Close encounter with the other kinds


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Published: May 21st 2017
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I must admit that I have a bad habit of roaming around off-the-beaten paths that don’t usually qualify as tourist attractions. Sometimes, I have to do the same due to my work. In doing so, I have bumped into some of the predators in the bushes from time to time who could have possibly decide that there is no need for me to write the blogs anymore. I must say, I have been fortunate enough to come out unhurt each time. Some of my friends requested to pen down those experiences and I have been ignoring. Yes, it’s long overdue, and let me write down a few of those.

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Nelson, British Columbia

Let me start with the latest one. It was a hot day in Nelson, British Columbia last year. The picturesque mountains of the Western Kootenay in southern BC were glowing in the morning sun. That morning, my job was to inspect some of the high voltage electric power lines traveling over the rolling hills of Nelson, Castlegar area. Two of us were having a tough climb in our 4x4 through the unpaved roads which in many instances were non-existent. After a ride of close to an hour, we arrived next to an electric station where we were to meet few other guys. The folks were not there yet. I checked my watch. It was close to 10:30 am. I looked around. Miles and miles of rolling hills of West Kootenay covered with dense pine trees. No other sound except the cricket…a total sound of silence.

“I will be back in a few minutes,” I told my colleague.

“Where are you going?” he asked

“Nature’s call,” and I entered the dense pine trees with a bottle of water and a small roll of toilet tissues. I walked inside about a 100 feet through the pines. It was dark and the blazing sun hardly could penetrate the pine forest. A dim glow of the daylight and the sound of cricket are all I could see and hear. I am used to it, but that moment I felt a bit uncanny. Crap! I forgot to bring the bear spray from the truck! Oh, well! It’s a bit late now. I kept my eyes and ears open when doing my business. It was about 3-4 minutes, the glimpse of the large black bear walking behind the dense trees about 40 feet away was unmistakable. I froze. There is nothing I could do at that moment. Trying to run away from the beast was a non-starter. It could easily outrun me in its territory. Even had I succeeded, I don’t think it would have been a pretty sight for the others to watch me running with my pants down! The bear didn’t come close, although it was walking behind the trees slowly. I could see the bear easily, and there is no reason to believe the beast didn’t see me. And I was surprised why it didn’t charge me when I was totally helpless. No, it was my stars that decided that my time was not up yet. I stayed frozen, God knows how long ; it seemed eternity. When I came out of the bushes, my colleague was relieved to see me.

“Why the hell are you so late? I was worried.” he asked

“Well, TCB, my friend…Taking Care of Business.”

Lesson learned – Always stay prepared when in wilderness!



Hanoi, Vietnam

I arrived in Hanoi just the night before and I was all charged up for my paragliding in the Doi Bu Mountain. I finished my second cup of coffee and came outside the hotel. It was cloudy. Soon Milu came to pick me up in her motorcycle and we joined the folks of Hanoi Paragliding Club in a coffee shop. I was supposed to jump with Duong, an ex pilot of the Vietnam Airforce. Miho, the Jap from the UN is second in line. We all headed to the mountain in two cars some 50 km away. Once we came outside the city limit, the dark cloud rolled in. Not a good sign! We got out of from our car in a farm land near the foothills, and looked up. A thick blanket of fog covered the top of the mountain. Duong and I decided to go up the mountain to check out if we could see the drop zone. Two motor cycles roared in and we headed up the mountain with all our gears. The road was steep, muddy and full of rocks. Duong was lucky. He and his rider went ahead to reach the top. I was not so lucky. My motorcycle slipped few times with my gear and the rider. I told the guy to ride alone with my gear and I decided to walk up the mountain. Once I started walking, I realized it’s not so easy to navigate the mud and rock in my jump suit and the helmet. I looked around, and nothing but heavy fog hugging the dense forest. The visibility was poor and other than some crickets inside the jungle around me, it was eerie silence. I felt jittery. . Not a soul within miles, both motorcycles have disappeared and I didn’t have the walkie-talkie with me. I have no idea what lives inside those Vietnam jungles and I didn’t have any desire to meet one of them in this desolate mountain. Oh, forget it, I told myself. No time for day dreaming and it’s still a long climb. So I started to climb along the steep mountain road, navigating the rocks and mud. I climbed about half hour or so and just stood there for a moment to catch my breath. I looked around and saw nothing but jungles, water dripping down from the leaves in the dense fog. Suddenly I had a premonition that I was being watched by a predator inside the dense bamboo trees. No, the beast didn’t come from the back with a sudden jump. The black cat emerged from the bushes across the road with careful steps. It looked at me with a pair of glaring amber eyes. It’s about 4 ft in length, and total black with heavy paws. Initially, I mistook it as a wild dog, but soon I realized it is not a dog. It was bigger than a dog with muscled legs. I was not sure what it was but it reminded me of a black panther. I totally froze. A shiver crawled down my spine. Other than the helmet, I don’t have any hard material to defend myself. And if it charges me, the helmet would not be much of a help anyway. My natural reflex was to run by my senses told me, don’t. It would be the most foolish thing to do as the beast can outrun me in seconds. I knew from Jim Corbett books, if you look straight into the eyes of a killer beast, and don’t make a move, they slowly go away. I didn’t know if that works. But I tried it anyway, because I had no other choice. I stayed motionless and we kept measuring each other with our eyes. I was relieved that it was not wagging its tail. Without moving my eyes from the beast, I watched its hind legs through the corner of my eyes…no, muscles were not twitching, it’s not ready to charge yet. God knows how long we kept staring at each other…it seemed an eternity. I even forgot how to blink. The stance may have worked. The beast slowly turned around and disappeared inside the dense bamboo forest. My legs gave up, I slumped on a rock. I was mentally exhausted and it drained all my energy. But I knew, I have to move, otherwise I may not be lucky the next time. Slowly I got up and started climbing the slope. After fifteen minutes of climb, I heard a motorcycle noise. You know, when you don’t care for such sounds in normal life, at that moment it felt like a sound from the heaven. My rider dumped the gear at the mountain top, put a metal chain around the front tire for a better grip and came back to pick me up. I must have done a good Karma in life that my stars were still smiling at me! When I reached the mountain top, Duong was in walkie-talkie and he gave me the bad news. We couldn’t jump from the Doi Bu due to the fog and turned around for climbing a different mountain. And sure we made the jump there in the fading twilight amid the rolling fog. My trip to Hanoi didn’t go in vain after all!



‘Sundarban’, the largest mangrove delta

The literal translation of the word means ‘beautiful forest’. Shared between Bangladesh and extreme south of West Bengal in India, it is a vast delta in Bay of Bengal. It is the largest mangrove forest in the world and the 10,000 square km of the mangrove forest is the home of the famous Royal Bengal Tigers. Usually a tiger becomes man-eater when he or she is injured and cannot prey the jungle animals. No, not in ‘Sundarban’. The tigers there are man-eaters by nature. There are many theories to support that. My interest to visit Sundarban was to get a glimpse of a man-eater. It’s hard to spot them though. If you are there in the jungles, it’s very likely that you are being watched, but you can’t spot them. If come close to spot them, generally it’s very late…you are done! Despite, people live deep in the villages. They make a living either by fishing or collecting honey from the bee-hives deep inside the jungle. It’s a struggle of survival for them. Often, they become prey. No, I didn’t have the slightest intention to encounter the beasts. I just wanted to have a glimpse of them in the wilderness from a safe distance.

It was an overnight boat trip in the delta. My friend in Kolkata arranged the trip and he agreed to join me. It was a long bus ride to reach the river and we boarded the boat at noon. I didn’t have any idea how vast the delta is and how many rivers join the mainstream. The boat traveled along the endless rivers and tributaries….it seemed never ending. Unless one knows the geography well, it’s easy to get lost. Both sides of the rivers are covered with dense mangrove forest. We stopped in a couple of places to walk through the areas protected by 40-50 feet high barbed wire. It was mid-day, but all around was a steely silence. Not even a single bird. It’s an eerie feeling. We were walking inside a fortified cage where the Man-eaters were probably watching us from the outside jungle. We walked a safe distance from the fence. No sight of the beasts!

The plan was to sail during the high tide and anchor in the night during the low tide. The boat anchored in the mid river just before sundown. The jungles by the riverside appeared to be a fearful place in the looming darkness. We sat on the deck after our dinner enjoying the darkness. Around 9 pm the captain suggested that we empty the deck and go inside our rooms. Although the deck was quite high up, still it was not quite safe we were told. And the crews wouldn’t take any chance. It’s not uncommon that the tiger swims in the low tide darkness and attempt to get its prey from the boat. Our rooms were one level down the stairs. I entered my room. It was a small room with only one window. Although the window was protected with metal grill, I could easily slide my arm through the gap. We were asked to close the window. It was hot like hell inside the room with only one table fan. I decided to keep the window open to get some fresh air. The bed was tucked at the other end and I made sure I am away from the window. Yes, it’s probably not a life risk when protected by the metal grill, but that does not guarantee of losing an arm if I am too close to the window. I was tired and soon fell asleep. Not sure what time of the night it was when I woke up with an uncanny feeling. It was a smell. A stuffy bad smell woke me up. I looked through the window. I couldn’t see anything in pitch dark. But I sensed a movement. I woke up and slowly sat on the bed and trained my eyes in the darkness. No, still couldn’t see anything. But I heard a sound, a distinct sound as if something fell in the water. I got up and turned the light on. Within minutes, I heard the sound of the drums and screaming. I took my camera and dashed out of the room to the deck. The crews were out with high power lights. Yes, our guest swam the river and paid us a visit. Nothing happened. I told the crews about the smell and they told me off for keeping the window open. Damn, so close, but I missed the Man-eater. On my way back, I decided I will make another trip, another time…deep inside the delta and the mangrove forest. I have to face the beast. One day, I may run out of luck. But the gene that I inherited from my father, it’s hard to resist the Nature’s call!


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21st May 2017

Adventures
I always enjoy reading about your adventures, though I don't know that I would go out of my way to see a man-eating tiger. I bet seeing the black cat was cool, though.
21st May 2017

Adventures
Thanks Karen, you are so right. It's not a good idea to face such things all the time....especially when it happens, I say to myself, 'no more'. But it keeps coming to me. The black cat really took my breath away, I must say I was lucky!
22nd May 2017

Tiger tiger burning bright, in the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye. Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
What amazing stories! You are quite the adventurer.
22nd May 2017

Tiger tiger burning bright...
Wow! Amazing lines. You do well remember that, Bob! Good to hear from you! I'm glad that you liked the stories. Actually, my Dad used to have more stories about his close brush with the cats. That was his regulars in the green hills of Assam! I get just a bit of it. But sure I feel the adrenaline rush alright!
22nd May 2017

Black Panther
Enjoyed your apprehensions conveyed in your close encounters Tab. But the one I really enjoyed was the black panther. You convey your trepidation and fair enough. You are entering its territory. But in hindsight did you feel the rush...the awe of staring into the eyes of one of Nature's great cats in the wild...that connection of man and beast...frozen in time,...fixed prolonged assertive stare from both of you...eyeing each other off...then the relief when its over. I reckon that would be priceless.
22nd May 2017

Black Panther
Hi Dave, Thank you for your comment. As you have mentioned about the black cat, let me tell you.....I was cornered and there was no place to go, no cave to hide ,...I focused my full self in zeroing in the eyes of the black cat, concentrating my gaze with every effort in my body and for those moments I lost the concepts of minutes and seconds. The only thing I could see is a pair of glazing amber eyes...glowing in the fog. Yes, that experience was priceless, right you are!
23rd May 2017

Lucky you!
Wow I was really glued to the lines the whole time. I think you're very lucky in two ways. First of all you are still alive and didn't get hurt. Second, you got the chance to see such incredible animals in the wild. Especially now that there are not many of them left! I wish I could someday have a similar experience to yours with the black panther.
23rd May 2017

Lucky You!
Yes, I was lucky. But luck may run out sometimes. Actually, my dad had s o many of his stories. He used to take the government authorized trees out from the dense forests in Assam, India. I heard so many stories from him.... but the black panther took my breath away that day in Hanoi. I would have been sure dead if he would have charged me. "You live to see another day".
1st June 2017

The adventures of Tab
I chuckled and held my breath as I read various pieces of this story. Life is to be experienced and lived and you certainly do both. Close encounters are great stories and makes you remember you are alive!
1st June 2017

The adventures of Tab
Thank you for your comment. Actually it is you MJ who suggested once to write about my Delta experience....and it always bugged me that I didn't get around to write that. Finally! I must have inherited the gene from my Dad and he used to tell me so many of his experiences.....! Thanks for reading and enjoying.

Tot: 2.933s; Tpl: 0.118s; cc: 18; qc: 43; dbt: 0.0424s; 2; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.4mb