Hati plan” are the words the jungle man was repeatedly uttering as we began descending the steep, rough and clumsy track of the TrangkubanParahu Mount volcano site leading to KawahDomas hot springs, 20 km north of Bandung metropolis in Indonesia. As per the guidance of the information counter of the hotel of our stay we had first gone to TrangkubanParahu Mount a motorable volcanic site where a huge crater caused by volcanoes was billowing massive sulphuric clouds of smoke from beneath the earth and the whole atmosphere far and wide smelled of strong sulphuric smoke. The huge crater caused by an eruption of the volcano was filled with the cooled molten lava emitted from the volcanic opening. A large number of tourists were seen wearing masks to cover the nose and mouth. But the smell of sulphuric smoke was too overwhelming to be escaped altogether.
The whole surrounding area has been nomenclatures as Natural Park of TangkubanPrahu Mount. It falls in West JawaPrivince in Indonesia and is 2,084 meters above sea level. In this zone, there are many tourist attractions like Ratu Crater, Upas Crater, Baru Crater, and Domas Crater. Of these, visitors are not allowed to access Baru Crater because it releases toxic gasses hazardous to human health. The Jungle Man had told us that to reach KawahDomas crater, we may have to walk a distance of some 1200 meters. Used to walking in the gardens and parks in the plain surfaces we the family of five members, found the distance quite short and negotiable and decided to walk the track to see the natural phenomenon. The Jungle Man was our guide engaged to guide us through the hilly forest terrain.
We could not fathom the real hardship of the terrain as there was an abrupt turn after covering a few steps and the remaining narrow steep sloping track was hidden behind dense vegetation. After having walked a few steps when a long patch of track fell insight, we found it too steep, cumbersome and quite discouraging for us. The fear that we may not be able to push up our physical limits to the desired degree began haunting us. Going downhill began appearing an uphill task. How we began wishing we were in the hotel relaxing in the soft and comfy luxury beds! But it was too late to change our minds as we stood approximately at the depth of some five-story building and looking back too did not appear a sound idea. Every step we descended was extremely uncomfortable and we had to make serious efforts to stay in normal upright form. The solace was that in the process of descending, our attention was distracted by the huge variety of flora and fauna the dense forest offered.
THE JUNGLE MAN
Not used to negotiating difficult terrain we were asking the Jungle Man the remaining distance almost every time we had covered some 10 or 20 steps. But instead of replying he was repeatedly uttering “hatihati plan” which in the Indonesian language means ‘slow, slow, careful, careful.’ Perhaps as a true guide, he understood our state of mind and was playing our good wisher advising us to focus on steps, stay constantly watchful rather than getting distracted by other things.
Having average height and average body build, with a slight blemish below his eyes the Jungle Man wearing a grey cap, was working as a professional guide for the tourists who negotiated the track connecting the main volcanic site to the hot springs of the same zone on foot. This, he had been doing for some years. From his appearance, he looked a very simple, rough, uncouth, ignorant person. His later displayed expressions, outpourings, and skills showed that he was a highly knowledgeable person about the forests of this area. As disclosed by him, he was an OrangUtan a native of Jawa though he preferred to be addressed as Jungle Man. After we had descended someone kilometer or so a shanty-like structure fell insight. Tired of steep descent we all involuntarily dropped on the sturdy wooden bench lying in front of the hut. The shanty turned out a makeshift shop selling tea and some snacks. More to defer the hardship of the remaining distance we savored some tea and local snacks.
“Every day I sleep on this bench, I was born in this shop. Earlier the shop was run by my father. I look forward to taking back my shop from the present occupant,” we were told by the Jungle Man while we were sipping hot refreshing tea.
“In the first place why did your father sell the shop if you are inclined to buy it back? Why didn’t he inherit it to you ?” we asked.
“My father had to transfer the shop to the lender to meet the expenses on his medical treatment. He was bitten by an insect most probably a snake, but he could never survive the insect bite. As per commitment, if and when I am able to repay the loan the shop will belong to me again.”
“What if the occupant does not keep the word.”
“He surely will. He is also the jungle Man, has never gone out of Jungle. He is the younger brother of another tea stall owner at the site of our destination, KawasDomas.”
When we had finished the last sip of the tea, the Jungle Man asked all of us to hurry up to be able to be at the hot springs site for a maximum possible time. He also reminded us to buy needful chicken eggs to dip at the hot springs for boiling. And we were on the track again.
“Hatihati, plan” he again began drumming up cautionary warnings on our ears with every step we descended. The track continued to be steep, slanting and cumbersome.
On the way, he picked up some pieces of dead wood to make walking sticks for each of us. Also as he walked, he kept collecting every single piece of synthetic material, polythene bags, empty cigarette packs discarded by tourists depositing into the cloth bag hung upon his shoulders. Not a single piece missed his sharp eyes. “These are enemies of the forest.” he was speaking to himself. Later he deposited all the collection in the waste bin.
“When are you going to reclaim the possession of the shop ?” I asked.
“It depends on me. It is for me to decide. There is no hitch from outside. It can be even next week.”
“Where are your other siblings?” I asked.
“Well, I have a sister. But once the dazzling lights of Singapore swallowed her she continues to live there. In all the seven years of her stay away from this forest she came here thrice. Mostly she lives in Singapore. She had gone there as a domestic help of a rich family. The high fashionable society of that country appears not to be letting her return to this jungle.”
While talking, we were also descending the steps. His personal story was getting more and more exciting for our ears but we had to focus on our safety while descending the remaining clumsy steps to reach Kawah Dumas, our destination of the day.
“Hati, pati, plan, plan.” He was ceaselessly reminding us to mind our steps.
“Have you been to Bandung or any other city?” I asked.
“No and never, I am a jungle man. Nothing can detract me from my territory,” was his reply. “Because I am an OrangUtan. I cannot live without this jungle. The trees, the plants, the grass, the climbers, the bushes, a whole range of flowers like puspa, golden fern, wild orchid, mana rasa, the birdlife, animals, the stones around, all seem to be conversing with and singing for me. Now, these are my kith and kin. The life in the jungle is one of the total and undisturbed serene calm. There is nothing artificial in this life. No artificiality in talking, dealings, words and or inactions is the way of life in the jungle.
“We lived amidst nature and we behave like nature people,” saying so he closed his eyes briefly and opened eyes only when he had said it all. It appeared his outpourings were erupting straight from his heart. At times he was blinking his eyes.
“In what manner are you preserving your savings?” I asked.
“Since I am sleeping on the bench in the open I am giving all my monies to my sister. Each time she came here I deposited my money with her.”
“But how are you going to repay the loan, if the money saved is not with you ?”
“My hunch is my sister may not repay my savings to me because she is no longer a jungle woman. Last time she was here she was dressed like city people. She also spoke soft sweet words bereft of any meaning. But I also have another option. The existing occupant has asked me to marry his daughter and he will transfer the possession of the shop back to me. If my sister still respects the values of the jungle and returns my money I shall be a moneyed man,” he said.
“How come I couldn’t spot any girl in the tea shop while we were there?”
“Because most of the time she keeps working indoors. She does all the indoor work in the shop. The tea we all sipped, was actually made by her.”
“The last question. Why does the girl you intend to marry not like to work outdoors?”
“One day when she had gone collecting dry dead wood while descending with a head load she tumbled, lost balance and went down crashing several feet below and lost the smooth walking ability.”
We became much more cautious and mindful of our steps. Soon the KawahDomas crater fell insight. There were a couple of springs, hot water gushing out of them. One of them had water temperature around 20 degrees Centigrade, another had about 40 degrees and yet another had hot non-stop boiling water of approximately 100 degrees Centigrade. We soaked our legs in the 20-degree waters. The sulphuric waters have healing properties, we were told. There were several other hot water springs. Also, there were several epicenters of non-stop rising smoke.
The Jungle Man dipped the eggs in the 100-degree spring water for a few seconds, took them out and disappeared. Later when we returned to the make-shift tea shop, the boiled eggs were served to us as snacks.
When we were about to return, by way of suggestion I said, “Sleeping outside on the bench is full of hazards in view of the presence of animal life in the thick forest. Why don’t you sleep inside the shop?”
“Ever since my father fell victim to a snake bite, I have begun appreciating the risk of sleeping in the open because a sleeping person is not aware of the surroundings. Apart from innocent harmless animal life like surili and java langoor the forests also have some dangerous kinds of leopard cats. But I can’t sleep inside until I marry the daughter of the present occupant,” he said.
“Because I am Jungle Man.”
Having reached the plain area in the lower hills, we were re-learning how to walk normally. And I was thinking this Jungle Man is far more civilized than many hailing from the so-called modern civilizations. His words, “Hati Hati plan”, kept ringing in our ears till we were back in our hotel in Bandung. Upon seeing us off at the motorable point, he wished us in Indonesian, “Terimakarsih” meaning ‘thank you very much’ and was seen going to the venue of his rest for the night.
By Bakhat Singh Dhingra