On tragic Wednesday, five youngsters belonging to the Delhi Directorate of NCC who drowned too took the bait

Malayattoor hides a breathtaking lure. Emerging from the woods of mahogany trees is the sand ghats of Periyar, overlooking the wide expanse of water. But the seductive beauty in Mahoganythottam hides the death bait. On tragic Wednesday, a few youngsters belonging to the Delhi Directorate of NCC who drowned too took the bait.

Immediately after the forest check post ahead of the Mahoganythottam are a couple of message boards put up by the forest department alerting visitors to the dos and don’ts. It warns them against proceeding beyond the demarcated danger zone. But the instructions in Malayalam were probably all Greek to the youngsters from Delhi.

“About 37 deaths were reported here between 2002 and 2007. We have been extremely careful about visitors’ safety after the last incident in which three naval personnel died in the same spot where the NCC cadets drowned on Wednesday,” said Varghese, president of Mulamkuzhi Vana Samrakshana Samithi.

“The spot is becoming popular with some hotel groups providing tour package. It is also now a favourite destination for New Year celebrations,” he said.

A forest guard at the local forest station, K.P. Ramesh, said the place saw a large number of visitors on Christmas Day. Visits by two batches from the same trekking camp, of which the victims were participants, over the last two days had passed without any incidents.

“It’s fairly easy to control families. It’s often the young and those under the influence of alcohol that cause problem,” he said. While consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the area, incidents of visitors coming drunk are far too common.

Local residents felt the rope interspersed with red rags pulled across the stretch of the water to demarcate the areas beyond it as danger zone is useless. However, forest officials justified it stating that a permanent structure will not work as any such structures will be uprooted by strong currents during the monsoon and when water level rises alarmingly whenever the shutters of Bhoothathankettu Dam are opened.

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