Unknown | 1/15/2016 |

Final exams were over, but Abhirup was not at all happy. Almost all of his friends were going away for the summer holidays, while he had to stay at home and follow the daily routine of drawing classes, swimming classes and so many other classes. His parents were very busy with their works; for them, it was not very easy to get leave from their offices, as they were both in a senior position and were handling many responsibilities. Abhirup had just come back from school, as he entered his room he saw that his mom had kept new textbooks of class tenth on his table. He became more dejected when he saw the books. He went to the balcony and sat there, in a sad mood. Suddenly his telephone rang; Abhi knew that it was his mom calling, and that she would ask him about his day at school. He picked up the phone and was surprised when he heard his dad’s voice! His dad sounded excited and said, “Abhi we are leaving for Jayanti hills in North Bengal tomorrow. Your uncle lives there and we are going to visit him. Your mother and I have both been granted leaves. We haven’t visited my ancestral home for a long time; start packing your things. Somehow, Abhi, who was shocked, managed to reply, “Yes, dad.” He could not believe his dad’s words; he felt like he was dreaming. Abhi had never visited his dad’s elder brother’s place, nor had he met him. The only information he had about his uncle was that he was a big timber merchant in North Bengal. Abhi rushed to his study table and opened his laptop to gain knowledge about North Bengal. He was enchanted to see the beauty of Dooars in north Bengal. Jayanti, a forest village was located along the meandering Jayanti River that lay within the boundaries of the Buxa Tiger Reserve, and was often referred to as the “Queen of Dooars”. Abhi was on cloud nine. Happily, he started arranging his belongings like his camera, binoculars; flash light and of course his laptop among other things.

Abhirup’s story:

It was a grand family reunion. My uncle along with my cousin, Rishu, both came to receive us at Alipurduar railway station. Dad and uncle both hugged each other, they were looking happy and excited, as they were meeting after many years. My uncle had not met me before, and I was also meeting my cousin, Rishu, for the first time. After exchanging pleasantries our luggage was loaded into a big SUV. I looked around the station; it seemed very small as compared to Howrah station of Kolkata, and was almost deserted. There was no hustle bustle, no busy local trains pulling large number of passengers every five minutes, and this was something new for me. We sat in the car and the caroled down the street towards Jayanti hills. I was enchanted with the scenery outside. The air was pure, and not heavy with petrol and diesel fumes. Greenery spread all over, dotted with small huts with tinned roof, I had never seen such a scenic view before.

 Within a few minutes Rishu and I started talking, and we hit it off. He had just completed his schooling and was waiting to get admission at a medical college. We started talking about different topics. We discussed the tourist spots in Jayanti, and talked about the flora and fauna of that area. Whatever knowledge I had, was from the Internet. Rishu had real experience of the place. He assured me that he would be my guide me in the Jayanti hills and the Bauxa forest. I became very excited by the prospect of exploring the hills and the dense forest. One thing that surprised me very much, however, was dad’s behavior. He was behaving like a child – talking loudly with uncle, and intermittently bursting into laughter. He was usually a very serious person, but had become childlike after meeting his elder brother.  I could sense the joy he was feeling on meeting his ‘own people’ after a very long period of time; mom was also very happy and both of them cherished every moment of the reunion. After an hour or so, we entered dense jungle known as Bauxa forest. I had read about Bauxa fort on Google; but now that I was seeing the forest up close, I was enthralled. On the way I saw a number of animals and birds, including peacocks. We stopped the car when we saw a group of elephants crossing the road. I took a few pictures, and once they had finished crossing the car moved forward. We spent almost three hours enjoying the beauty of the ‘jungle road’. Then we reached uncle’s house.

There were many surprises waiting for me there. My aunt welcomed us at the gate with a broad smile. My mom hugged her tight. I took a photo of their reunion. My uncle and aunt had a beautiful house with a large veranda in the front that was surrounded by a garden. To my surprise, the entire house including the veranda and the hall, was made of wood. I wondered how anyone could stay in a wooden house! I asked my dad, “Are you going to stay in a wooden house?” He laughed loudly replied, “Look around, all the houses are made of wood. Look at the floor; it is shining more than the marble tiles at home. Here wood is abundant, so people make environment friendly houses. Look at the tourist cottages.”

I, really, was astonished to see the beautiful tourist cottages, which were made out of bamboo! Rishu said, “Come inside, take a shower, eat some snacks and then we’ll go on a trek. My uncle stopped him and said, “Oh! Rishu, they have just reached here after a long journey. Let them take rest, and then you make your program in the afternoon.”

Everything in Jayanti was new to me; I felt as if I had entered a new world, which was far away from the humdrum of city life. This place seemed to be an ideal holiday destination, as time seemed to slow down its fast pace. I was going to be sharing Rishu’s room. I entered his room and arranged my luggage by the window. Rishu warned me, “Don’t be afraid at night. Sometime stray elephants visit our neighborhood; sometime some night birds cry and make a high pitch sound.” The window in Rishu’s room overlooked the Jayanti hills and I guess that the Jayanti River must have been nearby, because I could feel a gentle breeze and hear the soft sound of flowing water. I was fascinated by the beauty of nature. After we had our snacks Rishu took me outside to show me his village. All of his neighbors lived in the same type of wooden house as him. I got a warm welcome from everyone; they treated me as if I was a family member.

At noon we went back to my uncle’s house for lunch. Lunch was heavy, but delicious too. After lunch, dad, uncle, aunt and mom gathered in the drawing room to catch up on a gossip. “Let’s go for walk by the river side,” Rishu said to me. I went to the room and collected my camera, binoculars, and flash light, and we left the house. We started towards the river; the picturesque beauty of Jayanti hills moved me. In no time we had reached the river side. Music of the swift flowing Jayanti River, the chirping of birds, the sweet fragrance of nature and the refreshingly cool breeze hypnotized me. The river was almost dry due to the heat, but the pebbles on the river bed, which were now visible made the stream look more beautiful. We were talking about which animals could be found in the area, when suddenly Rishu said, “Abhi did you know that there are red pandas can be seen in the interior of this forest?

”Red Pandas?!” I exclaimed! “But they are mostly seen in the Himalayas, how can you see them here?” Rishu replied, “I have seen them in a very tall tree, deeper in the forest.” I didn’t believe him and said, “You must have seen some kind of monkey and got confused.” But, Rishu was confident and said, “I have seen a pair, only one pair in the southern part of this forest.” I still didn’t believe him, and asked “Can you show me?” Rishu said, “Yes, of course, I can take you to the tree where I saw them; but whether you see them or not, depends on your luck,” Rishu said confidently. “Okay let’s go there then,” I replied.

We started our trek into the forest. As we walked, the path became narrower, and the forest became denser; but Rishu knew the way, so both of us marched forward. Suddenly a female voice said, “Stop, don’t move!” We looked around but couldn’t see anybody there! we heard a voice, again, saying, “I am here.” We looked up and saw a lady, sitting on one of the branches of a big shady tree. She was smiling at us and pointing towards another tree. We both looked to where she was pointing, and were stupefied to see a big python that was coiled around a tree branch; with its head hanging just a few centimeters above us. A chill ran down my spine, while Rishu’s face went white. The lady said, “Don’t be afraid, the python is not hungry, it will do no harm to you.” Rishu asked me to crawl on the ground slowly, to get past it; I did so and crossed it. But I was still very much surprised to see this lady here, sitting on a branch of a tree, in the middle of the forest! Rishu too was afraid. The lady jumped down from the tree. She was very beautiful and graceful. She was wearing a pink colored flowing gown and a hat. Her appearance made her seem like she was from the Victorian era. With a smile she said, “I am Emilee. I am a biologist and have lived in this forest for a long time. I know that you have come to see those pandas, isn’t it”? Both of us were bewildered! What was a young lady who was in her late twenties doing, sitting on a branch of a tree? That too in such a dense forest. Moreover how did she know that we had come to see the pandas? The lady, Emilee, smiled and said, “Don’t look so surprised. The only people who come here are those who know about the pandas. I will show you the tree where they are staying now.” Saying this, she forwarded her hand out. We both introduced ourselves and shook hands with her. Her hand felt very cold. I thought that they were cold because she must have been roaming around the dense forest for a long time. Emilee led us through the jungle and started talking about the flora and fauna of the forest. Suddenly, she stopped and whispered, “Look at the valley on the left.” We looked and were enchanted at the sight before us. Hundreds of butterflies were hovering over different colored flowers; their bright colors filled the atmosphere like a rainbow. Then in the same whispering voice she said, “Look at the terrain on your right.” We were again stunned by the mesmerizing scene before us; birds were nesting around a beautiful pond. Hornbills, peacocks, maynah, magpie and other birds had made their nests in the nearby trees and also on the ground. Their chirping filled the air. The scenery before us was simply magnificent!!! I was so hypnotized that I forgot to take a picture with my camera. Both of us thanked Emilee. She smiled at us and said, “Keep walking, it’s still daylight and we will be able to see the pandas.” We started walking with her. Rishu asked her, “Don’t you feel uncomfortable, wearing such a long dress in the dense jungle”? Emilee didn’t answer. After walking for a while, in a joyful tone Emilee said, “You are lucky! Look at the top of the tallest tree. There is a red panda sitting with her baby.” We immediately looked towards the top of the tallest tree. What a wonder! A rust colored panda was sitting there with her baby. Emilee said, “Pandas have become rare animals, actually their habitat is the eastern Himalayas, but my father, also a nature lover, brought a couple of pandas to this jungle. However, this forest is losing its bamboo trees, which is their main source of food. The wood mafia has also been targeting the tall trees, so they will be extinct in a few years from now. I was not listening to what she was saying, as I was busy taking photographs of the rare sight before me. After a few minutes, Emilee said, “Let’s go back.” All three of us started our return journey. While going back, Emilee started singing a melodious song in a very low voice. Her melody made the atmosphere more serene. Rishu and I happily walked along, long cherished desire fulfilled. Evening was settling in, and the sun was disappearing behind the Jayanti hills. Flocks of birds were coming back to their nest. Suddenly Emilee stopped and said, “Turn left, and you will find the path that will lead you home. Okay bye then.” Saying this, she disappeared. Both of us were surprised! Where had she gone! She had suddenly vanished in to thin air! We could see no house nearby, as we searched for her. In the meantime Rishu stumbled on something and cried out in pain. I quickly helped him stand up and massaged the injured area. After Rishu got slight relief from the pain, we found the object he had stumbled on and inspected it. It was a big stone. I saw that something was engraved on the stone. We cleaned the dust and mud off it, to see what was written. Upon seeing the encryption a chill ran down my spine, and I shivered to the bone. The encryption said, “Emilee Brown, Biologist. Born on June 14, 1890. Died on January 12, 1917. I love you forever, yours John.” It was a tombstone! And the name on it was... EMILEE!! The only words that came out of my mouth were “Rishu run. Run Rishu.” And we started running as fast as we could. We ran for more than fifteen minutes, but we couldn’t find our way out the forest. We were exhausted. Suddenly Rishu shouted, “Stop.”

I stopped abruptly and looked at Rishu. He waved his hand and said, “Look Abhi, till when we knew Emilee as a living being, we were okay with that good natured person. But once we found out her tombstone and realized that she died a long time ago, we became afraid of her. Why? Has she done any harm to us? Has she frightened us? No, she saved us from the big python and most importantly, she took us to see the Pandas. So why should we be afraid of her? She may not be a living being, and may be a soul or a spirit, but she is a noble spirit, keeping this jungle safe. Then why, why should we be afraid of her? Suddenly we heard voices yelling our names and saw the blinking of flashlights. My dad and uncle were searching for us as it had turned dark, and night animals had started appearing, they were worried about us. We ran towards the flashlight. When they found us we were totally exhausted. Seeing us unharmed all of them had a sigh of relief.



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