I have always wanted to shoot animals, but not with a gun mind you. Rather than having a stuffed part of it in my house and vultures feeding the rest, I am quite happy with a framed two dimensional picture of the animal in all its vitality.
I started fulfilling this desire by shooting crows and pigeons from my balcony. About six years back, I shot a lizard crawling along drainpipe with my trusty Nikon. But sadly, my parents didn’t let me hand my blown up master piece on the wall.
As I grew older, stray dogs and cats in different street gave way to wild boars and elephants in different states. I started packing my rucksack and my camera as soon as I had collected enough money to travel. And let me tell you that shooting even harmless animals like camels, elephants and wild boars is not without excitement. Looking back now, I smile at my accidental encounters, but at that time and place, pain and fear were the high priority emotions.
It was a cloudy day at Sarika, the wild wife sanctuary between Jaipur and Alwar in Rajasthan, where I found myself with Ram Singh Pratap, the tracker, in a jeep in the jungle. Mr. Pratap would always talk in a low conspiratorial whisper because he explained that the animal shouldn’t hear us, otherwise they would not ‘expose’ themselves. The fact that the diesel engine jeep made enough noise to put Metallica to shame didn’t seem to bother him at all.
We heard a tiger once and Ram Singh promptly stood on the brakes as if a traffic light had turned red. He told me with a smirk that it was a tiger’s mating call and I got ready with camera in my hand, expecting excited tigress’ to cross the path like pedestrians at CST station. But it seemed that the girly tigers were not in the mood because Mr. Tiger roared himself hoarse and then finally shut up.
We carried on, spotting a peacock here and a deer there but no tigers, when suddenly up ahead on the road I saw a huge wild boar. I got out of the jeep and squatted on the road to shoot him, perfectly safe because he was pretty far away and I had an 80 to 200mm zoom lens. I started focusing and after a while I realized that the chap was spilling out of the frame a bit, so I thought I had zoomed to much and I tried to zoom out a bit. I pulled at the lens but it didn’t budge and I realized my error. I had forgotten to change the lens. It was a 28mm wide angle lens, with a sinking feeling I brought the camera down, and there a foot away from me stood the boar, evil grin, bad breath and all. “Shoo! Shoo!” Said I “Oink! Oink!” he replied and started shaking his head in a menacing manner. Luckily, Ram Singh came to my rescue with bloodcurdling yells and a shower of stones that sent the boar scampering away. Needless to say, I didn’t venture out of the jeep again.
About six months later I found my self inJodhpur, where on the outskirts of the city you can see camels wandering about like how you would see cows in Bombay streets. Never having photographer a camel before, I immediately got out my FM 10 and set out to shoot an imposing shot of the beast. I just got one shot standing in front of it when suddenly; it reached down and grabbed my camera strap with its mouth, jerked my camera out of my hand and started walking away.
I was shocked and didn’t know what to do, so I started running behind him requesting him to stop. All this was very amusing to a group of Japanese tourist who started animatedly talking, bowing and taking picture at the same time. I didn’t want to startle the camel too much because if he let go, then my camera would be wrecked in the fall. I managed to catch up with him, grabbed my camera and gave it a solid pull and broke the strap. I got my cameras back and managed to take another photograph of the camel, this time trotting towards the horizon with my camera strap in its mouth.
In my next encounter, I experienced the strength of an elephant’s trunk. It was Bandipur National park in Karnataka this time, where deer and elephants are plenty.
The forest official dudes here had figured that an elephant made relatively less noise than a jeep, so here the trackers drove a grass powered jumbo. The tracker skimmed up the elephant’s trunk and was up on its back in a jiffy, and the passengers were supposed to climb up a platform that was as high as the elephants back, as from there it would be easy to get onto the elephant. Now, I thought it would be more fun to follow the tracker’s route up, so I grabbed a tusk and stepped onto the elephant’s trunk and he easily lifted me on his back.
But this is where the happy part ends, for his trunk got entangled with the strap of my camera bag and when he lowered his trunk I followed it to the ground in half the time it had taken me to get up. In short, I fell from his back flat on my back between his legs. If you want to know what I saw, get a willing elephant and jack him up on a ramp, stand below and observe.
I haven’t been on the road of almost a year now and my feet are itching and Spithi Valley in Ladhak is beckoning…