Q&A: In conversation with travel blogger Shama Ahmed
A communications professional working at an MNC, Shama Ahmed is a travel blogger and nature-lover with a voracious appetite for travel. She loves to take the road less traveled to photograph and study animal behavior in the wild. Partial to the jungles of South India, her love affair with the denizens of tiger reserves in India started ten years ago, during her first safari - when she was armed with nothing but a small camera phone and oodles of curiosity.
A good vacation rejuvenates me as nothing else does, she says. No spa, no mall can come close to the feeling of absolute contentment I feel when I am away from the city and when I am one with nature.
In this interview, we talk to Shama about being curtailed at home during the pandemic. She helps us visualize the thoughts that run through her mind during these difficult times, and how she manages to cope with the situation.
I must be honest; it has not been easy. Considering we took short breaks once every 45 days, the inability to travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been frustrating. What has kept me going are the scores of wildlife pictures that my husband and I clicked during our trips before the pandemic. I share these pictures on my social media accounts and try to re-live those moments through the photographs. The other thing that I do is read. Immersing myself in travel and wildlife books allows me to go to places without moving an inch off the couch! I sometimes put down the book I’m reading, close my eyes, and imagine I am in the place described by the writer. It’s a great stressbuster.
2019 was all about Africa. A game drive in Africa has always been our dream. So, heading to the picturesque savannah of the Masai Mara in Kenya seemed like a natural choice when we could spare the time and money. The Masai Mara is unlike anything I’ve seen before. The vast plains dotted by the scrubs and the lone trees, the majestic African elephant as she walks the land of her ancestors, or the innumerable lion prides that adorn this stunning game reserve. It was a sight to behold!
(I have shared pictures here of leopards at the Masai Mara - unlike in India, spotting a leopard in Africa is not easy - they are extremely shy.)
After reading all of the books written by the legendary hunter, tracker, and naturalist Jim Corbett, it was a dream come true to walk the same jungles that Corbett describes so lucidly in his books. The 6-day trip covered the coveted Dhikala zone, followed by the equally popular Jhirna and Bijrani zones. As far as tiger reserves in India go, the Jim Corbett Reserve is by far the most beautiful. The park’s breathtaking jungle against the backdrop of the Himalayan range is quite the marvel of nature. I was amazed by the changing landscapes as you drive across the park. One minute you have vast grasslands stretching endlessly ahead, the next minute you are amidst sky-high Sal trees that gently envelop you in the comforting caress of their shadows. This was one of the most memorable trips from 2018.
2017 was the year of the big cats. Lady luck was in a generous mood that year when we managed to see 9 tigers and 7 leopards during a single trip that comprised 6 safaris in the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. Despite the unforgiving summer, with the sun beating down on us, I barely noticed the heat, for I was in my element, the camera clicking away furiously. Although my husband and I visited Nagarhole several times after that and were fortunate to spot several big cats during each visit, the trip in 2017 will remain etched in my mind for a long time.
It’s going to be much better; I am sure of it. After staying locked indoors gripped by the fear of the Coronavirus pandemic, my perspective of a holiday has changed. I’m not going to put off a holiday on the pretext of visiting a place the next time or some other time. There’s nothing like the present to go someplace where you want to go, and taste freedom in the purest, most unshackled form when we’re free of the fear of getting infected. It certainly will be a glorious experience when the time comes.
My idea of safety and sanitizing has drastically changed after the COVID-19 pandemic. While clean rooms and bathrooms were my only criteria to stay in a hotel or resort pre-COVID, the last few months have upped the ante as far as cleanliness and sanitization are concerned. I would expect the premises to be disinfected thoroughly, and the staff to continue wearing gloves while handling food. Mainly, I think post-COVID, people planning a vacation will need to be reassured of the highest standards of safety and sanitization. I don’t think the menu, or the activities will be as enticing as the lengths the hospitality industry will need to go to see improvement in footfall.
It does not look like 2020 will be the year of travel and leisure. It would be best to hold off any travel plans until the first quarter of 2021. It is not just about finding a vaccine or cure for the coronavirus. The bigger impact has been on the economy, which is hanging by a thread. I don’t see many people spending freely on travel at least for the next year or so. The approach to holidays will be cautious and infrequent. Hopefully, the picture looks less dismal in 2021.
Images featured here, courtesy Shama Ahmed - taken during her visit to the Masai Mara, Kenya, Africa
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