We were in a forest, in Kaziranga, Assam. Maybe not as dense as you imagine in your head, but a forest with pathways and wild elephant dung in a path that criss-crossed ours as we climbed up and up, his footsteps trampled the grass and shrubs, he made his own way, while we followed the much flattened and smoothened way of the villagers who lived across. An hour later, we made our way through a valley, walked up a tiny hill, crawled over a huge tree trunk and pushed on. The sun was coming up, and it was getting hot. We were three city girls, accompanied by one big camera, one guide, two forest officers with guns and a rustle in the leaves.
It all started as an impulsive plan; we met a guide on our safari in the bird zone of the Kaziranga National Park, he had told us about a simple but nice trek up a hill nearby and so off we went. We dreamt of reaching an elevation that would show us the grand Brahmaputra stretch out in front of us with Rhinos, sambal and maybe tigers dotting the way.
The guide was looking out for animals, birds, when he saw any he would call us and point and whisper. We would scrunch up our eyes and peer into the distance. Mid-way, he stopped, went into some nearby bushes, looked through his binoculars, came back excited and said, “They are a group of wild boars…come come…”After a little hesitation and raised eyebrows about his enthusiasm about JUST wild boars, we followed. We went deeper into the shrub, “Come… come, he called, I can see them…”
It was the loudest one I had heard, and then was followed by another, even LOUDER!
The guards looked scared – one turned to leave us and walk away; we had to call him back. The other told us to freeze, if you run, it will catch you. Then one guard shot in the air. We waited for the longest five minutes. Then he shot into the air again. Gestured to us to turn and walk down, slowly.
They didn’t know if there was a tiger lurking around. Given that it was a valley, they didn’t know if the roar had come from somewhere higher and was echoing here below. We didn’t see the tiger, but with no strength to disbelieve the guide, we retraced. Tigers made their way up these hills during the monsoons as the Brahmaputra plains would flood, and old tigers made their way up earlier, the guide explained later.
In the quietest and longest walk, the one-hour it had taken us up seemed like four hours on the way down. Everything was quiet, we heard our heartbeats louder than the rustle below our feet, furtive glances around us, camera packed away tightly, we crept down the hill. Got out of the main gate of the entrance to the hill and stood calmly, but transfixed with what we had just gone through and not knowing if there had been a tiger, or was it just a scam. We were still scared.
There was a silence all around us, till our driver pointed to the plumpest member of our group and said, “The tiger would have kept her in the freezer and feasted for a month.”
Laughter, squeals from the two of us, disgust from her, that we were laughing… we bundled ourselves into the car and went back to our quiet hotel.