* * * * *
January 20, 1999, Wednesday, 100% humidity, 25C
[04:05 @ Rm. 450, Pan Pacific Airport Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia]
It is a relentless 26 hour flight from Vancouver to New Delhi, with but two hour-long stops in Los Angeles and Tokyo, and an overnighter in Kuala Lumpur where I am now.
This is my third tiger conservation expedition to India in as many years. The first time, in early ’97, I traveled alone; the second, in late ’97, with the Omni-Film crew; and this time in the company of volunteers Jane Kirkpatrick and Kim Poole.
In the plane I read Mark & Delia Owens’ Survivor’s Song. When my eyes got tired, I turned off the overhead light, reclined the seat, closed my eyes, and thought of a thousand things, which of course began and ended with Christopher. But in between, reminded by the presence of Jane and Kim, I thought of the people who have volunteered so much of their time and support over the years, who always rise to the challenge when called for, many of whom being activists in their own right – Frank Arnold, Joyce Arthur, Sandra Carlson, Yvonne Chin, Gay Cunningham, Cecilie Davidson (herself the President of the International Year of the Tiger Foundation), Fran Dietz, Rico “Spoorman” Habgood, Dale Hunter, Cecile Helten, Jane Jensen, Christiane Jensen, “Bearwoman” Evelyn Kirkaldy, Frances Kirby, Tanya Lebar, Kim Marchuk, Ruth Masters, Joan Miller, John Mullen, Diane “Fireweed” Radmore, Phyllis Reahil, Evelyn Roth, Neil Sumner, Carol Waddell, Dave Way, Rae Jane Williams, “Tigerwoman” Tracy Zuber...
“So many,” you may say, but I think, “So few.” So much to do, so few people to do it, with so little money, in so little time.
We arrived at Malaysia’s international airport at Kuala Lumpur almost right on the equator about 01:00 local time (09:00 Vancouver time). It is a super-modern palace of an airport that outshines all others I’ve seen, even Vancouver’s prize-winning YVR. Like the weather-sealed and climate-regulated “Biosphere” in Arizona, the interior of the airport-hotel complex is an environment apart, totally insulated from the steamy, dripping heat outside which we could experience any time by just walking out onto the tropical vegetation festooned terrace several floors under my window. The hotel is attached to the airport’s main building by an air-conditioned walkway and my hotel window looks back at the terminal. Across the road from the terminal is what looks like a plantation where the trees look too geometric and monocultural to be a natural forest. Still, in the dawning light, the countryside looks green and lush, with the city slowly awakening on the horizon. We have no time to sample Kuala Lumpur’s charms, though I cannot help but wonder what contrast may exist between this almost surreally palatial airport and the not-too-distant slums.
At 10:00 local time, I’ll meet with Jane and Kim for breakfast. We’ll then take the 12:30 flight to New Delhi, due to arrive at 15:30 Delhi time. I’ll be looking down upon whatever tropical rainforest still remains on the Malaysian peninsula while the plane flies lengthwise over it en route to India.
I should say a few words about Jane and Kim. Kim, a blonde, pretty, petite and gregarious woman of about 40 who works in the travel industry, has been a volunteer for the bear and tiger campaigns since 1996. On this trip, she signed up as a volunteer for Avtar Grewal’s tiger-oriented ecotourism business – Magnificent Tours - which in turn provides all her room and board during her stay of minimum 3 months, maximum six. Jane, brunette, fair skinned, tall, with dark yet bright and intelligent eyes, is a corporate lawyer in her late twenties, whose unbound spirit is expressed in her abandoning her lawyer’s job and coming as my volunteer for 10 weeks, then for Avtar the rest of her 3-6 month stay. I like both women very much as people, and I find them both attractive as women.
Avtar Grewal is the son of the late great Ravinder Grewal, upon whose awesome reputation I have chosen his organization Tiger Fund as WCWC’s CIDA grant “Southern Partner”. Ravinder Grewal was among the first conservationists who raised a voice in favor of protecting the tiger as early as the 1950s. He spearheaded the crusade and succeeded in helping rescue the species from the brink of extinction in an age when tiger hunting was all the rage in high society – both British and Indian. In his effort to have tiger hunting banned, he faced death threats. He studied tigers in a time before tiger reserves, in a blind that could be destroyed by a single tiger paw swipe. His research results alarmed him, particularly the alarming rate at which the tiger population is shrinking. He was a distinguished naturalist and a forest officer, who played a key role in establishing various national parks in India. He has written over half a dozen books on the subject. He also has authored books on National Parks and Indian wildlife, and has written a number of scientific and popular science articles. He was the founder of Tiger Fund. Ravinder Grewal was an inspiration to many. “Was” because he passed away several years ago – a great loss to the world.
According to granting parameters, the Southern Partner receives 60% of the grant money to perform tiger conservation work within its country, and WCWC uses its 40% to conduct mostly educational and publication activities in Canada. So, of this year’s C$100,000 budget, WCWC retains C$40,000 and Tiger Fund gets C$60,000, in four quarterly installments.
Avtar Grewal, who inherited Tiger Fund from his father Ravinder, has proven a congenial and efficient host in India. He took care of all my personal needs while I was on my first trip in the winter/spring of 1997. He facilitated almost unlimited opportunities for me to visit the tiger reserves, view tigers and photograph both animals and habitat. He provided royal treatment at his ecotourism Tiger Lodge at Kanha and Bandhavgarh tiger reserves. He arranged all lodging and transportation for me in urban areas. All in all, Avtar Grewal proved himself first class in the tiger-oriented ecotourism business. I had only one dissatisfaction. I was treated more like a tourist than a campaigner. I was factored almost no work to do in India, so I just created my own work as the opportunities arose.
Back in 1997, the first task I set for myself was to create a tiger conservation slideshow. That was less of a task than a hobby, since I have delighted in wildlife photography for decades. Since I was going into the tiger reserve on a daily basis with at least one camera in my bag, what more natural than to take pictures of the place and its inhabitants? The only problem was that most of the time, I was given to sharing the same vehicles with tourists. And most tourists want to see only one thing, tigers. They have little patience with anything else – jackals, deer, birds, let alone trees. I felt constantly rushed around, looking for tigers, but missing out on everything else. So many beautiful park scenes with exactly the right lighting were forever lost because I did not want to ask the driver to stop again on my account. Finally, I did get my own Gypsy (Indian-made, gasoline-burning, 800 cc motor, 4WD). Then I spent whole days in the park, taking my time, making every frame count. Thus, the Tigers Forever slideshow was born. Having shown it to thousands of children in Canada in the last two years, I’ve now brought it back to India to show it to Indian educators, students and villagers.
In November and December 1997, I went to India for the second time, this time with the crew of Omni Film Productions, there to make the Bengal Tiger episode of the TV wildlife documentary series Champions of the Wild. Again, Avtar played host. But somehow, the Omni Film crew had a fall out with him, and they moved out of Avtar’s Bandhavgarh Tiger Lodge in mid-stay. They were originally going to include Avtar in the documentary, but after that incident, they excluded him. That rang some alarm bells. I myself had a first hand experience that gave me pause. The film crew left India four days before I did, and left enough money for Avtar to cover my hotel expenses. On the last day, I asked Avtar how much the hotel room cost. He said $40 per day, totaling $160 over the four days. But, he said, Omni gave him $80 per day, and he had claimed it. “Let’s just keep this to ourselves.” I did not give my consent and I did tell Omni Film about this after my return to Vancouver.
This year, of course I’ll revisit these most enchanting of places, and revitalize and enrich the slideshow, but I’ll have to do something more proactive, to do what I as a campaigner has come here for, to perform what I’m best at, to get most bang for the CIDA buck. What will it be? I’ll keep my eyes and mind open, learn as I go, act as I learn, and let opportunities be my guide.
The first thing to be done in India, while in New Delhi, is for me to give a series of tiger conservation slideshows at urban schools. Shortly before Christmas, I sent out media packages to two dozen of India’s most prominent media outlets. The packages included newspaper articles about WCWC, my work and contact information of both WCWC and Tiger Fund. Indian media would surely contact Tiger Fund rather than WCWC, so Tiger Fund would organize media coverage of the school events.
While in Delhi, I’ll also visit a few of the most prominent tiger conservationists in India, including Ashok Kumar, Belinda Wright and Valmik Thapar.
After the school talks have all been done, which may take about 10 days, I’ll again take the 24-hour train into deep rural India for the rest of my stay. At least, that’s my plan, and if not Avtar’s plan, it is nonetheless the most logical thing to do. I’ll find out what Avtar has arranged soon enough.
Have a good day, Christopher. I’m thinking of you. This “goodnight” is the proof. Goodnight, Christopher.
* * * * *
January 23, 1999, Saturday, “sunny” (actually, smoggy) 6-18C
[09:56, in train from Delhi to Kanha]
After three almost intolerably smoggy days in Delhi, but only three as determined by Avtar, instead of the ten in the logical plan in my mind, I’m now in a train with Jane and Kim on the way south to Kanha National Park, which is situated approximately at the geographical center of the Indian subcontinent.
I'll be staying at Kanha until Feb. 2, then go back to Delhi for two weeks of school presentations and the Valentine's Day Save the Tiger Walk. A week of heaven in tiger country before plunging back into the eye-stinging, nose offending, lung-burning atmospheric cesspool of the over-polluted city where every breath one takes seems to contain enough smoke from ten cigarettes.
Mind you, the above is the complaint of only those who can feed themselves. For those who cannot, their next meal would be their only concern; the hydro-carbon fumes in the air would not be a factor, at least until they begin to develop cancer, to which the majority of New Delhi residents are said to eventually succumb. In Indian cities, the sub-poor are everywhere evident – oil-stained card-board curb-side domiciles that have a well used, permanent look, tent cities so firmly entrenched that whatever surviving vegetation conformed itself to the boxes and benches that seemed rooted to the ground, street children fighting over worthless spoils, grotesquely deformed beggars who are said to be the victims of deliberate crippling as children to engender sympathy in potential donors, and the mothers of crying babies with eyes pleading and hands plaintively out-held. This last I find the most irresistible. This is my third trip in India and I should know better, but I still find my hand dipping into my pocket and reaching out to fill those hands, in spite of the chidings I have received from my Indian colleagues whenever they catch me doing it. These women are professionals, they tell me. The babies may not even be theirs, but rented on a day-to-day basis for the purpose. Babies have been found to have flies inserted under their eye lids to make them cry, etc, etc. All in all, Delhi is a huge emotional torture chamber for anyone with empathy and sensitivity. The only thing in North America I can think of that could bring out a similar level of empathic pain is a factory farm, be it for debeaked hens crammed into battery cages, veal calves in standing stalls, pregnant sows in “gestation crates” and pregnant mares in “pee lines.” I cannot wait to get out of Indian cities.
On the other hand, though “on a train” and “go back” may conjure an effortless, even enjoyable image, going from the average street of misery into a train station crammed full of suffering humanity is like leaping from a cauldron into a frying pan, and boarding a train at a Delhi train station is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Speaking of fire, if one broke out in a train carriage, the passengers would be toast, since all the windows are barred with iron grating.
Just to talk about something apparently trivial like orderliness, while the Delhi streets are at best chaotic vehicular-traffic-wise – especially in the eyes of a drive-between-the-lines and signal-your-intention-half-a block-ahead Canadian driver, the train station resembles a war zone, with people jostling one another to get at the ticket booth, then jostling one another to squeeze into the train – crowds everywhere, people sleeping on most benches and on the floor along most walls. But not a single queue in sight. Had the windows not been barred, people would swarm into the carriages through them. Luggage loss seems a matter of momentarily distractions. Chaining ones suitcases and bags to fixtures at once is a must, so much so that most of what the hawkers sell at train stations are locks and chains. One cannot relent ones vigilance for even a moment. Sleeping comes in fit and starts, and only from fatigue.
The journey itself involves a joint-aching 20-hour train ride plus a bone-jarring and take-your-life-in-your-own-hands 4-hour car trip, one way, totaling 26 strenuous hours not including waiting time. As I recall from my previous trips, and experience now once again, the train would first pull out from the centre of Delhi, through the heavily urban areas, then the “suburbs”, the tertiary-urbs, then quaternary-urbs, etc., until it finally leaves the city complex behind. A measuring rod of distance from city center is the density of garbage strewn on the ground, mostly unidentifiable piles of oily brown and black substances inter-mixed with countless bits of white and blue from disintegrating and disintegrated plastic bags and other non-bio-degradable plastic ex-items, plus the opacity of the air, the intensity of the smell, the frequency of ghettos and tent cities, and the density of the people, male and female, children and adults alike, standing and/or squatting beside the train track relieving themselves, “small convenience” and/or “big convenience” (in Chinese lingo), facing in whichever direction (over 25% of the time therefore facing the passing train), in plain view of the passengers, who pay one another not the least attention. Even right in busy street corners in New Delhi, there are open urinals (for men only) visible to every passerby or passengers in every passing car or bus. Then, the tightly crammed row buildings and narrow alleyways of the city imperceptibly thinned into the houses of more open and less festering townships, then the widely spaced mud huts of villages. Then, the train would begin chugging through intermittently lush and desiccated countryside comprising mostly paddy fields, wheat fields, irrigated fields, dried out fields, mango groves, papaya plantations… - across rivers and belts of semi-desert. After sundown and at night, we’d clattered through miles of pitch darkness punctuated by clusters of dim dots of orange light, each a small cooking fire or a kerosene lamp. Then suddenly, the glare of yet another train station with people sleeping on the dusty ground and hawkers pushing their ware and trays of local delicacies, some raising the merchandise up to the train’s windows – not recommended fare for tender-gutted foreigners. And some bring their steaming jugs of chai right on board. When they walk by, and I catch a whiff of the aromatic tea, my automatic response would be to call out, “Roco! Roco!” The few minutes of pleasure would return us inevitably to another hour or two of tedium. Hard as we might try, we’d lose count of the number of stops, which seem never-ending.
And the same thing all over again in reverse from Kanha back to Delhi, and from Delhi back to Kanha within the next three weeks. Discomfort aside, it is a waste of four working days in my limited time in India, in which every minute is precious. Bloody poor planning if you ask me.
This is why I’m dissatisfied by the schedule Avtar has set for me. At best, I could take a six hour car ride from Kanha to Nagpur, then fly for two hours from Nagpur to Delhi, but it is much more expensive, and would still consume two otherwise productive working days, without the payback of even pleasure. So, setting a schedule that involves an extra back and forth trip, as the one Avtar has arranged, does not show good judgment and organizational skill, especially given all these past weeks, no, months, of preparatory time.
Or - the dark thought emerges - does this involve some kind of perfidy or caprice or treachery as well?
By this arrangement, considering extra traveling expenses, Jane and Kim will have to stay on at Kanha and/or Bandhavgarh instead of coming back to Delhi with me for the Tiger Walk and school slideshows.
One dark thought is that Avtar wants Jane and Kim to be at the tourist lodge as soon as possible to serve his customers instead of being my assistants in New Delhi for educational outreach.
While in Delhi, the two people I work most closely with, other than Avtar, are Magnificent Tours manager Raman Johal and Tiger Fund employee Sarita Pannu, who used to work for WWF – World Wildlife Fund - at the Ranthambhore tiger reserve.
There are lighter moments. One day, at a MacDonald's joint (! - Raman's idea) having a "maharaja veggie burger ", Jane said that most of her friends wouldn't consider marrying a man who can't cook.
I took the bait and said, “That explains why I'm still single.”
Kim, in her usual somewhat sarcastic way, said, “That's one of the reasons.”
Sarita, a darkly yet girlishly beautiful woman in her twenties, came to my rescue. “He’s married to the tigers,” she said.
“So are you, but you are married.” I said self-deprecatorily.
“I'm married to a real live tiger, but don't tell him,” she said with a wink.
Back to Jane, I said, “May those women who use cooking ability as a vital criterion end up marrying some wife-beating gourmet chefs.”
I brought Jane and Kim to visit Ashok (“a-SHOOK”) Kumar – world known tiger conservationist specializing in urban undercover sting operations, having uncovered stashes of tiger skin and sacks of tiger bone in Delhi and Calcutta in yesteryears. He is also an executive director of Wildlife Preservation Society of India (WPSI). In spite of his exploits, he is a gentle and mild mannered man, with a good sense of humor. On his desk is a plague with a quote from the lawyer of one of his enemies: “Next to God, Ashok Kumar is everywhere.” And yet, in spite of his high international profile, he is not well known in his own country, at least by appearance, and he wants to keep it that way to prevent blowing his cover. Ashok invited us to his place for dinner some time before we return to Canada. He said he would invite Belinda Wright as well.
Belinda, a regally beautiful British woman who has lived her whole life in India, is also a WPSI executive director and a world renowned tiger conservationist in her own right, who was the first to investigate tiger-poaching in the 1980s and among the first to bring the tiger-poaching and tiger-parts-trade issues to world attention. Her TV documentary Land of the Tiger is both poignant and magnificent, and her book Through the Tiger's Eyes is exquisite and deeply touching. When I first met Belinda, it was at the Tigers 2000 conference in London, England, in 1997, as part of my first trip to India. Before my departure from Vancouver, I had written Ashok and Belinda about the trip. In the conference, we sought each other out. At first sight, she took an intense look at my face. Then a smile began to beam on hers. “Perfect,” she said.
“Thank you,” I said, a little taken aback. “I’ve never had that word used on me before.”
“I’ve been looking for an Oriental man to participate in a sting operation in Calcutta with us. You look perfect for the part.”
“Oh, I see. You want somebody looking perfectly like a tiger-bone-trading criminal and a tiger-penis-ingesting weakling. Thank you very much.”
Of course I said yes.
Avtar was not present at the conference. When I told Ashok and Belinda that Avtar was chosen as our project partner, they exchanged an open glance and said, also in sync, “Why him?”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s not even active.”
Belinda invited me to stay at her place after we re-met in New Delhi, which, like her, was beautiful in a regal fashion. After being driven by Belinda herself in her unidentifiable car (some Indian make) through the chaos of Delhi traffic, a few more turns of her steering wheel brought us into a quiet and miraculously garbage-free suburban road. Soon, we turned into a walled estate with manned gate, and, voila, a piece of earthly paradise filled all my senses. What a treat after several days in grey and brown metro Delhi; just the colors alone are intoxicating. I will not attempt to describe its beauty, since words would do it no justice. Suffice to say that her home was a miniature palace, and her garden, replete with exotic flowers, a miniature Eden. She had two dogs – a cocker spaniel and a street dog. The spaniel had the run of the house, and the street dog’s domain was the expansive garden. Notable was that after seeing the thousands upon thousands of scrawny, unkempt and flea-infested street dogs everywhere in Delhi, I found this one a specimen of its breed at its best – medium small, but exceptionally handsome, well proportioned, athletic and muscular, even compared to most domestic dogs on North America, albeit somewhat detached and aloof – definitely not a couch-cuddler. And there were a few Indian persons in attendance, which treated Belinda like a benevolent queen, and me, by osmosis, like a – duke? Belinda Wright is one extraordinary woman.
Of course, all this pampering had a price to pay. Back then, in early 1997, after two weeks in Belinda’s residence, I was flown over to Calcutta to be fed to the wolves. In Calcutta, we met up with Ashok and had a couple of strategizing sessions. At the second one Ashok had dyed his silver hair black. Not a good job in my opinion, looking more like shoe polish than hair dye. Unfortunately the sting had to be aborted mid-operation due to Ashok’s being recognized in the wrong place at the wrong time. He considered himself lucky to have escaped alive. Later, I heard that another undercover agent whose shoes I earlier attempted to fill, was killed in a subsequent operation. These people are dedicated and gutsy. Belinda herself, being a white woman, stands out like a dove among crows, and yet, she is as much on the front line as Ashok and other Indian operatives. Both are of course well known to the criminals, especially one Sansar Chand, the most notorious illegal wildlife trader in India. Belinda and Ashok brought about Chand’s arrest. “If looks could kill,” said Belinda. But within days, Chand was set free, and went right back to his dirty deeds.
The following month, Ashok also invited me to stay at his house in New Delhi and I did so for about ten days, this time treated like a prince, during which period I also befriended his daughter Malina.
Yesterday, I stayed at Avtar’s Magnificent Tours office to check and write and send e-mail while Raman, Sarita, Kim and Jane went ahead to the Dilli Haat fairgrounds around 14:00, where a craft fair featuring exclusively Gujurati folk products was taking place, to set up the “Gigantic Tiger Cub” (“Big Cub”) which we brought from Canada with us. It is a 45 feet long, 12 feet high nylon tiger inflated with a fan, with a zipper in the rear where people could go in and out. It is big enough to accommodate over 100 children side.
Delhi is a city of dust besides smog. Smog-wise you can’t see two blocks. Dust-wise, it covers everything, indoor and out. While I was typing away on my laptop, a servant girl came into the room and began sweeping the floor with a broom. Wherever the broom went would rise a cloud of dust, and the dust would then settle on the shelves and the books and the furniture and my clothes and the computer key board and screen and on my sweaty face and inside my straining lungs. Then she would begin to dust the shelves and books and the furniture with a feathered duster, and the dust would fly again. Come to think of it, I have never seen a single vacuum cleaner anywhere in India that I can recall. This office is a microcosm of most Third World cities I’ve seen. Many African places are the same.
I arrived at the Dilli Haat around 18:00 and found that, right off the bat, Raman burnt up one of the two heavy voltage-converters we took pains to bring from Canada. He applied the 500 watt one on the blower used to keep the Big Cub inflated instead of the 750 watt one I specified. So now, we have only the 750 watt one left and can’t run the blower and the slide projector at the same time. I cursed beneath my breath.
It began to get dark. The evening was supposed to be when the majority of the people would come. I went through the fairgrounds with Sarita and bought a handcrafted 100 watt lamp. We put it inside the Big Cub with the shade removed, plugged it in and lit up the Big Cub from within like a lantern. The reporter from Asian Age did come and gave me an hour-long interview inside the Tiger Cub, with the lamp casting the shadows of our talking heads on its butt. Jane loves the lamp. She bought it from us after the fair to send home to her parents.
Email-wise, I received several from WCWC, and several from friends, but none from Christine. I’ve sent several to her and Christopher. I checked one last time just before leaving and still nothing. This does not justify an expensive phone call, but it does leave a lingering disappointment after I had left the Magnificent Tours office to go to the train station with Jane and Kim.
Right now, as the train clatters along, Jane is reading by the window, and Kim is writing in her journal, each sitting in our respective bunks.
This time we’ve taken packed meals with us, prepared at the Bajaj Indian Home Stay where we stayed the last couple of nights without health problems, to forestall eating train food which did make me sick in my first train trip in 1997. I remember having to go to the toilet to throw up, which was basically a hole in the floor through which one could see the gravel underneath rushing by. The floor of the washroom is awash with urine. I bent down to vomit, and my favourite pen fell out of my breast-pocket right through the hole out of sight. When I staggered my way back, I was treading urine all the way to the foot of my bunk which means that there were urine-tracks leading from the washroom to every bunk, already dried or still wet. Enough to make me want to go back to throw up again!
Having conversed in English with Jane and Kim for some time along the lines of the last paragraph, except instead of “urine” we were saying “piss”, I felt obliged to be neighbourly to the lone older Indian woman in a sari sitting in a meditative position in the bunk diagonally opposite mine, and gave her a palms-together, head-bowed greeting of “Namaste”. She returned the greeting, smiled and said, “Nice to meet you. I'm from Detroit, here to visit my daughter in Agra.” Shit! I mean, oops!
Something with what happened or did not happen over the last three days bothered me, significantly enough to cause me to share my concerns with both women, first with Kim on an impromptu basis while Jane was sleeping, and then with Jane after she had awakened with Kim participating.
First, the total lack of media at the Ahlcon School presentation. It was more photogenic than any presentation to any Canadian school, with an exotic setting and a huge audience. It was a glaringly missed golden opportunity. Back in December, when Avtar came in to WCWC for a meeting with me and the WCWC executive directorship, we agreed that I would send off media packages to the Delhi media ASAP, which I did before Christmas, with a cover letter and some 20 pieces of highly persuasive newspaper articles including the Georgia Straight, the New Internationalist, the Hindu, the Global & Mail, the Vancouver Sun, the Toronto Sun, the Vancouver Province, etc. All Tiger Fund would have to do was to make one follow-up phone call each to the 25 or so Delhi media outlets I mailed the packages to, or, even easier, fax them a media release with my speaking schedule as Avtar has arranged it. Evidently, they did none of these. And then, the significant question: What did Tiger Fund do with all the incoming inquiries resulting from my mailing? The Asian Age interview was due to the in-coming call from the AA reporter to Tiger Fund's office while I was there. It was Sarita who answered the phone. When I asked to speak to the reporter on the phone, Sarita either did not hear me, or refused to hand me the phone. Goodness knows how many other phone inquiries came in when I was not there. So what happened to them?
Second, when I expressed that most logically, all the school presentations in Delhi should occur within the first week or ten days I was there and all the media in Delhi done before I go to Kanha and there to stay for the next two months, Sarita said that it was difficult or impossible at this time for one reason or another.
Third, they pretty well herded me out of town, but not before having me leave my slides and the Big Cub in Delhi for their own presentations. At one point, while reading her draft for the bilingual pamphlet for distribution to the students, I thought that it would serve very well as the opening of the tiger portion of the WCWC 98/99 members' report. So, with Sarita's permission, I copied and pasted the draft into my members' report draft file. But when I read down to the bottom of the piece I found this:
The program Schedule for the visit of Mr. Anthony Marr and team:
Date Venue Time
1999/01/21 Ahlcon Public School 9.00 a.m.- 11.00a.m.
1999/01/22-23 Dilli Haat all day
1999/01/25 Sri Ram Public School 10.30 a.m.-1.00p.m.
1999-01-28 The Frank Anthony School 11.30 a.m.-1.30 p.m.
1999-02-14 Save the Tiger Walk 10.00a.m.- 2.00 p.m.
The question is: Why did they cut me and WCWC out of the Sri Ram and Frank Anthony schools? They did not even tell me about these engagements. When I asked them about the timing of the train trip, they just curtly stated that the train tickets had already been booked. What's the big deal about canceling a train ticket and booking a new one? Did they ship me out to Kanha just to get me out of the way? Kim and Jane arrived at similar conclusions independently.
Anyway, the train is rolling; it cannot be turned back. Time to look forward. We'll arrive at Gondia shortly before 05:00 tomorrow, eighteen hours from now. Another several hours by jeep to Kanha. So, hello tigers, here I come!
I would wish that you were here with me Christopher, but this choo choo train ride might be a bit hard for you to take. Anyway, Christopher, kisses and hugs, and good night.
* * * * *
January 24, 1999, sunny, 5-16C
[17:36 @ Tiger Lodge, Mukki near Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh, India]
Finally, again, I’m back in the embrace of Kanha National Park and tiger reserve (“KAA-na” – why is there an “h” where it is not pronounced?). After the excruciating 21 hour Delhi-Nagpur-Gondia train ride, which started around 08:30 yesterday, plus the bumpy and dangerous 4 hour jeep ride from Gondia to Mukki in a vehicle whose shocks were shot and tires were bald, we finally arrived at Magnificent Tour’s Tiger Lodge at Kanha by about 10:30 today – over 26 hours in total.
Between the 26 hour plane trip from Vancouver to Delhi and the 26 hour train trip from Delhi to Kanha, which do I prefer? The plane trip, believe it or not. Still, through these two long rides, , Kim and I had lots of times to get to know each other better.
The four hour highway ride was a nasty follow-up to the train ride, not as uncomfortable and filthy as unnerving and dangerous, with the dare-devil driver almost hitting pedestrians or street dogs or cows or oncoming traffic about five hundred times, often with but inches to spare. This combined with his total inability to take his thumbs off the horn, whether or not there was anybody other than ourselves to hear it, delivered us at the Kanha Tiger Lodge more or less dazed.
But, Kanha, sublime Kanha, to see you again – a few days sooner - makes even the two unnecessary train trips combined far more than worth it. My mind aside, which is still grumbling about poor organization and lost opportunities, my heart is singing, right now, that I’m here in Kanha and not in Delhi. I cannot deny, lovely Kanha, nor describe, how happy I am to be back in your embrace – the place, the flora and fauna, the villagers I recognize from previous visits, the good smell, the clean heat, the wooded loveliness and rustic familiarity of the Tiger Lodge and the lodge workers who welcome me back with pomp and circumstance and ceremony. Ecotourism-wise, I can’t deny that Avtar runs a fine ship.
Of Kanha, it is written:
“This is without a doubt one of India's most spectacular and exciting parks. The dense sal forests, bamboo thickets and Mekal river provided the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling's 'Jungle Book'. The park is situated in the Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh, its interesting mix of river valleys and steep rocky escarpments provide a diverse habitat for all manner of indigenous wildlife.
“The park was created in 1955 and one of its first ambitious projects was to protect and preserve the local population of Barasingha (a unique type of swamp deer). This involved the relocation of several villages, a process that has been replicated in several parks with considerable success. The park came under the Project Tiger umbrella in 1974, and despite some setbacks has grown into one of the largest national parks in India.
“At nearly 2000 sq km Kanha is one of India's largest parks, and after Sunderbans, home to the second largest population of tigers. The mixed forests of sal and bamboo provide good breeding grounds for approximately 200 different species of birds, as well as 22 mammal species. The large open meadows are the true trademark of this park, with numerous waterholes attracting a variety of birds and mammals, and providing excellent photographic backdrops. As well as the barasingha, herbivores include chital, sambar, barking deer, nilgai (Blue Bull) and the magnificent but shy gaur (Indian Bison), sadly there is just one solitary male Blackbuck remaining inside the park. Feeding off these prey species are jackal, leopard, wild dog (Dhole), hyena and of course the tiger.
“Over the years Kanha has received a fair amount of international attention, having featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles. It is one of the best places to see tigers in the world and many argue that it is one of India's best run National Parks.
“There are visitor and interpretation centers located both inside and around the park, which are both informative and entertaining. Jeep safaris enable you to view larger areas of this vast park, and offer the mobility to track tigers by following fresh pugmarks and alarm calls. As in Bandhavgarh, elephants are also employed to find tigers off road.
“Kanha lies in the heart of India and can claim to be its most prestigious National Park, the land painted so vividly by Kipling does not disappoint. The park is open from 1st November till 30th June.
Yes, Kanha, my beloved Kanha, I am here not just to bask in your splendor and swoon in your embrace, but to fight for your beauty and in your honour, don’t you know?
My mind again edged my heart aside. Too bad I have the tiger’s future to worry about, and the best use of my time this week would be to give tiger conservation presentations twice daily to urban schools in Delhi. I love to be in the midst of tigers in tiger reserves. Those precious moments are monuments in time and experience, but if by wading back into the quagmires of urban enclaves to spread the word and to turn up criminals I could do more good for the tigers than by just sitting here ooing and ahhing at their beauty, I am willing.
But now that I’m here, I reacquainted myself with lodge manager Manohar Dhami, his lovely wife Deepfee and the other workers, most of whom I have met in previous visits, including Faiyaz Khudsar (“fai-YAZ KOOD-sar”), a lean and forthright man in his late twenties, with an open, honest and earnest face. Faiyaz has a Master’s degree in environmental studies, and is the Tiger Fund field-officer I’ll be working with over the coming weeks. I also met American volunteer CJ, a boyishly handsome and very likeable young man with a great sense of humor expressed with a sunny smile. He served as a Peace Corp volunteer in Mali, West Africa for almost 3 years before finding himself wandering into deep rural India and somehow stumbling into the Tiger Lodge.
Had a highly constructive informal meeting with Faiyaz, CJ, Manohar and Deepfee regarding slideshows to tourists and fund raising for Tiger Fund from tourists. We also discussed the concept of raising Kanha’s gate charge and have the revenue split between park services and villagers, a la Chitwan National Park, Nepal. They also took to the idea of solar-cooking with great enthusiasm. Tomorrow, we will do a field test of the portable solar oven that we have brought from Canada.
Now, the group has taken the [Champions of the Wild – Bengal Tiger] video to show the free-school children, some of whom I befriended back in 1997. Love to see them again. But I’ll wait till tomorrow.
And perhaps tomorrow, in Kanha National Park, I’ll meet a tiger I’ve met before.
Wish you were here, Christopher, good night.
* * * * *
January 25, 1999, sunny, 6-20C
[19:21 @ Rm. 117, Tiger Lodge, Mukki (mook-KEE), Kanha National Park]
I had a full day. How about you?
I rose before dawn, about 05:30. Into the park by 06:30, with Jane, CJ, a lodge guide and a park guide, Manohar at the wheel of the green Tiger Lodge Gypsy.
Kim and another Magnificent Tours volunteer named Janice, from Nova Scotia, came down sick in the stomach and stayed in the lodge. They are the only two among us who had the mango pickle last night. I also got sick from mango pickle back in 1997, in a Delhi hotel, and since then the smell of mango pickle has been unpleasant, in fact mildly nauseating, to my nose.
Highlights of the safari – two massive Gaur bison (the largest bovine species in the world, bigger than the American bison and even African Cape buffalo, but less dangerous) and a gorgeous Indian Roller (a robin-like bird with florescent multi-hued blue plumage, the most exquisite of which being under the wings, so that it flashes brilliant blue with every wing beat as it flies, and since it sits more than flies, it is very difficult to capture its maximum beauty photographically, which so far I have not succeeded). I did expose a full roll of 36 on the animals and plants we saw today, and well worth it. In regards to plants, we have to bear in mind that in a Canadian forest we may count 20 tree species, but here at Kanha, there are some 300 species of trees, and a comparable number of bird species. The biodiversity here is phenomenal.
In mid-morning, we stopped for brunch on the bank of a small lake, or large pond. With water fowls feeding, and swamp deer belly deep in water munching on aquatic plants, and herds of chital (spotted deer) grazing serenely on the meadow, and birds calling here and there, and bright red dragonflies flitting about, I have reached my nirvana, even with no tiger visible today. Still, moment to moment, I wish that Christopher were here with me, though I would not wish the plane flight and train trip on him.
When I saw the glow on the enchanted faces of CJ and especially Jane in her first sight of Kanha, I saw myself as I was the first time I entered a tiger reserve two years ago. Perhaps from Manohar’s point of view, my face is glowing with enchantment still.
Upon arrival back in camp, we found a Caucasian couple in their 50s - Albert and Andrea Loughran, from Bristol, England - having tea in the vaulted-roofed but wide-open-unwalled dining pavilion. The husband, whose uncle still lives here, was born in India. We chatted a little about how London used to be like Delhi, pollution-wise, and Delhi is “out of control”. A few days ago, while our plane was approaching Delhi from Kuala Lumpur, we identified the city by first identifying its smog. As soon as the plane’s door opened, our noses were assaulted by a thick fume-cocktail. In traffic downtown, visibility is down to about one or two blocks. Thick bluish-brown smoke pouring from the exhausts of the ubiquitous 3-wheeled auto-rickshaws, whose 2-stroke gasoline-engines are being fed a diet or dirty burning kerosene. Delhi is now a massive laboratory. Its air has never been as bad as this, even twenty years ago, even ten. It is not that they aren’t aware of the problem. They just can’t do anything about it. They can’t just install a Canadian style Air Care system and refuse insurance to those vehicles that don’t pass the emission test. First, they don’t give a hoot about insurance. Second, just about every vehicle would fail, so what’s the point? And if government clamps down and bans the auto-rickshaw, transportation would be semi-paralyzed, and millions of people would be out of a job, and there would be a mass uprising. So what do you do?
Street garbage-wise, about the same. Twenty or thirty years ago, it would be by and largely bio-degradable. But not the plastic-filled garbage of today.
During lunch, the gentleman looked at me intensely and finally said, “Are you in a television wildlife documentary about tigers?”
“Uh, yes, a few. The one you’re talking about is probably called Champions of the Wild.”
“Yes, that’s the one. You know, Mr. Marr, it is because of that documentary that we’ve decided to come to Bandhavgarh and Kanha.”
Jane said that at the Vancouver airport, an airport employee asked her, “Is he Anthony Marr? I read about him in some newspaper article some time back.”
As for me, I’ve learned to just shrug it off. This kind of thing happens about once a week in Vancouver. Dimitri, the owner of Sunshine Diner on Broadway and McDonald, even asked, several times, to have a picture of me to hang on the wall, along side Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles; I gracefully declined. Back in February or March last year, Vicki and I saw on the front window of the Hemp Shop on 4th & McDonald a copy of the Vancouver Sun article about me being beaten up, with photo. When I went to visit the Sea Shepherd, Lisa Distephano was heard to tell the crew, “That’s Anthony Marr over there. He’s awesome.” While having a coffee with Vicki and Rico in Victoria, a man passed near our table and just said, “Keep up the good work, Mr. Marr.” When I turned to thank him, he had already turned the corner. Well, keep up the good work, Mr. Marr, but don’t let this go to your head, Anthony.
In the afternoon, around 13:30, Faiyaz and a lodge employee from Lahkma village named Sarup (19), took me behind the lodge for a 4 k hike along a very scenic rocky river – the Mekal - to visit a village of about 150 Baiga tribal people. Since the sun would set shortly after 17:00, we had to walk fast if we wanted to spend any time in the village at all. Walking along the river after sundown is not recommended due to the presence of Nauxalite tribal rebel terrorist activities in the area.
When we got there, the villagers were digging a well. Their present water supply takes the form of village girls packing water in cans or urns on their heads up from the river, which lay a good distance away. Their village used to be inside the current Core Area of the park. When the park was designated a Tiger Reserve of Project Tiger in the early 70s, there were some 20 villages in the designated Core Area. They relocated all of them into the surrounding Buffer Zone which today encompasses 178 villages with a total human population of about 100,000 and about as big a cattle population. This particular village we visited today is among the 20 that were relocated. The river we hiked along forms the Core-Area/Buffer-Zone boundary in this park sector, so this village we visited is situated on the edge of the park. When the village was being relocated, the government made promises as to what services would be provided. It seems that at least where a well is concerned, the government still hasn’t delivered. And the villagers are tired of waiting and are taking things in their own hands. The name of the village is Chichrunpur (“chich-run-POOR”), meaning, incredibly, God-forsaken Place.
When the well-digging villagers saw us approaching, they paused and stared. When we crossed a certain invisible line, they closed in upon us. We hadn’t made an appointment, since there was no phone at the village to make an appointment with. While approaching the village, Faiyaz advised me to keep the cameras in my knapsack. He introduced me as the “chief” of my troop, and asked for the village chief, who happened to be out of village. So we just chatted with the villagers a little, including the teacher of the village school, with Faiyaz acting as my translator.
Soon, Faiyaz gave me the nod. I pulled out the Polaroid camera first and took a few group shots, inciting glee and excitement when they saw themselves in the photos we gave to them on the spot. Then I took some shots of the village with my main camera. We chatted a little more. They trusted me to hold the babies and looked at me with undisguised curiosity and jabbered unrestrainedly behind my back.
One woman said something to me and Faiyaz translated that she was asking me for money. I replied that I am here to help them help themselves, and I will see what I can do for their village as a whole. First, I want to understand their culture and way of life, and only after that will I devise a plan. Meanwhile, I gave them a number of Tiger Walk buttons, and made an arrangement to come back to visit them with Kim, Jane, CJ and Faiyaz on Wednesday early afternoon, when the chieftain will be in.
I observed one thing, confirmed later by Faiyaz – when I talked about WCWC and Tiger Fund, they listened neutrally, but when Tiger Fund was linked to the tourist business, the villagers seemed wary.
Yesterday, Faiyaz asked me, very seriously, “Anthony, do you think that non-profit environmentalism and for-profit business should mix?” He didn’t say much, but I can tell that he is very disappointed and frustrated about something. By conversation’s end, I had gathered enough to know that in short, Avtar keeps Magnificent Tours on the front burner and Tiger Fund on the back burner more or less as a rule. Through the course of his employment under Avtar, Faiyaz has made several proposals, none of which Avtar seriously entertained, let alone accepted, much less implemented. I asked him to provide me with a summary of his ideas, so I could make my own judgment. He is an exceptionally knowledgeable, sincere, passionate and dignified man, genuinely keen, almost obsessed, on saving wilderness and wildlife. If there is one thing I am happy about regarding what Avtar has done for me on this trip so far, it is to put Faiyaz to work with me.
Within 5 minutes of our arrival back in camp, the afternoon safari group, comprising Jane, Kim, CJ, the British couple and Manohar, came back in. Around 18:00, I went to sit in the free school class, with CJ, Kim, Jane and the British couple entering at various times. The class is held at the Ravinder Grewal Conservation Centre.
When you enter the Tiger Lodge grounds, you first go through the entrance gate guarded by two beautifully painted tiger-striped gateposts made of plastered brick. You then proceed along a long and unpaved driveway curving to the left, with vegetation on both sides. After about 100 meters, you arrive at a sandy parking lot. The driveway leads on to the left past the parking lot another hundred yards to the service area of the lodge. From the parking lot lead two footpaths: the one to the left enters a sal forest, which ends in a large glade where the lodge-proper is situated, and the one to the right leads to the conservation centre. The conservation centre is basically two plaster-over-brick huts, one big enough to seat about 50 people, equipped with a TV/VCR, a black board, a small collection of wildlife oriented books, a few pictures and charts and posters on the walls, including the 1998 WCWC tiger paper, a blank white wall serving as a projection screen, and the slide projector that we have brought from Canada.
Under Deepfee’s guidance, the students continued with their regular activities for awhile, then they turned to me and began asking questions directed at me, whom they have seen in the Champions of the Wild video shown to them yesterday. Faiyaz served as my translator, and he is very sharp and fast with it, sentence for sentence, both from Hindi to English and from English to Hindi, without a moment’s pause. The first few questions were all from boys, and I encouraged the girls to ask theirs. Most of the boys’ questions had to do with numbers of various animals, including the Canadian bears, but one very young girl asked about me why we “white” people were white. (White? Who? Me?) I struggled for an answer. How do I explain to them in a few sentences the theory of evolution and the origins of the human races? So I gave an off the cuff part-truth, “The white chapatti dough turns brown when you put them into an oven. Your country is hot, so we ‘white’ people will turn brown soon enough.” I didn’t think it was all that funny, but the kids laughed hysterically. The kids then sang some songs for us. On the spur of the moment, I offered to sing them the Save the Tiger song, with Jane, Kim, the British couple, Deepfee and Faiyaz singing the chorus.
Tiger Song is the creation of Tim Murphy, my assistant over the last two years.
lead (me) chorus melody
SAVE THE TIGER Save the tiger (doe ray mee doe)
THEY’RE OUR FRIENDS They’re our friends (mee fa so)
THE TIGERS ARE IN TROUBLE The tigers are in trouble (so-la-so-fa mee doe)
LET’S HELP THEM Let’s help them (doe so doe)
A good time was had by all, and again, wishing Christopher were here.
[00:21] Around 20:00, an official of the Forest Department came to visit, as invited by Faiyaz. He and I talked one-to-one for awhile, then, around 21:00 (9 p.m., India’s standard dinner time) all of us sat down and ate together. After that, they (including the British couple, Manohar, Deepfee, Faiyaz, CJ and the official) watched the Champions of the Wild video.
It was an easy sell. The British couple wants a copy of the video to take home. Manohar wants a copy for the lodge. The official talks to me with obvious respect. The topic of conversation turned to the solar oven. We discussed its socio-economic benefit, benefit to women, benefit to the tigers, to the environment, the village, the entire buffer zone, the entire province, the entire India, the entire planet. But the natural resistance to change, the T-word - “Tradition” - will need energy and patience to overcome.
We came up with new ideas for the solar oven concept. Now this is really exciting. Communal solar cookers can be made of brick, an excellent insulator, with double paned glass on top, and metallic reflectors around. Manohar estimated the cost at no more than Rs 4,000 or US$100. It can practically last forever. The official played devil’s advocate for awhile, then began to participate in the planning process. Faiyaz said he could build one within ten days. Meanwhile, the portable model will be tested tomorrow. After that, Deepfee will give a demo to the kids that come to the free school, and village elders will be invited for lunch cooked with the cooker. Everyone was, is, excited with the prospect.
Faiyaz is the person I talked to the most today. We discussed how to reach all 178 villages during my stay at Kanha. I certainly cannot go and visit each and every one of them. So we formed a plan. I will give daily slideshows for village elders at the conservation centre. Faiyaz will go out in a Gypsy daily to invite them and make appointments, and also pick up the village elders of the day. We would also take the opportunity to take the village elders for a short safari in the park, for though they live in the park’s Buffer Zone, most of them have never been inside the park’s Core Area where the tigers live, and therefore no sense of pride for the park and their national symbol the tiger.
“National?” Do the names India and Canada mean anything to them? Can they tell Canada from Mars or Venus? As far as they’re concerned, Manohar, who is from Rajasthan state, or Faiyaz, from New Delhi, could be as much of an outsider as me, though our illiteracy in their language would make us farther-outsiders.
At the end of the slideshow, we would drive them back to their villages. Not a short spin for lodge driver Surinder.
Originally I said I would go with Faiyaz to visit the villages, but he thought it less intrusive if only he went on the first visits, my being yet again definitely a visual minority (a common term in cosmopolitan Vancouver, referring to people not of the Caucasian majority). So I gave him my thick media folder which contains many newspaper articles with my photos in them, to take to the villages as my calling card and to pique their interest, as well as for the eyes of Faiyaz himself.
Wishing you were here, Christopher, repeatedly. Good night.
* * * * *
January 26, 1999, Tuesday, sunny, 6-20C
[12:56 @ Tiger Lodge, Kanha National Park]
A day the equal of ten good days, and it’s barely noon.
This morning, there were two options. One was to go to a local school to see a Gantantra Diwas (Independence Day) celebration and the other was to go into the park. I opted for the latter – with Manohar, Kim and the British couple. Jane elected to go to the parade with Faiyaz and CJ.
While paying our park fee at the park gate, we encountered a troop of children chanting some slogan parading past. When they saw me, they spontaneously suspended their chanting and started shouting excitedly something sounding like “Bagh Cha Cha”. “Bagh”, if that’s the right word, means tiger. “Cha Cha” I have no idea, except for a 1960s dance in which I used to be fluent – 1, 2, 1-2, 1-2-3. I waved at them and they waved back. I took a couple of shots at them with my camera, and they waved some more.
As soon as I entered the park gates, I had second thoughts. I could go into the park any day of the week, and this festival is a one-time thing. Plus, going to the festival would present P.R. opportunities galore. But as soon as we turned the first corner and the buildings disappeared behind us, all thoughts of civilization vanished.
As it worked out, from a wildlife photographer’s viewpoint, I made the better choice of the two. What I had was one of the best tiger sightings at Kanha I’ve had. We were sitting in the shade of a tree, with engine off, just listening. What we were listening for was not the roar of a tiger, since tigers hardly ever roar, that I’ve heard. What we did hear after what seemed like a long wait were the honking alarm calls of deer and monkeys. At once, Manohar started the engine and took off in the direction of the sound. We arrived just in time to see the tiger disappearing into a forest. Manohar took another road and stopped in a glade on the far side of the grove. There he turned off the engine and we waited. Sure enough, within minutes, the same tiger emerged. It was a tigress in prime condition, whose pug marks we saw earlier identified her as Pipal, the mother of three young cubs. When we saw her, she was alone, meaning that she was out hunting, having hidden her cubs in some thicket nearby. It so happened that on the far side of the glade was a small herd of wild boar. She stalked them stealthily for some interminable minutes, but before she had reached charging distance, the wild boars, already tense, alerted by the earlier alarm calls, spotted her and dashed away. One of her twenty or so failures before her next success, statistically speaking. She would never be so discouraged to stop trying – a lesson for us humans to learn.
In the Gypsy I had a happy chat with the ecstatic Loughrans - ecstatic, of course, because of their very first tiger sighting, of which up to this point they had been deprived. As per their request I promised to send them a Champions-of-the-Wild tape, a tiger T-shirt for their 10 year-old nephew and a few duped slides of today’s tiger sighting, since they considered my camera, with its 28-200 mm zoom lens, the best of the four on board.
When we got back to the lodge at noon, Jane said to me, “You have a very good reputation with the kids.”
“What do you mean?”
“They call you ‘Bagh Cha Cha’.”
“Yes, that’s what I thought I heard this morning at the park gate. What’s it mean?”
“You are their ‘Tiger Uncle’,” said Jane, very pleased.
The Lougrans left Kanha after lunch.
[17:19] This afternoon, Jane said to me, “It seems that your concern about Avtar as discussed on the train has some truth to it. I’ve been speaking with Faiyaz. He was hired as Tiger Fund field officer to do conservation work, but instead is placed under the control of Manohar, of Magnificent Tours, to serve Avtar’s commercial interest. This is not what he accepted the job for. His heart is in working with the villagers and park personnel and government officials towards saving the tiger and other wildlife, not in entertaining tourists to profit Avtar’s Magnificent Tours. It is only because there is currently no tourist at the lodge that he has the time to work with you. He says he’s been seriously considering resigning. He’s being paid only 4,000 rupees (C$150) a month and has received job offers with much better pay from other employers, but he’s sticking with Tiger Fund for now because he still hasn’t given up all hope that things will improve, especially with you being here.”
I produced the CIDA project expenditure list I promised while on the train, and went through it item by item with Jane. In WCWC’s boardroom in Canada, with the executive-team bring accustomed to dealing with high Canadian labor costs, Avtar’s budgeting for his program might have looked reasonable, but once on Indian soil and become aware of the cheapness of Indian labor, I had arrived at the inevitable conclusion that Avtar’s half of the bargain is grossly underpowered and overpriced, and devoid of inspiration and drive or even sincerity. Given a budget of C$60,000, a much greater result should be expected, with a full time field team, perhaps by a factor of five or more. Conversely, the cost should be much less with things as they are.
The so-called medicinal plant garden, for example, which comprises only a small 20’ x 20’ plot with no more than 20 plants, claims a cost of $8,000 in the budget, which should not cost more than a couple of hundred dollars as is, even factoring in maintenance by Faiyaz. Avtar simply had not spent any money on developing it in the past. The two items “survey of visitors” and “project monitoring” claim a combined cost of $27,000 out of the budget, a huge amount when used in India, and a big chunk out of the grant. The worst thing about it is that they serve no proactive purpose. Even if they do serve a proactive purpose, they should not cost a small fraction of the amount. What the “survey of visitors” serves best is Magnificent Tours, whose name is projected to the tourists staying at other lodges showing them that Magnificent Tours’ Tiger Lodge has a conservation program that other lodges have not. And project monitoring? What project is there to monitor? Of whom, by whom? The monitoring is almost more expensive than project itself.
The “Conservation Centre” – little more than a mud-brick hut with a few chairs, a TV/VCR and posters on the wall albeit excellent ones hand-made by Faiyaz - yet another several thousand dollars. There is also a big claim for producing educational material. In 1997, Tiger Fund was supposed to produce a tiger conservation comic book in Hindi. It did not materialize, and the unused grant money was not returned, nor carried over to 1998, as far as I know.
Jane was further incensed that given Avtar’s now living in Vancouver – he bought a palatial house there in 1997, the same year Tiger Fund began working with WCWC under the CIDA grant - CIDA covers his expenses to travel between India and Canada, which is semi-personal, but does not cover mine, which is completely business.
Finally, for what would be really effective – Buffer Zone outreach - there is zero budget. I have a theory to this. One of the selling points of Magnificent Tours is that it has a conservation component to it in the form of Tiger Fund of the late great Ravinder Grewal, versus other lodges being purely profit making enterprises. My take on the lack of an outreach component in Avtar’s plan is that such a component would take Tiger Fund activities into the field, away from the “Conservation Centre”, rendering the work invisible to tourists.
Back in 1997, it was Avtar who proposed the idea of the “mobile educational centre / medical clinic”, which I thought to be an excellent and truly magnificent idea (pun intended). But later he killed it, and more than once refused to resurrect it at my urging, nor at Faiyaz’s suggestion. No reason ever was given. Probable reason – once again this would take Tiger Fund activities from tourist view.
So, if he wouldn’t do it, I’ll have to do it unilaterally. But I’ll try it with Avtar one more time.
I’m not the only person excited about the all-Buffer-Zone-outreach plan. It’s clearly the way to maximizing the bang-for-the-CIDA-buck. Faiyaz, Manohar, Jane, CJ and I piled into the Gypsy and drove to Baihar, the nearest town about 10 km distant, to call Avtar to discuss the plan. Avtar is Faiyaz’s boss after all, and of course should be consulted, but when after numerous tries our phone call finally got through to the Magnificent Tours office in Delhi, Avtar was not available, nor was there any message left for us.
Slightly dowsed, our spirits nonetheless flew into the night sky on our way back to the lodge in the open deck of the Gypsy.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
January 27, 1999, Wednesday, 6-20C
[09:36 @ Tiger Lodge, Kanha National Park, MP, India]
The Gypsy has developed a starter problem, so no safari today. Instead, I will hold a meeting with Faiyaz at 10:00. What I have in mind to do is to draw up a jobs list similar to that in Avtar’s budget, which I haven’t shown Faiyaz, and ask Faiyaz to do a cost estimate on it, and further to do one on the alternative plan we have designed, including a whole-Buffer-Zone outreach. It is nearly 10:00 now. More later.
Just returned from a most successful visit to the Baiga village Chichrunpur about an hour ago.
But first, the 10:00 meeting. It was also attended by Jane and CJ, whom I totally trust. It was understood to be a strictly confidential meeting. In general, several items were deemed way overpriced. All deemed the “survey of visitors” and “project monitoring” to be way too passive to be able to answer the urgent call of the tigers - basically a waste of money, money that can be better used elsewhere by far. Most of all, all agreed that the absence of an outreach program, which limits the contact to only 3-4 villages out of the 178 in the Buffer Zone, to be the fatal flaw of Avtar’s program, rendering it impotent.
Tiger Fund as an organization doesn’t even have its own dedicated vehicle in a place where, in the absence of phones, not to mention fax and email, the lack of a vehicle means total paralysis. As it is, Tiger Fund depends on Magnificent Tours for vehicular use, but only when MT’s Gypsy could be spared. A good used Gypsy costs about C$5,000 (aboutUS$3,000). Spread out over three years, the cost is only C$1,750 per year, although it would have to be cash up front. Fuel cost would be in the region of about C$1,000 per year. We would also need two full time outreach staff, one of whom being Faiyaz, at C$2,000 per annum each, to reach and maintain contact with all 178 villages in the buffer zone. All told, even with cash up front for the vehicle, it would cost only C$10,000 for the first year and C$5,000 each for the second and third years, fuel included. If it is two Gypsies and a full time staff of four, the outreach cost would be only C$20,000 for the first year including vehicle purchase and C$10,000 for subsequent years, compared to the $27,000 in Avtar’s budget for the “visitor survey” and “project monitoring”, which is stated to employ only one person for 8 months, with no vehicle. How Avtar managed to stretch out the cost to $27,000 was totally beyond us. Faiyaz also mentioned that not one brown rupee has been released towards building the 4-acre full scale “medicinal plant nursery”, which Avtar priced for $20,000 in the budget. The budget for the “medicinal plant garden”, referring to just the tiny 20’x20’ plot, which contains about 20 species, one plant each, which could be tended by a lodge employee at near-zero cost, was $8,000 in Avtar’s budget. If we were to scratch the “visitor survey” and “project monitoring” and spend the $27,000 + $8,000 = $35,000 on the outreach program and the nursery, the results would be monumental, and still with rupees to spare.
And what of the other $25,000 in Avtar’s budget?
Avtar is of course pro-tiger, but first and foremost because his Magnificent Tours capitalizes on tiger viewing as its main profit draw. It’s almost, though not quite, on the level of a Canadian guide-outfitter protecting grizzly bears so that they would continue to have grizzlies for their clients to hunt, which in Avtar’s case is tigers for his clients to view. This is perfectly fine, as long as it does not undercut real conservation work, which in Avtar’s case it does.
I have also observed how Avtar and Faiyaz deal with villagers. Faiyaz relates to them on their level; Avtar does so from above. The only thing about Avtar I can trust is that he would not betray his father totally, but this does not mean he would bust his guts for Tiger Fund either.
I reiterate that the total annual budget of CIDA – Canadian International Development Agency - is C$2 billion, of which only C$1.2 million is for conservation (versus development) – less than 0.7% of the total - of which C$100,000 goes to the WCWC/TF program. I’ll be damned to let this precious grant be misspent, misused and/or misappropriated, to put it politely.
I asked Faiyaz if it was true that he was thinking about leaving Tiger Fund. He simply nodded. CJ said to me on the side later, “Faiyaz doesn’t give a damn about money. To him it is 100% the cause.” WCWC’s kind of guy.
Speaking of dealing with Buffer Zone outreach, we - Jane, CJ, Faiyaz, Janice, Kim, Sarup and I - had a most successful visit to Chichrunpur. In our morning meeting, we predetermined that we would not preach, would not condescend, would not patronize, would not insult, would not impose, would not fault, would not trick. Around 12:30 Manohar arranged a picnic lunch for us on the bank of the Kanha river behind the Tiger Lodge grounds, involving 4 helpers. After the lunch, we started the hike to the village and got there around 14:30.
On the way along the river, we came across a tree that had been illegally cut down since our previous visit, which was only day before yesterday. It had already been cut into 5’-long sections, and imbedded in one of the sections, splitting it length-wsie, was a wedge made of extremely hard hardwood. I took the wedge and continued walking. (Is it theft on my part?) Soon, we came upon the villagers of another village performing a 15-days-after post-funeral ceremony. We introduced ourselves and paid our respects, and were of course regarded with undiluted curiosity. As we carried on, closer and closer to Chichrunpur, more and more we saw tree stumps and grazed out pastureland littered with cow-pies, and of course the cows themselves.
At Chichrunpur, we were given the royal treatment. The village chief insisted that I sit in the best chair the village had to offer, a heavy bench seat with back and arms hauled down to the site of the new well from another part of the village up the hill. Regarding me as the “chief” of my “tribe”, the village chief shook my hand with both hands and bowed to me deeply. I returned the salute in kind. I did the talking and Faiyaz did the interpreting. I thanked the chief for letting us visit their village. I said that I represent Canada in general and about 25,000 Canadians in particular – the membership of WCWC – as well as the thousands of Canadian children I have given my tiger conservation slideshow to - that I was there mainly to learn about them so as to find out how to help them help themselves.
Indeed they are capable of helping themselves. The proto-well is the evidence. In my last visit, it was just started – 10’ in diameter but only 1’ deep. Today, it’s easily six feet deep.
At one point, to break whatever ice still remained, I asked Faiyaz whether the villagers held the flat-Earth or round-Earth worldview. Faiyaz asked the village teacher, a young man of about 20, who answered that the Earth was round. I then said to those around the well, “If you dig your well deep enough, you may come out in my backyard.” This incited uproarious laughter in the villagers. After that, I felt totally at ease. I told the teacher, via Faiyaz, that I aim at linking their school with a sister primary school in Canada, and the Canadian kids can help them directly. He in turn told the chief, and both seemed very pleased.
The chief asked me what I had in mind when I said to help them help themselves, although in his mind, it’s probably still, “What can you do for me?”
I asked Faiyaz to ask him how he would feel if we showed them how to cook rice and other foods without burning wood, in fact, without burning anything at all, including kerosene and even biogas. He seemed to think that it was a joke. I said further that we could come another day to give them a demonstration with a device that could do just that, and if they became convinced, we could teach them how to build a large permanent unit capable of cooking rice and other foods for several families at once. The families could do communal cooking to save effort, plus the effort saved from wood cutting and gathering. This would free up their time for developing other activities and enterprises. The teacher responded with something surprising. “If such a machine does work and we know how to build it, we could make them in numbers and sell them to other villages.” Smart man, even though his own education is probably no more than the Canadian equivalent of Grade 3.
We arranged to visit them again on January 30, Saturday, around 11:00, with our portable demo solar oven, and that we’ll bring rice and other foods and cook a lunch with the oven for all to share.
We left the village at around 16:00 to make the lodge by sundown. On the way back, Faiyaz said to me that he was surprised at how I raised the solar cooker concept so quickly and smoothly and pressed it home, that he had thought we would have to go by a much more tangential approach to get to that center. I told him that one thing which made it possible was in fact what he did. Some time during the visit, he grabbed a hoe and jumped into the then 6’ deep proto-well, and started digging away with the other two villagers. CJ followed suit, and then I did too. Between us three, we deepened the dig by another foot. Tough work. All three of us ended up with blisters on our hands before the layer was done. Then Jane came down and filled one of the baskets with the dirt, put it on her head, struggled out of the pit, and staggered the 20’ feet as if on a high wire to dump the content on to the dirt pile where children were playing king of the mountain. The villagers had a good laugh at our clumsiness. This is something that Avtar would never do. We were given a warm farewell. The chief said, “Please bring your camera again when you come.”
All in all, even though the day began on a note of discontent, it is ending on a note of satisfaction.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
January 28, 1999, Thursday, 4-19C
[11:57 @ Tiger Lodge, Kanha National Park, MP, India]
This morning’s park visit was one of the best to date. We - Jane, CJ, Faiyaz, Janice, Kim, Manohar, the obligatory park guide (whose job in fact is to make sure that the tourists and tour operators don’t violate park rules, including leaving their vehicles and going on foot) and I - saw the tigress Pipal - mother of four new cubs according to Manohar - lots of birds, swamp deer, a large herd of wild boar and a very rare pack of six wild dogs. Photographically the only tiger sighting better was the elephant-back sighting of the Sita family in Bandhavgarh on Omni Film’s first day out back in late 1997 with writer-director Andrew Gardner and executive producer Michael Chechik.
Mid-morning, we stopped in the shade of a large banyan tree on the edge of the forest, overlooking an expansive meadow. Manohar laid out the packed brunch on a few stainless-steel trays – vegetarian samosas, “pop-corn omelet”, hard-boiled eggs, mandarin oranges, chai.
At first sight, the meadow would strike uninitiated eyes to be peculiar in two ways. First was that underlying the grass was a vague rectangular grid pattern. I had found out in previous expeditions that the meadow used to be the paddy fields of one of the 20 villages that had been relocated out of the park Core Area to the surrounding Buffer Zone. In the ensuing years, the paddy field had reverted to a sparsely treed grassland. Maybe I was looking at the relics of old Chichrunpur itself.
The second peculiarity was what might appear to be a strange geological formation, which comprised buttressed reddish rock spires up to 10 feet high. The densities of the trees and the spires were about the same; evenly spaced in the meadow were about a dozen trees of good stature and about a dozen tall rock spires, plus a number of saplings and “budding” spires of various heights and girths. These “spires” are of course termite mounds, and the largest ones, since the old village was moved away about 60 years ago, is about 60 years old. Grazing among the trees and spires was a herd of Chital, and soaring the thermal above were three or four vultures, waiting for earth-bound tragedy to happen.
We all sat in the shape of the Banyan tree, eating in companionable silence. “Ah! This is the life,” sighs my heart. And again, I wished that Christopher were there with me. This would beat all the other trips I’ve taken him on combined.
[18:17] We tested the portable solar oven and to everyone’s delight, not only did it cook the rice, it overcooked it. Faiyaz confessed that there was a little doubt in his mind before, about whether the solar oven actually worked. Now, his uncertainty has been allayed.
This afternoon, everyone stayed in camp except Manohar and Faiyaz, who went to Baihar to try to contact Avtar again. On Manohar’s part, he needed money from Delhi to run the lodge. Faiyaz would also check for the availability of a metal tub for making the communal solar oven with. We decided on building a large portable communal oven rather than a stationary brick one.
Late yesterday evening, Faiyaz, CJ and I had another pow wow, and came up with an even better idea for the communal cooker in terms of its costing next to nothing. Recalling the well-digging at Chichrunpur, I suddenly had a idea of an underground solar cooker. Instead of building a brick chamber, which is cheap enough, why not just dig a cubical pit, place the glass plates on top flush with the ground, and a few adjustable reflectors. The earth itself is an excellent insulator, though perhaps a vapor barrier of sorts might be required. At most, we could line the inside of the pit with brick or cement. No metal box required. All three of us are excited.
Faiyaz and Manohar came back from town and told me that Avtar will arrive on the 31st, who will then fly back with me to Delhi on the 2nd for my first presentation on the 4th. Wish I could stay here forever.
[18:58] I visited the free school, took photos of the kids, then invited some villagers over to show them the Champions of the Wild video. Two village elders (of the nearby Lahkma and Manjitola villages), Sarup and a forest guard were also present. What followed was a three hour post-video discussion between me and the four gentlemen, with Faiyaz interpreting and speaking out for himself. Jane, Kim and Janice, Sarup, Manohar present, and CJ capturing the entire meeting with WCWC’s Hi-8 cam. They all had ideas of their own.
“Wild boar and chital come to our village and eat more than half of our crop,” said the chief of Manjitola, one of the nearest villages to the Tiger Lodge of the 178 Buffer Zone villages. “What can you do for us? ”
“We have little financial resource to directly help you,” I said as evenly as I could, “but with your cooperation we may be able to facilitate changes in the system which could be beneficial to you, such as raising the park fee for foreign tourists and have part of the increased revenue come to you in the form of a compensation, and maybe for some fencing.”
“What good is a tiger? Why protect it?” And this is after Avtar has spoken with them on this before. The chief is one of the four people Avtar talked with back in 1997 when Omni Film was here. So why is he still asking the same question? Is this just a test question? Or truly reflective of the Buffer Zone’s state of mind?
With a Canadian student, I could talk about ecological balance and the tiger being endangered, but to the chief I said, “The tourists come to see primarily the tiger. If we can raise the park fee, the tiger will be your financial benefactor.”
“Eco-tourism has not benefited us, so far,” which is his way of saying, “Yeah, right. I’ll believe it when I see it.”
I explained, “This is not just a theory. It’s in practice elsewhere. Kruger National Park in South Africa, for example, charges around US$25 entrance fee, and Mountain Gorilla viewing in another African country costs about US$200 per hour.”
His eyes were like saucers as he converted the amounts into rupees.
I pressed on, “And Chitwan National Park in your neighbouring country of Nepal also charges about US$25 per visit, with the revenue split 50/50 between the park and the villagers. But as you know, Kanha National Park here charges a ridiculous US$2.50 per full day, with the villagers seeing just a lot of red dust as tourist jeeps go roaring past their villages.”
I didn’t mention that the only people who profit from the current Kanha system are the handful of hoteliers and tour operators, such as Avtar. Not in so many words, but I explained my proposal to reform India’s park system along the lines of Nepal’s, to which the chief reacted with enthusiastic nods. I haven’t talked to Avtar about this idea, mainly because he has not been available by phone. I wonder what he would think of it.
Back to the village chief I said, “The tiger is beneficial to you in another way. It eats chital. Together with the leopard and the wild dog and the hyena and the jackal, the tiger keeps the chital population down.”
Faiyaz flashed me a bright smile. “He understands what you’re saying.”
“What is your motive to come here?” said the chief of Lahkma. This was not a hostile challenge, but a genuine and reasonable question.
I replied that I was here to help in whatever way I could - in such a way where the tigers and the villagers would mutually benefit.
“But what is in it for you?” Spoken like a North American.
“I personally love Kanha and Kanha’s tigers,” I said. “I also love Kanha’s children. I want the best for them both. I’m also speaking for about 30,000 Canadians who wishes us success. I also have a beloved godson called Christopher. I want to help save Kanha and the tigers for him to enjoy when he grows up.””
I will have to systematically rally the support of the chiefs of all 178 villages around Kanha, and eventually also those around other Indian tiger reserves, perhaps in the form of a petition to start the park reform ball rolling, which we will present to Project Tiger on the federal level. The chiefs seemed to know what I was talking about, and further to agree with it in principle. We’ll see when the time comes for him to put his signature on the petition.
To begin winding up, I invited them to lunch at noon tomorrow, rice cooked with the solar oven.
The Manjitola chief looked openly skeptical about the solar oven. Faiyaz assured them that it would work as claimed. I said, “We promised to not overcook the rice this time.”
Good night. Christopher.
* * * * *
January 29, 1999, Friday, sunny, 6-20C
[11:11 @ Kanha Tiger Lodge]
Today is medical clinic day, when the conservation centre becomes the waiting room.
The clinic will open its doors shortly after lunch. Faiyaz told me that the average number of people coming to the clinic is now only about 25 per clinic day, versus the 65 or so back in 1997. Why the steep decline? Surely their state of health has not so drastically improved in this short time.
We’re now sitting around the unlit fire pit. A doctor from Malanjkahn, the nearby copper mining town about 40 minutes by Gypsy via a dirt road, just arrived and joined us. He was fetched with one of the two lodge Gypsies on 30 km’s worth of rutted road by lodge employee Surinder, and will be driven back, which means 120 km’s worth of gasoline. He came on a half-volunteer, half-professional basis, since the mine has a “pro bono” arrangement with Tiger Fund’s conservation program. He is a man of about 50, bald, heavy set, and has a superficially pompous bearing. But deeper, he proved very personable, to me as well as to the lowest lodge employees. His way with the children, which I will shortly observe, will tell the definitive story.
The medical clinic is in session, so I’ll go and observe and video/photo-document the proceedings.
[12:31] I video-documented the medical clinic, which about 30 villagers attended, with Faiyaz serving as dispenser and Jane as secretary. The village chief is here again, sitting outside the clinic on the dried-mud ledge built around the trunk of a tree. When he saw me, he respectfully stood up, took my hand in both of his, and gave me a reverential bow. I returned his respects in kind, which has become second nature. I brought him over to the solar oven set up on the sunny side of the parking lot. Faiyaz had already loaded it with a pot of raw rice ready to cook. So I lined up the oven to the sun, set the reflectors and started the cooking process, while the chief watched with noncommittal interest.
[22:37] I discussed with Faiyaz, Jane and CJ this evening about equipping the medical clinic with a microscope as a medical as well as educational tool. The villagers could then see the micro-organisms for themselves. We could set up a display booth on the side showing the role micro-organisms play in diseases, including the parasitic malarial amoeba. We could also set up a micro-biology display for the children at the free school.
Meanwhile, CJ entered his new tiger poem into my computer, which he wrote last night:
T i g e r ’s S o n g
Dedicated to Anthony Marr and all others on his mission
Today I jumped into the jungle with a group of friends,
Whose desire I share, to guard all forest lands.
A misty magic morning warmed up by the sun,
Green and blue, bright life images reflected in the ponds.
A call across the meadow beckoned us that way,
A sharp eye discovered something I live for everyday.
Today I saw a tigress in all her majesty,
Marching through the jungle without an eye on me.
Powerful cat of the forest strolling through the trees,
Crossed the road to grassy plains drifting away like a silent breeze.
Stunned, bewildered, we shivered, without a care as she went,
Out of our sight disappearing, a powerful message had been sent.
Today I lived a dream, I think of others that’ll come like me,
To India’s great jungle where tigers still roam free.
This illusion made me happy but I know that it’s not true,
For this great cat lies in danger everyday being killed two by two.
There are people who want their bodies and parts for easy gain,
A quick dollar they’re looking for in this evil black market game.
This symbol of a country and a rich forest land,
Will disappear overnight without some special plan.
So give them a place to live with people who understand,
That all life in the forest is sacred in Mother Nature’s plan.
For our ancestors there were many, today only a few,
Their finite numbers dwindling, so much for us to do…
If tomorrow we’ll see a tigress in all her majesty,
Think of all the others that’ll come to live this dream.
For in the future lies one question,
What will there be to see, in India’s great forests
Where the great cat still roams free.
We’ll the save the tiger for you, Christopher. Good night.
* * * * *
January 30, 1999, Saturday, sunny, 7-20C
[18:46 @ Kanha Tiger Lodge]
In another three days I’ll be back in Delhi. I want to stay out here and work with the villagers, but there are two reasons I look forward to going back there. I’ll be speaking to Indian children by the thousands and reaching Indian citizens by the millions via media. And there is one more reason. I’ll be hearing something from you. Praise be to email.
A full and exciting day, despite an inactive morning.
We had lunch at 12:00 and began the hike to Chichrunpur at 12:30. Faiyaz and I, with lodge employee Rahesh who had the portable solar oven slung over one shoulder, charged ahead, leaving the slow pokes (Jane, CJ, Janice and Kim) way behind, who also got lost along the way, necessitating Rahesh to go back to look for them. We arrived at Chichrunpur by 13:00. Because the villagers had to go to the river to fetch cooking water, we didn’t start the solar cooker until around 13:30. Given the semi-success back at the conservation centre with the Manjitola chief yesterday (too short a cooking time), we kept the cooker on till 16:15 before opening it. The rice was cooked perfectly.
While waiting, we did all sorts of things to keep the villagers entertained. Polaroid snap shots are always big hits. At one point, I challenged Faiyaz to a foot race between two trees over uneven terrain about a hundred meters apart. CJ yelled, “Count me in!” Faiyaz, with his cheetah-like build, came in first; I blame it on my age for losing by less than half an elephant’s nose. CJ, due mostly to his sandals, brought up the rear by about a cow’s length.
Faiyaz, the honorable victor, dispensed aspirins and quinine pills. CJ orchestrated an impromptu eco-skit with the village children who played different animals. Most of the activities were photographed (mostly by me) and video-taped (mostly by CJ). The response of the village chief and teacher to the solar oven demonstration was to talk quietly in front of it, then pick up a stick from the ground and take crude measurements of the oven box with it, and make hand gestures meaning “enlarge”. Too bad I didn’t have the camera at hand when they were doing the measuring. It would make a distinctive picture in the annals of tiger conservation.
Upon returning to the lodge, we found Janice, a Magnificent Tours volunteer from Nova Scotia, Canada, normally stationed at the Tiger Lodge at neighbouring Bandhavgarh tiger reserve. She heard about our program and took it upon herself to come to Kanha to join us, seeing as there are no tourists booked at the Bandhavgarh Tiger Lodge over the next week or so. She was also more than obviously bored out of her tree and consumed with this great desire to escape. If she asked Avtar for permission, he would probably have refused. It took some courage for a single white woman to take a public bus, let alone a relayed of three public busses from Bandhavgarh to Kanha, when driving non-stop by car would take seven hours. She said that she had heard about our work even when back in Canada, and to be a part of it is her dream come true.
Faiyaz just knocked on my door to inform me that Assim Srivastava, director of Kanha’s Buffer Zone, has just arrived and would like to meet me. More later.
[22:46] The meeting with the Buffer Zone Director was successful to the extent that I think I made him see that increasing the gate charge for foreign tourists is beneficial to tigers, park and villagers alike, which needed no lead-in, since one of his opening questions was “What do you tell a villager who asks you why we should protect the tiger?” We worked out that if we charge the 4,000 foreign tourists each Rs1,000 (US$25) instead of the present Rs100 (US$2.50), the revenue would be Rs4,000,000 (US$100,000) which, though not a huge sum in Canadian terms, is a large sum in Indian terms, and is in any case ten times better than the Rs400,000 (US$10,000) per annum. He suggested asking the tourists to see if they’re willing to pay more for the tiger. Now, here, finally, is a worthy question for the survey, but one I doubt is on Avtar’s list for the survey he has in mind, and it certainly wouldn’t cost $27,000. Jane happily volunteered to do it, and I have no doubt of the outcome. We also showed him the Champions of the Wild video. He estimated the number of people who have seen it and will see it worldwide probably number in the millions. He thought it would have a good effect on Bandhavgarh, Kanha, and tiger conservation in general. I think something good will come out of this meeting.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *
January 31, 1999, Sunday, sunny, 5-18C
[17:09 @ Kanha Tiger Lodge]
Just two more days to hear something about you. How exciting!
The most dramatic photo of a tiger I have ever taken was taken today.
This morning’s safari, with Kim, Jane, CJ, Janice, Deepfee, Manohar at the wheel, was yet another one of beauty and wonder, and of warm and happy bonding. The creatures that presented themselves were mostly of the avian kind, and in our path, lots of confusing tiger pug marks. We got off road into the sal and bamboo thickets on two elephants, and found the tigress Pipal sleeping on her side amidst dense foliage, with the half eaten carcass of a wild boar within tail-flicking distance behind her. She’d be sleeping her lunch off and finish the wild boar for supper. She will stay right here and safeguard it till then. Perhaps her four suckling cubs were hidden nearby. She was not going anywhere. My mahout kept urging our elephant closer and closer to the tigress. I told him to cool it after we had attained spitting distance. When the second elephant approached from the right, with CJ aboard manning the video camera, the elephant began loudly snapping branches and saplings, which aroused the tigress, who, now crouching, showed her displeasure first with low growls, then an explosive fang-baring hissing roar, which I captured on my still camera. It’s going to be a good one, since the roar was delivered straight up at me.
But not so good for Pipal. If this happens to her several times a day, she wouldn’t have a moment’s peace, nor needed rest.
Today marks the arrival of Avtar at the lodge. No one seems to particularly look forward to it, myself included, even though he holds no power over me. Manohar has been cramming his paper work over the past couple of evenings. Especially given the influx of tourists in short order, CJ considers Avtar’s arrival as the beginning of the end of tranquility at Kanha. The whole camp seems bracing for a siege.
Faiyaz has also lost some of his exuberance. How could he not, knowing that his freedom of action to his heart’s content for what he loves most will likely be curtailed?
[22:34] Well, Avtar is in camp, and short-notice changes have already come down.
During dinner, Kim who was sitting to my right, whispered to me, “I need to communicate.”
“Yes. Come to my room at 10 and we’ll talk.”
I didn’t know what it was about at that point, but after she had left the dining pavilion, Avtar made a few announcements. For one thing, Janice was chastised for leaving Bandhavgarh without permission and ordered back, departure at 09:30 tomorrow, and Kim with her. Kim will stay at Bandhavgarh for the whole month of February, and will switch with Jane for the month of March. My opinion was not sought about this switch even though whom I have to work with is of relevance to me.
While he was at it, Avtar gave me, too, an order. “Anthony, you will come with Greg and I into the park tomorrow.” A friendly invitation, but again stated in command form, and again without asking me first if I had had anything planned.
To cap it off he said aloud, “Anthony, Sarita told me that you will do only one presentation a day. I thought you’re here to work.” How the hell dare he?! And it’s not event true. Two a day is always my optimum, in Canada, in India, wherever. I have 10 days in Delhi and they booked only 4 schools, so what’s the gripe? He may have said that as a joke, but first there is nothing funny about it, and second, his jokes, even if funny, are usually at the expense of someone-else’s dignity as in this case. I like to joke too, but I appreciate the Woody Allen self-deprecating kind better. All I said was, “You have been sadly misinformed.”
Greg Johnson is a ruggedly handsome man cast in the Viking mold, who came in camp with Avtar. He is a biologist by education, a long time conservationist in Africa who has personally worked with Dian Fossey at her mountain compound in the capacity of a graduate student, and is now an ecotourism operator, owner of an outfit called Global Expeditions. He has come to India to develop a wildlife tour package for his largely American clientele. He is right now on a cross-country tour to check out the itinerary Avtar has designed for him, with Avtar serving personally as his guide. Ecotourism-wise he is experienced with Africa (esp. Uganda, esp. the mountain gorilla) and South America (esp. Amazonia).
Unfortunately, his comments about Dian Fossey, who is one of my heroes, were largely negative. He said that she behaved as if she owned the mountain and the gorillas, and that her hard-line approach did more harm than good. I happen to have a copy of Virunga on me, by Farley Mowat, about Fossey, which I haven’t yet read, and which Johnson also criticized as bad journalism. I did a quick search in the index of the book while back in my room, and did find a few mentions of Greg Johnson. The comments aren’t all that complimentary either. Still, he is extremely intelligent and articulate, and makes a good casual-conversation companion.
On February 2, I will go back to Delhi with Avtar and Greg. On the 9th or 10th, I’ll go to Jaipur (“Jai-POOR”), Rajasthan, where two more presentations have been arranged. Then back to Delhi for the “Love-the-Tiger Walk” on St. Valentine’s Day. After that, back to Kanha, and there I’ll stay till the end of this tour.
I just returned from Kim’s room. She said that one of the things she intends to do at Bandhavgarh is to get to the bottom of Sita’s death. Yes. Sita, the world’s most famous tigress (National Geographic, December 1997, cover article) is dead, killed by a poacher just a few weeks ago. May you get right to the bottom of it, Kim. And may you fall in love with Bandhavgarh as I did. And I will miss you.
Good night, Christopher.
* * * * *