India Part 4: The Night Break-Out

The rumors, idle chatting, and gossip were steadily seeping more and more into the camps existence. I wanted to leave. It was after dinner, which is promptly served at 7.00pm every night without fail. Chapati (bread) rice and lentils are served most commonly. I was itching to split. I wasn’t thinking of doing anything too extreme: just wonder out into the darkness alone for 20mins and come back.

Equipped with only my incredibly expensive and powerful tactical torch and a toothbrush, I made an announcement to some of my companions at the camp at dinner. “You’re gonna what!?”.. “I’m gonna wonder out of camp, get lost, and try to find my way back.” The large part of me was joking but a deeper part of me was serious. They found the thought funny, and didn’t appear to take me seriously.

Now, there is a Night Watchman here in charge of making sure no one strays out of camp after hours. He is of average build, incredibly dark skinned, wears shabby, dusty clothes and sports a long, twisty and unkempt mustache. He looks quite crazy and scary. He roams the outskirts of the camp alone at night with an old but powerful heavy-duty torch and speaks no word of English. There is a single dirt road that leads away from camp to concrete paths in the distance. That’s where I was headed. As I exited the main, open gate of the camp, I realised why they don’t bother closing it. There’s nothing outside but dry darkness. It would take hours and hours before you reached anything by foot. I didn’t want to attract attention to myself near the camp so I decided to go without lighting my torch until I was far enough away. I couldn’t see anything bar two shades of black; one darker – for ground, all the way into the distance; and a lighter black for the sky. However, the sky was filled with stars. I’d never seen so many. Path, poo and shrubs were all indistinguishable in the darkness. As I made my way around the outside of the camp’s barbed wire to break off onto the path, I heard a voice from the inside of the barbed wire. A torch beam shone out onto the sandy ground in front of me from the camp and I stopped dead in my tracks. Soon enough, the torch was shone directly into my face. It was the Night Watchman. He appeared to be talking, but not to me. He was actually on his mobile. Some “break out” – a minute in and I’m caught. But I figured, well, he’s seen me now – that’s probably another warning, I may as well just keep going – since he can only give me one warning for the single incident. And so I did. I compared it to getting a parking fine on your car – you may as well just leave your car there for as long as you want since the damage is done, right?

So the 20minute plan went out the window and I began to walk out onto a barely visible path until the camp was completely out of site. I was in total isolation. At this point, I switched on my torch and proceeded with some light. I had mentioned in my second email that from the camp, the horizon was scattered with large, isolated wind turbines (500m in height approx). In the distance at night, they were marked by tiny flashing red lights. As I looked to my left, I noticed that one of them seemed about an hours walk away. And so, I left the path I was on and trekked towards it across dry, thorny ground with my torch. It was uncomfortable and long, but well worth it. During certain points through the shrubs and sand, I would pan my torch across the ground like a moving stage spotlight. In the motion of doing this, I would see what appeared to be small birds that would ascend from the shrubs into the stars – kinda like a Mexican wave. It was quite spectacular. As I approached the foot of the gigantic wind turbine I felt like I’d just completed some sort of Pilgrimage. I was incredibly happy at this point. The deep, brooding sound of its turning blades made me think it was other-worldly. The abstract noise flooded the area. There was an unmanned concrete hut by the iron legs of the wind turbine with a roof light, which meant that the small area was lit up enough so I could put my torch away. I spotted a metal ladder that went up one of the mechanical structure’s giant legs and began to climb it without a second thought. This was a really difficult task and at that point I couldn’t think why. Every step felt like a pull-up. I got up about 3 story’s worth, which was about 5% of its height and climbed back down tired and aching. As I stood a good dozen meters away from its base to look at it, I was reminded of the animated film “The Iron Giant”; it felt like I was standing before a huge mechanical foe. Now as you may have supposed already, these emails are pretty much entirely uncensored, so please be easy on me for the following. You know my incredibly powerful torch? Well it’s so strong, that in the desert, with all the dust flying around, the light beam projected from it looks like a piercing light saber that extends strongly into the sky – literally. I drew my torch and started to beat head of the wind turbine 500 meters high. I thrashed at it from its sides, it’s front, twisting and blocking imaginary attacks from its deeply ominous sounding blades, with my own vocal buzzing sound effects. I was truly in a world of my own. I also thought that it would look pretty cool from camp, since if you can see the red lights at the head of the wind turbines, you could definitely see my torch.

After battling, reality kicked in. I had no idea where I was or how to get back, and I had no money or card. I didn’t even know what direction I had come from. I tried to climb the ladder once again to see if I could spot the camp, but there was nothing. Electricity cuts out an hour or so after lunch, so the camp would be in utter darkness. I figured I might have to sleep rough. At the very thought of sleeping under the turbine for the night, I heard distorted music fading in from the distance. It was an isolated tok tok (three-wheel small, cheap cab) passing by on an invisible road a good few hundred meters away. I shouted like a maniac and shone my torch at the vehicle trying to grab the driver’s attention. I ran across more thorny ground back into the utter darkness. I continued to scream and flash my torch for attention, but the tok tok beeped in joyful fashion and continued out of site. I figured I would make my way to the road it was on and hope another would pass by soon. Once I’d reached the concrete path, I begun to wait. Nothing and no one came by. It was totally dead and silent. The only thing that moved was the odd shooting star above me. I begun to make what I thought were SOS signals with my torch in the sky hoping that some volunteers from camp would see it, inform staff, and come to my rescue. I had tried so hard to keep my escape a secret from staff but now I really wanted them to just come and get me. I was ready to surrender and face the consequences. I shone the torch in the sky on and off for 45minutes. My situation was getting quite desperate. I made a prayer: “Please send a vehicle… it’s been fun but I just want to get back to camp now.” I quickly stared into each direction of the road expecting a tok tok to miraculously appear. But there was nothing.

Further time passed and I sat on the road waiting for anything to happen. I didn’t want to start walking again because there was nothing to be seen in any direction and I feared I would accidentally shift further away from camp. I soon felt sleepy and lay down on my back in the middle of the road. I figured if a tok tok did come, the driver would see me sleeping and help me. As I lay down, I was able to appreciate the star filled sky properly in still silence, for the first time. My eyes began to close and I was just about to fall asleep, when I was disturbed by a tapping noise about 100m down the road above my head. I sat up, looked behind me, but couldn’t make anything out in the blackness bar a weak torch slowly and steadily making it’s way towards me. I could have blinded whoever or whatever was approaching with my torch light (it’s actually designed as a weapon in this respect) but I felt it’d be rude to do that. So I stood up and shone my torch up into the sky and waved it around. I cautiously shouted out the Indian greeting: “Namastay!” My tone was very much on-guard. The like was responded. I then shot my torch at the floor in front of the on-comers to bounce light, revealing two disheveled male farmers who must have been walking home. I quickly switched on my signature Indian accent and gestured with my hands: “I lost… me wolunteer” (Indians can’t pronounce v’s). They looked at me clueless. “I want to go camp… camp, woluteer”. They looked at each other and shared a few Hindi words and stared back at me blankly. I continued: “I frrom England”. Something clicked with them: “England!?”.. “Yes!” I replied. The man then started pointing out into the direction they had come from. The other man took his tapping stick and drew a map in the sand beside the road. He ran his stick across the recommended route drawing a line that indicated straight for ages, then right for ages. I thanked them and moved on.

After walking straight in total isolation for some time, taking the right would mean departing from the concrete road back on to sand paths. I wasn’t even sure if they knew where I wanted to go, but I followed the advice. As fate would have it, about 150m into the sand path, a tok tok began to race across the road that I was just on for well over an hour. The inconvenience was remarkably precise. I turned around, shouted and screamed and tried to blind the driver with my torch, but again, the vehicle sped off. I couldn’t believe it. But at the same time, I felt that this “unluckiness” seemed a bit organised. I must have been on the right path. I continued to follow the direction that the farmers had advised and sure enough made it back to camp within a short space of time.

The reaction from the camp for my safety was quite touching. JJ thought the ordeal was cool, and was reassuring the girls that I would make it back safe. The boys were generally excited by it. Many of the girls were upset/worried and some even refused to speak to me for the rest of the night. Though the next morning they expressed their emotional relief. It turns out that some of the camp members did see my torch light in the distance but didn’t recognise it as a cry for help; and the reason why it was so hard to climb the wind turbine ladder was because I was climbing it on the inside of its gentle incline and not on it’s proper side. Everyone thought I was absolutely insane for choosing to sleep in the middle of the road as a rescue plan, and now that I think of it – I guess it was kinda reckless. Fortunately, news of the situation never seemed to reach the executives and so I was never issued another warning. I guess the Night Watchmen decided to let it go. It’s strange, since had he not caught me in the beginning I really would not have gone as far out as I did.

 I’ll be sending a more general update soon.

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