We walked into the forest
After lunch, a bit of a rest relaxed us. Low blue hills all around, fast flowing Koel at touching distance and the deep green forest across the bridge on Koel filled our mind. Immersed in nature—it was pure pleasure. The youth wants to move, so did we. Someone expressed the common wish, “Let’s go out.” As if he heard us, our new friend, the forest guard opened the hatch on the gate at that moment and walked in. “Ready?” he asked.
All of us got up and in no time were on our way. The guard told stories about his experience in these forests. He was a middle aged man, living alone. For more than four years he is roaming these forests, doing his routine duties. He knew the trees, the narrow trails and the wider pathways like the back of his palm. We felt secure in the knowledge that we are with a man for whom the forest is a playground. In his quiet confidence, the forest lost all its dangers. It was transformed to a park, a bit wild, but still a park for us—literally.
One of us was in night dress and another wore slippers on his feet. It would only be a casual jaunt in the park, maybe for one or two hours and no civilization around to constrain us in any way. This is freedom in the midst of untainted nature.
Crossing the bridge, the seven of us turned right, away from the pitch topped bus route and entered the forest. Soon we found a comfortable wide stretch devoid of trees to walk on. Long ago this stretch must have been cleared up as a Jeep road by cutting off the trees and the undergrowth. It was as good as a road for us.
Wide path going into the dark forest
After a short stretch into the forest, the surface of the path had become covered again by grass and young undergrowth that couldn’t pose much difficulty in walking. Only a little while later, our guide stopped abruptly on the left side of the road and pointed to a very narrow trail into the forest. We took up the trail and had to bend down to move through the overhanging branches of trees.
Unlike the tourist center in Betla where we stayed, the forest was very thick in this area. The tall trees jostled against each other. Thick undergrowth covered the forest floor. Our guide told us in a low voice that the trail belonged to animals. On this trail only animals moved. We felt a touch of danger. We are on an animal trail; we might meet one any moment; so romantic! The guide could read our mind and comforted us, “No danger now. Deer, boars and other small animals move on this path; and now no animal would be around. Don’t worry, no dangerous animal will come on this path now.”
Narrow animal trail leaving the wide jungle path
His assurance was not really needed; we were supremely happy and couldn’t imagine at all any animal bothering us, a strong group of six learned men, from the great metropolis of Kolkata.
The path tortuously went on into the thick forest through green walls of trees and undergrowth on both sides. We went on chattering happily but in subdued tones. After all, we were on an animal trail, bothersome or not, we were not eager to meet any animal now. We were quite happy with ourselves.
A heavy downpour started without any warning. All of us huddled together under a large tree and got drenched to the skin. The canopy of leaves overhead couldn’t stop the force of the rain drops. But it was only for a quarter of an hour or so. Rain stopped and sun came out again. Our walk started.
The rain washed away some of the tiredness from us. We walked with more assurance now. Walking along the untrodden path for nearly an hour and getting drenched helplessly like any other animal, we had become accustomed to this virgin forest around by now.
I stopped and stooped. Just a few minutes before, a hoofed animal, most probably a small deer, slipped on the muddy trail and left its hoof mark. All of the friends looked at the hoof mark with wonder in their eyes. At least we got proof of presence of a living being other than the tall trees around.
We had totally forgotten about the elephants.
The narrow trail opened up in a clearing, a small open space, a breathing space. Perhaps the herds of deer held their meetings there. All around stood the imposing wall of trees. At this time of the year, the trees were adorned with multicolored leaves, various shades of green, red and brown. Aroma of wet earth and wet leaves filled our nostrils. We just stood at the center of the clearing and enjoyed the oneness with nature.
Our guide looked up at the sky and alerted us, “Soon it will be dark, let us move.” We felt a peculiar sadness in leaving.
It was journey back to the civilization now. Chattering started again—the group of friends was totally relaxed, perhaps the guard also was. We walked on the trail with more assurance. Quickly the end of the narrow trail was reached, and the group stepped out on the much wider grass covered forest road and turned towards their temporary home across the bridge on river Koel. Evening was descending.
Note: The two images are created for evoking a feel of the scenes the young friends had seen.
Photo credit for "Wide path going into the dark forest" goes to Sri Abhijit Basu Roy Choudhury. This has been a part of the forest in Chilkigarh, Jhargram.
Photo "Narrow animal trail leaving the wide jungle path" was taken in a forest patch in Chhotonagpur Plateau.