It was already dark by the time I reached Bandhavgarh National Park. Stop over was not originally scheduled. Somehow forest never called me before. I was totally unfamiliar with it all these years. I had no idea what was in store for me when I checked in at the Mahua Kothi of Taj.
When I was about to settle down in the hut, the manager of the place told me that she couldn’t guarantee a safari the next morning. That was very unsettling for me. If there were not to be a safari, what on earth would I do there for the two days I booked myself in? She said she would check if a safari could be booked for the morning of the day after. And she also suggested that I could take a chance at the gate for the next day afternoon.
Actually, it’s the non availability of safari for the next morning that made me go for a walk with two brilliant Naturalists who made a deep impression on me. If I had not taken that one and a half hour walk with those two young people, I would have continued to be as unfamiliar and unimpressed by forest as I’ve been all these years. They had shown me nature and natural life, the flora and fauna, in a new perspective.
Kartikeya Singh and Arpita Datta accompanied us. They turned out to be extraordinary youngsters with passion for forest and wildlife. They were full of joy while walking with us and explaining the forest to us. They had something to say about everything around them. Every leaf, twig, dragonfly, ant, squirrel, termite mound and bird meant something to them. They were able to see something in everything and could tell us to see something in every grain of sand in the forest. They both gave me a pair of new eyes with which to see the forest. I thought to myself if I had come to a forest in my teens, I probably wouldn’t have left it. Just like them.
I spoke to them at length and recorded an interview with them. They introduced me to a world which I’m a stranger to till then. They made me wonder that there were people who could leave the familiar and lucrative world of careers in cities and metros and content themselves with the pleasures that a forest could offer. What are those pleasures in a forest that made these young ones choose life in forest as their career.
Arpita has been a naturalist for the last 17 years. Kartikeya is relatively young and has been in the forest for four years. Both of them said they feel out of place when they go home into the world from the forest. They find it difficult to join in a conversation about clothes, jewellery, cinema, politics and money. Arpita said that she feels safe in the jungle rather than in the city. That tells a lot about our cities and civilisation, doesn’t it?
Their enthusiasm, their passion, their commitment and love for the wild is amazing. See the video and feel them all for yourself. I am sure, you will also want to go to the forest at the first opportunity after seeing these youngsters. They infected me. I would like to go back to the forest as soon as possible. And keep going again and again. Want to see all the forests in India and if possible as many around the world as I can.
In two Safaris I was not able to sight the tiger. But that did not disappoint me. Meeting these two young ones and spending time with them was more than a compensation. At the end of my two day stay I felt that sighting a tiger was not as important as feeling and experiencing the forest. That's what these two have taught me.