Anandapur Chronicles: Encountering wild elephants

Satyakam Ray

[Anandapur Chronicles- 1st story- The Naagmani]

Encountering Wild Elephants is the second installment of Anandapur Chronicles.

The beautiful aerial view of the Hadagada reservoir doesn’t fully justify the scenic spectacular it creates in the eyes of amused tourists upon the first visit. The hidden tourist treasure is located just 35 kilometers from Anandapur.

There is a significantly less known but magnificent Gada Chandi temple, in which Maa Kali is worshipped, close to the reservoir. The temple is located among the greenery of the mountains surrounding it. Our story revolves around these locations.

Sipping over a hot beverage cup again, Maa and I continued our Chai Pe Charcha. Reminiscing and its consequences on the present and future has been the foremost factor in this chronicle exploration.

Baidakhia is very close to the Gada Chandi temple, just on the other side of the mountains where the temple is located. Maa’s grandmother(paternal) had lots of farmlands over Baidakhia.

She used to go to this place in the winter when the paddy was reaped. Local farmers used to cultivate the crops on her behalf, and the two parties equally shared the total production. The place where the farmlands were located was quite secluded.

In the middle of the jungle, the farmers built small huts where basic sleeping arrangements were made. Farmers used winter fire and had small bows and arrows to cope with the severe winter cold of December.

The story belonged to 1967 when Maa was a little kid still studying in class 6th perhaps. Maa’s granny has arrived early in Baidakhia to look after the crop reaping. The winter had just reached its peak. The local tribes, aka farmers, had arranged a nice hut amid the jungle for her.

Maa reached the place in the afternoon of one such wintery day. Significantly few local shops were present during these days. There was a danger of snakes and wild elephants.

To enter the middle jungle, one needed the armed gangs of tribals, who knew the nooks and corners of the jungle very well. They were vigilant and often conversed in tribal language with each other. They escorted Maa to the granny’s hut safely.

These tribal people used the resources of nature very well to their advantage. They had little knowledge of the outside world but were masters of the jungle. They needed little empathy, companionship, and hot tea in the severe cold. They cheerfully gave the fish they caught in the nearby canal, which passed through the jungle.

Granny understood the rules of the jungles and its tribal farmers well and lived accordingly.

The elephants were a menace to the farmers as they continued invading these paddy fields at night and ate as much paddy as they liked. They came in herds and were a pretty scary sight for anyone who experienced the jungle style of living for the first time. They were wary of fire only.

The farmers had only the Mashal(torch) and a few bows & arrows to defend themselves and drive away from the wild elephants to the jungle again.

Maa had the pleasure(or misfortune) of encountering wild elephants one night during the winter vacation. After having the early dinner according to the jungle rules, Maa slept in the hut alongside Granny. One more male member was there, who was a relative. The trio was sleeping peacefully in the shed. The farmers had their cabins some yards close by, and the winter fire was going on as usual. After the day’s hard work, the farmers must have slept.

The night was quite chilly, and the jungle was relatively silent. Suddenly, Maa woke from sleep at midnight due to footsteps and a rustling sound. After waking up, Maa saw an elephant’s two giant feet or hind legs. The elephant was stealthily eating the paddy from the nearest paddy bunch.

Elephants had invaded the farmland, taking advantage of the sleeping farmers. Maa was about to scream in horror when Granny forcibly shut Maa’s mouth with her hands and told her to be silent in sign language. She was up early and knew what was happening nearby.

The wild elephants tended to crush the humans if they got to know any human presence nearby. A single scream would have diverted the attention of the giant elephant toward their hut.

Granny’s swift action averted any such incident. After 5 minutes of the wild elephants’ invasion, the farmers finally woke up. Those 5 minutes of the wait were the most anticipated anxious moments Maa could ever fathom. The farmers chased away the elephants from the farmlands using Mashal and a few bows & arrows. The trio could take a sigh of relief in the hut.

It was the wildest encounter that ever happened to anybody I know.

Nowadays, elephant encounters and animal-human tussles have become very typical in various places in Odisha. However, this anandapur incident is one of the most thrilling experiences one can fathom.

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