We started early for Kaziranga National Park to watch Rhinos. Our guide said ‘You must reach at the park before dawn.’ We agreed.
Not so cold we thought, but temperature was not never on our mind. Rhino, it was. The one-horn rhino. Rhinos are seen early morning. We got in to our car. It wasn’t too far from the jungle lodge where we were staying.
It was pitch dark. I could not see beyond ten feet. And there I was carrying my camera in the hope of catching a rhino in the picture. A car arrived at the security gate. Beams of light it flashed in the darkness. Up went camera.
We waited, finally the guide came. ‘Follow me,’ he said. We did, and crossed a small foot over bridge on a small river. There, in the woods, was a raised platform. Two persons moved forward and boarded the carriage placed on the elephant’s back. The Mahout then turned the elephant in such a way that he presented the other side for boarding.
Our turn came, the DW [Darling Wife] hesitated but boarded, and I did too quickly. “I am afraid I will fall down” she said. “Don’t worry, Rhinos are herbivorous” I pacified her. She gave me a dirty look. I don’t know why she did it, well, it is perhaps easy to understand a rhino, but a lady’s mind? It beats me completely!!
The party of the other part also boarded with elephant docking manoeuvre done. “There, look…” Mahout drew our attention. “Where?” we asked each other. We spotted a cow rhino and her calf grazing in the woods just thirty feet away. But they felt alarmed by our excited voices. So they moved further and vanished in the bushes. A baby rhino always moves with his mother, never with father.
“Herbivorous?” DW responded, ‘That’s interesting.” Meat eaters or carnivores have always been a subject of her apathy. A vegetarian herself, she dreamt of a world full of herbivores.
“Two biggies, Elephants and Rhinos are herbivorous” I drew on my GK. “I wonder why body builders are prescribed a diet which includes meat.”
“Hitler was a vegetarian and he used to make fun of non-vegetarians” DW drew on her GK.
“Vegetarians and herbivores frighten me” I said looking at her, but the disguised missile did not hit the target. She had spotted a barking deer.
Mahout stopped the elephant. I looked for the barking deer, but it was too quick to be spotted by an amateur photographer. It had vanished in the fog.
The fog was gradually clearing. Visibility was improving every minute. Somebody said “There!” We quickly looked all around. And spotted a Rhino in the bushes. The rhino ignored us and carried on with his business.
The mahout stopped for a while, but rhino did not care to give a glance. He had hidden his head in the bush. Obviously there was something in the bush which he found more interesting. Bushes have this ability to hold something of interest, particularly to the young.
The mahout moved the elephant. We entered the woods. Suddenly the elephant stopped. We heard big shouts. Of men and women. Of rhino. Of elephant. And yes, the roar of a tiger.
“There is a tiger in the bush somewhere there” he pointed out to his right. “He must have fled.”
“Oh, tiger!” we said in excited but hush-hush tone. Happy that we were not near the tiger and unhappy that we did not see him.
“But you feel their presence when you discover the skeletons” said the Mahout. “There are tigers in this jungle but one does not see them often, rare sight. They are too fast.”
“Exactly as it is in the world outside the jungle” DW said. “You feel their presence when you discover the skeletons. But in the world outside, they flee to UK.”
Vivek S Patwardhan