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Here’s how crowd control can save lives at top trekking spots in Sahyadri ranges

Rising footfalls have been leading to overcrowding, accidents and pressure on local resources.

pune Updated: Apr 30, 2018 18:22 IST
Ashish Phadnis
Ashish Phadnis
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,crowd,control
A perceptible increase in the number of trekking groups at popular destinations in the Sahyadri ranges in western Maharashtra, coupled with rising numbers of accidents in recent years, has drawn attention to the need for intervention from the authorities. Along with growing incidents of trekkers getting lost, drowned or falling in gorges, the sheer increase in the number of trekking groups has meant overcrowding at these destinations, putting tremendous pressure on the sensitive flora and fauna and local resources.(HT PHOTO)

STRAP: Rising footfalls have been leading to overcrowding, accidents and pressure on local resources

A perceptible increase in the number of trekking groups at popular destinations in the Sahyadri ranges in western Maharashtra, coupled with rising numbers of accidents in recent years, has drawn attention to the need for intervention from the authorities.

Along with growing incidents of trekkers getting lost, drowned or falling in gorges, the sheer increase in the number of trekking groups has meant overcrowding at these destinations, putting tremendous pressure on the sensitive flora and fauna and local resources.

Previously, trekking-related accidents used to occur mainly during the monsoons, but now, rescue missions are being organised throughout the year.

Consequently, several experienced trekkers have raised concern over the alarming rise in the number of trekkers.

In the last week, the Maharashtra Ecotourism Development Board had announced their plans to develop 320 sites, which will not only earn revenue for the local villages, but the regular income will help in protecting biodiversity in the particular area.

These sites include several forts in Nashik, Pune, Thane and Kolhapur districts. The development of these forts will attract more trekkers and if proper measures are not taken it might lead to a disaster, feel experienced trekkers.

The case of the majestic Devkund waterfalls in Raigad district is a classic example. Footfalls at this destination increased several folds in recent years after this place became popular on social media.

The small number of forest officials and locals has been unable to control the crowds. In September 2017, two Pune trekkers lost their lives and as many as 55 had to be rescued from this region.

Finally, Vijay Suryavanshi, Raigad district collector ordered the local police to seal the place and prohibited anyone from going close to the waterfalls.

More than 600 trekkers and tourists were stopped from visiting this destination after the incident. The trekkers fear that if necessary measures are not taken then such cases will keep rising every year with an adverse impact on the adventure sport.

“It is necessary to introduce a few simple norms. A governing body of experts should be formed and they should categorise the places according to their degree of difficulty. Thus, high risk places like Lingana fort in Mahad taluka, Kalavantin Durg near Matheran, Alang-Madan-Kulang forts near Igatpuri, Nashik should have restricted entry,” said Onkar Oak, Pune trekker.

“Places that tend to get overcrowded with tourists and trekkers like Devkund, Andharban, Kaas plateau, Peb fort, Rajmachi and Harishchandragad should be managed for crowd control by the local authorities,” he added.

He stressed that the trek organisers hold the biggest responsibility. “They should be well versed with the place and its resource capacity. They should understand that the Sahyadri is our natural heritage and not a money making business. Taking large groups to such places will damage the biodiversity and also increase the chances of mishaps,” Oak said.

“Most of the forts are under the protection of the archaeology and forest departments and they don’t have enough manpower to monitor every place closely. The villagers and local tour guides don’t have the authority to say anything to the visitors.

“Consequently, the numbers go on rising till some death occurs and a blanket ban is imposed by the administration. This is unfortunate and unless we introduce some restrictions, such cases will keep on increasing,” Oak added.

Satish Marathe who runs Giridarshan Trekking Club said the sports ministry which manages adventure tourism has been ineffective in addressing these changes.

Marathe said that instead of blanket bans, there is a need for better management of trekking destinations. “We need to diversify the crowds. More places should be developed and promoted with a proper monitoring system. If we don’t provide the options, tourists and trekkers will find their own way leading to accidents such as the one at Devkund.”

“We have been organising treks to Devkund since the past four years when it was not well known. But suddenly, it became popular last year and hundreds of trekkers and tourists now flock to this place, posting pictures on social media,” he said.

Vikas Kaduskar of Raw Adventures said that the profile of trekkers too has changed. “Previously, trekkers were fascinated about visiting the forts. Now, however, climbing the ghats is the new trend,” he said.

Kaduskar suggested that the ‘resource capacity’ of important sites needs to be established after which the number of trekkers can be controlled through pre-bookings.

The local villagers can be trained as tour guides and entry points can be set up with the help of the forest department. The revenue generated will not only provide a livelihood to the villagers but also help in village development,” he said.

First Published: Apr 30, 2018 17:52 IST