Trekking through the forest is one of the most beautiful experiences a traveller can have in her/his lifetime. However, it should be done carefully as the forest is a different territory. You are a guest there and need to follow certain etiquette while you are there. You need to know the space, its significance and the various species living in it. If not, it may culminate in calamities. The recent Theni forest fire that took 11 lives and left many injured points to the importance of responsible travel or trekking. “The core issue is that we don’t follow basic etiquette,” says Aneesh Ans, a traveller and nature photographer. “If exploring the forest was like a pilgrimage earlier, now many go there for entertainment — to drink and smoke. That has to change. People should be aware of the sanctity of a forest. Every man-made disaster destroys a habitat and vegetation. It is so sad,” he says.
Indu Krishna, who runs the women-only travel company Escapenow, concurs. “Before going to a forest, ask yourself, whether the forest is your cup of tea,” says Indu. “When something unfortunate happens, we cannot put the blame solely on authorities. There are forest areas like Chembra Peak, where checking is strict. Still people manipulate it. The forest is a vast area. It is difficult for guards to watch all areas at a time. As a traveller, we should be responsible in everything we do — from choosing the guide to doing disciplined trekking in the forest. Always go for professional guides who are well-trained.”
It is because they know the area well. Each forest is different and has different guidelines. Follow them. Treat the forest as it is, not as a place for enjoyment.” Though she opines that June to September is the ideal time for trekking, she stresses on the factor that the time differs according to the nature of the space. “Each area is different and follows different guidelines. Obey them. If you are a beginner, don’t go alone. If you are going with travel groups, enquire about their credibility.” Deputy Range Officer Anto Joseph feels proper awareness is the remedy to eliminate this. “A small class should be given to them before trekking,” he shares. It is because our travelers are yet to learn the ethics of forest. “Though trekking is an enjoyable process, unpleasant situations may arise sometimes. The traveller should be aware of that,” he says.
He also insists on choosing approved guides, who are locals trained by the department. “For a trained guide, members’ safety would be of prime concern. He knows the forest well and its moods. He can sense the presence of animals and warn travelers. We have a regular trek path. However, we will have to divert the route during emergencies. Only a properly-trained guide would be able to handle such situations,” he says. According to Anto, the forest demands discipline. “Be disciplined in the forest. Inside the forest, the instructor will ask you to keep a safe distance, maintain that. Don’t chatter as it may hinder the guide from sensing danger. Animals don’t attack all of a sudden. They will make a noise sensing human presence, which is a signal to deviate our route. Also, small groups, maximum 10 persons, are always good because the guide would be able to communicate with them all. Make sure you are healthy enough to walk through the forest. It is always better to avoid children because they will panic easily,” he explains.
Aneesh says, “The forest is not our home. You are entering there as a guest. When you go to a house as a guest, you will follow certain manners, won’t you? Do that in forests too. Be responsible.” Following the Theni incident, the state government has put a temporary ban on trekking. However, one question remains, who will control unauthorised travel groups and guides? That is in the public’s hands. “People should be aware of that. Don’t think of expenses while travelling. Our life is in our hands. We are responsible for it,” says Anto.
Explore forest if you really love forest. It’s not a place for entertainment and taking pictures for social media
Be ready to confront unpleasant situations
Know the place before going there
Go with a professional guide and obey instructions
If you are a beginner, don’t go alone
Travel in small groups
If it is organised by a company, enquire its authenticity before trip
For adventurous treks, select only healthy people and avoid children
Don’t wear flashy dresses
Carry drinking water and food required to survive in the forest. Don’t litter in the forest
Be disciplined and considerate of the habitat