Last Monday, we went to Bagdogra, a drive that takes about three hours from our garden. At around ten in the morning, we were crossing Damdim in the Western Dooars, and we saw a large crowd and some jeeps on the road ahead. We thought it was a 'jhamela' (trouble) of some kind. Our Dooars residents are volatile and quick to take offence, and they vent their feelings very visibly, so that 'jhamela' is a part of daily life, like 'Bandh' (strike) or potholes on the road.
There were men in uniform there too, and that helped to confirm what we believed. We expected anything from a murder to a road accident to a political demonstration. Since no one stopped our car, we drove ahead.
The cause of all the excitement was a herd of elephants. They were in the tea area off the road about 500m away from the highway, around 30 in all, adults and calves, all standing in a tight group, facing out in different directions.
The crowds had collected there to stare. The uniformed men, who were officials of the Forest Department, couldn't do much to convince them to make way for the elephants to get away. An ice cream seller was doing brisk business, and it looked like the start of a long day - and a long wait for the elephants. They were trapped where they were, not wanting to move because of the growing crowd of people.
The poor elephants were still stranded when we returned down that road around sunset time. The gawping crowds had grown, and now it was like a mela - a fairground - with so many motorbikes, cars, cycles and drifters. We slowed down, but didn't stop to join them.
My husband Mohan said sundown was the time when the elephants would come into their element. But while they waited, which had been all day, they had stood without a sound and without a drink of water, intent on protecting their young. They showed no signs of wanting to harm the crowds of people. There was no shade where they were standing, and they had been hurling mud on their backs to keep cool.
We'd experienced much the same thing in Moraghat T.E. early this year when around seven elephants strayed into the tea area and were forced to stand there all day, while the crowds - some of them coming in hired cars from Birpara, 20 km away - stayed till it was dark.
It was obvious all through that the elephants showed more maturity than human beings! Their behaviour signifies a superior instinct for survival and a superior understanding of coexistence with fellow creatures. They follow all the old rules, while we break them.
And yesterday, on one of our early-start-to the-cold-weather Sunday drives, we just missed running into a herd of around 40 to 50 elephants in the heart of Chalsa forest, between Jaldhaka and Chhapramari. It was sundown -- their time, and the forest -- their beat. Had we dawdled five minutes before setting back from Jaldhaka, we'd have driven into them. I'm glad we didn't disturb each other.
This is a picture of a tame elephant that belongs to the Forest Department, probably on its way to give tourists a ride. This was shot near Chhapramari Wildlife Reserve in Chalsa forest by Mohan.