Elephants and leeches

Elephants and leeches

It was only a six km hike into the jungle
Anyone can hike 6km right?
It’s easy

Well I beg to differ
Elephants are apt to go their own way. And who’s going to stop them?
So using two superhuman local guides ,Hussain and Charang, we followed old logging trails and cut our way through the occasional tree and bamboo blocking our path

We were heading for the last known GPS location of an elephant which had recently been captured and transported from a farming area.

We saw the tracks of a Gaur (described as a huge, wild killer cow. Literally a killer. )
Heard the calls of gibbons and watched a hornbill fly above us.

Huge black millipedes crawled across the track
And then there were the leeches.

Even with long socks tucked into trousers the bloody things got to most of us.
I saw my first one burrowing through my sock and pulled it out just in time.
But its brothers came back for more.
At the end if the day I had one free flowing wound. And I was one of the lucky ones.

Ahimsa , our leader , gave us advice on dealing with a tiger – should one appear from the jungle.

“Keep eye contact and move backwards, slowly,” he said

Which is kind of counter intuitive to me. My movements would be anything but slow.

Ahimsa is passionate about the jungle, wildlife, flowers, seeds and the environment in general

Tigers are so rare here he doesn’t want to harm one. He would prefer to lose a human…

Though I can’t help thinking he was looking at me when he said this…

We walked through the jungle , slithering up and down steep muddy slopes and crossing a crumbling path high above a waterfall.
Even the plants can hurt you here
I grabbed one tree trunk to prevent myself falling 20 feet and came away with a handful of painful prickly thorns
We passed by a bees’ nest, thousands of them swarming in the cracks of a tree.
Two of us were stung.

For lunch we sat in a small clearing where Ange ,a young masters student declared this was :”The easiest trek ever.”

Just try and picture my response to that ….

The radio signal finder was now picking up strong bleeps (like that scene in Aliens) and Ahimsa held up his hand for silence

The bamboo was moving. Elephants were around …

An advance party disappeared down into the valley to find the one male elephant they’d targeted for research purposes but the terrain was difficult and the elephants had moved on

On the two hour return trek one of our guides made a very slight error in his path finding. Only about 100m or so

But it seemed to injure his pride so the rest of the return journey felt like it was carried out at double pace.

The jungle is a real place of contrasts …beautiful but potentially dangerous
I loved it.

But oddly it has made me miss my dusty Derbyshire road even more



Elephants and Tigers

I leave Kuala Lumpur with some good and bad memories that will stay with me and find myself 300 km north after a six hour drive.

We’re hunting elephants in the jungle. Well, tracking them to be precise.

I’m with a group of researchers studying Malaysian elephants for a piece due to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4
We’re living in a house up country for a week and yesterday we travelled for an hour across a lake to reach an elephant salt lick

We replaced batteries in remote cameras and – keeping up with the previous guano theme – spent a good hour or so tearing elephant dung apart to check for seeds

Then we moved to a hot sulphur spring at another location where elephants are known to gather

Today I interviewed local farmers about their elephantine experiences and on Thursday we go back into the jungle to track them

I’m not quite sure how close we are supposed to get because they say if you are on foot and see an elephant …then you are too close

They also have tigers here
And snakes
And scorpions



Bat Sh.t crazy

I had no idea crap is so important.
At least bat shit is
North of Kuala Lumpur lie the Batu Caves, an impressive series of caverns carved out of limestone and marble

Hundreds of stairs lead almost vertically to the biggest of them all. The whole network has become a shrine to Hindu gods with various temples throughout the complex.

But off to one side lies the Dark Cave with guided tours.

Our guide was a tiny Indian girl called Darshna whose size belied her strong control of the group.

One Korean kid who kept stepping off the path and ignoring instructions had his torch swiftly confiscated.

“I warned you two times ,” says Darshna

“Awwww,” was the plaintive reply

Anyway the caves are home to thousands of fruit and Insect eating bats. We could see them flitting around in the half light hundreds of feet above us
And all those bats produce a lot of guano. In one part of the system researchers have to walk knee deep in the stuff

But it supports a wide variety of creepy crawlies including cave crickets (think small cockroaches) 8 cm long centipedes and trapdoor spiders.
When you shine your torch into the dark recesses you can see them scuttling about like that scene in Indianna Jones.

They are remarkably resilient.
There’s one worm that, if you cut it Into 4 parts, will continue to live and grow. They hope this can one day help humans to re-grow limbs.
Human limbs presumably , not wormlike appendages, because that would look silly
And the cave crickets eat their own legs when hungry.
Can’t help feeling that’s a false economy cos their legs don’t grow back
“Hey Kev, good news we’ve finally found some new guano droppings after all this time
“Come on its only a five minute walk…….oh………sorry”

A ever , there is a destructive British connection

One MR Ridley came here in the last century looking for fossils. In doing do he blew up large parts if the system , altering it forever

Say what you like about the Brits but they don’t muck about.



Happy Birthday Buddha

And happy Enlightenment Day. And Happy, er death.
Apparently they are all celebrated on the same day

I seemed to have arrived in Kuala Lumpur on the holiest day of the year for Buddhists.
And boy do know how to celebrate in a non alcoholic way.
There I was lying on my bed in a hostel (10 quid a night thank you very much) when I heard the sound of music and chanting
Looking out the window I saw hundreds – thousands – of people walking alongside floats decorated with animals, Statues of Buddha and Buddhist symbols including , rather disconcertingly, swasticas.

Monks sprayed water over anyone praying and thousands of walkers carried lotus lights.
Free water and fruit juices were given out by volunteers.
I asked one of the organisers how far they’d walked that might
12km with 3 to go.

At which point I made my excuses and left
A lovely sight. My mood darkened only by the huge rats foraging among the rubbish by my hostel.



All property is theft

I am sitting in a Karaoke bar in Kuala Lumper

On my way here I was approached by two inappropriately clad young ladies who seemed very friendly.
I politely declined their offers of company and told them that despite the heat here they’d catch their death when it rains unless they out on more clothing.
A ten hour flight on Turkish airlines to get here – and Ryanair it ain’t
Those 3 bottles of very agreeable Turkish red went down very well.

Bye bye Turkey
Almost a month of contrasts. Hills. Lakes, forests , tiny villages. Sleeping on floors, mosques and camping by a river
Then there’s Istanbul
I spent the last day doing the Blue Mosque. And Topkapi Palace.
I have a friend who is big in tiles
He should get himself to Istanbul because the 15th and 16th century examples of Ottoman tiling are simply breathtaking
Certainly the French seemed to appreciate those tiles perhaps more than most
Let me explain
Down a little noticed side road next to the Hagia Sofya mosque lay some mausoleums with the signposts bearing those two words which always bring joy to me
Free Entry.

They are the tombs of a dizzying number of sulltans and their families all decorated with those beautiful tiles.

Except one

As I was taking off my shoes I saw a notice in English explaining that the 60 panels of tiles at the entrance were not in fact the 16th century originals
In the 1880s there was a restoration project run – and I still don’t know why – by a perfidious Frenchman by the name of Albert Dorigny
For some reason not explained he told the Turks it was essential to send this stunning Iznik masterpiece back to, er, France for proper restoration.
“But effendi Albert, your countrymen will look after them will they not?”
“Mai oui mon ami, c’est no problem”

So this work if art is duly shipped to France and when it returns all is not well.
As the notice puts it ;”in Sevres counterfeits were made and placed where originals one laid”

What were the French thinking? That no-one would notice?
The notice board gets even more splenetic on the subject. You can almost hear the writer gnashing his teeth..

“This is a complete abuse of trust and an example of art theft”

And in minute detail it goes on to pinpoint the current location of the stolen tiles

“The original tiles are currently being displayed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France under the section called Islam Art with the inventory number 3919/231-2.

It says that the Turkish authorities have made many requests to the French culture ministry for the return of the tiles but adds rather forlornly
“Unfortunately we have not been able to get a positive request.. ”

I felt rather sorry for them. Until I saw the obelisk of Theodesius in the Hippodrome. And that was nicked from Egypt by the Byzatines.
What goes around comes around