Farmers have field day hosting 'sleep with lions' for tourists
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik
Some tourists who did the Asiatic lion tour in Diwali took the Big B line - "Agar aap sher dil hai to rahiye sheron ke sath" - in the Gujarat tourism ad campaign, 'Khushboo Gujarat Ki,' very seriously. These bravehearts who ventured into the heavily-packed Gir in the Diwali vacations were forced to spend the nights in the open fields in make shift tents, right in the den of the jungle king.
With the tourism infrastructure unable to cope with the tourist traffic, local farmers set up makeshift tents in their fields and let them out to make a quick buck. These tents were all over the field on a 10 to 15 km stretch between Sasan and Talala. Each of these tents were available for Rs 500-1000 per night, depending on what facilities one asked for.
A senior forest officer admitted that the proposition was fraught with risk as tents were set up exactly where wild animals, especially big cats prowled at nights. However, the forest department was not in a position to do anything, as fields were in the revenue area.
Also, since these tents were in private fields there prerequisite permission was not required. Officials said that Sasan Gir could host over 5000 guests daily, but the room capacity in Gir was barely of 400 beds. Of these, around 200 beds were in good hotels, while the rest were in shabby places and even these were occupied.
This year, Gir, between November 4 and November 13, saw over 33,000 tourists who took the lion safari. However, this figure was almost double as several people chose to visit Devaliya park after failing to get permits for Gir.
Officials said that beat guards networked with farmers to set up these tents and entered into a business partnership with them where they got a commission for every tourist they recommended for these farm stays.
A farmer refusing to be identified said the villagers had set up over 20 tents, and from November 6 to15 all these tents were booked. He said that the guests were warned that they would only get tents to sleep in and no other services would be available.
Another beat guard said that he had earned around Rs 20,000 through this network. He had partnered with a farmer and had taken tourist who could not find accommodation and got 30 per cent of what the farmer earned. He said that they had around 10 tents in one field and another 10 in nearby field.
State tourism minister Jaynarayan Vyas admits that tourism facilities are lacking in the state. "Tourism was no where in the focus in the past. It was only before three years that the tourism was given its due weightage. This is a service sector and one has to constantly go in for upgradation of the facilities," he said.