Bhim Gaj

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
If a tree falls in the forest, and you don’t get it on camera, does it make a sound?

Submitted: January 03, 2016

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Submitted: January 03, 2016

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There is no way I can hold my friend Bharat responsible for what happened.  He tried to talk me out of the whole thing.  He couldn’t have known that when he told me the legend of Bhim Gaj, I would have to give it a shot.  That’s how I roll.

I came to Nepal for the Aquilid meteor showers.  The newly discovered collection of space debris has caused quite a stir in the astronomy world.  The Indian subcontinent will be the best place to watch.  I planned to get two birds with one stone.  Hang out with Bharat, take spectacular photographs that launch my photography career.

Then he told me about the largest elephants on the planet, in the nearby Chitwan Nature Reserve.  I figured it would be three birds with one stone.  Hang out, see the meteors, and be the first to ever photograph Bhim Gaj.  Literally, giant elephant.

According to the legend, no one had ever been able to photograph one of the beasts, though many have attempted it.  All who tried were cursed.  Sounded like a challenge to me.

When I suggested we go on a photo safari, Bharat thought I was crazy.  “You don’t just go into Chitwan and walk around until you find the elephant you are looking for.  It is a very big place.”

“True.  Which is why we will have to use technology and our brains.  And of course, bribery.”

The technology part is pretty simple.  I came to Nepal armed with a wide array of cameras.  Nature shots are not difficult to take.

What we really need though, is an insider.  Someone who works in the park, who knows their way around.  Someone who wouldn’t mind earning a few extra dollars to be our guide.  Someone who can be flattered by an American who buys them drinks at their favorite bar…

Because it always comes down to who you know.  If you are expecting to succeed in life with hard work alone, be prepared to work hard for a very long time.  I prefer shortcuts.  Money and an understanding of human nature are useful substitutes for hard work.  As a mentor once told me, it is better to work smart than to work hard.

I can tell, Bharat is skeptical.  But I know it is a matter of statistics.  Hang out and listen.  People talk when they are in bars.  They talk more, and louder, when they have been drinking.  After a while, you can ask them anything, and they won’t even remember you tomorrow.  Unless you want them to.

Of course, I need Bharat.  I don’t speak much Nepali.  So off to the nearest bar.  We’ll listen to the chatter, until we find someone who works in the park.  Everyone talks about their job.  They either talk about it because they hate it, or because they love it.  It ends up sounding the same.  I will spend some money buying drinks for strangers.  That is okay.  I only have to get lucky once.  You can’t win if you don’t play.

That is how I made enough money to be a wannabe photographer.  I’m a gambler.  Not the silly kind of gambler that spends their money at casinos or on lottery tickets.  It’s not gambling when fixed statistics can predict how much you will lose.

I make money in the stock market.  No set odds there.  And no rules.  Well, let’s say there are no rules that can’t be broken or bent.  You just have to be careful.  It’s not illegal until you get caught.  I have some simple rules, here are a couple of them: 

When you are breaking the law, don’t write anything down on paper. 

Never deal with dishonest people unless you know you can trust them. 

Not as hard as it sounds.  You need a plan and you have to be able to think.  And find other dishonest people who are as smart as you.  Avoid stupid dishonest people like the plague.  They always end up in prison or in the morgue, and they can take you with them.

Which of course, is why you should learn how to play golf.  When you are in a golf cart, at a beautiful country club, with someone who has inside information, and no one else is around, you can talk.

When I was young I spent many hours learning how to play golf.  Then I learned how to talk to people.  Next, I learned how to make money off of other people’s money.  Eventually, I made pile of it for myself.

I sold the brokerage firm to my staff.  I tried to retire.  They were okay with buying me out, not so much with me retiring.  They seem to think they will not be able to continue without me.  That is ridiculous, I taught them all of my dirty tricks.  But still, I end up talking to them on the phone several times a day.

So I keep making money, even though I don’t need it.  It does make it easy to buy lots of cool photography stuff.  That can run into some dollars.

We studied maps of Chitwan and decided that Narayangadh was our best bet.  A small town just northwest of the Park at the juncture of two roads, the Mahendra highway and the Narayanghat-Muglin highway.  It has a military base, almost guaranteeing a rowdy nightlife.  Just the kind of place we are looking for.

We check into a hotel and chat with the clerk.  He says the best collection of clubs will be where the highways meet.  He suggests Top Restaurant, Big Café, and Dhungey Yug.

The Top Restaurant is first on our list.  The next time you are in Narayangadh, you have to eat there.  Great Italian food.  But be careful of the desserts.  If you are on a diet, I mean.  Apparently there is no equivalent in Nepali for “just one scoop of ice cream”.  If they bring it, you have to eat it.

And the band was tight.  Music truly is the universal language.  We stuff our pie holes, down a few drinks, mill around, and chat with everyone.  No sign of Chitwan people.  Off to the Big Café.

Which is dead as a doornail.  Only a few people there.  The bartender says it really doesn’t crank up until closer to midnight.  We move on.

Bringing us to the Dhungey Yug.  The name means Stone Age.  It looks the part.  The entire bar has a thatch hut theme.  Bamboo poles everywhere.  And there is live music.  It reminds me of some of the tiki hut bars I’ve been to in America.  This one feels authentic.

We get a table in the middle where we can hear and see everything, order drinks, and settle in.

Two men and a lady walk in wearing Chitwan National Forest employee badges.  Bingo.  It doesn’t take long to figure out that both of the guys like to hit the sauce.  I introduce myself, and start laying out my best charm.  I get the feeling these are the folks I am looking for.

The young lady speaks English pretty well.  One of guys is passable.  We won’t need to have deep meaningful conversations. 

Their favorite drink is a beer-like beverage called jaand.  A fist sized mass of fermented rice is placed in a tongba, a special kind of mug.  The tongba is filled with boiling water.  After five minutes, the liquid is consumed via a bamboo straw.  Interesting, but it has an unusual flavor that does not appeal to me.  Smirnoff tastes the same everywhere.

We listen to their tales of humor and woe, and whenever they mention animals, I ask questions.  I probe toward my ultimate goal.  “Is it possible to arrange private tours in the park?” 

They say that is only done when some government official wants to impress someone, like a lady friend.  I say, “What if someone would like to make a donation to the park?  Would your boss perhaps be interested in that?”

When I open my wallet to pay the waitress, I make sure my new friends see the thick wad of crisp twenties.  It doesn’t take long to arrange a private tour. 

The first of the meteors are starting to hit.  For now, it is one at a time.  But it will build steadily from here.  No way to tell how many.  Millions.  Billions maybe.

If you are in the place expected to get the biggest hit, be prepared to duck.

Our guides are Ajay, Raja and Geeti.  Ajay never stops talking and makes it a point to tell me the meanings of each of their names.  Ajay means Invincible.  Remains to be seen.  Raja is King.  Maybe, we’ll see.  Geeti, the young lady, is most properly named.  Hers translates to Melody.

We start early in the morning.  Bharat and I are on foot, carrying modest packs.  Each of our guides holds the reins to a yak.  They are the pack animals in the high altitude world of Nepal.  Their ability to walk uphill tirelessly in thin air will not be tested on this journey.  The elephants in Chitwan prefer to stay in the valleys.

Yaks are everywhere in Nepal.  Imagine a horse with short legs.  And a cow’s head, one with horns.  That is a yak.  I wouldn’t want to tangle with those horns.  But they are tame.  They carry a canvas sack on each side of their back.  Containing our tents, food, and cooking and camera gear. 

By mid-afternoon, the meteors are falling in waves.  We’ll get the best pictures at night.  But I have a camera in my hand and get some decent shots of the daytime show.  You never know when the big one is going to hit.

We see only ordinary elephants the first day.  Ajay says we will reach Bhim Gaj country tomorrow.

Before dark we set up camp and eat our last meal of the day.  I give Bharat and Geeti camera lessons.  I brought three professional quality digital cameras.  Six eyes are better than two. 

The show starts for real.  We take pictures furiously.  It is hard to keep up.  I am glowing.  Fuck the stock market.  I am going to be the next Ansel Adams.

After a few hours, and hundreds of the most spectacular photographs I’ve ever taken, I am exhausted.  I notice my camera is the only one clicking.  I look around and the rest of my crew are lying on blankets, watching the show.  I decide to join them.

A quick breakfast starts the next day, just after daybreak.  Geeti had gotten up earlier and surprises me with spectacular photographs of the sun coming up over the mountains.  Some people are natural born artists.  We pack up and resume our quest.

After a couple of hours of hiking, Ajay stops and points to a large, brown, smelly pile on the ground.  Elephant dung.  Bhim Gaj makes the same kind of pile as any other elephant.  Just bigger.  This one was half again larger than the ones we saw the day before.  And there was more than one pile.

Raja pokes the pile with a stick and says something in Nepali.  Geeti translates.  Najikai means near.  She says our prey passed through less than an hour ago.  We can follow the tracks from here.

We keep walking.  After a while, I realize the conversation between the three guides has stopped.  We are near our target.

It is obvious the big elephants had been down the path recently.  Branches were bent and broken.  We came to the edge of a small clearing and found what we were looking for.

We were coming off the side of a hill, the land continued to slope down in front of us.  In the opening were the three biggest elephants I’ve ever seen.  I didn’t need anyone to translate for Raja.  Bhim Gaj.  We unpack the tripods, set up the cameras, and begin taking pictures.

After getting some great shots from a distance, I tell the others to stay put.  The fewer people approaching the giant beasts, the less likely they are to take off.  I move toward them.  Slowly, on my hands and knees.  I try to stay below the tops of the thick, waist high grass.

Every so often I hold the camera above the vegetation and snap a series of photographs.  This is a fancy camera.  One designed to make no sound when the picture is taken.  The elephants don’t notice me, or don’t care.  They stay put as I creep closer.

Overhead, large meteors are making bright flames across the daytime sky.  They are a nuisance to me now.  Every man, woman, and child in this part of Asia is taking meteor pictures. I’m the only one with Bhim Gaj in my viewfinder.

I am less than twenty feet away.  One of the giants turns and looks straight at me.  He resumes chomping on the grass.  They were obviously not concerned by my presence.  No reason to be, a foot could stomp me into the ground and leave nothing but a greasy spot.

I stand and begin taking close ups.  I can see the wrinkles of their skin, the look in their eyes, the stains on their tusks.  This trip is turning into the best ever.

Just then, I hear Geeti say “ujjvala prakasa”.  Later I would ask her what that meant.  Bright light.

Geeti is right.  The sky turns white, followed by a deafening sound.  Then, darkness and confusion.  Time passes.  I feel something wet on my face.  Whatever it is smells godawful.  My eyes open.  I am flat on my back, looking up at a large, ugly elephant trunk.  Bhim Gaj is trying to decide if I am dead.

I am not, but it feels that way.  My ears are ringing and I am groggy.  After my head clears, I realize a huge meteor had exploded close enough to cause a concussion.  All of the humans were knocked unconscious.  My companions were picking themselves off the ground at the same time I was being examined by the giant beast.

I remember my camera.  I look around, and find it smoking, on the ground.  I pull out the memory card.  Burned to a crisp.  Geeti and Bharat check their cameras.  Same thing.  I fumble through my backpack for the cards with the meteor photos.  Fried.

The elephants begin to make their way down the trail away from us.  I pull out my cell phone.  It has a camera.  The lens is cracked.  It wouldn’t turn on. 

I look down at my shoes.  They seem to be intact.  We shouldn’t have any trouble walking out.  I realize I’ve lost every photo we had taken.  The curse of Bhim Gaj strikes again.

When the meteor exploded, it must have generated an electromagnetic pulse.  Back at the hotel, I google EMP and find it can be generated that way.

Our grand adventure cost me tens of thousands of dollars in destroyed equipment, airplane tickets, hotels, food and bribes.  I did not get a single photograph out of the deal.  Except a few that a tourist snapped of our crew as we emerged from the park.  We were covered with dirt, tired and hungry.  She emailed me the photos.

I don’t know where my career as a photographer stands now.  But I’ve got one heck of a story.  Maybe I’ll try writing…


© Copyright 2017 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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