The tiger reserves in the state shut down today and will only reopen on September 30. However, the state government has announced that the buffer zones around them will remain open to tourists. This move is welcomed by those who are dependent on wildlife tourism for a livelihood.
The move, called Buffer Mein Safar (journeys in the buffer zones), hopes to give a fillip to monsoon tourism in the state.
Panna, Madhya Pradesh
For tourists who enjoy jungle treks and wildlife sightings as well those whose livelihood is dependent on tourism in Madhya Pradesh, there is good news.
Tiger Reserves and National parks in the state are usually closed for visitors during the monsoon for three whole months, between July 1 and September 30. But, this year, the state government has declared that tourist activity in the buffer zones of the tiger reserves at Panna, Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench and Satpura will be allowed. This will provide great relief to those who depend on tourism for a livelihood.
The move, called Buffer Mein Safar (journeys in the buffer zones), hopes to give a fillip to monsoon tourism in the state. “Tourists will be given permission to visit the buffer zones of Akola and Jhinna, around the Panna Tiger Reserve,” Uttam Kumar Sharma, field operator of the Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR), told Gaon Connection. All Corona guidelines will be strictly adhered to, he added.
While Panna Tiger Reserve shuts down for the monsoon today (June 30), all arrangements have been made to receive tourists in the buffer zones and ensure their comfort and safety, Sharma said.
Stones have been laid on muddy pathways that are likely to get slushy in the rains, Sharma added. The core of the tiger reserve, however, will remain out of bounds for tourists. “This is because the streams and rivers flowing in the area are full and the water sometimes washes away the pathways. Also, this is the mating season, and the animals need solitude and peace,” Sharma explained.
The move comes in the wake of dwindling revenue from tiger reserves following the pandemic. It is a measure that will help those whose income depends solely on tourism.
According to statistics from the Panna Tiger Reserve, in 2018-19, the reserve earned Rs 22.2 million as revenue. In 2019-20, the amount came down to Rs 18 million. In 2020-21, the revenue so far has been just Rs 10 million.
Several measures were taken in order to enhance tourist experience at the buffer zones. “On June 23, a meeting was held among hotel and resort owners, nature guides and drivers. A list was drawn up of interesting places the tourists could visit,” Jarande Ishwar Ramhari, deputy director of the Panna Tiger Reserve, told Gaon Connection.
There are several viewpoints, waterfalls, ravines and forests the tourists can enjoy in the buffer zones, Ramhari added.
Opening up the buffer zones has brought respite to those dependent on tourism for a living.
Due to the COVID19 pandemic, there has been a drastic reduction in tourist footfall in Madhya Pradesh, both from within and outside the country. Hotels and resorts remained closed as did the world-renowned Khajuraho Temples.
But with the state’s initiatives to encourage monsoon tourism, there is a buzz of activity. The buffer zone at Panna opened up for tourism on June 1. At the nearby Mandala village, several tourist resorts are located, including those belonging to the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation.
“The pandemic brought all work to a halt. Even when the lockdown was lifted, only fifteen to thirty per cent of businesses worked,” Raghunandan Singh Chundawat, who owns a resort on the banks of the Ken river, told Gaon Connection. The opening up of buffer zones for tourism would bring relief, he added.
“The initiative will bring relief to hotel owners as well as guides and vehicle owners and drivers,” Pradeep Singh Rathore, director of a hotel in the area, told Gaon Connection.
“There have been tiger sightings at the Akola buffer zone,” Puneet Sharma, a nature guide, told Gaon Connection. This will be a source of great excitement to the tourists, he said.
According to Ramhari, the deputy director of Panna, the cost of hiring a vehicle at Akola or Jhinna would be Rs 1,200. “In both places, tourists could enjoy the forest not just during the day, but also go on night safaris,” he said. Entry to the buffer zone happens in three shifts — in the morning, evening and at nighttime.
There are several beautiful waterfalls — such as Pandav and Raneh waterfalls — and valleys in the area that are worth visiting, Ramhari pointed out. The Ken Gharial Sanctuary, not too far from the Khajuraho temple, is the other attraction.
According to Ramhari, the entry fee for two wheelers to visit Pandav Falls is Rs 100; three wheelers would have to pay Rs 200 and cars will be charged Rs 300. At Raneh, the entry fee is Rs 200, Rs 400 and Rs 600, respectively.
There are about six or seven tigers that roam the buffer zone at the Panna Reserve. “Tigress P 234 moves around this area along with her two seventeen-month-old cubs Heera and Panna,” Lalbabu Tiwari, forest official at Akola buffer zone, told Gaon Connection.
The cubs are a favourite with the tourists, added Rahul Purohit, forest range officer at Akola. “In fact, the names Heera and Panna were chosen by tourists,” Purohit told Gaon Connection.
“There is also an ancient rock painting here that tourists come to see in large numbers,” he said.
Traditionally, buffer zones have remained shut to tourists along with the core of the tiger reserves, and so the state government’s decision this year to keep them open has been warmly welcomed. For tourists who venture into these zones during the monsoons, there will be plenty of opportunities for wildlife sightings, promise the authorities.
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