Camping with tigers, elephants and superman spices (TM)

When I tell people about the tiger that casually walked past our camp in the middle of the night once, while we were all snoring, and finding its pug marks close to where we slept the next morning, I tend to get two types of reactions. ‘Thats so cool, I wish I was there!’, or ‘That’s terrifying, what if the tiger tried to get into your camp?’ Well, I admit that a tarpaulin sheet on the ground to sleep on, and a tarpaulin sheet tied above to keep the rain out, wouldnt even keep out a determined tiger cub! But there are surely lots of times when tigers walked by without anyone even knowing.

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Tiger pug mark

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A real field camp

But if you think that’s hardcore, its not compared to the Malampandaram tribals. For them, the tarp itself is a nuisance – it is heavy (you could instead take more rice along), and keeps getting holes anyway. So, they often don’t bother with it in the summer. Instead they cut a bunch of sticks on-site to form a nice frame, and thatch it with the fronds of a local palm. Which, by the way, also has tiny delicious fruits that taste like dates, so it would not be such a bad chore collecting it (though on the flip side, you do have to compete for them with hungry sloth bears).

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An even more real field camp

It would also be nice to preferably set up the shelter at a high rocky place that elephants cant get at, to avoid some random trunk wrapping around your leg and pulling you out at night. But then again, you may not get water at that height and will have to carry it up from some stream below, which sucks after a day of walking up and down mountains. One option then is to set up a platform high up on a rainforest tree, right next to the river, like this Malampandaram post. Hopefully you don’t sleepwalk, but anyway, you may have interesting neighbours…

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Machan

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Indian giant squirrel

You would use the ground below for cooking, and take advantage of the strategically placed rocks to sit and pull off ticks and leeches after a hard days work, while sharing tall tales about what happened during the day. Superman (TM!) spices – a subtle blend of dynamite powder and radioactive nuclear waste – are essential to spice up your dinner of payar-kanji. And being close to flowing water helps deal with the after effects of said spices.

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Superman’s own blend

At night (or on first sight of the tusker in musth that has gouged out the river banks nearby), you use the handy bamboo stem to rush up the tree. Of course the tusker may decide to pull down your bamboo ladder, but you always have gravity to help you down…

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Tusk mark in mud

The bamboo stem, by the way, is a common way to get up steep barriers. For example, the Malampandarams use them to get up  perpendicular rock faces to harvest the honey from rock bees.

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Harvesting honey from steep rocks

But most of the time its nice to stay in your 1920’s vintage main field station, allegedly held together by cement and concrete but more likely by mysterious physical forces that are yet to be discovered. You will have interesting visitations from giant eight-legged friends, develop quick reaction times by avoiding pieces of falling ceiling, and develop your engineering skills by, uh, ‘hands on’ fixing of blocked water and sewerage systems. The view compensates though.

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View from field station

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