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Friday, January 6, 2012

Tiger, Safari and Holiday

December end comes holiday season, families with packed suitcases storm to railway stations and airports to catch their preferred vehicle toward holiday destination of their choice. The basic idea behind this hush bush is of forgetting the work load at office and spend some quality time with family and friends and to get back home with memorable photographs of places visited and enjoyed.
Holiday with tiger is a good idea and visiting tiger reserves to have a glimpse of the king of the Indian forest is catching up very fast. Kanha National Park in central India is one such destination where tourists from all over the world come to see the magnificent big cat and other animals free roaming in their home territory. I have been visiting Kanha for last 18 years and have seen it growing, with villages around being sleepy once upon a time to now where everyone is trying to make a buck, earn and live happily. Local population has certainly gained a lot from growing tourism around national parks.

It was a few years back when I realized that most of the hotels and resorts around Kanha are running with only commercial angle in view. All are made up of the same brick and cement structure in which we live in cities. And came a thought, why not plan something where tourists can enjoy the tribal housing structures made of mud and clay but with all amenities. To make our town inhabitant see the benefit of age old clay and mud housing bought to perfection with time by local tribesmen. With this came Kanha Village Eco Resort, a concept which I felt will be liked by city dwellers a lot. My motive was never commercial but to just make enough money to take out my interest part with which I would have been more than happy but more so to change the concept of Tigers and only Tigers to nature walks, bird watching, tribal village visits and like.

Most of the tourists visiting national parks have only one thing in mind – Tiger, they come to see it and are not interested in anything else. For this we have Gypsy vehicles available which take you around the park for a safari in search of the stripped cat. Once forest department realized that number of vehicles entering the national park is very high and rapidly growing every year a number ban was imposed to keep a check on pollution and harmful impact of moving vehicles. With this started a woe for the tourists who come to the national park not knowing that only a certain number of vehicles are permitted and all entry tickets have been booked well in advance. So now your holiday is being wasted, no audience with his majesty – King Tiger and all money gone to drain. And, with this started problems this holiday season which I had not realized earlier.

Now a day’s many bookings come directly through online booking agencies and people do not get in touch with the hotel until a day or two before reaching. Many tourists who visited our property were stranded for not getting an entry to the national park and felt we have betrayed them. Once who had planned well, talked to people who have visited earlier or called us to check could take a safari but what about others. The idea of enjoying the holiday with picnics, nature walks, bird watching etc. etc. which I was very much interested in pushing ahead all failed. I am quoting a few incidents here along with the lessons we have learnt and hope this will help other tourists and hoteliers alike.

Our Guest Mr. SG had booked through one travel agency and paid for safaris well in advance (almost 45 days) but the travel agent failed to pass on required details even after continuous requests. In the mean time all safari tickets for requisite dates got booked. We got a call from the guest only a couple of days before coming and had to tell them about it along with that we will try our best to do something but cannot commit anything so late and also will try our best to make their holiday a memorable one. We could arrange only 2 entry tickets instead of 3 and here started the problems which we had never anticipated. Mr. SG was so annoyed that he started beating and mistreating hotel staff members abusing with all the best possible obscene words. Our staff members had been trying hard to arrange entry tickets against any last moment cancellations but with this incidence they requested guests to directly contact the ticket counter. Not only the holiday of guests got ruined our staff members had to bear for mistake of someone else.

Incidence 2: One Guest MR SPS had booked after talking directly with our resort manager who had it seems said he will try to do his best and manage but cannot assure a safari. When Mrs. & Mr. SPS reached the resort and came to know that it is not possible to get an entry ticket and about the incidence of a day earlier (Mr. SG) also that the only way out is that he will have to personally ask the ticket counter personals where a few tickets are kept for last minute travelers or if entry ticket is available due to last minute cancellations. This was possible only in the afternoon so we sent the couple for nature walk and bird watching which they seemed to be very much interested in. After coming back from nature walk, I don’t know what realization set in and Mr. SPS left for his home without any further communication. Later I was informed that he had asked for a vehicle to go to entry gate and was told we have a two wheeler available and not a car and if required we can call a taxi if he insists for four wheeler but he will have to pay for it. It seems Mr. SPS thought we are just trying to make money out of him and got a bit angry and left. Miscommunication, misunderstanding or both?

Incidence 3: We got a very last minute booking through a travel agent and clearly communicated that we are not very sure if safari tickets will be available or not but that we will try to help the tourists. These tourists were booked at some other resort well in advance and had their safari tickets made but the manager of this resort did not pass them to us rather got them cancelled. Guests had to change the resort at the last moment due to some maintenance problem at the property which was not possible to sort out immediately. Guest Mr. V was not very happy as such firstly due to change of resort at the last moment and now with availability of one safari only instead of two. One of our staff members had an entry ticket which he had booked for his personal guests and tried to help and send Mr. V and family on it but the forest department did not allow it and returned them from the entry gate. Mr. V had to settle down with only one safari but, he took it very lightly and considered our problem realizing that our staff members are trying their best to help out but we felt really bad since he had lost a safari and a chance to enjoy the forest.

I realized that mostly tourists coming to any forest area especially tiger reserve comes with the sole idea of seeing a tiger and only the tiger. They are not interested in anything like an eco holiday with other activities and so it is always the best to contact the guest directly and ask for booking of safari which if required should be done immediately.

To book a safari vehicle with seating capacity of maximum 6 people following details are needed and I request all tourists to give the details to your accommodation provider well in advance so as you do not miss a safari and ruin your holiday. Name, age and fathers / husband’s name of all guests along with address of at least one guest with a photo id proof and its number. Do remember to carry the original ID proof with you when entering the park as it is checked before any entry.

You can also book your entry ticket directly through the website of MP Online. Go to the website, click on citizen services, go to national parks under the head reservations, click on book now and book your ticket directly.