“One hour, not enough. You need two hours for elephant safari.”
Heeding our host’s advice, we spent the extra cash on a longer ride. We arrived at the boarding platform early and waited longer than expected. Being an elephant, she arrived whenever she felt like, and the driver could do little about it.
An elephant ride is not the most comfortable means of travel. There is inevitably a lot of swaying, and even more chafing. But it is an unforgettable experience, because on the back of an elephant one is able to see the same landscape in a whole new light. We had an unobstructed view at all times, could easily cut across rivers, scale tall banks, and look over the ten-foot tall and appropriately named “elephant grass”. The elephant herself was quite quirky. She did not like to get her trunk wet, gingerly curling it out of the water as we waded across one particularly deep section of the river. Sometimes while wading through the bush, it would rip a tuft of grass and stuff it into its mouth. A mid-morning snack.
After about an hour and on the verge of heading back, the driver, calm as can be, pointed out what would be the highlight of the trip: Two wild Indian rhinos foraging by the edge of the forest. Getting within twenty feet to a mother and a calf rhino would be suicidal on foot, but there was no trouble on the back of an elephant who had no fear of any other living creature. We stayed for five minutes, circling, taking pictures and videos before heading back, exhilarated.
But the day was not over yet. After a quick lunch of dhal bhaat (rice, lentils, and curried vegetables), we set out on a Jeep Safari into the heart of tiger territory. In comparison to the wide sweeping river plains, the sal forests we drove through were dry, dark, and slightly ominous.
As we moved through this dimly-lit country, I began to understand why Nanu and Deep were so blasé when it came to seeing deer. Here herds of spotted deer roamed the forest, sometimes accompanied by monkeys high up in the trees, acting as each other’s sentries against the mutual threat of tiger attacks. After a while, I got sick of trying to take photos of either groups. Instead, I was drawn to the human-height termite mounds, rising out of the ground like bizarre brick monuments, silent and foreboding.
We stopped by a waterhole and found some tiger tracks but they were worn and old. We scouted out a few other locations, turned off the engine, and listened. The air was still with a soft buzz. In one spot beyond a dry streambed, a cry suddenly rang out in front of us. Coming from the driver of another jeep, he told us that he saw a tiger on the road around the bend. When we arrived, it had disappeared. Nanu went over to survey the tracks while Deep scrambled up a tree, sweeping the forest for signs of movement.
“Three. One male. One female. One baby.” Nanu pointed to the fresh untouched sets of footprints on the road. We would linger in the area but they had melted back into the shadows. Nanu and Deep were disappointed, but I was all right with the close call. Some things were not meant to be, but that was OK. At least we came away with some amazing experiences and great stories to tell.
Previous Part : Jungle Walk on Foot