The Annual Kanha Achanakmar Corridor Walk, organised by WWF-India, is an immersive experience, dunking the assembled participants into the context of corridor based wildlife conservation. It goes far beyond a theoretical understanding of what is a wildlife corridor and how it is important to the sustenance of wildlife populations which reside in the larger habitats which it connects. Instead, the walk  intensively engages  with these concepts by involving all five senses of the human body. Is it more effective and delightful than flipping through the leaves of a book or scrolling down the pages of a website? One can only know once one experiences life in the Kanha Achanakmar corridor.

The sights are wondrous. Soon after leaning back to take in the stunning landscape that lies before you, you lean in to observe the scurrying of little insects near your feet. Stopping to observe them on the forest floor, you start to learn about the micro fauna which is as vital to the health of the eco-system as the large carnivores which lend all their glamour to safaris. Following labyrinthine forest trails in the undergrowth, you look up to see the sun filtering through the intricate webs woven by spiders as they lay in wait of the ensnarement of small insects. You see langoors staring down at you curiously, perplexed by this unexpected intrusion of their privacy. They surreptitiously peek at you, retreating behind trees at a distance. Your feet matches step with your fellows as your traverse the forest’s length, your eyes spying a wonderful variety of leaves in countless shapes. In the dim twilight you see the lamps light up in the houses of the indigenous people of the forests, casting shadows which etch their lives onto the canvas without. Their culture, customs, views, beliefs and  most importantly, their welcoming smiles, emblazoned upon your memory.

© Abhik Palit

The silence of the forest grows on you. It’s a peculiar kind of quiet which isn’t so quiet at all, being broken intermittently by the sounds of the forest. Mingling the proximate creaks of waking insects with the distant howls of a pack of jackals, the forest mixes the soundtrack of the walk, reminding you of the constant activity that surrounds you in the cover of darkness at night. During the day, the steady rustle of shoes crushing leaves is periodically halted by the mellifluous calls of birds. Necks are craned and cameras take aim, the whirring of the zoom foreboding its impending capture in the frame. Your ears perk as a voice besides you takes over. It identifies the bird and calls out its telling features for all to note. You walk on and the rustling leaves hush themselves as the wind dies, giving way to the tinkling of streams in the distance. In the evenings, the voices of  the people of the forest fill your ears with stories of wonder and enchantment woven from the fabric of traditional knowledge, their voices dripping with the experience of having lived the realities they now tell you about. Their voices fade, growing bleaker as old generations give way to new ones. They urge you to absorb their mastery of the natural world. The ears have a lot to learn throughout this incredible  journey.

© Abhik Palit

You need only breathe in to feel the crispness of the air. Fresh and immaculate, with just a single whiff you feel that you’ve truly arrived in the forest. As you walk kilometre after kilometre, you wonder whether you would have been able to do the same in the foul city air. The fragrance of wild flowers wafts up every once in a while, engulfing you in their sweet scent, lifting you up and reinvigorating your lungs. But you can smell the sweat too. The sweat of those who have toiled for months to put the walk together and the sweat of your fellows, as they work to make the event even more fulfilling at each step. Once night falls, the smoky aroma of the bonfire is a harbinger of songs, stories and fraternity. The scent of new friendships forged.

To get a taste of Satpuda Maikal landscape, an appetite for adventure stands you in good stead. Hunger and fatigue greatly influence the taste of the food you eat. For this phenomenon, you’ll find an idiom in every language. But no words are required when that first morsel of food enters your mouth after a day of navigating hilly terrain. Leisurely devouring your lunch with your feet in a clear stream, the flow of the water washes away all exhaustion. While walking, practised hands pluck edible forest berries from the shrubs you brush past. Fresh and moist, the taste and the texture titillate your tongue. The communities of the forests share with you the flavours of their lives, inviting you warmly for some farm fresh corn into the comfort of their homes. Their tangy pickles send jolts down your spine.Your tongue stores away the lingering flavour with some of your fondest memories.

© Alljo Jerry

The entire walk feels new. So new, it seems unreal. Floating through the emerald paradise, you feel your senses reawaken, as if they had been in hibernation all this while.Clearer than the camera, you feel your vision sharpen. You feel the sharp warning calls of monkeys pierce your ear. You feel the softness of the inside of a berry as it rolls on your tongue and you feel yourself being enveloped in the aroma of wild flowers.You feel the tenderness of new petals and the coarseness of the crocodile bark tree. You feel the mud squelch underneath your boots and the seeds clinging to your side in the hopes of finding its own two feet of ground some distance away. As night falls, you feel the warmth of the bonfire on your chest and the bite of the cold on your back. You feel your lungs reinvigorated with the fresh air and your mind cleared of all that is not real, much that is not relevant. Through all these experiences, you remember the fairy tales of yore and muse whether this isn’t the wonderland in which they were all set. Slowly, as the water trickles through your hands, like time, you begin to feel one with your surroundings. You become one with nature.

© Abhik Palit
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