Stories that jungles tell us

Be a responsible tourist

Be a responsible tourist   | Photo Credit: Pravin Shanmughanandam

If you are planning a wildlife travel expedition, make sure to stop, stare, listen and smell the forests and their enchanted secrets, says travel operator Pravin Shanmughanandam of Papyrus Itineraries

A recent edition of National Geographic Traveller India featured Pravin Shanmughanandam of Papyrus Itineraries, Tamil Nadu, as one of India’s responsible wildlife travel operators. “We have been tour operators for around three years, in and around the Anamalais, and we have done more than 250 wildlife tours,” he says.

Pravin Shanmughanandam (centre)

Pravin Shanmughanandam (centre)   | Photo Credit: Wilson Robin

Pravin is quietly elated that he was featured along with deeply committed conservationists such as Rahul Alvares, herpetologist and wildlife guide; Nayantara Jain, marine biologist and diving instructor; and Asad Rahmani, Member, Wetlands International South Asia. He is also modest. “They were looking at different habitats, I think, and the Anamalai forests offer a wealth of those.”

As a wildlife travel operator, he was asked for his recommendations on places to visit and has also been invited to a panel discussion on responsible wildlife tourism conducted by National Geographic in Delhi at the end of the month. “We have made a short film about the Kadar tribe who inhabit the Anamalai forests. We hope to screen it in Delhi, and subsequently across the country.”

In the forests of the night
  • Kadar is a story that softly calls to you from the jungle. In the Anamalais, the Kadar tribals step gently alongside creatures that inhabit these wild slopes and there exists an unspoken bond between them.
  • “This is the story of Loganathan who, as a child, was taught to revere all life forms that thrived here. This has been the way of the Kadar people. Every once in a while, perhaps unintentionally, boundaries are crossed and chaos comes calling. This is the story of that night in the jungle, under a moonless sky, when a lone male tusker elephant broke down Loganathan’s door and stood right before him.
  • “We collaborated with Faraway Collective, a Bengaluru-based, award-winning production company that makes audible unheard stories of unheard people from all corners of India. In Kadar, we highlight the lifestyle and importance of this tribe in conserving the natural environment of the Anamalai Hills. We, at The Papyrus Itineraries, ensure that they are the key aspect of our Nature and wildlife tours. The film presents the conventional wisdom of these indigenous people who help us navigate the dense rainforests.
  • “The film is roughly five minutes long and it took us two days to film it. We are planning to start screening it from the first week of March for private audiences. We will screen the film in Coimbatore that often encounters man-animal conflict, and initiate and interaction and discussion on the topic, among wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists.”

A still from the film Kadar

A still from the film Kadar   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

What makes you a ‘responsible’ wildlife tour operator?

To begin with, we do not chase sightings or species and never promise our guests either, but establish that the purpose of our tours is to always interact with Nature and wildlife in a meaningful, respectful way. That’s why most of our tours are walking ones where one gets to imbibe the essence of the forest and interact with its inhabitants in a truly natural way. It’s a more immersive and authentic way of travelling, we believe.

Sightings apart, we make sure the guests get to be a part of the “narrative” experience, where our naturalist and a local tribesmen (who always accompanies us) help interpret the forest, its sights, sounds, smell and tell-tale signs. They also share their personal experiences in the jungle. This creates awareness among our guests and allows them (especially city dwellers) to address popular myths about the forests. Usually, even if the sightings have been disappointing, the guests have these wonderful take-aways to dwell on. Our tours aren’t for everyone; they are for those willing to stretch their legs and learn. Our tours are much more than photo-ops. That’s why we don’t cater to all but choose and profile our guests.

How do you choose your guests?

Our staff ensures there is a limited number of guests so their safety is guaranteed. This also allows us to give each guest personal attention. We strictly prohibit usage of alcohol and we don’t promise luxury during such tours but assure them of basic creature comforts. Guests are instructed to wear browns and greens, avoid bright-coloured clothes and perfumes, and asked to maintain silence and follow instructions of the naturalists/guide. So, small numbers, proper etiquette, and attire ensures that the guests respect the environment they are about to enter.

There’s more than meets the eye in the forest

There’s more than meets the eye in the forest   | Photo Credit: Pravin Shanmughanandam

What should a tourist look for when choosing a wildlife travel operator?

Ask if the tour operator employs guides from the native area. Naturalists may hail from various parts, given it’s a higher profile, but a tour programme that involves local people is always better. One doesn’t just gain knowledge but this also helps the local people in their livelihood. Such tourism helps conserve biodiversity of that place.

Make sure how many will be part of the group you are joining. Some parks allow many vehicles to enter a safari zone. Often multiple vehicles crowd a tiger making it such an unpleasant sighting. Limited numbers is a must, even if it means revenue loss.

Don’t get taken in by “guaranteed sightings” of a particular animal. Often tour operators do that. While it is possible a sighting may happen at a specific place in a particular season, sometimes some bird-watching tour operators employ play-back calls of a particular bird to lure them out, which disturbs and alters their natural behaviour. So choose operators who have a thorough knowledge of the terrain, the species, and their behavioural aspects so they can maximise the opportunities of sighting instead of coercing them.

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 10:34:34 PM |

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