He came running towards us, with quick short steps, on his disproportionately petite legs, head bent low, with fury gleaming in his eyes. ‘Click’ went the gun, and with the same speed, he turned back, kicked up a cloud of dust, and ran into the undergrowths. It was my first ever rhino charge.
Kaziranga National Park, Assam, is one place where everything charges at you- the rhinos, the buffaloes and of course, the elephants. And that is why this is the only national park in India that provides every jeep with an experienced guard with a gun. The gun, an old, rusted, battle-worn one, sometimes held together with rubber bands, did not give me much comfort; but the guards holding them did. They are the most dedicated and selfless workers I have ever met. They treat the jungle like their own home, and mourn the death of every animal at the hands of a poacher, as if it was one of their own. With the fire of revenge boiling deep inside, they patrol the jungle day and night, shooting at the poachers on sight. These guards, also very knowledgeable and amiable, are ones who deserve way more recognition than what they get.
I remember my first rhino sighting vividly. It was a misty morning, and the rhino was up to his horn in the water, munching at the water plants, as we stood there in the jeep, our teeth chattering in the cold. This prehistoric animal, which made me feel like I was transported back to the Jurassic age, is the most unpredictable animal I have ever seen. Known for its sudden mood swings, and its charges without warning and reason, it is one of the most dangerous animals to encounter. The guards usually avoid using the gun till the last moment and try to scare it away just by clicking it. We were charged at by rhinos five times during our stay there. Though not as hair-raising as an elephant charge, it was scary enough to get our adrenalin flowing at full speed.
To tell you the truth, I was terrified the whole time that I was there. The elephant grass, around six feet tall, kissing the edges of the road, and permitting us only the view of the road in front of us and behind us, constantly kept me on the edge. There could have been an elephant or a rhino standing right next to the road, waiting to charge at us, and we would not have known it until he was practically on top of us! I constantly kept peering into the gaps between the blades, looking out for those grey-black humps. But fortunately, none of those wild imaginations that were constantly running in my mind came true.
What with the cold, long drives in the open gypsy, the ‘skin-curdling’ sun beating on our faces, the rhinos, the elephants and the myriad colourful birds flitting from tree to tree, it was definitely one helluva trip!