The following is a small piece I had written for a magazine. I was inspired to reproduce it here by Subodh’s blog on travels. Subodh is an inveterate traveler and through his blog he gives a comprehensive picture of the places he has been to, with wonderful photographs and excellent description. However, I found that Subodh mentions only the prettier side of the whole picture. To enjoy nature, one should not take it for granted. Especially pristine natural locations. I hope the following would be useful for those readers who love to visit wild, natural places and enjoy them responsibly.
‘We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
Perhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land. The modern man is separated from the land by many middlemen, and by innumerable physical gadgets. He has no vital relation to it; to him it is the space between cities on which crops grow. Land is something he has outgrown’.
- from The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
Today, as we go to the seashores or forests for a picnic or a trek, when we exclaim at the beautiful scenic shots in a movie, when the sight of a waterfall enthralls us, when the sight of a colourful bird makes us pause for a moment – perhaps we are unconsciously reminded of our past when there was harmony between nature and man. Perhaps as we learn to enjoy nature more, we may learn to preserve and protect it. Perhaps, the tree that gave you shade and cool breeze today, will not be cut off tomorrow to make way for your poison spewing automobile.
Forests, to some, have high recreational value. The peace and solitude, fresh air and water, the sight of wildlife, the excitement of lurking dangers, the sense of achievement as you stand on top of a mountain – look within yourself deep – and you will see that it is the spirit in you that soars high. Nature liberates you.
But – tread softly - so that the frame of beauty before you shall remain there for you tomorrow too. The tips given below might help you – to enjoy forests today – and tomorrow.
1. Read books on nature, the area you are visiting, its wildlife, etc. Plan your trip well.
2. Keep yourself physically fit; being a straggler in a trekking group is embarrassing. It could cause problems; sometimes danger too.
3. Always get the permission of the forest department first.
4. Remember that you are a guest – this is the home of the wild - even your footstep can cause disturbance- treat nature with respect, courtesy and love.
5. Never go in large groups – you reduce your chances to see the wildlife. Also large groups cause larger damages. There is great pleasure in solitary wandering; but gain some experience first before venturing out alone.
6. Wear light coloured (preferably green, grey, brown) cotton clothes. This helps in camouflage. For colder climes, wear appropriate dress.
7. Wear comfortable footwear. ‘Hunter’ shoes are ideal.
8. Do not use perfumes. Animals have a very sensitive nose.
9. Carry your stuff in a haversack. It is advisable to cover everything in plastic bags. But don’t ever drop one in the forest.
10. Carry essential personal medicines (Paracetamol, painkillers, anti-inflammatory tablets, anti-septic ointment) penknife, matches, candles, biscuits, sweets, lemons, water, magnifying lens, maps, water bottle, a small sachet of salt (this helps to remove leeches).
11. Do not carry any valuables other than binoculars or camera.
12. Keep the weight of your bag as less as possible. While trekking the high mountains, every additional gram will extract its toll.
13. Always start early in the morning. Early mornings and late evenings are the best times for watching wildlife.
14. Speak as softly as possible. No shouting and singing please.
15. Always walk in a single file. Guides or experienced members should walk in the front and in the rear.
16. Be alert. It is fun. It also pays.
17. Do not use transistors, tape recorders, etc. You can always enjoy that in your city home.
18. Never collect anything, even a flower. If every one took something, soon there won’t be anything left.
19. Do not carve on trees and scrawl on rocks. Let the ones who come after you also feel that they are the first witnesses to the beauty.
20. Never throw litter, plastic etc. The sight of a brightly coloured plastic bag deep in a forest is like the sight of an abused child.
21. Try not to smoke. If you have to, smoke while resting, then make sure the butt is stored in a safe place in your pocket. You can throw it out once you are out of the forests.
22. Try not to use alcohol. You can always enjoy it at your home or your favorite bar. Forests are a different high.
23. Never swim or jump into unfamiliar streams or waterfalls.
24. If you come across tribal people living in the forests, treat them with respect and humility. They are the masters of that land. If they offer food or drink, accept it with grace and pleasure. It will be 100 times more hygienic and healthy than your Paratha and Chicken fry.
25. Don’t be disappointed if you could not catch a glimpse of any wildlife. The chances are that they would see you long before you saw them. Patience will be rewarded.
26. Keep a notebook and pen handy. Record everything you observe.
27. If you camp anywhere, clean up the place before you leave. Leave no trace that you have been there. Leave nothing, not even your footprints.
28. Nothing comes free of cost. You repay by loving and caring for nature.
************* Balachandran V, Trivandrum 20.05.2010