It was another night of the Gharghodan safari that I have become so accustomed to. And whenever it happens, something more exciting than the previous incidents comes up.
This happened yesterday night. And what night it was. It was already past 11.00 and there was no electricity for the past 3 hours and the local people told me that this darkness was here to stay for 2-3 more hours as there was a major fault in the transmission lines.
So Mr.X , my neighbour and a very efficient forest guard and me decided to go the forest on a night patrol so as to maybe see some wild animals who like us would come out of their residents to escape the heat. We hopped into the Sarkari bolero along with 3 more of the guards and started .
The night sky was full of small stars, some shining more brightly than the others and some playing the game of hide and seek. After a 30 minutes drive we were deep inside the forest and came across a pond, the very kind of spot where you can lie down for few hours, feel the cool breeze and close your eyes to every conceivable thought.
And that was what we did. I found myself a comfortable huge rock to settle down and my co-travellers were lost in their talks of jokes and obscenities I found myself wondering among the dark night and the clear sky. The surrounding was peaceful with the occasional sounds of a curious cricket and a fish that was coming on the surface and diving back agaian. My eyelids became heavy and I slept off.
The half an hour sleep was broken by the frog like voice of one of the guards who said that its time we move ahead on our patrol. And we were back in our car again.
The rickety bolero was moving at a gentle pace on the village road made up of mud and gravel. The excitement inside me was losing its steam as we had not come across any animal and I looked at my cellphone for the non existent network and it dawned on me that it was already 12.30 and still we were deep inside the forest.
As we were moving ahead we saw head light of a two wheeler coming from the opposite direction and I don’t know how but maybe because of some instinct that comes with years of service the guards sitting in the back side became excited. There were three people on the motorcycle and as we crossed each other they looked at us. And we knew something was wrong.
After just one minute , we saw a tractor coming with its head light switched off. Just as we came parallel to each other our driver shouted “sahab Lakdi” ( sir, Wood) . And instantly my mind told me that it was going to be a long night.
The Bolero which until then could give a LOL syndrome to a cycle wala suddenly became possessed as our driver, a young guy of maybe 17-18 years became a local Chhattisgarhi Narayan Karthikeyen as we started chasing the tractor which was moving far from us.
I tightly held on to the side support of the car as it jumped and raced on the muddy tracks like a forest mice. The headlights of our car was illuminating the tractor that was moving farther and farther ahead of us and I was able to see the outline of the 4 bodies who were sitting on the log and like us were holding on to their dear lives.
The guards sitting behind me were shouting all kinds of obscenities on top of their voice asking the tractor driver to stop. But it was proving to be an unfruitful attempt , their idea behind this was to somehow play on the nerves of the tractor driver so much that he collides his vehicle with a tree or slips of the road.
Let me picture the scenario for you so it becomes a bit easy to see what was actually going on.
Moonless night, a Kucha road, a tractor that is moving ahead like a mad elephant rumbling through the peaceful forest, a white official chhattisgarh forest department bolero that is chasing the wood smugglers and inside that bolero is a guy who is mind you not a forest employee, and behind him are 4 more hyper excited people who were raining a barrage of assorted words.
The low on profile but high on risk chase went on for 10-15 minutes and as we came near to the tractor, we saw a hamlet that we presumed was the original destination of the driver.
On the outskirts of the village, the same people whom we had come across earlier on bike were waiting and soon as they saw us they turned left so as to confuse us and force us to follow them rather than the tractor which had turned right and vanished out of our sight.
No one fell for the bait, as we all knew that the bike will be lost in the many a narrow lanes of the village and even if we are able to catch the people on the bike we would not have the evidence that they are the wood fellers as the logs were on the tractor.
As with some kind on Marco polan instinct, I told our driver to turn right into a road which was nonexistent at that time, but I knew that the tractor had turned right and it had to be there.
And as we turned, we saw people jumping out from the tractor which had come to an abrupt stop and running as if their lives was on stake. We too jumped out even before our vehicle had come to a stop and ran towards the fleeing thieves.
But the local tribals who were supposedly on the tractor were so fast and fearless that even though it was pitch dark they made a sprint through a thick foliage of wild plantation and we were only able to catch a man who was wearing just a loin cloth.
The chase had finally come to an end. But a new situation was developing...as we found ourselves surrounded by the local tribals armed with lathis and axes.