India | Bhutan
India | Bhutan
I am a city boy from Madras in south India. While I was always interested in wildlife, I had no clue what to do about it. I spent my weekends in zoos and local national parks thanks to the encouragement from my parents. The interest lingered but lack of clarity led me to join an engineering degree, something most of my friends did. Seemed safe at that point!
It is during this time that I took a short family holiday to South Africa and met my first professional wildlife guide. He was absolutely brilliant and everything that we enjoyed on that trip was thanks to him. He wasn’t a scientist or a researcher – he was just someone who was interested and curious about wildlife and knew how to get us hooked and concerned about the wilderness. This was someone I wanted to be. That guide changed my life. I wanted to do the same for others.
I have been a SWAROVSKI OPTIK ambassador, wildlife guide, naturalist, and expedition leader across various corners of India over the last decade plus change (after I completed my engineering degree). It has been an incredible journey and I don’t see myself doing anything else with my life. There is no end to this journey. Co-authoring two guide books with my friend, David on the wildlife of central and south India has also been a great experience. I hope to find time to write more in the years to come.
I currently live in the Nilgiris in the Western Ghats of south India with my partner, Faiza (who is also a fellow wildlife lover and naturalist). Our home is surrounded by wilderness, allowing for incredible walks and bike rides, and of course, great wildlife viewing right from the front of our house.
A Partner Private Guide is someone in the industry we know and trust; an endorsed preferred expert in the region who embodies &Beyond’s core values and love for our guests and planet.
I’m not sure if being an Electrical and Electronics Engineer counts… I have also co-authored two guide books with my friend, David on the wildlife of central and south India.
11 years, and counting… Four years as a Lodge Naturalist at Forsyth Lodge in Satpura Tiger Reserve. Two years as Head Naturalist at Singinawa Jungle Lodge in Kanha Tiger Reserve.
Four years and on-going, leading expeditions across India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. I love leading expeditions across India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Namely to Ladakh for snow leopard, guiding mobile camping journeys among the forgotten hinterlands of central and western India, cross-country road trips across the salt pans and deserts of western India, birding and red panda focus journeys in the eastern Himalaya, and photography-specific trips to the tiger reserves, herpetology and endemic wildlife journeys in the Western Ghats. In between all this, a few groups in Africa as well.
This is in fact the only time I explore or travel for myself. That takes top priority. These trips – to old favourite haunts and new wildernesses – are where the learning happens and horizons broadened.
Meeting the naturalist guides there, the researchers, and conservationists, exchanging stories and experiences… I really cherish these moments. And when I’m not doing any of this – I enjoy reading, writing, playing badminton and football, and watching Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit series on repeat.
India. I work in the north and live in the south.
I come from a very urban background, and adapted to the bush. I love a challenge, and am curious. I learn quickly and am physically and mentally comfortable wherever I am placed, be it across deserts, mountains or rainforests.
I guess the above applies for a lot of people, though. What truly makes me different is the support system that I have had. My parents; who supported me unconditionally, my friends; who are as dedicated as I am, and my mentor, boss and greatest friend, Hashim Tyabji; who has encouraged me and shaped my thinking and learning process over the years. I’ve been lucky to grow in the best of environments, surrounded by the best of people, despite entering the field relatively late – and I guess I’ve made the most of all the good stuff over the years.
Microhabitats of the subcontinent, mammals (smaller and rarer), birds of all kinds, dragonflies (only in the Western Ghats), butterflies, amphibians and reptiles. A new interest is the phenomenon of bioluminescence across the spectrum, specifically fungi.
Torres Del Paine. The landscape there is absolutely spectacular. Add to that the chance to explore on-foot and by camping over multiple days, not to mention the big cat population (mountain lions) that put on a show… Count me in!
Nilgiri Marten (Martes gwatkinsii). I mostly like them because I’ve worked extremely hard to find them over the years and they have remained elusive on most occasions. This is one creature I’d love to see and understand more.
These animals are endemic only to the southern Western Ghats, especially among mid to high altitude shola forests. In a region that is so well studied – this animal remains an anomaly. We know so little about them except from random encounters by hikers, photographers or people driving on the roads that run through their habitat. There is a lot to understand and unravel about them and their natural history. I hope to aid in this someday.
All itineraries are great if the right guests join for the right reasons. But if I have to pick, it will be a long haul – 10 to 14 days in the various parts of Satpura Tiger Reserve.
Canoeing, walking, camping, hiking, safaris, night drives, plus stays inside and outside the forest. I think single destination deep dives are incredible journeys and Satpura is a great candidate for this in central India. I have had the pleasure of guiding such a trip just twice in the last decade. I would love to do more of this in the future.
Anyone who has signed up for the trip, journey or expedition for the right reasons and with an open mind! I love guiding all kinds of interested (and interesting) people.
We had a group of British birders who visited Satpura in 2012. I was new and eager to please. The group was divided into two for safari logistics.
One half to my then colleague and excellent birder, the other half to me. I had learnt a little bit over the last few months, but obviously not enough to lead a safari or an entire trip with a group full of birders. It didn’t take them long to realise that I was in over my head especially with my colleague crushing it with the other half of the group. But contrary to what I thought would happen, these guests decided to learn about the local birdlife with me. We had the most amazing week where I improved both as a guide and as a birder, and made some great friends along the way. We clocked a whopping 186 species over four days, in addition to seeing bear and leopard, and other incredible mammals. That was my first time taking out serious wildlife guests and I was 22 then. I could be doing something entirely different right now if they had come down hard on me.
This first guest group was formative for me in many ways. I still owe a lot to those guests. And yes, this has to be my most favourite and meaningful memory. Right at the start of my jungle journey.
I’m a big Arsenal fan. Gooner all the way!
Watching a snow leopard cross the frozen Indus River after a failed bharal sheep hunt on the Indus banks. There are many amazing incidents (especially encounters on-foot), but I think this one caps the lot.
Try to be better than what you were yesterday. Learn and grow. Always celebrate a special moment.
Let Surya guide you on a journey-of-a-lifetime
Let me take you on a truly once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience that offers an unmissable opportunity to meet Asia’s ‘mountain ghost’.
Journey with Surya on one of these incredible itineraries
Follow @surya_ramachandran on Instagram