Imagine the scene if you will. It is 7:30 am in the Periyar National Park. The temperature is cool and the hot Indian sun has not yet had a chance to fully warm the air. A light mist rises above the Periyar river as Kingfishers dart about looking for their first meal of the day. Black monkeys hoot above in Banyan trees alerting the troop of your presence. A pack of otters play at the river’s edge, long-tailed squirrels jump from tree to tree as toucans sing out and woodpeckers do what they do. The landscape is surreal.
As you venture further into the wilderness, the anticipation of larger animal sightings increase. With the first encounter of fresh sloth bear dung, no more than minutes old, you notice your guide becomes a bit more vigilant and less supportive of the frequent photo stops. You begin to wonder what is out there and close.
Gradually more and more animal tracks begin to show themselves. Fresh elephant tracks, days old tiger tracks, wild buffalo tracks lead to the river that you are following and that happens to be the only source of water in the area.
And then the trail heads out to a small plain. It is a kilometer wide and you are completely in the open. You continue to wonder what is watching you and why you aren’t in a jeep. You are fully committed, out in the middle of the field when an animated, but quiet, guide hops out of the bush hundreds of meters away and frantically sends a barrage of hand signals to your guide. Now your guide appears to be a little less confident and gives you some curt directions to get off the trail and move very quickly for cover. Gulp.
After a few tense (or tenser moments), you learn that you are likely not on the menu today. It is “only” a female elephant and its baby.No problem, you think. We’ll just turn around and head the other way. That’s when you guide moves in the opposite direction of everyone else and starts stalking the elephant while giving you directions to fall in line, stay close, and stay quiet. Gulp, pucker, gulp. Meanwhile, your wife is informing the guide, Devi ( a lovely and knowledgeable guy if a bit new to the job) that there really is no need to see a wild elephant.
20 minutes later, there are no sightings. You call “uncle” and suggest that we go find some more Kingfishers and Hornbills. There is always the National Geographic channel back at the hotel.