Sunday, January 08, 2006
Travelogue Part 3 - Kaziranga
It feels strange on elephant back, towering over the rest of the animal kingdom. For the last 15 minutes we have waddled through blades of elephant grass that are so tall that they come all the way up to my waist, even though I am seated atop the elephant. Daylight hasn’t broken into the sanctity of the quiet night and the forest is a blur of ghostlike images, almost magical in the moonlight. The mahout (handler) of the elephant soundlessly guides the elephant to the right, but it all looks like acres and acres of elephant grass with some trees, here and there, reaching out to the sky like outstretched hands of a man buried under the swampy land trying desperately to come out. The mahout tells me that they burn the grass in springtime so that new grass can grow. Until then it is so easy to be lost here.
A solitary owl ensconced on a tree is surveying the forest. It looks at me with sharp eyes, as though to question me, “What brings you here?” Suddenly the forest is abuzz with noise. The high pitched “caw caw” of birds that I cannot see. We hear some wings fluttering. It is like a burglar alarm that just went off, and the forest is now aware of us. After a while it is silent again. The elephant waddles on into a small pond of water, unperturbed by all this. We sight a herd of wild elephants on the other side of the pond. The mahout tells me it is rare to spot a herd of wild elephants. We spot an elephant with beautiful long white tusks, and when it makes to move towards us it is a real cause for concern. Even the mahout straightens up, his face tense with concentration. But then the herd leaves to go and we move on.
It is then that the mahout points towards something moving in the bushes. We move towards it as fast as we can. The elephant expertly circles around it. The sun peeks at us from the east and the light shines through the bush and reveals two rhinos busy having breakfast. So this is the famous one-horned rhino from Kaziranga. Muscular and majestic. If it wanted to, it could ram into the elephant and knock us all down. Fearlessly the mahout moves in closer and furiously I work with the camera and gulp in as much of what I see, as I can.
The rhinos gaze back at us. The pair is not alone – there are more rhinos hidden in the bushes. The horns move up and the heads along with it. The rhinos won’t budge from their stance. The elephants hold their ground. The silent tussle continues for an eternity. It is a strange power struggle where so little is spoken but so much is said. I look on as the sun finally decides to emerge, shedding colorful light on an incredible scene, on an unforgettable day.