Jungle trek

“No sir, no guitars in the jungle.” I disappointedly take the instrument out of my bag, and am given 6 litre bottles of water to carry instead. With a glance from my two friends, the idea of filming a musical rendition of ‘I wanna be like you oo oo’ in the jungle is firmly left behind.

It’s 5:30am – us three young lads, still half asleep, sluggishly strap on our rucksacks and tighten our shoes – ready to hike the jungle.

We take the first step. “Arghh! What’s that!?” A spindly little faceless worm-like creature is exploring the top of Lars’ shoe. A sprinkle of what’s to come. Tobacco powder is drizzled upon, causing it to flinch in what can only be an instant painful death.

“You have gun?”
“We were told you have gun.”
“We don’t.”
“If tiger come at me, how I stop?”
“If you see tiger, tiger run away. If you see elephant, big problem. Elephant run faster than you in jungle.”

I’m taken aback by the adjustment to my childhood learning. But Balu, our guide, has lived in the wilderness for 20 years; I think I’ll trust him.

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Half an hour of walking through luscious greens and our two guides unexpectedly halt, pointing to some large straw-like poo on the ground. Two fingers firmly placed inside and our guides look surprisingly pleased. “This way.” We gape at a ravaged tree and footprints much larger than our hands. Elephants.

Thirty minutes later of hushed vigilant treading we hear branches snapping at incredible decibels; but the foliage is tall and too thick to see movement. I point in the general direction with my bamboo stick but Balu knocks it briskly away; “Elephants charge at poachers.” “Ah!” I exclaim as I unexpectedly empathise with an elephant mistaking my staff with a rifle. It’s unsafe for us to go closer – so we grudgingly depart.

We arrive at our base. Steep sides produced by years of cutting from a small stream seem to provide our guides with enough confidence to allow us to depart consciousness safely here. But I do not depart it easily or willingly, and many times it returns with a ‘Snap!’ What was that? A Tiger!? An Elephant!? Or Bear..?!!

The second day takes us from gazing through towering intersecting gorges to scrambling amongst the thickest tangled braches and cobwebs. The air is hot and moist but with a sweet freshness not sensed anywhere else in India.

“Arghhh!” yells Lars. From the same point on both ankles, streams of blood flow. Under each sock he finds four critters leeching teatime beverages from his veins.

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Our guides disappear for an hour. In returning – with several throbbing stings – they present kilograms of the freshest honey; dripping from soft wafer-like combs. We head back; slightly disappointed at only discovering a baby cow, and sickened by the over-consumption of sugar.


But it’s getting dark. We should head back, but our guide starts running further forward – “Quick! Elephants here two and half hour ago.” I try to calculate how fast an elephant moves here and how long that would be to meet at our speed, but quickly give it up and turn our HD camera on – this is getting exciting!

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We speed past stripped trees and trampled ground, piles of poo and ravaged bushes. Footprints ever more distinct and trunks ever more ripped of it’s fibres. We stop at a water hole “look all dry – this way!” We hurriedly scale a dense incline – not caring to dampen the sounds of our footprints in any way.

Ten more minutes of trekking.

A pause: A disagreement between our guides. One gestures back, while Balu points forward. I move my body to lean in favour of Balu’ pointing hand, hoping to swing the vote via social weight. We continue.

Flap–flap…  Flap-flap. Like a sail thrashing in the wind the sound of two giant ears beating against a back can just about be distinguished from the clutter of surrounding rackets. We slow our movements and bend at the knees, now stooping under branches and treading lightly between fallen wood. Our ears prick at the sound of fractures and rumbles in the distance: Adrenaline rushes through our bodies at an exhilarating rate. This is more like it for three young lads! Trees in the distance suddenly collapse and disappear out of view.

A grass leaf is dropped, indicating the direction of our scent: We inaudibly circle the hidden beings downwind.

Darker still; but the exhilaration on our guides’ faces can still be perceived – only adding to ours. “You with camera” pointing at me. “Come, we climb tree!”

As my hands grab on to the first branches my stomach tightens with anticipation. We ascend – high. And while perched on a half-eaten tributary ten meters up I lean back to see a most incredible sight. Submerged in the green bedlam is a mother and her child, peacefully uprooting all vegetation in their way. The rips are strong and frequent as I gawp and film in awe. The heavy-duty trunk pulls out a bamboo with an ease as if plucking an inconvenient hair – while the child skips playfully around her feet. Before long all five of us are staring at the two giants from above.

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That night we slept like sardines under the sky.

“Everyone get up” – our guides look worried. “Temulp chewtu man – thenulp shet uman” Balu voices tribal words into the darkness. Only now does the perilous situation that we are actually in become fully recognised: We’re outside; exposed in pitch black with food all around; the fires out and we have no guns; on what has now turned out to be an illegal trip. Hungry and inquisitive animals are somewhere. A few minutes of tense stillness, and now with a boisterous fire we get the comforting words “Ok, go back to sleep.”

My snoring eventually adds to the chorus of the jungle.

We are woken at dawn. “Quick! Come!” The lack of slumber is deeply dragging but we muster up the last ounce of energy to obey Balu. Manoeuvring my feet amongst the moss and morning dew I scramble up the last rock face. As we move up closely behind our guide, I notice he’s rooted to his spot.

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In front of us with nothing between stands the two elephants from the day before; beautifully positioned like a Stubbs artwork. Their majestic bodies usually hidden by the jungle – except now for our lucky eyes – hold their mighty weights spectacularly. As the motionless couple stare at us, imprinting the impasse onto my mind, we realise we are caught between them and the drop behind. The mother makes the first move. She lifts up her trunk and smells our scent: Then, as if with a nod of acceptance for not carrying gunpowder, she and her child turn slowly – and serenely glide back into the labyrinth.

We ask Balu what he spoke tribal to in the night: “You not see? It was those two elephants – watching you from above!”


Cheeky elephants.

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For Sams other travel stuff check out:

Sams India Pt 1

India Cow (vid)

Gramophone (vid)

Sam & Jiddu on a boat (vid)

or Sams short stories….

The Belt

Little yellow hook

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