The forests were lush. The sky was almost grey with a few streaks of light breaking through. It was actually an odd time to be in Corbett’s backyard. It was August 2007. Having entered the national park through Jhirna; I had an encounter that passionate photographers keep dreaming about. Back in the day; I had the same DNA – that of a passionate lover of wildlife and wilderness though I wasn’t much of a photographer and in hand was a very humble and borrowed Sony point and shoot – no super telephoto, no fancy DSLR! Unlike today’s meticulously planned trips armed with top of the line equipment; that day I was onboard a Gypsy with a bunch of strangers and just ambling along. I was stoked to be in the forests that I grew up reading about. It was almost as if my eyes were searching for Corbett lurking somewhere in the bushes tracking a cunning man-eater. Not Corbett but we finally came across a Tiger as he emerged from the thicket on our right and settled down like a lazy bum. That I was thrilled to bits would be an understatement! Here I was finally seeing Mr. Magnificent in real. We were in an open patch of the jungle. Given the time of the year there was no other safari vehicle around. What a rarity! I took a few snaps of the big cat and kept watching him in complete awe. My copassengers were typical city dwellers and were mumbling seriously funny facts and figures about big cats. Perhaps 30 odd minutes had elapsed when suddenly the Tiger’s attention was drawn to something worrying enough to make him emit growls that became louder and fiercer in the next 10 minutes. Our driver told us to keep quiet and avoid movement. He was essentially trying to figure out the cause of the sudden change in the Tiger’s demeanor while being pretty still himself. I was sitting right behind him. Perhaps 2 more minutes had passed when the driver whispered to me to look at his right rear view mirror. And it became mighty clear why the Tiger – now in his haunches – was hissing with anger! Sauntering down – right from the middle of the forest fire line – a lone Bull Elephant with menacing looking tusks was heading straight down. Unmistakable was the fact that we were the filling of the sandwich that was taking shape rather quickly. The driver suddenly said,” Sir…ye hamari gaadi aur hamko tod ne aa raha hai” (meaning the Elephant is coming to smash us and our vehicle). Without hardly a pause after uttering those ominous words; he suddenly revved the engine and took an almost 90 degrees turn to the left and sped without stopping for almost 5 minutes. I was disconcerted and my co-passengers were almost yelling post that sudden rush through the undulating terrain of the jungle. Offering us a bottle of water; our experienced driver calmly told us that he was responsible for our safety and any delay in decision making could have potentially proved fatal. Phew!!
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