Article Published in THE TIMES OF INDIA

In Corbett country

Navtej Sarna

FROM Pawanpari’s back the jungle suddenly becomes accessible. There is a generous friendliness in the manner of this elephant. It seems that from the moment she whisked away the biscuit from my hand with her swinging trunk, something has bound us together.

She cuts across the track brushing aside the moist, early-morning freshness. Cracking branches deliberately under her feet. She moves into the jungle. I keep my eyes peeled. Somewhere around if I am lucky is a tiger. And it has been 200 miles to Corbett country for a glimpse of that slim grace and immense power.

Clicking Cameras

We look back and forth. The morning is gradually on. A lone cheetal watches steadfastly. Knowing instinctively that he doesn’t have to escape. Cameras click.

The jungle begins to close in. Movement becomes more difficult and slower. We pass a watering pool for the animals. No luck. Then, suddenly, a wild boar breaks into view, its snout waving purposelessly. I feel like shouting, “Boar.” In the manner of Obelix of Asterix fame. But as quickly as it appeared it has vanished into the mysterious growth.

Whirling Water

Pawanpari has evidently given up the idea of showing us a tiger. She moves hesitatingly downhill, feeling her way tentatively down the slope to the waters of the Ramganga.

The current swirls helplessly around her firm legs as she crosses it. Her trunk skimming the water surface, occasionally spouting water into the air and watching it fall back, each droplet a globe of freshness. Suddenly, it is not the water which is moving down, but we who are moving upstream.

Back at the clearing which houses the cabins and the tents we boast of the wild boar we saw in a tiger sanctuary. Others have been more fortunate. They talk excitedly of a majestic creature guarding a sambar kill-the moment immortalised in the precious cameras they clutch.

Dusk falls quick and thick. The jungle is a dark line and the clearing around the tents covered in shadows. Each shadow hides a tiger in our fired imaginations. The black partridge calls incessantly.

As night settles firmly over the little settlement, the cheetal sounds an alarm. Then, the roar of the tiger accentuating the silence of the jungle night. A magnificent sound stilling conversation and freezing thought.

Tiger Tales

Then, the guides and the elephant mahouts tell tales of the tiger world. Inevitably, they talk into the night of the days when Jim Corbett stalked the man eaters across the jungles of Kumaon. In the morning one is aware of a reverence for the man whose name marks this haven of tranquility.