It was the last day of an expedition into Namdapha National Park. The three of us – me, Bhaskar and a tribal porter, were about fifteen miles deep inside the mighty forest, and to get to the nearest civilization seemed like a far-reaching dream. But yet, we couldn’t stop – not in this dense jungle. The day had already started on a bad note. We had taken a wrong turn somewhere in the mountains and had gotten separated from the main group. None, from the three of us, knew the way around these very-remote forests. To add to our worries, it had started raining and the terrain had come alive – with the menace of leeches, by the sting of spiky-poisonous plants, and by slimy mud; which was absolutely impossible to walk on. All we had with us, was our instincts for survival and prayers to God. Thankfully, one of us had come to these parts a few years back, and he had a very vague memory of the routes. And when you are lost, anything that sounds like the faintest of possibility, becomes the action to be performed.
We kept walking, following our instincts, and after two hours of clueless-roaming around, we found one of the expedition guides waiting for the three of us lost souls. We were relieved to see his familiar face, and so was he to see us. It was quite a momentous moment – to know that we were going to be alive. I felt a deep respect for the forest. That a man is nothing in front of its mightiness.
But we still had a long way to go, and it was already quite late. It was on this next phase of our walk, that we came across a sweet little surprise. Somewhere nearby in the river-bed, we spotted something quite huge and mammal-like moving. We went a little closer, only to realize that is was a Red Giant Flying Squirrel that was crawling away from us. The porter asked me whether he should go and catch the cute-looking animal. The opportunity to see this exotic animal up-close was quite tempting and so, I gave my nod to the porter. It was amazing to see the porter run after this wild animal – like the hunter instincts within him had been awakened. I looked at him with wonder, hoping and praying to God that all he does is just catch the squirrel and not kill it. It did not take much time for the expert porter to catch the animal, and upon doing so, the first thing he asked me, was whether he should kill the squirrel. I was shocked to hear his hunting-induced words. Being a wildlife enthusiast, killing this exotic animal seemed outside the limit of things that I do. I boldly told the porter to not kill the squirrel and gave him a good lecture on why it is important to save the wildlife and forests. It seemed to me that he did appreciate my concern for wildlife and the environment, and I could sense a little enthusiasm towards wildlife rising in the mind of the tribal.
The squirrel was huge. It looked exotic, had big claws, a long furry tail and a majestic glider that enables it to glide high up in the forest canopy. On closer inspection, we found that it was injured and bleeding. It was not being able to walk properly. I did not want to leave the hurt animal in the middle of this wild forest, as I was sure that it would fall prey to any of the many predators that roam the Namdapha jungle. In the rule of the jungle, an easy catch is always an easy catch. I cajoled the porter into carrying the squirrel back to the camp, where we were headed to. Surprisingly he agreed. And to tell you, there are a very few people in the world who will be up for the challenge of carrying in bare hands, a alive Giant Flying Squirrel for five hours, whilst battling a terrain as rough and difficult as Namdapha. We had rivers to cross, muddy-slippery mountains to climb, leeches were sucking on us, and yet, the porter never gave up. His hands were bleeding from the many cuts made by the menacing nails of the squirrel. I respect such a man – of determination like a unshakable rock. After five more hours of rain-forest trekking, of which three hours was in total darkness, we arrived at Deban, the main camp of the National Park. It felt glorious, to have survived the jungle. We had started our trek at 9 A.M and we reached at 9 P.M. Twelve hours of experiencing the thrilling intensity of life. Thankfully, the squirrel had made it. We handed it over to the officials of the forest department, and they promised to take good care of him. Hopefully, this lucky squirrel is alive and happily nibbling at some juicy piece of wood. And a deep thank-you to the porter, without whom, this story wouldn’t be possible.