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With the onset of spring, new grass grows. And when the Ramganga river begins to recede, it reveals Dhikala chaur, the largest grassland in Uttarakhand’s Jim Corbett National Park. Chaur is the local name for grassland.

Jumbo tales: In April-May, elephants in small herds of 30-60 can be sighted in Dhikala, the largest grassland of Uttarakhand’s Jim Corbett National Park. By Ananda Banerjee

In April and May, the grass ripens to gold, attracting herds of Asian elephants from the forest. At any one time, over 100 elephants, in small herds of 30-60, can be sighted sailing through the tall grass. They feed and socialize among themselves and with other herds using low-frequency rumblings—subsonic sounds which travel through the ground.


The social lives of female and male elephants are remarkably different. The females live in tightly knit family groups made of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts, led by the eldest female, or the matriarch. Adult males, on the other hand, mostly live lonely lives, and spend most of their time fighting for dominance. Only the most dominant males get to breed with the females. While there is no specific mating season, April and May are the best months for a rare sighting of elephants that might be mating since Dhikala shuts down for the monsoon, from mid-June to October. When the bull elephants are “musth", they secrete a thick, tar-like liquid from the temporal glands on the sides of their heads. In this condition, a bull will fight with almost any other male it encounters, and spends most of its time hovering around the female herd.

Elder pachyderms are extremely protective of younger ones. Even while crossing a road or river, the young ones are escorted and the herd will mock-charge tourist vehicles from time to time if it senses a threat.

Another great sighting is the dust bath on the riverbanks. Elephants apply dust as a protective layer after a dip in the river. This acts as a sunscreen and keeps the bugs away.

On a recent trip to Dhikala, a huge male tusker came head on towards my jeep, parked next to the river. It was a little too close for comfort but I didn’t budge; any movement would have attracted aggression from the elephant. It stopped just a few feet away in the water and began spraying itself with its trunk. I had never been in such close proximity to a wild tusker, but I was so overwhelmed that I forgot to take a picture. It’s a privilege to watch these giants and as I go back every year to Dhikala, the curiosity to see and learn more just grows.


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Updated: 30 Mar 2012, 08:32 PM IST
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