Mande Barung: India’s Bigfoot

If you are open to the idea that Bigfoot is hiking around the backwoods of the United States, then you probably won’t be surprised to learn that he has cousins living in quite a few places around the globe. These other iterations of the big hairy guy vary from American descriptions of the animal, to the Yeti who lives in the Himalayas of Nepal and further north, to the Batutut of Vietnam, and onward around the globe.

India’s version is called the Mande Barung (Jungle Man) (see artist’s rendering below) and he has been sighted by tribal villagers for a very long time. These villagers live in the northeast area of India known as Meghalaya near India’s border with Bangladesh. They reside in the Garo Hills, which is made up of 8,000 sq. km of very thick and dense jungle. Inside the Garo Hills is a national park called Nokrek, and that is where many sightings have taken place.

In fact, so many sightings have been reported, especially since 2007, that authorities decided to do some investigating of their own.  In a June 10, 2007 article by an unknown writer for the Indo-Asian News Service, district magistrate for the West Garo Hills district, Samphat Kumar said, “A team of wildlife officials and other experts will conduct a study to find out if there is any truth in the locals’ claims about these hairy giants.”

One of the villagers, a farmer named Wallen Sangma reported seeing what he believed was a family of the creatures, four in all. Mr. Sangma had been gathering firewood in the forest at the time of his encounter. He said, “The sight was frightening: two adults and two smaller ones, huge and bulky, furry. Their heads looked as if they were wearing caps, and their color was blackish-brown.” He said the four “monsters” stood 100-130 feet from him. “The four of them quietly vanished into the undergrowth.”

One local group called the Achik Tourism Society has been conducting research into the existence of the Mande Barung since approximately 1997. They claim to have photographs of large footprints and some of what the locals call “nests” of these animals. They also claim to have found hair samples of this animal in the forest and have sent them for DNA testing. However I was unable to find the results of this testing, which probably means it was inconclusive, or they were unable to get any DNA from the hair. (See my article , The Case for Bigfoot, for more information.)

It seems the area locals know many myths and legends about this animal, but the recent sightings have proved very compelling, in other words, not the stuff of mythology. Writer L.R. Marak (who won the Sahitya Akademi Award, which is India’s highest literary award), said, “There is no denying the fact that Mande Barung does exist in the Garo Hills and it would be too simplistic to write it off as some bear or gorilla or a figment of imagination.”

I was unable to confirm L.R. Marak’s award status, nor to find him on any list of Indian authors. What’s also strange is that a T.K. Marak is listed in the article mentioned as the president of the Achik Tourism Society. Two other Maraks are mentioned in the articles, and it makes me wonder if they are all related? Could they be trying to stir up interest in the Mande Barung to help increase the tourist trade to the area? Another article I read describes the society as a non-profit organization.

Without going there myself, there’s no way to know. However, there are other news articles about these sightings, and the locals’ reports all mesh with other reported sightings of Bigfoot especially in America.

(The photo to the left is a generic Bigfoot depiction.)

Another article from May 06, 2008 features a report by Saidul Khan on the Mande Barung sightings in the Garo Hills area.

Mr. Khan found a villager who claims a female Mande Barung took hold of him and forced him to breast feed for a little while. The villager said the incident occurred on January 18, 1999. He said, “The milk was sour with a mixture of bitterness.”

Ok, this may be one report that I don’t believe at all. It sounds like the perverted fantasy of a lonely forest dweller.  Enough said.

In July of 2005, another villager claims she and her child were sleeping at night when she heard strange scratching sounds against her thatched hut. Suddenly one of the Mande Barungs entered her hut and looked around. Then it stamped out the fire and left, heading for the forest. Neither the lady nor her child were harmed.

In April 2007 an unnamed villager spotted a female Mande Barung digging for crabs in a forest stream. When she spotted him, she chased him away. This occurred in an area called Chokpot.

The Achik Tourism Society has compiled a description of this animal from all the witness accounts, as follows, “It is [a] big, apelike creature with thick hair covering its entire body. The color of the hair is reported to be black or blackish brown. It has some kind of foul odor/smell emanating from the body. It has a footprint size [ranging from] 13-15 inches in length. It may be around 7’5” – 9’ tall. It may weigh around 660lbs (300kgs). It is noted to be an herbivorous creature, who eats bananas, tubers, tree roots, fruits, berries, barks of some trees, sawe trees and is also reported to eat crabs. It walks on two legs. It sleeps in the nest built on the open ground. It is shy and is basically harmless. It is a creature with phenomenal strength.”

(The photo to the left is an example of a supposed North American Bigfoot nest.)

Sounds very familiar doesn’t it? Sounds much like the behavior of its North American cousin, Bigfoot. Of course our Bigfoot is omnivorous, that is, it will eat anything, including the deer and boar they hunt. The Mande Barung may also hunt animals, but may do so out of range of the villagers. Remember the jungles are very thick, so you can’t always see what’s happening around you. Also the Mande Barung has been seen eating crabs, which are animals. So they are more than herbivores.

Reporter Alastair Lawson of the BBC News filed a report on the Mande Barung in 2012. Dipu Marak, a member of the Achik Tourism Society, invited Mr. Lawson to come out and listen to the witnesses and look around himself for proof of the animal’s existence. Here’s what he found:

Mr. Lawson was impressed by the number of people claiming to have seen the Mande Barung in the dense forest jungle.  One witness who is a local woodcutter, Melbison Sangma said that in November 2003 he saw a yeti on three consecutive days. He insisted Mr. Lawson come with him on the five hour trek through the extremely hot and humid jungle, to the place where he saw the animal.

Note: The area where Mr. Sangma saw the Mande Barung/Yeti is closer to Nepal where they describe the animal as a Yeti. So there is some interchange in the terminology in that area.

Mr. Sangma said, “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 further explained that he reported the incident to the forestry department but they didn’t believe him. Mr. Lawson saw the spot where the yeti had been and he confirmed that the tree’s branches were clearly broken off and there were clear scratches on the tree bark.

Mr. Lawson also described his trek through the jungle like this, “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.”  That’s an excellent illustration why it is so tremendously hard to find these animals, much less gather evidence.

And speaking of photographs, I’m pretty certain if they used a film camera, the film would be quickly destroyed in that heat and humidity. I don’t know how a digital camera would fare in those conditions, but I’m also doubting these villagers have the most advanced technology  at their disposal.

Dipu Marek then took Mr. Lawson on a ten hour car trip from the Nokrek national park to the Balpakram national park, further along the border with Bangladesh. He described the area this way, “ It is an extremely remote area, where the hum of insects clicking in the undergrowth sounds like a series of disconnected power cables.” Lovely. Ewww!

Balpakram park features a huge canyon that stretches several miles across and is rimmed with very deep and treacherous cliffs. Down below, the canyon is covered in more jungle.  In April of 2002, a group of forestry officials searched the area conducting a census of the tigers living in that national park. They all spotted what they believed must have been a yeti. That’s a compelling sighting because you have 14 scientists all looking at the same thing. And they’re not prone to being fanciful, so they must have seen something unusual.

According to Mr. Lawson, Llewellyn Marak, author and environmentalist, believes such stories shouldn’t be taken lightly. He said, “ I saw the footprints for myself last year, 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.”

The Meghalayan forestry department has been severely criticized by locals for not taking these sightings more seriously, and for not conducting more thorough investigations.

Officer Shri PR Marak, who is the divisional forestry officer for Meghalaya,  denies the claims that his department is uninterested in these sightings, or too lazy to investigate them. His point is that to properly investigate this animal would require a lot of time and expense under very difficult natural conditions.

On the other hand, Dipu Marak has a multitude of eyewitness accounts that he’s saving as proof that there is some large bipedal animal living in the dense jungles around the Garo Hills and beyond. He said,  “We have so many reports of sightings that I sincerely believe there is some sort of huge creature in the Garo Hills. This is not just a fairy tale, nor is it an effort to woo tourists. It’s deeply embedded in out 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.”

Isn’t that the truth with all these Bigfoot sightings around the world? The truth is so tantalizingly close.  As I’ve probably told you before, I believe indigenous people when they report sightings of these creatures in their own environments. Our own Native Americans all seem to have tales and legends of Bigfoot, but as science is getting closer to proving, that doesn’t mean the animals aren’t real.

So it is with the Garo Hills villagers. They may have plenty of mythology and legends to describe and explain the Mande Barung, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less real. Making the situation even more difficult is the extreme heat and humidity in that area, plus the over abundance of insects and who knows what else ready to ruin any delicate equipment you may have with you.

Time will tell. Let’s just keep hoping someone, somewhere gets us the evidence we need to prove to the scientific community once and for all that these animals exists, and probably exist in various iterations around the world.

Keep your eyes open and your cameras charged and ready!

Til the next time!

6 comments

  1. Sad i saw this today. It’s better late than never. Thanks for posting.

    First of all, i would like to correct the spelling of Mande Barung. It is not BARUNG. It should be spelled BURUNG / BURING (Boo Roong). Mande means man and Burung means forest. Mande Burung = Forest Man.

    Well, all the MARAKs mentioned here are not blood related. However, our tribe is matrilineal society and we take our mother’s second name / title. We all belong to MARAK clan but we are not related by blood.

    A’chik Tourism Society never tried to woo tourist be it domestic or foreign. I happen to be a member of this society, and we mostly do awareness camps, tree plantations, help the local village youth to take up farmings and do other jobs than to take up an AK 47 and roam the jungle. Garo Hills is ravaged by other breed of Forest Man these days….. the ones with the AK 47 and RPGs. That’s another story altogether.

    I and my few friends started documenting Mande burung sightings from 1997 and A’chik Tourism Society was formed in 2004.

    I hope this helps. Thank you so much.

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