I must admit this was one of the scariest and thrilling experience I ever had in forests of central India. This incident took place at a not so popular place for tiger tourist. Very few people going to Pench tiger reserve might know of this mesmerizing lake in Pench habitat. This place is called Mogarkasa lake.
Mogarkasa literally means “Garden of Mogra (Arabian Jasmine)”. A huge water body here is, maybe I should mention “was”, circumferenced by flowering plants of Mogra. I remember staying here with my dad. We used to enjoy the jasmine fragrance in the air. The cool breeze from the lake was refreshing to the skin. The fragrance would attract insects and herbivores in all forms and which in turn were followed by predators. Predators was the reason why we visited this place often. It has one small government guest house to stay. We always stayed here. The best part in terms of overnight stay was that guest house had a basic cement wall structure, table, chair and a bed. No food, no electric supply absolutely nothing. We carried our own food, and at night, we used to move around the guest house with candles or kerosene lanterns and handheld torch. The feeling was purely stone age.
Just to give you a brief on the forest, Mogarkasa is a mixed forest with a combination of trees like teak, ain, tendu, bamboo etc. Predators like tigers leopards aplenty, it has numerous species of herbivores like wild boar, gaur, deers etc. It falls in Pench tiger habitat in the state of Maharashtra. Unfortunately, the lake currently is in a pitiable condition. It was once a popular destination for weekenders, now in shambles. Even the guest house is in ruins. However, my experience goes back two decades, around this lake when I was an adolescent and this place was at its glory.
It was my fathers’ regular official visit to this place to discharge some duties as he was a civil servant of Nagpur district. In the evening we all joined my dad at Mogarkasa guest house to spend the weekend. I was accompanied by my sisters and mom. Also, few of dad’s colleagues had joined us for dinner.
We all enjoyed early dinner along the banks of the lake. Amidst the flowering Mogra fragrance in the air, the aroma of home-cooked food was intoxicating. The housekeepers ensured basic serving and cutlery for everyone. We had a gala time. A lot of local stories about wildlife was shared by housekeepers and the guard on duty. So a last minute excursion was planned. The plan was to drive through the reserve forest and experience wildlife around the lake.
I don’t remember the exact date and time but it must be summers, around 8:30 pm since we had early dinner. The season was presumably summer for two reasons. First, in the evening enroute mogarkasa I was sweating in Mahindra Willy. Second, most of the teak plants had shed leaves and looked dull. The forest floor was filled with dry leaves of teak.
Finally, our drive started. We were split into two vehicles. Willy was ahead and housed forest department guard, driver, me and my siblings. In the vehicle behind, an ambassador, were my parents, officials and chauffeur. During our exploration, we saw a lot of wildlife other than the apex predators. The highlight of the trip was the event that ended our experience for that night – Gaur Charge.
I have seen the effects of Gaur charge on another vehicle once before. That was in Melghat tiger reserve when Gaur toppled an empty Tata407 on its horns.Coming back to my experience, after a few rounds along the lake. We came across a herd of the gaurs. It looked like an abandoned cattle ranch. They all were grazing peacefully with their back towards us. Must be at least 15-20 of them. All were females and calves. On the other end was a huge male, starting at our vehicles. our driver in over-enthusiasm to appreciate beauty put the high beam on solitary male. Suddenly I heard my dad shouting from his car window ”Reverse, Reverse”. I saw the car behind was reversing and my dad’s head was popping out. My dad had sensed the charge. Within the next few seconds of my dad’s hyperventilation, the male started running towards us. That 50kmph run of tonner was nerve wrecking. I could see him breathing because of throw of dust with his breath as he charged. His head was low, I knew what I could expect. Willy was no match to this animal who had flipped Tata407. I was scared for my life. Fortunately, due to my fathers’ intuition, we all were saved. Very rarely you survive such charge of gaur. We reached back to guest house with unbelievable experience. My heart was still beating fast. I thought it was my father’s sixth sense. I was curious to know how my dad had developed 6th sense and could predict the male’s charge. I asked my dad about it just before dozing off. My dad simply replied, ”Observation”.
He elaborated. ”These creatures live in herds are gentle giants unless provoked. Every herd will have multiple related females and calves and one male. Males live solitary live with limited interaction with other gaurs. These 6 feet, tonnes are made of pure muscles and have powerful shoulders. Devil to look at. Whenever they feel isolated and threatened, they charge as last resort. They are so powerful that even tigers don’t dare them. When you reached the spot, the driver cast headlight on him, you dared him. He was already upset, it was easy to tell cause he was constantly gazing at us when the light was on females. He was cornered because of a wooden compound of the ranch, he had no place to shy away. When you threw light he lowered his head and started shaking it. His tail had tightened. He wasn’t eating, instead looked up for short time and he was repeating the same. I knew he was upset. Lights were still on him. That’s when I shouted. In those moments I saw him scrubbing soil with front legs. Just before the charge, he had those few air puffs from his nostril raising dust. That’s how I knew he was going to charge”
I was zapped by a micro observation my dad had in those few minutes. I realized there is so much for us to see observe and understand in nature. That night I dozzed of comfortable cuddling my dad, happy to alive. Now when I look back, I feel it will take ages for us, urban dwellers, to realize the language of nature. Unless we start to interact with nature more often, we will remain dark ages of the modern world, says the wildspirit.