“You are not Atlas carrying the
world on your shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying you”
- Vandana Shiva
I was catching up with emails after a week of part forest-induced and
part self-imposed exile from the digital world when this Goodreads Quote of the
Day tiptoed in on me. I couldn’t wipe that smug smile from off my face!
Because... talk about timing!
|I love craning my neck and looking skywards to take in sights like this one. Reminds me we're not as grand as we'd like to believe we are. That nature seeks to humble us.|
Photo: The Ghost Tree aka Sterculia Urens .
It was mid-October when I received an email from WWF India’s Satpura Maikal Landscape (SML)
that my application for the Kanha – Pench Corridor Walk 2015
had been selected. I looked forward to walking through the forest for 7 days! But
it wouldn’t be until our briefing on Day 0 - prior to the Walk – when I would
learn of the 200+ applications the SML team had received this year; of which only
a tiny fraction of 35 – each from a different walk of life – had been selected!
It then slowly dawned in on me that I was going to be a part of the contingent
who would be walking 90 odd kilometres between the 30th
But not without the additional baggage of my apprehensions. Never
before had I attempted anything of this sort. So to complete it successfully
would be nothing short of a personal achievement.
About the Kanha-Pench Corridor
But what is this Kanha-Pench Corridor I speak of? I quote from the KPC
Walk brochure that ‘it is the natural forest that connects two major tiger
source populations of Kanha and Pench in Central India that not only
facilitates the dispersal of tigers between the two reserves but is also home
to several wild animals and ancient tribes.’
WWF SML’s aim through this Walk – which has been in its third year - has
been ‘to create awareness about securing tiger habitats outside protected
areas. It is a commitment by nature lovers to protect the integrity of wildlife
corridors in a human dominated landscape.’
of October – Day 1 of the Walk – saw not just
participants like me as well as those from an academic as well as professional
background in conservation but also officials from WWF India, Kanha National
Park and Pench National Park. And from each I would something to learn.
In all, we were a contingent of 70-80 people (or thereabouts).
|Kick-starting Day 1 from Sakata near Pench National Park/Seoni, (Madhya Pradesh, India)|
What was the Walk like?
I love walking but I am no walker.
Though I have since contemplated taking a cue from Cheryl Strayed
and change my last name to Walker or something to that effect, but I digress. I was
definitely anxious about my stamina and endurance levels prior to the Walk. The
SML emails informed me that on an average we would be walking 15 kms each day.
If there’s one thing that’s peculiar to a Mumbaikar, it is this: No
one here estimates anything based on kilometres – but derives it from the
duration the activity under consideration will take.
So to reorient my brain to kilometres, I plotted distances I was
familiar traversing to make more relatable what 15 kms really looked like!
P.S.: I now know all the places within a 15 km radius that I can walk
back home to should I ever need to!
But what I had learnt from surviving treks in high altitude regions
with no prior prep was that it came down to two things:
being present (also known as being Zen) and coordinating the rhythm of your
step with the rhythm of your breath.
So it was that realization topped with perseverance which saw me
through blisters on my feet, fatigue, stretches with no water to drink, my backpack
weighing me down with its phantom weight and the realisation that I’ve had to
walk over 25 kms on the first day at the Walk!
Yes, that happened – though the GPS estimate had indicated that we
would be walking 18 kms.
Turns out that’s the stuff endurance is made of.
But that’s not necessarily bad. Just as it is not necessarily good.
Covering distances came at the cost of not being able to truly absorb
the forest vibe.
I am no Christopher
here and I don’t think I have it in me to survive on berries and
carrion in the wild but if there’s anything I craved for as a permanent
resident of the concrete jungle, it was moments to pause and revel in the peace
of my then current environs!
However that wasn’t always meant to be.
So I’d alternate between trailing right at the tail of the group with
70 people ahead of me and just a handful of locals and forest rangers for
company. Or race to the extreme frontier while the rest trailed behind.
Survival tactics assumed a new meaning for me for those 7 days! Who’d
|Stealing moments to simply stand and stare|
But speaking of berries and carrion, I have to hand it to those within
the SML team who oversaw and paid every attention to detail on all things
concerning food and stay for the entire lot that was us.
Yes, thanks to them I didn’t have to survive on berries or carrion.
The team relocated lock-stock-and-barrel and set shop every day. They
would follow this routine clearing up after we had departed for the day’s walk in
the mornings and would have everything - beginning with the tents, the
makeshift kitchen, water-coolers and even have chai
- ready for us before we would arrive at the end of the day.
During that week we camped in tents and also converted primary schools
at the villages we would halt for the evening, into our base camp.
I have to acknowledge that any oversight in this regard had all the
makings of anyone’s worst nightmare coming true – and thankfully the team
ensured we would never come anywhere close to knowing what that even remotely
The real hosts
The local communities were more often than not intrigued, if not
entirely intimidated by the bunch of us walking through the corridor. But some
of us did have engaging conversations with them. And though I spoke to some of
the elders and the adults in these forest-villages, it is the children I
Our arrival into the forest-villages would instantly convert the
primary school into a camping ground. So it was almost natural for the children
– most of all – to be amused by a bunch of city-folk who had converted their classrooms
into a makeshift dorm! They would linger around stealing glances and giggling
among themselves until the later part of the evenings.
When I would walk up to some and ask them their names and the
grade/standard they were studying in, I would find them peering right back at
me their voices steady never revealing a trace of hesitation or shyness!
I couldn’t recall being that kid.
Another very interesting dimension that I noticed is that it was the
girls who were relatively more outspoken. I had witnessed something similar
when I’d travelled to western Madhya Pradesh
in September this year too.
On one occasion, some students put together a cultural program for us.
|Ever so curious. Ever so earnest.|
|A signage like this would imply that we had covered our kilometres for the day|
Something to ponder over
Every once in a while our contingent would get referred to as the
youth brigade who were walking through this corridor to save and protect the
forests. To my mind, that seemed like an exaggeration even though the intention
Now as much as the Walk has been about the wildlife, it has also been
about the local communities who have been dwelling within the same habitat.
I have intentionally not used the term ‘tribals’ because it seems to
connote someone who is pre-history, not well-versed with ‘our’ ways of the
world and therefore, ignorant. We have nothing but our socialization to blame
for this. To make matters worse, pop culture has relegated them to the status
of yet another exotic (if I may say so) species, no different from a tiger!
Truth be told if there are any saviours of the forests, it is the
local communities who have been dwelling and coexisting with all the life-forms
that abound in the forest. This is unlike what popular media and the forces
that control it would like you and me to believe.
If anything, it was I who felt like a trespasser – a complete outsider
who stood (and walked) in absolute awe of communities who had been living there
even as it was I who was ignorant about what it takes to live in harmony with
my environment. May be, this is because within my ‘tribe’, razing everything
that stands flat to the ground seems to be a norm. Sure, I am generalizing but I
cannot deny that I belong to a culture that places self-preservation in its
absolute form on a pedestal!
|The village where we had made our first halt - Kachhar (Balaghat), Madhya Pradesh|
|A glimpse into their everyday life!|
|WWF India's campaign on safeguarding forests.|
|They welcomed us, knowing not who we were or where we came from!|
The elephant in the room!
One cannot have a post about walking through a wildlife corridor – the
Kanha-Pench Corridor at that – and not make any mention about animals.
Truth be told, except for a chance encounter with a very frightened
spotted deer/chital fawn and some avian life (whom I cannot tell apart to save
my life except if it’s a sparrow, crow, pigeon or mynah – why, thank you urban
existence) we did not lock eyes with any other life-form.
Well, at least I didn’t because in two separate instances four of my
peers did spot one of the big cats: the leopard. The rest of us had to contend
ourselves with those stories, an occasional pugmark and a lot of scat.
P.S.: Scat i.e. animal faeces identification, besides being an
addition into my vocabulary was also an interesting (and perhaps the only)
insight into the big cat’s world.
Something more to ponder over
Our fascination with the ‘wild’ needs to expand beyond those regal
beings. Spotting the big cat wasn’t why I wanted to be on the Walk; it would
certainly have been a bonus and lent me a lot of bragging rights. But to think
of forests only as the home of the big cats is to be myopic.
For me this has been a wakeup call to go learn more about beings –
whether it’s avian life, butterflies or even berries!
Because to fail in our understanding of the interconnectedness within
nature (beginning with the microorganism), is to fail in our efforts to
conserve it even before we have begun.
I like this Stephen Hawking quote: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is
not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge” and my gumption says that this holds
weight for the present.
Well certainly not famous, but the entire Walk would not have been as
adventurous (I’ve lost the number of times we lost our way in the forest),
exciting (spotting a kill on our very first day), fun (the cackling with
laughter moments over the silliest of reasons) or even informative (so what if
I have failed at retaining names of the myriad of species we encountered)
hadn’t it been for my peers. It was truly an enjoyable experience walking
alongside people who have been doing path breaking work in the field of
And it has been as much of a learning experience to have undertaken
this Walk with WWF India’s SML team who besides organizing this logistically
colossal project right down to the last detail also ensured we had with us
experts from the domain to spend at least some of their time sharing their
knowledge with us.
Though I cannot claim to be as learned or grounded in my understanding
on all the nuances of conservation as some of my peers at the Walk, I hope I
have been able to share and provide the amount of fodder non-specialists like
yours truly can take away from here to ruminate over.
Because the Walk has certainly emboldened me in my support for all
things responsible travel and my hope to influence readers through my blog.
|The leftover spoils|
|I hope this image shocks you as much as it shocked me to see such a thing right before my very eyes. P.S.: This is the NH7 being widened as trees are being felled indiscriminately. |
|A panoramic view of the massacre!|
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Edit: If you'd like to apply for next year's Walk, you should watch out for posts on SML's Facebook page. The team puts out updates about a month before the Walk. The application details are mentioned along with it.