Mithun and I had plans to spend a midweek holiday at Kanthur, a tiny village near Murnad. I started at 11AM from Bangalore and later in the day, he joined me at Mysore. I was riding a CBZ and Mithun was on his black Pulsar. The Sun was bright, the cool breeze was pleasant and the roads were empty. It was a fine day for biking. We both are passionate bikers and right away, we started to enjoy the drive. Mithun was leading and I was following his Pulsar. By early evening we entered Nagarahole National Park and soon, the disaster struck.
Much before Aane Chowkur, the elephant training camp, a Jeep was parked and nearby, its passengers were crowded in an animated huddle. It was a Kerala registered vehicle and the young travellers looked delighted. They had spotted something interesting in the jungle and everyone eagerly gazed deep into the forest. Naturally, this was exciting and we slowed our bikes. Like the Kerala group, even we wanted to witness the wildlife in its natural habitat.
I was close behind Mithun and as we slowed to a crawl before stopping, our eyes were fixed on the woods. We were not disappointed. Some 100 feet from the road in a clearing, we spotted a herd – 2 huge female elephants, a massive tusker and a young bull. Immediately, I also spotted thick chains lashed around the legs of 3 adult animals and only the young bull was free from the shackles. These were clearly domesticated elephants from the Aane Chowkur camp. Let free to feed in the nearby jungles, they were grazing the easily accessible roadside foliage. There was no need to stop our bikes for these domesticated creatures and I wanted to tell this to Mithun. Still fixing my gaze on the herd and without realizing that Mithun had already stopped his bike, I accelerated. Predictably, my CBZ’s front tyre hit his Pulsar’s exhaust and along with our bikes, we both were knocked down – I onto my right and he towards his left.
I had ignored the very basic rule of driving – never take your eyes off the road. It was my mistake and clearly, it was stupid.
Fortunately, it was a minor mishap, a slow speed collision. Yet, Mithun’s Pulsar lost half of its clutch lever and my CBZ’s rear brake pedal was bent. Physically, a slight bruise on my shoulder and a small scratch on his palm needed no attention. For a moment, everything appeared alright, but right away our trouble emerged in the form of an unchained bull. The commotion had startled the elephants and it had attracted their attention. Immediately, the young and the curious elephant did what every youthful adult does – it decided to check out the accident.
As the elephant walked towards our bikes, the Kerala youths clambered onto their vehicle and sped away. All this occurred in such a hurried flash that as the elephant was crossing the road towards us, we both were still trying to figure out what exactly had happened. It was a moment of obscure confusion. But the very next second, it turned out to be the clearest memory of our trip.
We both lifted our bikes and before we could climb on them, a trunk was trying to feel my cheeks. It was soft, it was pink and it was smelly. Slowly, it moved towards my head and then, it turned its attention on my rucksack.
Compared to three other elephants, this bull was small in size. But still it was at least 7 to 9 feet in height and in such close proximity, it looked gigantic. In a hasty confusion, somehow, I had parked my bike ahead of Mithun’s. We both were dazed with terror. I could clearly see the awful fright on Mithun’s face and I’m sure he saw the same dread on my face as well. Scared to our wits, we just stood there, clearly paralyzed with terror.
At any instant, it could go berserk. A quick swing of its trunk could instantly smash our skulls. Or, we might get trampled. Even worse, the young tusks can easily gouge us. The possibilities of getting killed by an elephant seemed endless.
We both were cornered. We were threatened. And we were terrified.
Mithun and I never expected to face such frightening encounter. At least, not while riding bikes in Coorg. Unlike Bandipur, I had never heard of elephants killing inquisitive travellers in Kodagu. This was clearly a startling discovery.
Standing next to my bike, the young elephant was blocking the road. I could not climb on my bike and there was no way Mithun could ride his bike past the bull. Amidst such panic, I got an idea. If I could start the bike, the noise from the engine could scare the elephant away, giving us ample time to escape with our bikes. I tried the self-starter and to my dismay, the bike didn’t start. And unfortunately, so did Mithun’s.
As the elephant was sniffing my backpack, I realized that it was just probing us and not trying to hurt. It looked as if the curious bull was searching for some eatables in my rucksack. It was domesticated and clearly, it was used to people. More importantly, the other 3 elephants ignored us. They didn’t even bother to look at this wayward tyrant. This was a welcome revelation. This herd was harmless. These fresh thoughts gave me some strength and for the first and the last time in my life, so far, I spoke to an elephant. I told him that I had nothing to offer and my backpack only had few cloths. I promised him to get Bananas next time. I coaxed him. I pleaded him to leave. And with apprehension, I caressed his trunk. But he was persistent.
With no other alternative, I pulled my water bottle from the rucksack and threw it aside. To my relief, this caught his attention. The elephant went towards the bottle and at the exact second, I opened my bike’s choke and hit the electronic starter. To my delight, the engine came to life. I opened the throttle and let the engine roar and seconds later, Mithun followed it with his bike. This scared the bull and it ran towards the safety of its herd.
Now the tables were turned and it was his turn to experience the terror of the alien panic. I felt as if we had won a hard-fought battle.
With an ecstatic feeling of a triumphant psyche, we safely reached our destination. But that day we learnt our lesson the hard way and it was a lesson that will be remembered in our hearts forever – never underestimate the power of Mother Nature and never fool around with wild animals. Even if they are domesticated, they can still make you feel intimidated and obscure. It was our good fortune that the elephant didn’t harm us. It was our sheer luck that we came back in one-piece, literally.