Assam: Picnic Menace in Manas National Park
The pandemic induced lockdown made us realize a lot of things. Amongst them, for people who were not struggling for mere survival (read: privileged), was the lamentation that they were confined inside the four walls of their houses.
Little by little, as time passed by and the pandemic, was nowhere near over people started vowing that they will not take for granted the things that they hitherto did. For example, eating and drinking out, going for drives etc.
While the frustration of the “travellers” and “explorers” started building to disproportionate levels people started posting pictures and information on relatively unexplored places. Suddenly, everyone started appreciating how pretty their state is and for once they could fathom traveling to someplace else than Sohra (for obvious reasons as it falls in a different state) and Kaziranga (too commercialized, everyone’s been there). Places like Saralpara, Umrangsho, Manas National Park (still relatively less commercialized) became vogue and the rest is history.
One can kiss a place goodbye whenever the “happening” crowd of the towns land on it. The pattern works out somewhat like this: The first arrivals would be the bikers with their roaring machines and fancy air jackets. Close by on the heels would be the influencers with their drones and go pros, vlogging away about how unexplored and untouched the place is, inviting their cool followers to come and change that fact.
A different sense of pride will be invoked in the minds of the impressionable youth of our numerous run downtowns. And from there on will commence a race to the bottom of traveling to the untouched location and announcing it to the world that now they have touched it. Thus, the floodgates will officially open.
Now, picnic is a concept that is dear to most city and town dwellers around the world for obvious reasons. These people, by choice or by compulsion live in concrete jungles to lead a dignified and comfortable life (only taking into account the aspirational classes) and quite naturally, during winters, when the weather is pleasant, people wish to get away from the hustle-bustle to a quiet, natural place where they can relax and spend quality time with their family or friends. But, the people of Assam have redefined the very concept. We are such an ingenious and unique people that we always want to push the boundaries, to literally the very limit. Truckloads and busloads of people would first announce the fact that they are going on a picnic and having a great time by playing music in such high decibel that a little bit more could make you lose your hearing. And mind you, these are music systems with no stop button. Once they are on, they will not stop playing till they breakdown or someone under influence picks a fight with the poor speakers.
Next, the gendered division of labour which is always so pleasing to the eye will come into action. The womenfolk will cut vegetables the entire day followed by cooking different delicacies on firewood while the men, putting on their most responsible caps, are busy merrymaking (read: drinking and dancing like monkeys) till the point where they drop or fight with non-living things.
Come dusk, it is time to dismantle the makeshift cloth tents, drag the disoriented members of the group, find the drunk driver, throw the leftover disposable plates, bottles etc into the water body. Everyone has a great time. Posts on social media would follow for the next few days.
Cometh December, cometh the festive season and cometh the marauding picnic parties vying for the tiniest of spaces. Now, let me spoil the fun a little bit by highlighting the scenario of Manas National Park (MNP) since the month of December. In the Bansbari Range of MNP there is a tranquil spot on the tri-junction of the Park, the Beki River and human habitation. This beautiful spot, from where one can witness breathtaking sunsets, has become one of the most sought after locations for picnickers.
While MNP recently won the TX2 Conservation Excellence Award, the picnic parties are surely taking extra pride in it to the extent that they are making sure that the wild animals are party to their exuberant celebrations. After all, the animals would also want to dance to the tune of “Chikni Chameli”. And if that were not enough, certain good Samaritans have taken the party to the jungle, quite literally. Taking advantage of the fact that one can take private vehicles inside MNP (till the world-famous Mathanguri Bungalow) after paying a certain fee, these highly intelligent beings, with no fear of the wild and the unknown, even put up their picnic camp inside the forest. And if anyone was of the opinion that traffic jams are urban phenomena, even they stood to be corrected. The animals must have a gala time witnessing the exploits of their more intelligent counterparts of the animal kingdom.
A win-win situation for all parties involved would be the lifting of all restrictions and de-commissioning of protected areas so that the picnic parties can have full access to more and more so-called untouched locations amidst wild animals.
Convenience and merriment galore!
On a more serious note, it is imperative that the Forest Department, the local administration and other stakeholders deal with this menace with an iron fist. While protectionist regimes prohibit local communities from accessing any resource from the forest whatsoever and are viewed as a major hindrance in conservation efforts, the tourists and the picnic parties are unleashing chaos inside the forest. One does not need to know rocket science to tell which is more detrimental for wildlife.
(The author is an alumnus of Delhi University TISS. He is currently working for the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Aaranyak as their Community Coordinator. The views expressed in the article are his own.)
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- Picnic at Manas National Park
- Bansbari Range of Manas National Park
- national Park in Assam
- Picnic spots in Assam