Tree trunks wrapped in creepers, green moss on slippery rocks by a stream, and a carpet of bright crimson wild flowers, are the vivid memories of Apoorva Mandhe who recalls her adventure RYLA experience as “a chance of a lifetime.” Pug marks of leopards, elephants and bears excited this youngster, one of the 30 students from Moharidevi Kanya Shala, who participated in the RYLA conducted by RC Akola, D 3030 and the Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI), Akola unit at Khatkali near the Melghat forest.
This is among the nine tiger reserves in India that come under Project Tiger, a wildlife conservation programme from 1972 to protect the Bengal tigers. “Sighting a tiger would have been exciting, but we only got to see black monkeys, parrots and other beautiful birds,” says Nikitha Mangesh Narsu, another RYLA participant, who was “fascinated by the bright and colourful butterflies.”
Ground work for the RYLA camp began two months ago with Rtn Nehru Taraporevala, the Vice President of YHAI planning the trail keeping in mind the safety of the girls as “this is a jungle and we did not want to become their (wild animals’) dinner,” he jokes. Rtn Radheshyam Modi and Taraporevala did not want to host the camp inside the village because “this was no picnic. The main focus of the camp was to impart a sense of care for the environment through experiencing wildlife,” says Modi.
On her two-night sojourn in the tent, Apoorva says, “The first night at the camp was scary and we feared if some wild animal would come and rip the tent apart, so we kept peeping outside and landed up star gazing.” Taraporevala made sure they stayed close to nature, so each tent had mats, and the girls were given two blankets each. A cook was taken to the camp site as they did not want to depend on the villagers for anything and “hot and tasty food was provided to the girls on time. No luxury here, only nature and its abundance,” he quips.
The Nature Study Camp gave the girls an opportunity to discover the local forest, take an uphill trek, discover the remnants of an old palace, do some bird watching, learn about endangered species and engage themselves in some exciting sports such as crossing a river on a rope, and last, but not the least, dance around the camp fire.
Another participant of the RYLA says her father who rides an auto rickshaw is still wondering how Rs 700 was enough for all the activities that she participated in. The aim of the RYLA was not just to provide entertainment for these underprivileged girls but to help them understand the need for conservation of forest and wildlife and learn a few survival skills to boost their confidence.