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Safe, silent, salubrious Sanawar

Sarita Brara | Updated on January 18, 2018 Published on July 29, 2016

Pristine quotient: Sanawar nature camp in Dharampur, near Kasauli - Photo: Sarita Brara

conservation efforts

Involvement of local people has managed to transform a tourism site in Himachal Pradesh

Two kilometres from Sukhi Johri Chowk in Dharampur, enroute to Kasauli, is the Sanawar Nature Camp. This is one of the six eco-tourism resorts run on public-private partnership (PPP) mode in Himachal Pradesh.

Visiting nature-lovers get to walk on un-trampled treks in the midst of tranquil, pine-rich forests, experience a bit of adventure and enjoy local culture and cuisine.

Some years ago, this picturesque site near the well-known Sanawar school, in the Motikuna hill region, was frequented by picnickers who left piles of garbage to be cleared by the villagers living on the periphery of the forest. Often, some of the merry-makers would convert the scenic haunt into a raucous hideout for imbibing intoxicants. Villagers belonging to the Gulhari panchayat, under which the forest falls, became victims of the abusive, rude and violent behaviour of the visitors.

To end villagers’ woes, the site was selected for eco-tourism under the PPP mode in 2009 and two young local agriculturists, Dinesh Goverdhan and Vishal Verma, took up the challenge of developing it into a nature camp resort.

More than 90 per cent of those employed at the resort are locals.

Deputy pradhan of Gulhari panchayat Sanjay Kumar says that with locals running the camp, the villagers feel secure; many villagers also earn an extra buck by providing visitors locally available food, milk and other products. They even run a taxi service.

“Most importantly,” says Kumar, “there are no drunken brawls to vitiate the atmosphere. Care is taken to keep the place clean and protect and conserve the pristine forest area. There have been fewer forest fires because the owners understand the geography and ensure nobody smokes or leaves behind anything inflammable. They act as alarms if they see a fire somewhere and help in dousing it.”

Goverdhan points out that women who collect fodder from the ghasnis (grazing land) in the forest area near the camp, now move freely and no longer feel unsafe.

“We also organise planting sessions during the monsoon, involving voluntary organisations, corporates, students and other tourists who visit the camp,” says Verma.

Five other eco-tourism resorts in the State are run by private parties on sites leased to them by the Forest Department. But for a State that has pine, oak and fir forest area, with a wide variety of flora and fauna, sky is the limit for expanding eco-tourism.

Realising this, the State government recently introduced an amended community-based eco-tourism policy for “bringing the wilderness and virgin eco-system closer to the visitors.” At the same time, it has tried to ensure that safeguards are in place for forest protection. The policy will help enhance livelihood opportunities by involving the local community. The aim is also to look for financial returns that can be ploughed back for the upkeep of the environment.

GR Sahibi, CEO Eco Tourism, hopes that in six to ten months the formalities for selecting eco-tourism sites will be completed. He believes there is enough scope to turn the State into a leading eco-tourism destination.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi

Published on July 29, 2016
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