Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Nov 11, 2012, 01.07AM IST
Well-known as the setting for Rudyard Kipling‘s ‘Jungle Book‘, the Pench Tiger Reserve on the Maharashtra side is now an open treasure trove. Unexplored and kept out of bounds from wildlife lovers for years together, the mystique forest is now opening its doors and is set to be an ideal tourist destination.
Till yesterday, Pench was known for its mundane 30-km route from Sillari to Saddle Dam. Half of the route is a tar road where sightings are almost nil. Although the rest of the forest trail keeps you guessing, tourists are wary of sightings on this route due to disturbance from fishermen who sneak into the reserve for fishing in Totladoh reservoir from villages on the periphery of Pench.
Now, under the initiative taken by MS Reddy, field director and chief conservator of forests (CCF) of Pench, four new routes have been opened this season. It is a bonanza of sorts for the tourists overriding the common apprehension that Pench would be worst sufferer post Supreme Court ruling on ban on tourism in core area of tiger reserves.
However, nothing can be a better opportunity to visit Pench’s mystery forest trails now. It would be a bonus if you sight a tiger at Fefrikund or for that matter in riverine Ambakhori or Bakhari. But if you really want to see how a forest should be or for that matter just enjoy nature and its landscape, the Maharashtra side of Pench is eagerly awaiting to welcome you. The lush green forest, a combination of ain, dhawda, and teak trees, says it all.
While Ambakhori takes you down the memory lane when you must have visited the spot as a picnicker, the newly opened spots like Hattigota, Ranidoh, Gavlighat, Bakhari, Fefrikund, Bamboo Van, Dugpoint, Kirangisarra are breathtaking. Nestled amid the sprawling greenery covering green and dense forests, these routes offer you a unique retreat which brings you close to nature and wildlife. The peculiar names of these spots draw you to them but there is no record to show how they derived it.
With the new arrangement, even tourists are happy. “Forget tigers or leopards for a while, the landscape on all the new routes is entirely different. You get a feel of parks Bandhavgarh, Kanha and Ranthambore at various points,” says Himanshu Bagde, a regular visitor to parks in India.
Bagde is keen that the trophies at Ranidoh, lying in a shambles, to be restored and kept at the interpretation centre at Ambakhori or Sillari to educate tourists. “Steps should be taken to expedite relocation of Fulzari village, which is a stumbling block,” he feels.
Apart from the 40km Saddle Dam area opened for tourism earlier, additional 55km routes – 32km on the right side of Sillari and 25km on the left side – have been opened. One of the reasons to open some new routes was to counter illegal fishermen who used small trails inside the park. Now movement of tourists on these routes is likely to be a deterrent.
“The additional routes would mean more employment for locals as guides and livelihood through ecotourism,” feels East Pench range forest officer (RFO) GP Bobde.
Even forester Vinayak Charde hoped the move will rival MP side of Pench as many visitors are interested in flora, birds and landscape. Sighting a tiger can only be accidental in Pench owing to its rugged terrain.
However, while tourists are blissful, eyebrows are being raised on opening of new routes. Allaying fears of critics, field director Reddy says the new routes commensurate with the new MoEF guidelines which permit 20% of the core/critical tiger habitat as a tourism zone.
“Current tourism zone where visitors are being permitted is well within 20%, which is 52 sq km if 257 sq km core area of Pench is considered. Tourists moving on various routes have only 100 metres of forests available on both sides. Even if this formula is applied, tourism doesn’t exceed the limits,” Reddy says.
Reddy explains Pench is in an advantageous position as its landscape overlaps with adjoining Mansinghdeo Wildlife Sanctuary on Chorbahuli and Deolapar in its buffer where there is no restriction on tourism.
“Why the fuss,” asks Reddy. He adds, “Our basic aim is to help locals. For example, one of the ideas is to serve breakfast to tourists at Ambakhori interpretation centre. Money collected will go to women self-help group in Sillari.”
Punch to override other parks!
Pench river bisects the reserve between East and West but tourists may see both unite. At present, both East and West Pench have separate entry points and west side is isolated. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has released Rs 1.15 crore to develop ecotourism in Pench. Under the plan, around six solar-powered boats for tourists will be procured. Apart from jungle safari, tourists will have a sojourn to an island, a revenue land surrounded by water near Kirangisarra. A 12km road from Kirangisarra to Chorbahuli is being developed in the Pench buffer. With this visitors will be able to enter Pench through Chorbahuli too. The area is beautiful as natural water bodies have developed at some abandoned mines. Tourism here will ease pressure on core in future. Plans are also afoot to procure barge, which will be used to ferry tourists vehicles on the west side.