Out of Anaikatti Travel

Lord of the jungle

Elephants in Anaikatti

Elephants in Anaikatti  

One of the best things about life in Anaikatti is being able to walk normally and not having to hop, skip and jump my way through badly-laid roads and a sea of people and traffic. Here I can walk along any little fork along the muddy road that interests me or stop to rhapsodise over flowers that I last saw as a six year old.

As long as I’m not out after 6.00 p.m. No, it’s got nothing to do with my gender or crime rates. It’s got everything to do with a huge gentleman in grey: the elephant. Where I live is elephant territory. And, if you know what’s good for you, you won’t mess with him. At night, we hear fireworks and know that the lord of our jungle has made an appearance.

It was my son who encountered the elephant first after we moved here. He’d gone along in the school bus to drop the kids home, when an elephant walked out into the middle of the road. The driver promptly stopped but it continued to walk towards the bus. He began backing up — this was on a twisty curvy road — till he reached the wall of the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON).

“The elephant just stood before the bus for a while and then walked away,” said my excited son. “I think it was just having some fun with us.”

The one I met was definitely not thinking of fun and games. “Yaanai, ma,” exclaimed my driver, as he brought the car to sudden halt. We got out and I peered through the gloom of the dusk but couldn’t see anything. Suddenly, a huge branch went whistling over our heads.

We turned and ran for the car, looking back over our shoulder till I caught a glimpse of a huge derrière.

Another time, the husband and I were driving home late at night. Just as we crossed the board saying “Veerapandi Pirivu”, my husband said, “I didn’t know they’d put up a statue of an elephant here.” A massive head loomed up at us, with one foot almost on the kerbside. One big ear flapped and “it’s alive,” I screamed.

We shot off as if the hordes of hell were after us. When we calmed down, I suggested we inform the forest check post at Mangarai.

A very bemused forest guard listened to us and asked “Yannai? Elephant thane solaringa?” In the face of his doubt, I wasn’t sure if we’d seen what we thought we had. But there was no doubting our next encounter. It was just past 8.30 a.m. and we turned a corner past SACON to come face to face with a medium-sized tusker. We’d gone past it before we realised it was there. My husband slowly began to back up so we could take some photos. It was just our luck that we had to meet a photo-phobic elephant. He had been going into the forest but, as soon as he heard the clicks of the camera, he turned and glared at us. When that didn’t stop us, he began walk towards us very purposefully. “Move,” yelled my son and my husband floored the accelerator. Our last glimpse was of him pulling down some leaves now that he’d dealt with the pesky humans.

The sight of elephants can make people behave funnily. Bitten by a centipede late at night, I was rushed to the local hospital to be treated by a very grumpy doctor. He was not annoyed about being woken up at midnight. Rather it was because he had been summoned for something as mundane as a patient when he’d been watching a herd of elephants congregate just behind the hospital.

A scientist at SACON told of how a tusker, enticed by the aroma of jackfruit in one room, pulled out the grill at the window and ate the fruit.

“Once the fruit was over, it playfully pulled out a few more window grills before it went away,” he said ruefully.

There’s another tale of how an elephant, chased by away by a security guard at another institute, came back at midnight and proceeded to pull the heavily-wrought iron gates off their hinges. The guards took to lighting a fire in a cauldron placed right at the centre of the entrance for a few weeks.

Every day, as I drive down to the office in Coimbatore, my driver and I watch for signs of its presence: broken branches, dung, stones flung around.

If we see any, he’ll drive slowly.

At times we’re lucky — a tusker pawing the ground and waving his ears was one unforgettable sight. “He’s angry,” said my driver refusing to stop for a photo op.

The locals have their own take on what attracts the elephants. “Jackfruit, tamarind and bananas,” says one elder wisely. And then proceeds to plant bananas all over his farm.

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Printable version | May 24, 2020 9:45:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/Lord-of-the-jungle/article14645074.ece

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