6.45 PM, 25th May 2012. We were back at the rest house which, for some reason my son kept calling as 'the resort'. Mahadeva was waiting for the vegetables and chicken. Any more delay, he'd have been in a tizzy. He'd been instructed that his guests were some important people and he wanted to be sure that he did his job well. That meant he had to get his hands on the stuff we carried to turn it into some exotic dish! Nearly 7 PM, he had to use his rather underrated skills to create magic on the dining table.
Having nothing better to do we went back to the waterhole hoping to catch the sight of some thirsty creature slaking its thirst. No luck there though we waited for a while.
It was nearly dark. The moon was just a thin sliver in the sky and the stars were just waking up from their sleep as we walked back to the rest house. The heat of the day had dissipated and a chill was settling on the forest. Park gates had closed at 6 PM and so the noise of vehicles had died out. Now we were enveloped in the noise of the night creatures of the forests.
When we reached the rest house Mahadeva was nowhere in sight. He was in his kitchen trying to get our food ready in time. He was probably used to having to cook something simple but today was not his day. His guests, it seemed, were here to test his expertise in the kitchen. He had little time in which he had to concoct something to keep everybody happy.
To compound his woes the electricity kept failing. The lights would come on for a minute and the we'd be plunged in darkness for another five. Eventually, it gave up altogether. We were sitting in the darkness on the steps outside when Mr. F came up. He was the officer in charge of the range and he was already aware of some important guests in his custody. He saw our plight and suggested we go for a drive along the road instead of offering the mosquitos a chance to get intoxicated on us and he also offered to come along to guide us. The only problem was that our car could not take everyone.
He thought it over and when he realized we really had a problem he offered to take us in his jeep on his 'night patrol'. Mahadeva was going to take a little while anyway. He'd have the dinner ready only by 8.30 so we thought a half hour drive up the road to Murkal seemed a good idea.
The five of us, with Mr. F and a forest guard got into a jeep and drove off. Nothing exciting happened for a while and the suddenly, out of the darkness two glowing orbs appeared followed by more, on both sides of the road. Gaur, in a large herd of cows and calves feeding on the grass on the sides of the road. I was struggling with my camera. Flash photography is unethical and against the rules so I had to open up the aperture and shoot in the dark. I failed miserably the first few times.
By the time we reached the Murkal camp I got the hang of it. My son or brother-in-law would shine the flashlight and I adjust the camera setting to that light and shoot. With the help of the flashlight & headlight I managed a few shots but none that seemed worth preserving.
This herd was crossing the road at the Murkal camp as we took a U-turn inside the camp.
As we returned back to Kallahalla, we were accosted by a herd of elephants at the Karmadu junction. It seemed Mr. F was not the foolhardy type so he swiftly turned right onto the Karmadu road because the elephants were not in the mood to give way.
Two orbs appeared again, this time on one side and staying still. It was a large bull relaxing on the road side. Turning the jeep to light it up had no effect on the creature. It probably knew we were no threat.
Further down, in the middle of the road there was a gray mound with four glowing eyes. Now what could that be? Before I could set my camera the 'creature' became 'creatures' and waddled off the road noisily. Sloth bears. A mother and two cubs. One cub was sitting atop the mother and that was the reason we saw four eyes!
When came back to the junction the elephants were nowhere to be seen. The glowing hands on my watch showed 9.25PM. No wonder our tummies were making strange noises. Back at the rest house, a worried Mahadeva was waiting. He was past his bedtime and sitting in the dark with no sign of his guests, he was rattled. He hovered around us silently while we wolfed down some chapattis and chicken, overlaid by some rice and curds.Since there wasn't much else to do we retired for the night.
Sleep welcomed me with open arms. I had been up and about since 5 AM and on the road with my son from 6.45 AM. The absence of electricity was a new experience. The night was cold in marked contrast to a warm day. The sounds of the jungle kept ebbing and flowing with the breeze as I fell into a dreamless sleep.