Environment

On the trail of a Bison

 

This morning, after a walk around the Camelot Resort’s organic farm, I started walking up the mountain-side. The entire range was shrouded in dense mist, with a visibility of about 15 meters or so. Cold winds were walking along with me, while the crunch of the fertile red soil under my feet was echoing all around.

The wind in the trees, the chirp and chweep of the birds, the tinkering of the crickets … And then I half-heard a muffled bellow, maybe even an irritated snort from up ahead. I stopped in my tracks and looked around the hills carefully, listening intently. I had already seen the fresh tracks of a bison coming into the resort pathway through the Orange plantation and disappearing down the path that went up into the hills beyond from where the spring water fed the resort.

The wind stepped up a bit, and the mist started clearing and I scanned the mountainside across on the opposite side, half hoping to sight the bison, not expecting to because it may have passed through on its way to higher reaches and also half-dreading it because a beast in the wild is a beast in the wild.

And then there it was: standing tall, mighty, magnificent and crystal clear to my sight as the mist cleared all of a sudden. I stood, transfixed as the beast surveyed its land, and then decided upon the grass it wanted to munch. It ambled, at a leisurely pace, taking its time, eating its way around the ledge where it stood. The big, yellowish-white horns carved above its head like a reverse bow, reminded me that this was a beast that had no fear and had the weapons to stand ground. As it climbed – surprisingly nimble for such a huge beast – it’s front white stockings led the way in a regal manner while the back stockings (also white) stood firm as rearguard.

All this while, I had been climbing down through the tea plantation, sliding here, tiptoeing down there and all this without any real conscious thought since I was simply following the beast … my feet had been doing the thinking. But the Bison addressed my reckless impertinence quickly enough with a regal lifting of its head. I stopped in my tracks, three-fourths of the way down, with only the slope up to him separating us – 200, maybe 300 metres between us. I looked at the broad, powerful neck that held his head. I looked at the 2-tonne bulk, and then looked at its strong legs. I thought about the forest to my left (it would take me 30 seconds to reach the relative safety of strong trees), I thought of the slope behind me (i could do that in 3 minutes maybe), and I thought of running down at him and then running off towards the right where there were bigger trees, and I estimated that it would take him 45-60 seconds to turn, climb down, and charge at me with his sharp horns and 2-tonnes bulk. I decided the forest to the left was best.

Meanwhile, after a careful look, he dismissed me – thankfully – and went back to munching and walking about, always higher. I decided to stay put mid-slope and watch him from there. I spotted the Bison at 6.27 am and when I finally turned back at around 7.10, it was still climbing higher.

There is something real, something pure, something free about meeting and watching wild animals in the dense mountain forests. It’s not about the excitement, or the adrenaline, or the adventure, it’s much more basic: it’s about understanding what freedom is.

On this trip to Munnar in the Western Ghats, I have already walked several trails, and each was about being free to do so. But today, there was a sense of fulfilment having met another that is free and seeing the power of its freedom. I am in awe of the people and the government of Kerala because they consistently choose to protect their natural environment zealously, and because they seem to pursue development of human habitats with limited encroachment into the natural habitat since they seem to understand the importance of this habitat to human development.

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