Belonging to a conservative, well more protective than conservative, family, travelling other than with them had been a huge barrier that I had to overcome. Even school or college excursions caused huge debates.
So, as much as I wanted to travel, I stayed put and immersed myself and read about different destinations and devoured books on wildlife. One book, one Author, the journey that the book took me on and a few lines from the book became the reason for a lot of new beginnings for me.
The author, Jim Corbett; the book The Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag and the line – “There are events in one’s life which, no matter how remote, never fade from memory”, changed my life.
I rebelled at home and decided to take a solo trip to Uttaranchal (now, Uttarakhand). I would not be completely honest if I called it a solo trip. It was a group tour. But I found reasons to break away from the itinerary and the group to do things that I wanted to do.
I went for Whitewater rafting at Shivpuri, Rishikesh, while the group visited temples and religious shops of Haridwar. I even hired the full raft as I had no other company ! The thrill of the best and 17 km long Whitewater rafting at one of the best spots in India, with six grade III rapids and one grade IV rapid, cannot be explained in words, but I felt so alive in the turquoise, bone chilling waters of Ganga. At Nainital, I found myself visiting the zoo even in snow fall while the others stayed in the room.
And here the interesting part. We were to travel from Haridwar to Nainital. I ditched my group on the second day of Haridwar, and with the help of my new friends – the tour guides, I was able to get a stay and safari at Jim Corbett National Park ! I would join them again in Nainital before my parents ever found out ! What had happened to me ! I felt so free and independent !
While the entire journey had been eventful, nothing prepared me for what I saw during my first ever safari of my life. I had managed to get an evening safari within such short notice. I had spent my day along the River Kasoli that ran amidst the white pebbles and boulders. The river bed on the other side merged into elevated forest and ridges. The sky was so blue that it felt like I could put it in a can and take it back home to paint my canvases. The view had cast a spell on me. I sat by the river for hours taking in every sight and sound. The similar terrain presented itself intermittently during the safari between dense sal forests and wide open grasslands. What a variety ! But then the bumpy ride began to climb. Ridge to my left and valley and river to my right, the thick canopy forming half a gate to welcome me – oh were, oh where should I look ! And then I spotted a herd of elephants in the valley, cooling themselves off with by spraying mud on themselves.
While the rest of the safari remained uneventful except for sightings of a juvenile changeable hawk eagle and loads of spotted deer, I was still enraptured by the forest itself.
The light was almost fading out when we heard the loud and shrill cry of a barking deer. I was told that it was an alarm call. The tiger was close as the deer was close. These were my first tiger tracking lessons ! And that too at Jim Corbett National Park !
Though we spotted the barking deer (I have some real scary and bad pictures of it) and pugmarks of a female tigress with a male cub- my second lesson of tiger tracking, the tigers themselves had no intention of showing themselves to me on my very first safari and I was hooked forever.