Folk dances, organic food: Rajaji National Park resorts get 'creative' to attract tourists

By Shakoor Rather Rishikesh, Dec 9 (PTI) Resort owners at the Rajaji National Park are employing new ways in their endeavour to attract more tourists to the wildlife getaway, amid fears of low footfall after the Uttarakhand High Court restricted the number of Gypsy Safaris and banned the commercial use of animals for joy rides.The hotels are banking on a variety of activities such as yoga classes, nature walks, bird watching programmes, and adventure trips, in addition to folk performances and local culinary experience, to improve the numbers."The court decision has put a limit on the number of visitors to the Park," said Anil Painuly, forest range officer, Rajaji National Park.In its August decision, the court restricted the number of Gypsys hired by tourists for safari in Corbett and Rajaji tiger reserves, citing the breach of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.The order came as a setback for Gypsy owners and private resort owners even as environmentalists and wildlife activists welcomed the move."Earlier unlimited number of people could visit the Park daily, subject to the availability of vehicles. But now only 20 vehicles can go inside which means around 150 people can visit the park per day," Painuly said.Around 50 to 60 thousand people visited the park last season, including children and researchers, he noted.The resort owners said their business this year will be at least 20 to 25 per cent less compared to last year. As a result, they have tweaked their itineraries and are trying innovative activities to keep the flow of tourists going."The footfall at the Rajaji National Park and surrounding resorts have been affected after the order. Some people are now reluctant to come all the way without being assured of a Wildlife Safari," said D S Jeena, Resort Manager of the Forrest - Rajaji National Park, located about seven kilometers from the tiger reserve."In order to increase the footfall, we are introducing creative activities such as yoga classes, nature walks in the area around the Park, bird watching programmes, adventure trips and dining on the hill experiences," said Jeena, also a wildlife enthusiast."For evenings we can take guests in canter drives where they can also see wildlife in the wilderness around the resort. We are also providing rafting facilities. If people can't go on jungle safaris, they can go for rafting and visit the plethora of flora and fauna around," he said.Rajaji National Park boasts of over 500 elephants, at least 12 tigers, 250 panthers and a good prey base including spotted deer, sambar, wild boar, barking deer, bears, and over 400 bird species."We are not encouraging music or DJ parties on purpose because people come here to leave behind the noise of the city and spend some time in the calm and quiet environment of nature, and we also don't want to disturb the wildlife," said Bala Singh Parihar, who works at the Leisure Hotels.The hotel chain, which runs a tent-based resort around the Park, has added various activities to keep their guests entertained such as bonfires, where people can also listen to the sounds of the wild birds and animals and their mating calls."We are also thinking about introducing a combined experience of local performances and culinary treats. The guests will be served local foods while enjoying the Kumaoni folk dance," added Jeena.Another element, he said, the resort owners are adding to attract tourists is the experience of organic food served fresh from the garden."We are starting the concept of activity managers who can sensitise children about conserving the wildlife through activities such as games, quizzes and painting competitions," added Parihar.The Gypsy association in Rajaji National Park and Haridwar, whose livelihood is interconnected with the footfall at the Park, has filed an appeal in the court to ease the restrictions, Painuly said."Villagers will bear the brunt of the restriction on Gypsy Safaris if they are not lifted soon. Even the rafters association will suffer. These are the two main activities for the tourists. Many people have taken loans to start small businesses related to tourism," said a Gypsy driver, who takes tourists on Safaris.Asked how the business would cope if the restriction on Gypsys is not relaxed, Jeena said "We respect the court order. Our visitors are mostly people who are looking for a calm and relaxing environment and those who want to beat the stress. This includes companies and groups who come to unwind.""Although getting them to spot a tiger is always a bonus, we will find a way to attract them through our new strategy," he added. PTI SAR MHN