I woke up with a start to hear beep.. beep.. beep from the life support system. In minutes, the nursing staff, followed by the doctor rushed in.
“How’re you feeling?”, the doctor asked, with an empathetic smile on his face.
“Whe..re am….?”, I struggled to finish my question.
“You’re in the hospital. You’re better now.”, the doctor said. He ordered his team to put me on sedatives.
The doctor, observing the perplexed look on my face complimented me, “You did a tremendous job fighting your way out of the coma. We are going to sedate you. You need to rest.”
I was trying very hard to figure out what had got me there, when the sedatives started kicking in. Fragments of my memory started coming together as if my brain was trying to piece together a puzzle.
My brain went on flashback …
The gate on the fence had a worn-out signboard which read, “Welcome to Similipal Forest Reserve”.
The calm serenity of the jungle was disturbed only by the chirping of birds and insects. Monkeys were swinging from tree to tree and there was a constant traffic of tree lizards up and down the tree trunks. The trees had grown very tall over the decades while competing with each other for sunlight.
I walked down the marked path to the first Forest Ranger post. The man in the post looked me up and down, probably surprised to see a woman alone in the jungle.
“Namaskar, Madam”, greeted the man stationed in the post.
“Namaste”, I replied.
“What brings you to the jungle, Madam?”, he asked.
“I’m the travel correspondent for ‘Travel Planet’ magazine and I’m writing a piece about the less explored travel destinations in India. I’m featuring your forest.”, I replied proudly.
“Write nice things about our Similipal forest, Madam. We have so many animals here, the Royal Bengal tiger, the Elephants, the Langoors and thousands of exotic birds. They’re currently counting tigers in the forest and I’m sure the number of tigers must have grown. We have worked very hard to keep the tiger poachers away.”, he said proudly.
“Are you staying for 3 nights and 2 days?”, he asked changing the topic.
“Yes. Do I follow this path to my cabin?”, I asked pointing at the path by the outpost.
“Yes. You are the first guest this season. The other guests arrive a week later. You can pick any cabin; they’re all vacant.”, he said pointing down the path.
I opened the door of my cabin to find a practical accommodation – a basic camp bed, a bed side table with a water bottle and a torch light. The only window was facing the Khairi river. There was no electricity in the cabin.
Since I was tired, I set my things aside and went to bed after locking the door firmly from inside. In what seemed like a few hours later, I heard noises from outside my cabin. I forced myself awake and listened closely. It appeared that a group of women were laughing outside my cabin.
“Is this real or am I dreaming still?”, I wondered. “Who would laugh in the middle of the night in the jungle? Are these spirits of the dead?” I shuddered when the last thought crossed my mind. I buried my head in my knees and waited for the laughing to stop. Eventually, I mustered enough courage to open the window and, with trembling hands, shine the torch light outside to where the noise was coming from. To my surprise and relief, I saw a cackle of laughing hyenas. That was enough adventure for the first night!
The following day, I went in search of the spectacular Barehipani waterfalls. What a sight to behold! I must have clicked a hundred photographs of the waterfalls using my telescopic lens. Tired from a day of trekking to the waterfalls and back, I took an early evening nap. I planned to stay awake at night and view the jungle in the full moon’s light.
My perch by the window provided me with a vantage point to view the far side of the river. I peered through my telescopic lens for hours. Early in the night, I had spotted a rabbit. But, I was hoping to spot an animal more exotic. Finally, I saw some movement in the bushes on the far side of the river. I was hoping to see a Royal Bengal Tiger. I waited patiently till a beast appeared from the bushes. But to my utter dismay, it was two humans. Their gait suggested they were both drunk. The voyeur in me kept looking through the telescopic lens to see what they would be up to next. Just then, one man pulled out a knife and stabbed the other one.. and again and again and again. Instinctively, I clicked the camera to capture the assault, realizing too late that my camera’s flash was on. The assailant immediately turned to look in my direction, alerted by the flash. He released the victim’s body, which slumped to the ground.
I was panicking. “He is going to come looking for me. I need to run.”, I thought. I started towards the cabin door. I estimated that it would take the murderer a few minutes to cross the river to get to my cabin. That was how much time I had to flee. I pushed open the cabin door and stepped outside.
Just then a large Lorry hit me……
I woke up screaming. “Murde.. Murderer. He will ki..ll.… kill me”, I stammered. The nursing staff rushed to my room. It’s alright. You’re safe here. Calm down. You must have been hallucinating.
“No. He killed someone. I have proof. Bring my camera. I have proof.”, I insisted, gulping down water.
“This was the only thing you had when they brought you in. Your car was hit by a Lorry”, said the nurse as she handed me a blood-stained book titled “Murder in the Jungle”.