Tag Archives: Sports & Adventure

Naturalist Chinmay Deshpande about his passion for all things wild

Naturalist, Chinmay Deshpande, and his passion for all things wild

Meet naturalist and snake expert, Chinmay Deshpande, who decided that pursuing his dreams was worth sacrificing a career in IT and a desk job. You only have one life, says this young man. And we agree! This is his story.

Enjoying a peaceful and serene sunset

Enjoying a peaceful and serene sunset

He was hooked at a young age. A wildlife enthusiast and a naturalist at the Kanha Earth Lodge, Chinmay confesses he got interested in reptiles and snakes after watching a lot of Discovery and NG channel while growing up. He began to learn about handling snakes by watching and observing and soon in his hometown people started calling him whenever there was an issue. He began to learn and understand how to handle venomous and non venomous snakes. At the same time, he was also pursuing his studies and went into commerce, but his heart was always in wildlife and nature.

He conducted workshops and camps to educate children and people, especially those of the poorer economic class, who face conflict on a regular basis. Chinmay took on a part-time job as a swimming coach to earn some money, but continued to work with snakes. He says since he would offer his services for free, there were also a lot of people who would take advantage. Some would give him petrol money but others didn’t want to pay at all (sometimes they would rather kill the snake, than pay up). But he decided to persist.

At that point of time, Chinmay recounts that he had a life changing experience of sorts when he got bitten by a cobra he was handling. It was his own mistake and he knew exactly what he did wrong. He talks about how he took himself to the hospital (a government one, since he says that they are the ones who stock the anti-venom). It was a near death experience, but he survived after going through nearly 6 months of recovery. But it made him even more determined to continue his work in the field (rather than deterring him).

Chinmay leads us on a walk to the sunset point

Chinmay leads us on a walk to the sunset point

He was in a near coma and survived to tell the tale, but Chinmay saw this as a second chance at life. And he realised he’d rather spend his second chance pursuing his passion, than work in a dead-end job that he didn’t care about. It was refreshing meeting Chinmay, because it’s rare to see such passion in someone so young. I find it admirable that he was able to recognise and pursue his goals and aims at such a young age.

He continued his work and decided not to get into full time coaching. He also says that to pursue a vocation like swimming, he needed a piece of paper with a certification. No matter that he could do the job, in this country it’s the qualification on paper that’s important. Not ground experience. Sad, but true as many of us would have personally experienced.

But this is when Chinmay decided to pursue his interests full time. He looked at different career options. While researching online, he came across the posting for a naturalist. He decided to research this and also approached others in the field for advice on how to go about it. He studied about other species like birds and mammals (to increase his knowledge beyond snakes and reptiles) and built his knowledge base over a period of time.

As a career option, NGOs and other smaller organizations are not worth the time and effort he says, due to the meagre compensation. “Though our needs are basic and limited, what they offer is not enough,” says Chinmay. Soon, he was able to get a job as a naturalist and in the early years he worked in Panna and Pench. He then joined Pugdundee Safaris two seasons ago, at their Kanha property where he is now based.


Out on a nature and birdwatching walk with Chinmay

Out on a nature and birdwatching walk with Chinmay

He tells me how his parents initially were really confused and unsure about his job choice. “Yeh naturalist, kya cheez hai?” is perhaps their line of thinking and not surprisingly, since that generation usually recognises just 2-3 professions – doctors, engineers and IT. Then he brought his parents down for a visit to the sanctuary and apparently his mom now appreciates and understands his job a little more. Even his cousins and friends often want to hear his interesting stories, which probably spice up their otherwise routine lives.

He works with villagers and school kids nearby on increasing awareness about wildlife, snakes etc. whenever there is an opportunity. Chinmay points out that since educated folks go on and usually move to the city (or even overseas) for better opportunities, their contact with wildlife is limited. “It’s no point telling them about wildlife,” he says. On the other hand, it’s villagers and their children who come into direct contact (and sometimes conflict) with wildlife. It makes sense to make this segment of society more aware of dealing with conflict, appreciating wildlife and knowing how to handle a crisis situation.

Chinmay telling us more about the jungle over lunch by the riverside

Chinmay telling us more about the jungle over lunch by the riverside

The Kanha forests are truly beautiful and it gives Chinmay the chance to continue his work with reptiles and snakes. During our nature walk, he also familiarised me with the birds in the area, their migratory patterns and we also indulged in some bird watching. During our short walk we saw the black drongo, rufus treepie, the rose ringed parakeet, black hooded oriole, white throated kingfisher, egrets, pond herons, common stone chat, paddy field pipit, teeter (hindi word, grey fancolin), large grey babblers, southern coucal, common hoopoe, lesser whistling duck, spotted dove, red-vented bulbul and jerdon’s leaf bird.

Apparently, we nearly missed a tiger, which had strayed into the village just across the lake from where we were. The young male of around 4-5 years is still trying to define his territory and is often found roaming around, sometimes straying into the buffer zone. Today, he decided to sit outside one of the village houses for a while. We were very close but didn’t even guess all this was happening while we were birdwatching. We only found out when we came back to the lodge later.

With Chinmay & Ashish (manager of the Satpura property) at the Kanha Earth Lodge

With Chinmay & Ashish (manager of the Satpura property) at the Kanha Earth Lodge

I was impressed by the knowledge and the strength of determination of this young naturalist to trod his own path. Someone like Chinmay is also a role model for those who want to pursue their passions, rather than trod the usual well-laid down path and sends a clear message: go forth and live your dreams!

(I visited the Kanha Earth Lodge in December 2013, on an invitation by Pugdundee Safaris, who also run a few other properties in Satpura, Pench and Bandhavgarh).

Olaulim Backyards

Olaulim Backyards: Where time stands still, but a lot can happen!

They had me at Richard Parker!

The one who rules

This cosy homestay, situated in a very quiet and serene part of Goa will transport you to another world all together. Away from the buzz and the humdrum, the noise and pollution of the city, it’s a relief as you step into what is literally a “backyard”! All around is just green as far as the eye can see. And a creek that lazily winds its way into the property completing the perfect picture.

And fittingly, you know why this serene place is called Olaulim Backyards. Inhabited by a motley group of permanent residents (besides the hosts and their 2 kids) – three dogs, a pony, a donkey and a cat called Richard Parker – every moment is a delight.

Gone grazing...

I was lucky to spend 3 days at Olaulim, in the peak of the monsoons and I don’t think I’ve seen Goa in a more beautiful season – bathed in rain, the countryside is a shade of green that you’ll never find in a concrete jungle. The roads are inviting, winding and wet. And the best part of the rains is that life doesn’t stop in these parts. Armed with large raincoats, people go about their business not really caring much. It does rain incessantly for days on end and the monsoon in Goa is a long one.

Olaulim is run by Savio and his wife Pirkko, who are friendly, accommodating and immediately make you feel at home. I got shown to my cosy cottage overlooking the Olauim creek, with Richard Parker meowing loudly to make sure I was settled in properly. From the cottage, is a lovely view of the fields in the horizon and the water in between. I ventured out on my first kayak adventure and spent a happy hour enjoying the peace and quiet. Just the chirping of birds, the ruffled waters as I rowed and the occasional flying fish performing acrobats for me, it seemed!

Welcome to the cosy room

There’s never a dull moment. Either you’re lounging around in the central dining area – naturally my favourite place – or diving into the pool enjoying the beautiful waters. Or you can borrow one of the cycles and go off to discover the Goan countryside. Like I did. And got caught in the pouring rain, but enjoyed it immensely. Give me these  lovely hilly country roads any day, over miles and miles of boring highway!

Some fun in the creek

And then there was all this amazing food to be eaten. Be warned – if you’re visiting, make sure you get a healthy dose of exercise during the day. Otherwise, you might just get back home a few kgs heavier. Like I did. Despite all my attempts at cycling, kayaking, swimming, I still over ate! With delicious fish fry, fresh vegetables and great company, it’s quite easy to get carried away.

During my stay, I also met a very interesting couple who had driven all the way down South with their two kids. It was heart warming to see them enjoy their time, playing with the animals and enjoying the outdoors. One of the advantages of living in homestays are the interesting people you meet and have dinner time conversations with.

I would have probably stayed on forever (or asked to be adopted by Savio and Pirkko!), but had to head back eventually.

More pictures: Goa Monsoon Diaries
Olaulim Backyards home page

(Note: If you’re looking for a place to stay in Goa, and like the sound of this one, head over to my Best Homestays India blog for the full review and contact details.)

Ice, Ice, Baby!

Ice, Ice baby: Things that make you feel alive!

There’s something about the cold and sub-zero temperatures that’s both spine-chilling and exciting at the same time. It makes you go “brrr” and yet the chill in the bone also gets you high (in the good sense!). When you see mountaineers climb the Everest, wrapped up in many, many layers of warm jackets or people visiting the coldest places on earth, it makes you wonder – are they really enjoying the extreme cold?

Road to Tawang

The higher you go, the colder it gets…


More importantly still, how do they even dare to take a bath?

This week’s Cinthol ad, where 3 intrepid people plunge into a polar bath literally made me shiver… The very thought of jumping into a pool where the water is many degrees below zero brings on the goosebumps, or gooselumps, as it says. It takes some courage, added with a bit of craziness to pull it off. And probably shouldn’t be attempted without parental supervision! (Or someone to pull you out, since once you’re in the freezing cold water, you might not actually be able to get out on your own.)

It reminded me of an adventure we had in the North East, a few years ago. Though we didn’t actually take the plunge, it was the closest we got to it! Four of us, intrepid travellers, decided to go and visit a few places including Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh), Shillong (Meghalaya) and Guwahati and Hajo (Assam). The travel to Tawang is an ardous though very scenic journey, which takes all of the day in a cab, along the most winding roads you’ll ever experience. In fact, you wouldn’t really want to roll down your window and look down at any point of time. Especially, if you suffer from vertigo.

It was March, but never the less, the temperatures in Tawang were already hitting the low digits. Our plan was to take a jeep and go further up the hills where we would see snow and also skirt very close to the China border. Both rather exciting propositions for us!

Misty day near Tawang

The cold and mist makes for very low visibility


As we ventured towards the colder climes, the mist in the air made it almost impossible for us to see anything. All we could feel was the cold seeping through our jackets and sweaters and into our bones. We tried to keep warm in the vehicle by huddling together, but there’s little you can do to beat the cold.

We came across a frozen lake bed. Further down, we came across another lake, but this one had melted slightly – the sun had managed to beat it down. The water looked cool and inviting. But jump in? No way! In fact, it was torture to even put a hand into the cold waters.

A close encounter with sub-zero temperatures

A close encounter with sub-zero temperatures!


Will he, won't he!

Will he, won’t he (jump)? He definitely won’t! And thank goodness, since none of would have been able to brave the cold and fish him out!

We skirted the lake, went around it, even posed behind it. It was possibly one of the remotest, coldest places I’d been to. I was freezing and yet I felt a sense of being alive and whole and what a feeling it was.


Exploring the frozen lake

Exploring the frozen lake and hoping there aren’t any gaps!

The frozen lake

Doing a quick jig in the ice!


So I can well imagine what would happen if I got the opportunity to plunge into a polar bath. But if I ever get a change, I’m definitely packing extra dollops of courage and lots of warm clothes to get into, “afterwards”. And if I survived to tell the tale, it would definitely be a very cold and wet one!

(This is a part of the blogging series for the Alive is Awesome bathing project by Cinthol)

Fancy a polar plunge bath? Head to:
- Lake Hudson, Canada
– Outer Glaciers, Iceland
– Beardmore Glacier, Antarctica
– Northern Borders, Greenland

More in the Alive is Awesome series:
Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

First rain

What makes you feel alive? First rain!

Alive is AwesomeThis is a series of posts where I am going to ponder about the feeling of “being alive”. Has it ever hit you? Sometimes in quiet moments and sometimes in your wildest hours, you feel exhilarated, you are glad you’re able to be “there”, enjoying that point in time, doing something that makes you feel “alive”. It’s an amazing feeling, for sure.

This is a part of the blogging series for the Alive is Awesome campaign by Cinthol. Part 1 can be found here.

First rain

Rain

As kids, the story is different. You want to feel the raindrops against your skin, against your face, against your limbs, soaked to the core.

I remember my growing up days in Guwahati, Assam. We lived in a house on the hill. In hindsight, it was paradise. From our little hill, we had a great view, shaded by some huge trees. We didn’t mind that at all. Our neighbours M and R and their parents, who lived downstairs, went on to become part of our extended family.

My sister and I would spend most of our time with M and R. We only needed a excuse to get together. Whether it was to go out and play, tell bad jokes or gossip, we spent most of our time outdoors, much to the chagrin of our respective mothers who always wanted to rule us with an iron hand (at least ours did, and still does!).

There were different things we looked forward to, but this I remember vividly. Waiting for the first burst of “rain” after those hot and humid summer months. The north east of the country gets generous doses of rain. And we would wait impatiently every summer, counting down the days to when the “rains” would arrive… So we could run out and get soaking wet. While the respective moms would scream at us. They didn’t quite understand the simple pleasures of just welcoming the rain, arms turned heavenwards.

Rain pouring down

We would do this for hours and hours. We were determined to enjoy ourselves and that we did. With arms wide askance, we would simply embrace the rain and let it soak us completely. The scent of the earth after the first shower, as the hungry soil just takes it all in, can is quite magical. The flora and fauna drenched in a coat of raindrops makes for a refreshing and pretty sight.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.  ~ e.e. cummings

It made us feel happy. It made us feel alive! Now, when we hear any sign of rain, we rush indoors or look for an umbrella for the fear of getting wet.

Well, next time, there’s any sign of rain, try this – throw caution to the winds, open your arms wide and embrace the feeling. It’s quite amazing!

So what childhood memories do you recall that made you felt alive?

(This is a part of the blogging series for the Alive is Awesome campaign by Cinthol)

What makes you feel alive?

What makes you feel alive? Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts where I am going to ponder about the feeling of “being alive”. I am sure it’s something all of you have experienced. Sometimes in quiet moments and sometimes in your wildest hours, when you’re exhilarated… When you’re totally in the moment, doing something that makes you feel “alive”.

My heart will go on

Continue reading

Ride of a lifetime

The ride of a lifetime: Manali to Leh

Over 400 kms on some of the worst roads (and no roads in some places) but the most beautiful countryside. Manali to Leh on cycle spanning 10 days and many many breathless moments (both because of the altitude and the sight of the mighty Himalayan ranges!).

The journey took us through lush evergreen forests, green hills and valleys to barren desert-like mountains with not a sight of tree for a whole day. Many a times we had just the river gushing beside us, endless miles of road in front and the mountains fringing the horizon challenging us as we embarked on our numerous climbs.

Spanning many high passes, numerous climbs, bone rattling downhills and some amazingly scenic landscapes made it the ride of a lifetime and a high like no other!

Meanwhile, here are some pictures:

Day 1-3 | Day 4-6 | Day 7-10

And some pictures of the team members!