Two days before Uttarakhand was to vote for a new assembly in February, I was speedily reviewing my travel options for getting to up to Pauri town. I had already spent the morning of February 13 reporting from the rural parts of Haridwar, asking residents about their concerns and how they viewed Harish Rawat of the Congress, the chief minister at the time.
This was my first time reporting a state election. I was understandably excited: elections are a great opportunity for journalists to try to understand more about the political process and I had the entire hill state as my beat.
That evening, I intended to travel to the hill town of Pauri to interview voters about what they were looking out for in a leader. I also wanted to know what they thought about jobs, business, health facilities in Uttarkhand and the mass migration to bigger cities that has emptied out some villages of the hill state.
I had been assured that there were frequent buses up to Pauri from Rishikesh, 20 km away from where I was doing my interviews. But by the time I got to the bus stand at 3 pm, I was told that the last bus had long departed. I did the next best thing: I decided to get on the bus to Srinagar valley, 30 km away from Pauri, and take my chances.
Four hours later, in Srinagar, I had hitched a ride in a hatchback car with seven other passengers. The owner, a middle-aged man who was driving through Pauri to his village near Lansdowne, charged me Rs 50 for the ride. I could feel the crisp air of the hills in my lungs. The packed car was warm, and that was a pleasant contrast to the chilly dusk air outside.
Around 30 minutes after we had set out, the driver stopped the car to relieve himself on the side of the desolate road. Seconds later, he hastily changed his plans. He rushed back into the car, looking quite nervous.
He said he had heard an ominous rustling in the bushes and feared that he’d disturbed a snake. He was a little off the mark. Shortly after he gunned up the engine, a tiger jumped on the road from the tree-lined slopes on our left and elegantly walked to the other side. It looked towards us for brief moment but did not tarry. The beautiful beast could not stand the glare of our headlights.
As it turns out, I was clearly the only person in the vehicle who was excited about the tiger sighting. My co-passengers said that this was a pretty routine occurrence for them in the hills. They were more concerned because one of our fellow passengers was nauseous with motion sickness and warned that could throw up any moment. We made it to Pauri half an hour later, without him doing so.
My return was much more uneventful.
Scroll reporters look back at 2017.