It is important for us to get to know our forests. They are not only our national heritage but treasures more precious than gold, and the primary source for our survival.
It is only when you are in it and feel its presence do you realize how stunning the forests are.
Here is a rare account of one of the most popular national parks in the country. It is a unique story told to us by a 29-year Divya Shrivastava Khandal who originally from Mumbai is now settled in Sawai Madhopur with her Conservation Biologist husband.
Through her camera lens, blog – Ranthambore Tales and documentation she beautifully captures the essence and beauty of Ranthambore and the magnificent tigers, for the world to see.
What’s more, the tigers of Ranthambore love posing for photographs exclusively for Divya, and in turn she finds them to be ‘naturally photogenic’.
A Post Graduate in Dietetics from SNDT University, Mumbai, Divya has worked for five years with RKHS -Compass PLC as the Corporate Dietitian and now since the last two years she is running a social enterprise called Dhonk Crafts that works with rural people living around the Ranthambhore forest.
The tigers and the forest
Divya’s husband – Dr Dharmendra Khandal is a Conservation Biologist with the NGO Tiger Watch and his work involves anti-poaching and reform of the traditional hunting tribe – Mogya.
Through his work, Dharmendra has got 67 poachers arrested along with the forest/ police department and managed to secure the habitat for the tigers.
While Dharmendra is relentlessly working to save the tigers, Divya is aiming to provide useful employment through crafts with the locals and Mogya tribe with the help of her social enterprise – Dhonk Craft.
Talking about tigers in the region, Divya shares, “The tiger population had dwindled to 13 in 2005 after a massive poaching racket. Ever since Tiger Watch initiated the anti-poaching operation, today we have 26 adult tigers and more than 20 cubs. Ranthambhore is a small park and has to be continually monitored to keep it safe and roaring for the tiger’s population. In the entire Aravalli range today the tigers have naturally survived only in Ranthambhore and we need to protect and secure their habitat.”
How did it all begin?
In 2010, when she came to Ranthambhore it was the power of forest and its magnificent fauna that coaxed the city dweller in her to stay back in a jungle!
“But just watching was incomplete unless I could share it with the world. My husband Dharmendra helped me learn the basics of photography (he even lend me his gear!) and I realized that wildlife photography is not just for recreation but also a great documentation tool as well,” adds Divya.
Inspiration behind Ranthambore Diaries and Dhonk Craft
The primary aim behind starting Ranthambore Diaries and Dhonk Craft was to educate citizens of the country, policy makers, nature lovers and kids to come forward and actively speak and participate in tiger conservation and the forests. Every voice is important.
She recalls, “My husband has indeed been my friend, philosopher and guide. I came from a medical background and did not have much idea of surviving in a forest and live without any meaningful assignments. He was the one who motivated me to write about wildlife and Dhonk was born from the need to support the local communities by promoting local craft and generating employment avenues for the ‘tigers neighbors’. Late Fateh Singh ji, the founder of the Ranthambhore National Park and Tiger Watch was an inspiration and he too motivated me in starting a venture that would provide vital employment to the people living around the forests of Ranthambhore. These are the people who affect the wildlife or are affected by it.”
The love for forests, tigers…
Divya has been travelling in the forests of Central India since childhood and tigers were always creatures of awe and respect for her. They were grace and power personified until she realized coming to Ranthambhore that they were also very vulnerable just as a poacher’s bullet was enough to wipe out the big cat. It was heartbreaking and she felt the need to speak for these gorgeous animals.
Photographing the forests
“I am also very lucky to have witnessed the Indian wolves in their habitat around Ranthambhore. It is my most cherished experience when in the blazing May heat we would sit out in the open jeep waiting for the wolf family to come out,” smiles Divya.
How long it takes to get the right photograph, Divya explains, “It depends on what light is out there, how the camera is set and how well you can manage the subject. Nothing is planned in wildlife photography, it is all about the moment captured and if you miss it you miss it.”
The social enterprise called – Dhonk Craft
Dhonk (Anogeissus pendula) is the name of a tree endemic to the dry deciduous forest of Rajasthan and it is also one of the oldest trees to be found in the Aravalli Hills.
Dhonk Craft is a very interesting project. It was born out of the need to give sustainable living to the ex-poachers’ families, but it gradually expanded its work for the local villagers living in the park periphery so that they can benefit from the tourism influx in Ranthambhore.
She mentions, “We share part of the profits with the NGO Tiger Watch so that they can carry on their amazing conservation work. Dhonk Craft works towards providing free vocational training to the Mogya boys for tailoring or other crafts so that they can earn a livelihood living in any village with these professions.”
The Dhonk Craft village also gives tourists an opportunity to know about conservation projects hands on, interact with artisans and also experiment with their own creativity.
“In fact some of our products are designed by the tourists when they came to the Dhonk craft workshop!” adds Divya.
Before visiting Ranthambore…
“Visit during summers when there is less water, the chances of sighting increases at the watering hole (but of course only if you can bear the heat) and besides one needs to look at other aspects of the park. Many tiger centric safaris are disappointing, so go with an open mind and you will see the forest,” advises Divya.
One needs to be careful in conduct inside the forest, so make sure you don’t litter, make noise or break the rules. It is a good idea to visit the NGOs such as the Tiger Watch to understand conservation before starting your safari.
“Many responsible tourist operators are today going an extra step to sensitize their visitors about conservation issues and how they all can be involved after all, it is a team effort! It is all about being aware and responsible. The tiger is our national animal and our pride so we need to respect it and its home whenever we visit a forest,” concludes Divya.
So the next vacation give yourself and your kids a treat. Take them to a reserve forest or a national park and soothe your souls with the natural beauty that is so hard to find in an urban setting and say a little prayer thanking the creator for such bountiful natural wealth.
Before signing off Divya adds, “And once you read this think what you can do to save the forests and its animals.”
What’s your story?
I have visited the Sunderbans and Hazaribagh and my, how the forests can transform you is unbelievable. I was lucky enough to spot a tiger and soak up the gorgeous serenity and the forests of the Sunderbans. It makes me want to go back to rediscover the forests all over gain. If you’ve had a similar experience, write to us and we’ll publish your story on The Lifestyle Portal.
If you have been to a reserve forest or a national park in India or abroad, and would like to share your account of how the forests have left an impression, then send in an original write-up (written by you, not copied please) within 1,000 words with photographs clicked by you to [email protected] We’d love to publish your original stories.
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