How to Survive in the Wild

The Real High

How to Survive in the Wild

Illustration: Juergen Dsouza

I

landed in Guwahati just as the sun was rising. The horizon was  dramatically clearer than my pollution-ridden home town (Delhi), and the air was so fresh that my lungs thanked me over and over again for getting myself there. I’d visited Arunachal Pradesh before, but it was a  short trip. This time, I was going to be there for an entire week to participate in an adventure show along with five other people I’d never met before, and live in a jungle, something I’d never done before. The show was called The Real High, and as I travelled into Arunachal Pradesh, I wondered what the real high was going to be.

The crew had arranged for three shiny new Nissan Terranos to take us to Ziro Valley. As a driving enthusiast, I was absolutely smitten by the cars. I was to share the car with Neha Chugh, my co-contestant on the show. It didn’t take us very long to get comfortable with each other. We spoke about our journeys so far, and our reasons for participating in the show. What we didn’t really talk about was the shock of new experiences that waited for us in the wild. On my part, I was just hoping I hadn’t signed up for a less deadly version of The Hunger Games, but now, looking back at my time in Arunachal, I can see that my learnings are equivalent to what Katniss learned by living in the wild.

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Our education began as soon as we reached our meeting point. Rannvijay Singha, the host of the show, came out to greet us and then led us to a table where 35 items were laid out for us to choose from. These were our hacks to survive in the wild. The idea was to pick, one at a time, the things we thought would be essential for our survival. Naturally none of us had any idea and we chose randomly. When it was my turn to pick, I looked around at the spread of batteries, alcohol, coke, toilet paper, coconut husk, knives etc and for some reason, I chose a strange-looking object, which I was told is a magnesium flint. I had no idea what were its uses, but I took it anyway.

Once all of us made our picks, we walked for a short while through the forest and came out to this beautiful clearing — Camp Ziro. It was decorated with colourful streamers, lots of grass… and leeches. Within seconds of arriving, all of us had multiple leeches clinging to us, happily feasting on our blood. We tried to pick them off and repeatedly smacked them away, but we couldn’t get rid of them. Arzoo Sait, my co-contestant from Bangalore, had luckily picked up salt from the table, and remembered that it was used to kill leeches. She’d see it in a movie. We sprinkled some on the bugs and voila! Gone in a flash!  After that, each of us were given a small bag of cloth, a potli, filled with rock salt, tied to a thin bamboo stick. Every time a leech got stuck to us, we’d just dip the potli in a little bit of water, and rub it over the leech.

I still hadn’t got a chance to use my flint and I kicked myself for not having picked something more practical. The next morning, our task was to trek through a rainforest and it didn’t take us city slickers very long to burn out as well as run out of water. But fortunately, the forest was replete with little streams of water. But Rannvijay reminded us that we need to purify the water before we drank it, which meant we needed to boil it.

Simple science that we had all studied in middle school was finally coming handy. How little we thought about these everyday objects and their power to deliver us from the most sticky situations.

I think the phrase “Too many cooks spoil the broth” would be apt to describe our attempt at starting a fire. We tried, but after a desperate trying 30-struggle we didn’t get anywhere. Rannvijay’s brother Harman stepped in to teach us the hack. Finally my magnesium flint came to use. All we needed to do was use it the primitive way: Rub the piece of steel against the flint to start a spark. We then used that to light coconut husk on fire. Harman taught us another hack to start a fire, where we just had to touch a battery to a woolen sweater, and it would catch fire. Once we got the fire going, we collected water in a tin can from a nearby stream, and then finally, we boiled and drank it. We actually relished the water.

Our third hack came in the form of a riddle — a plastic box, some water, a leaf, and a needle. We had been split into two teams of three people each, and whoever figured out the riddle first, would get to use the Nissan Terrano which had been pre-fed the location of our next challenge. Its super-advanced navigation system was indeed a blessing. The other team would have to figure out the location on their own in a car without a GPS system.

But to get to the car, we had to crack the riddle, which asked us go north. Naturally, we had no idea how to figure out the directions without a compass. Thankfully, Dishank Arora was sent to help us. He simply rubbed the needle on a cloth to create static, filled the plastic box with some water, and let the leaf float on the water. He then put the needle on top of the leaf, which suddenly turned and became stationary. It pointed toward the north. Dishank had made a compass for us using simple physics. We quickly ran to our Nissan Terranos and later won the challenge for that day.

The Real High

I was just hoping I hadn’t signed up for a less deadly version of The Hunger Games, but now, looking back at my time in Arunachal, I can see that my learnings are equivalent to what Katniss learned by living in the wild.

Pratik Gupta / Arré

When I was reflecting back on the day’s events, I was in awe. Simple science that we had all studied in middle school was finally coming handy. How little we thought about these everyday objects and their power to deliver us from the most sticky situations. At home, we had technology, services, information, and a range of products that would fill every need imaginable. Here we had nothing but our own imagination and simple concepts of biology, physics, and chemistry.

In the first 24 hours in Arunachal Pradesh I learnt more about how the real world works than I did in my 30 years in the city. That, in my opinion, was the “The Real High”.  

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