Friday, November 30, 2007

Forest department offers weekend in the wilderness within the city

Nitya Kaushik
Posted online: Thursday , November 29, 2007 at 12:00:00

Mumbai, November 28 A weekend in the wilderness, but within the city—this is what the state forest department has been offering for the past two months as part of its Rs 5-crore five-year scheme to promote eco-tourism at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivali.
Comfortably-furnished camping cottages and rest houses are available at affordable rates right in the middle of the forest in the eco-tourism zone of Krishnagiri Range.

“The project is more of an educational activity to spread awareness about the wildlife and environment among local tourists," said Dr P N Munde, conservator of forest, SGNP.

Having already converted seven bungalows in the forest into rest houses, the department recently added a camping cottage, complete with four suites, two halls and a dining hall. “It cost us Rs 10 lakh to build that cottage itself, and we have taken special care to give it a rustic feel as well as ensure comfort,” said S R Padwale, range forest officer of Krishnagiri Upvan.

The cottage, he said, had pleasant Mangalore tile roof, a wide verandah and spacious but basic two-bed suites with attached bathrooms. Padwale said the forest department planned to construct two more similar cottages.

Besides, forest officials said 16 more suites for visitors sprinkled in different eco-tourism regions provide completely different scenic experiences.

Considering the national park's convenient location and nearness to the city, Padwale said, the cottages were very affordable-an air-conditioned suite with two beds and attached bathroom costs Rs 750 per night and a non-A/C suite just Rs 500. “Once here, the tourists need not move out of the park for anything. We have cooks who can serve a basic meal at a nominal fee. There is one television in one of our bungalows, and others have dining halls and halls for hanging out,” he said.

While plans are attractive, teething troubles are aplenty too — the most prominent being safety. “The Krishnagiri Range is full of hutments and slum-dwellers know the forest inside out,” a regular visitor to the SGNP said. “How will forest officials ensure that the visitors are not robbed or harmed? Besides, what if there is a wild encounter with a leopard? The SGNP authorities should put in place a 24-hour helpline and provide special phone numbers where visitors can call if there’s an emergency,” he said.

The forest officials, however, maintained that there had been no trouble to date. “Besides, we have forest guards making rounds throughout the night, so there is no chance of any such incident going unnoticed,” Padwale said.

But since the entire system was not in place yet, reservations could be made only at the office of Conservator of Forest, Padwale added.


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