Travel is all about experience – the mundane, the thrilling, the fun, the pain, the unexplainable, and the expected…I can go on and on but you got the drift right. But travel is also about meeting people and trying to fathom a bit of them. I am not sure how many of you know the Medicine Man of Wayanad. I had heard stories about him and I was definitely curious about him. I just had to meet him. The place where he lived almost touched the inner rims of Wayanad forest.
Now forest routes, as I have learnt, are pretty tricky to understand and trust me the mobile maps fail when encountering a forest. I got lost twice, rode along the outskirts of forest and went almost 10 km ahead of the route I am supposed to be on, all in vain. Finally, I took help of locals, who suggested a shortcut through the jungle but also warned me against elephants.
Now, post my ride through the forest sanctuary which was a so called shortcut and so I was bit hesitant of pushing my luck in the wild but then decided to give it a shot. Just as I took the forest road, it greeted me with a flock of deer, galloping gracefully. I went further and deeper into the forest till I came across a small tribal kind of mud-house. In my mind I was almost expecting the medicine man to be some paint covered, sombre looking man, with feathers in his head, muttering under his breath; but alas this wasn’t his abode. Here was a simple frail old man repairing a plough. I rode my motorcycle towards him lifting my helmet’s visor and giving him a smile which he grasped well and gave a smile in return with a wave of his hand. I park my bike a little ahead in his compound and walk back towards him.
I introduce myself and told him why I happened to be there. He gave me an amused smile and asked me to rest on the porch of his house. We were joined by his son Jishin and all of us sat chatting about a lot of things i.e forests, the animals, my love for the jungles and so on. While at it, Jishin, seeing my enthusiasm for the place I was in asked me if I would love to take a stroll inside the forest and watch the glory of it. To my obvious acceptance with a grin Jishin & me decided to go for a little walk in the forest.
While I was strapping my shoes, Jishin said “You wait here, I will be right back” and moments later he landed up with his friend Sugesh and ‘a machete’ – he told me the machete was for protection. Nevertheless, the machete did do a good job of reminding me of what I was getting into. We covered the half of length of the grassland which was in between his house and the forest when we met another gentleman who had rescued a wild bird from the forest who was chased by a predator. He was taking it home for treatment and would later release the bird back in the forest. It was lovely to hear how in-sync they lived with nature. Through the way Jishin climber a gooseberry tree and plucked some ripe and shiny looking gooseberries for me. We snacked on ripe gooseberries while we kept walking.
We were pretty deep in the forest now where we came across a small pond of water with elephant footprints on its banks which was the indication that it wasn’t advisable to venture deeper and disturb the peace of forest. So, we decided to turn back. On our way back, we stopped at a little stream. Jishin and his friend Sugesh were narrating stories about the jungle and the sightings of leopards and tigers they had near the stream. Jishin was watching out for elephant throughout the walk, but, all we saw were flocks of adorably shy deers and antlers, peeping through bushes and hopping away.
We were walking back towards the grassland when all of sudden Sugesh stopped and asked us to be quiet. He pointed a finger towards the bushes. And, I saw the most magnificent treat of my entire journey. This was one sight I craved for days. A great big Tusker, in all his wild glory, standing in the deep bushes and grazing. The massive ivory tusks shone in the light streaming through the trees, the trunk swaying and ears fanning lazily was a sight to behold. I just couldn’t have enough of him. We kept quiet and followed his royal, proud walk. All of sudden the gigantic pachyderm stopped walking, and as his senses had discovered us, he turned and looked straight at us. He was flapping his ears now and rotating his tail fast. Jishin whispered to me “He is angry, get back”. We retreated slowly. The tusker took a step ahead towards us and that cue was enough for us to run. But the elephant had other plans. When we stopped and looked back he went gracefully to the stream, crossed to the other side and proceeded deep in the forest.
We stood still with our hearts in our mouths watching him go. It did give us a little scare, I agree, but it was worth it. We walked back towards Jishin’s house and sat on the porch.
I started changing into something more comfortable, all the while reminiscing the the time I just had. For Jishin and Sugesh it was just another encounter but for me this first encounter with an elephant would be etched in my mind for some time. I happened to sense something wrong in my shin portion of my leg inside the pant which was tucked inside my high ankle boots. Absentminded, I pulled off my pant and was immediately aware of the metallic smell of blood and some stinging sensations – first leech attack of my life.
My entire feet and socks were drenched in blood and the socks were so wet that it had blood dripping from it. I opened my socks to find 4 big leeches feasting on my blood which fell off after they had their belly filled. Jishin’s father came to rescue with some herb and a piece of newspaper. The old man very caringly, cleaned the blood from my leg, then stuck the newspaper bits on the wounds which was followed by killing those big fat leeches with the machete. After this I rode back to the town 7kms away to have my lunch and when I returned, Jishin asked me to stay with them for the night and that they will be there for company. This, is what I exactly needed and this is what I exactly do.
By evening I was pretty ok so when Jishin asked me if I wanted to try fishing at some pond on the other side of the jungle, I was all game. After walking for half a mile with a flowing stream to our right and a small mudhill to our left, we reached a place where the water gets accumulated and deep and where villagers usually do fishing. Just after the mudhill there was a left turn which opened up to another vast area of grassland and being a very breezy dry evening we thought of taking a walk finding hares and deers hopping which had now become a usual sight. Before we could venture further, they stopped again signalling presence of elephant and I stood there, wondering at their awesome talent to recognize elephant presence by the smell. We found another elephant, this time in the bushes across the border of the grassland some 100-150 mtrs away doing his munching business with his face towards us. Jishin went near the animal cautiously to stand on a rock and in the next moment the elephant stopped grazing and flapping his ears. It stood there unmoved staring at us, and just like that out of nowhere he gives a charge. He was literally running towards us with his trunk held up.
Now, I want you guys to imagine this scenario – A forest, full of trees & shrubs & entangling weeds and a giant tusker chasing at 100-150 odd metres. Yes, we ran as our ass was on fire, chappals all forgotten on the way. While on the run, I look behind to check the reality and yes the elephant was still on the roll and what happened next was running as fast as possible with the dslr in my hand and take the right turn on the other side of the mudhill. As for me, I was almost sure of impending death by elephant. Finally, thanks to the big mud hill we were out of sight for the elephant, so it stopped. Lesson learnt – if elephant is charging you need to get out of his sight or else it will keep chasing u. One more lesson – be careful what you wish for, you may really get it.
Stopping for another 15 minutes and taking long breath we decided to go back and get the chappals and yes we went back to find the elephant a little far from the earlier location. We hurried with our chappals and walked back to the village again seeing and being cautious looking around for any further sightings as for me I was not in my condition of running any further and fast.
We reach the village to see a folk of village guys sitting on a heap of stones. We engaged ourselves in story telling of the incident we had and the adrenaline we experienced. For Jishin and Sugesh it was another daily routine but for me it was the most adrenaline kicking experience till date. The evening followed with Jishin and Sugesh bringing a bottle of rum and some Jackfruit chipps freshly fried by Jishin’s mom and some raw jackfruit shreds with grated coconut mixed with some sugar. We feasted on the rum and chips beside a bonfire lit by Jishin’s father who while making the fire says “Although it’s not cold, we need to have fire to keep away the elephants and tigers”. I couldn’t say anything further. After a round of 2 pegs of brandy mixed in the well water I got up to taking a flashlight. I faced the grasslands where we had a walk in the afternoon and threw the light on the grassland to see 100s of golden eyes of deers looking towards the source of light I was holding. A pitched dark night with a possibility of tiger and elephant encounters, watching the 100 deer eyes was enough to make this trip of mine successful. Yes, I smiled within, looking at Jishin and Sugesh who were tipsy after a few pegs and busy talking within themselves in Malayalam which was beyond my grasp. I was happy I took the wrong route, I was happy I took the shortcut, I was happy I met the old man and these two guys and I was more happy to have someone known as friends to whom I can go back to in such a beautiful place on earth.