It was early afternoon by the time we reached and found our rooms at The Bison resort.The room where I was staying was advertised to be a machan which put me in the mind of Jim Corbett and the impossibility of clambering up a rope ladder to a house nestled among the upper canopy. In reality what I got was a cottage on stilts ! Nothing much to complain about for it offered a fantastic view of the river Kabani and far in the distance, the hills that border the Bandipur National Park. Once we settled into the rooms, there were very few noises around us. By noises I mean the human cacophony for the birds were rather raucous all the time. Interestingly enough, we came with high hopes of seeing the big cats and our first sights from the camp were far off views of grazing cows, people with their washing and even two guys on a motor bike. To my question of do you ever see wild animals here, the guy at the resort replied that the last of the animals were driven far into the core area of the reserve a long time ago !
Evening arrives and with it arrived my first jeep safari into a jungle. There were 8 of us to go in the jeep. Excluding the four of us and an elderly couple, there was this youngish chap (I learned that his name was Mithun later) who got on board with two things in tow : the first was a camera with a huge lens which can be closely approximated in looks to a rocket launcher and the second was his girl whose looks were definitely not bad at all. As the jeep moved deeper into the Nagarhole park, he motioned for all of us to be quiet and told us that we will do all we can to track the big cats in the jungle but the only medium for this was the auditory. The only indication of the predator’s passing would be the alarm calls of the herbivores and that was what we would be listening for and needless to say you need to shut your trap if you have even the slightest hope of seeing something.
Every corner the jeep turned and every open meadow we encountered had the spotted deer or chital in large numbers followed closely by hanuman Langurs and jungle fowl. Of the cats themselves, there was no sign. Passing a lone female elephant who was frolicking in a jungle stream we reached a path when all of a sudden in the distance a single alarm call rang out. Guided by Mithun, the jeep driver took us at a flying pace over potholed tracks and pretty much flying over our seats we reached a cross road in the path. Another jeep was parked some distance away from us and around us the jungle was going crazy with the alarm calls of the deer and the monkeys. Between one call and the next was absolute silence for even the birds were silent.
There was an air of heavy anticipation but when I think of it now I realize how crazy the whole thing was. A tiger can with a small leap get into the open jeep and the rest can be left to your most gruesome imagination ! At the adrenaline of the moment however, this was the last thought on my mind. The moment soon passed and the birds returned with all their strength and there were tweets, howls, screeches and calls all around us. We moved through a few cross roads where the alarm calls abounded but saw nothing.
As we were reversing from one such path, a little behind us appeared a few dark forms : elephants. There were four of them with a three month old baby in the group.We parked close to them and they appeared quite docile and calm. A terrible strength lies behind that calmness and jungle lore tells us of all the charges that an elephant can make at you should it feel the least bit threatened.
As the jeep returned to the camp, the light was fading and all that we could see were ghostly apparitions of animals : a few Sambar deer, a Gaur, birds all appeared like mirages in the falling light. Man does not belong to the jungle at night and there is an uncanny feeling that you get that you are being watched from behind every tree and bush. On those chilly twilight evenings, the feeling of being watched is definitely not one that you look forward to !