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 beenrepeated 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.
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, afive-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.
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