Pro athlete trades cricket for a life in India’s wilderness

Travel
(CNN) — Tucked in the heart of a lush, expanding forest, within the deep jungles of Karnataka, is The Bison, a luxury ecotourism resort. It lies between two of India’s premier tiger reserves, Bandipur National Park and Nagarhole National Park.

The owner, Saad Bin Jung, spends his days caring for the animals and capturing their beauty through photography.

It’s been 30 years since he traded his career as a first-class cricket player for a life in the wilderness.

Saad Bin Jung, owner of The Bison, spends his days capturing stunning wildlife photos, including this beauty.

Saad Bin Jung, owner of The Bison, spends his days capturing stunning wildlife photos, including this beauty.

Courtesy Bedi Universal

Cricket runs through Jung’s blood. His uncle is Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, former captain of the Indian cricket team, and he grew up playing with the foreign teams visiting his family home in Hyderabad.

“For me, cricket was something that I had to do,” he recalls.

When he wasn’t playing, Jung and his family spent time in the jungles of Bhopal.

Descended from the royal Pataudi family, his brothers and cousins kept the centuries old tradition of tiger hunting alive while he stayed back home with his mother.

“I couldn’t even look at the dying animal’s eyes, it would literally make me cry,” recalls Jung.

Saad Jung On picnic with begums of Bhopal - Mother and Grandma 3

Jung, pictured here on a picnic with his family, spent his childhood in the jungles of Bhopal.

Saad Bin Jung

“Let’s take these people along”

Today, he is again surrounded by exotic and endangered animals. But his aim is to protect them.

“When I found Bandipur, that’s exactly what I wanted. I had my elephants, I had my people, I had the tribes. I had conservation. So I dedicated my life to the people and the animals.”

He’s carrying on a legacy started by the Maharaja of Mysuru in the 1880s, whose conservation efforts in the region prevented it from turning into a plantation. The eco-biospheres stood against time, telling a story of how the world looked hundreds of years ago.

Jung isn’t only saving the environment, he’s also taking care of the area’s indigenous people.

He says the local tribes living in the nearby village of Gundathur were forgotten by the government, and the Bison Resort picked up the slack and started building a relationship with them.

“We said, let’s take these people along and make them understand their position in the world of conservation.”

The Bison is located in one of the world's most biodiverse regions.

The Bison is located in one of the world’s most biodiverse regions.

Courtesy Bedi Universal

It took years to establish trust between him and the villagers, who initially met him with hostility and burned down the resort’s huts and boats.

Jung now ensures their basic essentials are met, educates them about the importance of conservation and offers them job opportunities.

The Bison’s visitors get an intimate look into their lives as well. Jung walks guests through the villages and takes them into local homes.

“We want to show you how beautiful our people are, and what rural India is all about.”

The Bison offers guests a variety of luxury tents to choose from.

The Bison offers guests a variety of luxury tents to choose from.

Courtesy The Bison

Staying at one of the most biodiverse regions in the world also gives them a chance to have close encounters with the animals.

These include leopards sleeping on the trees, elephants swimming in the Kabini river and an elusive black panther who comes to visit every three to four days.

The Bison offers a variety of luxurious tents, which, according to the resort, are inspired by east African camps and the old hunting lodges of the Raj.

It’s part of a growing ecotourism trend in India, and tourists get their pick of 104 national parks and 514 wildlife sanctuaries spread across the country.

But Jung says the government isn’t cooperating with his conservation efforts, and their decision to close off 80% of the Indian forests to the public is doing more harm than good.

“We need to drop the barriers, we need to come back into dialog. We need to really change from a protection mode to conservation mode,” he says.

“I’ve always believed that if you come to me in India, and I am unable to bring the heart and soul of this beautiful country and put it at your feet, then I’ll be failing my country.”

The Bison, Gundathur Village, Karapura, Kabini Road, Nisana Hobli, Heggadadevankote, Karnataka 571114, India; +91 80 4127 8708

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