After having heard about the Volunteer Training Programme, which was going to be conducted by the Karnataka Ecotourism Development Board (KEDB) and Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR), with the help of the Karnataka Forest Department (KFD), I registered for the Kudremukh programme, from May 18 to May 25, 2014. Now, I’d be able to learn more about how I could contribute as a volunteer. I was especially keen as I had never visited Kudremukh before. I participated along with 28 other people who became good friends over the course of the week that the programme lasted. Here’s my photo-account of what we experienced at Kudremukh.
Many of us took the overnight buses from Bangalore to Kalasa, and here we are, gathered in front of the entrance gate to Bhagavathi Nature Camp (BNC), where the programme was held.
The Bhadra loops around the camp, and it was a beautiful setting for the programme. Our accommodation was very comfortable, and the tents had an unusual ‘delta’ design. The camp itself was a hotspot for birds; our morning wake-up alarm was the song of the Malabar Whistling Thrush! Minivets, fairy bluebirds and other birds of bright colours delighted us, too.
Classroom sessions were held in a specially erected shamiana. The lead trainers were Sarath Champati and Vijay Mohan Raj. We were introduced to many of the Forest Department personnel at various levels. We had visiting faculty too; each of them shared their expertise about various creatures and conditions of the forests. The sessions were very informative, and interesting; many of them had us riveted to our seats, in spite of the heat and humidity sometimes!
We had several field visits. The drive to Ganapathi Katte, a high point amongst the hills, gave us our first look at the grasslands and shola forests of the Western Ghats.
Naturalists Gurudatt and Basavanna of JLR helped us learn a lot about camera traps – an important method of documenting and tracking life in the forest.
JLR naturalist Gurudutt
We learnt how to look for tracks and signs, which would interpret the jungle’s story for us, and turn a forest scene into a mine of information that we could understand.
The highlight of the programme was the overnight stay at various Anti-Poaching Camps (APC), and having our groups interact with the forest guards and watchers. Discussions with them gave us an insight into how the forest is protected and conserved, often at considerable risk to these foot soldiers of the wild.
A participant’s sketch of the Forest Guards preparing dinner at the APC
Forest department staff, serving us food at an APC
A long trek on the morning of the overnight stay had participants undergoing many different experiences. One of the not-so-happy ones was finding that the rains had brought the leeches to eager attention! Some of us were facing these bloodsuckers for the first time, so it took a while to get used to life with them. Another creature, literally thirsting for our blood, was the Horse Fly. These insects stung us sharply and certainly disturbed us a lot! I took a macro shot of one on a participant’s arm, and as usual, the beauty of the insect took away some of the sting of its presence!
Sitting through the interactive sessions, walking and dining together, and spending time in the field created a great bonding between all the participants. We soon discovered several talents amongst us; a poet, an artist, a deep-sea diver, several people already doing excellent work in the field; all bound together by a love of nature and the need to do more about it.
Before we knew it, the week had passed, and we received our certificates from the most apt people who could confer it on us; the forest department personnel. We thanked the staff of BNC, too, and it was an emotional moment as we realized we would have to go back to our daily lives in the concrete jungle.
We bid adieu to our trainers, the camp, and the wondrous beauty of Kudremukh, feeling that we were more aware of the realities of wildlife, forests and their conservation, and better equipped to contribute. We’d joined a select band of accredited volunteers, already 300 strong. With a sense of deep camaraderie, we made our way back to ‘civilization’, much enriched by what we had learnt and experienced at Kudremukh.