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This was late 80s in southern India (on the border between the states of Odisha and Andhra). I was in the middle of a thick forest in the dead of the night on a no moon day, alone, on foot, with no light. I need to walk 6 miles to my tent before dawn and before my boss realized I was gone for the weekend. I see nothing, absolutely nothing. Not a spec, not a spot, nothing. Leopards, panthers and tigers roam this jungle. Do they sleep or roam the night? How do I reach my tent? How do I walk? How do I feel the pond on the way and not drown in it? Why am I NOT carrying a torch light? How stupid can I be? Will I survive?
I have completed a diploma in engineering and worked at Indian Railways as a low level engineer before and during my undergraduate degree. More or less every summer, the railway line (on top of the beatiful mountain ranges of eastern ghats) used to get washed away due to flooding. You could see mountain sized valleys and metal tracks on the top hanging from the mountains. Contract workers and engineers had to work round the clock in the middle of the jungle to repair and restore the railway line so that trains could ply and people could travel. I along with a group of engineers were sent over to this jungle to oversee the work under the supervision of my boss, an Indian Railway Service officer.
One weekend I asked for permission to travel to see my brother who was taking an important exam at a nearby city some 100 miles from this place. The answer, from my boss, was an unequivocal NO. I, for some reason, couldn’t take a NO for an answer. Early Saturday morning, I told my tent-mate that I will be back before dawn on Monday and left. I walked 6 miles to the road, hitched a hike to the bus station and went to the city. It was my duty to spend time with my brother, take him to the exam center, get him back and have dinner with him before getting back to the jungle and to the tent. I hitchd a hike back on the middle of the night that Sunday.
It was a van taking large milk cans to nearby villages. I sat in the front along with driver and helper. Lights of the van were bright, I could see where I need to get off to start my 6 mile walk. Driver, repeatedly advised me not get off in this dangerous jungle but to get off near a nearby village, stay safe and go back the next day to the jungle tent. But then, I would miss being there before dawn. I will have to give an explanation, to my boss, on why I left after he explicitly told me NOT to. I could loose my job. I will have to get down, walk towards east, until I hit the railway line, follow the railway line towards south until I reached my tent. Everything will be alright, or so I thought.
Under the bright lights of the van, I got down and the van left. I couldn’t see a thing. Nothing. I have to figure this out, alone, in the middle of the night on a no-moon-day in the middle of this thick jungle where all kinds of wild animals live. While working, we saw a tiger sitting on the rock, just a week ago. What seemed like eternity, I slowly crossed the road, walked towards east, feeling the way with my feet and my hands. There was no fear, just the need to figure out a way to survive and reach the destination.
Never in my life were my senses more alert than NOW. After walking what looked like a mile. I stepped right into an ankle deep water and mud. I can’t keep going straight and drown. Do they have man-eating crocodiles in this jungle? I stepped back, walked to the left on the land few steps, go forward to see if the water is still there. I repeated these steps until I found the land to move forward. All this in the pitch dark. By this time, I didn’t know if I was walking towards east, west, north or south. There is no way I could reach my tent on my own.
As I kept walking, I finally, came across a small flickering light at a distance. I started walking towards it with the same deliberate and conscious pace in complete darkness. As I approached, dogs were barking loudly. Are these wild dogs? I saw the light coming through a small hut. I shouted for help. Dogs and my shouts woke up the man in the hut. He came out. I was so happy to see someone. I told him what had happened and where I needed to go. This must have been 3 am. He woke his boy up and asked him to accompany me to the nearest railway station. We both walked to the station with a torch light. I profusely thanked the boy and sat on the stone bench of the railway station until I could see something, anything. While walking on the tracks, I don’t have to worry about a train running me over, because railway line was washed out at several places and no trains were plying. At the first break of light, I walked on the tracks until I reached my tent. Voila, I made it. When I saw my boss soon after, it was like nothing happened. No one noticed my red eyes for lack of sleep.