Some time back, I took my four-year-old daughter to Jim Corbett National Park, hoping to relax in the lush surroundings away from work and deadlines. Since I'd shown my daughter pictures of the property before our trip, she couldn't stop talking about how much she loved the stunning pool and jungle even before we reached there.
We were booked at the Namah Resort and my daughter spent hours in the pool. I also managed to get 30 minutes for a quick but oh-so-good spa session. The evening before our jeep safari, the resort arranged a talk by a certain Mr. Imran. This is where my laidback vacation took a turn.
My daughter and I went to the amphitheatre to find Mr. Imran showing some beautiful pictures the park on a huge screen -- migratory birds and their behaviour, animals found in the Jim Corbett National Reserve, from mighty Asian elephants to the spectacular tigers. He had clicked all these pictures himself. Imran has been researching the reserve and the life it supports, for years now and he explained the utmost importance of protecting the tigers. "We have to save the tigers," he said, "that is the right thing to do."
It was a great session and all of us who attended it left as more informed travellers. But the kids, they took it all in even more deeply. They have more empathy than us adults, and they also don't conform to norms and preconceived notions. But how much they had learned from this session, we were still to see. The next day was safari day.
"Where is the tiger's house?" my daughter asked just as we entered the reserve. Standing beside me, holding on to the jeep with her tiny hands, she kept jumping up and down with glee. She loves the jungle, and she giddily declared so every five minutes.
"This," I said, waving a hand towards the forest around us. "This is the tiger's house."
"But where do they live, maa?"
"They live here, honey. In the jungle, remember?" I said in a whisper, scared to miss out on any potential wild animal sightings due to our constant chatter.
"I know, pfftt!" She stuck her tongue out cheerily. "But WHERE in the jungle?"
"The jungle is their home. The entire jungle. They don't have a house like we do, they roam all over this forest," I explained quickly.
She thought for a while with a frown on her face. She sat down next to me, brooding.
"Did we ring the doorbell?" She looked up to me and asked after a few seconds of contemplation.
"If this is the tiger's house, did we ask before coming in?"
I sat there stunned as it dawned on me that this four-year-old had just questioned the entire jeep full of adults. I didn't know what to say to her, how to tell her without sounding like a hypocrite that it's okay to intrude in another creature's living being's space because we are humans and we are the superior race. Correction, that we think we are the superior race.
"If the jungle is the tiger's house, did we ask before coming in?"
I blinked at her for a moment, and then I said, "It's okay, we won't harm them."
"But they don't know that," pointed out another child in the jeep, a six-year-old. "And we HAVE to save the tigers!"
Her mother and I looked at each other as she repeated Imran's words.
"Relax, girls." I said. "In all possibilities, we won't even spot a tiger because we are talking too much."
"We won't spot tigers because we have scared them," my daughter told the six-year-old.
"We won't spot tigers because we are not doing the right thing," the six-year-old concluded.
Needless to say, I felt very reflective throughout this ride. We did not spot any tigers, of course, and the kids got back to the chatter and the jumping, but this conversation weighed me down in an unexpected way.
You can find me talking about responsible travel and sustainability a lot. I firmly stand for animal rights. Whenever I can, I try to use animal-testing-free products. I actively look for eco-friendly travel and lifestyle products and practices.
And yet, it took a couple of kids to make me see the double standards. They are kids, they say it like it is. And they were only saying things we teach them as responsible parents. Do not go to the neighbour's house without ringing the doorbell. Do not enter your friend's garden to use the swings without her parent's permission. Do not harm or scare animals. Doing the right thing matters, we tell our kids. We tell them that it doesn't matter if no one notices you're doing the right thing, or if everyone else is doing the wrong thing.
And at times like these, we forget that kids learn by example, not by words of wisdom.
Responsible travel doesn't end with conserving water during your shower, or eating local produce. Those are good things, yes, but responsible travel is so much more than this. Responsible travel is also being aware of our impact on nature, and on its other inhabitants. Humans do not own the planet, even if we sometimes might like to believe we do. As the most intelligent species, we have the responsibility to conserve and preserve not only the environment, but also other living beings.
Now, going for a jeep safari in a national reserve is not a big deal today. We know that tourism is important to sustain the economy, and if the earnings go toward providing better facilities for the animals in the reserve, all the better.
But we need to follow rules, and we need to respect the fact that -- as my four-year-old puts it -- the jungle is home for the animals. Later in that trip, our safari mates stopped to pick up discarded cigarette packets, empty snack and chocolate wrappers and even a drained bottle of beer from the trail.
This is where we can start from: do not litter. Another lesson we give to our kids, and forget when it comes to ourselves. National reserves are made to protect flora and fauna in their most natural habitat. Let's respect it by not spoiling it with our garbage.
And before I end this, I want to say that let's talk more about the environment to our kids. Let's tell them how balance is important, let's take them to talks and movies where they learn to respect the planet. Let's teach them to be responsible. And the only way this will work is if we practice what we preach now,
A version of this article was first published on Aditi Mathur Kumar's Travel Blog.