On NH181, A mini bus was making its way through the famous Bandipura National Park headed towards Udakamandalam Town (Ooty). It was a beautiful sunny day. The merry laughter of college girls had filled the bus. They were on a two-day college trip. They had waited for months. Many girls had to use every trick in their book to get permission from their parents. Why not?! After all, the destination was such that no one would want to miss out.
Udakamandalam was one of the popular tourist spots in Tamil Nadu State, especially during summer. Tall eucalyptus trees covering hills, tea estates that looked like green carpets adorning the vast landscape, small waterfalls here and there would dazzle anyone to the soul. To complement this natural beauty, there were some man-made attractions like a biological garden, and a small steam-powered train. No wonder, the girls were very excited.
The Karnataka State border check post was about fifteen minutes away. On either side of the road, there was nothing but thick forest. In the evening, or in the morning, one could see a herd of spotted deer or bison curiously watching the passing vehicles. If they were lucky, a herd of elephants or a tiger would appear, filling their hearts with fear and admiration. So, the girls were looking outside, hoping to see any wild life.
“Ma’am, are we there yet?”, Anamika inquired her professor, adjusting her glasses.
“We haven’t even entered Tamil Nadu yet. And, you have already asked this question a hundred times. Why don’t you google it?” Professor Vimala was frustrated.
“There is no internet signal, ma’am.” Anamika grinned sheepishly. The professor ignored her.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” Concerned, Professor Vimala’s colleague Professor Ratna inquired.
“I'm having a headache. It was light when we started in the morning. Now it has increased. Thanks to these twenty-three monkeys. The college management could have agreed to send one more staff. Is it possible to handle these girls for just two staff members? The management is always after money. Idiots!”
Professor Vimala picked up her vanity bag, and began searching for an Anacin tablet.
“Hey, hey!!! Look here girls. A herd of deer!” Shalini shouted in excitement. Other girls rushed to the right side of the bus to look out. Some of the girls urged the middle-aged driver to stop the vehicle, and he obliged. Curious, the professors also came towards a window.
“Wish I could take one to my home.”
They were amazed by the beauty of the deer. The herd was grazing on the patches of grass near the road. Some girls began taking pictures on their phones. Suddenly, the herd stopped grazing, and looked to their left side. A moment later, a flock of birds flew over the mini bus, crying chaotically. The herd of deer sprinted away in a panic.
“What happened? Why are they running away?” Neha asked curiously.
“May be there is some predator nearby. They might have gotten its scent.” Roopa replied.
“Tiger?!” Anamika’s eyes eagerly searched for a tiger through the trees.
“I doubt that. Usually, they hunt at night… I don’t know. But something is not right. If it was a tiger, it would have already been chasing the herd. My village lies at the edge of the forest. I know one or two things about the predators. De… definitely, it’s not… a tiger.”
Roopa’s voice trembled at the end.
“Oh my god! It’s a T. rex!” Swathi jokingly said, waving her hands dramatically. Roopa hit Swathi’s arm, while the rest of the girls laughed.
“God!!! Can’t you be silent for a minute?” Professor Vimala yelled at the girls.
The girls went silent. And then, they heard the sound - the trumpet of an elephant. They all looked towards the direction of the sound.
“Woah! How huge! I’ve never seen an elephant this big.” The driver exclaimed. He couldn’t stop staring at the magnificent beast that was standing in the middle of the road. The girls crowded around the engine section.
“Hey! Stop pushing me.” Shalini was annoyed.
“Remove your hand from my shoulder, you fatty. It hurts.” Anamika groaned, trying to push Neha’s hand.
“Four eyes” Neha retorted back, removing her hand.
The girls were trying their best to get a better look at the wild beast. The professors peaked out of the window to take a look.
The elephant was facing the mini bus. It was around eleven-foot high, which was way taller, when compared with the height of a Bharatiy male elephant. Curved upwards, Its tusks almost reached the length of six feet; sharp and shiny. The color of the tusks were contrasting with the beast’s dark black hide. Its wide ears were flapping back and front. The beast was moving its trunk on the surface of the road as if it was grazing.
“I have been making trips to Ooty for some years, at least thrice in a week. I have come across many elephants. But I haven’t seen this beast before. He must be from another area.”
The driver was lost in thought. The girls were trying to take pictures of that magnificent animal. Then one of the girls yelled.
“Driver uncle, the elephant is coming towards us!”
The driver was startled, but then he laughed.
“Nothing to worry. I have seen elephants countless times. Elephants won’t attack unless you threaten or provoke them. They are the most peaceful beasts though they are the most powerful ones. It is just curious. Relax and enjoy the sight.”
The elephant came near slowly, and stood in front of the windshield at the driver’s side. Raising its trunk, it gently rubbed the windshield a few times. The driver could see the beast’s eyes that were lazy and half closed.
“Namaste, how are you? Hope you had plenty of breakfast.” the driver laughed.
The elephant raised it trunk again, and trumpeted loudly. Covering their ears, some girls screamed in fear. The driver froze as he looked at the eyes of the beast. They were opened wide. Its ears were spread out. Holding its head high, the beast made abrupt head shakes.
“Oh shit!” a faint utterance came out of the driver’s mouth. The next moment, the windshield shattered to pieces. The beast’s trunk snuck into the driver’s cabin, and grabbed the shaken driver by his right arm. The mini bus was filled with the screams of the scared girls, and they took a few steps back. The professors were in shock.
A mini bus, full of college students, is on its way to Ooty in Tamilnadu State. The bus has to travel through the Bandipura Forest that houses various wild beasts. The college students have no clue about their ill fate that will unravel soon. Will there be any survivor?