I am a wildlife conservationist, naturalist, photographer, and a safari expedition leader. Probably in that order. I come from a city called Bhubaneswar, capital of the state of Odisha in eastern India. Even though I mostly had an urban upbringing, my childhood was nourished on a staple of jungle and shikar stories by my grandfather. My imagination, as far back as I can remember, always revolved around jungles, wild animals, and the romance of the safari (or ‘shikar’ in India) style of travel.
While still in high school I came across a local conservation organisation where I was lucky to find some fine mentors who introduced me to grassroots wildlife conservation and provided plenty of scope for fieldwork. I remained involved in conservation and photography, cultivated my knowledge of natural history and in due course found myself a job at a tiger conservation news magazine called TigerLink. At the same time I was becoming engrossed in conservation advocacy, particularly for the tiger and elephant landscapes of Odisha. My conservation work in Odisha earned me an ABN AMRO-Sanctuary Asia Young Naturalist Award at the age 21, and later on a Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award. After some time, I chose to move on from my role as deputy editor of TigerLink to start my career in safari guiding. While my conservation advocacy has never ceased, there was a point when I felt that I was spending more time behind a desk than out in the wilderness.
I fell in love with Kanha and spent some of my happiest days there. But there was also a sense of guilt of not being able to give enough time to conservation matters in Odisha, especially the Satkosia Tiger Reserve where I had become deeply involved. This led me to switch from being a camp naturalist to an expedition leading. Expedition leading allows me to not only return to Kanha but also explore the finest wilderness areas across India, and, at the same time, devote enough time to attend to conservation matters back in Odisha.
My wife Shreeyanka and I live (mostly) in Bhubaneswar in India where we base our bags and our pack of four (as of last count) German shepherds. We also spend a lot of time at some land we own with elephant and leopard at Satkosia, where I also happen to be honorary wildlife warden. Whenever we miss Kanha, we load up the car and drive off there. ‘Home’ for us is somewhere amongst these three places.
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I have 10 years of guiding experience, and counting…
I have a Bachelor of Science (B. Sc.) degree
I have travelled the Indian subcontinent extensively.
However, I would say that wildlife areas are my passion and where my expertise lie.
My spare time is usually spent in conservation work.
Mostly touring my jurisdiction as Honorary Wildlife Warden of Angul District in Odisha. If I’m home I’m usually spending time with my German shepherds, occasionally horse riding or cooking up a meaty meal and hosting friends. I also spend an unhealthy amount of time with books, maps, and Netflix.
I’m a wildlife guide who is also a full-time conservation practitioner. In Odisha, I have been involved in wildlife conservation for over a decade and a half.
I currently serve as Honorary Wildlife Warden of Angul District in Odisha.
My special interests lie in megafauna, particularly the tiger and elephant landscapes of India. I also enjoy birding and take my birds seriously.
Though not seriously enough to maintain a life list.
I intend to explore every wilderness area on every continent.
The tiger and elephant capture my imagination and consume my being far more than anything else in the world.
I’d be lying if I said it any differently. That said, there are many other animals and birds, from hill myna to red panda, barasingha and water monitor lizard, that can keep me equally engrossed and thrilled.
I think each kind of guest brings their own unique experience.
They each allow me to explore different sides of my personality, learn and grow as a human being. Families are amazing to host. Special interest and conservation groups feed my intellect. Photographers are great fun to be with, and I enjoy taking photos with them.
Each itinerary is special, and every itinerary that I lead is an itinerary that I end up loving.
But if I really had to choose any itinerary that involves a combination of two of my favourite destinations, Kanha and Kaziranga would top my list.
I was once hosting three generations of a family from the USA.
We were travelling together on an extended safari of central India and Kaziranga. This was a family that was taking time out to bond and heal from the ravages of life. The youngest was a ten-year-old girl and the oldest was her grandfather in his 80s. On our first meeting over dinner and drinks at New Delhi, the grandfather asked me if it would be possible to find tiger pugmarks that his granddaughter could create a plaster cast of. He explained that she wanted to collect plaster casts of various animal tracks for a school project and that it would thrill her no end if she made one of a tiger – something none of her classmates were very likely to bring. I explained that while I would try my very best, realistically the chances were slim as it was unlikely that we might find tracks outside the national parks in areas where we would be permitted to be on foot and collect a cast. The expedition went brilliantly, with plenty of tiger and other wildlife sightings. But we hadn’t found any tiger tracks at a convenient location. Anyhow, everyone had given up and forgotten about the pugmarks by that stage in the trip.
On our last evening at Kaziranga National Park we went on a cruise of Brahmaputra River to look for gangetic river dolphin. We found and watched them over cups of tea and close to sunset we dropped anchor by the bank and set up sundowners. It was a mesmerising sunset, as Brahmaputra sunsets tend to be, and it was just us and some distant herds of elephant and wild buffalo in the grasslands extending away from our bank. To say it was a deeply spiritual moment would not be an exaggeration. The soft Himalaya sand of the riverbank lured our barefeet to take a stroll as the sun was turning the skies a deep maroon. As we walked the bank, 50-odd yards from where we had set up our gin and tonic drinks stop, we found that a tiger had also enjoyed a stroll before us. The massive pugmarks of the male tiger left perfect impressions on the sand and the little girl finally got her plaster cast – on her last evening on safari! That was the happiest little girl I had seen, and it definitely left behind one of my happiest guest memories.
There are too many memorable sightings to be able to pinpoint one. My most memorable sightings usually involve tiger materialising out of thin air and melting back into it, often preceded by distant roars that are at first too faint to locate, followed by a build–up of alarm calls that put one’s nerves on the tenterhooks. A similar sighting, I had just before the pandemic at Kaziranga would certainly count as memorable. I know my description sounds very procedural, but this is a procedure in the jungle that makes anyone who goes through it truly understand what thrill it is to be alive.
“May there always be tigers… In the jungles and tall grass…” – Ruskin Bond, Tigers Forever
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