I stood up in the open-roof jeep, my hands clenching the support as the very bumpy ride threw me off balance numerous times. Wind in hair, sun on skin, sand in eye, it was a liberating feeling. Unlike the hours-long game drive at Yala National Park, it took no longer than ten minutes before we sighted our first wildlife: Herds of elephant, big and small, scattered across vast expanses of grassland that receded into the horizon. While this was not my first game drive, it was the first where I had the opportunity to get really up close with the wildlife (I could see the wrinkle lines that ran across their entire bodies and their sparse, fine hair), and hence felt the tremendous peril that I was in. I was not being paranoid.
Just as I was relishing the serenity, there came a loud trumpeting cry that stunned my very ears. A male elephant came charging towards the jeep at the forefront. At that, all the jeeps retreated, and went hither and thither like a disturbed colony of ants. Kanehila, whom the locals nicknamed after the hole that he bears in the ear, had his gaze fixed on one jeep. A passenger on that jeep tried to stay his charge by beating at him with a branch, but it was like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Kanehila pursued it, pushing the entire fleet of jeeps to retreat beyond an invisible boundary line that he dictated. Such fear he inspired, knowing very well he could outmatch the might of even a dozen of jeeps fully gathered.
When he was satisfied that we the humans were no longer encroaching on his territory, Kanehila strayed from the path and proceeded to graze in peace.
The remainder of the game drive was, perhaps unfortunately, without incident. The other elephants seemed to not mind the invasion of privacy, their mind intent on ingesting a tenth of their weight of vegetation. There were of course a few interesting sightings. A small pack of elephants traversed the plains to meet its companions on the other side, the adults forming a security perimeter around their baby. It baffled me as to why they saw the need to do that, for no equals they had except for men with deadly rifles. Survival instincts, Dulshan opined. Skywards, there was an eagle, circling high above the lake, its menacing talons outstretched, often swooping close to the water surface to catch its fish.