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  • Writer's pictureChandana Banerjee

Life Meets the Lens – A Nature & Wildlife Retreat in the Palampur Forests

Featuring social enterprises and green businesses that help change the way we treat our Earth, help us go green & stay well + bring about change are one of the core pillars of the Gorgeous Girls Go Green e-magazine. Today, we have Vikram Singh & Apoorva Bhatia over for a chat about their green venture ‘Life Meets the Lens’ – a unique nature + life sciences based workshop in the forests and mountains of Palampur.

C. Tell us more about Life Meets the Lens.

V & A. Remember your Biology textbooks that you glanced hurriedly through just a few days before exams? We all remember being repulsed by the endless diagrams and the life processes explained in those textbooks. But we also remember having rejoiced in awe on spotting a mother bird feed its newborns in a nest, or when we peeled open a pea covering only to find a caterpillar, or even when we spent hours following an ant trail?

Life Meets the Lens is all about creating many such joyful moments to experience the abundance of life that our planet is gifted with. We have always been told that the number of living creatures found on our planet is so huge that it is almost beyond belief; but how many of us have stopped to observe even a tiny bit of this huge abundance?

One can appreciate the delicate beauty of interdependence of all living creatures on each other only when one witnesses all of this first hand. Through Life Meets the Lens, we wish to create a shared space for people to explore biodiversity and natural ecosystems. The idea is to create a community of nature enthusiasts who will come together as often as possible to explore and understand how life prospers in diverse forms even in the tiniest corners of this planet.

Daily hikes to the jungle, technical observations, specimen collections, microscope observations and many interesting group activities form the routine of these retreats. We explore and try to understand life through experiences, observations and dialogue. We also discuss many Life Sciences concepts such as creation and evolution of life, habitat, food, defense mechanisms, ecosystems etc. This unique retreat uses photography as a medium to spark conversations around Life on earth. Participants use their cameras to document and share their observations with each other.

We have also set up a small museum which is open for participants to visit and explore our collection which includes hundreds of little things from the forests around - dead insects, bones, skulls, seeds and so much more!

C. Who are the people behind Life Meets the Lens & what has been your story so far?

Vikram - co-founder Life Meets the Lens

Vikram: I am 30, & an avid Life Sciences enthusiast and an equally passionate photographer.

I spent four years working in the pharmacovigilance industry but quit my well-paying job in search for work that was meaningful and inspiring. Born in the Himalayan town of Palampur, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the forest collecting seeds, dead insects, stones, skulls and bones of dead animals, feathers, mushrooms and everything else that I could sneak into the house without being caught. Today my collection has grown so overwhelmingly that we have now started a museum to showcase the rich diversity of the Palampur region.

Apoorva (in yellow) - co-founded Life Meets the Lens

Apoorva: I am 27 and have spent most of my life so far in the chaos of big cities. A new world opened up before me when I left my job as a marketing professional and moved to Palampur almost two years back. Both Vikram and I also worked as teachers in a small NGO in Palampur called Aavishkaar, that makes Math and Science learning experiential and fun for students. I now believe that one can learn more about life and self if one spends more time observing the invisible forces of nature.

Our Location: Our retreats happen in a beautiful hamlet called Kandbari nestled in the heart of the Dhauladhar range of Himalayas. The village is 12-14 km from the town of Palampur in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Surrounded by streams and dense forests, the location offers a perfect spot for biodiversity explorations and is the starting point of many treks to the deep forest. The village and the surrounding areas are home to hundreds and thousands of species of flora and fauna. It is a traditional mountain village with rich cultural values.

The beginning: Officially we conducted our first workshop in January, 2018, but we launched the initiative last year on 8th October 2017 J. So far, we have organized three such retreats and there are two more coming up in September and November.

C. Why do you do what you do?

V & A. In the hustle bustle of wanting to have a rich and successful life, we often fail to see the grand scheme of nature in which we humans exist just for the same reasons that other living creatures do. People have somehow isolated themselves from the natural environment and fail to recognize the sheer abundance of other life forms that exist on this planet.

Through our workshops, we want people to look at nature from a scientific lens and try to understand the beautifully woven web of interdependence in which no living being is more important than the other, including humans. This, we believe, will help people not only appreciate our planet for what it is but also understand the need to care for it more.

C. Please tell us about your offerings.

V & A. We conduct 3-7 days retreats for people from non-scientific background who have little knowledge about the natural world but are still looking forward to get to know it better. Usually, these workshops are offered to individuals who are 15 years and above.

We also conduct workshops for schools. Most of the biology, including biodiversity, is still taught through books and series of endless diagrams. Studying Life Sciences within the four walls of the room with textbooks being your only guiding point can drain any love for the subject that could have been experienced if studying it in nature. We believe that Life Science needs to be brought to life by taking it out of the realm of the textbook and be taught in the outdoors. For this, we conduct many engaging workshops for school teachers and children.

Besides this we also offer workshops to parents who might love the idea of exploring the natural world together with their children. It gives parents and opportunity to connect closely with their children and children also get a wonderful opportunity to explore natural science as one of the viable academic options for future.

C. What is the workshop fee for your retreats?

V & A. We charge Rs 5500-7000 per participant for three days which includes workshop fee, equipment - collection box, observation lens, forceps, and gloves, stay and food (3 meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner).

C. What is your philosophy and thought process behind this venture?

V & A. Well, the idea is to build a community of people who will learn to care about nature and all life forms in it. We talk a lot about conservation these days, without fully explaining the events that have lead to us talking about the need for conservation. We feel that people do not find themselves directly affected by the disappearance of different species on this planet. Nor do they understand how their own indirect actions have lead to the depletion of populations of other life forms. Before, we explain to people the repercussions of their actions, it is also very important to create a love-bond between humans and other living creatures.

C. What have been your challenges in growing a green/social biz?

V & A. Our workshops often succeed in creating an environment of understanding and care that the natural world deserves. People learn the role that humans can play for the better health of the planet. But our biggest challenge is to sensitize people not just in the form of mere awareness but in a manner that leads to productive action and permanent behavior change. Also, another major challenge so far has been spreading the word about our work -- like reaching out to a larger audience every time we announce a new workshop and convincing people to become a part of this unique experience. But we are counting on time to address these challenges. With a growing pool of participants, our workshop gets a lot of recommendations and slowly we have started to become a small community of sincere nature-enthusiasts.

C. What tips would you offer someone who wants to start a green business?

V & A. That they should never get swayed away with the business aspect of their initiative. Social enterprises should never become in awe of any profits that come their way. Many a times, profits may create a distance between present goals and the original social purpose. It’s important to continually remind one-self to stay focused since any social enterprise looking to create change will also have to invest in time and patience. When many years go by without tasting success (monetary or social change), one still needs to not lose focus.

C. Please share any links through which people can find out about your workshops.

V & A. Facebookpage:

Workshop video:

Thanks for joining us, Vikram & Apoorva!

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