Updated March 16th, 2024 at 20:48 IST

Advocate Turned Wildlife Photographer On A Journey To Document All The 55 Tiger Reserves In India

Aarzoo Khurana, formerly a lawyer turned wildlife photographer, leads an unparalleled expedition to capture all 55 tiger reserves across India

Reported by: Digital Desk
Advocate Turned Wildlife Photographer | Image:Aarzoo Khurana
Advertisement

New delhi: Aarzoo Khurana, formerly a lawyer turned nature photographer, leads an unparalleled expedition to capture all 55 tiger reserves across India under her pioneering endeavour, ATR (All Tiger Reserves). As she ventures into each reserve, she unveils the raw beauty of India's wilderness.

Who Is Aarzoo Khurana?

Aarzoo Khurana, once an advocate in the legal field, has transitioned into the world of wildlife photography, captivating audiences worldwide for over a decade. With a staggering global fan base exceeding 2 million across various social media platforms, her photographic masterpieces have graced the pages of publications such as Discovery, Nat Geo, BBC Earth, and Reader's Digest. Proudly representing Sony as a brand ambassador, Aarzoo's journey is one fueled by an unwavering passion for the jungles.

Aarzoo Khurana: Wildlife Photographer

The extraordinary journey of Aarzoo’s aims to redirect attention away from the often-visited tiger reserves, which dominate tourism, towards the remote and less-explored reserves. Aarzoo firmly believes that these hidden gems deserve recognition and that increasing tourism in these areas will stimulate local economies. 

Advertisement

With economic growth in these regions, revenue can be directed towards the enhancement of reserves. Moreover, the influx of tourists will provide substantial benefits to local communities, establishing a sustainable cycle of growth and conservation.

What Is ATR? 

ATR (All Tiger Reserve) is a groundbreaking project that has never been attempted in India before, standing for All Tiger Reserves. Led by Aarzoo and her dedicated team, this project aims to traverse all 55 tiger reserves across the country. 

A beautiful picture captured by Aarzoo Khurana

It's not just a journey; it's a documentation project of epic proportions. Aarzoo and her team are meticulously documenting every aspect of their adventure — what they do, where they go, and the fascinating people they meet along the way. 

Advertisement

Know about the incredible journey, its future 

Their incredible expedition commenced on October 1, 2023, and since then, they have ventured through 43 Tiger Reserves! Starting from the majestic Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, they traversed the tiger reserves of Rajasthan before embarking on a journey through Madhya Pradesh. Their path led them through Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, Odisha, and Assam, and presently, they are immersing themselves in the captivating landscapes of the Northeast.

Advertisement
 

Following this, their trajectory will take them north-east to cover all the tiger reserves in that region. The journey will end at Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve.

What inspired Aarzoo to pursue wildlife photography? 

Advertisement

Aarzoo had a life changing experience during her trip to Bharatpur, where she aimed to photograph Sarus cranes.

Strolling Deer: Image by Aarzoo Khurana

“It was the freezing winter, and the cranes had not yet arrived while I was patiently waiting in a marshland. At that point, I thought it was a complete waste of time to sit in that wet mud, waiting for a pair of birds that might or might not show up,” said Aarzoo. 

Advertisement

Aarzoo further added, “An hour later, my hands were freezing, but the birds finally came. I clicked away as much as I could. They called out and danced.”

A few moments later, as she looked at the images, there was one that stood out. The fog was gently falling around them; both cranes were looking up; the male had flared its feathers like a skirt; and the female was standing next to him, facing him. 

Advertisement

The golden light was piercing through their translucent feathers. In that second, it occurred to me that hardly anyone from my generation would sit for such a long time to photograph a bird as common as the Sarus crane in such a heavenly setting.

At that moment, she decided to be the bridge between the outer world and the forest. “I thought of focusing on the common subjects and creating some unique, uncommon frames for them.” Aarzoo added.

Advertisement

First experience venturing into the wild as a photographer

As the only child of cautious parents, persuading them to allow me to explore a forest was a monumental task. I had to fight to convince them to let me go to a forest for the first time. After days of arguments and fights, I finally went out,” says Aarzoo.

Advertisement

While she was there, walking down the path of the forest in the extreme winter, her hands were freezing, she felt drowsy from waking up at 4:30 AM that day, and felt uncomfortable carrying my camera bag, lens, and tripod. 

Baby monkey peeking from behind the tree/ image: Aarzoo Khurana

“It occurred to me that it's such a waste of time and energy for something we aren't even sure we will achieve. I kept second-guessing myself as I walked through, looking at a few birds, bearing that smell of dead fish that comes in a marshland. I thought this would be my first and last trip,” Aarzoo added further.

Advertisement

Fondest memory from her journeys into the many forests across India

Aarzoo said, “There are countless such instances. Every time I venture into the forest, a new memory is added to my collection of fond memories. One of those is from a recent trip to a tiger reserve during my ATR journey.”

Advertisement

Aarzoo reminisced about encountering a tigress named Katrina who had remarkably young cubs. 

“During my visit, the cubs were approximately 40–50 days old. I was particularly eager to witness the cubs as I had never before seen ones so young,” Aarzoo added.

Advertisement

“Tigresses typically maintain privacy during childbirth, usually revealing their cubs' presence after 2.5–3 months. Consequently, the youngest cubs I had previously seen were around 3-5 months old,” Aarzoo said further.

Through the lens of Aarzoo Khurana 

Right before the safari was about to end, one of her team members heard an alarm call. 

Advertisement

“We went to check and saw the tigress standing right there. With the evening light fading and the dense canopy above, visibility was limited. A couple of minutes later, she came closer to the Jeep, perhaps wanting to have a better look at what was going on. Later, she called out loudly, and one of the cubs came running to her. 

This little one was so small that he could barely walk, more like a trot really. It was an incredibly endearing sight, witnessing this tiny creature scampering towards his mother,” Aarzoo siad.

Advertisement

Advice be to a young female wildlife photographer

“I would say don't overthink before starting, and certainly don't plan a career in this way beforehand. In India, opportunities for wildlife photographers are limited. Pursue photography, learn the basics, and keep practising,” Aarzoo asserted.

Advertisement
Aarzoo Khurana 

She also said, “Find a safe place near your city where you can learn and practise the art. Focus on composition, study the area you plan to travel to. Find a travel companion (if possible) for reassurance, but most importantly, pursue your career and have a fallback option. Plan B is important. Start earning and become financially independent. Gradually, opportunities will come around.”

Project to document all the tiger reserves in India and its inspiration

Advertisement

Once, while Aarzoo was shooting in Bharatpur, a young child approached her and said, "Didi, are you the one who takes photos of birds? I live in Bharatpur, but I've never gone inside to see the birds. After seeing your photos, I really want to go and see how beautiful the birds are." says Aarzoo.

His words: “didi-didi, aap wahi didi ho na jo birds ke photo nikalti ho? Mein na bharatpur Mein rehta hu par kabhi andar birds dekhne nahi Aya, aapke photo dekhke mera man hua Mein bhi Jaake dekhu birds kitne sundar hain.” she added further.

Advertisement

Aarzoo was deeply moved by the fact that, if her photos could inspire this young boy to visit a forest he had never explored, despite living just 5 kilometers away, then what if I could showcase all of India's forests to others in my own way?

Challenges encountered 

“Yes, there were many challenges we faced during the journey. Initially, it was relatively easy as we visited well-explored tiger reserves. However, as we ventured into remote areas, finding contacts became increasingly difficult. Some tiger reserves had no ecotourism activities, so discovering ways to explore them presented a major challenge,” said Aarzoo. 

“Driving for long hours and finding accommodations in small villages was another task altogether. While most days were good and we could manage clean beds to sleep in, there were nights when we slept in small dormitories with mice scurrying around or even in the car, she added.

Advertisement
Aarzoo Khurana

According to her, “Food posed a huge challenge as well. While tourist spots offered good, hygienic options, in areas rarely visited by outsiders, restaurants were scarce. Being a vegetarian added to the challenge, as finding vegetarian food was sometimes problematic in some remote areas.

She also spoke about how the constant travel took a toll on their bodies. “Travelling extensively without proper nutrition and relying mostly on heavy restaurant food when available made it even more exhausting. Believe me, it was much more challenging than I had imagined,” she said.

Advertisement

CONCLUSION 

The ATR (All Tiger Reserves) has deeply influenced Aarzoo, leaving a lasting impression on both her not only as a photographer but also as an individual. 

Advertisement

“I believed I was tough before starting ATR, but this journey tested me to my limits. Being away from home for six continuous months without proper nutrition took a huge toll on both my body and mind”, says Aarzoo.

Aarzoo Khurana

Throughout this expedition, countless individuals nationwide stepped forward to lend their support to Aarzoo. 

Advertisement

“They tracked my whereabouts, offered assistance willingly, and facilitated contacts to simplify tasks. I am profoundly fortunate and indebted to each person who aided me; without their assistance, this venture would have been insurmountable,” said Aarzoo.

“I am also thankful to Sanket and Harsh, who joined me at various times and helped edit the enormous amount of data we gathered. In tough times, they were a tremendous support,” says Aarzoo.

Advertisement
 

Aarzoo also thanks her parents and teammates from Delhi, without whom this expedition would not have been possible.   

“I am deeply grateful for the unwavering support of my team in Delhi, particularly my dear friend Nishtha, and the constant encouragement from my parents during our conversations. Additionally, I express profound thanks to my close friend, Mr. Hemraj Singh, whose guidance and support were indispensable for the initiation and completion of the ATR project,” said Aarzoo Khurana.

Advertisement
 
Advertisement

Published March 16th, 2024 at 20:36 IST