Only a few hours ago, whilst driving through the BR Hills reserve on the search for Tigers we encountered three elephants blocking our route. Two large females and a small calf. It was getting dark and we needed to pass. Rather than startle them we switched off the engine and waited... hopefully they would return to the forest and allow us to pass. But rather than oblige us they slowly moved in our direction, lazily browsing on the vegetation as they came closer and closer. They were either oblivious to our presence or considered us of no threat - we knew that this mutual understanding could all change in the blink of an eye. The tiny calf was sandwiched between the colossal flanks of the two adults and it seemed pretty carefree as it swung its trunk around, occasionally resting its head against the side of one of its guardians. It was a real privilege to see such intimacy. As they exchanged caresses, their trunks touching and stroking each other, they were gentle giants slowly plodding towards us. We were lost in the moment, observing this beautiful scene as these magnificent animals simply went about their daily lives.
It had been almost half an hour of bliss when the largest of the two adults decided that we had pried into her family life a little too much. She moved in front of her calf and looked straight at us, showing the whites of her eyes, we could tell she was a little more than peeved. She was making it perfectly clear that it was we who was blocking her route. It was rapidly getting dark and if we retreated it was 10kms back to camp - along dangerous tracks and narrow cliff edges. My friends Kalyan and Madanna, two very experienced trackers had been close to wild elephants hundreds of times and their instinct was to hold our ground a little longer hoping that they would just move away and bypass us.
Suddenly my blood chilled. The large female made an alert call so loud the forest echoed and my bones shook. Within minutes two more elephants had appeared from within the dense vegetation. She was building an army against us. Several minutes later she called again and three more arrived. We switched the engine on and slowly started reversing. She took this as an opportunity to ensure that there was no misunderstanding as to who was king of the road. She put her large bony head down and charged. My heart stopped. I had seen this hundreds of times in films, but here I was in an Indian forest being charged by a huge elephant. It all played out in slow motion. As my heart sank deeper I could see the elephants head slowly moving up and down with every powerful step. I simply had time to fire of one photo before I froze. She stopped less than a metre short of hitting us, a cloud of dust filled the air - we'd been lucky this time. I could hear a uniform sigh of relief. Kalyan and Mandanna admitted that they had never seen such a tour-de-force of elephant stubbornness. We turned around and drove the long way home, buzzing with adrenalin from our close encounter.