Kaziranga

28 Mar

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Rising at dawn, half-asleep, getting ready to go to a lesser known corner of the world. We nearly miss the ride, but like many things in this land, amid the chaos it all works out.

The early morning fog lingers, dense and opaque, making it hard to see anything as it greets the tall wild grass, adding to an atmosphere of mystery and anticipation. Quietly the fog fades and the land returns to our vision in patches, revealing its many and various residents, going about their ordinary leisurely lives. We approach on the backs of humble elephants, reluctantly but graciously allowing us to retain our positions as masters of the planet, and witness this beautiful wilderness in safety. The animals stop and stare, unafraid, familiar with this daily ritual. No harm will come, just strange flashes of light from metal objects. They do their duty and pose, and then leave, paying us little attention. They have become accustomed to this odd routine.

It is all too quick. We reach the other end, dismount and spend some time with the baby elephant. People think he is playing, seeking out food from our hands, but he is serious. He stomps away when he discovers there is no food. We leave with the remnants of the fog, making this land a little less mysterious, but still beautifully peaceful.

IMG_6754Returning in the afternoon on a mechanical beast, much louder and less gracious, we watch from a distance, trying to differentiate one animal from the next. An elephant. A water buffalo. No, a rhino. The rhinoceros unicornis. The distinct armour on its back gives it away. Deer, deer are everywhere. Birds and fish too. Monkeys, wild boars. They swim and bathe, fly and run, sleep and lounge about. They play. They contemplate the world together. They yawn. They organise and hold conferences.

We stop at rivers to see jumping fish, near marshes and trees to see so many birds. We find bogori to eat, spy on monkeys, and smile at the camaraderie between water buffalos and little birds. Over a hill, we see them. Wild elephants close to the dirt path. Unhappy, angry elephants, ears flapping, looking directly at us, they trumpet. We continue and they leave, but warn us not to cross their path again.

A rhino munches on grass, but stops mid-munch when she sees us. She just looks. We look back. Is she going to attack? It happened a short time ago, elephants and rhinos attacking jeeps and people. The driver insists on bringing along a ranger with a rifle. We hear stories of animals being killed in the night. There are poachers lurking, and there is that other beast, driving fear into the heart of any being in its way. We feel a creeping sense of nervous adventure.

IMG_6708Herbivores roam the grasslands, marshes, and jungles in a respectful rapport. An elusive shadow, in cunning camouflage, watches from afar. A phantom, always hiding, waiting, rarely seen, yet lives in the thoughts of every creature on the land. It leaves its unmistakable marks, declaring ‘I was here’ on unremarkable tree trunks. A possible sighting on the path ahead. We stop, dead still and in silence, searching for black stripes on orange fur. The phantom tiger is close. Pulses quicken. This almost mythical beast is so near, but refuses to be seen by the lesser, weaker souls it considers only as food.

The setting sun is a warning to us, self-conscious, helpless, domesticated beings now ruling the artificial world with worries beyond eating, sleeping and surviving. This place is seen by humans in daylight only. The black night belongs to the native inhabitants, dependent on this special land in my beautiful Assam for their survival in a rapidly changing, shrinking and disorienting world.

We leave as the last light is vanishing, the car engine suddenly stops. No lights allowed in the dark. We hold our breath, hearts thumping. There are noises now we did not hear in daylight. With luck the engine spatters and then roars its familiar sound. Relief. We make it out just in time, as the enveloping darkness chases after us.

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One Response to “Kaziranga”

  1. Mala 18 April 2014 at 3:38 am #

    Awesome writeup. Incredible pics.

    Liked by 1 person

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