It was the second day of our honeymoon in Orange County and we were enjoying our time in Kabini.
Kabini is a beautiful place with lots of trees and surrounded by a picturesque river named Kabini. Avinash, our driver recommended us to take a wildlife safari which is very famous in Kabini. So we decided to go for the wildlife safari. Our safari instructor, sorry I forgot his name. I guess his name was Murthy. Ya, it's a south Indian name all right!!!
One thing which struck me was that Murthy wasn't a muscular and long haired guy that we see on discovery and NAT geo, he was very decent in terms of his dressing and quite well groomed...but he was very active and you could see his love for the forest in his eyes. I liked that.
We were around 12 people for the safari, and Murthy was telling us about Kabini and the forest. Everybody was quiet and everyone was listening to each and every sound of Kabini Forest Reserve. Murthy's Eye communication was bang on. In 10 minutes he actually gave us lots of information that even Wikipedia can't give.
I had gone with all my gear and didn't want to miss any chance at clicking animals in their own habitat. I had gone to Borivali National Park once but hadn't got any chances to click pictures as I was new to photography then and the animals were sparse. So I was very enthusiastic about wildlife and wild culture of a forest.
Culture has to be different then only you can enjoy...that's my philosophy. One advice to every photographer "Take all your gear with you while shooting otherwise sell it now". It's a pain to carry it around it with you all the time, but without that who knows you might miss the perfect shot which maybe you dreamed of clicking one day. Murthy told us that Kabini Forest Reserve comprises the south-eastern part of Nagarhole National Park which is third highest in terms of Tigers. Once a private hunting lodge of the Maharaja of Mysore, Kabini was a popular shikar hotspot for British Viceroys and Indian royalty. Now it is considered to be one of the best wildlife sanctuaries in Karnataka, famous for its spectacular wildlife and bird life.
I was pumped for Tiger. I have always dreamt of taking tiger portraits.
The distance by road between the Forest Reserve and our resort was 45Km or so. But as the resort was located on the banks of Kabini River, only crossing the river by boat the distance was reduced to a mere 10Km. Murthy warned us not to put our hands in the river, as we may invite crocodiles on our way. He had a strong and polite way of conveying the messages to us which is what I liked about him.
Once the safari started in a minibus with grilled windows (green in color, totally the jungle military types), Murthy continuously talked about tigers and their behavior; which made me wonder if there really were any Tigers that we may see today. Don't ask me why I just sensed that!!! But his gesture, body language and knowledge about Tigers were worth a watch and it made us believe that we may get a chance to see Tigers anyway. On the way, Murthy showed us Sambars(different kind of deer), Monkeys, Peacocks and some random wild animals (small one) But to my disappointment there wasn't any trace of Tigers around anywhere...God, I am still waiting for my master portrait. But I was ok, somehow Murthy showed me Tiger through his eyes. He was so sharp and talented in his domain. As an IT employee, I believe in talent and wondered why anyone will choose a profession like this when he was very efficient and active talented fella.
But the incident that took place in the next 20 minutes washed all my doubts...so here we GO!!!!
All during the safari ride, it was drizzling lightly. And guess what the driver was the Paul Walker on that bus. Trust me, it was drizzling in middle of the forest and it was a narrow one lane road covered by dense trees on both sides ...It was quite dark and he was driving at a speed of 40KM/hr. It was the best forest drive, just etched into our memories forever.
The minibus ride wasn't a smooth one, we were struggling to sit properly and in that difficult condition Murthy was standing near the door, with his left hand holding the handle on the upper side of a bus and he saw some wild elephants on one side of the road. Three large, wild elephants were crossing the road on which our bus was going, so the bus stopped...The heard consisted of two adult elephants and one baby elephant. The baby elephant was looking quite scared and he was walking in the shadow of his mother. Murthy warned us that if an elephant charged at us, there is no need to panic, he will never hurt us until you make any movement. The elephants can only hurt humans if they feel we are a threat to the baby elephant or themselves. Hence by not making any movement, we assure the elephant that we mean no harm, and the elephant does not harm anyone. One of our fellow photographers in the bus clicked a picture of the elephant with his flash on (amateur photographer)...Pointer - Guys never click the photo with flash on in the forest. It distracts and angers the animals and that made the male elephant angry and he started charging towards our car. The sheer size of the elephant made us all quite scared, and I literally took 36 Crore God's name. I was so scared; I saw this kind of stuff only in the discovery and Nat Geo channels. The elephant was moving quite fast towards our bus, and due to its size, the land below the elephant was literally shaking at every step of his.
In that situation, anybody can panic, but Murthy instructed us to just sit down quietly and not move at all. Fortunately, everybody followed his instructions and everyone was sitting quietly. Even when the elephant was charging, Murthy kept narrating in a very soft tone about the Elephant's activity. He told us that looking at his tail movement; it's just a mock charge, as the male elephant was also nervous and just wanted to scare us off. The driver was instructed not to try and drive off even when the elephant was literally coming too close to our bus.
Hat's of man, what a dedication. Even in a situation like this he was so sharp and controlled and still sharing his knowledge about his love towards the forest and animals. He was very confident about his theory and experience. He told us that the elephant was angry but at the same time he was worried for the baby elephant, so he just wanted us to go away and hence he was just charging to scare us off. And just as Murthy had told us, once the elephant charged at our bus angrily, looking at the calmness and no movement on our part, the elephant did stop and turn back to his family calmly.
After the elephant turned back, Murthy heaved a sigh of relief, told the driver to start the bus and move ahead slowly. He also praised everyone on the bus for maintaining calm and quiet and not panic in such a situation. He then started telling us of other such adventures he had been through while doing his job. This moment made me realize that Murthy wasn't only doing his job for money, but also for the love of the forest, the animals and every bit of it. He was truly every bit a nature lover, knowing well about the animals that lived in that forest and their activities.
Murthy convinced me one thing that communication is not only about voice; sometimes your actions can make the difference.
For me he was someone who actually loves his job not for money but for his life...and a forest is his Life!!!