Our elephantâ€™s name was Purnima, â€œFull Moonâ€ in Bengali, and she was silent save for her heavy footsteps as she carried us through the post-dawn mist of the forest. Suddenly, our mahut dug his bare heels behind Purnimaâ€™s ears and she came to a stop as he pointed and whispered excitedly, â€œGundar!â€
Four black armor-plated (and extremely endangered) one-horn rhinoceroses were standing in a shallow creek not 200 feet away. They stopped splashing, looked back at us for a full minute (during which time Purnima could not remain still enough for me to take a decent photo), then pulled themselves up the bank and disappeared into the bush.
Hiking is not permitted in Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary so elephant or jeep safaris are the only ways to explore the park. Jaldapara is a long, narrow strip of tropical forest completely hemmed in by tea plantations whose subplots of pruned and sprayed bushes are the antithesis to all that is wild. But there, in the darkness of the jungle, spying on rare beasts from the top of an elephant, we got a small taste of what-once-was.
But maybe we were looking forward too! Into the future after the global market crash, after the revolution, the tea gardens reverted back to nature and the Attivasi workers, after six generations of servitude, returned to their tribal lives of survival before the British rounded them up. . .
But on this morning, our two-hour ride was nearly over, and for the four of us, the immediate future held only breakfast and a nap in our Hollong Bungalow room, while the rain fell on the jungle outside.