Karnataka has decided to ban trekking activities in the eco-sensitive areas of the Western Ghats till October, following a massive influx of trekkers in the region. The state government has also imposed restrictions on the number and duration of treks in the areas where online booking is available. The move is aimed at protecting the biodiversity and environment of the Western Ghats, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Trekking trails witness huge crowds, pose environmental threat
The decision to ban trekking in the Western Ghats was taken after a video clip of thousands of trekkers crowding the Kukke Subramanya-Pushpagiri trekking trail went viral on social media. The trail, which is located in the Pushpagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, is one of the most popular and scenic trekking routes in Karnataka. However, the trail also passes through an environmentally sensitive zone, which is home to several endemic and endangered species of flora and fauna.
The large number of trekkers not only posed a risk of forest fires, landslides, and soil erosion, but also caused pollution, littering, and disturbance to the wildlife. The trekkers also faced hardships and dangers due to the lack of water sources, facilities, and safety measures.
The forest department officials, who were in charge of regulating and monitoring the trekking activities, were overwhelmed by the huge crowds and could not check the bags, permits, and identities of all the trekkers. The officials also had to deal with the complaints and grievances of the local villagers, who were affected by the noise, traffic, and waste generated by the trekkers.
Trekking to resume in October, with strict rules and regulations
The state forest minister, Eshwar Khandre, announced that trekking activities in the eco-sensitive areas of the Western Ghats would be suspended from February 1 till October, which is the usual practice every year. However, this year, the ban was imposed earlier than usual, due to the unprecedented rush of trekkers in the region.
The minister also said that trekking activities would resume in October, with strict rules and regulations. The trekkers would have to book their slots online, through the Karnataka Eco Tourism Board website, and obtain a permit from the forest department. The number of trekkers would be limited to 300 per day, and the duration of the trek would be restricted to 8 hours. The trekkers would also have to follow the guidelines and instructions of the forest officials, and refrain from carrying or using any harmful or prohibited items, such as plastic, tobacco, alcohol, fire, or weapons.
The minister said that the ban and the restrictions were necessary to protect the environment and the wildlife of the Western Ghats, and to ensure the safety and comfort of the trekkers. He also appealed to the trekkers to respect the nature and the culture of the region, and to cooperate with the forest department and the local communities.
Western Ghats: A hotspot of biodiversity and culture
The Western Ghats, also known as the Sahyadri, is a mountain range that runs along the western coast of India, covering parts of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. The Western Ghats is one of the eight “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity in the world, according to the UNESCO. The Western Ghats hosts more than 30% of India’s plant, animal, bird, and fish species, many of which are endemic and endangered. The Western Ghats is also a source of water for several major rivers, and a provider of ecosystem services, such as climate regulation, soil conservation, and carbon sequestration.
The Western Ghats is also a rich and diverse cultural landscape, with several ethnic groups, languages, religions, and traditions. The Western Ghats is home to many indigenous and tribal communities, such as the Soligas, the Kodavas, the Kurumbas, and the Malaiyalis, who have a close and harmonious relationship with the nature and the wildlife. The Western Ghats is also a hub of art, literature, music, and cuisine, with many festivals, rituals, legends, and folklore associated with the region.