A jungle safari guide by profession and wildlife enthusiast by passion, Babu Ram Mahato’s (pic) life mission is to put Nepal on world map as a wildlife tourism destination. And he believes the best way to achieve that is through word of mouth promotion. Which is why he makes sure not one of his guests at the Chitwan National Park leaves dissatisfied after a tour of the jungle.
“He has eight wives, he is living in paradise,” jokes Mahato about a massive 34-year-old gharial as he shows visitors around the Crocodile Breeding Centre at Kasara Resort in Chitwan.
From migratory patterns of Siberian ducks to the Coriolis effect on vines growing on trees, this self-taught guide is a walking Wikipedia of Chitwan's flora and fauna.
“I grew up studying the plants and animals around me. The prospect of sharing this knowledge with others was appealing,” explains Mahato on his decision to become a guide. Despite studying only upto SLC, Mahato has never stopped learning. “I buy a lot of books and read them in my free time. The more I learn, the better information I can give,” he says.
At 15, Mahato lost his father and being the eldest of four siblings was responsible for taking care of the family. He first worked as a labourer in his village, then moved to Pokhara to work as a lab assistant and later went to Dubai.
Pics: Bikram Rai
“My only aim in going out of the country was to earn enough to buy land in my town,” he says. “We have citizenship, but what is a man without his own home?”
Then after three years working in the UAE in a job he didn't enjoy, Mahato's love for ecology called him back home. “Working in a desert like Dubai made me realise what I was missing. I constantly used to think of my country, of the lush greenery and the scenic views,” recalls Mahato.
And this time upon his return, with hard work he got his dream job. “I took training for six months and then began working as a guide,” says Mahato, who now lives with his wife and two children near the national park. He is presently working for Kasara Resort.
In his four years of working as a safari guide, Mahato has learnt Spanish and Chinese to communicate with tourists. He is also working to hone his English skills, referring to a dictionary every time he doesn’t understand a word.
Mahato admits that guides in the area need better training, especially when it comes to engaging with tourists. Relating to his experience of losing his cousin to a man-eating tiger, he stresses that we still only know very little about the animal kingdom. “I still don’t think of myself as a naturalist, or a scientist. I still have a long way to go,” he says.
Despite all that he has been through, Mahato feels he is finally at home in the jungle. “I know this is the field for me, this is my final destination.”
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