A Walk in the Borneo Jungle by Nivedita Mitra

Orang Utan in Borneo
Orang Utan in Borneo Photo Credit: Nivedita Mitra

A walk in the jungle…

I had come directly from Mumbai to Borneo with all the aspects of city living in my consciousness. Jostling on crowded local trains or edging my car sneakily into another lane was what I did well but trampling through undergrowth or walking across a log on a flowing stream were not activities I was used to; so when an adventurous couple told me about an excursion to a part of Kutai Timur National Forest which was not through the dedicated visitor center but upstream via Sangata river, I was really not interested and slightly alarmed by such adventuring. Safe and well maintained visitors center is where I went.

Iron wood tree in Borneo
Massive Ironwood tree in Borneo
photo credit: Nivedita Mitra

The people standing show how massive this ancient ironwood tree is. It is one of the main attractions at the centre.
However, sometime later, I met a group that encouraged me to go on that Sangata trek. The people I met were very hardy, sporting and wanted to try new experiences. So three others and I ventured on a day expedition. I went several times after that with guests who visited me, but that first time was the most memorable.
We drove a couple of kilometres out of Sangata town to the edge of a village where the boat was waiting. The river was muddy and sluggish and the boat was basic – a flat piece of wood with edges and four planks as seats. It was called a katingting as it had on engine and I remember our boatman’s name was Buster.
As we warily stepped into the boat one by one, the boat would lurch and the boatman would steady it, placing where he thought the weight would be best distributed. After warning not to put our hands in the water as crocodiles may be lurking below, we set off. The little katingting noisily and with great effort chugged upriver for approximately half an hour till we reached the edge of an embankment. We scrambled up a muddy slope where a couple of sheds were standing and were introduced to our guide – a man with a cigarette in one hand, and a machete in the other.
He began walking into the dense undergrowth, slashing with his machete to clear a way and the four of us followed. I was in turn followed by a joyful swarm of mosquitoes who had found their prey. I am a mosquito magnet and despite insect repellent, they swarm around me, buzz into my ear, climb into my nose and bite through my shirt. People who are with me are generally spared as I am the true target. So while the guide pointed out the muntjac deer, the lone gibbon, the blue kingfisher, the noisy hornbill, I grimly battled with the busily biting mosquitoes only to discover while waving my hands and stamping my feet, I has stepped into a nest of fire ants. Then I got bitten through my socks and trouser legs and believe me that really stings.
To compound my misery, a sudden downpour began. The guide philosophically stood under a tree, we did the same but got drenched anyway. After twenty minutes or so, the rain suddenly stopped as though a switch had turned off. We continued in our sodden clothes when we came into this clearing and there was this beautiful orangutan and her baby.

Orangutan and her baby in Borneo Jungle
Orangutan and her baby in Borneo Jungle
photo credit: Nivedita Mitra

Everything else got swept away at that wondrous sight and after sometime, a sub adult orangutan came out. Our guide said the female has a baby once every eight years or so and sometimes the older sibling takes time to strike out on its own. We watched for sometime and then turned to leave feeling all that tramping had been worthwhile.
By the time we reached the boat, the embankment had turned into a sea of mud and walking down the slope our shoes and legs sank into the soft gooey slush. Covered with mud, exhausted after four hours of walking, we sank into the boat. Buster looked at us kindly and told me, Ibu you have many mosquitoes sitting on your head.
Despite this, or maybe because of it, I went several times more, with different people and every time I saw something new, fascinating, magical. So much of my inner joy comes from the people I met and our shared experiences together in a distant land far from home.

By Nivedita Mitra from her Borneo Tales.