitement for both elders and children equally, through the deep jungle. Sometimes, patches of grassland emerged between the huge and dense trees where the grass was at the height of four to four and a half feet. The ‘mahavat’ said here the danger lurks hidden in the grasses, for the elephants carrying the tourists as last month same time a tiger attacked and elephant twice but the courageous elephant defeated the beast and took the tourists back safely. But the tourists were so afraid that even though they were grown ups, they literally did shit n their pants and the lady with them started cry and fainted.
On listening to this incident, we were not afraid but our curiosity increased to another level, specially for us children. From those lurking open grass lands we moved to shaded grassland spots and at a distance we saw a herd of deers. Moving ahead say for a half meter we saw some wild boars and at a place we saw a fawn and mamma deer fondling. This was the time, when all the childhood stories came tumbling forward to my mind from a deep slumber. It gave a different feeling, say, sort of nostalgia. How and where they lived and may be their homes were hidden somewhere in the deep jungle. In my mind at that time, the homes of the animals were same like depicted in the comic books. From there we moved in more deper part of the jungle.
At a distant part of the jungle we heard some particular type of whistling and at the same time the ‘mahavat’ got excited and asked us to be alert. He asked us to keep looking around carefully as we could get to see the big cat anytime now. I was so excited that I chuckled and told my baby brother how it would be a privilege to see it. Papa glowed at me signaling to be quiet. My brother was sitting in front between my parents, just behind the ‘mahavat’, then sat my uncle and behind him sat aunt and me. We both sat adjacent to each other.
The ‘mahavat’ started to speed up the elephant and it literally started to walk briskly. From opposite came another elephant, carrying another sat of tourists but it was running in different direction so our ‘mahavat’ asked theirs, which direction? He pointed to the left behind us. And next moment, without loosing a second our elephant was turning back. Then it traced back the track from where we came, up to five hundred meters and then took another track and continued to walk in the direction of the whistling sound with that another elephant following us.
After reaching to spot between big trees and dense shrubs, I saw two or three more elephants standing in a circle and all tourists were pointing in a direction and bustling with excitement. I could not understand what was the matter. My brother was overexcited but still I didn’t get the point. And was busy figuring out what’s the reason, looking around and between the bushes. It was then that papa said there was lion, lying in its full majesty and giving us the chance to admire his beauty and charisma. In all the people, I think I was alone who could not get even the glimpse of it and told so to papa. The ‘mahavat’ then faced the elephant in the opposite direction so that me and aunty now faced the spot. Aunty was like oh my god! What a beauty. And me? I was like what, where and what the all fuss is about. I was looking around in all the directions except where I should actually be watching. Annoyingly mom told me to look down.
That was the moment. A moment of pride, a moment of thrill. Some feet below me, just meter away, lying there was a fifteen feet magnificent tiger. In its full glory he stretched like a mighty king, who seemed to be resting after a good kill and letting the admirers take a look. It seemed less bothered about all of us. I was all awestruck with its beauty, strength and stealth. I was so lost in my admiration of it that I forgot to take a picture. That massiveness of flesh and bones, raised its head just once to look at us and then waved its tail in a motion to flew off the flies and then went back to sleep. It seemed the tiger was telling his intruders to leave.
Taking the sign we turned back an left. On our way back to guesthouse, we met couple of safari elephants on their way to tiger trail but we later came to know others were not as lucky as us to have even a glimpse of tiger. Our ‘ mahavat’ asked for “tip” as a token for showing the tiger. Even other two ‘mahavats’ who returned empty handed, wanted some “tip” as we saw the tiger.
At lunch, everyone was talking about the sighting of tiger but no one knew who saw. It was then, someone at the reception asked the manager, and he pointed towards me ( I was standing near reception area to take some mouth freshners, after lunch) and then the loads of congratulations poured in over our group.
That day and incident are graved in my memory like it happened yesterday, in its full vibrancy and details.