The wind was blowing furiously that night as I lay in bed – all windows open, hoping to benefit from the unexpected breeze. It had been over 110 degrees since we’d been in India, with safari trucks kicking up thick clouds of dry dust, and tonight’s mini monsoon was a welcome relief.
We were staying in the Dikhala Rest House – rustic forest safari lodging with no air conditioning – just a lone ceiling fan above the bed. Set in the middle of Jim Corbett National Park, India’s Yellowstone, it’s surrounded by an electric fence to keep the tigers out. Its in-park location eliminates the 30 minute drive in each morning from the nearby buffer town. Because of this, Dikhala Rest House, though simple, is a highly coveted place to stay on safari.
As the winds blew harder, sending waves of rain sideways, the electricity finally cut out. My heart sank as the fan faintly ground to a halt. We’d spent the afternoon indoors between safaris and the heat had been extreme. Suppressing my disappointment, I thought, “we’ll be ok, it’s dark and the wind will make up for it.” It was then I thought about the electric fence surrounding the camp. It was most likely dead.
As one of the last nights of our month long trip to India, this Jurassic Park moment was both concerning and exquisite. If you’ve been sitting at home bored by the pandemic, making your life a movie is certainly one way to spice things up. In reality there was likely no danger. Villagers have been attacked in the sugar fields of the Uttar Pradesh region, but not in the national park. The fence was still in tact and the tigers didn’t necessarily know the electricity was out. There were also reinforced steel screens on the windows.
I thought about the park worker we’d seen in Kanha National Park, slowly riding his bike on park roads at dusk, recalling tales of mountain bikers encountering mountain lions on trails in the American west. I wouldn’t bike in tiger territory, particularly in the dark as they are nocturnal hunters moving silently through the forest at night.
I did ride in open safari vehicles as is the custom. In some of the parks it was similar to off roading, with drivers bouncing quickly over rocky hills en route to a rumored tiger sighting, We held our cameras tightly on our laps and enjoyed the ride. They stopped periodically, briefly confirming the details with each other in Hindi, then quickly speeding off.
And the tigers were incredible. The largest of the panthera genus of big cats, they were sleek and muscular with orangey-brown fur and unique black and white markings. They were perfectly adapted to their sal forest environment with its dead leaves on the ground and thin sticks pointing skyward. No two were ever the same.
Back at camp, the brief respite of rain and wind soon stopped but the electricity didn’t return until morning. I then confirmed that the electric fence had indeed been out. We gathered our things and made the long drive out of the park, continuing all the way to New Delhi. I watched as the foothills of the storied Himalayas faded from view.