Encouraged by the success of the trek to Dudhsagar falls, (success meaning that all the legs that embarked on the trek, returned back still attached to their owner’s bodies) the Early Birds of Ponda swimming pool, as the group called itself now (early FISH of PSP?) decided to go on a night visit to the Bhagavan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary which is at a distance of about thirty five kilometers from Ponda, off the Ponda - Belgaum road. The forest department has erected some tents inside the forest and we had planned to camp there for the night. The idea was to reach the forest late evening, cook a dinner, eat it (if edible and entirely at one’s own risk) and roam the forest for an hour or two. Then spend the remaining part of the night in the tents and return to Ponda the next morning. Either that or get up very early in the morning to roam the forest for an hour or two before returning to Ponda.
Since I had work in the clinic I could not leave early, and an advance party left Ponda with supplies to take care of the preparations. I was picked up exactly at eight by a friend who very kindly had stayed back for my sake. After reaching the Molem forest check post, we left the highway and got into the forest track. The track was not meant for a Maruti 800 but our car managed to take us to the camp without trouble.
It was a day before ‘Amavasya’ (no moon day) and the forest was totally dark. As we reached the campsite all we could see were the lamps hanging in front of the tents and the light from the ten watt bulbs barely reaching out of the lampshades.
We moved closer and came across a covered circular area open all around and encountered most of the advance party of the early birds sitting around two small tables containing filled glasses and snacks.
A little away two more birds were keeping a wood fire going, above which was placed a large vessel containing what was intended to turn out to be ‘Chicken Xacuti’. Nearby was a stack of cleaned, cut and spiced slices of king fish awaiting their turn on the fire. It did not take long for me to realise that whisky pegs and chicken legs were going to play a bigger role in this trip than human legs and I prepared myself to be as best a company as I could, holding a glass of ‘Limbu soda’ and making myself comfortable on a chair.
The following joke which I had seen in some news paper years ago gives an idea of how good a company I could be in these parties.
One man to another,
“Do you smoke?”
“Do you eat hay?”
“Of course not”
“You are fit company neither to man nor beast.”
It was eleven at night by the time the party could shift the concentration from glasses to plates and was past one at night by the time it dissolved. All that the human legs were capable of doing at that time was to carry their owners to the tents and all that the owner’s brains were capable of thinking about was the bed. Still I managed to shake a few, reminding them where they were and what they were there for and got a short “Ok Ok wake me up at five” as a reply.
We were three in one tent and to my luck both my companions had remained sober and all of us were up by half past four. Of the other two, one decided to go out with me and the other took the sensible decision of going back to bed after offering us his torch. It was very dark and we were apprehensive about going into the forest just the two of us. We had a torch each in our hands and my friend suggested that we better carry at least a stick in the other hand. We searched around and managed to get two sticks, which, if exerted, could at best kill a mouse and we set out on the forest track turning around repeatedly and shining the torch behind us. We had walked for about two kilometers when we came across a sign board which read ‘Devil’s canyon’. My friend, who had heard a lot of ghost stories in his childhood got jittery. He said that he had heard that the place was infested with spirits and that they were most active early in the mornings. He insisted that we turn back. I was scared too but made a show of bravery urging him that the spirits and devils were all nonsense but gave up the effort before he got convinced and we walked back to the camp. It was getting alight by then, and we walked in the opposite direction for another hour enjoying the forest scene.
We returned to the camp by the time others were up and as I had morning appointments I started back immediately with another friend who had work to do at Ponda.
The remaining of the group stayed back to finish the remnants of bread and Xacuti and after what I heard to be a very refreshing bath in the nearby stream that washed away all the hangovers, returned to Ponda resolving to get back to the forest once again in the near future for a really legs oriented programme.