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Snaking & charming her way through wilderness

Gowri Varanashi is on a journey to sensitise people towards urban biodiversity, writes Babli Yadav
Last Updated : 06 June 2023, 05:27 IST

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Pic Credit Paul Rosolie.
Pic Credit Paul Rosolie.
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At 7 am, on a weekend morning, a walk in the city’s favourite Lalbagh is a been there, done that for most Bengalureans. Early risers, morning walkers, joggers throng the place, shoes on, sweat high, to walk amidst a green space.

A little later, weekend picnickers, tourists, and casual strollers find themselves in the company of the botanical garden that has trees as old as 200 years. Considerably, the longest-living residents of the city that Namma Ooru has evolved to be. How many stop by to say hello to them, though? Gowri Varanashi, a climber, naturalist and educator is helping people arrange a meet-cute with the city’s trees, flowers, edible wild greens, snakes, insects and every other form of life that thrives in its current urban ecosystem, building and sharing a symbiotic relationship. Yes, even moss and lichen.

Gowri spent nine years of her life guiding in the Amazon rainforest before settling down in Bengaluru during the pandemic. Gowri, who hails from Udupi, holds snakes close to her chest and lets them know they are safe, climbs unforgiving rocks leading a feminist movement driving other women to trudge high and climb mountains. “Nature is everywhere, we don’t have to go looking for it in some special forest or something,” she says, adding that while deep forests do have their own charm, nature is all around us, even in urban setups. “Bengaluru is surrounded by scrub forests. We have spotted sloth bears, leopards, civet cats, porcupines, and wild boars during our walks. Once during a night walk, we met a bamboo pit viper snake. All one needs to connect with them is a sensorial immersion.”

During her day and night walks in and around the city with Wilderness Ways, an organisation she founded in 2020, she ensures that all participants undergo introductory activities that help them slow down, hear and see better, and perhaps, experience touch. “I work a lot around snakes and during our nature camps, if we are lucky to spot a snake, I try to make sure that the kids get to gently touch the snake to let go of all fear,” she shares adding, “snakes are one of the most mistaken wildlife but once they sense they are in a safe environment, they get comfortable, often laying relaxed in your arms.”

During a recently held walk at Lalbagh, the small group comprising children and adults listened to stories from Gowri of the lichen forming on Lalbagh’s royal palm trees. Did you know that lichen is formed by the symbiosis coming together of algae and fungus? While algae provide food in their relationship, fungus supplies water. Lichen is also a great indicator of air quality. Everything in nature is interconnected and to be truly able to understand its functioning, one needs to be open to seeing every link in the chain.

Post the pandemic, nature connects, tours to national parks and jungle stays have become a common sighting. People are more willing to be in the company of wild beings. However, the concept of the wild remains constrained to tigers, elephants, and other big animals. A spider is just as much part of the wilderness and the ecosystem; so is the fig wasp that works relentlessly to pollinate the giant ficus trees, embracing death in the process.

“When I was guiding in the Peru region, I always felt more excited showing around the smaller, wilder beings while others spent their time looking for big, wild animals. If you look at the earth’s biomass, small living beings take up the largest space,” Gowri shares while narrating how she once spotted a big, beautiful white, black and yellow tarantula on a tree at Cubbon Park.

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Published 03 June 2023, 19:10 IST

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