This article first appeared in CLAY – Club Mahindra blog in April 2009 titled ‘A tryst with the pachyderms’.
Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary, Wayanad.
The sun was setting down. My eyes were looking out of the jeep mechanically while the mind was still at Kuruvadweep thinking about the missed chance in visiting the place. It was my third jeep safari in two days, the first two were in Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary. With Shashank settled in co-driver’s seat, I was all alone in the back. Except for some deer and bison sightings it was getting more like a jeep drive in a remote village. Blame it on the weekend crowd. We had completed almost three fourth of the safari and had to stop because of a traffic jam. It took us few seconds to understand what was happening. There was a herd of wild elephants which were crossing our path. Or to put it in a correct way, we were crossing their path and had to wait for our turn. There were 11 elephants in the group including couple of calves and the leader was standing in the middle of the jeep track while rest of the gang crossed the path. There were two jeeps between our vehicle & the pachyderms looked as tensed as us. We were third in the queue waiting for the way to be cleared while there was another vehicle, a Toyota Qualis behind us (yes, private vehicles are allowed in Tholpetty Wildlife Sanctuary as long as it’s a four-wheeler).
The elephants took their own sweet time to cross the road while the leader kept an eye on us. The leader was not too happy with our intrusion & noise (engine & hush voices). As if this was not enough, a jeep came from the opposite direction, which meant we – the two jeeps in front of us & our jeep – were sandwiched between a not-so-happy-looking elephant & a vehicle some 15-20 meters behind us. The driver of the jeep who joined the party late understood the situation and slowly backed off. And our wait game continued.
After what seemed like eternity (it was just a couple of minutes )the captain slowly gave way and started moving into the woods. The driver of the first jeep mustered up the courage and slowly moved ahead. Then the one in front of our vehicle started moving and we followed them. It was not all over but it was time for more drama. It started with the vehicle in front of us. We could not fathom what got into the driver of the jeep for all of a sudden he started honking while he sped away. We were then moving almost parallel to the leader elephant which was some 15-20 meters away and the pachyderm turned towards and started chasing us. I was looking out of the jeep to see the big mammal running towards us. It was the moment, the mind went blank. No thoughts, just void. It was a mock charge to shoo us away from its territory.
Today, the experience is etched in my mind. I’ve had similar experiences of getting blank few times, but this stands first in the list. Whenever I see a photo of an elephant or a video, I go back to my seat on the back of the jeep in Tholpetty.