Nature has always been the fount of our civilisation for its ability to provide sustenance and because of our reverence for all things natural. Our people believe, for instance, that forests are the ‘mothers of rivers’: “Jungle nadi ki ma hai”. Which is why there are small shrines at the source of every river in India. Such places were once inviolate. Birds, animals and plants were allowed to rule, in exchange for that invaluable gift of nature — water. Consider the magnificent India we inherited: bounded by the Himalaya, cocooned by a warm tropical climate, blanketed with soils that nurture all varieties of seeds and watered by an extravagant river system. Thanks to farsighted people: EP Gee, planter; Kailash Sankhala, the first Director of Project Tiger; Dr Salim Ali, the famed birdman of India; M Krishnan, elephant expert… an extensive network of sanctuaries and National Parks has protected a variety of plants and animals across this land. The purpose of these delicate areas is not so much to entertain as to nurture the biodiversity which evolved over eons. While elephants and tigers benefit from such protection, we should also be aware that we’re visiting the sources of India’s water security. Fortunately, our country has many forest reserves and national parks, which are doing a great job in maintaining and preserving the exquisite flora and fauna.
Real appreciation can emerge when you spend a few days in the wilderness. It offers respite from the clutter of urban existence and injects one with humility — this world was once a well-ordered, harmonious place, and can do without the blind belief that man and his factories can improve on all that exists. While tourism can play a positive role in ensuring the survival of our wilds, it has a potentially dark side. The adverse effects emerge where commerce replaces education as the motivating factor. Mass tourism tries to cram too many visitors into fragile wildernesses. Luxury tourism helps us visit remote areas to ‘be one with nature’ but wanting the creature comforts of urbania. This causes problems of waste disposal, fuelwood consumption and also social tensions when villagers, prevented from accessing forest wealth themselves, see outsiders enter freely. We need to be aware that a protected forest also supplies us — particularly India’s 60 million tribal people — with water, fuel, fodder and food. City dwellers are also dependent on these forests for water, not to speak of the overall health of the environment in which we daily breathe and live.