Rise in footfalls at Beladakuppe temple in Bandipur Tiger Reserve a cause for concern

Increased visitors to the temple, ensconced in the Hediyala range of the Reserve which has a high tiger density, has a long-term bearing on wildlife, say conservationists

November 26, 2023 05:17 pm | Updated 05:17 pm IST - MYSURU

A file photo of Beladakuppe Jathra in the Hediyala range of Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

A file photo of Beladakuppe Jathra in the Hediyala range of Bandipur Tiger Reserve. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The increase in footfall to the Beladakuppe Sri Mahadeshwaraswamy Temple is raising concern among forest department staff and conservation activists as it has a long-term bearing on wildlife.

For, the temple is in the core or critical area of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve and ensconced in the Hediyala range which has a high tiger density while the areas surrounding it is beset with human-animal conflict.

The jathra of Beladakuppe Sri Mallikarjunaswamy temple in the Hediyala range of Bandipur, will be held in the third week of November.

The jathra of Beladakuppe Sri Mallikarjunaswamy temple in the Hediyala range of Bandipur, will be held in the third week of November. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

According to forest department data, 1,32,803 pilgrims visited the temple in 2019 before the pandemic. Though there were restrictions in 2020 due to the outbreak of COVID-19, 80,206 people visited the temple though the numbers came down to 36,418 in 2021. However, there was a jump in visitors to 1,10,816 in 2022, indicating an upward trend in footfalls which is likely to continue this year as well.

During the 2019 jathra, that takes place annually for three to four days coinciding with the last Monday of ‘Kartika maasa’, 66,000 people visited the temple. Though pandemic restrictions brought down the numbers to 7,500 in 2021, it went up to 49000 in 2022.

As many as 9,600 vehicles entered the forests and the critical tiger habitat during the duration of the temple fair in 2019. This number again witnessed a dip in 2021 and rose in 2022, with around 8,500 vehicles plying through the core area during the days of the jathra.

In addition to these private vehicles, the KSRTC also plies hundreds of trips during the jathra days to cater to the devotees.

A file photo depicting how the core area of Bandipur Tiger Reserve transforms into a picnic spot during the jathra.

A file photo depicting how the core area of Bandipur Tiger Reserve transforms into a picnic spot during the jathra. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Concerns over high footfall stems from the fact that the habitat surrounding the temple supports diverse flora and fauna and is ideal for tigers as it also has a sufficient prey base. Though the fair is in vogue since a long time, it gained in popularity a little more than a decade ago.

From a handful of people, the crowd began to swell with each passing year and the temple currently attracts thousands of people during the fair. While bullock carts used to ply through the forests carrying devotees, their use has been banned in recent years.

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