We started out early the next morning, straight after breakfast. The fog was still clinging to the low places and as the sun climbed it imbued a golden sheen on the dewy grasses. Being the only visitors at the lodge, we were joined by an older jovial guide on our daylong jungle walk. Nanu was his name; he carried our lunches in his backpack and handed us walking sticks for the trek ahead. Two guides for the price of one, and another set of sharp eyes on the lookout. We heard him and Deep chat excitedly as they walked on ahead.
Our first stop was at a watchtower. Rising fifty feet out of the grasslands, we had a 360-degree panorama of the river and the banks beyond. In the distance, dark green stands of forest stretched on as far as I could see. We watched for the landscape for a while, but everything was still, not yet awake.
We walked along the wide riverbank. In the rainy season, this would be full and flowing fast, Nanu explained, but right now it is dry and safe. Some parts of the bank were full of round river rocks, making it difficult to walk quickly on, while other sections were filled with thick silty mud, soft enough to leave a good set of tracks. Deep and Nanu scoured these areas, calling excitedly to us when they found tracks of tiger, rhinos and wild elephants. But few of them were fresh, and although we would spot numerous monkeys and deer and exotic birds and even a crocodile during our fifteen-kilometer hike, it would not be our day for seeing big game.
It didn’t matter too much. For me, it was amazing just to be immersed in the jungle, but Deep and Nanu seemed disappointed in not finding us anything noteworthy. Before we returned, they wanted to show us a surprise. Taking a detour to the back of the elephant breeding centre, they unveiled Shiva, a young Indian one-horned rhinoceros happily chewing through a mound of leaves and grass. Deep explained that as an orphan, she was blinded by a mob after trampling an old villager, and now has to be kept here for everyone’s safety. Over a dinner of surprisingly authentic pasta and rice pudding, Krishna told us news of a rogue elephant that had just destroyed a nearby home. The family barely escaped with the clothes on their back. It was a little surreal that this was part of the daily realities of these people.
“People are demanding that the beast be shot,” Krishna said and sighed, “it is difficult to talk conservation when an elephant just destroyed your home.”