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Books: Wild Journeys.

Summary: Centered around one man's devotion to save the endangered one-horned rhino, this is an endearing tale that brings a different world to life.

It was unusually humid for a January morning. The jungle was just stirring to life and so were we--a sleepy bunch of journalists from India, on a tour of Nepal's Royal Chitwan National Park. Only the promise of a 'guaranteed' sighting could have enticed us to rise at 5 a.m. and dash to the jungle for an elephant safari.

Our vehicle for the safari was Jumbo Kali, a young, robust male, who, under no circumstances, liked to lose sight of his female companion. The chinks of sunlight filtering through thick canopies created a magical picture of this Terai jungle. And, within a few minutes, we were blessed with a sighting--a mother and calf duo of the endangered one-horned rhinoceros, found only in India and Nepal. It was one of the easiest sightings of my life, and it took me a while to swallow the scepticism with which I regarded all touristy wildlife safaris.

As we strolled back to the elephant stable, I wondered if the rhinos we saw were radio-collared. And then I laid my hands on The Soul of the Rhino. An engaging narrative of one man's dedication to the cause of the endangered beast, it makes you feel both proud and humbled.

Author Hemanta Mishra hails from an affluent Nepali Brahmin family. When in Kathmandu, he is almost always clad in a suit and carrying a briefcase, says zoologist and renowned television anchor Jim Fowler, in the foreword. It's only when Mishra starts talking about the rhino that you see the scientist in him. He is a man who gave the comfortable life of a bureaucrat a miss for exploring the depths of the jungle, only after acquiring a degree in India and then Scotland. Mishra went on to study the American system of national parks and returned to doing extensive field work in his own country.

His narrative is not just about the rhino, if that is what the title has led you to conclude. In fact, it is about everything that connects to the animal--that includes the Terai topography, the tribes that inhabit the region, vegetation, rituals that once led to merciless slaughter of a virile male, and so on. What touches me the most is the simplicity with which Mishra recounts his life. And he doesn't forget to acknowledge a single soul who has left a mark on him.

That brings me to the story of Tapsi, the grouchy, inebriated, near-arrogant mahout, who teaches Mishra, a mint-fresh graduate, on how to take baby steps in the wild. Mishra's classroom knowledge pales in comparison to Tapsi's 'lifetime of laboratory hours in the wild'.

A lowly tribal from the Terai, Tapsi is the one who sees both promise and potential in young Mishra and urges him to move the powers-that-be to help the rhino. So while Mishra takes notes from Tapsi on rhino nitty-gritty, including mating and even defecation patterns, he gets more and more inspired to do his bit for the animal, which, according to Hindu mythology, was created by Viswakarma on the orders of Brahma.

Mishra achieved his first milestone when a copy of his report on the dwindling rhino population was discreetly passed to King Mahendra in the 1980s. What followed suit was a nationwide campaign to save the rhino.

The king, both loved and feared by the people of Nepal, then went on to send Mishra abroad for higher studies in wildlife management. Thus began the story of Mishra's association with the royalty, which, interestingly, put him in one of the toughest dilemmas: that of assisting King Birendra on a rhino hunt, an annual ritual. What happens thereafter?

The Soul of the Rhino is not only is it an eye-opening account of the plight of the rhino, the second largest land mammal, but also an endearing sketch of the socio-cultural fabric of Nepal.

Penguin Books India; Price: Rs. 299

On the shelf: A Vegetarian in Paris Rashmi Uday Singh's guide to vegetarian food in Paris is being touted as the 'world's first vegetarian guide' and it should make a lot of Indians happy. Not everyone realises that the vegetarian movement has really caught on and there are several options now in all big cities of the world. And this book proves that with 500-odd restaurants, gourmet shops, food tours, and more. It has casual and fine dining both. Not all listed restaurants are good for vegetarians though. Sections such as 'A Bite of History' will have fewer veg options than say 'Indian'. There is a 'Vegan and Pure Vegetarian' section too. The design is not great but the info seems good. Times Group Books; Rs. 450

Reproduced From India Today Travel Plus. Copyright June 2012. LMIL. All rights reserved.

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Publication:India Today Travel Plus
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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