On 31st of October the CFZ 2010 expedition leaves England. They will be exploring the Garo Hills in Northern India in search of the mande-burung or Indian yeti. The five-man team consists of team leader Adam Davies, Dr Chris Clark, Dave Archer, field naturalist Jonathan McGowan, and cryptozoologist Richard Freeman.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


A close-up of the bone found by Pintu at Siju. We brought half back for analysis
The ootheca or egg case of a praying mantis photographed at Balpakram.
Some of the strange stalagtite formations in the cave system
Weird white fungi growing on bat guano in Siju Cave
A cave crayfish, one of the inhabitants of the Siju caves

INDIA EXPEDITION: Jessica Taylor and a friend interview Richard

Before the expedition left for India, Richard was interviewed by 12-year-old Jessica Taylor (now a sophisticated young lady of 13). The interview was so popular that by general request we asked Jess to interview him again on his return. This time she bought a friend along....


We thought that this was a swamp eel (Symbranchus). The India expedition bought it, photographed it and then ate it. However, as Max points out, Symbranchus spp don't have these nasal tubercules....


Sunday, 28 November 2010


MORE PICTURES FROM INDIA (Captions by Richard Freeman)

Pintu, one of our guides, who found a mysterious bone in Siju caves

Me in Siju cave, looking for bones

Chris, Adam and I outside of Siju Cave, where a village headman reported an encounter with a mande-barung

Chris and Dave on an old-fashioned jungle suspension bridge, minus Johnny Weissmuller

The beautiful Simsang River where the sankuni, a huge mystery snake, has been reported.

Friday, 26 November 2010

INDIA EXPEDITION: First Video Report

For the next week we shall be posting pictures and a brief video from the India expedition.

FIRST PICTURES FROM INDIA (Captions by Richard Freeman)

A few weeks prior to our arrival the jungle was filled with elephants passing through the area.
Each morning we heard the hoolock gibbons calling from deep in the forest.

This is a tourist lodge in the jungle at Nokrek. It is made to look like a traditional Garo house.

One night, or so our guide Rudy said, a tiger was prowling around it, attracted by the live chickens.

Sadly we didn't see hide nor hair of it!

We sampled a local wild fruit that the guides called 'tescun.'

It was quite delicious but also quite unlike anything I have tasted before.

Describing the flavour would be akin to trying to describe a new colour never seen before!

One of our first ports of call was Nokrek National Park.

There have been several recent mande-barung sightings here.

We set up several camera traps baited with fruit and left

them in the hope that the creature would be attracted.

We bought fresh produce from village markets; produce such as
fruit, rice, vegetables, eggs and live chickens, all of whom I named!
The food prepared by our guides in the jungle lodges
was far better than the fare we endured in Tura.

Friday, 19 November 2010


The Indian Expedition is back in the UK. Richard rang me a few moments ago.

Of course, the most important thing that I wanted to find out was how Chris Clark is. The answer is thankfully pretty good. He was treated in India, and managed to do most of the stuff that the other expedition members did.

The expedition appears to have been remarkably succesful. They have interviewed a number of mande burung eyewitnesses, photographed what appear to be footprints, and have obtained samples. One of these is a fragment of bone from a femur of what appears to be a bipedal creature, but until we have test results I would caution against getting one's hopes up.

They also have evidence for two other cryptozoological creatures. Richard gave me brief details, but he will be coming up here next week, and I will post further details then.

In the meantime it is just good to know that once again they have returned safe and sound.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

OLL LEWIS: The Disappearing Western Hoolock

As you will have seen from some of the previous articles I've written for this blog the Garo Hills is home to a large number of rare species. One of those species, and indeed a species that some people have postulated may be responsible for some sightings of the Indian Yeti, is the western hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock). The western hoolock is an endangered species of tail-less gibbon and can grow to a maximum size of around 90cm, making it, in terms of size of individuals, the second largest known species of gibbon in the world.

The western hoolock is under considerable pressure from several different sources, including deforestation and hunting, and as a result the population has declined by 50% in the last 40 years. Unless conservation efforts pay off this trend is likely to continue. As the population becomes more fragmented the speed of decline will only accelerate as groups of the gibbons become more and more isolated from each other. This isolation of groups will lead to smaller local gene-pools and the inevitable loss of potential genetic combinations that could reduce resistance to disease and other environmental pressures, and if this isolation is caused by deforestation and the fragmentation of habitat then, if one local group is wiped out it is less likely that the area will be recolonised naturally. There are estimated to be less than 5000 individual western hoolock gibbons across their entire range in Bangladesh, North Eastern India and North Western Myanmar. It is also thought to occur in parts of the Tibet area of China, and it has been listed among the worlds 25 most at risk primates by the IUCN.

Another potential threat to the western hoolock's survival is its close relative the eastern hoolock gibbon (Hoolock leuconedys), which is also a threatened species but classed as vulnerable rather than the more threatened endangered western hoolock. Typically the eastern hoolock is only found to the east of the Chindwin River but the two species are not reproductively isolated and hybridisation between the two species occurs towards the river's source. It is known that there is a population of the eastern hoolock, within the range of the western hoolock, in Arunachal Pradesh and it is certainly a possibility that hybridisation will have occurred around the edges of this population as well. Isolated hybridisation is one thing but if the eastern hoolock encroaches further into the western hoolocks territory there is a danger that hybridisation could spread, which would further impact the population of western hoolocks.

It is certainly not too late to save the western hoolock and along with a CITES listing there are several habitat conservation projects in India from which the western hoolock benefits, but in order to halt the decline of the species and even reverse that trend a lot more will have to be done.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

OLL LEWIS: The Ancient Sea-monsters of India

Monsters and strange animals have, like in many places around the world, been reported in and around India for thousands of years. A particular type of sea monster, known in the west as Ketea Indikoi (literally 'Indian sea-monsters'), was reported to inhabit the Indian Ocean near Sri Lanka. The monsters supposedly could be encountered in a variety of forms, usually with the head of one animal and the body of a fish. The animals' heads were often said to be mammalian ones ranging from lions to rams, but as well as these there were claims that some even had the heads of women with spines instead of hair. The creatures are also said to have been able to live on land as well as in the oceans.

The animals, if they existed at all, were likely just the result of travellers distorting descriptions of perfectly normal animals found in the area, like large crocodiles. The most well known description of these creatures dates back to the second century AD in the part fable, part natural history work, De Natura Animalium (On the nature of animals) by Claudius Aelianus, which is based on reports that would have passed through many different people before reaching his ears.

'Those [Indians of Taprobane--\ modern day Sri Lanka] that live near to the sea . . . devote themselves to catching fish and sea-monsters (ketoi). For they assert that the sea which surrounds the circuit of their island breeds a multitude past numbering of fishes and monsters, and moreover that they have the heads of lions and leopards and wolves and rams, and, still more wonderful to relate, that there are some which have the forms of Satyroi with the faces of women, and these have spines attached in place of hair. They tell of others too which have strange forms whose appearance not even men skilled in painting and in combining bodies of diverse shapes to make one marvel at the sight, could portray with accuracy or represent for all of their artistic skill; for these creatures have immense and coiling tails, while for feet they have claws or fins. I learn too that they are amphibious and that at night they graze the fields, for they eat the grass as cattle and rooks do; they enjoy the ripe fruit of the date-palm and therefore shake the trees with their coils, which being supple and capable of embracing, they fling round them. So when the shower of dates has fallen because of this violent shaking, they feed upon it. And then as the night wanes and before it is clear daylight these creatures plunge into the ocean and disappear as the dawn begins to glow.'

Make of that what you will....

Friday, 12 November 2010

OLL LEWIS: Take me to the River

One afternoon in February 1973 a priest out for an afternoon walk by the Kuano river near the village of Baragdava, Uttar Pradesh in Northern India, saw a most peculiar sight. The priest was crossing the river via a dam when he saw a naked boy of about 15 years old walking into the water and diving under the waters for about a minute before rising up triumphantly with a fish in his mouth. The lad ate the fish raw then swam away. When the priest told the villagers of this unusual sight a woman named Somni told him how her son Ramchandra was swept away by the river when he was a baby and would be roughly the same age as the boy.

Although another villager saw the boy by the river a few days later the boy was not seen again in the area until 1978 when Somni spotted him in a field. Somni was able to look at a birthmark on the boy and confirmed it was her missing son before he ran off. This time the villagers were more prepared and managed to find and capture the boy to take him back to Baragdava. He eventually escaped again and went back to living in the river but having learned that humans would feed him and meant him no harm, he was no longer afraid of human contact.

Ramchandra would occasionally come to the village or regularly be spotted by the river and seemed quite happy with his lot in life. It was on one of his visits into the village that the boy was observed by a journalist who wrote up the story of the feral child (who was by now a man) for the Allahabad magazine and observed Ramchandra submerging himself underwater for much longer than a normal person would be capable of. The journalist said that Ramchandra had dark skin with a subtle green tinge to it and walked upright but with a quite clumsy gait. He also had very hard skin on his feet as one might expect from someone who spent their life outdoors and without the comfort of shoes. It is thought that the boy was deaf and certainly was never observed speaking or making any human sounds.

Compared to most feral children it would seem that Ramchandra led quite a nice life and it doesn't look like he was ever persecuted, abused or exploited in order to make money or make somebody famous, as is the fate of most feral children. His death, however, was tragic. He had made his way into the nearby village of Sanrigar where a woman threw a large amount of boiling water at him in fright. The woman, unaware that this was the river boy from the next village along, had possibly been frightened by Ramchandra's appearance, strange walk and the fact that he would have been completely naked; and she may have feared that she was about to be sexually attacked by a madman. Ramchandra ran back to the river that he knew and loved but it was too late for the young fish lad and his blistered body was found in the river later that day.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


I received an email from Richard Freeman this morning. The absence of earlier news from them is simple: 'Hi Jon, Sorry for the the delay, this is the first working computer I have come across since I got to India.'

You may remember that Chris Clark was unwell on the flight over, causing some concern here at base camp. Richard continues: 'Chris has had some chest pains whilst climbing up hills. He's going for a check-up today.' It goes without saying that he is in our thoughts and prayers.

As always seems to be the case, the team go in search of one unknown animal and find reports of several others:

'We have interviewed many witnesses including a shaman. As well as the mande burung we have uncovered reports of a huge (15-18m) crested serpent called the sankuni.'

The sankuni seems very similar if not identical to the naga, which Richard hunted in Thailand ten years ago: 'It is associated with rainfall and is blamed for landslides. One was supposedly shot in 1940 in a lake near the border with Bangaladesh. It had killed a number of people so a group of armed men hunted it. The shaman reported being chased by a huge, upright walking man-like beast and seeing a sankuni slithering out of a river cave.'

Back to the mande burung: 'Another man saw a severed, preserved hand in a village market' and they also 'found what may be the femur of a bipedal animal in a cave in Seju.'

And there is other news as well: 'We may have also found evidence of a gigantic muntjac even bigger than the giant muntjac, and a possible new sub-species or population of the red panda.'

And finally 'We put up camera traps and will be interviweing recent witnesses soon.'

It looks like a momentous expedition so far. Well done, lads (and get well soon, Chris).

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

OLL LEWIS: The New Dehli Monkey Man Panic

In May 2001 residents of New Dehli came under attack from a strange creature. The creature; if indeed it was a creature; caused more harm to the population due to the mass panic that followed in its wake than it was personally responsible for. The animal was dubbed 'The Monkey Man' by the media and differing reports as to the monkey man's appearance surfaced in the city.

The police described it as 4-foot-6 with a dark coat of hair, but some eyewitnesses described a very different-sounding beast describing it as 5-foot-6 and wearing black clothes with a sports helmet and glowing red eyes. If the eyewitness statements were truthful then this would suggest that rather than a monkey, the creature was a man hoping to cause panic by dressing in a sinister manner and harassing people, similar to Spring-heeled Jack in Victorian London.

The first time the monkey man was seen was on the 13th of May 2001 when he was allegedly responsible for minor injuries to 15 people, including bites scratches and bruises. This was the only day upon which the monkey man is said to have actually physically harmed anyone; all other accidents, injuries and even the following deaths were caused by the mass panic that followed in the wake of these incidents.

Within two days fear had taken hold of the local populous and a pregnant woman fell to her death in a stairwell after neighbours saw her running and shouting about having seen the monkey man. The next casualty would be a four-foot-tall wandering Hindu mystic who was beaten by a crowd who mistook him for the monkey man, and a similar fate befell a van driver who sustained multiple fractures during his beating.

After a few days without incident the monkey man and the resulting panic he had caused was quietly forgotten and the police did not arrest anyone for the panic, subscribing to the theory that the initial attacks that caused the panic were likely a combination of animal attacks and in some cases just common accidents. Further sightings of the monkey man were made in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, in February 2002 and in New Dehli once more in July 2002, but as it has not been seen since it is probable that whatever caused the panic of 2001, creature or man, it has probably moved on.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

OLL LEWIS: The Wolf children of Calcutta

Something that, thanks to Kipling's character Mowgli, will forever be associated with India are stories of feral children. The story of Mowgli, told through the short story 'in the Rukh', where the character is first introduced as an adult, and the Jungle Books, which tell of Mowgli's childhood in the Indian jungle deal with the story of how Mowgli, after surviving a tiger attack at a young age, was raised and protected by animals; notably wolves, a formerly domesticated panther and a bear. Mowgli's story was partially based on the stories and legends of feral children raised by animals found throughout the world in many different cultures, and in Europe the concept of children being raised by wolves dates as far back as the foundation myths of the city of Rome by Romulus and Remus in 753 BC.

In India often a child having been raised by wolves was used as a standby explanation for why a child had behaviour diverging from what would be considered normal; for example many who may have been on the autistic spectrum were unfairly characterised as feral children in some parts of the country. One famous case was that of Amala and Kamala, two children, allegedly raised by wolves, who found their way to the orphanage of Reverend Joseph Amrito Lal Singh in Calcutta.

According to the first stories Rev. Singh told, the girls were given to him by a man in Godamuri, but this story was later changed. In the revised version of the story Singh claimed to have rescued the two young girls from the wolves den itself in 1920 when Amala was about 18 months and Kamala about 8 years old. Singh named the girls and wrote about their progress in a diary.

Singh recorded the girls lives at his orphanage in meticulous detail, telling of how both girls seemed to possess traits inherited from their lupine upbringing, such as never wanting to dress, a nocturnal lifestyle and howling at night in an vain attempt to call to their pack. The girls also had hard skin on their knees and hands from walking on all fours, would not stand upright and had excellent night vision. Interestingly, though they refused cooked meat and would scratch and bite at anyone attempting to feed them, the girls would eat raw meat from bowls. The fact that they ate from bowls like a pet dog seems somewhat at odds with the rest of the wild wolf-like traits they were said to have.

Amala died a few months after entering the orphanage from a kidney infection and Kamala lived to be about 17 years old, dying in 1929, also from a kidney infection, by which time she had been taught to walk upright and had a limited human vocabulary.

There are several aspects of the tale that cast doubt on the entire story and these were identified by Serge Aroles in the book L'Enigme des enfants-loup. The diaries were actually written in 1936, photographs of the wolf children were taken in 1937 (8 years after Kamala's death) with local children posing as the girls, and according to doctors from the orphanage, Kamala did not walk around on all fours or have any hard skin from having done so.

More disturbingly, several eyewitnesses claimed that Singh used to beat Kamala in order to get her to perform for visitors. This puts a whole new spin on the case and it could well be that rather than Kamala's behaviour being due to being raised by wolves, it could have been the result of neglect and abuse in her early years like the American “feral child” known as Genie who was discovered in 1970.

Genie displayed similar animal-like traits and was raised not by wolves but alone in an enclosed crib and tied to a chair during waking hours up until she was discovered when she was about 13. Such social isolation resulted in, among other things, an extremely limited vocabulary and unusual way of walking. It has been alleged that Singh fabricated or exaggerated the girls feral nature in order to acquire more funds for his orphanage, which was in a dire financial situation at the time.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

OLL LEWIS: Living On Air

Not everything unusual that happens in India is cryptozoological in nature; there are a great many Fortean feats claimed by Indian people as well. One man reputed to be able to perform seemingly impossible tasks is Prahlad Jani, a man who claims to live on air alone.

Jani was born Chunriwala Mataji in the Indian state of Gujarat in 1929 and left home at the age of seven to live in the jungle. It was while he was in the jungle when he was eleven years old that he claims to have had a religious experience after which he became a devoted follower of the Hindu goddess Amba. Afterwards he dressed as a female with long hair to show his devotion for the goddess. Jani claims that the goddess blesses him with an elixir called amrit, which flows out of a hole in his pallet, and because of this divine elixir’s powers he does not need to consume food or water, and needs air alone to survive. He has been living as a hermit in a rainforest cave since the 1970s.

Recognising the potential advantages of being able to live without food or water for soldiers and astronauts if the claims were in any way true, Professor Sundhir Shah of the KM school of PG medicine and research, Sheth V. S. General Hospital, Ahmedabad, decided to study Prahlad Jani in both 2003 and 2010.

In the 2003 tests in Sterling Hospital, Ahmedabad, it was established that Jani was physically normal apart from a hole in his pallet (this being the hole through which he claim's the elixir flows), and he was kept under observation. Jani was not observed drinking and the only water he was given by the scientists was 100ml of water to use as a mouthwash each day. Scientists observed urine forming in his bladder but he was not observed passing urine or stool during the ten days he was kept under observation at the hospital.

Although Jani did not engage in strenuous exercise during the ten day trial he did loose weight, which cast doubt on his claims to be able to survive indefinitely on air alone. During the 2010 trial at the same hospital Jani was kept under observation by CCTV and given regular blood tests, again scientists observed fluctuating amounts of water in his bladder but did not see him pass water. Sanal Edamaruku; a sort of Indian version of Richard Dawkins but with a background in political study rather than science; described the experiment as a farce because it had been possible for Jani to move outside of the CCTV's field of view and because he, Edamaruku, had not been given permission to inspect the project during its operation. Quite why a man with no scientific training would expect given access to an expensive experiment when he clearly intended to rubbish it whether the project deserved being rubbished or not, I have no idea.

Jani may well be able to go without food or water for long periods of time as he claims or he may be pulling off a bit of David-Blaine-style trickery. Without further periods of testing it is hard to say for sure but if it is a genuine talent then all humans may be capable of similar feats with the right amount of training or practice. Personally, I am not particularly convinced that anyone could live without food and water indefinitely but you do hear some remarkable stories of survival where a person has performed similar feats, so a few days could be well within the realms of possibility.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

OLL LEWIS: Kallana, The Cryptid Dwarf Elephant

People of the nomadic Kani tribes of India's Western Gnats have long talked of an animal they call Kallana. According to the indigenous people there are two morphologically distinct groups of elephants in the Peppara forest range, the first of which is the common Indian elephant. But the other is a dwarf variety they call the Kallana. There has been much debate as to whether the Kallana exist at all and expeditions to the area to search for the creatures have come back empty-handed, as many expeditions that search for cryptids do. The thing is, despite what some people would have you believe, finding an animal known only from anecdotal evidence is not as easy as simply pushing a pin in a map and saying “We'll search here, come on lads! To the Kongamato-mobile!” Hidden animals tend to be hidden for a reason and to discover such a creature if it exists one has to have the pure dumb luck of being in the right place at the right time, no matter how good a tracker you are.

The Kani people were, despite increasing scepticism from some nay-sayers, quite adamant that the Kallana exist because several of them had seen and observed the diminutive elephants with their own eyes. According to the Kani the Kallana grow to no more than about 1.5 metres in height (5ft), have long hairy tails that reach to the ground and avoid Indian elephant groups never mixing with them and often going out of their way to avoid encountering them. The peculiar pygmy pachyderms are said to live on a diet of grass, bamboo leaves, tubers and bark and be able to climb steep rocky inclines that larger elephants would have great difficulty with.

It remains to be seen whether the Kallana are a wholly different species of elephant from the Indian elephant. They are most likely just a different variety that has been fairly genetically isolated. But one thing is looks likely... They do exist. A photograph was taken of one of the creatures in, according to conflicting reports, either 2005 or 2010 in the Peppara Wildlife sanctuary.

Friday, 5 November 2010

OLL LEWIS: The Little Known Garo Hills Caecilian

As well as the various mammal species I've mentioned in previous blogs, the Garo Hill's is, as one would expect from such a wet part of the world, home to several unique species of amphibian. There is little known about many of the amphibians endemic to the area, some of which are only known to exist from just one or two specimens. This does not mean that the species is particularly rare but that it is probably either illusive or just won't be encountered unless you search in a specific place. For example, we all know that earthworms exist and are very common, but unless you dig into the soil or go outside after heavy rain on a regular basis then you seldom encounter them.

It is, however, difficult to judge the reasons why an animal is seldom encountered, which could be due to a number of factors including low numbers, a fragmented population or simply looking in the wrong places, and in these cases, especially when habitat is threatened, the creature is listed as data deficient in the IUCN's red list in the hope that more will found out about the creature in future and the entry can be updated with a more appropriate category.

One such species is Ichthyophis garoensis, the Garo Hills caecilian. The caecilian was described by Pillai and Ravichandran in 1999 and is known from only two specimens. The caecilian is seldom encountered as it lives in moist leaf litter, apparently venturing to the surface very rarely indeed. According to the red list(http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/59617/0) the species is known to inhabit the Anogiri Lake area of the Garo Hills and may also be found in Assam, where several specimens thought to be of the same species have been spotted. Because the only known specimens were both been found close to water one assumption is that the caecilians are aquatic in their larval stage. Like many species that live in the Garo Hills the species is potentially under threat from loss of habitat through logging or forest clearances, so unless humanity is careful we could loose this enigmatic species before we learn much more about it.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

OLL LEWIS: Here Comes The Sun Bear

One of the creatures often used to explain away sightings of the Indian yeti is the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus). It is easy to see how in some cases, for example when a the 'yeti' is glimpsed very briefly in pitch darkness or from behind, a mistaken identification like this could be possible, after all a lot of possible lake monster sightings can turn out to have been caused by a floating log or a perfectly natural wave. Some cases... but not all. When a sun bear is seen from the front there is no mistaking the distinctive orange horse-shoe marking under the chin and its creamy-coloured, distinctly bear-like face. I find it hard to believe that anybody who managed to get a half decent look at a sun bear would be insistent that they had seen a cryptid. This especially applies to locals who would certainly be familiar with most of the local wildlife, not least because a lot of it; like tigers, leopards, snakes and indeed sun bears; is potentially very dangerous indeed.

That is not to say that sun bears are not interesting animals in their own right. Sun bears are the smallest of the Ursidaes, measuring around 1.2 metres (4ft) in length. Sun bears will often climb trees to find safe places to rest during the day, and are nocturnal. They are classed as vulnerable by the IUCN due to deforestation fragmenting the species' habitat throughout their range and uncontrolled exploitation in trade of body parts for Chinese medicine amongst other things.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

OLL LEWIS: Alastair Lawson's Yeti Hunt

The Centre for Fortean Zoology are not the only Brits to venture into the thick jungles of the Garo Hills in search of the Indian yeti in recent years. In 2008 BBC Indian correspondent Alastair Lawson also visited the area and encountered a large number of eyewitnesses as well as a strong local belief in the creature's existence. Here is the story of his expedition on BBC news:


On the trail of the 'Indian yeti'

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News, Meghalaya

In the US it's known as bigfoot, in Canada as sasquatch, in Brazil as mapinguary, in Australia as a yowie, in Indonesia as sajarang gigi and, most famously of all, in Nepal as a yeti.

The little known Indian version of this legendary ape-like creature is called mande barung - or forest man - and is reputed to live in the remote West Garo hills of the north-eastern state of Meghalaya.

I was invited by passionate yeti believer Dipu Marak to travel throughout the area to hear for myself what he says is compelling evidence of the existence of a black and grey ape-like animal which stands about 3m (nearly 10ft) tall.

There have been repeated reports of sightings over many years by different witnesses in the West, South and East Garo hills.

Mr Marak estimates the creature weighs about 300kg (660lb) and is herbivorous, surviving on fruit, roots and tree bark.

Intense heat

The Garo hills comprise more than 8,000sq.km of some of the thickest jungle in India.

And as I soon discovered, there is no shortage of people who say they have seen the creature at first hand.

Take woodcutter Nelbison Sangma, for example, who works on the fringes of the Nokrek national park in the Garo hills.

In November 2003, he says that he saw a yeti three days in a row.

He took me from his village to the spot where he says he made the sighting, a five-hour walk in intense tropical heat from his house.

"I saw the creature quite clearly on the other side of the river. It was breaking branches off trees and eating the sap. Its strength was amazing.

"Obviously I wanted to photograph it, but I knew that if I left the area, it would take at least 10 hours or more to get a camera as I do not own one. By that time the creature would have disappeared."

Mr Sangma says that he told the state forestry department of his sighting, but they did not believe him.

He took me to the spot where he says the yeti destroyed a tree - an exhausting uphill walk through thick jungle infested with blood-sucking leeches.

Mr Sangma showed me where the creature broke the tree's branches and clearly visible scratch marks on its bark.

A 10-hour drive away from Nokrek is the other national park of the Garo hills, Balpakram, which lies amid thick jungle on the border with Bangladesh.

It is an extremely remote area, where the hum of insects clicking in the undergrowth sounds like a series of disconnected power cables.

Balpakram is famous for its vast jungle-filled canyon which spans several miles and is surrounded by spectacular cliffs. Any descent is a treacherous exercise.

If ever there was terrain where a peace-loving yeti could live its life undisturbed by human interference, then this has surely got to be it.

Perhaps the most famous reported sighting was in April 2002, when forestry officer James Marak was among a team of 14 officials carrying out a census of tigers in Balpakram when they saw what they thought was a yeti.

According to the author and environmentalist Llewellyn Marak, such stories cannot be dismissed out hand.

"I saw the footprints for myself last year," he said, and they cannot easily be explained away.

"The prints were different from other animals - and were almost human in appearance - apart from the fact that they were about 18 inches [46cm] long.

"Both my father and grandfather also saw the creature at different times. Each said that it resembled a large gorilla."

Mr Marak argues that the Meghalayan forestry department has not seriously investigated the sightings because they are "uninterested and too lazy".

The western side of the state of the Meghalaya is predominantly made up of Garo tribespeople. They are traditionally a matrilineal community, where property is inherited through the female line.

They are also a community where stories and fables are deeply ingrained culturally, which is why senior politicians and officials are reluctant to discount openly tales of a yeti roaming about.

Meghalaya's Divisional Forestry Officer Shri PR Marak denies suggestions that his officers have not properly investigated alleged yeti sightings - which he argues is an expensive exercise in thick jungle only accessible by foot.

He uses diplomatic language when discussing whether yetis exist in the state.

"I have gone to see the evidence for myself and have even taken a plaster cast of one of the footprints," he says.

"As you know the presence of such a creature is an important part of our culture - passed down to us by our parents and grandparents.

"But we have no concrete evidence it exists, and there may even be a possibility that some of the evidence has been manipulated to create a stir.

"Because the area where it is believed to live is thick jungle, it will be very difficult to know the truth."

But Dipu Marak has voluminous correspondence from various eyewitnesses to support his contention that there is something out there.

To critics who say he has no photographs of this mysterious creature, he insists that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence".

"We have so many reports of sightings that I sincerely believe there is some sort of huge creature in the Garo hills," he said.

"This is not just a fairy tale, nor is it an effort to woo tourists. It's deeply embedded in our folklore and scientifically it is possible too.

"While I cannot prove conclusively that this creature definitely exists, nobody can say conclusively that it does not exist either."

Such is the impenetrability and extent of jungle in the Garo hills that the legend of mande barung looks likely to live on in the foreseeable future.

"The truth is out there somewhere," says Dipu Marak sincerely.

"But like the Loch Ness monster this creature is obviously not fond of giving too many photo opportunities."

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

OLL LEWIS: The Garo Hills

The India expedition should prove to be quite a contrast to conditions faced on many previous Centre for Fortean Zoology expeditions, not least because of the weather conditions I would expect the team to encounter in the Garo Hills. If you've followed our expeditions for a while you'll know that so far the CFZ has encountered almost anything nature can throw at them, from blistering heat with no precipitation to ice-capped mountains. One weather extreme not yet encountered, however, is constant rain.

I suspect this may be rectified soon as Adam, Richard, Chris, Dave and Jonathan make their way to the Garo Hills in their search for the Yeti, because the Garo Hills is one of the wettest places in the world. Some parts of the mountain range receive over 11 metres of rainfall a year, so I hope for their sakes they packed their waterproofs.

The Garo hills are situated within the 41,700 square kilometres Meghalaya subtropical forests ecoregion in Eastern India, which borders on the state of Assam, famous to many in the west because of it's tea plantations. The Garo Hills region is a subtropical moist broadleaf forest eco-region home to around 320 different orchids and the beautiful Nepenthes khasiana pitcher plant.

The plant - whose local name among the A·chik Mande people of the Garo hills is 'memang-koksi', which means 'basket of the devil' - is endangered but shows great genetic diversity and there are several cultivation projects in progress to help ensure the rare plants survival. Animals in the area include Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), Asiatic wild dog (Cuon alpinus), sun bear (Ursus malayanus), sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), Indian civet (Viverra zibetha), Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Assamese Macaque (Macaca assamensis), Bear Macaque (Macaca arctoides), Capped Leaf Monkey (Semnopithecus pileatus), and Hoolock Gibbon (Hylobates hoolock), tiger (Panthera tigris) and Clouded Leopard (Pardofelis nebulosa). Some of which, like the sun bear for example, have been offered as non-cryptid explanations for Yeti sightings in the area.

Monday, 1 November 2010


No sooner had I written a blog posting saying that although, according to my reckoning, the India expedition should have arrived in Dehli but we hadn't heard anything, than the telephone rang. It was expedition leader Adam Davies. The expedition has indeed arrived in Delhi. Chris Clarke was unwell on the flight, and will be seen by a doctor before carrying on with the journey. The expedition personnel believe that it is nothing more than travel sickness, which can, as I know from personal appearance, be absolutely debilitating, and they are confident that Chris will be given the OK to continue with the expedition.

They are leaving Delhi for the mountainous region known as the Garo Hills, part of the Garo-Khasi range in Meghalaya, at about 2 o'clock GMT, and they will be arriving at about ten o'clock at night tomorrow (local time), or approximately 17:00 (GMT).

Unlike some of the expeditions that the CFZ have carried out in recent years, global communications are pretty good in northern India, and back at base camp here in the UK we hope that we will be hearing from Adam, Richard, Chris, Dave and Jonathan reasonably regularly, and so will be able to keep all good folk in bloggoland up-to-date with news of the expedition.

Watch this space!