We take a sharp turn, cross a line of trucks queued up for clearance at the check post, past the sanctuary gate and few meters ahead of the Police Check post take a right turn. We are in close proximity to the highway but in a zone of constant human-wild animal conflict. We tramp ahead past a tribal colony, this one with tile roofed, brick houses surprisingly with electricity and basic sanitation facilities. Suddenly on our right thick woods appear and on our left is the fields owned by tribes and locals.
The cool breeze flowing across carries a whiff of wilderness. Tapioca (Yam) and ginger grow abundantly in the fenced fields. At the edge of the fields bordering the reserve forest stands two watch towers, which serves the purpose of keeping watch on approaching wild animals and wildfire and protection from them. Our accomplice Sivan says there were an elephant herd few minutes ago and now they have vanished inside the forest.
Now the sun gradually goes down, the texture of the surrounding woods change with the setting sun. From golden yellow to orange red, and finally to crimson red. The air is chilly, atmosphere resonates with sound of different insects and now the sun completely disappears. Still a faint light remains illuminating the woods and the surroundings.
A deer bleats helplessly;perhaps in despair and pain of being hunted, a peacock mews –Peck a hoy – the high pitched screaming sound resembles to that of a woman screaming and suddenly incessant barking of dogs from the isolated tribal dwellings adds heaviness to the air. We could hear twigs breaking behind us and some whispering sounds. Yes they are there…murmurs Sivan and darts to activate the electric fencing.
Silhouetted against the twilight woods I could see three of them two adults and a baby, swaying their ears and trunks rhythmically, munching wild grass. In between they make a strange moaning sound as if they were mocking at us. Sivan light up a pyre which would keep away (hopefully) the predators from encroaching to our territory. Sometimes even the electric fences are rendered useless, with elephants using their tusks crush the fencing or use a dry wood log to break the fencing.
Suddenly the surroundings rouse up with loud cries, screams and sound of striking tin containers. There is another herd; this is a big one close to the isolated tribal dwelling. Dog barks, fire, flashing torchlights, screams and shouts…..the herd not frightened roar challengingly …after a long effort the herd retreat causing damage to crops and crushing down a makeshift toilet…Suddenly it is deafening silence. Unexpectedly a child’s cry broke the silence.
For these hapless, ignored humans living in this isolated dwelling, such incidents area part of their day. With no electricity and proper security they are vulnerable to such sudden attacks by these large mammals; the intensity and frequency of each ambush varies. They spend each day battling against the pachyderms and predators, protecting their lives and live hood.
The elephants had not retreated completely…As we drove back we could see them inside the woods at a distance, perhaps readying for another assault. The ghastly sight of them in the car head lamps sent a shiver down my spine. As our car entered the highway i sighed in relief.
(This week when I visited this place, I could see power supply lines being installed. Hopefully electrification of this tribal dwelling will be completed without much delay)