TIGER, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
These were the lines that came to my mind of the famous poet William Blake as I drove through the dark forest road to reach my destination “Corbett The Bagh. ” I had crossed the barrage and was at the “Dhela” forest check post. The barrier was down as I approached the check post. I stopped for a while and then blew the horn of the car. A forest guard peeped out of a barrack window, then came out and asked me where I was heading at this time of the night. I replied that I have booking at “The Bagh” and he lifted the barrier. I descended on to a path into the forest. It had no lights being a forest path. Pitch dark all around. The headlights of the car were the only sign of a living being. Often the lights flashed on to a signboard warning that animals had the right of the way and “no horn. ” AS I drove slowly on the bumpy track, the silhouette of the tall trees made scary shadows; at times it appeared that there was an animal hidden around the bushes along the road, but it was sheer fear. The car left a trail of darkness behind as it moved on till it came to a ‘T’ junction on the one side of which was a closed iron gate and the other side showed darkness and no more. I did not know where to go so I stopped, looked around in fear that an elephant might appear from nowhere and trample me and smash the car. I had often heard that elephants run faster than a car and can be easily infuriated by the sight of humans riding in a car.
My love for adventure in the jungle seemed to have led to fear of the jungle. Lost in the jungle at night with no humans around to help me out. Undecidedly, I turned towards the dark track, opposite the iron gate, and moved slowly praying to God that no elephant came by.
As I moved a few metres, I saw a horde of shining eyes. The first thought that came to my mind was that it was a horde of elephants, but in the second stance I realised that the height of the animal was much lower than an elephant. Coming back to my senses, I slowed the car and looked deep to the shining eyeballs. It turned out to be a horde of antelopes dispersing into the thick forest. I thanked God that the animal was not a group angered elephants or tigers hunting for their prey. Out of fear, I took out my mobile and dialled the resort’s reception. Unfortunately, there was no response, there was no mobile signal in the forest.
The resort was almost 21 kilometres from the Dhela check post. A chill ran down my spine on the thought that I was alone in the forest. The loneliness had become unbearable. I picked up pace to reach my destination at the earliest. Behind the fast pace, fear was the key. Then I saw the glimpse of light further down the path. Human habitation after all, I felt rejuvenated at the thought, but it was a villager’s home in the jungle.
I kept driving till I came to a cluster of l lights on one side at a distance. I increased my speed expecting to reach the resort. A few ‘U’turns and then I saw sign indicating that the resort was nearing. I could breathe easily, after all I had reached my destination. I reached a large iron grill gate. The guard inquired about my booking and opened the large gate to let the car inside.
As I entered the gate I felt like the return of the native back to humans.
A few yards ahead was the reception, a large hall with sofas and a television, all signs of humans.
On one side of the hall was the reception counter. A waiter appeared from a door with the usual “welcome drink.” I let my parched throat get wet and a smile spread across my lips as I saw men at the reception. The usual exercise of filling up forms was carried out. A help took my luggage and led me into a garden outside. Walking across the garden I saw the clusters of lights which had seen from the forest path. I was led to a double storey structure. My room was on the first floor .
Inside the room, it was an assurance that I was back home. A ready bed and a television on one wall giving out the days news. The waiter left the room after telling me that I could order my food in the room. As soon as he left, I inspected the room. A large window gave a glimpse of the view outside. There were hills at a distance and a large green patch of land. I saw a tea maker in one corner of the room, which I filled with packaged drinking water kept alongside. A cup of tea was welcome after the adventure drive through the forest. I also looked up the menu to order some food.
Shortly, a waiter appeared carrying a tray of food. He spread the dishes on to a table. A vegetable soup followed by some ‘matar paneer’ and ‘tandoori roti’.
The meal satiated my hunger and made me sleepy.
The next morning I got up to see the outside view peeping through a creek in the curtain. I could see green hills beyond and blue sky where clouds floated by. I jumped out of my bed and pulled the curtains to get a bigger view. Outside was a marvellous view, a large area covered with green grass and plants which disappeared into the horizon where the hills stood. The hills were at the foot of Himalayas. A small village was at a distance. But all was quiet, no noise of people or vehicles. I opened the window and inhaled a deep breath to take in the unpolluted air. Outside the window was a balcony. I decided to sit there with my first cup of tea.
This was my dream. To have my cup of tea in silence looking at the hills and green forest cover. After the tea was done, I walked down the stairs into the lawn where I met a senior executive of the resort. He informed me that the breakfast was ready in the restaurant. I nodded and moved to speak to a gardener working in the area. I wanted to chat with the locals. The gardener was old with a bent back and wrinkled face. He worked feebly in the lawn tendering new plants. I asked him if he had ever seen a tiger in the forest. He lazily replied,”there is no need to go in the forest, the brutal animal comes to his hut’s doorstep at night and groans at times as in pain.” He asked me if I had come to see a tiger as all tourists do come with this aim. I shook my head in the negative. He was surprised . What do you come to the Corbett Tiger Reserve for then? he queried. My reply was,” To see a tusker.”My voice choked with fear of a tusker. I knew the tusker is more dangerous than a tiger. This time the old man combed his grey hair backwards with his weak hands and said,”Sir, the tusker is a dangerous animal. It destroys our harvest and at times our huts, you want to see a tusker?” This time the old man combed his grey hair backwards with his weak hands and said,”Sir, the tusker is a dangerous animal. It destroys our harvest and at times our huts, you want to see a tusker?”
And then I narrated my adventure in Rajaj ji reserve for elephants where a nasty tusker was so infuriated that he held a forest ranger to ransom for over an hour and did not let him cross over to the forest lodge. Poor chap stood at one end of the road and finally returned back when the tusker did not move from behind trees.
It was then that one of the forest guards told me the story of a tusker which was in a bad temper and destroyed some farms and broke a fencing set up to prevent entry of elephants into a private area.
I noticed that the villagers had fenced their huts with barbed wire to prevent attacks by elephants, but the mammoth animal cannot be prevented from entering any area he wants to. After all the forest belongs to him and he cannot tolerate humans trespassing his domain.
The best lesson I learnt was “keep out of forest’. Forest belongs to the animals. Do not trespass the domain of the animal kingdom.”