For a long time the mountains were calling me. Though, I spent a substantial time in the foothills of Himalayas in Uttarakhand when in prime, it was a definite urge to unravel the mysticism that surrounds in those high mountains. So, the bags were packed and tickets brought – Uttarakhand, I am coming.

One thing where Uttarakhand is leaps ahead of other states of India is Nature. A fact-guide tells me that almost 65% region of this pristine state is reserved forest. And that’s a lot. There are five national parks along with various wildlife reserves and sanctuaries. I should make it clear that I am an avid wildlife lover, and so Uttarakhand should be my playground. The playground for exploration, quench my thirst for wildlife.

It was a bright sunny day when my plane touched the airstrip of Jolly Grand airport. Being on the window side I could clearly see why this is the greenest place of India. The airport itself is surrounded by lush green jungles, and the mountains are stones throw distance from where I reached. So far so good.

My plans of travel were not fixed. I aimed to go with the flow. Wherever curiosity will take me. Rishikesh was very close, and so it was my first stop. A cab took me to Rishikesh in mere 20 minutes, rather quickly. The city of Dehradun would take me an hour or more to reach. Anyways, it is big city and I wasn’t too keen to experience traffic snarls and fast paced life. I am the one who likes to take it slow, almost at tortoise pace. Dehradun out, Rishikesh – Yes.

Soon I was in Rishikesh the mesmerizing flow of The Ganges captivated my imagination. This is the river that promises to wash away your sins. It’s the very river which nurtures the largest population of humans on earth. I can bet the river is the lifeline to a great number of wildlife too.

I had checked into a decent hotel with my room facing the great river. The morning mist on the river is mesmerizing. And that’s an under statement. The whole set-up gives a refreshing effect, especially for city-dwellers. And I loved every bit of it.

So, I was in Rishikesh and the air smelled sweet. The town is surrounded by Rajaji Tiger Reserve and the forest filters the air that gets polluted by the traffic, industries and other greenhouse gas emitters. The buzzword here is Tigers. Am I really so close to getting a sniff at this majestic creature? The answer is YES!

The entry gates of the reserve are nearby Rishikesh. There’s one at Motichur on Haridwar Road, and the other Chilla gate. So, I made appropriate arrangements with a travel company and early next morning, at 6:00 am, we started off from there. The drive from my hotel to the park is fabulous. We drove next to a canal that took the water from Ganges to the cultivating lands of Uttarakhand and U.P. We reached in 20 minutes. I had a steaming cup of Tea there while waiting for the permissions and document work. My guide got it all done in a jiffy. And by 7:15 we were in Maruti Gypsy set to explore the woods.

The drive started and we immediately bumped into a herd of Spotted Dears (Cheetal). They sure were alert, but didn’t flee away seeing our Jeep. They are used to the Jeeps now and see no harm coming from them. Soon we entered a dry river bed. And almost immediately we saw the pugs. The pugs of a full grown male Tiger – as my guide and driver told me. And they were fresh pug marks. And this was thrilling. Felt a tiger was in bushes watching us. So we waited for jungle calls or other signs. Used binoculars for any movements. But nothing moved. So we moved on.

We saw a number of Cheetal, and some groups of Sambhar deer. And often we could sight the hogs. There were peacocks and some very pretty birds. But no big Cat. We again saw the pugs, albeit these weren’t very fresh. We were already an hour on our ride. We stopped to bite some Ber (Indian Berry) on our route. We could see spotted Deer every few hundred meters. And occasionally could see Sambhar deer gazing us with their big eyes – as though asking, “what you humans doing here in our jungles?”

We drove for another hour through Chillawali range and got at another dry river bed. Our driver instinctively made a halt there, as though he knew something was coming. For few minutes nothing happened. It was hush-hush everywhere. Suddenly, I was left in awe. An adult Tusker (male Elephant) came swaying about 50-100 meters from where we were parked. He had large ivory tusks. And he looked magnificent to say the least. It was the first time I had seen a wild elephant. And it totally thrilled my imagination. He was just a beauty, walking majestically with no fear. I took good 8-10 clicks before he vanished into bushes. The whole encounter lasted for about 5-7 minutes.

Though I did not see any Tiger, my day was made with the sighting of Elephant.

I will stop here for today. Will cover my Uttarakhand time in the next post.