A grain of sand
It was 5:45 am and I was running late. As I somehow got ready and did a last check on my luggage, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, with some toothpaste on my nose. Washing it off, I realised I had forgotten to pack my toiletries. At 6:15, my disorganised, sleepy self was dragged out by my mom. Fast forward a few hours and I find myself in a car looking out at the city opening its eyes and stretching out with the first rays of sunlight. In a few hours, the scenery changed from polluted, dirty and mall-infested, to clean, fresh and lush green. “Chambal Safari Lodge” the board welcomed us and 17 tired, yet enthusiastic children stepped out of their cars and eagerly breathed in the fresh, clean air of this beautiful place we were to stay in.
The former part of the day passed with our introductions and some whines of the city-bred kids complaining about the heat. The latter part of the day was spent amongst the Neel Gai (Boselaphus Tragocamelus) – who made themselves, quite at home inside the lodge, and looked at us with black, glassy eyes- the Flying fox (Pteropus Gigantus) –who bore an uncanny resemblance to my dog—and a few others, such as the laughing dove, the black drongo and the Grey Francolin. We were lucky enough to spot the Indian Hare. It was here that we were introduced to our marvellous guide, Gajender ji. After a wonderful nature walk, probably because we looked so exhausted, we all decided to call it a day.
Early next morning, we were ushered out of our cosy beds and we drove to the famous Chambal ravines, which had once been home to the great dacoits of Chambal. These dacoits, despite their ferocity should be credited for keeping Chambal out of the dirty hands of the modern man who would have taken away the land’s pristine tranquillity.
We walked down to the magnificent river of Chambal and it seems to wash away all my thoughts for a while. The sudden feel of the cold water brought me back to reality, and we are introduced to these two wonderful, dedicated, hard working biologists, Saurav and Disha. They tell us about the incredible work they are doing with turtles and quite honestly, all my faith in humanity is restored. A small, blue bucket is brought out and all of us eagerly look in, to find hundreds of pairs of keen and yearning eyes staring back at us. Today,being World Turtle Day (23rd May), we were to set these one-day old hatchlings free into the river. As we let them free and they plod into the water, one could almost see them smile and feel the ecstasy as they touchwater for the very first time.
But only too soon, we were told to wrap up and we headed back to the lodge. In the evening, after a lot of pleading, we were allowed to climb a small hillock that overlooked the ravines and the Chambal River. Once up there, all of us were getting the chills, and we felt quite grand, as we thought of the dacoits who must have been up there at some point, looking down at the ravines, picking their next victim. However, by the time we came down, scratched and cut, all of our “bandit-spirit” had vanished. We walked down to the river for our river safari and had the great opportunity of watching the golden sun dip behind the ravines and leave us in a golden daze. With the help of Gajender ji, we spotted many glorious birds like the Great Thicknee, the Spot-billed Duck, the red wattled lapwing, and of course, the hero of Chambal, the Indian Skimmer.
The highlight of our trip however, was the sighting of the Marsh crocodile, one of whom was lazing about in the sun, with his mouth open wide, and the Gharial, whose eyes were glowing green emeralds shining steadily at you. Their stealth in the water was remarkable, one of them rose right next to our boat and some of us almost fell overboard (exaggeration). Filled with the marvellous things that we had just seen, we headed back to the lodge, all of us quite entranced by what we had just witnessed.
The last day of our trip unfolded and we piled into our cars to go to the Black Buck Sanctuary. On getting there, we yet again, were very fortunate to witness the fight between two young males, battling for territory. One of them lost and was chased away by the other, who gracefully walked up to his herd of females, feeling quite royal. All of us soaked in the beauty, grace and elegance of the animal, but soon realised we were also soaked in something not so pleasant—sweat—and so we decided to head back.
After a delicious brunch, we thanked the Indebo team at the lodge and got into our cars for one last time. As the engines roared to life, I felt this pang of pain, the birds, animals, the nature, the 9pm curfews, the friends; everything was going to be missed so much. I didn’t know what to feel. Sad that I was leaving behind this fantastic place to go back to the same, hot, polluted Delhi. Or happy, that even though I was leaving I had a lot of new friends and a huge basket full of learning and memories.
I learnt so much about how vast nature is, of how we think we are the greatest species and yet, we are nothing. How man can destroy without mercy, yet if he wants, he can nurture. How we are actually miniscule on this wonderful planet, just like a grain of sand on an arid desert.