Overexposure has forced authorities to ban all camping in the fort. All the hotels will have to go as well
PUNE: The Harishchandragad fort, known for its size and spectacular ‘Konkan Kada’ – a cliff overlooking the Konkan belt, has been a hot pick amongst adventure enthusiasts and trekkers for several years.
Volunteers who from time to time clean the fort show the amount of bottles collected during one such cleanup.
However, an increasing number of trekkers, tourists and picknickers have resulted in the Maharashtra forest department has decided to put a ban on staying and camping in the fort. The department has also asked local villagers to close down hotels on the fort premises.
Range forest officer (RFO) Amol Ade Rajur said, “The notice will be issued in a couple of days. Till then we will have meetings with the villagers and will try to solve the issue mutually.”
The fort comes under Kalsubai Harishchandragad Wildlife Sanctuary, and as per the rules, no visitor is allowed to stay in a protected wildlife area. The fort is in the Ahmednagar district, close to Malshej ghat, 90km from Pune.
The fort is famous for its religious value and thousands of devotees visit the fort to see a five-feet Shiva Linga, which is completely surrounded by waist-deep ice-cold water.
As per the records, the annual average footfall at the fort reaches a few lakhs.
To provide food and staying facilities to trekkers and devotees, several local villagers have built permanent hotels on the fort and as a result garbage is increasing.
“Earlier, we allowed villagers to provide food at the fort, but we had already warned hotel owners to control the increasing garbage, but they didn’t listen, so we were forced to take this step,” said Ade.
DIFFICULT TO IMPLEMENT?
Though, the department has taken a correct step to protect the fort and forest, considering the size of the fort and several routes in, it’s a question of how they are going to control visitors.
“There are seven routes to visit the fort, but a majority of them prefer Pachani, which is the easiest one, followed by Khireshwar and Murbad. So we will focus on these three routes. Every group intending to visit the fort, must take a guide from these villages. The guide will have certain authorities and will prevent the trekkers and tourists from littering or consuming alcohol. He will also be responsible to bring them down before sunset,” Ade informed.
On the other hand, trekkers have welcomed the decision by saying that now the fort will be free from pollution. “This is a welcoming step. Though we will miss the experience of staying in the fort under the open sky, in the long run, it’s going to benefit the trekkers,” said Pune-based trekker Onkar Oak.
Swapnil Pawar of Raanvaata group, has been active for several years in cleaning the fort. Every year his group clean the fort of tonnes of garbage. When contacted he said, “This year, we removed over 2,500 bottles from the water tanks on the forts. This is a huge number and it should have been controlled much earlier.” “However, putting a ban on staying won’t solve the purpose. This is a huge money making business and if the department runs it professionally and follow the rules and regulations strictly, it will be an ideal model for other forts,” he said.
Currently there are 20-25 hotels on the fort, mainly run by local villagers. Considering the number of trekkers on weekends, several of them have sold their farms to invest in a hotel. These villagers not only provide food, but also provide tents for a night stay. They are naturally opposed to the decision saying henceforth they will take care of the garbage.
Bhaskar Badad, who owns a hotel on the fort said, “This is not a big issue. The major crowd is witnessed on weekends and at the end of the weekend, we clear most of the garbage. Moreover, we are ready to give it in writing that we will not allow our customers to litter and harm the forest.” “Instead of putting a ban on staying, the forest department should appoint check points at every village and no plastic bags, thermocole plates or liquor should be allowed on the fort. This will solve the problem drastically,” he said.