CHENNAI: Stand still. Become aware. Stop and listen more deeply when you are lost. Here, everything means something. The rustle of the leaf, the call of a bird, the break of a branch — they all speak to you. The forest — she’s powerful, yet a kind stranger. She breathes. Listen.” In the remote rainforests of Anamalai, accompanied by its native inhabitants, the Kadar tribesmen, I gained this profound wisdom as I walked alongside them and saw the forest in a way I have never before.
Through their eyes, it made more sense. As a naturalist and tour leader, my favourite part of the rainforest expedition with The Papyrus Itineraries (a travel company based out of Pollachi) is sitting down with the elders of the Kadar family, sipping on black tea, listening to stories and engaging in conversations to the sound of the crackling fire that lingers late into the night. Stories not just of their close encounters and brushes with elephants, sloth bears and tigers, but also folklore passed down from their ancestors. Stored in their memories, is an enormous treasure trove of wisdom and these conversations around the flickering fire helped me glean insights about their traditional beliefs — that the souls of their ancestors reside in the forests, the need to coexist peacefully, familiarising the place they live in by walking through the expanse; acceptance of nature’s authority and their deep respect to all life forms. When we go into a forest, there is no designated route and we are bound to get lost.
These tribesmen know the forest like the back of their hand — they know how to avoid conflict and find alternate routes if an animal is in their path. They are aware of the behaviour of the wildlife and the forest. They have a heightened sense of interpreting the jungle. A wildlife tour isn’t just about going into the jungle, it is also about weaving a narrative. That’s why, we ensure, that the native tribal people constitute a key aspect of nature and wildlife tours organised by The Papyrus Itineraries across the various ranges and habitats of the Anamalai Hills.
Over the years, the indigenous people of Anamalai Hills have thrived in remote forest areas, adapting sustainable ways and solutions to survive in the rainforests without destroying the delicate balance that maintains the ecosystem. In conditions that are still primitive and sometimes even harsh, the Kadars live in close harmony with nature.
They possess unique knowledge about these jungles and the way of animals that live here, most of which are not given space, in today’s popular culture. After around four years of exploring the dense, bio-diverse rich rainforests with them, I realised that Kadars have not just survived in these jungles, but have thrived. Living among the wildlife, large and small, walking through the leechinfested forest f loor, braving heavy monsoon downpour for more than half of the year, they pay more attention and continue to g ain wisdom about the place they live in, for daily survival. It pained me to think, how the outside world had considered such knowledge primitive and dismissed it, given to science and technology.
I strongly believe, especially in these times, honouring and respecting their conventional wisdom and traditional beliefs could be the very way of returning to the ‘golden age’ when humanity lived in perfect harmony with the rest of nature. (The writer is editor, content strategist and managing partner of The Pollachi Papyrus (https://thepapyrus. in/), an online travel portal where like-minded travel and nature enthusiasts come together, collaborate and contribute towards documenting, creatively capturing and effectively conserving the bio-cultural diversity, of Pollachi and the Anamalai Hills.)