Tuesday, April 3, 2012


That was an awesome and incredible day of gold prospecting in Zimbabwe. From the satellite images we identified an extensive area of Granite “Granite hill” with numerous intersections of smoky Quartz veins. We three from India and a local Geologist Jiban traveled in a Japanese made “truck” to that site. The vehicle failed just few kilometers away from Target area. We moved on foot and Jiban accidentally stumbled on an insitu Granite that contained some evidence of Gold Mineralization. Moving down the valley, we saw a fresh Deerskin on the top of a tall tree. Could it be an activity of a Leopard. Jeevan was walking further ahead of us in the narrow foot track of the forest. He suddenly disappeared. Was it a Leopards attack or something else happened to him? For full story along with some amateurish photographs, read on below
It all happened due to Jiban. We called him by Jiban and he frowned with a deep furrow on his forehead whenever we called him. His actual name is little different. He tried to rectify us but finally gave up.

Had Jiban not stumbled on the rock just near the shadow of the tree we could not find the lead to start with. Later on, his GPS failed due to cloudy sky. We headed towards nowhere and finally spent the night on a hilltop, near a Leopard’s den just below

We were evaluating Gold prospects of our Company’s business proposals in Zimbabwe with a local Business Man of Indian origin.

Many times if you can find a rock, occurring extensively in an area, do not neglect it as simple granite. There is a chance that within these rocks there are small bands of smoky gray colred rocks (smoky quartz). If nature so likes, it may reward these smoky quartzes with impregnation of precious yellow metal “Gold”.

“Morning shows the day” and the cloudy day began with the absence of our local guide. We two Indian and the local geologist Jiban decided to depend on GPS and proceeded for the 200 KM journey in our Japanese made “truck”. We previously identified this area after studying the satellite images of the area.

It is actually a covered jeep at the front and an attached tub at the back, suitable for our purpose to carry field equipment like Power drills, “Lil giny” (Portable generator), survey equipment, Spades and pick axes, and geophysical instruments. The “Truck” looks like “Genio” and “Bolero Camper” in India built by Mahindra.

The Japanese vehicle did well in Main tarred road and took only 90 minutes to reach Kadoma, 142 Km from Harare. As per our GPS, we should move from here towards South- East for 9 Km to reach the Granite hill, the target area for occurrence of gold bearing smoky quartz veins, intruding the Granite. The single lane tar road ended after 4 Km and the treacherous spiral mud built road leading to granite hill began.

After crossing two hairpin bends, it appeared to be a real uphill task for the “Truck”. The engine, after few coughs and jerks, stopped. Roberts, our driver friend assured us in the beginning but after half an hour said, “It may take an hour to know the exact position.”

We need to cross this hill, go down a little and then once again go up to reach the destination as per our GPS. We could make it by walking alone but not with our equipment.

It was Jiban’s idea to go by this truck. Earlier we planned to go by both Xylo and this truck. The xylo would carry us and this truck should follow us with the equipment. Jiban, well acquainted with local constraints compelled us to drop this idea. “In a gold bearing province moving with two vehicles may draw the attention of locals and we may have to face problems.”

Opening the bonnet of the truck, Robert was trying for the last one hour. Time was running out. Except Jiban we three were talking about our Bailadila days in 1980. Willy’s four-wheel jeep was our constant companion and it never failed us in the rugged hilly terrains of Bailadilla.

We decided to better walk some distance and find some evidence of Gold Mineralization. We reached the peak of this small hill; the adjoining granite hill was far away.

It was a dead walk for an hour and except few drifted quartz pieces from the adjoining Granite hill; we found nothing The Sun was just above our head. Locating a big shadow, we thought to take a break and better have a look at the map.

Jiban was ahead of us and we called him to come back to us. He looked at us, hit something, and fell in the ground. We ran to his rescue and then we all sat there only. Sipping coffee and munching Sandwich I was wandering what hit him so hard.

Jiban said He hit something very hard just near the bush. Covered by dry leaves and bushes, I found, what we were looking for.

It was a big piece of rock protruding a little from the soil. The yellow sulphide stains on the rock, intersected by numerous smoky quartz veins studded with few grains of Gold Nuggets gave us the first hand evidence of a gold bearing zone.

Checking with Compass, the strike (Length direction), dip (inclination) amount, and direction of the rock matched well with the regional strike of the insitu rock. We were sure that this small exposure was not a drifted rock but an insitu. Charged with this finding we started searching around the place for another one to confirm our observation but found none.

Left with no option, we walked down the valley, covered with deep forest. After walking a little, foul smell entered our nose and Jeevan saw something in one of the tall trees and showed us.

Up in the tree there was a skin of a deer killed freshly.

Jivan told us it could be Leopard’s unfinished job. The leopard can drag a prey, which could weigh two to three times its own weight, high up in a tree. After making a kill, the leopard may eat at the site, drag the remains of the prey by the neck in its mouth, and pull it high up into a tree. The carcass is hung over the tree branches so other animals will not steal the food. The leopard will eat the remains of the prey in the next few days.

We had only pocketknives for sampling, except Jiban, we were soaked with beads of sweats on our forehead. Jeevan took out few masks of strange looking human face and diesel soaked dry sticks from his bag. We wore the masks at the back of our face and kept the sticks ready in our hand. Jiban assured us that the mask should prevent us from an attack from the back and the lighted sticks from a face-to-face attack. Jeevan led us the way towards the valley.

The narrow zig- zag foot track amid the long trees on both sides took suddenly a left turn and we crossed the turn we could not find Jiban but only his torch till live. We started shouting for him but there was no reply.

Facing diametrically opposite to each other, we formed a big circle, and once again shouted for him. We heard his voice and it appeared he was probably unhurt but might need a rescue.

Following his voice direction, we were running and we heard him once again. Person at my back suddenly pulled me with full force and his timely action saved me otherwise I would have been just like Jiban.

Craning our neck we carefully stood at the immediate outer periphery of a pit in which Jeevan fell and shouting for our help. We came to a safest possible approach nearest to a pit and with our lighted torches could see him clearly.

We threw a fresh diesel soaked stick and a match box so that he could help himself until we could find something to approach him. He lit the torch and with that, he was pointing something in up direction and disappeared soon.

Looking in that direction we soon found a horizontal opening appeared like an adit mouth and soon another vertical shaft. Mean while Jiban came out from that adit opening and his opened his fist and shouted

“Gentlemen, see what I have brought for you. Look at these dull looking stones; they are with the glittering nuggets.

With delicate blows of hammer, we broke the dull looking rocks into small fragments and put them on gently inclined chamois leather. The gold particles were caught in the leather.

An adit for entry into Gold Vein by illegal Miners

">Through the adit opening, we went inside and reached the place where Jivan fell down. We went down little more to collect some more samples. Some people illegally opened
up this place; they even made a small vertical shaft also and mined gold nuggets but stopped as ground conditions became hard for them.
Vertical Shaft made by Illegal Miners
However, we found all the strong evidence of further continuity of this gold bearing zone down the depth.

Jeevan suggested going further down the valley and there could be a river. That could be the only place to meet the people from villages where we might hope for a night accommodation.

">Before we could reach the river, we saw another interesting thing. The whole area just near the river was dug up and people were engaged in other activities than mere taking bathing or fishing. They already made many pits and were busy in taking out the rubbles from these places. At one place, with the river water they wash the rubbles and pan for gold. Musclemen buy the gold they recover from these places at the weekend. The soiled few dollar notes are not sufficient to buy enough corn or Maize to feed the whole family. The malnutrition of the children that they brought along with them was sufficient to tell us that these simple villagers were speaking the truth.

Jiban spoke to them in the local language and told us that it would take us an hour to reach the adjoining hilltop where we may find some place to stay for the night.

Afternoon was setting in and we decided to take a short cut to reach the hill than take the long spires. However, the shortcut path was through neck deep grass. We were cursing Jeevan for taking this route. However, he was encouraging us and telling us the demerits of the spires. Not only it was longer, it is dangerous after the dusk. No sooner he finished his talking we all heard some movements in the adjoining bush. Suddenly the movements stopped, I felt a cold flow in my spine, and all of us stood motionless as if to become easy and tasty prey of someone.

We saw something in pale olive color firmly approaching us and there it was. An armed forest guard with a sten dangling at his back stood in our way and shouted in local language. Jivan took out the special permit of all of us and showed to him. He told us that he was sorry for taking us as poachers only.

Jiban said, “We saw, down in the valley, a deer skin. Possibly a Leopard…”

The guard broke in laughter “They killed almost all the leopards for their skin. The only Leopard, which lived in a den just at the down-slope of the forest rest house of the hilltop, did not come back to his den for a week. Possibly, he had the same fate. Have you seen any blood stains around the tree on which you saw the skin of the deer?”

We did not and that was a poacher’s job who kept the skin atop a tall tree for drying.

However, right then, the mention of guesthouse delighted us but he shook his head.

“ No ! for some reasons that has been stopped. There is an open tin shed at the back yard of the guesthouse. He said that accommodation means an open tin shed. Enough firewood is stored there for cooking and the fountain water is just nearby. But you better keep the fire live for the whole night to keep you warm and safe.”

“Safe means do you….”

“While going up you will cross a small hill fountain, the water from this fountain flows down the valley. Sometimes, at night, the remnant animals of this forest go there to drink water. They rarely come to hilltop but for your own safety you must keep the wood burning. Who knows the lone leopard is safe and is back to his den. But about half an hour ago I saw a covered jeep going up the hilltop. If they already occupied the tin shed, you may have to share it with them. ”

">The site of the hill fountain lured us to soak our body for a while. We deserved a bath after the whole day’s episode. Although the idea of sharing the accommodation with the passengers of covered Jeep was nagging us, we forced ourselves to keep it aside.

We did not know until then how much surprise was waiting for us.

The “XYLO”, parked outside the rest house, was unmistakably ours. The number plate pointed so. In our last conversation with Roberts, we just mentioned that we were near the river where people were panning gold.

Robert informed the Main office in Harare about the breakdown of the vehicle and the possible need of the spares. Harare office promptly sent the Xylo along with a Mechanic, spares, cooked food, water and sleeping bags. Dropping the mechanic with Roberts, the XYLO took an hour to reach the panning site and was redirected by the villagers to reach here.

We all told Jiban “ Just look at the job done by XYLO and the Indian driver Samuel” Jeevan said nothing.

The food from Harare was awesome. We skipped the comfortable stay inside the XYLO.

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">The fire was on in the Tin-shed and each one of us narrated their Jungle days. But, nothing was like this. The sound of waterfall and the sound of the herd of animals down the valley quenching their thirst in the background of chirping of Crickets was a rare orchestra session for us. Suddenly there were continued alarms of barking deers.
One of us who spent almost his lifetime in Forest told us “The Guard fellow was wrong. He has come back”

Jeevan said “Who has comeback”

I whispered “ Possibly the Leopard. The Barking deers…”

I could not finish. One of us said “All of look at your back. Look at the roof of the Guesthouse and there look at the top of XYLO. There is another one”

We saw pairs of glowing eyes and our heartbeat became very fast.

Jeevan took out a roasted chicken leg from the plate and raised his glass of Whiskey. “Oh! They are… wildcats only” he raised a piece of burning wood and threw the roasted chicken.

After all, who was afraid then of hungry wildcats?


umashankar said...

I was glued till the very end till the eyes of the wildcats shown like gold and I realised I had reached the end. Indeed, all that glitters is not gold! It was quite a thriller.

Sharmistha Guha said...

And the debate goes on without any decisive answer....so true...nobody knows which is better!

Indrani said...

What a story! Adventure and suspense! To survive in such conditions is a miracle!
Great post!