About two decades ago, Rom and I went to Agumbe to look for king cobras. Instead of staying at the perfectly liveable Inspection Bungalow for Rs. 25 a night, he wanted to camp in the forest.
It was pouring, and who in his right mind would camp in such weather, I demanded. He said he wanted to be in the middle of the jungle, and not have to commute from the village. I acquiesced, and we pitched our tent in a small clearing deep inside the dark jungle.
Although there was hardly any dry firewood, we managed to boil some water for instant noodles. As we stood in the rain under umbrellas, slurping up the frugal dinner, legions of leeches inched towards us.
Nothing had prepared me for this: the extreme leech experience. The whole forest floor seemed to be alive and seething with eager little vampires.
The only respite from the blood-suckers came that night, when we were zipped up in the tent. During the day, it drizzled constantly, there was no sun, and the humidity was so high that clothes, sleeping bags, everything was damp. Our treks in the forest didn't lift my spirits either.
The tall forest seemed darkly foreboding and claustrophobic. We didn't see any animals; they were all sensibly tucked away from the rain, I suspected.
I yearned for the sun, heat and open sky. Two days of mucking about in the rain with hardly any food (except instant *bleep* noodles three times a day!) gnawed at my energy and soul. I wanted out right then — after all, I was a dyed-in-the-wool city slicker not so long ago.
Despondently, Rom agreed to break camp. Could he really be having fun in this mess, I wondered. Could she really want to leave this magical place, he must have wondered.
On another occasion, after I had learnt to snorkel in a hotel swimming pool, I followed Rom's example, and, clutching my mask over my face, leapt off a pier in the Andamans. There was no bottom! Only water all the way down into the darkness; fear and vertigo gripped my throat like a vise.
Rom was, of course, tripping out — swimming alongside a hawksbill sea turtle, and enthusiastically gesturing towards a large parrot fish below us.
I tried to calm myself with long deep breaths, instead of short frantic ones. The mask felt too tight and the mouthpiece felt too big; it wasn't fun or comfortable, and, in a strange reversal, I felt like a fish out of water. I lasted a few minutes more, and then I was out.
Rom appeared to have a habit of throwing me off the deep end. But on reflection, it was probably a good thing. Every subsequent trip to the jungle was compared to that first one, and nothing really fazed me after that.
A few years ago, I was on a trip to Namdapha in remote Arunachal Pradesh with a group of people who had never been in a rainforest before. The monsoon showed no signs of abating, everything was damp, leeches were out with a vengeance, and my fellow travellers were as miserable as I had been on my first rainforest camping trip.
But, this camp had a crucial difference: we had a cook and valet who laid out three-course meals thrice a day. While the others were fretting about the inconveniences of the jungle, I was having a grand time, munching gourmet goodies, watching hoolock gibbons, flying squirrels, martens and other creatures.
How was this transformation possible? I had realised along the way that saying ‘yes' to every opportunity was like opening a door to a possibility… of adventure. I learned that there was always plenty of time later to wallow in one's comfort zone, but this moment when an option presents itself may never come again, so grab it!
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