The Rajaji National Park was my next destination as Janak Singh, my friend from Welham Boys’ coaxed me into a trip to see the wildlife of this place. Situated in Rishikesh, about an hour’s drive from Dehradun, it is an old wildlife reserve. Janak was a director at the park and helped develop the park during his younger days. So, needless to say, we easily got a booking and all the staff had come forward to make our stay a memorable one. “You see Anuj, the animal safari in Africa that you just saw is nothing compared to the tigers of the Rajaji Park. Now you need to observe and admire the Indian jungles and what better man to take you there than me. I have been the director of the park for a few years and I know it like the back of my hand.” He said boastfully.
We had packed 3 kg of mutton and stopped over to shop for fruits and vegetables on the way. We reached the park in the afternoon and dumped our stuff in the bungalow provided to us.
Janak was busy chatting with the local staff and the game wardens as I strolled around trying to test my new Canon Mark IV camera taking shots of the sunset and monkeys that ran amok in the garden near our bungalow.
We lighted up a huge bonfire and the cooks got busy cooking the mutton in the kitchen as I opened a new bottle of single malt and offered the liquor to all in the sundry.
It was great to see everyone enjoying the night near the fire. After all, it was getting a wee bit cold. Discussions centered on the Beatles and the Maharishi Ashram for which Rishikesh is very famous for.
The locals wanted to do a film and a cultural festival for which they wanted to invite important directors and other celebrities. I got an invite too and promised to do a documentary when I come to the park next time.
Next morning was rock and roll time as we took a gypsy with gunmen inside the jungle and navigated its thick foliage and muddy terrain. After some time, we started walking on foot as we had to climb a bit. It was there that I first saw the pug marks of the tiger and the marks of its claws on the bark of a nearby tree.
It seemed that the tiger had been trailing a buffalo, the one owned by the Gujjar family who lived in the forest. “These bloody vermin are a curse to the jungles. These Gujjar Naiads from Kashmir come into the jungle and destroy it by cutting trees and letting their buffalos go amok. We have tried so many times to relocate them but they don’t listen. They keep coming back and destroy the natural habitat of the forest.” Janak said angrily.
The climb was steep and I had to navigate small streams to move ahead. Luckily, we were able to sight bucks and deer at the banks of the dry stream. The climb back was uphill and a bit steep but I managed to make it. It left me exhausted but the trip was worth it. With monkeys and langurs on the way, we managed to get a good look at the wildlife of the area.
At midnight, we did a night safari and went deep into the jungle. Someone had left a scooter in a ditch nearby and looked suspicious. One of the forest guards took action and noted its number to report its sighting. Suddenly, a Sambar ran out on the road and Janak took a snap of it. With the headlight shining on it, it was a rare shot.
Now, I am getting tucked into bed with a glass of warm whiskey all set to visit the Maharishi Ashram in the morning.