I was enjoying the wind on my face and the smell of the forest standing on the hoodless back of an SUV when the other car in front of us suddenly stopped and signalled us to do the same.
Two friends from school and I were visiting Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary in Dooars, in north Bengal. On this particular trip, we were passing through the core area of the forest.
“There’s an elephant standing in our way,” our guide whispered from the front seat.
And sure enough, there was one. As I grabbed my binoculars and tried to focus on the animal, a second one, this time a tusker, emerged from the right side of the path. After a few minutes, a second tusker walked onto the path, leisurely tearing leaves and branches from shrubs with its trunk and throwing them on its back.
I can assure you that nothing can quite prepare you for the feeling of encountering three full-grown wild elephants in the middle of a dense forest for the first time.
Though we had a gunman in the other car, the thought that three gigantic animals could attack us at any moment and more of them could emerge from anywhere around us was quite unnerving. It was a weird mixture of thrill, ecstasy and apprehension.
While we waited, our driver got down and quickly looked around for a space to make an emergency U-turn. He didn’t look too happy when he took his place behind the steering wheel again. We stood, with baited breath, and kept our eyes peeled for any movement among the trees around us.
Similar thoughts were going on in my friends’ minds, both of whom were standing on the back of the vehicle along with me and craning their necks for the best view.
“I am very near peeing in my pants,” whispered one.
“I know I came here just for this. But this is scary as hell if I leave the thrilling part aside,” said the other.
By this time, the gunman and the guide had emerged from the other car and were making some noise so that the animals moved away, but they seemed like they couldn’t care less.
“Sit down if they charge at us,” our guide hissed.
The gunman raised his gun. The tusker nearest to us raised his trunk and took a few steps towards us. We stood absolutely still and held our breath.
“He can smell the gunpowder,” the guide hissed again.
After around 10 very quiet seconds, he lowered his trunk and ambled into the trees on the left of the path. The other two followed.
We waited for a minute. When the elephants did not return, we started slowly and gathered speed as we neared the spot where the giant animals were a couple of minutes ago. The next five seconds when we passed the spot were probably among the most tense moments of my life. I looked back as we crossed the spot and the elephants were back on the road by the time we were some 100 feet away.