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Author: Chitra Iyer
Published on:
May 29, 2022

6 Learning Lessons from Jim Corbett’s Jungle

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My recent solo trip to Jim Corbett National Park was an eye opener because I had frankly never experienced what living right inside the forest may feel like.

I’ve described it in my review of Vanghat, the jungle lodge I stayed at for a week in the jungle, right by the Ramganga river. 

In this post, I want to share 6 interesting lessons about learning that I distilled by observing the jungle and its inhabitants over a week:

1. Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

After years of using this term at work and at home, I think I literally got the meaning at Corbett. You go into the jungle desperately wanting to see a tiger in its wild surroundings. Your binoculars scan the landscape over and over again, hoping to catch a glimpse (although tigers are so camouflaged that even if it were sitting 20 feet from the untrained eye, you would not see it). 

Until my wise naturalist-guide Harish advised me,

“Madam, don’t decide what you want to see. Instead, try and see what the forest decides to show you today.” 

And when I did, the jungle began to reveal its wonders and secrets to me. Who would have thought, for example, that watching an eagle digging for crabs in the river rocks could be so captivating; or that a school of golden Mahseer swimming placidly by in a jungle stream could be such a time-and-heart-stopping moment. 

You just have to stop being fixated on seeing a tiger.

Learning lesson

There are a million learning opportunities swirling around us and our children, every day. As parents, let’s not fixate on the tiger- be it curriculum or exams or even the right answers. Let us be open to the possibility that learning happens in many different ways, it’s happening all around us, whether we see it or not. Let’s be open to participate in their ever-evolving and ongoing learning process more purposefully. 

2. Create an enabling environment, not an easy one. 

In the jungle, nothing and no one is indispensable. It is a zero-waste operation on a gargantuan scale. Everything has a place, a purpose, a time to be of service to their fellow inhabitants; and a time to cause trouble, all for the greater good. 

Be it the tiny grey treepies which run the tiger spas and dental centres, the humble lichens growing on remote trees that give the world ‘litmus paper’, or the termite mounds that are a signal of a healthy forest, each is a critical piece of the environmental jigsaw.

There are no unrealistic expectations, (tigers will still eat deer even if they can co-exist!) but there is an honour code. There are many challenges and disappointments, even for the mighty tiger; but each creature is doing what it must to not just survive, but to help its species survive and evolve. 

Mother nature has no need for micro-managers, but she’s put a series of checks and balances in place to create an environment that is challenging but fair.

Learning lesson

Often, as parents, we put pressure on ourselves - take all the responsibility of our child’s studies, of the home, of fixing every problem that arises. But we have to remember that this is their journey. We can’t make it for them. We are co-travellers, co-inhabitants, not their keepers. 

Our job is not to make learning easy or fun, but to build a healthy learning environment where they learn their way. I call it going SLOW on the F.A.S.T (parental Fear, Anxiety, Stress and Tension)! We cannot change the world they live in, we cannot make it safer. But we can make our children more able to respond to the world in a healthy way, and empower them to protect themselves.

A termite hill at Jim Corbett National parkc
A termite hill sounds like bad news but is actually vital for a healthy forest ecosystem

3. Looking is easy - seeing takes time. 

In the jungle, shadows come alive, blobs scamper away, vines slither silently out of reach, rocks suddenly rise up and soar into the sky. Not everything is as it seems. Pretty things could be traps, humble beings could be vital to the forest’s survival. 

A bird is no longer just a bird - it takes on an identity - a sunbird, a flycatcher or a drongo. A monkey is no longer just a monkey - as I observe it for hours from my machaan, it becomes the Himalayan Black-faced langur. Specifically the langur that studies the leaves in front of it for hours, with unwavering concentration. 

Learning lesson

When we observe phenomena, when we take time to stay with a problem, when we ask the right questions without hurrying to find correct answers is when we are truly able to break through the surface of the topic we are trying to learn. 

We may even find the solution was hiding in plain sight all along, like a brown fish owl that was literally right in front of me, but it took me 10 minutes to spot it due to its camouflage and stillness.

4. Life cannot be experienced in silos.

Jungle animals experience life using all their six senses - smell, sight, hearing, touch, taste and intuition - all come together to help them make sense of what they are experiencing and how they should respond. 

In the jungle, everything coalesces into one - you can’t separate the threads without unravelling a larger tapestry. Experiencing something in this manner elevates the entire sensorial experience to the next level. 

Learning lesson

When we learn using all our senses as one, we are able to elevate our experience to a different level. If we reduce learning to a purely one-dimensional intellectual exercise, an academic pursuit or a single perspective, we miss out on experiencing the true power of knowledge.

5. Go deep like the big cats.

Tigers don’t need to ‘be seen’, they only speak when absolutely needed, they have no ambiguity about how they like to live their life. It’s not because they are shy or afraid - it just suits them best to be this way, plus they have no need for anyone’s approval. 

But it would be wrong to think that they have no dangers or that they are invincible. Unlike the more flexible leopards that have a near-100% kill rate on land, trees, and water, tigers do not. In fact tigers only have around a 25% success rate with their kills. And yet, they are the kings of their 8X10 sq km territory.

Learning lesson

As humans, we clamour to be seen and heard, always trying to be noticed with our noise. We need constant approval of our achievements. The polar opposite of tigers. Working on our learning abilities helps us build mastery so we can do our own thing without needing anyone’s approval. 

Despite the dangers and the risks, when our authentic self guides us, we are able to rise above the noise and become masters of our own 8X10 sqft territory.


6. Go wide like the elephants. 

If you’ve seen the movie about the Willams’ sisters’ father, you will know what I mean when I say elephants are like King Richard. They make their own path. They too seek no one’s approval. They have no need for subtlety, often uprooting an entire tree just to get to a bunch of bananas. 

They do not limit themselves to territories like tigers - they roam, explore, adventure where they please; but they have a master plan to which they work. There is an order in their chaos - they remember what they have done, where they have been, whom they encountered. And they recall and use that info when needed.

Learning lesson

When it comes to learning, be a polymath. Go deep, but also go wide. Learn to make the connections you need, so you can recall and apply what you have learned across a wide swathe of subjects and create new meaning, new knowledge.

So, those were my 6 insights about learning. Hope you enjoyed them! Have you slow-travelled to any place recently?? I’d love to hear about it!

Also read:

6 Socratic questions all students should learn to ask (Printable resource)

Creating a Healthy Learning Environment at Home: The Parent-friendly Guide

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