Imagine a weekend getaway, where you are trudging through a densely forested stretch, where wild animals drop by now and then, and the only way for you to enter this natural haven is through a 40-minute floating exercise down a river!
Seems straight out of a fantastical movie right?
Well, if you happen to visit ‘Our Land’ in Kanchanaburi, which is about 150 km away from Bangkok in Thailand, all your doubts will be dispelled in a jiffy!
Situated near Thailand’s oldest wildlife sanctuary Salakpra, this 15-acre stretch is a nature lover’s paradise, which is the result of a passion project pursued by Kerala-born Thai resident Vijo Varghese, about three-and-a-half years ago.
Tired of the repetitive monotony of corporate life, Vijo was always driven by the idea of reconnecting with nature but never really found time for it.
However a few trips abroad—one to South Africa for work, and the other a vacation to Nepal—rekindled his affinity towards nature and before long, he was on a lookout for a plot for lease where he could finally achieve what he had envisioned for years.
Fortunately, that pursuit fell in place soon and along came Vijo’s childhood friend Anshu, who was equally smitten with the idea and readily agreed to be part of the venture.
“Initially, the idea had only been to get out in nature and connect. The conservation part somehow worked into the idea like a jigsaw puzzle and today, Our World hosts inquisitive and nature loving people from all over the world since its opening on April 26, 2015,” says Vijo to The Better India.
The wondrous facet about this pristine stretch of forested land is how it acts as a wildlife corridor for wild animals, thanks to its proximity to the sanctuary.
Elephants, wild boars, golden jackals and several deer species like Sambar, Chevrotain and Muntjac to intermittent visitors including long-tailed macaque and rare bird species like the hornbill and the hoopoe roam freely here. One could say that Our Land stands tall as the perfect embodiment of environmental conservation in a time where green patches across the world are on a race against time.
“Here one gets to bask in the entirety of nature and learn from it. Right from floating into the reserve to living in cottages that are solar powered and meets its water requirements through rainwater harvesting, everything is designed to help people explore nature sustainably while experiencing something that we call a ‘digital detox,’” he adds enthusiastically.
So besides living in a natural reserve and seeing wild animals in close vicinity, what all can one do at Our Land?
Sticking true to their conservational pursuits, a host of interesting activities ranging from regular stuff like stargazing, camping, bonfires and fishing to engaging in pursuits such as snake education course, night elephant watching and even setting up a wildlife ‘salt lick,’ have been set up at the reserve.
Additionally, one can help the local population resolve the wild elephant conflict crisis, take part in guide-assisted forest walks, spot local flora and fauna, learn basic Thai cooking and plant new trees for the wild elephants.
These aside, there are several other nature conservation projects spearheaded at Our Land that one can joyfully invest their time and energy in.
So how does Vijo figure out the gargantuan task of managing the 15-acre stretch that is now teeming with wild animals and birds and has guests living over at the place from time to time?
“After acquiring the land from a known acquaintance on a lease, I would initially visit the plot on a weekend basis because of my professional commitments. Overcome by the desire to be closer to nature and wholeheartedly devote more time for the reserve, I decided to bid goodbye to corporate life and focus on Our Land seriously. This led to the idea of opening up the space to more people so that they could also experience what I felt in the midst of nature. That way, there would also be some flow of revenue, which in turn would help us with funds,” he explains.
Vijo is assisted by a workforce of four, who live and work on Our Land. “While two are permanent staff, the other two are part-time employees. We also have 15 part-time volunteers from the local area, who together helped us build the rudimentary structures where we live here now. Anshu also drops in to check in on the place, when he finds time from his professional commitments,” he adds.
Now that he has forayed into the path of nature and conservation, Vijo envisions for Our Land to emerge as a site that fosters educational programmes.
“We really want to cater outbound educational programmes for students from across the world that will help ignite greater environmental consciousness amidst the growing generation. More than anyone else, this would significantly help in conditioning young minds to become cognizant and possibly engage in pursuits towards the world they are living in,” adds a hopeful Vijo.
As for future plans, Vijo also hopes of taking his conservational crusades to rest of the world, with particular interest of initiation with his native land, Kerala.
“It has been my biggest dream, and I hope to see it materialise in some time. We want to place ourselves as a land conservation company on the map,” he says on a closing note.
We admire the amount of dedication and commitment that Vijo, Anshu and his entire team have invested towards the upkeep of Our Land and set a remarkable precedent for those aspiring to work in the field of conservation.
We hope that more people are consciously inspired to engage in conservation activities in their capacity for a better world.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)
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