Bandhavgarh was formed as a National Park in 1968 and wildlife tourism started here in 1978.
M.P State Tourism Devl Corpn was formed in 1977-78 and when they started their unit here then Tourism Department started promoting Kanha and Bandhavgarh National Parks in M.P.
Initially there were more foreign visitors in the park than Indian Tourists.
Saturday baiting for Tigers was started only to attract the Indian tourists. Those were the days when Forest Department policy was to let people understand that Tiger is not a maneater. Those were the tough years for tourism. No infrastructure and no proper publicity for tourism. Visit of any Journalist was greeted with open arms.
Wildlife Tourism in M.P. started with no proper guide or driver in lodges. Some people saw the opportunity and private lodges started mushrooming and that became major point of their publicity against the Govt run organisation. At one time Tourism Corpn lodges use to cater 80% or more tourists visiting the park. Tourism corpn did all the hard work of promoting these destinations but could not maintain the standard in long run or one can say could not fulfil the demand of wildlife tourists.
Wildlife tourism was cheap, it looked cheap only because for thirty years hardly any tariff was changed except the vehicle charges. Till mid 90s the entry fee for a jeep was only Rs 10/ per day and guide fee was Rs 30 per trip. Those were the days when me and Kay use to go to Chakradhara meadow for our afternoon tea. We use to park our Gypsy in Chakradhara meadow to spend next two hours or so. Almost everyday we saw a tiger during those hours.
Spending forty rupees and two liter of petrol for Tea was a costly affair for us.
This is the time when few British Travel agents started adding Bandhavgarh in their itinerary and a constant flow of foreign tourists started visiting this place. This trend kept on going for another ten or twelve years and then, after the entry of some new lodges in M.P., suddenly forest department was told that you are selling your Tigers very cheap. The entry fee should be much much higher.
People who suggested this to the department some of them were working here since last decade or so but because their boss is changed so they started singing the song as told by their bosses. This was a game plan of making the wildlife tourism costlier and eliminating the local tourism but this was the time when Indian economy was also growing and people who wanted to see the Tiger started visiting the park.
Hidden agenda by suggesting this of these lodges was that making the park so costly that locals could not afford it and by that we will have the park solely for ourselves. But their this plan failed miserably due to economical growth in the country.
We know people from the places like Katni Damoh Jaitpuri Shadol Rewa and Jablapur who were visiting Bandhavgarh on an average twice in a month in the season. In those days parks use to get tourists not crowd.
Major changes in wildlife Tourism came after the Tourism Policy came through supreme court and tourism area was restricted to 20% of the core area. The reasons which were given in the favor of animal welfare were proven wrong by the animals itself.
Wildlife tourism could not recover since this 20% order passed by the court. The policies of online bookings were also not very helpful for a foreigner to plan their holiday. A person who plans their holiday months and years in advance wants a confirmation for his booking. This is one of the biggest drawback in this booking system. There should be some quota open for throughout the season in online booking system so if someone is planning to come in next April or May then one confirm his booking the day the online booking opens for the season. What they call it Early bird, here there is no early bird here but sab dhaan baais panseri so with this kind of booking system we lose business to those states who opens their booking partially for whole season and one can confirm the bookings more than four months in advance.
I feel that minimum three vehicles in each zone should be available for whole season as it use to be for few season before, when the online booking started in 2009 or so.
Bandhavgarh lost its major middle class business from foreign countries for two reasons:
1 . Lodges could not provide them proper facilities as promised.
2. Online booking system is never a foreign tourist friendly. Four months is very less time for assuring a confirmed booking.
I shall not go here on services provide by lodges on this blog but actually they are the main culprit because of whom the locals lost their income. Here it's not the question of wages but the question is of services and extra income for locals in the form of TIP.
Along with all the odds which press and some people cry about Bandhavgarh, it's still a good place to view Tiger and some wildlife in Central India.
We failed to make the guides and drivers to be tourism friendly in the park. Most of the drivers just care for their own guest and they spin in the park in the search of Tiger. In this case if any other tourist is watching / photographing Monkey's or deer then they just pass the spot without realising that they have spoiled the game for others. I know some people who stopped coming here for this reason only.
Hope things will improve in the future but by that time the whole trend of wildlife tourism will be different here.