“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”...Gary Snyder
My this trip also fulfilled two of my long pending wishes, I was telling to the guide in a casual chat during the Gypsy ride that I haven't seen Wild cat in good day light & don't have images & then each time I have seen leopard at Kanha it was on ground whereas the stories of leopard being seen on the tree are on every ones tongue at Kanha! And my both wish came true in this trip; I saw a full grown furry wild cat warming in winter sun & a leopard couple on tree! What more an avid forest lover can expect from the forest? Now you will ask then why such heading to this sharing? Well over the years during my visits in nearly every season & month of the year I have never seen so less numbers of tourists in my trip! The dhabas providing yummy food outside the park were deserted with only the locals having cup of tea & chatting about the summer season, wishing it will generate good business. Never such was the scene, even on a week-end there were Gipsy's available outside the park at visiting hours & after safari time no rush seen at the famous Burman or Mohan dhaba for snacks & tea by the tourist on coldest of the day!
Is it sign of decline of the numero uno position of the park amongst forest lovers? May be yes as the reasons are many for this situation. Despite sincere efforts from the park director & the staff for maintaining the park & protecting wild life, yet why the tourist’s numbers is decreasing is the question which I asked to guides, drivers & localities. The reasons are multi folded, no doubt about the forest its evergreen as it was years back but still the fact remains that out of 100 tourists visiting the park 90 wants to see the tiger only! And with the limited budget because of costing of stay, Gypsy rents & park fees not all tourists can afford to take more than 2 or 3 safaris. And they want to see the tiger in that much short time which indeed is a difficult job in a forest which is spread over 1600 sq kilometers! With Tiger show has been stopped & with better options available in form of Tadoba, Nagzira, Pench MP & Pench Maharashtra; many tourists especially coming from Mumbai & Pune are opting for these destinations. Mainly they are much nearer to Nagpur than Kanha i.e. all of these parks are hardly two hour’s drive from central place like Nagpur where has with the road conditions Kanha is nearly 6 hour drive. Making it wasting two days i.e. going & coming from Nagpur in the process & then the travel costs are there. A private taxi to Kanha from Nagpur takes at least 7000 rupees to drop & pickup. Also the park entry charges at Maharashtra parks are one third of Kanha park entry charges making them much cheaper option. And then at last there is sure sighting of the king of the forest i.e. the Tiger at Tadoba & Nagzira because the spread is small & the forest is dry making sighting of Tiger as well other animals easy than that in Kanha. Though it’s unfortunate that a forest is lot more than just tiger yet the fact remains that we are unable to wipe out the forest safaris tag of "See Tiger", so the main or only attraction of the safari is the tiger!
Another factor is things like routes & rotation system of vehicles as well drivers. It may be good in keeping benefit of equal opportunities for all locals who are dependent on the park & tourists for their day to day earnings but a good driver is something very much important in forest & a regular tourist if wants to have a driver with whom he is tuned, then having new driver on each safari is very disturbing. Because you need to get tuned with driver for stopping at proper timing & picking up right moment of an animal or a bird. Why can’t the park management make separate policy for the tourists which are taking or booking more than six safaris at a time & allot them zone as well driver as per their wish or demand? As there always going to be a difference between the interests of an armature visitor & frequent professional visitor. We can keep some tickets quota as privileged clients & charge them higher for that. Such flexibility will help in making a professional tourist to come more often than getting discouraged with the present safari arrangements. Also there is a high need of not just registering the drivers but give them training like it’s given to the guides; about calls , driving manners & work in hand with the guide. Another issue is of booking, now with limited vehicles entry i.e. in all hardly hundred with all four zones is Kanha, Kisli, Sari & Mukki & online booking with 90 days in advance facility; most of the bookings will be blocked by foreigners or travel agencies making it impossible for an individual family. And Indian tourists are never famous for planning travel in advance their holidays so this again is major aspect in deleting Kanha from the travel agenda in vacation. There has to be some quota available for 30 days booking plans. As I have witnessed, the zone bookings were showing full online & actually there were no vehicles in park, this is because though the 1500 rupees park entry fee for one safari may seem big for common Indian tourists but its peanuts for the foreigners or big travel houses. So they book in advance& may not come in actual as for them the cancellation charges loss is nothing.
Then there are things like many major routes have been closed abruptly making sightings more rare & difficult. Whereas parks like Pench have made new routes making forest more explorable off-course keeping within guidelines of Supreme Court. When Kanha has such vast landscape I personally think that they should not only open up the blocked routes but should carve & make new routes as after all people come there to see more & more of forest & not just to see the same age old routes. Also no toilet facilities on the safari way is there, one has to come to center or at gate for the same, making this very inconvenient for the elderly people as well kids especially in cold winters of Kanha nature’s call does make it difficult on a safari with now urinals at frequent intervals in the park. Agreed there is issue of hygiene & sanitation at forest chowkies but we can have now water less urinals with modern technology in. As we can install them without harming the environment even this can be helpful for the park staff too. And we can have them sponsored by corporate.
One more significant thing I observed this time is high increase in numbers of guides as well drivers eating heavily tobacco or guthka, the percentage are alarming & at very young age. Reasons may be any like extreme weather or work stress of odd hours working yet forest department needs to do something about it as conservation of forest means conserving the people also surrounding the forest. Also the poor working condition of helpers or bell boys at resorts is another neglected issue. These are mostly local boys & they work on very less payment & nearly full day working making them away from education thus an entire generation is being denied the basic education here. Also they are not financially self sufficient with the poor salary they are getting & are unable to buy even basic things like shoes or sweaters to protect themselves from extreme cold.
Many a will ask what’s big deal in above things as what it matters if tourists come or don't at Kanha & what if an entire generation is getting addicted to guthka from a remote place like Kanha?
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