As I mentioned in the previous post on logging in Arunachal Pradesh, our purpose for being in the jungle in the first place was to accompany a tribal hunting expedition deep into the mountains.
Well, this post is about that trip…
As with the logging, the villagers are not supposed to be hunting in the jungle as it is a protected area. However, also as with the logging, subsistence hunting is generally overlooked by the Indian government. And again, just as with the logging, this opens a large gray area in regard to what is commercial hunting versus subsistence hunting. Sometimes the commercial aspect is as minor as calling someone in the next village and selling whatever extra meat one might have from a large kill. While on other occasions, the hunting is purely commercial to the point of it being the contracted killing of an endangered species prized for its organs. But more on all of that later…
This promised to be an interesting trip as we had a fun mix of people in our group with a lot of personality, we were venturing into practically unexplored jungle and we were being given the opportunity to observe skilled hunters doing what they do best.
In the past, the tribal hunting parties would go out for two to three months at a time. These days, however, most hunting groups (fortunately) go out for three to four days.
We started from the village of Durpai which I profiled earlier. Here, Nada, the most experienced hunter, is checking over the guns before we set off:
Heading into the jungle… With the canyons and other rugged terrain, the only way to move about in the jungle is to follow the riverbeds up. That’s Karba (we stayed with Karba’s family in Durpai) in the foreground with the .22 rifle slung over his shoulder and Nada is in the background cutting a walking stick for balancing on the slippery rocks:
Continuing upstream… That’s Nada in the lead and Kamar in the foreground toting the shotgun:
Taking a break on the trek upriver… From left to right: Jumken, a rising political star in Arunachal Pradesh, my Italian, your dear editor and Karba:
As is customary in the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, all of the tribesmen married at quite young ages with the exception of Jumken who is single. Karba was fourteen when he got married (and he had to fight and triumph over his wife’s brothers in order to marry her – all of them at the same time), Kamar was sixteen when he got married (he is now seventeen) and Nada was seventeen when he got married (he is now thirty-one and has two sons and two daughters).
I told you it was a fun group… Jumken entertaining us:
The farther we got up in the canyons, the more difficult the walking became. It isn’t easy scrambling over moss-covered rocks:
Or crossing through deep pools such as this when one is weighed down by gear:
However, after a day’s hike, we finally reached our destination at the confluence of two rivers and set up camp. This is a view up to the campsite… To get there, one had to scramble up that cliff:
This is a view downriver from the ledge where our camp was set up:
As soon as we arrived, the tribesmen set to work getting the camp established.
Here Nada is using his machete to clear brush away from around the camp… Ever the professional, after he was done, he immediately went down to the river to sharpen his machete on a rock:
While Kamar set out into the jungle to cut and gather some of the large leaves from banana trees in order to construct a shelter for us:
A layer of banana leaves was placed atop a wooden frame to form a roof, while another layer was placed on the ground to form a waterproof floor.
The firewood came from dead trees in the riverbed in front of our camp that had washed down during the rainy season:
The view from inside the shelter to the surrounding hills:
With the camp established, attention turned to collecting dinner. So, Nada ventured off into the jungle with the shotgun to see what he could locate while Jumken and Karba focused on “fishing” in the river right in front of our camp. I put “fishing” in quotation marks because although that is what they called it, they were really looking for freshwater crabs and shrimp along with crayfish and river beetles:
Jumken stretching to search a difficult spot next to a rock:
When a sizable number of freshwater shrimp and crabs had been caught, Kamar cooked them up with some rice for dinner:
A short time later Nada returned to the camp. He said he had shot a wild pig, but had lost it in the dense jungle and was understandably not keen to go in after it given the fearsome reputation that wild pigs – wounded or otherwise – have. So, he enlisted Kamar to return with him the next day to search for the pig:
The next morning as Kamar and Nada went to search for the pig, I followed Karba and Jumken upriver as they searched for game of their own.
The tribesmen really have two hunting strategies. They will either move through the jungle, attempting to track animals or call them in by mimicking their sounds (As well as, of course, killing whatever they might come across by chance). Or, their other strategy is to wait on a platform or some other vantage point next to a popular food source such as a banana tree and wait for the animals to come to them.
Our group, obviously, pursued the first strategy:
Karba studying tracks in the soft sand of the riverbed:
The tracks he was studying… He said it was a type of forest cow:
Karba listening intently for animal sounds in the jungle:
After moving upriver for a ways, the decision was made to cut into the jungle and make our way up to one of the ridgetops. Karba and Jumken fighting through dense jungle undergrowth:
On the way up, Jumken and Karba spotted a squirrel. Jumken is running to get into a better position to shoot it:
However, Jumken missed two shots at the squirrel. So, Karba crawled up through the undergrowth and shot the squirrel (a male), which Jumken is displaying to the camera below:
Karba attempting to lure animals in by mimicking their sounds… A group of monkeys responded a few moments earlier, but suspicious of the situation, they quickly moved on:
With the mix of few animals being active in the part of the jungle we were in and a group of guys together with a rifle, naturally the idea of a shooting competition arose. And so Karba took a thorn and tacked a leaf to a tree perhaps fifty feet from our position. The idea being, of course, to hit as close to the center of the leaf as possible. And I must say, dear readers, that your editor did not let you down – I won the competition (which, aside from doing great things for my ego since these guys are skilled shooters, went a long way in generating respect and acceptance from the tribal lads):
Here is a view out over the jungle from the ridgetop. See how steep those hillsides are? I can assure you that it is not easy to move up them, especially in thick jungle, which is why the tribes use the rivers. Although difficult, they are the easiest route available:
The jungle is a rough place. Although it is beautiful, it is also full of thorns and biting, stinging, blood-sucking insects. One time a huge ant clamped it’s mandibles into my skin so fiercely that when I attempted to extract it, my skin was tugged up with it like I was pulling on a piercing. Another time I brushed against a plant that produced an immediate burning sensation that ended up lasting for two days. Oddly, exposure to water significantly intensified the burning feeling. Mix many such elements in with the heat and humidity and a high-pressure shower in cool, crystal-clear water sure felt good:
While we were cooling off and washing off in the jungle pools, Nada and Kamar had returned to camp. Nada had indeed shot a wild pig – a large male. They found the body a couple of hundred yards down a slope from where Nada had shot it the night before:
Nada and Kamar soon got to work butchering the wild pig:
And washing the parts they opted to keep in the clean river water:
Karba and Jumken took the choice cuts of the wild pig and began cooking the pig and the squirrel that Karba had shot earlier over the fire. Nada said his favorites were deer and elephant meat, but everyone seemed happy with the wild pig and the squirrel:
Hanging out after dinner… Kamar was quite fond of smoking hashish and is focused on that, Karba is texting some of the others in the village to come upriver the next day to help haul the remainder of the wild pig back to the village and Nada is contemplatively smoking:
A slave to the weather cycle, just like the loggers, Nada hunts continuously during the dry season, but it is not able to hunt during the rainy season when the rivers are inaccessible. Nada started hunting at the age of 12 and his experience and knowledge is unparalleled. He is a hunter and all he does is hunt.
Unfortunately, his talents are known to others as well. Chinese and Burmese smugglers have at various times hired him to shoot elephants or tigers for them.
Nada said that the Chinese will pay 130,000 rupees for a tiger and that he has shot six of them for the smugglers.
He was of the opinion that 1-2 tigers were still in the area when I inquired as to the health of the local tiger population.
Seven elephants have been shot by Nada for Chinese and Burmese smugglers that were after the ivory. The value of the elephant’s tusks depends upon its age. The older the elephant, the larger the tusks, you see. So, an elephant that is 10-years-old is worth one lakh (Remember, one lakh = 100,000 rupees). An elephant that is 20-years-old is worth two lakhs and and elephant that is 30-years-old is worth three lakhs.
As with all contraband, such practices will continue as long as someone is willing to pay well for it…
The tools of the trade – Nada’s shotgun and machete hanging on the shelter:
The next day Nada wove these baskets from the bark of trees in the jungle to cart the remainder of the wild pig back to the village:
And with that, we started downriver to make our way back to Durpai. On the way back down, we ran into two of the villagers that Karba had texted the night before to help carry the wild pig. They were quite excited to see us and asked to take several pictures of us with their mobile phones as they said they had never encountered Westerners before:
I hope their first encounter was not a disappointment to them.