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‘Gripped by wanderlust, Indians are now rediscovering Incredible India’

With Covid-19 making international travel challenging, Deepika Agrahari, an alumna of Apeejay Panchsheel Park and owner of a resort near Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, says the domestic tourism will get a boost in the post-pandemic phase as most Indians would prefer to ‘travel local’.

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Hailing from Delhi, Deepika completed her class 12 from Apeejay in 1991, before pursuing B.A. (Hons.) Philosophy at Kamala Nehru College, Delhi University. She then did a Diploma in Business management from Young Women Christian Association (YWCA). In 1995, after getting married, she got involved in her in-laws’ family business. In 2018, she opened Tendu Leaf Jungle Resort, near Panna Tiger Reserve, Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh. In an informal chat, she explains the importance of sustainability in the hospitality industry, how Covid presented a huge opportunity for domestic tourism, shares tips for a jungle safari, and more. Edited excerpts:

What was your thought behind opening the resort?

I along with my family often used to visit Panna Tiger Reserve during vacations. I loved the location, topography, climate and exotic flora and fauna of the region. The air quality is excellent and it provides a secluded retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Everything about Panna was beautiful. Our family already had a hotel in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, so I thought it would be a wise idea to come-up with an eco-friendly resort in Panna.

Reducing the environmental impact of hotels is a key issue. How important is it for hotels to care about sustainability?

Concerns about the environment are increasing, and so is the market for eco-friendly hotels. Consumers too emphasise the need for environmentally-friendly practices in hotels. That’s why, our eco-friendly resort has been built using recycled material – both the wood and metal used for the construction of cottages have been recycled. The Resort relies on solar energy and we minimise waste by using recycled products where possible and discourage the use of plastic. Food for our guests is also sourced from the resort’s organic garden. We also engaged local artisans to draw Gond paintings, a traditional art of Madhya Pradesh that belongs to the Gond tribe, on hotel walls. I believe hotels are very much a part of their community. Travellers look at them as their entry point into that part of the region. We are the accommodation provider member of the Travel Operators for Tigers campaign (TOFTigers). TOFTigers is a global travel industry initiative which aims to advocate, catalyse and support a more responsible and sustainable approach to wildlife tourism in India and Nepal’s Tiger Reserves. Overall, the effort is to be in sync with surroundings.

What’s your advice to tourists who are planning to visit Panna Tiger Reserve?

One should respect the sanctity of a reserve. It would be a good idea to become familiar with the general do’s and don’ts in the park. The right time to spot tigers is usually the hot and dry season as tigers tend to come out frequently especially near river beds and other watering holes. However, summers are really hot so it could get a bit unbearable for the tourists. Winters (November to March) too is a great time for visiting the reserve as the climate is pleasant and there are also high chances of spotting animals. To increase the success of spotting a tiger on a safari, you must head into the forests either early in the morning or late in the evening. Chatting away loudly or playing music is absolutely discouraged during a safari. Apart from the big cat, the Panna Tiger Reserve flaunts a variety of fabulous residents such as the leopard, nilgai, chinkara, chital, porcupine and sambhar. There are various bird species also. Keep in mind that Panna is not just about tigers.

Apart from the tiger reserve, what are the other tourist destinations of Panna?

Beyond a Tiger Safari one can visit a lot of places in and around Panna. The area has many mesmerising waterfalls. You can visit nearby diamond mines or can explore Nachna, home to one of the earliest surviving temples in Central India. Ajaygarh Fort which is elevated at a height of 688 metres is also popular among tourists and so is Madla, a picturesque village on the banks of the River Ken. The place has so much to offer.

Do you think that Indians are preferring local travel in the post-pandemic phase?

Yes. Due to the pandemic, Indians gripped by wanderlust are now rediscovering Incredible India and as result we are seeing good footfalls. A majority of Indians would now prefer to go local and explore domestic destinations instead of international ones. And, why not? India has over 38 UNESCO world heritage sites and 668 protected areas which can attract significant tourism activities. Apart from bringing us closer to our roots, domestic tourism can play a big role in the revival of our tourism and hospitality industry. Even our Prime Minister has time and again appealed to fellow citizens to visit domestic tourist destinations.

Dheeraj Sharma is Asst. Editor (Newsroom). He covers events, webinars, conducts interviews and brings you exciting news snippets. He has over 10 years' of experience in prominent media organizations. He takes pleasure in the small things in life and believes a healthy work-life balance is key to happiness. You can reach him at [email protected]

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