The Kadar people of the Anamalai Hills in southern India exhibit a profound knowledge and appreciation for nature, which they share with travelers who take forest walks with them. In an opinion piece published in the New Indian Express newspaper on April 2, travel writer and tour leader Pravin Shanmughanandam explains why he is so deeply impressed by the indigenous guides.

A towering crest of the Anamalai Hills in southwestern Tamil Nadu
A towering crest of the Anamalai Hills in southwestern Tamil Nadu (Photo by Marcus334 in Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

He writes that he has learned a “profound wisdom” from the Kadar about the meanings of a bird calling, a leaf rustling, or a branch breaking in the woods. All of these sounds may mean something. The forest is like a living, breathing creature. He has gained a whole new perspective on nature by walking beside the Kadar in their forests.

To say the naturalist and tour leader is deeply impressed by the Kadar would be an understatement. For about four years he has enjoyed more than walking in the woods with them. As they sit around the fire in the evenings, the Kadar share with him their stories of close encounters with tigers, elephants, and sloth bears. They also share their traditional beliefs about the souls of their ancestors residing in the wilderness.

Two women and their children, probably Kadar, showing off their fine clothing
Tribal family, old and young women plus children, probably Kadar, photographed in a Kadar area near Kochi, Kerala (Photo by Eileen Delhi on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The Kadar express the importance of existing peacefully with one another as well as with the forest. When they go for walks in the woods, they have learned to accept its authority over them. They deeply respect all forms of life. Their forest walks are unscripted, and they don’t mind the fact that they may get lost—though they normally know their way intimately.

Shanmughanandam is impressed that the Kadar not only survive but thrive in the forests of the Anamalai Hills—leeches and monsoon rains only fuel their knowledge of, and appreciation for, their natural environment.