Backpacking in the Himalayas - Between a tiger, elephant and a god!

Photo of Backpacking in the Himalayas - Between a tiger, elephant and a god! 1/2 by Pravin Subramanian
A twisted, knarled elephant like trunk of a tree
Photo of Backpacking in the Himalayas - Between a tiger, elephant and a god! 2/2 by Pravin Subramanian
Bhraham Bubu's new temple

04th June 2015: The third day of the five full days that i was to spend in Uttarakhand birding and scouting through the forest. Pangot had propelled the birding tally to a new high. Today's outing was more for animals and less for birding. We were to hit the Bhraham Bubu trail just south of Ghatgarh about 4 kilometers as the crow flies.

Rajesh appeared unusually stern today. He was holding a form and a pen asking me to sign on a document. It was an agreement of indemnity. By signing it, i would officially deem Rajesh and his organization free from any mishap or accident that may occur to me on the trail.

"Elephants sir... lots of elephants down there" We were just upping the risk ante to a high. Boy! This was going to be a lot of fun. i was more than gung ho about it and signed off the paper without a second glance. Anyway, it had to be done and the tea was going cold.

About the Bhraham Bubu. The trail was originally known as Barham Ka thaan. This roughly translates to Brahmasthan in Sanskrit; home to Brahma? But then the history books always pointed at some place in Rajasthan to be the only known temple of Brahma in India. This was interesting. Returning to the point, the Brahma manifestation here was super powerful. i mean super powerful.

i learned about it from Jim Corbett's hunting journals as he described the hunt for the Bachelor of Powalgarh, a hunk of a tiger at the Barham ka thaan. Just as the tiger drew near, a tree suddenly crashed to the earth, alerting the tiger who was otherwise preoccupied with other matters. Tree after tree crashed sending the feline scampering and Corbett perplexed as to what on Earth could have possibly crashed those trees. That too at the very moment when he was to shoot the animal. As local legend had it, the forest was divinely protected by Barham. No animal could be hunted here. Not if Barham had his way. i learned of a more sinister incident after this.

Originally no more than a grove, the passage of time has upgraded Barham's grove into a fully fledged temple with a concrete structure and dashing paint. i'd like to think Barham might not give two hoots about it. Returning to the point, a hill woman cutting grass just outside the temple was taken by a tigress. Her colleagues saw the direction in which she was taken and rushed to call the men for company. Upon returning, her remains were found eaten. The tigress responsible for the kill had simply vanished into thin air. Pugmarks did not lead them to any conclusive decision and the trail was then declared to be officially cold. What happened to that tigress remains a mystery that probably will not be solved for a long time.

As a rule, i'm a believer of logic and clear thinking. However there are certain incidences that cannot be explained in the realm of logic and human rationale. It is best to accept them at face value and try to uncover more evidence instead of dismissing them off as humbug. You may choose not to believe the sentences you're about to read but that does not dilute the truth of it.

There was a palpable sense of fear in the air. Rajesh and i were on foot in the forest and near the temple. i cannot speak for Rajesh but i did sense the permeating presence of something in the air. There was something about the place, some form of energy manifesting itself at the location. Choosing to disregard it, i followed Rajesh into one of the trails in the forest.

A deafening roar rent the still air asunder. It was a scream. A scream not of fear, but of hate and violence. A promise for retribution and death by torture. i had heard elephants roar in the wild before and knew them to be very different from the sounds often shown in TV programs and movies. This was an elephant and very close to us. We were standing on a fork shaped like the alphabet Y. We decided to walk on the left arm of the Y, as fast as possible.

The roar did not repeat but that palpable sense of fear was pounding in my heart. Something was not right here. The ground was thick with elephant spoor and dung. Our tiny shoe prints impressed upon the plate like marks left on the riverine sand by elephants. We were heading toward a river. Hopefully the clearing would mean no elephants or a safe distance from them. Apparently not.

Going by the number of spoors we happened to see, we were headed straight into a death trap. A herd of elephants. Woe betide there be a calf or two. We'd certainly be very dead, in the most painful way imaginable. Beaten to a pulp by elephants. That's when the risk factor whose ante we wanted to up, went up more than we could take.

We were playing on the DEFCON level of threat. A tiger's pugmarks ringed the elephant tracks closely. Which meant the tiger was to our left and the elephants to our right. Yes indeed. This was DEFCON :)

The only thing we could attempt now was a retreat. Walk back as fast as possible and hope not to run into a hunting tiger or a protective elephant. Ten minutes of heart pounding uncertainty and we were out of the danger zone. The elephant roared yet again but this time it was from a distance in the forest. The tiger was still hunting the herd for a calf. We however were safely out of striking range. A couple of sips of water and we climbed back the mountain from where we had descended, but not before offering a prayer of thanks to Bhraham Bubu for having protected us from what seemed like a certain death.

Post Script: Bhraham Bubu in the Kumaoni dialect means Barham Baba :)