During the 10 days that we spent at Pakke Kesang, at the edge of the Pakke Tiger Reserve, people from the Forest Department accompanied us on most days. For the most part, Hether Golo, a Nyishi from Pakke Kesang, was with us. The fun part of having a local Nyishi accompany us on our jungle treks was that we were constantly exchanging information. While we were telling them about species, their names and their role in nature, they in turn would share local stories with us.
When we told the locals that we were researching pijing (moths in Nyishi), they related an interesting tale.
They told us that in the months of November and December, the local folks hunted birds using a moth. They constructed a trap made of bamboo in which they suspended a large moth. They told us that when the moth fluttered, it attracted birds, which the locals captured to eat.
While we don’t support hunting and eating of wild animals, it is good to get an understanding of the local hunting customs and learn from them as well. The Nyishis informed us that this moth only flew in winter, and that it could live for almost a month without feeding. This told us that the moth family was one of the non-feeding moths; the only way a moth could survive for that long without food.
On another jungle trek, at the end of a long day, I spotted wild bananas alongside the forest track. I was hungry and asked Hether whether I could eat the banana. He replied in the negative, saying that the bananas were not edible. When I insisted on tasting them, they cut me a few and showed that the bananas had large black seeds and very little flesh; and hence were not edible!
Some of the areas we ventured into were really wild. One such 16-km trek (both ways) led us through dense forest in mountainous terrain. It rained while we walked, and dozens of leeches (called jook by the locals) climbed onto us, enjoying a meal of warm human blood!
This trek was memorable and among the most hair-raising moments was crossing a 50-foot long dilapidated hanging bridge across a river. The bridge was made mainly of cane and bamboo, and in many places, the bridge was worn and broken. A single false step and we would have plummeted into the fast flowing river below.
For me, the worst moment came when I was crossing the bridge and my companion, Vidya Venkatesh, saw a rare butterfly fly by as I was crossing. Fearing that I would let go of the bridge in my excitement, she did not inform me and by the time I finished, the butterfly disappeared!
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