Surya is academically an engineer from the south indian city of Chennai who later pursued his passion into the wild. His jungle journey commenced in the forests of Satpura at Forsyths where he started as an intern and then later turned into a full time naturalist. Personally having been mentored by Hashim Tyabji, his interests widened to all types of life forms, especially the lesser fauna of the region and their microhabitats. His vehement enthusiasm led to pioneering Central India’s first walking safari, canoeing, wilderness camping and night drives at Satpura. Satpura being a less tiger centric park gave him the chance to explore other activitties than just Jeep safaris. After 5 years at Satpura he moved to Kanha and also experienced the feelers of working in a major tiger centric park. His love for wildlife and eagerness to learn led him exploring India’s special and rare mammals, birds, reptiles and butterflies. Be it Satpura or Kanha the thing Surya enjoys the most is the idea of guiding and explaining the little secrets of the jungle to people rather than just seeing it for himself. The need to guide people encouraged him to write a book and thereby successfully co authored ‘Photo Field Guide to Central India’ which covers 850 species of the region, a first of its kind field guide in India.
During the monsoon period he leads his own tours to Africa, the Red Pandas of Nepal and Western Ghat wilderness for groups. His continued undying passion and dedication led him to be awarded the prestigious TOfT award for the year 2016.
Surya believes that the key to sustainable ecotourism is to keep the locals at the helm. He currently is working on setting up wildlife lodges in Ladakh in the trans-Himalayas with snow leopard and other lesser fauna present there as the focus. This is going to be in collaboration with the houses and villages in the valley thereby making sure to include the locals. He believes that this could help in a lot of conservation issues faced in our country. Surya’s inquisitiveness and enthusiasm is sure to rub onto guests and leave them spellbound.
- Who you are (naturally!) – Difficult one with many answers but I’d say…Naturally..I’d say I’m a storyteller, a sports lover and most importantly, a proud south Indian who seems to want to spend 10 months of the year exploring the wild corners of north, north-east and central India.
- What inspired you to become a naturalist? – I always loved wildlife but as a young school goer, neither I nor the people around me had the awareness on the career options that i can choose to follow this interest of mine. All we had heard about was wildlife filmmaking, biologists, conservationist, ‘activist’ (if i may say so)… but none of these appealed to me as much. Before joining my undergrad in engineering (the south indian way), i visited Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa with my family. Our naturalist/guide there, Cleo, with his enthusiasm, powerful storytelling, a great sense of humour, field-craft and knowledge, showed me the art of guiding and how one can be a great ambassador for a wilderness area or in-fact, for all the wilderness in the world. And that’s when i chose to be like him.
- An anecdote which epitomises your India? – Watching a tigress walk her family of three cubs down the road to the sheer delight of my British guests, all the while listening to the loud bollywood music from the village situated on the other side of the hill from us.
- One thing that you can’t live without? – A flight or train ticket to some place that has been booked ( I always have atleast one booked flight that takes me somewhere )
- One thing that you hate? – A horrible or non-existent work ethic.
- If you could change one thing about India what would it be? – The way its going, id split it up into 10 different countries. South Indians and Maharashtrians can fight over Goa for entertainment.
- Who is your greatest inspiration? – My Dad – showed me how to be content with what one has in life. Biggest step towards happiness.
- What is your favourite quote? – ‘The day you find the locals attractive, please leave my lodge’- Hashim Tyabji ( Let me add here that he didn’t mean to say that the locals arent attractive, just that he didnt want any trouble because of us young hot-blooeded south indian naturalists)
- I have noticed huge changes in India over the last few years but what is the biggest change you have noticed in India over the last 10 years? – Well i started noticing things about my country only 7 years ago ( im only 28 now) . I’d say the main thing that has changed is the freedom of the press. At one time we used to respect our news presenters, but that is literally non-existent these days.
- What do you think are the biggest challenges India faces over the next ten years? – Holding on to the 1% of protected forest land that is left in our country. It seems strange that there is 99 percent of ruined land in our country but they still seem to want to chew away from this 1% forest land to keep the country going. ( it atleast speaks a lot about the importance of well protected wilderness habitats)
- Which is the destination at the top of your bucket list? – Madagascar
- What is the one place you visited that you have NO desire to return to? – Dachigam National Park – got cheated so badly there that i wish id never been there or met those local ‘experts’.
- Book or Movie? – Movie mostly (I’m from the land of Rajnikanth), but must say that books are slowly working they’re way into the system.
- I am doing a survey to find India’s most popular breakfast, what is yours? – Podi Dosa ( Gun Powder and Ghee Dosa) in a restaurant chain called Sangeetha in Chennai.
- In retrospect, what is the one thing you wish you could have told your 20 year old self? ‘Its all going to be okay'( for sure till your 28), stop worrying so much’