Female safari guides take the reins in Chitwan National ParkThe guides have been making a lasting impression in the industry but still they are prone to backbiting and eve-teasing.
Samjhana Tiwari guides tourists in the Chitwan National Park and the nearby forests.
Tiwari was on sick leave on Sunday, but she got a call that some guests were looking for her.
She carried her binoculars and reached the national park gate leaving her 16-month-old baby back home.
“I love my job,” said Tiwari, 27.
She was the guest's choice because she had guided a team of Nepali expats living in Australia before Covid-19 pandemic hit the country.
Tiwari’s job demands great dedication and rigorous effort.
Taking tourists to the forest is challenging too.
The Chitwan National Park and the surrounding forests are home to hundreds of wild predators such as the Bengal tiger, one-horned rhino, Asiatic elephant, and so on. The visitors and the guides can fall prey to these beasts at any moment.
“However, it's the responsibility of the guides to protect the visitors from potential risks by understanding the behaviour of the animals and educating the guests about the rare flora and fauna in the forests,” said Tiwari.
The guides receive training at the beginning of their career.
Tourist guides in Chitwan were largely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic with many being laid off as the jungle safari goers’ numbers dropped to zero.
The number of jungle safari guides was reduced from 800 to 400 during the pandemic and in the days that followed.
However, the number of female guides is few.
Rajendra Dhami, president of the Nature Guide Association Chitwan, said that there are only 10 female guides who have received the jungle safari training.
One of the issues faced by female guides is the condescending and sometimes degrading remarks made to them by those in the tour guide industry.
“We have been hearing such disrespectful comments from our training days itself,” said Ashmita Godar, who has been in the profession for the last five years. “But it doesn’t bother us much. We go about our daily work and prove our ability as jungle safari guides.”
Doma Paudel, one of the senior female guides, who obtained the licence in 2007, is an inspiration for many.
Paudel said she got an opportunity to be a part of a month-long trip to guide a team of foreigners making a documentary on forest conservation and indigenous community.
However, it wasn’t a job Paudel had got easily. She had a tough time convincing the employers, who had reservations about her ability to become a jungle safari guide given her petite frame.
Initially, her seniors would hesitate to allow her to take tourists to the forest.
In the initial days, Paudel hardly got chances to take visitors for a half-day tour package.
She proved herself gradually and started getting permission for a full-day package.
Now, she has also taken tourists on multi-day trips.
In her around one-and-a-half decade of experience as a forest guide, Paudel said she had several close encounters with wildlife.
Poudel recalls several instances where her group was chased by the one-horned rhinos in the forest.
The job of a forest guide is full of adventure and challenges. “Obviously, regular training helps us to perform better during such emergencies,” said Poudel.
Bimita Bhandari, a 28-years old guide from Khairahani Municipality-13, also finds the job challenging yet fascinating.
Seeing her prosper, her elder brother also has taken the training to be a jungle safari guide.
The female jungle safari guides are making strides.
“The female guides have been making a lasting impression in the industry,” said Jitu Tamang, former president of the Nature Guide Association, who introduced the training for female guides.
“They still are prone to backbiting, eve teasing and misbehaviour.”
The female guides make earnings ranging from Rs20,000 to Rs40,000 a month.
After the Covid, female guides faced a hard time getting back their jobs.
“As a result of the layoffs, many female guides switched to another profession,” said Paudel.
“Female guides could be best but they need regular training.”