“At two o’clock in the morning, if you open your window and listen,
You will hear the feet of the Wind that is going to call the sun.
And the trees in the Shadow rustle and the trees in the moonlight glisten,
And though it is deep, dark night, you feel that the night is done.”
― Rudyard Kipling
When Rudyard Kipling wrote these lines, what did he experience? I thought to myself. And then I took the steep path into the Jungle to unfold my own myth.
A backpacking journey into the jungle with no mobile phone towers or electricity is something I ideally wanted especially after I had read a book about forests and Leopards in the wild.
The cold winds of December swirled around as we were entering Ooty, the hairpin bends lead us into foggy roads with big trees of sal, pine, and eucalyptus. The fluffy coat of clouds drizzled and then poured. Everywhere we turned we saw streams and countless waterfalls, it felt like the hills are alive again humming their forest song.
Armoured with sweaters, we had nothing to be afraid of except of course the uphill traffic and tree uprooting which had caused a mere hour delay and a delay makes city dwellers really understand the rules of the hills, that the trees rule the land, almost always and then when an uprooting takes place you realise that it becomes an even greater challenge for the traffic than the ones encountered in the city. The entire travel comes to a halt and that even to clear the premises with the police on their toes can get a lot challenging. Once the sight was clear, we slowly moved ahead and kept going until we reached our camp area.
An army truck was waiting, as our bus entered the campsite. Next thing we were packed into the army truck with our luggage and the ride and sitting inside one everyone felt like a causality traveling through murky roads, that sometimes it took the engine double the amount of fuel when the wheels got stuck into a loose ground.Making a halt the guide said ‘You’ll have to trek through the woods from this point”. I was allowed the permission of traveling in the truck because of the injury I had a day back.
Despite the injury or the trainer advising me to take the truck instead, I wanted to experience the walk through deep woods, to experience a world of imaginary forests that authors pen about in their books. After a brief round of introduction with the trainer in regards to the jungle, we had a guide who told us about the wild we may get to chance upon, only if we were really quiet.
We began slowly moving into the woods, the eerie quiet space with the random sounds of the forest felt very scary at first, it was almost like Murakami wrote in his book, it’s so quiet and so eerie at the same time that it could easily haunt anyone.
“Not just beautiful, though — the stars are like the trees in the forest, alive and breathing. And they’re watching me. What I’ve up till now, what I’m going to do — they know it all. Nothing gets past their watchful eyes. As I sit there under the shining night sky, again a violent fear takes hold of me. My heart’s pounding a mile a minute, and I can barely breathe. All these millions of stars looking down on me, and I’ve never given them more than a passing thought before. Not just the stars — how many other things haven’t I noticed in the world, things I know nothing about?”
― Haruki Murakami
In the quiet forest trek, I could hear a stream from afar, and the call of the langur and the sound of the rain pounding on us. When you’re in the wild all these sounds from the jungle are scary any sound from a distance seems to haunt you. just the sound of people chatting on the path would bring comfort, most of these fellow mates before me were hardly seen as I was taking my time for the climb, I kept thinking what if we saw a tiger in all its vicinity but found it fortunate to not encounter any but only spotting pug marks of the wildcat on a different path.
At first, it was the uphill climb, then it was my footwear that was causing distress and the sudden bouts of heavy rains that made giant puddles of slushy loose mud. The leeches were also a welcome, with the trek.
I slipped and fell countless times with campers to my rescue and when I finally saw the campsite I was truly happy. The excitement that came after finishing this two-hour trek was just mesmerizing It was a glorious time for photos as everyone from the team completed their trek.
On arriving we were lead to the fireplace where the entire team huddled, next a bowl of salt was passed across the team religiously. The salt was then applied to the leg, almost everyone had donated blood, donated because we were all bitten by leeches. I seemed to have at least seven due to open footwear. Blood oozed from the areas and the salt remedy worked. I think we grew so familiar with leech therapy that none of us were scared about getting a leech bite.
There were two options dorm or the tent. I wasn’t very comfortable with sleeping in the wild with a tent, so I picked dorm naturally. The weather was a biting cold so much that even sandwiching between two blankets gave you the chills. Many others picked the tent over the dorm they had an additional activity to do every night, which was to look out/ collect any leeches around/inside the tent only then they could sleep.
With no electricity, there was no hot water. However, we learned to adapt to the jungle, most of us took a bath in ice cold water and then followed it up with the warm dinner and a glass of hot boost. It was only a feasible idea to use the loo before it got really dark. We all carried a torch and had to accompany someone who was using the restroom because we were in the wild. In the dark, you could hardly spot anything even the loo at the time was not spared from leech invasion. The instructor had also told us about wild bores, that they were very much active during the night.
The next day our call time was 6.30am in the morning and it was so cold everything was freezing including the water, the smoke dispersed into the air when any of us spoke. Geared in my sports shoe I was ready. The breakfast was mighty with idly and deep fried vadas that everyone wanted a second round of.
We started walking towards the pine forest we crossed a few streams and we were near the lake. The canoe boats in bright yellow and dull green and grays were laid out. The instructor took 20 minutes to explain the mechanism of being in a canoe or most importantly what to do when the boat capsizes, which was frequent according to him.
We had about three boats and people who knew swimming and wanted to experience first hand went in. In the beginning, I wasn’t going to try it but after watching my fellow campers taking to the lake alone I changed my mind. When the time came I sat in the single seat of the canoe, it felt as if I was being slipped into a coffin with the legs being placed inside and hardly having any control over the legs. After a word of encouragement, those fellow campers gave me my boat a push. I was alone with the boat the paddle and the water beneath me which had always managed to overwhelm me. I was quietly floating across in my bright yellow colored canoe, spotting fishes and taking my time to ease up while I was at it. I did feel panicky when I wanted to return back to land but I did conquer the fear of water, boats and the balance part of it. After many victories and a few whose boat capsized (including my brothers and other few people).
We headed upward for our next activity a colorful dart board was placed at a distance and a set of arrows were neatly laid out in a bag. Archery it was, with the fist-rest we were equipped with basics on shooting. It looked easier but the amount of pressure that the bow required to shoot the arrow was an incredible amount. While some of us had missed shots, some managed to get their arrows on the board. After an extended hour of cricket, we arrived for lunch.
Gorge walking was next, I was told that this was the most challenging walk amongst slippery rocks and deep mud and mostly an uphill climb amongst the breathtaking views. I decided to bunk this activity and decided to sleep over until evening while the campers met near the campfire for Christmas activities, a couple of songs with tasks and then we all relished the dinner along with rosemary tea which was then followed by a story-telling session near the camp-fire about animal encounters.
The next day we were ready to get back to the hills with all our bags lined up, the army truck loaded our luggage as we climbed into it. The grilling ride inside the army truck is an experience by itself especially with the off-roads. Even a normal person would become a casualty case in an hours worth travel on bad roads in that truck. Once we were near the emerald lake, we walked down to the lake, the waters were untouched and it was so serene you could drown for hours at the view.
With the tower being back, almost everyone snapped back into their screens. From then on the bus was loaded with luggage and we headed towards Ooty botanical gardens from there the road downhill was amazing with a halt especially at a chai bunk where the chilly fritters were welcome with the weather. Dinner was light at a petty highway bunk shop. Even though my foot was completely swollen either because of the leech bite or the injury. It was a trip I truly devour till date.