Hello folks who wondered if I indeed overdosed on Fentanyl this time around,

Hint: Not just yet.

The weekly blog will still take some more time to get back on track due to the ongoing negotiations with the insect and arachnid workers union after they went on a strike demanding better representation in the media. Till then, I have a story of a hike that went sideways during my trip to India in Fall 2022.

First, let me set the stage. Anyone who knows me knows that I like to live life dangerously. Take public transit, eat Taco Bell for breakfast, go on hikes by myself, put pineapple on my pizza and wear the face mask below my nose. One of the things I had on my list during my trip to India was to go on a night hike to Garbett Point.


As per the internet, Garbett point is a popular hiking destination with a mountain viewpoint providing vistas of a plateau, green hills and waterfalls. The elevation is about 2600 feet and is a scenic hike during the monsoon season. The thing about this hike is that most people do this during the day, but I wanted to hike at night. (*readers start rolling their eyes). You can already tell I wasn't interested in any of those vistas, I was more interested in the critters of the night.

The plan was to start the hike in the afternoon, reach the spot just before dark, then use flashlights to navigate through the darkness of the forest before emerging on the other side and stay at a hotel for the night. My friend thought this was a good plan (yes, I only select people who agree with me to be my friends).

Things never go as planned in life since my friend had some work to take care of and we couldn't start the hike before 5:00 PM.

The starting point of the hike had a lake and it looked like the one shown below. You can observe how green everything is since it is the monsoon season, but that also makes everything muddy and rocks slippery.


During the hike, the first thing that caught my eye was this honey bee flying around from flower to flower.


Just like a kid at a candy store or a young adult at a boba shop, I can't wait to get my hands on any things flying or flitting in nature. So, I ended up catching this honey bee like I typically do with the Western Honey Bee we find in California. But this was no ordinary honey Bee, this was a Giant Honey Bee. (DUN-DUN-DUUUUN!!!)


Giant Honey bees unlike other species of honey bees, can't be selectively bred, by being bribed into making honey for humans by providing them with a wooden bee box in return. Why, you ask? Because Giant honey bees construct their hives on high branches or cliffs and since they are truly wild, are more aggressive than domesticated honey bees. These bees represent what the domesticated Latte drinking & Avocado toast eating honey bees would have been, had they not given up their freedoms and shook hands with humans.

In addition, as their name suggests, the workers of this species can be almost twice the size of the Western Honey bee workers with a longer, slender abdomen. Which is why I was caught by surprise when I found myself vulnerable to a honey bee sting when I held this individual using the same technique that works while handling the honey bees we find in California. Got a feisty one here, don't we?


As we walk around the lake to start the ascent, I spot something moving in the water. Going closer to the water, I see a herd of domesticated water buffalos wallowing in the water. These buffalos love to spend time in water since they have a dark-colored coat which heats their bodies faster than cows in these hot and humid places. 

 

It was then we realized that we are still in the easy phase of the hike and losing daylight fast. So we hurry up and start climbing the hill. This is the view of the lake from a spot we stopped to take a rest. Take note of the abundance of lush greenery on the hills. 


One thing in common across all the blogs and directions I read about the hike was that hikers will come across a tiny village, which is the last place to refill your water bottles and then it is all uphill to the destination, taking about an hour or so to reach. As we approach the village, we are surrounded by paddy fields where villagers grow rice. We run into a villager who is returning home after working in the town close to the lake, who gives us the direction to go past the village and stick to the trail, which is easier said than done. By the time we reach the village, it starts to rain so we take shelter under a roof in the village. That is when I pop out the good ol' Google to help us with the directions because we see a fork in the road. Why life, why?

Google is great when you use it to find directions in urban areas or paved roads with GPS being able to locate you with reasonable accuracy. In our case the accuracy was pretty low, which meant it couldn't tell you which road you are on till you are much further along the road. So we ended up picking a direction that Google suggested and found ourselves at a sewage section of the village. That is when I felt something moving near my feet. Out comes the flashlights and the curiosity. It is a species of toad that is in the list of 10 most unwanted species introduced in Australia.
Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands phones together for the Asian common toad.


Karan stop playing with the toad, you have somewhere to reach. Oh yes, thanks for the reminder. After the toad encounter, we decide to approach a house and ask for help since Google is not helping our cause. The villagers, confused as to why someone would want to hike at night, keeping their judgements aside, direct us to a trail that should lead us to our final destination. So off we go, while we are passing by all houses, you couldn't help but notice these villagers gaze at these two weird, bumbling hikers. As soon as we go past the village boundary, I see something scuttling across the trail.

Freshwater crabs can be found in shallow freshwater habitats like rivers, lakes and wetlands and this one seems to be running towards the closest water body.


Moving on, we are met with multiple forks in the road, so we do what we knew best at that time, i.e. rely on Google Maps to show us the way. Since the accuracy is pretty low, even though we are on a trail, it shows that we are walking parallel to the trail. The beauty of night hikes, apart from not worrying about putting any makeup on, is that your eyes pick up the slightest of sounds and lights. And when you have your trail covered with fireflies which are technically beetles (fire beetles do not roll off the tongue as fireflies), it is hard to miss this spectacle.


Now all this sounds fun and games, that is because the reality is yet to sink it. The trail leads us to a door made of tree branches which I suspect was to stop the cattle from going in or out. Opening the door, we find ourselves at village no. 2. None of the blogs I read mentioned there would be more than one village which all points to one thing: we don't know where we are going.

Imagine you are a villager, what would you do once it gets dark. There is no bar hopping or nightlife in villages, so everyone just retires to their homes as darkness falls. To keep an eye out for intruders, they will raise a bunch of stray dogs who will start barking at any non-resident that passes through their village. As soon as we close the door behind us, the dogs pick up our odor and start barking like crazy. We can't see them but their sounds start becoming louder. Not wanting a confrontation with either the dogs or the villagers at this time of the night, we make a beeline to the paddy fields in this village. Once we are at a significant distance from the houses, we fall back to Google for help once again.

At this point, I know we are not getting any helpful directions from Google, but just like an abused partner in an abusive relationship, I can't think of anywhere else to go to, so I just stick to what I have at hand. This becomes evident when after crossing village no. 2, the trail Google Maps is asking us to follow is actually a creek. Since it rained an hour earlier, all the rocks are slippery and the last thing I want is to fall in the creek while walking close to it. So, I make an executive decision to find our own path and just use Google to tell us if we are moving closer or further from the destination.

Crossing a couple more paddy fields and brushing through dense vegetation while emerging with a few nicks I spot this House Gecko on the side of a paddy field.


Soon, we reach village no. 3. If we had any doubts earlier that we don't know what we are doing, reaching this village sealed the deal. All the houses in this village have called it a night since we don't see one house with their lights on. The only lights illuminating our path are the street lights. Soon, the dogs sense our presence and they come running towards us. In a flash, we are surrounded by 5 stray dogs barking at us from all sides, but cautious enough to not get closer than 6 feet. The loud barking of the dogs alerts the villagers and you could see the lights turning on in the houses one after the other. Several villagers gather around us, curious to see who would be trespassing their village at this time of the night.

We explain how we ended up here and where we intend to go. Advising us that it is not safe for the night to hike uphill in this weather, we should probably head towards the closest village (that would be village no. 4) that will have cabs to take us back to the train station. Assuring them that this is our only chance to make it to the top, we inquire about the directions to our destination instead of the neighboring village.

They point us towards a path and ask us to follow it, which will take us to where we want to go. We thank them and then proceed on our way.

The path we are walking is something Google is not even aware of, but old habits die hard and so we, while taking this path, measure our progress by whether we are inching closer or further from our destination on Google Maps.

Hiking in the night is all fun and games, but when the road forks into 5 different tiny trails it becomes tiring figuring out which ones to take. The same thing during a day hike, one could easily observe that 4 out of those 5 forks end up joining back up again but not at night. Why? Because you have a limited view of the path using the flashlight and it becomes much harder for your brain to comprehend the bigger picture instead of just focusing on the things illuminated by your flashlight.

This is what we were dealing with.


The way I was figuring out which paths to take was to observe which trails did not have as much vegetation which would indicate the constant use by humans or animals and thus suppress vegetation growth. Despite our best efforts, we ended up at dead ends that would have led us to fall off a cliff if we did not have flashlights. Add slippery rocks and muddy trails to the mix and it is an accident waiting to happen.

It was then my friend mentioned his flashlight ran out of battery. It is so hard to walk around even with a flashlight, walking minus one will just make us more vulnerable to accidents. So we backtrack to a spot that has a patch with barren soil and sit down to figure out our options. The reason I chose the barren patch is not to accidentally step or disturb any nocturnal snakes which might just be hiding amongst the grasses.

At this point, we have four three options:
1. Keep exploring and walking on the paths in hope we will make it to the destination.
2. Go back to the village no. 3 and ask to spend the night at one of their homes.
3. Sleep on this patch till the sun clocks in for its next shift.
4. Check on Kylie Jenner's latest Instagram post.

I am contemplating my options but watching my friend yawn and lie down, I have no option but to go with Option 3 since we are quite a distance away from the last village and an injury on the way down will make me regret this decision for a long time and there is no one who can hear our shout for help.

I call my dad, and tell him we are safe but lost and still exploring our options. After ending the call, I lie on my back and start to wonder how the night will progress from here?

To be honest, this was the easy part.

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