In the year 1993 I was working with a finance company in Delhi. I admit that this company treated her staff quite well. Among the rewards this company used to offer us to remain in good humor, are, firstly, an outing once in a year to some hill station or to a reserve forest with our family. Secondly, almost every month there used to be a party where there would flow hard drinks freely. This party was looked forward to by all the employees except two or three of us, the tea toddlers. In these parties scotch, whiskey and wine used to flow like water and the drinkers would enjoy to their hilt. I used to feel like a fish out of water. I could never appreciate such heavy drinking and wasting so much money on it. Perhaps this could be one of the reasons of this company going bankrupt and consequently sold out. But for the drinkers they enjoyed the party most. The third thing which every one of us awaited eagerly was the profit sharing packet that used to be distributed just before Deepavali. Although our Chairman did not believe in such religious festivities to be the right time to share company's profitability, but he had to give in because of the prevalent custom in North India to give some bonus/presentation or such things before Deepavali.
Among all the three benefits I was entitled to, what I enjoyed most was the two days trip to a new place. All arrangements were done by some of our enthusiastic colleagues and we had no botheration of travel booking, hotel booking and all such smaller irritants neither we had to pay anything for it. Is not that wonderful!
I remember this Ranthambore trip in smallest details because my daughter that year became 1 year old. That was her first birthday in November that coincided with the date of the picnic. In fact, we were completely taken by surprise when everything was arranged on the evening of 21st November, 1993 to celebrate her birthday, with a cake and a big Teddy Bear, even bigger than her in size as her presentation. About that I will narrate a little later.
Now let us catch up with our travel schedule. On 19th of November, 1993 all the staff members were requested to reach the Delhi Railway station to catch the train for Sawai Madhopur. A little description about Sawai Madhupur and Ranthambore will not be out of place for the readers those who have not been to these places.
Sawai Madhopur is 428 KM from Delhi and located in the South-eastern region of Rajasthan. It has a dry climate with little rain. The Delhi-Bombay broad-gauge railway lines pass through Sawai Madhopur. Sawai Madhopur, the entry point for the famous Ranthambhore National Park. This was the station where we were scheduled to alight from the train and board a bus for which prior arrangements were made.
Ranthambore is situated at about 14 km. from the Sawai Madhopur Railway station. This is famous for its wild life sanctuary. Let me frankly admit that I do not like to see animals in a sanctuary. But a sanctuary is a better version than a Zoo, to that extent I tolerate it. What interests me is the natural habitats, a remote stream flowing, water bodies, the plant life and the night sky that abounds in millions of starts.
A full compartment was booked for our travel keeping in view more importantly, I suppose, to have drinks as much as one wishes and secondarily to have enough elbow room to have a comfortable journey without bothering for ones limited space. After a bout of loud singing and clapping, the bottles were uncorked and there flew uninterrupted flow of beer. Here I must apologize on behalf of my colleagues for breaking Railway rules. A ticket inspector who got into our compartment to check our tickets gave up half way as he was offered two chilled beer bottles. He could not neglect wetting his supposedly parched throat. Thus we became the lord of the compartment. A number of times, I had to request my colleagues to tone down their melodious singing (you can imagine it was more of cocophony than anything else) to allow small kids to go to sleep. This requests worked for a while only. Fortunately, after some time the group moved to another corner allowing us to sleep. I am really indebted to them for this favor.
As the train ran relentlessly and our compartment was locked from inside no one could entrain at any intermediary stations to disturb our so called peace, one by one the heroic souls (without any aspersion to real heroes in life) fell to the soothing touch of the cool breeze and the bellyful beer which lulled them to sleep. One unpleasant experience we had during this travel need to be mentioned. This one is related to hard drinking. As I said earlier that most of our colleagues were drinking. Majority of them were non-habitual drinker. Having found free drinks, they were tempted to take as much as they could. One of them was so drunk that he was to be conducted to his berth. When everyone was sleeping this fellow started vomiting from the upper bunk and was unable to control himself. My wife, Krishna, was on the lower berth and her shawl came on the firing line. She was furious and blamed the organizers for such untoward happening. Our Director was sleeping in the next birth and I am sure he must have heard quite clearly thus the message had gone to the right place.
Around 4 in the early morning, we were called to get up as we were approaching the Sawai Madhupur station. Our daughter was still sleepy and I had to physically carry her and my wife had to carry the luggage. Of course some helping hands did help her. When we got down at the station, it was a bit cold, being the third week of November. From the station our luggage was carried by the helpers of the buses and we had to just walk up to the bus parked close to the station. As the buses moved fast with the headlights on, we again entered into a state of snooze. At this stage everyone one sleepy, no singing, no clapping only snoring sound could be heard. The property where we were slated to be staying for the next two nights finally arrived. People who had family enjoyed the best of rooms and the hardcore bachelors were put up in tents, 5 persons in one tent. Ours one looked like, if you have read The Ramayana wherein Ram, Sita and Laxman after being banished to forest for 14 years, lived in forest hut, somewhat similar to that. At a distance we could see the Aravali mountain range with bushes around.
On our arrival, we were welcomed with a hot cup of tea/coffee. The sun was just peeping through the horizon turning the whole area bright and lively. After the train and bus journey we wanted to desperately have a nice bath but our hut did not have that facility. So we had to wait in the queue for our turn to come. However, this was a small hiccup which we did not mind. Next was the break-fast time. The dinning facility was excellent. The hall was a circular structure, and the middle circle was fully covered area and the outer circle had upper portion covered but the sides were open. There was a big swimming pool and some of our good swimmers did have nice diving into the pool. What I enjoyed most was the location in a jungle retreat.
We were told that the Chambal river flows nearby. So a program was arranged to pay a visit to the river and if interested people could take a bath. I give here a little information about Chambal River. This river rises in the western Vindhya Mountains near Indore, flows easterly 900 km before emptying into the Yamuna River. It?s river basin extends over parts of Chittorgarh, Bhilwara, Bundi, Sawai Madhopur (here we caught up with the river) Tonk, Jhalawar, Kota, Baran and Dholpur Districts. We also had a boat riding on the flowing river. It was a sunny day very soon we had to take off our warm clothing. Shivani wanted to play with the water and we let her join other children splashing water to each other. Since our younger days we have been hearing of the exploits of the Chambal dacoits and here we are on this river bank. Bordering with the states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the Chambal belt of Northern Madhya Pradesh is full of zigzagged ravines providing safe shelters to inter-state gangs of dacoits. A number of novels, films and stories go round throughout India of these notorious dacoits. We were even wondering whether a band of dacoits would suddenly appear there! In one of the stories I read that during a film shooting, a real band of dacoits appeared and met the hero of the film (who was acting as a Chambal dacoit). The reel life hero was afraid but the real hero commented that we risk our life in this act and get little money, and this reel hero does acting of that and gets 100 times more.
What an irony. This is perhaps one of the paradoxes of life, I guess.
The Ranthambore National park is famous for its tigers and is one of the best places in the country to see these majestic predators in the wild. The tigers can be easily spotted even during the day so it is believed. A good time to visit, I was told, is between November and May when the nature of the dry deciduous forests makes sightings common. The Park has an area of nearly 400 sq. km. and is set between the Aravali and Vindhya mountain ranges. Experts reckon that the tiger population here may now be as low as 15, although the official figures put it at 22, down from 44 a few years back. Apart from tigers, the park has its share of panthers, too. Kachida Valley is believed to be the place to sight these rather elusive cats. One can also find marsh crocodiles, hyenas, jungle cats and sloth bears apart from Chital, Nilgai, and Chinkara. It is one of the ideal parks for wildlife photography
We all went out in 8 open jeeps as if to conquer a territory. One of the leaders who later fell prey to a love bug and got married to one of the management trainees, was leading the group. We were all well treated by the staff of reserve forest. Shivani was very small at that time but she enjoyed looking at the deer, Nilgai etc. About 2 hours that we roamed about in the park watching Chital, Nilgai, Chinkara and a few crocodiles. After we finished our visiting the park and were about to exit, some members of the park informed us that two tigers had been spotted and we could finally see them. With a lot of extra-excitement we rushed to the so called spot, but there was nothing. We were consoled by saying they just left to deeper jungle. Thus our finding the elusive cats remained illusive.
Back to our place, we rested for a while before the lunch was served. Some of our staff went for a walk to the nearby mountain range. I too wanted to go but didn?t want to go without the family. Shivani was too small to walk through the thorny bushes. However, there were few more children with whom we all played.
After a sumptuous lunch we rested a while before we were called to join the party to see the Fort. Shivani and Krishna wanted to have rest, so I joined the group without them.
The Fort was looking very impressive from far off distance. Our bus stopped on the way to the Fort because of some technical snag. We all got down from the bus and looked at the Fort while in the meantime the drivers took care of the repair job. We also walked into the field to breath in the natural environment. I like the smell of wild flowers, the leaves and the touch of wonderful breeze that blows in the country side. After about half an hour, we heard the sound of blowing horn indicating that the bus was ready to move on. We hurried back to be bus and very soon reached the Fort. Many of the members seeing the long array of steps for going up the Fort, abandoned their will to go up. Myself and a few others being determined to reach the top, started ascending the steps and we did reach the top. Of course it was quite a tough climb. Our effort was rewarded with a grand view of the park, specially the lake. The water of the lake looked inviting as we were quite exhausted and were sweating. We looked around and found two of the temple like arch were in good condition from where we could have a broader view. We played around by that time those who were left behind slowly came up. Our bulky Director also made it with his daughter and son. A guide who came with our Director showed us around and explained the significance of each of the temple like structure and its time of construction and other details. The Fort was so desolate that you be afraid of unknown danger. Before the sun set, we came down all together and boarded the bus.
By the time we came back our guest house it was already very cold. A cup of tea was a refreshing change. After about an hour there was bon-fire and drinks. On request some of our potential singers did sing a few songs to keep the party going. The non-drinkers had to be satisfied with orange juice. Very soon dinner was served and we all enjoyed the dinner. The drinkers continued with their drink and I was told they had had their dinner around midnight by which time we were in deep sleep.
Next day we had a outside picnic in a near by palace like hotel. All arrangements were made on the outside lawn. I remember for our break-fast also we had gone there. This hotel was located at a higher level from the road and had excellent views of the surrounding hills and vegetation. Our daughter was much sought after by the lady officers, specially the spinsters ones. I suppose she also enjoyed the company of the damsels as she never cried. That day was her first (completing one year) birthday. We had a lot of fun, playing, singing and a bit of dancing. It was a bright sunny day. Our company director was also in a relaxed mood and kept on drinking beer. After the lunch we went back to our guest house and took some rest. Our program was to leave the guest house around 5 p.m. after tea and have the dinner at the earlier hotel and leave for Railway station.
At 4.30 p.m. we were called for tea and we were briefed to pack up our luggage and get ready to leave at 5 p.m. Saying good bye to Ranthambore park and the Fort, we left for the Hotel near Sawai Madhupur. We all assembled on the roof top of the hotel for the departing celebration and dinner. A big cake was brought, one small lighted candle and a big teddy bear as a presentation for the birthday. Till then we were not knowing that it was Shivani's birthday that they were going to celebrate. Exactly at 6.00 p.m. Shivani was called in to blow the candle and cut the cake. She was just 1 year old and did not know how to blow the candle and cut the cake. Her mother helped her do that. A little piece of cake was put into her mouth. In chorus there was 'happy birthday to Shivani' was sung. Our director till then holding that Teddy bear and now it was time for this to be given to Shivani. At first she was scared but in the next instance she smiled. Everyone clapped and enjoyed the cake. This is how Shivani's first birthday was celebrated. This celebration was followed by dinner at around 7.30 p.m. as we were to travel to Rly. Station and reach there before 9.30 p.m. to catch the Delhi bound train. The scheduled time of arrival for the train was 9.40 p.m. The train stops there only for 5 minutes and by that time we had to find our compartment and entrain 60 of us with luggage was a great job indeed. However, our leaders were efficient enough to finish the job just at the nick of time.
I still remember the Guard's green light swinging, the signal for the train to start.