‘First Aid Box. Check. Knife. Check. Spectacle Case. Check,’ I said aloud.
‘Knife?’ asked Specky, ‘Why are you taking a knife with you?’
I corrected her, ‘It’s that Victorinox Swiss Knife. And I need to have it with me. After all I’m going on a wildlife safari to Dudhwa.’
So this was how I began my packing. The first aid box has my daily dose of medicines and a few other emergency molecules, the spectacle case… Ah! How can I ever forget that tragedy on the first day I was in Sydney. My spectacles slipped and one of the glasses cracked miserably. Obviously I had to spend the rest of my trip trying to read through a cracked pair of glasses as the new ones with tortoise glasses frames could be ordered but delivered in no less than seven days, so the guys at the local Optician had told me. I also found out about this Glasses Direct shop, which has a lot of the best designs of frames that can fit my face. And did I ever tell you about the time I was asked to throw away my Victorinox swiss knife at the security check-in at IGIA? Yes, they unceremoniously asked me to throw it as it wasn’t allowed in my hand baggage. So I sought permission and went back to the airline check-in counter and requested for my checked-in baggage. Hey were gracious enough to have it recalled from the loading bay and I was able to save my precious swiss knife!
Dudhwa, by the way, is a good four to five hour drive from Lucknow and we were staying in a small town called Palia which is a few miles away from the forest and the national park. This safari was happening because Aircel has a genuine concern for animals and sponsors the #saveourtigers program in more than one wildlife park. They offer their concern and fiscal inputs that helps the team from WTI (Wildlife Trust of India) and the forest officials to carry on with their life-saving assignments without worrying about worldly needs. When I told Specky about all the good work Aircel was doing, she simply smiled and said, ‘See if you can spot love in the forest and then write about it.’
Well, I did see love in the forest and this post is all about the blooming love affair between PawanKali and Batalik that I noticed through the elephant high grass blades and in the loving swishes of an elephant’s trunk.
It was after we had completed the first part of our safari that we reached the elephant point somewhere in the middle of the thick forest. There was silent expectation on the faces of all of us. We had just driven slowly through a forest on a foggy morning and every little movement of every hanging vine had made us look in that direction expecting some wild animal to jump out and bare its fangs! But as yet we had managed to click some really lovely shots of sunlight dripping through closely set leaves in the high Sal trees and a few of the silent but treacherous termite hills threatening sturdy trees.
‘This is where we will get on the elephants and go in search of the Rhino in the rhino rehabilitation area,’ said our guide. Yes, it was fun to clamber up the wooden stairs and hop on the back of an elephant. Once four of us were there, the Mahout swished the long flexible branch in his hands and the elephant majestically moved ahead.
‘So when shall we see the rhino,’ someone asked.
Another said, ‘Hope we get to sight the tiger too.’
‘Anything is possible in the jungle,’ said the mahout, ‘We have sighted a Rhino this morning so we’ll go in that direction and see if you’re lucky.’
It was at this point that I noticed that the elephant I was on was slowing and looking back every few moments. I asked, ‘Why is the elephant so restless?’
The mahout answered, ‘He is in love and is simply wooing the she-elephant behind us.’
On further probing, he told us that this elephant’s name was PawanKali and he was 50 years old and madly in love with the 17 year old Batalik following us. The mahout pointed out that PawanKali wooed her by stopping to tear out massive tufts of grass around her and then swishing them all around as if he were cleaning and preening himself.
Here is a video of this elephant safari…
So there we were sitting on top of an elephant who was wooing the girl in his heart and at the same time being alert to all that was happening around. He was the first to alert the mahout about the presence of a rhino nearby.
Of course we had all the fun watching PawanKali go splish-splash in the wetlands and go swerving from side to side in the grasslands. It was pawanKali who gingerly side-stepped a freshly made pugmark on the ground and the mahout said, ‘There is a tiger somewhere ahead but he moves fast and sighting him is always a matter of chance.’ He also explained to us how pugmarks could tell him if it was a tiger or a tigress… but we’ll talk about tigers in a later post.
Once we were back from our elephant safari and rhino-sighting, I was lucky enough to watch PawanKali operating the hand-pump near his enclosure. The mahout said, ‘This is something he does to impress Batalik. And he really does operate it well.’ There was a small demo… and more importantly I realised how vital an incisive knowledge of technology is if you wish to impress the girl of your dreams. PawanKali does it… and do so many of us when we wave around our smartphones and talk about them knowledgeably!
It was here that we were informed of Vinayak and Suheli, two baby elephants and the fact that their mother was actually on maternity leave as she had to take care of her kids. The jungle, I realised, has everything that we humans do and care for… and these people there are so involved and caring. Through this post I communicate my applause for all that these veterans of the forest are doing…
#saveourtigers project where Aircel and WTI are actively involved… helped us come closer to the wild heartbeats of the nation!
Aircel on Facebook
#saveourtiger on Facebook
Wildlife Trust of India
Save Our Tigers Initiative on the web
14 february 2014