Tourism is flourishing in Ranthambore, with hotels mushrooming around the tiger in its reserve. Till the mid-1990s, there were just over 10 hotels in and around the forests of the reserve and in the town of Sawai Madhopur some 12 kilometres (km) from the gate of the national park. Now there are 33, of which 26 are prominent. Six new hotels are under construction. Average room rents vary between Rs 400 a night to a staggering Rs 30,000 for a night of ultra-deluxe luxury in the midst of the wild tigers. Most hotels are permanent structures to house their guests but some tented accommodation is also available. About five hotels (including the ones owned by the Taj and Oberoi groups) offer five-star facilities. It is not clear in every case who owns which hotel, but it is estimated that while the big-buck places are outsider-owned, smaller (relatively cheaper) hotels are owned by local people.
The size of the tourist trade can be gleaned from forest department estimates.In 2004-05, the department says that about 100,000 people visited and its receipts at the gate were Rs 1.67 crore. But this is a small proportion of the tourist earning.
The tourists pay the forest department gate fees. But they also pay the hotels charges to stay in their rooms. The volume of this business is more difficult to assess. The Tiger Task Force report, submitted in August 2005 to the prime minister, estimates, on the basis of data supplied to it by officials, that the annual turnover from the 21 top hotels is Rs 21.81 crore. If this is correct, then the park (and tigers) are poor gainers from the business of pleasure and education.
Lack of regulation has meant that many hotels have come up on agricultural or charagah (grazing) land, within a 500-metre radius of the park boundary. "The demand for new hotels has led to the sky-rocketing of land prices,' says a local hotelier. Along the Ranthambore road, land prices have gone up from Rs 1.25 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh per hectare (ha) 10 years back to anywhere from Rs 30 lakh to Rs 40 lakh per ha today, depending on the proximity to the park entrance. "Due to the high prices villagers prefer to sell the land near the park,' says Hemraj Meena, a guide at the tiger reserve.
Most hotels are located along the Ranthambore road, which runs from Sawai Madhopur to the park entrance. A number of hotels are located very close to the forest boundary. According to 2003 records of the field director of the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve, 15 hotels are located within one km of the forest boundary. Of these, 12 are located within 500 metres, three at a distance of zero metre from the forest boundary and one within the forest area (see graphic and table in PDF format: Too close to nature).Since then, more hotels have been added to the category of too-close-for-comfort. In addition, land adjacent to the park is being bought and converted into farms. Many are just buying the land so that they can build hotels in the future. In effect, this high-value real estate is undergoing a transformation
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