As of May 2020, there are 105 national parks encompassing an area of 40,501.13 square kilometres in India. They are established to preserve wildlife, save flora and fauna and restore natural ecological balance, making them akin to wildlife sanctuaries. Bans on developmental, forestry, poaching, hunting, and grazing on cultivation in national parks also create fertile grounds for biodiversity conservation. India travel consultant Jess explores how tourism, when done right, can help with conservation efforts.
Despite being confronted with a range of detrimental human activities and lasting damages, India’s national parks are armed with a single, unified purpose. All the different features of the national parks make for a rainbow of diversity, where varying species of animals and forms of ecotourism are present. Alpine and flower valleys, tiger reserves, bird sanctuaries, marine, reptile, and coastal parks (even a floating national park)—the world is your oyster.
India’s national parks are also home to a great number of endemic animals such as The Royal Bengal tiger, one-horned rhino, Nilgiri Blue Robin, Jerdon’s Corser, to name a few. Others include jackals, elephants, leopards, and marsh crocodiles. The scenic and natural beauty attracts flocks of tourists to its doors from all around the world (35,000 to 40,000 tourists annually), accounting for a third of India’s tourism.
My most recent trip to India opened my eyes to the conservation efforts in the tourist sector. I spotted my first tiger in the wild. In the wake of climate change and extinction of animal species, the travel decisions of tourists can make or further break the environment. Armed with the knowledge, I chose to stay at an eco-lodge and a luxury camp because of their owners’ commitment they show in protecting and expanding national parks. They provided the most unique setting and experience.
My first destination I visited as an eco-tourist was Panna National Park, located in Panna and Chattarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. It was established by the Government of India in 1981, declared a Tiger Reserve in 1994, and earned the Award of Excellence in 2007.
The park’s success was hard-earned. In 2008, the park lost all its tigers, save two to four lucky ones that escaped the poachers’ wrath. Today, its tiger population is thriving again since tigers were reintroduced from Bandhavgarh and Kanha. Assiduous monitoring and protection measures are in place to ensure conditions are stable. Apart from being well known for being a famed and popular tiger reserve, it also features a Jungle Safari in which tourists can feast their eyes on a myriad of animals including Sloth Bear Pangolins, Indian wolves, Rusty Spotted Cats, Indian foxes, and more.
The second place we stayed at was The Eco Lodge, Sari at Toria, comprising eight beautiful cottages fabricated in the mud with thatched roofs, which is set on the fringe of the beautiful Ken River, close to Panna national park and the temples of Khajuraho. Every morning of our stay there, we rose early to take a morning boat ride with the resident naturalist to sight birds and wildlife in the river. When afternoon came, we ventured into the park to see more of the mysterious wildlife that roams there.
Our wonderful hosts and conservationists, Joanna and Raghu, expounded their experience in the conservation field, which inspired us to realize how vital the tourism industry is as a conservationist tool to help save Asia’s forests and wildlife. Many of these beautiful lodges are set up on the borderlands of the National Parks, and their guests who visit the parks are a natural deterrent to the poachers. Joanna and Raghu also took matters to their own hands by buying up vast amounts of land in the area to stop them from being converted into farmland. They also do this to keep animals away from threatening farmers’ livelihoods.
Another choice we made as eco-tourists was staying in Jamtara Wildlife Lodge, further South in Pench National Park. The founder Mr Amit Sankhala was inspired by his grandfather, the legendary Mr Kailash Sankhala, to open this camp in 2014. Mr Kailash Sankhala won the Civilian Award in the 1970s because of his contributions as the first Director of Project Tiger. In his time, he promoted eco-tourism voraciously, which led to the creation of Tiger Reserves. With the establishment of Jamtara Wilderness Camp, Mr Amit Sankhala continues his family’s legacy. The lodge is made up of ten luxury tents surrounded by majestic Arjuna Trees and an ancient Banyan. The experience is enhanced by the wildlife experts who work there, who are all very enthusiastic in articulating their deep knowledge of the local flora and fauna.
The main attraction of the camp is their ‘star bed’, also known as the Machaan—a raised platform over a farm field cloaked under a mere mosquito net. The interior of the tents is well furnished with large beds, solid bathrooms, and wood floors, brightly lit, and airy canvas walls. Mr Amit Sankhala hopes to bring awareness to the displacement of wildlife by practising arable farming, and to have more people come to experience the ‘star bed’. He firmly believes that his land deserves a title as a part of the national park as well.
If you want to help the environment and have fun while travelling at the same time, visiting national parks in India is a great place to start. Panna National Park, Sari at Toria, and Jamtara Wildlife Lodge are all dedicated to bringing welfare to locals and operate without harming nature. This allows its visitors to enjoy an authentic and meaningful experience when travelling in India.