Is there a writer in u? Or are you in a mood to read some short interesting stories? Here's the Story Section for all tastes.

The jerks and the bumps were my constant companions throughout the ride and not friendly ones either. The view was topsy-turvy, and lopsided from all angles as the huge beast swayed dangerously from side to side along the rough terrain.

I now realised how the seafarers on a turbid sea must have felt. I could barely manage to save my neck from getting bruised and a possible fracture, as the beast penetrated through the dense bamboo clumps and dagger like branches of tall stands that swished past me like Damocles sword swinging sideways.I had to duck sharply and twist at weird angles, keep myself fully alert and my eyes wide open, to escape the fury of the clumps and the daggers that came across my way, threateningly. The beast moved at a steady pace right through the dense thickets, I was desperately hoping he would avoid. I cursed myself for having consented to what I initially thought was a horrendous ride.

I was in Bandhavgarh National Park in India having my first ride on an elephant's back chasing the elusive beast the "Tiger". Though an elephant was a quite familiar sight to me since my childhood, I had never experienced the beast from such close quarters as I did on my first visit to Bandhavgarh.

The elephant looks just the same from far as it looks from close, except that the thick hide and its myriad folds become more apparent justifying the pseudonym "Pachyderm" or thick skinned as it translates in English. The eye is surprisingly small and belies the huge size of the beast - almost eleven feet at shoulders. It is placed unobtrusively in the hollow cavity of the dome like convex skull. The ears are huge fan-like and flap incessantly. The trunk is long and slightly bent at the base and lobed, a pair of long curved tusks emerge from the root of the trunk. The mouth opens between the trunk (the trunk evolved from the upper lip) and elongated lower lip. The rest of him is massive, the body the limbs and all. In all the animal looks as grotesque from close quarters as it looks from far, perhaps more threatening.

As I approached the animal along with my companions the constant stream of guttural sound that the it made and the wild to and fro movement of its trunk, sent my wits packing. After much efforts that the Mahout put in as confidence building measures, I finally climbed up the wooden ladder and sat hesitatingly on the Howdah, that was tied firmly on the elephant's back. With one command spoken in elephantese (a lingo understood only by the elephant and its mahout) and a kick on the forelimbs, we were off.

After sometime my fear subsided and I calmed down. As the ride progressed, the advancing threats from the thickets turned into an exciting challenge, and I began to enjoy it in all earnestness as one the most thrilling experience of my life. The ease with which the huge beast maneuvered the steep slopes of the river embankment and then climbed steep uphill through the rock-strewn thickets of the mountain surprised me no end. The beast lumbered downhill with the same ease with which he had climbed uphill, goaded and chided here and there by his rider. Very rarely did the Mahout use his vicious kick and the painful blow of the flat of his axe; a dull hollow sound and the elephants scream broke the sylvan silence when he did.

Amazingly, the animal understood all the commands that the Mahout issued in elephantese and obeyed instantly. Except "Malgat" which meant to go slow, I could not comprehend a single word of the dialect that transpired between the two creatures so fluently, and in exasperation, I turned towards the jungle sounds, which by all means were no less intriguing then elephantese (a term I coined for the strange lingo). The bird calls as sonorous as they were mysterious, the honk of a sambar surprised by a predator or the shrill ringing alarm of a deer being stalked by the Pench tiger echoed throughout the vast expanse of the swampy grassland that my elephant waded through. But silence as a rule dominated, as we moved along trekking the imprints of a male tiger's pugmarks.

Excitement built up as we realized the had tiger moved into the swampy grasslands and any moment now we would see the majestic beast, thanks to the skilled Mahout and his equally skilled and intelligent elephant. And the tiger we did see that day. The nerve tingling silence and the sudden, surprising growl of a beast woken from its peaceful slumber by the elephant that ventured too near. He stood up "His Majesty" and came towards us growling threateningly and then froze at a respectable distance. Stopped perhaps by an inherent instinct or the imposing bulk of the elephant we do not know.

On my first encounter with the tiger in the wild, I realized how beautiful and majestic the animal was. The King in repose, his head help up in pride and the shining golden coat striped jet black glistened in the sunlight, as he kept a wary eye on us. This was no bloodthirsty beast or a marauding killer, I realized, as the myths have made him out to be. There sitting in front of us was a perfect gentleman who killed only for food and not for lust as man did. In spite of his imposing size the animal was incredibly quick as he dodged the encircling elephants that followed behind us.

Disturbed in slumber and alarmed by the alien gathering, the majestic beast gave one last look at us and then turned towards the forests and vanished. After the encounter we ambled back at leisurely pace enjoying the sylvan surroundings on the elephant back. The jerks and the bumps all part of an exciting trek seemed no more vicious as they did before and beast more friendly then ever, with promises of many more rides to come.

The thrill and the excitement of this tiger safari remains with us till this day.
Uday Patel