I warned you in part 1 that I was going to describe my ludicrous brush with death in Corbett National Park back in 2005. The whole thing was so absurd that I shan’t be surprised if you don’t believe me.
So I described how the best way to see wildlife in Corbett is on the back of an elephant. I won’t get into the cruelty issues of which I was largely unaware at the time. But the great thing about game-watching in this style is that most animals will let an elephant get really close before they start feeling skittish. We could get within a few feet of spotted deer, or wild boar without them fleeing.
Now there’s something about India that no one ever seems to talk about. It’s the homeland of a plant that’s been spread world-wide due to its many remarkable properties. That plant is Cannabis indica, and it has as many names as Eskimos allegedly have for snow. One popular one in English is, “weed.” In North India, that’s exactly what it is.
Cannabis (dagga in South Africa, marijuana in the US) grows alongside every village road in Uttarakhand, and it covers the plains of Corbett National Park about six feet high.
It was through this college day-dream that we were pursuing the tiger that we’d seen from a distance earlier, lazing on the river bank, and giving the other elephant’s riders a spectacular sighting of the world’s greatest land-predator.
Now the ancient, irascible cow-elephant on which we were perched was parting the sea of cannabis on the trail of the occasional quivering branch, or angry cough.
Dotted around this green ocean were the backs of wild elephants like ships at anchor. They would have been interesting in most situations that don’t involve a two hundred kilogram cat scuttling about just below your feet. One of these fellows though, was apart from the others, and his vicious elephant brain was a smoothie of hormonal derangement.
The tiger at hand recaptured my attention with a rattling growl about a meter in front of us from deep within the cannabis. Our elephant halted and raised her trunk up to her forehead, sniffing the air in front of us and rumbling deep within her vast chest. But then our mahout turned his head and gave a shout of surprise. That young elephant bull had broken into a run and it’s evil little eyes were locked onto us.
Time split into tiny slivers. I deduced what was happening. This hormone-addled bastard intended rape–and the subject of its criminal desire was the 54 year old cow on which we were perched. Having some notion of elephantine sexual positions, I realised that his crime would certainly be compounded by multiple homicide. I contemplated jumping down, but my adrenaline charged brain awkwardly reminded me that down was in possession of an infuriated Bengal Tiger hidden in the leaves.
Our mahout was thrashing the old cow trying to get her into a run. But her age, bloody mindedness, and the tiger at her feat made this futile. As I took one last shaking picture of the four ton reaper bearing down on us I thought: “I am going to die, crushed under a sex-crazed elephant in a field of dagga.”
Now was this just an everyday occurrence, blown out of proportion by an unfamiliar foreigner? I shall ever forget our mahout’s eyes bulge with fright as he watched the living steam roller riding a trail of dust towards us. Abandoning his attempt to abuse our elephant into motion, he began desperately clapping his hands and shouting.
Perhaps ten metres from us, the would-be rapist pulled up sharply, gave a pig-like squeal, turned ninety degrees, and trotted away. Years later, when a plane I was on had to land with one engine out, the relief on the face of our pilot as we disembarked reminded me of our mahout’s face that day.
Later we got to see some more of our tiger, but never close enough for a really good picture.
And it wasn’t just that elephant. Indian wildlife seemed to be way more savage than our African equivalent. It wasn’t the last time we got charged by a hormonal bull-elephant. And in another incident, while travelling by Jeep, we passed a small troop of silver langur monkeys. As we passed by, one shrieked and leapt at the Jeep. I had a confused impression of the simian’s slashing fangs blurring past my head. I was left in little doubt that it would have grabbed on with all four limbs and devoured my face had it not misjudged its assault.