5th July,2016. Late Afternoon. En route to Danum Valley:
I was starting to feel dizzy. Every single breath that I took inside an air-conditioned 4-wheel-drive jeep was proving to be torturous. My head started spinning and I realized I wouldn’t be able to sit inside the car any further. I was on the way to a destination of my dreams but this journey had to be stopped. Like a sloth on sleeping pills, I slowly lifted my hand and signaled my friends to stop the car. The vehicle came to a screeching halt.
But here, lets hold on. Pause. Rewind a few minutes.
Danum Valley had been a dream for many years. As I embarked on this private vehicle at Lahad Datu, I was certainly the most happiest of all. Fortunately, we very well managed the otherwise expensive trip within a backpacker’s budget. For over an hour, I was boasting about the biodiversity of this oldest rainforest I’ve read— its tallest trees on record, the dipterocarps, the dark-side of oil palm plantations, and recalled a spine-chilling documentary from Nat Geo.
But then, we were all equally haunted by warnings from our fellow travelers whom we met back in Kinabatangan. They had warned us about the common sight of cobras and menacing threat of the tiger leeches (leeches that could be as long as a pencil?!). Joking about the potential mishaps we could think of, every now and then, we gazed at the rain-streaked windows, craning our necks to view those captivating tree-tops from inside the car. As we gained altitude, the road shrunk and my head began to spin.
Now, back to where I left.
I got out of the car, knelt to the ground holding my head, took deep breaths and my mind recalled why I started this journey after all. After inhaling a tang of wilderness, I decided not to sit inside the car but on the roofless rear-end where our backpacks were fastened. The evening breeze started revving up, a heavy mass of nimbus followed us overhead, our bodies were juddering from head to toe and the tailboard was rattling along, stirring up mud as we whip past the forest path. The views from the back of that pick-up truck was scintillating and I started feeling relieved. We saw what many others would not, from this perspective; a view we were offered until it started raining rockets from the sky.
A single drop of rain cascaded down as a nail, piercing through the skin. Upon a moment’s realization, our driver stopped the car and we rushed inside.
5th July 2016. Evening. At Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC):
On reaching DVFC, my mood lifted up instantly. I found myself standing in front of the DVFC hostel, staring for the first time at a pretty dormitory located amidst a rainforest. I flounced upstairs to the ladies dorm, with my backpack. On the notice board outside the dormitory was a tiny leech lurking across a paper. I told myself to shutdown the ‘scream-at-sight’ instinct and stand stock-still, if I ever happen to see a cobra in the next few days at DVFC.
Fumbling my way through the unlit dormitory, I found towels, clothes and toiletries dispersed on almost all the beds, as if everyone had left the dorm abruptly at will. A birdwatcher that I am, ‘The Genius of Birds’ by Jennifer Ackerman, held my attention for a few seconds. A pungent odour from wet clothes mixed with a mild deodorant, filled the air inside the dorm. At last, I found my allocated bed near the dorm’s backdoor, labelled ‘Visitor’. I put my backpack down and closed my eyes, feeling replete with happiness.
I took out my camera and headed out to the dorm’s patio. I pulled a chair and sat comfortably overlooking the vast expanse of greenery dotted by these thin tall beauties. A few minutes later, many clouds burst open and a research intern who sat behind me, enjoying the sight as much as I did, took out his harmonica. And soon, his melody filled the air.
6th July 2016. 5:30 AM. On the Observation Tower:
When we were driving uphill on a safari vehicle, the strong winds that blew our faces, subsided almost suddenly on reaching the observation deck. The air, that morning, in that magical and solitary place was completely still. In front of me, was the lungs of our planet. The first few shafts of sunlight began to undrape a dense veil of mist that was nestling among the wooded mountains. And slowly, minute by minute, the world’s oldest tropical rainforest peaks out. The song-birds, the tunesmiths of Borneo perform a morning orchestra, followed by the occasional wooting and hooting of gibbons and the incessant calls of hornbills. This doesn’t mean any less flutter of activity at the observation deck; tripods, time-lapses, shutter clicks and soft murmurs were just as prominent to pay heed.
When we were about to leave the deck, I felt a strong chill of regret. As a photo-enthusiast, I realized that I failed to make justice to this magical morning with my photographs. Later that night, I made a decision to go to the sunrise tower next morning. The guide informed the driver to pick me up at 5 A.M again. That night, I couldn’t contain the excitement and thrill, as I dreamed about taking in all of the rainforest to myself, for hours admiring comfortably till the entire shroud of mist settled down.
I woke up to the peak of my excitement, the next morning. I sat beside my bed, around 4 A.M, waiting to hear the rattling sounds of my safari vehicle. It was 5:15 A.M and the driver didn’t show up yet. My hopes started diminishing. Later, I found that a group of research interns from Poland were about to leave to the same sunrise tower. I tagged along with them. But to my dismay, the observation tower was brimming with people unlike the previous morning. The dense veil of cloud stayed frozen over the canopy and it seemed it would to take several hours on row, for the shroud to settle down. Sadly enough, I was told that no vehicle would be available to pick me up after hours, if I don’t leave the place along with the Poland group. The regret grew manifold. But nevertheless, these two mornings will be the ones I wish to re-imagine, dream, love and muddle about a million times in memory.
Exploring Nature Trails, Danum Valley Field Centre: