Does the idea of waking up early for a Jungle Safari excites you? Or, you don't mind waiting hours for that perfect picture of a tiger with its reflections in the water? I got up early for moderating a session as we brought together the stalwarts of Indian Wildlife from the leading national parks, and corporate professionals who spend their '#myTime’ out in the wild and make you envious with their portfolio!
I am not an expert though pounce on every opportunity to step out into the wild. I did prepare for the session, but wanted to keep it conversational, lively and tempt everyone to pack their bags for ‘a great experience in the wild'. What unfolded in the session was not only engaging but also thought provoking. As the choice is not between the wildlife enthusiasts who perhaps form 2% vs. the 98%, who may not be adventurers or conservationist. It is perhaps about both segments as most can still appreciate the true richness that wildlife offers, and everyone has a role to play - the travelers, conservationists, photographers, and experience curators. Especially so in India with 104 national parks and 553 wildlife sanctuaries that is home to some of the rarest species – Royal Tigers, Freshwater Dolphins, Blackbucks, Asian Elephants, and diverse flora/fauna. Indian wildlife also gives shelter to about 8% of the world’s species but unfortunately around 12% of such species are already facing extinction.
As Imran Saab
) and Sumanta
) recounted their personal journeys of spending last several decades in Corbett starting with when they were kids. And, it was obvious that it takes a lot to conserve and bring out the best of wild life experiences. Wildlife experience is not about tiger sightings alone, but the entire habitat and ecosystem have much more to offer. Imran and Sumanta have spent lifetimes in making sure that Corbett is not just about mass tourism, and forest by itself is doing fine with the largest numbers of tigers, elephants, birds and healthy river ecosystem. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with offering luxury and catering to diverse taste but now a days most resorts don’t even have naturalists who study and bring out the best of the nature. Wild life parks without naturalists is like taking away library and books from the kids, and one must respect the sensibilities while visiting wild life parks to strike a balance with economic value generation. Both aspects are equally critical and a balance can be achieved if everyone in the chain plays a responsible role. For instance, it is always possible to have a destination wedding in Corbett with a fine dining menu in natural settings instead of loud music, light pollution and DJ.
– finest naturalist from Satpura also shared his experiences from the stretches of park which haven’t even been surveyed, climbing mountains that can only be accessed by hand rails, importance of walking trails, spending time with the kids and have them explore the wild life the way it is. In fact, Satpura national park may be off the traditional circuit but the experience is extremely rich, including the Forsyth Lodge
, stories and folklores from the past, rock and tribal paintings (e.g. Gond art
tracing roots to several millenniums) and many hidden gems – that only naturalists like Vineith
help to bring out. It simply underscores what Shobha mentioned - ‘surrender yourself to what wild life offers, be guided by naturalists, let go of preconceived notions’ and let the real experience unfold.
also guided us through the process of discovery that she herself underwent while working with some of the boutique properties, lodges and naturalists and unique challenges in bringing these experiences to the consumers. While her company (Red Coral) works across the entire range collaborating with Catterfly to increase the reach further, we understand the importance of guiding the travelers to make the right pick. Each wildlife park and boutique lodge/property have a story and there is no one size fits all approach. In fact, many kids become fantastic bird watcher and acquire knowledge, as they absorb life the way it is without putting any lenses on.
Incidentally, this is also the story of some great photographer who capture wildlife from behind the lenses. Amit
recounted how their initiation into wildlife was simply about being in the moment, and only later they acquired the passion and skills to capture it through their lenses as it helped them to switch off from the daily grind. Moreover, it is not always about getting the best pic of the day that is Instagram worthy, but the journey that they go through in best wildlife parks or the natural grasslands close to their homes. Surprisingly, their most memorable pic is not the one that looks the best but the story of spending time in the wilderness and sheer joy of being part of that experience.
As we wrapped up the conversation with Q&A, it was increasingly obvious that wildlife experience is about respecting nature, being in the elements, enjoying the journey and the process. That often happens when one surrenders to the naturalists who know it like their home, bringing out anecdotes, native art and culture, and most importantly drive sustainable growth while generating income and employment for local communities. A very important question that Aroon asked in the end – How can one find the right experience for themselves, as most travelers don’t have the luxury of time? And, there was a common conclusion that is a very heartening personal takeaway.
“Firm like Catterfly that curate unique experiences have an important role to play in this process as the wildlife sightings are a matter of chance but the company that you keep matters! While everyone has to find their path as a seeker it is always about people. Fortunately, nature follows suit when we respect and engage with the people who bring these experiences to us. We don’t always need to be a warrior, but can be Green People to start with. That is indeed a true legacy to leave behind, and something all of us can look forward to as well."