Varun Devaraj, an independent naturalist and wildlife guide whose work takes him to Central India, Kabini, the Western Ghats and Ladakh, adds that what really bothers him is when people expect an Indian safari experience to be like one in the African savanna. “The scale of things there is massive, the landscape is totally different, with more open grassland, plus the human population is less, so you can see animals more frequently. Indian jungles are not like that—you’re not going to see the same kind of action, so to compare makes no sense.”
That ignorance, coupled with arrogance, is a surefire way to get on the wrong side of your safari guide. “Sometimes, guests are unwilling to learn or listen, just interested in spouting half-baked knowledge they have got from NatGeo and telling us how to do our jobs. They see one 45-minute TV program and think that’s how the jungle really is, that they will see these amazing predators right in the first hour of a drive. They don’t realize each such program takes about four years, hundreds of hours of footage and endless patience,” rues Devaraj. He has also had clients who have come to parks in Central India expecting to see lions, or cheetahs (much before the relocation.) “It’s not so much annoying, but it’s amusing. I mean, this is an adult in their forties who clearly has the money to spend on safaris, but won’t do basic research!”
Being photography obsessed
Behaving like the paparazzi when they see a Bollywood star is a big no-no in the animal kingdom. It’s great to take a few pictures (quietly) but to ignore the beauty of what you’re seeing just to get a few instant likes, or to shove and jostle for a better angle, is hugely off-putting. Jung says,“I see more and more people on safari blinded by their phones and oblivious to the beauty around them. People would rather take a selfie with a big cat and see it through their phones instead of witnessing the animal in real life. The safari experience is now judged not by the beauty of the jungle, but by how the jungle is captured on our cameras. The ultimate aim is to share the experience online and feel validated on social media.”
Photographers, usually amateur but sometimes even professional, try to go closer and closer to the animals for the perfect shot, and that stresses them out, says Manoj Sharma, the resident naturalist at Jim’s Jungle Retreat in Corbett.
“My clients are mostly foreigners who have done their homework and know what to expect,” says Gurmet. “But the domestic tourists are often unprepared for the cold, and for a winter expedition. They come with the wrong gear and don’t even bring binoculars, which are basic. Once, I was leading a group of foreigners and right behind us was a group of Gujaratis, who were traveling with an agency. And neither they nor the agency guides had the right gear, so they just stuck 10 steps behind us and asked me, ‘Arre dikhao na humein bhi snow leopard (Hey, show us a snow leopard also).’ They weren’t even my clients, just freeloaders! Now there is a Rs1,500 per day entry fee so that is good, it has reduced the number of guests like this.”