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Fillip to tourism and livelihoods

Ignatius Pereira
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‘Explore Wild Munnar’ tour package targets conservation with people’s participation

The ‘Explore Wild Munnar’ project launched recently by the Forest Department is turning out to be a big draw for tourists arriving at Munnar. It is a one-day conducted tour programme designed by the Anamudi Forest Development Agency.

Chief Wildlife Warden V. Gopinathan told The Hindu that the project aimed at tapping the tourism potential of the Munnar wildlife division by providing a means of livelihood to the tribal people living within the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary of the division. It covers the Eravikulam National Park, the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Shola National Park.

He said that within a protected forest area, all human activity was prohibited unless permitted. But a lot of people continued to live inside or in the periphery of the forest areas. They traditionally depended on forest produce for their livelihood. With enforcement of forest protection and conservation rules leaving no room for compromise, the government was exploring alternative livelihood means for such people without causing much disturbance to their way of life.

The ‘Explore Wild Munnar’ is one such measure to improve the living standards of hill Pulaya and Muthuvan tribes living within the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary.

Mr. Gopinathan said that besides being a part of the department’s initiative for the welfare of the tribal stakeholders in the wildlife division, the venture also targeted the conservation of the biodiversity in and around Munnar with people’s participation.

He said the project provided a fine opportunity for tourists to experience the grasslands and the deciduous, shola, and sandalwood forests of the region, in addition to ample sightings of wildlife. Very close encounters with the Nilgiri tahrs were one of the main highlights of the tour. The watchtower at Chinnar was another attraction.

P.U. Saju, Wildlife Warden of the Eravikulam National Park, said ‘Explore Wild Munnar’ was a one-day programme for tourists covering the Rajamala zone, Lakkom waterfalls, and Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. The tour started at 9 a.m. from Munnar and returned to Munnar by 6.30 p.m. It was managed by forest dwellers working as watchers in the eco development committees of the Eravikulam park.

Poverty

He said the tribal people dwelling in the forest areas were among the poorest mainly because water scarcity posed a threat to farming in the area. To provide them livelihood, the government had appointed many of them as forest watchers and trekking guides. But, the wildlife tourism potential on the Munnar-Chinnar route remained largely untapped owing to lack of transport facilities. This was denying the tribal people working as trekking guides, especially at Alampetty and Chempakkad in the Chinnar sanctuary, a source of income. The new project included guided river trekking at Chempakkad. The tourists were also taken to visit the vestiges of the dolmens and the sandalwood forests in the area.

The Lakkom falls is another major attraction. The water from the falls reaches the east-flowing Pambar river, a tributary of the Cauvery. The tour enables good revenue from the amenities centre operated by the forest dwellers at Chempakkad. They also earn money by serving traditional food to the tourists.

Mr. Saju said the tour cost Rs.750 for each person, inclusive of lunch, two refreshments, and entry fee to Rajamala and Chinnar. It would be operated only if there were at least 10 persons.

The Rajamala programme of the tour would stand cancelled during the annual closure of the Eravikulam National Park for the calving season of the Nilgiri tahrs.

For details, call 04865 231587 or 9447 431905.


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