Wild buzz: Chasing the cheetahs | punjab$regional-takes | Hindustan Times
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Wild buzz: Chasing the cheetahs

Unscrupulous tourist guides abound in Indian sanctuaries and national parks too.

punjab Updated: Nov 05, 2017 10:32 IST
The cheetah with encircling, off-track tourist vehicle, at Tarangire National Park in Tanzania.
The cheetah with encircling, off-track tourist vehicle, at Tarangire National Park in Tanzania.(ARYAN PARTAP SINGH)

A Cheetah, when observed at close quarters, casts a magical spell upon the human eye. Chandigarh residents, Col Iqbal Singh (retd), a keen golfer and officer from the Ist PARA, and his grandson, Aryan Partap, had a charming tryst with cheetahs at the Tarangire National Park, Tanzania. A passionate photographer and Class 12 student of the Delhi Public School, Aryan was thrilled as he got a chance to see cheetahs from close quarters. Though this was a consequence of the tourist guides breaking rules of the national park.

“One of the tourist vehicles had a guide who would stop at nothing. After he saw cheetahs shielded by grasses, 75 yards off-track, he drove his vehicle in that direction, against rules. This was because of the guide’s greed to enable his tourists have better views and photographs,” Col Singh told this writer.

He added, “While we weren’t inclined to break rules, the remaining tourists felt left out. So, one by one, guides of other vehicles also followed suit and went off track in the wake of the rogue guide’s vehicle. Our vehicle, too followed and we got quite close to the cheetahs. Due to our movements, one of the cheetahs was disturbed and took a sprint of 30-40 yards, while the other two remained as they were, thus affording us a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.”

Unscrupulous tourist guides abound in Indian sanctuaries and national parks too. Hefty “baksheesh” can fetch tourists exotic wildlife views and provoked behavioural displays, in complete disregard of park rules. There have even been incidents of guides tracking tiger cubs at night in a sanctuary to regale VIPs and rich tourists.

THE BLOOMING BELLS

A roundleaf bellflower and (right) bells at the Nagdevta Temple in Gwaldum in Uttarakhand. (ANUJ SHATTI)

A flower like a temple bell, in the land of the Gods, the one and only Himalayas! Those who harbour a passion for traversing the Himalayas, will recollect the soul-stirring sounds of temple bells drifting across the vales, as red flags and buntings flutter wildly from temple tops.

Add to this the tinkle of the bells that are tied from the necks of cows and goats grazing on the alpine meadows, dotted with tiny blooms of yellow and blue. And then, there is this flower that dangles from stems, angled and hairless, shaped perfectly like a temple bell. It blooms in summer at altitudes between 1800-3600 m.

These blooms do not need a human hand to ring them. The winds that traverse the vales like tireless cosmic pilgrims stir them to the softest of notes. Only the moth or beetle snuggling within possess the ear to gently dance with that music.

The Uttarakhand Himalayas are dotted with numerous temples and pilgrimage centres. Engineer and avid trekker from Ponda (Goa), Anuj Shatti, along with his better half, Shilpa, recently undertook the trek to Roopkund, a pristine lake at 4,800 m. This lake lies at the base of the Trishul Peak (7,120 m) in Uttarakhand. Though an amateur photographer, Anuj captured one of the loveliest images of the Roundleaf Bellflower near Didna village. He matched this blooming bell with a mesmerising image of temple bells drooping like elegant earrings at the Nagdevta temple in Gwaldum.

THE SPOILS OF WAR

War takes its toll on creatures, both wild and tamed. By December 15, 1971, rumours of an imminent ceasefire had filtered down to the Indian troops battling in Bangladesh. The then Brigade Major of the 57 Mountain Artillery Brigade, Onkar Singh Goraya, was deployed at Barpa, a few kilometers east of Dacca (Dhaka). He was a bit disappointed as the war was coming to a close and he had not killed a single Pakistani!

“I had not fired my personal weapon, a Sten Gun, even once through the War though I had planned the fire of hundreds of artillery shells on Pakistani positions. There was a village pond at Barpa with a few domesticated ducks. I took my Sten Gun and shot one duck. We were tired of eating ‘aalo-puris’ during the War and I ordered the langar cook to prepare a grand duck curry so that we could celebrate our victory in apt style,’’ Brig. Goraya told this writer.

No sooner had the duck been shot and the Sten’s thirst quenched, a wailing woman burst upon the scene with the lament: “First the Pakistanis were killing us, now the Indians are doing so!’’ The duck was owned by that lady. Maj Goraya quickly took out a ₹5 note from his pocket (a good amount in those days). It instantly brought a broad smile on her face. That night, the officers enjoyed the duck curry at the improvised mess and downed with a few pegs too many of XXX rum.

Goraya retired as a brigadier. He is happily settled in Panchkula, writing war books. Last week, he delivered a fascinating presentation at the Centre for Indian Military History on the Indian blitzkrieg to Dacca.

A parallel incident occurred in the Western theatre and has been recounted in a memoir by an officer of the Pakistan Army’s 11 Cavalry and

reproduced in the book released on Friday, ‘Battleground Chhamb: The Indo-Pakistan War of 1971’, by Maj Gen AJS Sandhu (retd.). The 11 Cavalry invaded Chhamb and Lt Mahin Malik recalls encountering a plump pig at the 5 Sikh’s deserted quarter guard, west of river Munawar Tawi, on December 8, 1971.

The pig was a pet and had probably been fattened for a feast by troops of the 5 Sikh, till war overshadowed their grand plans. Lt Malik recalls that the pig came up to him seeking affection virtually like a pet dog. However, the pig was squealing in pain as it he had been hit by artillery shrapnel. Lt Malik put the “poor bugger” out of agony by shooting it and described that as the “kindest act I could do to a wounded animal’’. Naturally, Lt Malik could not enjoy the proceeds of his kindness, but he does admit that the 11 Cavalry looted 5,000 liquor bottles from the quarter guard’s stores, which were enjoyed for months after the War!

vjswild1@gmail.com

(Views expressed are personal)