Sunday, 7 February 2010

Charged by an Elephant

6 February 2010

When I decided to take a main highway through some jungle at Bandipure National park, I did not realise I would be in more danger from the wildlife than from the Indian lorry and bus drivers. Having passed halfway through the jungle I only saw a few deer and a number of monkeys. Then, as I came around a corner I met a herd of elephants crossing the road. An Indian family were stopped a little back from them in a car and were taking photos. I turned my engine off and rolled up a bit back from the car and took out my camera and took a couple of photos. I don't know how close I was, but close enough as you probably can gauge from my photo taken with my camera that has very little zoom. All seemed quite safe because the elephants just minded their own business and continued into the forest, until, that is, the car in front decided it would continue. When the car passed behind the elephants it angered a young bull elephant and it ran back to see the car off. It was then that I realised I was very exposed, but my keys were not in my ignition - I had no quick escape!

I didn't waste any time and started pushing my bike around back the way I came while I desperately thought what I could have done with my keys. Without my engine I could not outrun the elephants. I saw that the elephant had seen me but he didn't look like he was angry enough to charge just yet. I was contemplating whether, if he did chase me, if I should ditch my bike and run to climb up a tree. Suddenly I remembered where my keys were: in the lock of my panniers where I kept my camera. Now I really felt stupid. "He was killed by an elephant because he disobeyed the signs not to take photos". These thoughts probably only took a few moments to go through my mind, and once I had my keys back in my ignition I felt safe again because I had confidence in my engine to start quickly and take me safely away. By this time the elephant was distracted by another car that approached and stopped on the other side, so I didn't need my engine and rolled my bike gently to the bend in the road. A park ranger passed in a 4x4 at this point and asked what was the problem and I pointed at the elephant that was standing guard by the roadside. The ranger drove up to elephant and reved his engine in attempt to drive it away but it only receded a little way back into the woods. A number of cars also arrived from both sides and whenever they passed the elephant would race back, trumpeting angryly. I continued to wait until the elephant ventured further back into the forest and someone waiting to pass in their car suggested that it was my chance to go. I would have waited longer, but also feeling pressure from the fading light I decided to go for it. As soon as I approached the crossing point the elephant saw me and started charging back. I had a moment to think whether I would still go for it or turn back and I decided to race the elephant to the crossing point. Having had a head start I was easily able to beat him, as long as I continued to accelerate, but I did wonder what would happen if my engine suddenly failed. As I raced away and the elephant trumpeted after me, again, I felt a bit foolish and felt as if I had a dogs tail between my legs. I hurried to the next village closely following a car for protection and booked myself into the first available room. This evening I learned that motor bikers have been killed by elephants in the forest. Now why didn't the rangers tell me at the check point I passed?

7 February 2010

I am now in Ooty, pretty a town 1350 m above sea level in the Western Ghats. There seems to be a competition between churches, temples as well as mosques here, with some churches it seeming to broad cast their sermons over load speakers - not to be out done by the temples that play their traditional religous music and the mosques that try and hypnotise you with their chants.

I am deciding where to go next. Since my last post I have been in Mangalore for a night and in Mysore for three nights. It was tempting to stay longer at Gokarna since I was beginning to make friends and it was a relaxing pleasant place to stay, but I felt I had plenty more to see in India so left again after just three nights (or was it four). Mysore was again a pleasant place to stay with its wide streets and less traffic. There were many no-horn signs about the city so it was also a lot quieter. It feels like a very new place because there are so many new fancy buildings. Even the palace is only 100 years old and much of the iron work manufactured in Glasgow.

I have begun to accumulate a number of photos I'd like to share but haven't had much time to organise them. Why, when I have taken a whole year off to explore a country am I always in a hurry?! A few sights that interested me was a lonely tree covered with bee hives - I have no idea why they liked that particular tree so much - perhaps they enjoyed being neighbours. I found another tree that seemed to be home to about 10 eagles - I don't know what kind. They had white heads. In Mysore I was amazed by the the housing estates of uniquely built expensive mansions.

From most of India I have the impression that they don't really care what their homes look like on the outside, but give them a bit of call centre money and it is amazing what they come up with! Sorry, I probably sound a bit patronising. But the truth is that I find most Indian people very funny: They approach a problem in always twos and threes, enthusiastically, and create so many bodged jobs. I have learned not to ask for any help fixing something because I can guarantee that it will be tied together with a warn out piece of string and it will take many attempts to make it work. Their building techniques look a joke when they are a mess of wonky sticks and rope supporting concrete moulds and everything is carried on the heads of a hoard of labourers. Not an energy saving pulley or wheel barrow in sight. Yet anyone with a bit of money is able to create themselves most impressive looking houses such that you would rarely see in the UK.

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