I recently went on an elephant ride and a tiger safari to the Jim Corbett tiger reserve. I used the vOICe on both occasions and was able to enjoy both of them much more. Neither of these experiences were customized for the blind in any way. I was with a group of sighted friends.
The elephant safari was much richer in visual detail since I was closer to the jungle. The tiger safari was in an open Maruti Gypsy. It had bars on the top to hold and was open on all sides. Yes, I could get excellent side views but looking sideways is difficult since my neck is not used to it.
So, what did I see?
- I could detect changes in flora so I could tell if plants were growing close together or were spaced apart.
- Detect the water flowing in the river due to its characteristic haziness as it flowed over the rocks.
- See different plants that the guide was pointing out which was exactly the same thing my sighted friends were experiencing.
- See other structures such as huts and other manmade construction sites.
- See the face of the elephant. It was quite narrow.
- Dodge the leaves on the side of the trail by using the rate of change of leaf density as a guide to distance.
You may well wonder what happened to the animals? Well, they are rather hard to spot even for sighted people. Take the spotted dear as an example. The only reason anyone could spot them was because they moved. The idea is to spot motion quickly. As for the rest, the animals were too far away for me to really see. I was unable to keep changing the frame rate of the vOICe since I wanted detail and changing the frame rate to a higher one would have led to my losing detail.
Tips for other users who take the vOICe or similar technology on a safari
- Forget about taking still images. Record a video if you can. This is because animals do not wait for you. The jungle is theirs and they go at whatever speed they like. Your sighted companions may be too stunned or too busy to help you capture a still image.
- Be careful of light levels. It can be dark in the jungle or the light can be muted thanks to the trees. It was when I went.
- You may have to stand to see certain birds and animals so keep things portable.
- Wear headphones that do not mask environmental noise. There is plenty of bird song to hear. It is fun trying to look in the direction of interesting bird calls and try and spot the birds.
- Keep your nose sharp since there is much to smell.
- Beware of looking at the inside of the vehicle you are in. This is a great temptation since if your neck is anything like mine, you will tire looking sideways. This is not a problem on the elephant safari since you are sitting sideways on the elephant’s back.
- The usual tips about batteries apply.
Would I have still enjoyed the safaris without the vOICe?
The answer is “not as much.” I would not have been able to participate fully in the experience and would have been stuck with second hand information. Visitors are not allowed to leave the vehicle in Jim Corbett due to safety conserns so I would not have been able to touch the plants let alone see how the forest changed. Yes, some kind of echo location may have helpped but I am not good enough to detect changes in types of trees etc. so the ability to sense things remotely came in handy.