Dudhwa National Park along with Kishanpur WLS and Katarniaghat WLS form the Dudhwa Tiger reserve which covers around 1283 sq. km. The area is protected under Project Tiger. The river Sharda which originates from Nepal acts as a life line much like the river Ramganga in Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve. Pilibhit Tiger Reserve which covers another 800 sq. km is just few kilometers away. These jungles in Uttar Pardesh along with Rajaji and Corbett in Uttarakhand and part of Nepal were once connected and used to provide a large corridor for Asiatic elephants to migrate.
But those days are gone. All these forests are now isolated from each other or are partially connected here and there. This story is same everywhere whether it is central India forests or jungles down south as all these mighty jungles have undergone the wrath of industrialization and urbanization. However, despite all that there are many Indian jungles which come out as the best not only in India but also on the world’s tourism map.
Till date Dudhwa remains isolated on the tourism map as compared to many other jungles in India, As far as the distance is concerned, Dudhwa is hardly 400 km away from the national capital – few kilometers less than the distance between Delhi and Ranthambhore and takes around 2 hours more than Delhi to Nainital. When I talk to people from the wildlife community, I have noticed that most of the people have high regard for Dudhwa – once made famous by Billy Arjan Singh. It is a well-known jungle but a lot less visited.
Dudhwa, according to me, is one of the finest Indian jungle which was declared as a WLS in 1958 to protect the swamp deer (also known as barasingha). Later on, in 1977 it was declared as a national park. Ten years later the park was declared as a tiger reserve and Kishanpur WLS as well as Katarniaghat WLS were added to it. Large swamp areas surrounded by tall Sal forests and wide grasslands – Dudhwa makes the perfect habitat for tigers, leopards and elephant. In the mid 80’s few rhinos were relocated from Pobitora WLS, Assam under the Rhino Rehabilitation project and today the park has 34 rhinos. Thousands of migratory birds visit the lake of Kishanpur WLS and other water bodies within the protected area. Much like Kaziranga NP, a world heritage site, Dudhwa TR provides similar ecosystem and is home to around 110 tigers. Bengal Florican, a critically endangered species of Indian bustard family is found in Dudhwa too. Around half of the world’s barasinghas live in Dudhwa itself.
During my recent visit to the park, I had observed why Dudhwa, despite having all the charm that a jungle must have, has not yet gained the popularity as compared to many other parks.
Stay: There is only one resort outside the park and the forest rest houses can cater not more than 20 visitors at a time. The resort outside the park in Dudhwa has only three people including the manager and the services are pathetic. The nearest town is Palia but there is no such hotel to cater distant tourists. I am told that the Hotel Landmark is the only hotel in the town that has a kitchen attached. The biggest worry is that the FRHs are usually occupied by VIPs and prior bookings to the FRH might get cancelled at the last minute in case of VIP visits.
Communication: Dudhwa is not well connected by train for people coming from Delhi or beyond. The biggest station is Shahjahanpur which is around 90 km away. Although the distance is not much (the distance between Katni and Bandhavgarh is more than this), one would always be skeptical about their own safety considering the fact that UP administration has a bad reputation. The same is the case for someone planning to visit by road. Although the roads are pretty good and traffic at night is very low from Bareilly to Dudhwa, but usually people from other parts won’t be comfortable driving this patch at night. I must mention-ed here that we didn’t encounter any inconvenience during our visit.
Information: Very limited information is available online. There is no facility to collect permits online or to book the FRH. One has to depend on a local person to arrange the same. However unlike many other parks, locals are not much involved here. Most of the tourists are from the nearby places and they usually drive down to Dudhwa just for a day. Dudhwa is more like a picnic spot. Moreover, private vehicles are allowed in the jungle and taking a guide is not a mandate leaving a small window for the locals to earn money. Therefore, for someone from a distance place planning a visit for the first time, finding a reliable person in Dudhwa is definitely not easy. In most of the popular parks in India, guides play a vital role to popularize the place and make the place most comfortable and convenient for tourists. However, Dudhwa has only a handful of experienced guides as on today. While news spread from Tadoba Andheri Tiger Reserve even when a tiger sneezes, information from Dudhwa hardly floats.
Administration: I am sure the park administrations are doing everything possible to protect the forest and the wildlife. But as far as developing tourism is concerned things are not up to the mark. The UP government has not initiated much to promote the park outside the state. The Lakhimpur Kheri district which has all these parks that I have mentioned above can be the biggest tourism attraction in Uttar Pradesh. But as of now it seems a distant reality. While discussing with a local citizen, I am told that people are demanding a separate district for Palia region and if the same comes true, Dudhwa might get some importance. Netagiri is also responsible on the development front, I am told by a local.
The Jungle: Despite the fact that Dudhwa is very rich, tiger sighting in Dudhwa is less. This is mainly due to the thick forestation and large swamp areas with tall grasslands. Tiger is the main attraction and perhaps the only reason why the parks in central India get top priority in the name of tiger tourism. Dudhwa lacks in this front.
Many of you might say that having less tourist footfall is good for the wildlife in Dudhwa. But we have two different views here. We have seen in the past how controlled tourism has contributed to the success of a park – many parks from central India are example of the same. Tourism contributes to the overall development of locals as well as the park itself. In many occasion, it is also observed that less visited parks are often the prime targets of poachers. Tourism in Dudhwa is neither flourishing nor in a controlled state which is sad.