Road trip and a wild tusker
In Munnar and its environs the prospect of running into a wild elephant on the road, especially at night,...
In Munnar and its environs the prospect of running into a wild elephant on the road, especially at night, gives most people goose-pimples quite understandably. In the 1990s I used to travel, on official work, from Munnar to Coonoor and back the same day, often returning late at night.
While returning one misty night my driver and I encountered a full-grown tusker on the deserted ghat road between Udumalpet and Munnar. It resolutely ambled along ahead of us unmindful of the car's headlights sweeping its rear. Dharmaraj, my driver, wanted to sneak past it – a stratagem to which many drivers resort.
However, I demurred, seeing that such a move was far too risky if not foolhardy. On one side a yawning precipice skirted the narrow road for nearly 3 km and on the other the hillside rose steeply, offering the jumbo no chance whatsoever to move off the road and let us pass.
So we crawled along behind the sashaying pachyderm, keeping a respectful distance from it, since I knew it could be unpredictable. There was no traffic at that late hour and visibility was dimming as the mist thickened.
Half an hour later we heard the welcome and steady groaning of a KSRTC bus straining up the steep gradient below us and saw its headlight beams probing the swirling mist as it rounded bend after bend. Soon the bus pulled up near us and the driver took in the situation quickly. Then, with an obvious air of deja vu, he hollered over the roar of his engine, "Nothing to worry about - just follow me!" and gunned the bus forward, its drowsy passengers now wide awake with curiosity.
Sneaking right behind the bus, within seconds we swept past the tusker – to find it, with its back to us, balancing itself precariously on the low parapet bordering the precipice, its feet bunched tightly together, to allow us to pass! It was unbelievable and no easy feat for an animal of its bulk. Adding to the breath-taking suspense was its nearness to me on that narrow road – I could've easily reached out and slapped its mud-caked rump!
As we sped past to safety, I noticed what had lured the pachyderm to that precipitous area – a small bamboo grove below the road with lots of fresh shoots, an elephantine delicacy. The tusker's intelligence and agility were truly remarkable.
-George N Netto