I still haven’t come to terms with it. Probably never will. I walked a Himalayan trail (albeit a very easy one compared to the legendary trails that he trekked) with the first man to ever photograph a snow leopard! There. Even as I write this, the words staring back at me look unreal. And all of this thanks to a unique initiative by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) & UNESCO that brought people like me into a world that we could have only dreamt of.
Dr. George Schaller is a living legend who needs no introduction to the readers of this wildlife magazine. Having done pioneering work with gorillas in Rwanda, lions in Tanzania, tigers in India, jaguars in Brazil and Giant pandas in China, it may not be exaggeration to say that it is because of Dr. Schaller’s studies and conservation efforts that this magazine still has wildlife stories to cover, today in 2017. To be in his company for a week and to be able to imbibe, even partially, his endless enthusiasm for his work surely influenced a lot of futures including yours truly’s.
Add to the mix, conservation legends like Dr. AJT John Singh & Dr. Asad R Rahmani and you have a trifecta of conservationists whose presence & shared experiences elevated the first ever “Celebrating Natural Heritage: In Literature, Arts and Culture” event organized by the UNESCO Category 2 Centre at WII, Dehradun to Himalayan levels (no pun intended). As the third prize winner of the Nature Writers’ Competition organized under the event’s auspices, I was extremely privileged to sit in on such an interesting event especially because I did not have a conservation work background.
This, in some ways, was what made this event unique. Poets, writers, photographers – all had their time on stage talking nature, wooing nature, their favourite muse, proving that conservation is in equal parts about solid science which will ensure our planet’s survival and as Sanjiva Pandey put it in his powerful talk about establishing the magnificent Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP), a case of severe mamla-e-mohabbat (a matter of the heart). In effect, if you are moved by nature, you’re already a conservationist at heart. So… aren’t we all?
At this point, the kids must get their due mention. Local school kids by the dozens attended both the phases of the event, the first at the WII campus for a couple of days and then at the Great Himalayan National Park for the second. The kids had an endless stream of questions for the stalwarts and their pro-active participation in the birding walks at GHNP took the guiding ‘experts’ by surprise ensuring that both audience and speakers were mutually inspired.
There is so much more that I could tell you.
I could tell you of the collective gasp of pain & hurt that haunted the WII auditorium as Rita Banerji, when discussing the grim problems of human-animal conflict, showed a video clip of a black bear, being mercilessly clubbed by a mob of our fellow humans, as it tries in vain to escape. I could also tell of the laughs and the “oohs” that filled it as Dhritiman Mukherjee showcased his amazing repertoire of wildlife photos along with the stories behind them. Also about the galaxy of Hindi poets including Mr. Naresh Saxena who stepped up on stage to recite wonderful nature themed compositions of theirs, beautifully adapted to and appreciated by their audience of ages 9 to 90.
I could speak of the intense discussion on the current state of affairs in Himachal Pradesh between journalists & authorities tasked with conservation in a modestly sized room at the Shai Ropa complex of GHNP and about how poetry sessions filled that room with revolution. I could describe the wonderful evening at GHNP when all, and I mean ALL present, locals and visitors alike, joined in a traditional dance, enticed by the insistent beats of local drummers, led by, who else, but the amazingly sprightly 84 year old named Dr. Schaller.
I could write of how deeply serene Tirthan valley (where we stayed for the GHNP leg of the event) looks in the depths of a full moon night (as we were lucky to have during our stay there) as the sounds of the rushing river and the scenes of green valleys & their surrounding snow-capped ranges envelop your senses.
I could… but as in all things mamla-e-mohabbat, not everything need be said.
– Text By