Monday, 30 March 2015

[Nightout at forest] Trekking expedition gone awry

[28 March, 2015; 1:00 am]
I check the webmail and was pleasantly surprised to see a 4-6 hour trekking expedition planned out at 5:30 am the same day. Pumped up with joy, I decided to go with it. Who could have guessed the trek would be so much more than just a trekking expedition?

In the blink of an eye, the few hours roll by. Oh good Lord, it was raining quite heavily! My heart did skip a beat at the awful thought of the trek getting cancelled. But hey, were we lucky we still decided to go ahead with the expedition! :)

Semi-drenched in the heavy rain, we assemble at the faculty gate of the campus. Packed with 3 litres of water, some dry-fruits, bananas, milk, and chocolates; the backpacks sure felt heavy. We finally set onto the expedition.

We board a vehicle and reach the Basistha temple located some 31 km away from the campus. We are joined by our guide, a profession adventure enthusiast who has done search-and-rescue course in NIM. The entire team now comprised of 19 students, a Professor and the guide. A briefing on the practices of tackling dangers in forest, detecting danger using the wind direction, and loads of other instructions were imparted by the sagely guide. Who could have guessed, they would actually be put to use the same day!

Thus we began the 25 kilometre trek into the woods of Garbhanga Reserve Forest which is populated thickly with wild elephants, leopards and varied species of butterflies. Just a few metres into the trek and we had to wade through muddy landmasses. It was quite a sight embracing mother nature and the raw beauty. An hour and a half passes by walking in a single file along the narrow forest trail. Since a majority of the trekkers were first timers; we had to stop to take frequent breaks. We realized the 4-6 hour time span would be easily overshot. It was already 10:30 am in the morning. An hour later we stopped at a hamlet and had the fruits and plenty of fluids. We met some very hard-working villagers and it was quite a relaxing moment!

The forest trail started getting  really steep, and we were in fatigue. But then we were overjoyed to see a tree-house. Since it is really rare to encounter them in wilderness, some of us decided to climb the rickety, shaky, weak structure. A good 45 minutes later we resumed on our trek. The view of the scattered farming spots and the sight of butterflies was heartening to the tired bodies.

At 2 pm, we took a small meal of snacks and decided to complete the trek by sunset. Boy oh boy, we starting picking up pace so much so that were almost running along the forest-trail. The guide had infused into us the fear of encountering herd of wild elephants which are notorious for killing humans on multiple occasions.

The dry trail turned into a slippery one; many a times we would skid and slip along the path. The sight of a rivulet along the path was soothing but scary; since the elephants are sighted more often along water-bodies. But it soon became dark and we could hardly walk along the muddy slippery path. However we mustered on at the same pace.

"SNAP!" Wait! What was that?

Did we just hear bamboo breaking? It was dark already. Since we were close to half-an-hour from completing the trek; we wanted to reach the campus at the earliest, but did we just hear a herd of wild elephants along the path? We simply retraced out steps and ran! There was quite some panic!

We assembled dry leaves, bamboos, and cut up trees to fuel the fire. The crackling fire would hopefully scare the elephant(s) away from us. We climbed up some steep highland along the trail and devised strategies as and when the elephants come from certain directions. Everyone was so pro-active. We made a small bonfire, some were making sure the fire does not die out, some tied ropes to pull others up in case they are chased by elephants, and some were on the lookout for any movements or sounds.

It was all in a jiffy. Our supplies were up. The few drops of water left with us were shared across the team. It was quite a feeling. Cold, hunger, fear and weariness rolled in. We could not contact anyone in the outside world, as there was no telecom connection over there. And then while cutting wood, someone realized the signal of mobile was back. Everyone hoarded over there and started sending message to the security officials of IIT. But, it was only at 11:30 pm that one message finally got delivered.

Inspite of the breaking signal, with will-power we kept up the communication; while the fire was all bright and roaring with the constant input of the team members. But then, it started drizzling, and we were really scared at the thought of the bonfire dying out. It was a dark hour.

Midnight struck! I had turned 21!
People offered me the few chocolate pieces they had as a celebration! It sure was heartening! :) But, the fear of getting attacked by elephants and losing life at my birthday was traumatizing nevertheless!

The insects were causing a lot of trouble. It was already 2:30 am. And we had decided to have a night-out and escape in the morning when the elephants go back to their slumber.

Hey, wait! Was it a vehicle? The sound kept on increasing. Much to our respite, the forest officials had reached the forest! Were we actually being rescued?

It was a whole 10 minutes when the police located us. After a head-count the DSP congratulated us on getting rescued. Hardly had we sat in the vehicles that we all dozed off! Some minutes later it started raining cats-and-dogs. Had the police been some minutes late, the fire would have died off!
We later realized the trek would have taken just 30-40 more minutes had we not heard the sound of the probable herd of elephants!

Once we reached the police station, we were sent back to campus. The presence of police and IITG security was such a blissful experience, it can not be described in words. They simply can not be thanked enough!.

By 5 am we reached the campus and the majority of us simply fell asleep hungry.
We learnt lighting fires, reading danger signals in forest, cutting wood, enjoying mother nature and developed such a deep bonding amongst us! :)
The tired souls had been in a real adventure! It surely was an experience of a lifetime! :)

P.S. A day later the students were thrown a party by the Professor for the composure; and we celebrated the day to our full since we all were safe and sound!
            With loaded enthusiasm, we now intend to reach the base camp of the world's third highest mountain Mt. Kanchenjunga; famously regarded as the Goecha la trek. It is at a height of roughly 5000 metres in Sikkim.  These fitness treks would definitely serve the purpose! :)

Some memories of the trek :