We arrived late in the afternoon and were to stay overnight in the Government Guest house right in the middle of the jungle. My car was somewhat special. It was what you might call a van. On the back of it was a little ladder and around the top was an iron railing. Guess why the children liked that. Because they would sit on top of the car as I drove out to see the animals. With the iron railing they were safe. When they spotted an animal they would tap on the roof of the car. That told me to stop or go slow so they could watch the animal. If I saw the animal first I would tap on the side of the car and they would ask me very quietly where the animal was.
By the time we had our evening meal it was dark. "Come on," Betty Ann said, "let's get started." The children climbed up on top of the car. They held what is called a spot light. They would shine the light first to one side and then to the other. My car lights often spotted animals ahead on the trail. We had not gone far when I heard tap, tap, tap on the roof so I slowed down. They had seen the eyes of some deer off to the left. Their eyes can be seen first because their eyes shine in the light, like little mirrors. Soon we were in deer country and saw one herd after another. "What was that?" Barbara asked. "Oh it was just a jackal," Philip told her. There were a number of them before the evening was over and we did get to see a panther, but no tiger.
The next morning we had a special treat. The Forest Department brought an elephant to the guest house to take all of us for a ride through the jungle. We climbed onto the little platform on its back. When it started out it took big steps and the platform wobbled from side to side. We had to hang on. The mahout or the man who drove the elephant said some people had seen a tiger only yesterday and we kept looking but we never saw it. The mahout said "You may not see the tiger but I'm sure the tiger sees you and is hiding."
When we came to a large number of deer they did not seem to be afraid of the elephant. Soon there were deer on every side of us. One deer was what they called a barasingha. Bara means 12 and singha means horns. It was a beautiful large deer that has antlers or horns that had 12 little spikes on them. There are not many barasinghas so we were delighted we got to see one.
We came to a watering hole or a little pond. We watched as deer came cautiously to the water to drink. Some were only tiny but others were quite large. Then the mahout told us, "The deer seem to know they are safe from hunters here in the preserve. Sometimes they go away for a few days but they come back where they are safe."
There was a splash out in the pool and then we saw an allegator trying to catch a deer. The deer was too quick for it, but all the deer nearby jump back and ran to safety.
There were also many different kinds of birds: ducks, storks, and flocks of little birds of every color. A whole flock of wild parrots came swinging in from the trees to take a drink in the pool. I guess we got to see 200 or more deer of different kinds, and oh, so many beautiful birds.
The ride had taken about two hours and it had been fun, but it was not too comfortable to hold on to that platform as the elephant lurched from side to side. Then when we got back to the guest house the mahout had the elephant kneel. That was a bit jarring because it tossed us almost off the platform right over the elephant's head. After it knelt down on its front legs it also settled down on its hind legs. That was more comfortable. The mahout jumped off and brought a little ladder so we could get off the elephant. "That was fun," Philip said, "but it is more comfortable to ride on top of the car." All the children agreed.
Tigers have been hunted for their beautiful stripped fur. Now there are not many left and that is the reason we didn't get to see even one. When we got in the car to return to the college all of us said how thankful we are that India has formed a number of game preserves where animals are safe. Best of all we had the chance to visit one of the most famous ones not far from our home in Jabalpur. [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]
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