Inspired by my luck of sighting 34 elephants at Gunderipallam dam the previous week, and to provide an opportunity of my colleague Mr. Chandramohan – who will be leaving Sathyamangalam shortly, we the staff of the department of English, BIT came out with a sudden plan to visit Gunderipallam dam last evening, 26 April 2012.
Little did I know that it will become one of the memorable evenings, with an encounter with a tusker.
We, 9 in all, started of at 5.20 p.m. in 4 bikes and a scooty pep. We reached the dam at around 5.50 p.m., after getting some snacks and water bottle at Naal Road. When we reached the dam we didn’t expect to see any wild animals as there was pretty good showers for the past two days, unlike the dry spell of 2 months which brought 34 elephants to the water body last week. The view of the dam, with a cloudy sky proved to be exotic and all were mesmerized by the sprawling water with a background of cascading mountain ranges.
My expectations were happily false, and we were excited to spot an Indian Gaur drinking water at the other end of the dam. Senthil Kumar and I tried getting to the nearer end over the dam to take a few snaps. As we moved forward, we saw the gaur has started retreating and we took some snaps. Same mistake again – I didn’t bring my SLR this time too, and had relied on Senthil sir’s point-and-shoot Canon which had 12x optical zoom. The zoom was pretty good, but at that zoom there was a lot of shake and we had no tripod to keep it steady. The shutter lag added to my woes and the images turned out really blurred. Somehow, I shot a couple of snaps, cursing myself even more for repeating the mistake.
Senthil and I planned to get down on the other end of the dam, and walk in the forest up to the place where we saw the gaur. I was interested in exploring the area as I had heard from some people that there were pugmarks of leopards, hyenas, wild dogs, and even tigers (!?!). Though I new the stories of tiger are not true, I was inquisitive to identify the variety of fauna that this pristine jungle had. As we went there we saw few excited people, and one of them with a camera bag. We found that they were reporters from the Tamil press ‘Dinathanthi’ which translates to Daily Telegraph. The cause of their excitement was sighting an elephant on the hills. They eagerly shared their knowledge of the location of the elephant, and we could see a lone tusker, slowly proceeding downhill towards the dam. We called others who came and had a good look at the elephant.
Senthil and I decided to get to the other shore of the spillway of the dam, and chose different routes. Both of us reached the other shore at the same time, and tried going a little far in to the forest in the direction where we saw the tusker. With the animal not in sight, and very little sound with the tusker in vicinity, I realised that the animal had sensed human beings nearby and hence has become alert. There can be no quieter creature than an alert elephant. You can pass through the legs of the otherwise noisy (the noise created by breaking branches, twigs, huge steps, and constant flap of its ears) animal without noticing it when it is on alert. With my intuition seeing the animal somewhere near, I became cautious and even signaled Senthil Kumar not to venture deep. He ignored, and went little further. He was well within my eyesight, and I took a special interest in any sound or movement nearby. There was none. I noticed Senthil Kumar was also on alert. We was looking all around, and I could sense that he hasn’t noticed anything around.
And it happened..!!
He turned around and hurried in my direction, in fact crossed me and started running a little. I thought he might have caught a sight of the elephant, and so he was coming back. As he crossed me, he blurted out – “sir, we have no time to stay back we should run”. Without even a glimpse at the animal, I understood its proximity by the sounds of breaking of the twigs. The elephant was too close for comfort, and it was on move. I didn’t know in which direction it is moving, but if it is in our direction, we’re done.. Quickly I turned around, and retraced my steps in a slight jog after Senthil Kumar. To my horror, on the end of my sight I saw a figure moving towards me. I turned around to see another Senthil (not Senthil Kumar who was with me all the while) rushing towards us, and by the area I had judged before venturing into the forest, I realised he is exactly on the way in which the beast was moving in to. I shouted at him with the loudest possible voice that can cause no harm in agitating the jumbo and turning it towards us, cautioning him to move fast and come towards us.
He ran, ran with fear, fear that gripped him like a thunder out of the sky… From the way he ran, I thought he had seen the elephant and that it is after him. So we’ll be in trouble too… But I didn’t see anything following him and was a bit relaxed. Later he confessed that he ran so fast because he had heard the elephant breaking branches of a tree just a few feet away, and he didn’t even dared to look in that direction. With the intention of taking a good photo of the tusker when it emerges out of the bushes, I did another mistake. A mistake that would’ve definitely caused us something if the jumbo had moved in our direction. We had taken the path that I took to reach the other shore, and only I knew how to reach the place correctly. We had to climb down some 20 feet of sloppy path to reach the dam. I should have guided them that way before taking any other decision. In a hurry, I didn’t do that and ran over the spillway of the dam instead. The area was a neatly laid out concrete & rock floor for the water to flow smoothly out of dam when in excess, which had developed lots of moss and hence slippery. It was a good 200 feet in length, and I knew there were remote any heavy bodied pachyderm to cross this stretch to exhibit its vengeance on insignificant unfortunate homo sapiens. So I was (the only one) confident there. But if the animal turns at us, we’re caught. To move down we had to jump about 20 feet to another concrete floor below, and if we wanted to move upwards we had to scale a stone wall about 15 feet high and nothing to hold. So both were improbable, and hence should be attempted only on a calamity.
But the point of concern here was not the elephant, but the second Senthil who had arrived. He was scared to the bone, legs trembling, and almost crying. He couldn’t keep himself quiet, and was insisting on jumping down the concrete even before sensing any danger. I had a tough time cooling him down, the later part of which I was not particularly polite. I had to use my force of words to keep him from doing anything untoward, because I was sure that jumping from such a height would definitely call for an ambulance service. I made him sit behind a small bush that had managed to penetrate its roots in the hard rock and concrete, which calmed him down a bit. Meanwhile, my friends just over our heads 20 feet above were offering us quite a bit of advice about how we can make to their place. I knew they were of little use because if it had to be a safe way out, without hurting ourselves, it has to be walking to the direction where the elephant was. We waited for a few minutes. I wanted to be sure where the elephant was before making any move.
As the light was failing rapidly, it would become even more difficult for us to grope in dark inside the forest and get to our side. So risk has to be taken. Slowly I walked to the edge of the concrete floor where there was a 20-feet drop and started moving forward cautiously and stooping to the ground – ready to jump down if the elephant charged. Nothing of that sort happened and half way through, I felt even more confident and walked forward upright. Just as I was at the end of the concrete floor, I froze. I saw the elephant hurrying the other way. It had been there watching us, motionless, without any clue of its presence. As it hurried down, I waited for a few seconds and called out to both the Senthils and crossed the water outlet to go back to where our friends were waiting.
Just I reached the place, I saw the elephant breaking out of the bush below and coming out in the open to go to the water. All of us watched with awe at his size, the majestic look, and the poise with which he carried himself. He slowly proceeded towards water, and we couldn’t take any photos as the light has almost failed. The press people used flashes to get a good picture, but that only made the elephant go further away to a hiding of a high pile of mud. We saw ripples of the water beyond the hiding, which confirmed he had got into the water there. We stayed there for a few minutes, our hearts filled. Cracking jokes on our adventure, which could have easily become a grave misadventure, we returned home around 7.45 p.m. – to share all our experiences with you…