“Hey man COME ON! It is going to start you just have to believe it’s going to start and it will!”
4 in the morning and we were ready to leave for a treehouse consulting mission, but the jeep wouldn’t start. We’d already tried to push start it twice and were wearily huffing and puffing whilst we tried again. The third time it started – we quickly ran back down the dirt road, packed everything into the boot, jumped in and immediately fell asleep. Ilango drove for the first few hours, and when the sun came up and began roasting us inside the metallic cumbersome lump of our Bolero, we stopped for breakfast.
In true style, at every highway tollgate we came through, Filip would charmingly try to pay with anything other than money and nonchalantly claim that we had no idea we had to pay for the highway. He’d take his time to sweet talk the man or woman behind the counter until they turned into giggling children happily waiting for us to stop pissing around and hand over the cash. Of course it never actually worked, and for sure none of the toll officers were accepting bananas as payment today, although there was one traffic officer who spotted us from afar and quickly commanded us to stop and hand over some bananas before we could proceed.
Every time we took a break and turned the engine off we had to push start the car again. We got into the habit of parking it conveniently on a hill so it could do the work for us. Once after taking a wrong turn we managed to stall the thing whilst trying to reverse turn onto somebody’s driveway. With three of us, and one unlucky passer by we somehow pushed it back up the slope.
It was pitch black by the time we arrived and the first thing we noticed was the flocks of flying lights darting about the trees. I don’t think any of us had ever seen that many fireflies before. In the darkness, the collective light which they were emitting gave depth and visible layers to the surrounding forest which, when they were turned off was utterly black. What was more astounding was the manner in which they were glowing – somehow synchronised but random at the same time. It was quite mesmerising. The majority of the fireflies blinkered seemingly however they felt like, and in the midst of it all, in one tree – just one – they were all turning on and off at exactly the same time.
On Friday I awoke to the exceedingly cute and endearing noises of the neighbour’s morning rituals: he farted proudly for about half an hour whilst simultaneously clearing his throat in a way which made me think he was going to die unless he really cleared it successfully.
The land we had come to research for building opportunities was incredible. It reminded me a little bit of the jungle covered hills between Kerala and Tamil Nadu – steep hills and valleys covered in huge trees bursting up out of the thick undergrowth as far as the eye can see. Here in the forests of Coorg were many species of plants and trees, some of which even the experienced botanists in the group couldn’t recognise. We got more and more excited as we explored further. The resort was still under construction but had 50 (almost completed) villas built onto the steep slopes and ridges, which covered the 10-acre plot, where the amenities were. The other 90 acres of the plot, which surrounded this central area, was mostly untouched forest except for a few pathways. Behind the restaurant there was a waterfall, which we were told gushes tonnes of water throughout monsoon season. The stream leading up from the waterfall ran straight through the valley. This was where we were considering building a suspension bridge so that people could cross over the stream, walk through the forest and access the top of the waterfall.
As we walked around the villas and the surrounding forests we kept spotting bigger and bigger trees. Each giant we saw was hiding another even bigger, badder one behind it. As the possibilities appeared to be endless, we needed to pick and propose the best options according to what the owner had in mind and not get too carried away with ideas of building massive networks of treehouse villages as high as possible. The main focus of our visit was to design a skywalk; a series of interconnected platforms, walkways and bridges that would take people on a journey through the trees high above the ground. We paid particular attention to nice groupings of trees that could definitely be used for such structures, and took measurements of their individual sizes and the spans between them. After two days of climbing, investigating and sketching out ideas we then conceptualised what should happen.
On our last day in Coorg we proposed our plans to the owner and his friends and family who were all there for the weekend meeting. We talked through our plans for the skywalk, which we had chosen to do in the trees above the ‘ginger garden’ – an area in the centre of the resort directly in front of the restaurant. The ginger garden – you guessed it – had ginger in it, but more importantly contained a grouping of four very big trees. The area was a kind of half crater, with a ten metre high ridge on the topside. Our idea was to build a steel suspension bridge from the edge of the crater, which would span 25 metres to the multiple platforms that we would build in the four trees. These platforms would have multiple levels; wooden paths and bridges would connect them. The top levels would serve as viewing / chill out platforms whilst the lower ones would be a play area for the kids complete with climbing nets, slides and other fun stuff. Everyone involved seemed excited about the project and we rounded off by discussing some details about the time schedule and material sourcing.
We left Coorg reluctant to re-enter the arid Martian landscapes of east India but elated about the trip. I was feeling particularly content because I’d climbed one of the tallest trees I’d ever been up:
Climbing this tree was challenging. It took quite a few attempts to throw our line over the first branches, that were 20 metres above us, we then put on our special climbing pants and hauled ourselves up there, resting a few times along the way. When I reached the top I was pretty speechless; a strange overwhelming feeling washed over me, like I had only just realised what the hell I was doing. The thick branches carpeted in moss, the ants, bees and orchids, which comprised the ecosystem of the tree, were all hidden from the world below. And from down there I was just a tiny creature hanging on a 10mm rope lost in a forest of giant trees.