Some time back, I took my four-year-old daughter to Jim Corbett National Park, hoping to relax in the lush surroundings away from work and deadlines. I had shown pictures of the stunning pool at the resort we were staying at during this trip, to my daughter who couldn’t stop talking about how much she loves pools and the jungle, even before we reached there.
What did I want from this trip? A few days of outdoor fun with my daughter before the monsoon starts, a luxurious Spa session because God know I could use it after months of work and general life, some good fun in the pool overlooking River Kosi, and maybe – I kept my fingers crossed for this – seeing a tiger during the Jungle Safari that was planned for us.
We reached Namah Resort and loved it. My daughter spent hours in the pool and so did I. I also managed to get thirty minutes for a quick but oh-so-good Spa session and the evening before our Jeep Safari, the resort arranged a talk by a certain Mr. Imran.
My daughter and I went to the amphitheatre to find Mr. Imran showing some beautiful pictures of Jim Corbett on a huge screen. Migratory birds and their behavior. Animals found in the Jim Corbett National Reserve – from the mighty Asian Elephants to the spectacular Tigers. He had clicked all these pictures himself. Imran has been researching the reserve and the life it supports, for years now and he explained the utmost importance of protecting the Tigers.
It was a great session, almost an eye opener – and all of us who attended it, left as more informed travelers. But the kids, they took it all in. Kids have way more empathy, I have always believed, and they also don’t confer to norm or notions. But how much they had learned from this session, we were still to see. The next day was Safari day.
“Where is the Tiger’s house?” – my daughter asked for the millionth time. We had just started our Jeep Safari to the famous Jim Corbett National Park, and someone from our group had told her she’ll meet tigers. Standing beside me, holding on to the jeep with her tiny hands, she kept jumping up and down with glee. She loves the jungle, and she giddily declared it every five minutes.
“This.” I said, waving a hand towards the forest around us. “This is the Tiger’s house.”
“But where do they live, maa?”
“They live here, honey. In the jungle, remember?” I said in a whisper, scared to miss out on any potential wild animal sightings due to our constant chatter.
“I know, pfftt!” She stuck her tongue out cheerily. “But WHERE in the jungle?”
“The jungle is their home. The entire jungle. They don’t have a house like we do, they roam all over this forest.” I explained quickly.
She thought for a while with a frown on her face. She sat down next to me brooding, ending the jumping frenzy. I thought maybe she was tired of it, finally, and hugged her sideways knowing that this is short lived. She will get up any minute now and start the questions and the chatter. I smiled to myself and kissed her little head. She shook her head a little.
“Did we ring the doorbell?” She looked up to me and asked, frown still intact.
“If this is the Tiger’s house, did we ask before coming in?” She elaborated.
I sat there stunned as it dawned on me that this four-year-old has just questioned the entire jeep full of adults. I didn’t know what to say to her, how to tell her without sounding like a hypocrite that it’s okay to intrude in another living being’s space because we are humans and we are the superior race. Correction, that we think we are the superior race.
I blinked at her for a moment, and then I said – “It’s okay, we won’t harm them.”
“But they don’t know that.” The other kid in the jeep – a 6 year old – pointed out. “And we HAVE to save the tigers!” Me and her mother, we looked at each other.
“Relax, girls.” I said. “In all possibilities, we won’t even spot a tiger because we are talking too much.”
“We won’t spot tigers because we have scared them.” My daughter told the 6 year old.
“We won’t spot tigers because we are not doing the right thing.” The 6 year old concluded.
Needless to say, I felt very reflective throughout this ride. We did not spot any tigers, of course, and the kids got back to the chatter and the jumping, but this conversation weighed me down in an unexpected way. I can’t explain it, but I felt weary.
You can find me talking about Responsible Travel and Sustainability a lot. I firmly stand for animal rights. Whenever I can, I try to use animal-testing free products. I actively look for eco-friendly travel and lifestyle products and practices.
And yet, it took a couple of kids to make me see the double standards. They are kids, they say it like it is. And they were only saying things we teach them as responsible parents. Do not go to the neighbour’s house without ringing the doorbell. We tell them do not enter your friend’s garden with swings without her parent’s permission. Do not harm or scare animals. And most importantly, we parents teach our kids to always do the right thing.
Doing the right thing matters, we tell our kids. We tell them that it doesn’t matter if no one notices you’re doing the right thing, or if everyone else is doing the wrong thing. And at times like these, we forget that kids learn by example, not by words of wisdom.
To travel responsibly, doesn’t end with conserving water during your shower, or eating local produce. Those are good things, yes, but responsible travel is so much more than this. Responsible travel is also being aware of our impact on the nature, and on its other inhabitants. Humans do not own the planet, even if we sometimes might like to believe. As the most intelligent species, we have the responsibility to conserve and preserve not only the environment, but also the other living beings.
Now, going for a jeep safari in a national reserve is not a big deal today, we know that tourism is important to sustain the economy, and if the earnings go toward providing better facilities for the animals in the reserve, all the more better.
But we need to follow rules, and we need to respect the fact that – as my four years old puts it – the jungle is animals’ home. Later in that trip, our safari mates (I’ve started calling them that) stopped to pick up discarded cigarette packets, empty chips and chocolates wrappers and even empty bottle of beer from the trail.
This is where we can start from: Do Not Litter. Another lesson we give to our kids, and forget when it comes to ourselves. National Reserves are made to protect flora and fauna in its most natural habitat. Let’s respect it by not spoiling it with our garbage.
And before I end this, I want to say that let’s talk more about the environment to our kids. Let’s tell them how balance is important, let’s take them to talks and movies where they learn to respect the planet. Let’s teach them to be responsible.
And – Let’s be responsible today, because teaching kids to be responsible in the future, don’t matter until we practice them now.