Joined: Mon Jul 03, 2006 1:19 pm
Location: New Delhi
Lori's (Lori - pronounced 'Lodi', a Punjabi festival indicating the end of winter) come & gone but we're still freezing here in North India - just literally - not technically as the minimum temperatures are still hovering around the 4 degree C mark.
Last Thursday my daughter Amani turned 12.
The kids & Susan, my wife, were spending the last week of the skool holidays with Susan's parents in Chandigarh while I was at work & all alone on my own-some at home in DLF...
Susan called me as I was on the drive to office on Thursday morning - "Here, you better wish your daughter. Are you making it for the party? There is a car in Delhi on it's way bach here & maybe you can coordinate with the driver and come with him if you can make it."
As Amani came on the line, I broke out in song... "Your 12 year old face is (still) a dirty disgrace..." and she chirped in "But you (still) love me daddy" - without missing a beat & picking up & using my 'still' in her rejoinder...
My colleague in the car and our driver cast glances in my direction and both their expressions said: "is he feeling OK?"
I smiled and put the phone on to 'Loud-speaker' as we continued our drive with every one wishing Amani & Amani, not sure of what was happening, said "Dad, who all all these people?"
I got into office and began working. My CEO came in at about 11.30 and announced that we had a budget meeting slotted in for 3pm.
Ooops! I was planning on getting away - with his permission - by 1.30 pm so that I could make the birthday party/birthday cake cutting in Chandigarh by 8 - latest.
However, when the two of us were at lunch and I got a call from the Chandigarh-based driver to say he had reached my DLF home and wanting to know when we intended to drive out... I broached the subject with my CEO and told him of my plans to get going at 1.30 and take Friday off...
"Why didn't you say this earlier? Of course you must go immediately!"
"But the budget meeting...?" I reminded him.
"Yes. I need you for that but we'll wrap it up quickly"
Luckily for me, one of the participants on the meeting had driven in from DLF & I took a ride back home with him.
Once home, I took 10 minutes to pack & get into the car but it was already 5 pm.
Getting out of Delhi at that time of the evening is a nightmare & we got on to the National Highway by 7 pm.
The highway, being a highway, allowed us to travel at an average speed of 100+kmph but then, just short of Karnal, we hit a traffic hassle... an overloaded tractor-trailor had flipped & landed across the road.
A 'katcha' track at the side of the highway was being used by all the light vehicles to get past the blockage which caused a further hassle as to get on to the 'katcha' track, light vehicles had to negotiate their way through the trucks & buses parked and already stranded on the road bumper-to-bumper.
By the time we got to the point of the accident, a crane was in the process of lifting the obstacle out of the way and we managed to squeeze thru and again had an open highway to zip on before the flood-gates of held-up traffic opened.
It was close to 8.30 by now so I called Susan and told her that I was not going to make it in time for the party.
We stopped at a road-side 'dhaba' named 'Zhilmil' just outside Karnal and grabbed a quick bite but I was too 'quick' - I stuffed a bit of 'roti' loaded with a scoop of 'dal-fry' into my mouth and the 'dal-fry' was so fire-hot that my palate got singed so badly that - if one listened carefully - you would have heard the 'sizzle' of burning flesh!
Singed palate or no singed palate, I ate my two roti's and all the dal till the last spoonful as it was delicious as only a roadside dhaba can produce...
A pea-soup fog near Ambala caused us another go-slow and I finally pulled in home at 11pm.
I missed the party but I got there in time to greet & wish Amani on her birthday in person.
The next morning after breakfast, Raoul & I went out fishing on the River Jamuna, a 2-hour drive away and at a spot named Hatni Khund, ("A-Place-Where-Elephants-Bathe" being the rough translation that the locals gave us) just upstream of Tajewala, a new barrage that now diverts the water of the river into the treatment plants of Haryana & Delhi.
The sad part being that the very effective electrically operated sluice gates at Hatni Khund don't allow even a trickle of water to flow down the natural course of the river, this has effectively sealed Tajawala's fate and thus consigned this famous old fishing spot to history.
It was noon by the time Raoul & I started fishing using light tackle and brass spinners.
The water was gin-clear and freezing cold and thus, fishing was zero.
The local fisherman who was tagging along advised me to try some aata with a single hook after a few hours when the sun would have warmed up the water. He also told me of the 'big ones' that had ben caught in these waters in March and April last year. A couple of 18 to 20 pounder mahseer.
As I've already said, the waters looked great & we tried spinning at all the likely spots including the spillway that was wide open as we reached there and was gradually shut after we fished for maybe half an hour or so. This was the first time that I've experienced this --- fishing the roaring flow of an open spillway and then having the sluice gates closed gradually and thus creating the effect of various situations of current and volume while one stood still at the same place. But it was probable just too cold. Not one of the three rods had a touch.
The scenery was spectacular and from a point on the Haryana bank of the river that we stood on, a 180 degree wide swath of the very wide riverbed with a backdrop of low hills, Himalayan foot-hills, lay in front of us, and from the spot where we stood one could see Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand and Himachal.
The area we were in was an extension of the Rajaji National park in the foot-hills of the Himalayas that formed the backdrop was a mixed scrub & Sal forest. However, the ususal winter haze hovered close to the earth and diminished the sight to a certain extent.
We had lunch with a local resident and there - trying to get a couple of pictures of the spectacular scenery laid out in front of us - crisp & clear in the sunlight that had now evaporated the haze, I noticed that my camera's battery needed a recharge... "Let's use you mobile phone" said Raoul but as I still hadn't loaded in the optional memory enhancing chip, I said "No" to him.
Post lunch took us closer to 4pm and with no action on the fishing front, we decided to take a drive through one of the stretches of the Reserve Forrest.
The forest was said to be crawling with all sorts of wild animals; Tiger, Leopard, Barasinga, Cheetal, Samba Deer, Blue Bull, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, various species of Monkey & a whole array of Jungle Fowl & Peafowl.
We drove up to the Forrest Ranger's office and got one of the rangers to accompany us.
This Ranger had the key to a make-shift barricade set up across one of the jungle tracks that lead off the main road and into the forest.
We immediately began sighting wildlife; Peafowl, Red Jungle Fowl, Wild Boar and the we came across the signs of an elephant herd... huge piles of fresh dung on the track and a little further on, freshly broken trees where the herd had been feeding, so fresh that the leaves on the broken branches still hadn't withered or wilted.
But we saw no elephant.
A little further down the track Raoul suddenly grabbed my elbow and whispered excitedly "Dad! Leopard! Leopard! I saw a leopard!"
I tapped the driver on his shoulder & whispered to him "Reverse..." I was just humoring Raoul... like how can anyone spot a leopard in that kind of undergrowth and how would he know what a Leopard in the wild would look like...
.... and Raoul hissed... "There! There! Can you see it?"
And sure enough, there it was - a a very visible full-grown leopard crouching in the undergrowth, a prime specimen in a lush winter's coat - the shade of burnt orange, glistening in the descending gloom of the fast approaching twilight and hardly 15 feet away from the track that we were driving on.
Shit! It's out of power...
... maybe we'll get some image even without the flash...
... but perhaps our excitement & agitated movement inside the vehicle wandered out of the the open windows of the jeep and got to the frozen animal.
It ('it' was probably a 'female' but I'm still not sure as everything happened so fast) twitched it's tail once, laid back its ears and retreated in a smooth & quiet movement, or rather, a flow of liquid muscle.
Now I've been visiting Indian Jungles since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.
I've seen hundreds of pug-marks and dozens of kills.
I've had Leopards walk through my camp while I've slept.
I've been in a convoy of 3 vehicles when the occupants of the first two vehicles saw Leopard & by the time my vehicle got into position, the animal was gone.
I've had a tiger roar on a kill in high Sarkhanda (elephant) Grass across the river from where I was fishing and even though I waited & watched till darkness, I never saw the animal.
... so this, in my book, was a very auspicious moment... an omen? A sign?
Here's how it all stacked up;
I've just closed 50.
It was one day after my daughter's 12th birthday
my 13-year-old son spotted me my first carnivore in the wilds of an Indian Jungle...
(13+12) x 2 = 50