It was not the first time we were going to a wildlife sanctuary. We had been to Kanha and we loved it. The idea of going into the jungle once more was thrilling. Safaris in jeeps, the quiet anticipation of a tiger’s approach and the sudden sight of a wild boar or a peacock hiding in the trees. Our skin tingled.
Until we went to the jungle in Nagarahole for the first time.
There, we learned that no jeeps were allowed into the jungle – only a minibus with 25 people. Disappointed already, we set off from the hotel in a jeep with a driver who ought to have considered racing as an alternative profession. Or, as my sister said, “If he likes driving so fast, he should drive an ambulance!” On roads where wildlife crosses at any time, vehicles speed at a crazy 50 or even 60 kmph. As if that’s not enough, they approach wild animals as if they’re approaching structures of stone! Our driver, anxious to show us wild dogs, raised his engine to its limit and raced there, only to give us a glimpse of frightened animals running away.
Disgusted, we kept asking him to slow down, a concept that he simply did not understand.
Then began the bus journey in the forest. That was when we realised that people with all the money in the world can be totally uneducated. A ride in the forest, for many, is like a ride on a busy street. A huge family with noisy children ascended the bus and my heart sank. A child threw a wrapper out of the bus window. I corrected the child angrily, hoping the parents would hear me. The father thought I was correcting the child for putting his hand out of the window. He saw nothing wrong with a toffee wrapper thrown in a jungle.
Every time we saw any animals, children shouted out, “Ay! Look, look! Hathi hathi!” The elephants were oblivious, but the deer fled.
A man in the bus was chewing paan and spitting every time the bus paused.
And the crowning glory was that our bus driver talked loudly on his mobile phone while tourists enthusiastically took photos of elephants and called out to fellow passengers.
We were revolted, absolutely revolted. We did not go on the bus safari again.
By the end of our stay in Nagarahole, we had managed to convince our jeep driver that we were not in a race. 20 kmph is a perfectly decent speed at which to travel in a jungle, and that animals deserve some respect, so he must stop some distance away from them, not speed up towards them. But about the bus and the uneducated tourists, we did not know what we could do.