The wild safari


Watching animals in their natural habitat is a safari advantage.

Watching animals in their natural habitat is a safari advantage.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Safari is an organised journey — that is how it derived its name. It is meant to view wild animals in their natural habitats, and in the earlier times, even hunt them down. Safari evolved over the years to offer arrangements even to view only one species — lion, elephant, tiger or another. Other countries too offer safari now, and in India, wildlife sanctuaries have sprung up and it has become an integral part of vacations.

Safaris facilitate an adrenaline rush. About two decades ago, when our children were very young, the older four and the younger an infant, we were in the Nagarahole forest precincts with friends and their families, and the young ones in the same age groups.

Staying in a home-stay arrangement in a restricted area adjoining the jungle lodges was a welcome break from the hubbub of city life. The green surroundings and its quietude, a waterbody and its pristine beauty made this an idyllic location to unwind. The home-stay owner was a wildlife enthusiast and had spent extensive years in the forests. With 12 of us in his jeep, he drove us into the jungle. Our first sighting was a tusker which had a majestic gait, and at 400 metres away, still looked a giant sending chills up our spine.

A little ahead, we sighted an elephant herd in the middle of a flat green land. The home-stay owner’s instincts led him to go off-road, and he drove us straight towards the herd. A distance of 50 metres separated us from the elephants. The owner, three couples, three four-year-olds, and three infants — we shared a very similar make-up with the herd much larger in size with eight to 10 young ones. Our owner until then had explained his uncanny knack to communicate with the wild animals, especially elephants, but instantaneously gained motivation to prove his mettle.

He switched off the vehicle and alighted. He made strange vocal noises by clasping his hands around his mouth. The elephants took cognisance of all of us and appeared to nod their heads. A couple of minutes later, he let out another strange yell that irked a mother elephant which decided to charge towards us. Infants in the car had no clue, the young children were all excited, and we adults lost all hopes. This huge mother elephant and us were now separated by less than 20 metres.

But our owner remained gutsy and unmoved. He spoke in a language sounding like Tamil that stopped this pachyderm dead in her tracks. She retreated while still nodding her head and raising her trunk. To us, it was a divine language spoken — it stupefied us no end.

We ventured out again a couple of years later. Driving back from Ooty, we planned a night stay at a resort in Masinagudi, part of the Mudumalai National wildlife Sanctuary, declared as a Tiger Reserve, that spans two States. It is stunningly beautiful with rich forests and abundant flora and fauna. The night was uneventful, except for heavy winds that rendered tall trees around bend down to kiss the ground.

The safari jeep arrived early in the morning with two local people who promised many sightings. Setting out in the dark as the sun slowly made its appearance set the tone for a promising day. Deep into the forest across tall grass areas, we tried crossing a small stream when the wheels got stuck in the pebbles, leaving us stranded. We had two choices — one, the two men would leave us there to fetch help, and two, we would walk back till someone responded to our hail for help.

Everything appeared logical, but only with hindsight. We chose the second option and started a long walk back with two young ones and bags with supplies. Through fervent prayers, we summoned all gods for our protection. It was a long walk for a couple of hours but in the sun with no humans around, was a walk in eternity.

With one of my daughters firmly planted on my shoulder, we saw a pack of hyenas watch us from a distance of 500-600 metres. What prevented them from moving towards us is still a mystery. We finally made it to a village where we got help to return to the resort.

The two episodes have stayed etched in our memories. What did we learn from this? Even today, the word safari brings images of wild beasts in their own territory. The beauty of the mane and the spots and the stripes and the massive trunks with their sheer majestic presence in nature’s abode attracts us for a sojourn, once again. Am I ready for the next one?

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