The Maharashtra government is proposing to tag Nagpur as the ‘tiger capital’ of the state to gain more visitors as it gears up to promote the state on India’s tourist map.

“We have decided to make Nagpur the gateway to the tiger land as Maharashtra and Gujarat have the highest tiger population (in the country). States like Gujarat and Kerala are already promoting their assets... in order to stay in competition we will now promote what we have in abundance,” Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan told reporters who visited the state recently as part of a tour organised by the Maharashtra government.

Maharashtra has a tiger population of 169 as per the 2010 census, Nagpur being the highest scorer with 148 tigers.

The total number of tigers has gone up from 103 to 169 in a period of four years.

“Nagpur is the major store house of tigers as the city alone has three tiger reserves and more than five sanctuaries. In all Maharashtra has four reserves and 34 sanctuaries,” A K Khetrapal, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) told PTI.

“The tiger population has gone up from 53 to 69 in Tadoba reserve and from 30 to 35 in Melghat reserve since 2006. Besides this, the tiger population has seen an increase in the sanctuaries of Sahadyri -- Sindhudurg with 21 tigers, Nagjira-Navegaon -- 20 tigers and Bor -- 12 tigers,” said Khetrapal.

Maharashtra ranks after Uttarakhand in terms of increase in the tiger population, followed by Assam, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The tiger-census carried out in three phases across the country in 2010 reported the number of tigers to have gone up from 1411 (in 2006) to 1706.

Among various enhanced conservation and protection measures undertaken by the state to provide a safe shelter to India’s national animal include creation of buffer zones ranging from eight to ten kilometres around the boundary of these reserves and sanctuaries.

“These buffer zones help in keeping the human population living around that region away from tiger attacks,” adds Khetrapal. Besides this, certain sanctuaries in Maharashtra have been declared as critical habitat areas.

“The concept behind such a habitat is to remove the entire human population dwelling there and provide them an alternate shelter. Thus providing enough space and security to the tigers,” said the official.

A protection force has also been introduced to save the animal from poachers. In addition to that, both artificial and natural water holes have been dug out to provide enough water for them during summer season.

Besides this, Archaeological Survey of India has collaborated with the Japanese Bank for International Co- operation (JBIC) to save the 1000-year-old paintings at the Ajanta Caves which are facing severe issues of water leakage and colour fading as part of the steps to rope in more tourists.

Buddhist architecture comprising 30 caves was rediscovered by a British Army Officer John Smith in 1819. Out of the 30 caves, 12 have been closed down by ASI due to water leakage.

“The leakage of water was a major issue some time ago but the problem has been resolved now. The ASI team has created separate pipes to divert the route of the leaking water thereby saving the antique wall paintings from decay,” says Abrar Hussain, a government approved tourist guide at the Ajanta caves.

The installation of fibre optic lights has proved to be the most remarkable step till date to preserve the Buddhist paintings depicting the entire life of Lord Buddha.

Perfect for light-sensitive exhibits, use of fibre optic lighting is harmless and also does not produce heat. .

“Earlier normal lighting methods which were installed inside the caves resulted in the discolouration and melting of the texture of the paintings,” adds Hussain.

Private vehicles have been banned within the periphery of about five kilometres. The Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) has started eco-friendly CNG buses to carry tourists. The fair too has been kept nominal, ranging from Rs seven to Rs 15 for air conditioned and non-airconditioned buses respectively.

“ASI in collaboration with the Japanese Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC) is currently building a replica of the entire monument for further research on the caves and its history,” adds Hussain.

Apart from this, the government is planning to raise the standard of guest houses at all tourist places to provide comfortable stay and experience to the visitors, Mr. Chavan said.

It has also been decided to focus on the rich heritage of forts in the state by allotting a separate fund for their conservation.

“Maharashtra has a large number of forts which speak about the rich Maratha lineage. It has become important to put forth this history of warriors and hence promote the state,” Mr. Chavan said.