Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lost in the leopard territory (Ganges/Yamuna trail 5)

Ganges Yamuna Trail

Uttarkashi and Thalan (Ganges/Yamuna trail 1)
Uttarkashi to Agoda (Ganges/Yamuna trail 2)
Agoda to Dodital (Ganges/Yamuna trail 3)
High altitude meadows of Himalayas (Ganges/Yamuna trail 4)
Lost in the leopard territory (Ganges/Yamuna trail 5)
Lost in the mountains again (Ganges/Yamuna trail 6)
Arrival in Hanumanchatti (Yamuna Odyssey 7)
Dinner in Hanumanchatti (Yamuna Odyssey 8)
Yanuma Dreams (Yamuna Odyssey 9)
Hanumanchatti to Kharadi Falls(Yamuna Odyssey 10)
Yamuna in Barkot (Yamuna Odyssey 11)
हम भी मिले थे कभी जमुना किनारे. (We met by the river Yamuna) (Yamuna Odyssey 12)

It is 4PM in high altitude territory. Since we begin our climb to Darwa pass, and then beyond the pass; in all these about 20 kilometers we saw just one Gujjar and then we find a group of organized trekkers camping in a meadow at the edge of woods at 4PM when sun is about to set behind the mountains. Whole party is trekkers is drinking.
Mr. Samwal their organizer is very abusive to us.
We decide to move ahead alone.
Mr. Samwal shouts to Briana in his halting English, “This man will rape you and kill you in the jungle or you will simple get lost and die anyway, you both Romeo and Juliet duo. You White Trash and your buddy Porter, hey you penny pincher.”
Briana keeps walking along me with tears in her eyes. She is very scared in this ruthless cold wilderness. We are listening to the whistles and hoots of those ten men.
As we walk towards jungle, I see a porter from their party coming from the thicket with a bundle of firewood on his head. I ask him for the directions to Hanumanchatti and as he is about to open his mouth to say a word; Mr Samwal shouts at him and threaten him to beat him up if he utters a word to us. Porter moves on without talking with us.

Alpine meadows of Himalayas also called Bugyal in local language
Briana is weeping and I am very angry but only laugh loud to assure her that everything will be fine. We enter in the pathless dense foliage. We wasted one good precious hour with those rogue people.
After some kilometers of walk in the jungle I am sure that we are lost. Now I can see the sun that came out from the clouds but to hide behind the mountain. I realize that we were not walking in the North West direction but in the north direction. We made a steep decline but then it turns into a impassable ravine and we walk to the only passable direction and now we are climbing. It is not a good symptom because we are again getting closer towards a snowy mountain and moreover valley is closing up to the mountain.
What to do?
High Altitude Meadows
High Altitude Meadow


Then I notice that Briana is not walking with me. With her heavy load I can only look at my toes. I think my back is permanently bent. I look back and she is sitting on the ground with her both hands on her eyes. May be she is hurt or panicked I drop her backpack and walk to her and find her weeping.
“I am going to die here.”
I laugh is off as usual but she is not convinced.
“It is not a laughing matter, I just saw a leopard.”
“May be your imagination is playing games.”
She shouts at me, “My imagination is not playing games; I heard something and looked back. It was a big cat about the size of a big dog and when it saw me looking at it, it disappeared like a whirl.”
“May be it was a mountain goat or something else.” I try to reason out with her because may be she saw a big cat or may be not. I must make her move, we cannot waste precious time. We must find some open meadow where we can keep an eye around us.
She sobbed, “You said that we will hang around near Darwa pass and find accommodating with some Gujjar family, we didn’t see any Gujjar family and we are lost and it is already dark.”
I said laughingly, “Tomorrow I will buy you a nice dinner in Hanumanchatti.”
“If I would be still alive by then but I don’t’ think so.”
I sit down beside her and make a chart of the current planetary situation. Who knows what turns out in the chart? I build the chart of the current time in Sayana system because I don’t believe in Vedic system.
As far as I remember from the newpaper that today at April 28 2009, Sun and Mercury are in Taurus, Moon in Gemini, Jupiter in Aquarius, Venus in Aries (very scary), Saturn in Virgo and Mars also in Aries. I use common sense to calculate the ascendant or rising sign. Since Sun rose in Taurus at around 6AM and it is about 5 PM. So ascendant should be in Libra and Venus, the lord of Ascendant is in Aries so it is a worse time anyway till half or one hour; or far as long as rising time changes. May be in around half hour ascendant may be in Scorpio, again Mars is in Aries, this is a good sign and time will be auspicious but on the other hand Venus is also in Aries and that is detrimental for Venus; so we are back to square one. Probably Venus only takes orders from Mars in Aries so I guess in half hour good time will start so we must wait for the ascendant to change.
This time is not right, I must let it pass away. Half hour or so.
Hope my astrology is correct but there is only one way to check if I am correct. I must find some planet in the sky.
Say Ascendant is in Libra now, Cancer must be above us. No planet in Cancer, I check Gemini, Leo and Virgo areas in the sky.
Earth and these other planets orbit the Sun in one flat plane or disk (actually only nine degree in angle)
Saturn is in Virgo so it must be in 45 degree in the east but it is not dark enough to locate the yellow Saturn near the mountain.
I give it up.
I decide to bid for some time that we ain’t got.
Each second is precious.

Chart of that time.
Since I carried Briana’s heavy backpack and I am very tired and near collapse state. I have no habit of walking with this kind of load at high altitudes. I ask her to make preparations for a cup of coffee because my senses are numb and I don’t want to take any decision with my current state of mind.
She is still hysteric and weeping.
“My father worked two jobs for ten year to make me a doctor. My mother worked long hours for many years as a waitress to make me what I am about to become,” – she points finger at me and screams – ,”And I will die here today. I am not afraid of death but I cry for my parents.”
“Wake up Briana, life demands action now at this moment. Please prepare coffee. Some fire around us may keep big cat away from us. I need a break or I will collapse.” 
Somehow she pulls herself together.
She takes out her butterfly stove but it needs kerosene from the bottle and I tell her to give it up. Her hands are violently shaking and I doubt it she can function. I walk around to find wood but wood is damp. Briana does not give up but fills the kerosene in her stove while half spilling it on the ground and prepares two cups of steaming black coffee.
I am not worried at all for myself. I have been to even worse situation many times.
Over the coffee I say to her for amusement, “Remember, you said Hanumanchatti or bust?”
She smiles but has no answer for it.
After coffee she asks me, “What next, I guess we all die one day and this place is as good as any other place?”
“Yes, this place is as good as any other place.”
She gives me a sarcastic face. “Hah!”
“Hanumanchatti or bust,” I say and I laugh, “unless you have some other definition for bust.”
I expect another fit of tantrum but then she listens to something and says to me, “Did you hear something? It is a dog.”
No I didn’t hear anything but my hearing is bad anyway and that is the reason I never made myself a pilot because I had problems listening on the radios and I gave it up after spending a fortune on this project.
She again tells me that she is hearing a dog barking.
But where?
She points to the east direction and says, “I think it is there.”
I tell her, “Wait for five more minutes in peace and make sure you are really listening to the dog.”
“Are you crazy, we ain’t got time. It is getting dark.”
So I again load myself and we begin walking in the east direction. We walk half kilometer and then we have to go around the thorny bushes and then I also hear dog barking. After passing a kopje like mound a meadow opens up after a swamp where I almost drown under the load of her backpack. She pulls me out in all her madness to make me move. I only wonder about her demonic strength. We walk up so to look from the height, my clothes and shoes are drenched in the mud, it is only adding to the weight.
We see many sheep grazing.
Briana spots one man sitting on the grass with two dogs.
We descend down and walk to the man.
Dogs bark and man is also now aware that we are approaching him. He waves us for not to worry about the dogs.
We reach to the man and stop there to catch our breath.
High Altitude Meadows
High altitude meadow
We ask the old man tending to his sheep if he can arrange us some shelter for night he plainly refuses. He says he himself is about to walk his sheep to somewhere else far away and his hut is empty. He is also genuinely worried about us. He tells us that we are way off from the directions to Hanumanchatti and we are lucky to find him in this hostile remoteness.
He gives us proper detailed directions to find his nephews saying that they may give us food and arrange a secure place for our night. He also mentions that even his nephews hut also way off from the Hanumanchatti trek because we are brutally deviated from the correct direction. He tells us to take his name (Feroz Baba) at their hut (if with the blessing of Allah, you find it) and they may do something about it. Privately this old gentleman whispers to me that it is Muslim territory and Gujjars are very shy of women especially gori women but you will be safer there near them.
He shakes hands with me and says, “Your security is in the hands of Allah so Allah Hafiz. Allah already saved your life once because he brought you to me otherwise you had no chance. You were going in the wrong directions and luckily you heard my dog.”
I shake hands with him.
Bismillah.
As we are again about to enter in the jungle.
Briana says, “I guess stopping for that cup of coffee saved our life. That pause gave us an ear to hear the dog otherwise my head was pounding.”
“Yes.”
“And I am not a fool, When I see a leopard, it is leopard, not some buffalo or goat.”
“Well, may be you saw a leopard. Once a leopard attacked me ..” I abruptly stopped. It was a wrong time to mention this to her.

Meadows of Himalayas
Then Briana says, “Did you hear the shout.”
“No I didn’t hear any shout.”
She looks back and tells me that old man is shouting at us, he wants to tell us something.
I turn to look, old man is waving his blanket and shouting something that I cannot understand. I dump the backpack on the earth and run back to him to listen what he wants to tell.
I am very annoyed that again I have to climb to see him.
Old man tells, “Make lots of noise in the woods and find two sticks and walk while banging the sticks on the rocks or leopards will kill you. Also make a habit of keep looking back because leopard attacks when one is unaware. When they feel some eyes are looking at them they restrain from attacking.”
“Chacha, why are you weeping,” I say because he is weeping.
He tells that last night he lost two sheep and a brave dog.
“That dog was like a son to me.”
I return back running but I don’t tell this to Briana so not to add to her fears but she anticipates it when I find two sticks and ask her to make a noise while walking. Also I tell her to keep looking back with wide open eyes.
Now I believe that her imaginations were not fooling her at this height. Indeed she saw a lurking leopard.

Sunset in the mountians
I again begin missing my flute. If I still had playing that flute, no leopard can dare to come near us. My stick is wet, soggy, mushy and heavy and anyway it breaks down. I pick up two stones and make rattling sound while walking. She also does the same.
In the dying daylight, we walk several kilometers of backbreaking up and down terrain and strictly follow the instructions those old man gave to me. Luckily each and every landmark arrives in successive sequence. Hollow tree, burnt meadow, red rock, half bent tree, three sister rocks, red water pond, a skeleton of a sheep etc. etc. Finally we come out of the jungle. Now we are at the edge of a meadow that climbs up to the snowy mountain.
At 7.30 PM it is week sunlight and dark is descending very fast. If we won’t spot any hut within fifteen minutes then I doubt if we will be able to spot a hut tonight. We keep walking and now it is barely enough light to find the way but not enough to follow the last of instructions.
“You must make a right at Three bhouj (paper-birch) trees and then again you must make a right at the round rock and then you will find a brook. Keep walking along the brook, you may have to cross it several times to find the path …..”
We keep walking. We spot some trees and we assume these are the same three bhouj trees although they are more than three. We find the brook, hope it is the same brook what old man was talking and then it is not enough light to find the path so we keep stumbling in and out of water in a rush. Actually she is in a running state and I am only following her. Many times I fall in the water but I always land upon her backpack and luckily its fabric is waterproof. Finally we come out of the woods and here begins the bottom of the meadow.
What next. We are suppose to find a hut on this vast meadow that is miles long and about a thousand feet high. Sun is completely gone behind the mountain in the west.
Suddenly it is almost dark.
Briana is shouting loud so hut people may hear her and respond.
I decide to burn my book to make some light to find some high ground among the rocks for wind shield also someone may notice the fire and respond. Brook is near and we may find some firewood so I am mentally prepared to spend my night here.

Sunset in the mountains.
After five minutes of shouting she is hoarse and tired, she gives it up and sits on the ground next to me.
I am again bracing myself for another round of tantrums.
To our luck a snowy mountain reflects crimson sunlight for some second. She spots a shining object on the high end of the meadow in our South.
“I bet my life that hut is there.”
Going there is a big deal, that place is at the high end of the meadow, just below the snow. We are away from the brook and away from the possible firewood. I am in no mood to haul her warehouse to that high end. I simply want to collapse and let the fate do whatever with me.
She starts running towards that place where she saw shining object.
I just wanted to sit here but now I am feeling very cold after some rest so I again begin walking or rather climbing a steep rugged slope.
To be continued.
P.S.
Pet dogs are especially vulnerable to leopard attacks. Since a snow leopard is only a slightly bigger than a dog and a pack of dogs think they may scare it away and that turns lethal for them. Leopard always gets the prey by neck whereas Lion grabs whatever comes first and begins eating from that part even if the victim is still alive, but leopard first kills the prey by neck. Usually it does it in a single shot.
I have known the cases when a single leopard killed 6 pet doges within one minute. Wild dogs have a bit more common sense.

Mountains
A leopard may attack at night also when it is focused upon the prey and following it or lurking behind it. Other animals rarely attack at night. Bears are known to attack at night because they are attracted by the smell of food on the cooking fires otherwise they never attack at night.
The leopards success in the wild due to opportunistic hunting behavior, its adaptability to habitats, its ability to run at speeds approaching 60 kms per hour, its unequaled ability to climb trees even when carrying a heavy carcass, and its notorious ability for stealth. In leopard territories people or cattle are never safe at night and most attack occur at nights.

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