I wish we had adventures with Mowgli. Walking through the intense green of the jungle to a soundtrack of eternally chirpy birds and chatty cicadas it is easy to picture Shere Khan and Kaa plotting and Bagheera and Baloo watching over us from a distance. But I think they know we couldn't hack the jungle, these white folks who go back and sleep in their barn every night, and so they stay hidden. I know they are out there though.
And before we left we did actually meet two of them...Colonel Hathi and Hathi Junior. Remember who they are?
Have a guess and I'll tell you later.
As I said, we had a simple existence in the jungle. Our mornings were spent digging and planting usually, and fighting the curse of the lantana- an Australian plant that has found the subcontinent much to its liking and has invaded every single free space that there ever was ever. Which makes the coffee harvest impossible without vigorous slashing. So sometimes we would head out into the weeds, jungle knives wielded high above our heads, to do battle, and we would return an hour or two later, covered in scratches and disbelief that we had only cleared 20 square metres.
More satisfying was to wander around the garden beds in the cool of the evening and watch the beans climbing up their posts (which is only a teeny exaggeration- after a night of rain and a day of sun their curly little tendrils would have stretched at least another centimetre or two) and the corn sprouts tentatively peeping out of the soil, and picking beans and tomatoes and beetroots and parsley for dinner. One day while we were clearing weeds to dig some new beds we stumbled upon a patch of wild ginger that had sprouted in amongst the chaos.
There is an abundance of fruit trees scattered through the jungle aswell. Every few days somebody would go for a walk and come back with armfuls of green skinned Indian oranges or local sweet limes, or clutching a bulging shirt filled with little berries- an as yet unidentified fruit that is bright red and tastes of sour cherry, or very occasionally a guava or two. Or perhaps a rose apple, which looks nothing like an apple and tastes kind of like Turkish delight. There are also papaya and jackfruit and mango trees, baby banana trees and a tree in the corner of the veggie garden that was drooping with little green starfruits that were so sour they tasted like warheads dipped in lemon juice.
With all the fruit we harvested we made jam over a campfire. We tried so many times to make oven-less bread...flat-bread over the stove (so much rolling), damper in the fire (we were thwarted by impatience and monsoonal rains), and a lovely looking loaf that we left at the mercy of a "pizza oven" built by termites. We ate a lot of bread that was simultaniously charcoal black and uncooked dough. How did we possibly eat it, I hear you ask? With enough jam, anything is possible.
And when all the work for the day was done, we wandered downriver and washed off all the dirt in a pool under a little waterfall. On Sundays we clambered over rocks and through undergrowth to find our way to the second waterfall, deep, deep in the jungle. And it was one on of our last afternoons at the farm that we encountered two of Kipling's creatures. As we were drying off on the rocks, after our swim, somebody gasped a four-letter word and pointed just downstream, about fifty metres from us. And there, in the water, were two wild elephants, mother and baby, having a bath. It was an incredible sight. And despite the potential danger of the situation- wild elephants can run very fast and they are very huge and strong- we watched transfixed, until they slowly glided into the invisibility of the jungle. Then we climbed the steep hill back to the top of the waterfall quite quickly, lest the elephants changed their peaceful minds.
And now we know what we want to do when we grow up. So if you meet a little farm who is looking for a couple of grubby youngsters to take good care of it, please let us know.