Archive for January, 2016

SuVi


Suvek and Vishobhan were the best of friends and loved traveling. They regular planned trips to the forests and mountains of India. The trips were never for leisure but to explore the place and write about all the nondescript things they observed for others to read and follow. For the preservation of a place’s heritage, it’s important that people know the facts. This time they planned to trek to the base of Rajat Prapat – a plunge waterfall in the heart of Satpura tiger reserve. Satpura is one of the largest, healthiest and most pristine of our forests and they were really excited about the trip. Finally the day came and they boarded the Azad Hind Express to reach Pachmarhi – a small cantonment town which serves as the gateway to the park. They reached Pachmarhi by day break. They had planned to do a reconnaissance of the place for a day and do the trek the next day. Although they had planned everything in details, there were a few missing links in absence of much information regarding how to do a trek inside a park.

After a few cups of morning tea they decided to hunt the local market for some maps and information. While in the market they met a person dressed in olive green uniform with the logo of the park – a giant Indian squirrel. They approached the person and asked the procedure of doing a trek inside the park. The friends introduced themselves as Su and Vi. The gentleman was a guard inside the park and his name was Bhabuna. He appeared to be a jolly person. He told us that one needs to book a gypsy and a guide to enter the park. The gypsy would cost around Rs 1000 and the guide entry fee and service charge would also be Rs 1000. He said that if they confirm, he can make himself available the next day. Although Su and Vi were budget travelers they thought Rs 2000 was a pretty decent amount to do the trek. They took Bhabuna ji’s number and told him they would start the trek early morning and he can pick them up from their hotel. The friends had a comfortable sleep that night.

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The next day, as planned, Bhabuna ji was present at the hotel to pick them up. They stopped at the market for a while to buy some bananas, biscuits and water which would be required during the trek. They again halted at the entrance of the park to pay for the gypsy and the guide. A few miles from the entrance, the gypsy came to a halt and everyone got down for the trek. Bhabuna ji informed that the treks should be over in 4 hours if Su and Vi were experienced trekkers. At this moment, Su started off with a list of all the treks he had done and his list was really impressive. Vi hadn’t done that many but enough to be taken seriously. They continued on the trek route which opened to nouveau grand vistas every few minutes. After a nearly arduous trek of 90 minutes through undulating and steep terrain they reached the base of the waterfall and what an amazing feeling that was. The waterfall dropping from such a height looked awesome. Vi asked if people came for this trek regularly. “Not many”, said Bhabuna ji. He continued, “Many people don’t do treks inside the forest because of the cost and others because of the effort and still others for lack of information. Mostly government officers who know about the trek come for it.” They sat down to have some snacks before having a bath at the pool formed by the waterfall. Bhabuna ji told them he was a poor folk living off with his meagre government salary along with his wife and 3 children. On knowing that Su and Vi write about their experiences he went a bit emotional and told them to write about him as well so that he can supplement his salary with some extra earning to take care of his family. He said the government should do more to promote healthy tourism in the park to improve the well-being of the locals.

When it was time for having a bath, Bhabuna ji told Su and Vi he would go and relieve himself and return in a jiffy. The friends were done with their bath pretty soon but there was no sign of Bhabuna ji. They started taking pictures of the area and the surrounding places and continued waiting for Bhabuna ji. When it was more than 30 minutes and he still hadn’t come, they got tensed and all kinds of thoughts started to come. Did a wild animal attack Bhabuna ji? They were deep inside the jungle and their phones showed no network. They also didn’t know the way back to civilization. While they were discussing all this Vi heard some rustling behind the bushes on the opposite side of the stream that flowed from the pool formed by the waterfall. Their hearts skipped a beat anticipating some wild animal. Thankfully it was Bhabuna ji. They sighed with relief and asked what took him so long. Bhabuna ji looked disheveled, hurried and a bit uncomfortable. Bhabuna ji suddenly took out a gun and shot a few fires at Su who dropped on the ground. Vi was shocked at the turn of events and rushed towards his friend as he lay with a pool of blood around him. Vi turned back but was himself hit by a bullet and he too dropped on the ground. Before his eyes shut down he saw Bhabuna ji escaping with their bags in the depth of the jungle. Su was lying dead nearby. Bhabuna ji had run way from the scene assuming both to be dead but Vi gained consciousness in some time and somehow made back his way out of the forest.

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Vi gave a loud shriek on seeing the gypsy which had dropped them at the onset of the trek. The driver of the gypsy ran towards him and was shocked to see him covered in blood. He asked about Bhabuna ji and Su but sensing Vi was on the verge of collapsing he rushed him towards the hospital. An emergency surgery had to be performed on Vi to remove the bullet lodged in his chest. The same night when Vi regained consciousness he saw a doctor near him. He tried to sit but the doctor prevented him from doing that and told him that some cops wanted to speak to him since his friend Su and the guide Bhabuna ji were still missing. Vi told everything that had happened. The next morning the news of a forest guard killing two tourists deep inside the jungle spread like wildfire. The forest guards found it hard to believe that one among themselves – the guardians of the forests and a tourist’s best friend and protector in the forest, could commit such a crime. The cops rushed to the base of Rajat Prapat to recover the body of Su. They were shocked to see nothing at the base of the waterfall but they did see a trail of blood following which they reached a dense bushy area. On further inspection they found the partially-eaten body of Su. In all probability it was eaten by a tiger. It was weird because the region didn’t have any resident tiger. Su’s body was taken for autopsy and it was confirmed that the body indeed was partially consumed by a large feline. There was both enthusiasm and gloom in the city. The enthusiasm was of having a tiger in a jungle which was losing its ancient glory to wanton destruction of flora and fauna. The gloom was because of the death of a tourist and a forest guard turning out to be a murderer.

The cops did multiple reconnaissance of the forest area surrounding the base of Rajat Prapat to find about the still missing Bhabuna ji. He hadn’t gone to his home since that fateful day. People wondered why a much-loved forest guard will murder trekkers from a middle class family for a few extra bucks. True he was poor but he was honest and righteous. It didn’t make sense but the way Vi narrated the entire episode correctly and with neat certainty every time, there was no doubt that Bhabuna ji did what he did. Vi was discharged from the hospital in a few days and he returned to his home tome Kolkata. The cops were still busy in figuring out the whereabouts of Bhabuna ji. A few months later, Vi got a call from Pachmarhi and the police department wanted to meet him to verify a few things. Vi was not provided any details and told that his tickets would be emailed at the earliest. It was difficult for Vi to plan out a short trip to Pachmarhi again because he had agreed to volunteer at Sundarbans tiger reserve during the final stages of the tiger census exercise. It’s a daunting task to arrive at a number going through thousands of pictures from the camera-traps laid inside the forests but since the cops had summoned him and it was about the incident involving Su, Vi had to go.

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On reaching Pachmarhi’s police headquarters, Vi was shown a few photographs which stunned him to the core. The pictures were from inside the forest and clearly taken by the camera traps and belonged to the same day they were shot. It showed two people – one in olive green uniform and another in a black overflowing outfit, apparently involved in a tussle. Vi was quick to point out Bhabuna ji from his uniform but the second person also looked a lot like him. Vi didn’t believe what he was seeing. Who was that other person? Was he Bhabuna ji’s twin brother but what was he doing in the forest that day? It came to everyone’s reckoning that the person who shot at Vi and Su might as well be that other person but where was he now? In absence of any other information the case was getting murkier. All the assumptions Vi had formed of Bhabuna ji after that incident came crashing down. Vi had to return to Kolkata to help with the census.

A few months passed again and one fine morning the nation was rocked again by the news of a ghastly naxal attack on a police convoy near a place called Bori. I knew Bori was within Satpura tiger reserve. More than 72 army men were killed by the naxals. A few of the naxals too died and some were captured alive as well. Vi felt sad at all the bloodshed. The picture of one of the killed naxals caught Vi’s attention. It resembled a lot like Bhabuna ji. What was he doing there with the naxals? Vi then suddenly remembered the pictures he had seen at Pachmarhi police headquarters. Could he be that other guy?. A few days passed and Vi again got a call from Pachmarhi and he was asked to visit the police headquarters again. Vi was excited this time and he was hoping maybe something has come out after all these months. Vi was quick to reach the place.

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At the police headquarters, things finally fell in place. The inspector who was looking in the case informed Vi that on that fateful day Bhabuna ji met his Naxalite twin brother Veera in the forest when he had gone to relieve himself. Veera told Bhabuna ji that he will kidnap the trekkers who had come with him and ask the government for the release of a few fellow Naxalites. Bhabuna ji obviously protested against the idea and there was a tussle between them. Veera overpowered his brother and kidnapped him. Veera had come to the base of the waterfall to kidnap Su and Vi but what propelled him to shoot them instead is something we will never know. Bhabuna ji was rescued from a hideout the information of which was provided by the captured Naxalites. Vi went with the inspector to meet Bhabuna ji in his hut. Bhabuna ji was very happy to see Vi and rushed to hug him seeing him alive. Tears rolled down his cheeks and he asked for forgiveness for his inability to be their guardians in the forest. Vi wiped his tears and touched his feet in reverence and told he will remain the guardian of the forest and the tourists who come visiting till eternity.

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