In less than a month, the first seven women nature guides of Corbett Tiger Reserve have won over tourists in their stint working as tour guides. But these women are also facing challenges both at professional and personal level. Despite all odds, these tiger ladies of Corbett are steadily finding their foothold in the job that was primarily held by men in these jungles so far.
For the first time this year, Corbett Tiger Reserve appointed female nature guides to bring gender equality in the wildlife tourism sector and the guides have received a mixed response.
Urmila Belwal, 28-year-old nature guide posted at Garjiya gate of Corbett, said that working as a nature guide is an enriching experience but comes at the cost of her 8-year-old son staying with relatives without his parents.
“Both my husband and I work with the Corbett Tiger Reserve. I joined last month as a nature guide where my duty starts early morning at 6:30 am. My husband works in Bijrani zone on a night shift. On certain days, when I have tourists in both morning and afternoon shifts, I am not able to pay any attention to my son and he stays with our relatives. With my husband working night shift, there have been days when only one of us is available for our son,” said Belwal.
Speaking more about her experience, Belwal also said that she, along with other nature guides, has to manage transportation and travel in groups as they cross patches of forests while going for work covering around 12-15 kilometres from her village.
“Every job has an occupational hazard and ours is crossing through forests with the constant fear of being attacked by animals. But we have grown up living around wild animals so we can manage that. We are five women who usually travel together so that our families also do not worry,” she added.
Deeksha Kargeti, 22-year-old from Dhela village who also works as a nature guide in Garjiya zone said, “I am enjoying this opportunity and trying to learn as much as possible about wildlife. It is nice when tourists acknowledge us, click selfies with us and want to go on safaris with female guides, it motivates us to work better.”
Kargeti also said that travelling through forests in early morning hours is “a little risky and scary”.
However, not all female guides have had the same experience. Despite being appointed and trained, three guides from Luthiya village near Kotdwar in Pauri district are waiting for tourists to arrive amid Covid-19 epidemic.
Monika Rawat, 20-year-old from Ludhiya village, who has been posted at Sonanadi gate of Corbett, said they are facing multiple challenges like distance from their village, lack of transportation and lesser number of tourists compared to other gates of the reserve.
“I went to the Sonanadi for around five to six days after the gates were opened for tourists on November 15 but tourists were not coming. Even if there were some tourists, they were not interested in safari. We also spoke to divisional forest officials for helping us with transportation as it is a problem in the early morning hours. When not many tourists are visiting, I stop going,” said Rawat.
Rahul, director of Corbett Tiger Reserve, who goes by his first name, said that many tourists are praising the efforts of women nature guides, especially all-female group tourists, but the officials are also working to solve their problems.
“There are seven women who have been selected as guides this year. Four have been posted at Garjiya and three who are from Pauri district have been posted at Sonanadi. I have learnt about the problems of transportation faced by them. Indeed, tourism in the Pauri side is not much compared to the other zones, so we are trying to shift them from Sonanadi to Bijrani or Garjiya zone. I have asked them to write to me about difficulties that they face,” said Rahul.
In October, 488 candidates had appeared in the guide recruitment test held in Ramnagar of which 102 were women. A total of 67 candidates cleared the test, including seven women.
Corbett Tiger Reserve, which is spread across 1,288 square kilometres, is one of the most loved tourist destinations in the state. The gates of Corbett open on November 15 every year for six months till mid-June. Corbett witnesses a footfall of around 300,000 tourists every year. There are 231 tigers inside CTR and 266 using the reserve according to the latest report on tigers. This is the highest number of tigers in 50 tiger reserves in India.