During a holiday trip to Siliguri in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal, the exotic flora and fauna and the lush green surrounding of the place immediately seized my attention but the most bewildering experience was an encounter with Laden. I was put up in Bengdubi with my host, just about 16 kilometers away from Siliguri and in the vicinity of Bagdogra which has a small Airport. The place almost looked like a peaceful village. Cycle rickshaws were seen in abundance and buses were plying at regular intervals. There was so much peace and serenity present that the existing mode of transport harmonized very well with the city.
My host took me to all the important places in the area for two days and on the third day I was told that we would be going to visit somebody. My curiosity obviously increased and I kept enquiring as to who we were visiting? Well, my host wanted to keep this as a secret and told me that I will have to wait until evening. The only clue he gave me was that we will be taking a drive to the forest area. We left home at 5.00 pm in a Mahindra Jeep and drove for about ten minutes passing through scanty forest which gradually got dense. The visibility was still very good although a bit cloudy and we could see everything quite clearly. Suddenly I caught sight of a Peacock and instantly brought this to my host’s attention but he didn’t seem excited at all and said after the rain, it was very common to spot them and many other animals. So, what were we going to see next? Wait and watch, he said.
It appeared like my host was on a mission. My curiosity got the better of me and I asked him if we were going to see bigger animals. May be, he said and drove on. He was driving at a speed of 10 km and being very vigilant looking to his left, then to his right and slowing down even further. All of a sudden, my host cautioned us to maintain pin drop silence while he brought the vehicle to a complete stop. I waited with abated breath to see what we were going to confront, was it going to be a leopard or a Deer? For the time being it appeared like we were wasting our time and then I felt the engine of the vehicle rev up and started moving forward at a snail’s pace.
We went no further than a hundred yards when the vehicle came to an abrupt stop and I heard my host whisper to me ‘meet Laden’. I looked at the object in front and there was an enormous Elephant standing in front of us looking like a rock. He was barely a few yards away from us and looked scary. My host warned us to be very discreet while taking pictures and avoid using the flash. I switched off my flash and had just taken two snap shots when I heard the engine rev up and the vehicle reversed so fast that I almost flung from one side of the vehicle to the other end. Luckily, I did not fall off the Jeep or else the Jeep would have run over me. I was totally startled to see the gigantic animal moving towards us and understood why my host had reversed so suddenly. My heart was literally in my mouth and felt I had lost my speech as I couldn’t scream, mumble or talk. After reversing for about a hundred yards, the vehicle turned left and dashed off until the road came to a T junction and slowed down again. The gargantuan animal was out of sight now but my host said if we waited at that point for a while we would be able to see Laden return to his dwelling which was about one km from where we were waiting.
In a few minutes, we spotted Laden striding majestically parallel to the road where we were parked and eventually lost sight of him once he had entered the dense forest. Couldn’t believe what I had been through in the past thirty minutes but must confess, it was an exhilarating moment having met Laden. On our way home I asked my host the reason why the Elephant was called Laden. As for me, the very mention of the name brings to mind Bin Laden, the founder of Al-Qaeda a terrorist organization. In the opinion of my host and those who witnessed the carnage brought into force by this Elephant, believed that they both killed innocent people and the Elephant resided near a Mosque and therefore Laden was just the right name chosen for him.
I was quite thrilled to be alive and returned home safe after meeting the assassin called Laden. Although it was a few minutes of trepidation, it left an everlasting impression in my mind and the encounter was actually worth it.