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Red shadow on forest hotspot

Sambalpur, Nov. 21: The fear of Maoists has forced tourists to drop the green haven of Ushakothi and other places of interest in Sambalpur from their itineraries.

Visitors putting up at hotels and lodges in the district leave nothing to chance, making enquiries about the places they can visit and if there is any threat from the rebels.

With the Maoists using the jungles to carry out their activities, places such as Ushakothi — a sanctuary located between Sambalpur and Deogarh close to NH-6 — wear a deserted look as few tourists dare enter the forest there.

A variety of animals, including elephants and tigers, are found in the sanctuary, 40 km from Sambalpur. Tourists can see the animals from the safety of watchtowers but they have almost stopped doing so because of possible Naxalite attacks. “No one wants to go there now,” rues R.C. Sundaray, tourist officer, Sambalpur.

Local residents, who used to go to Ushakothi at least once a year for picnic, have also stopped venturing into the sanctuary.

The number of people visiting Deb Jharan, a waterfall near Jujomura, has gone down for the same reason.

“As many as 33,818 domestic and two foreign tourists visited Ushakothi in 2003. The figures were 35,363 and eight respectively in 2004. The tourist inflow has, however, been dismal since then and there are no records of any foreign traveller visiting the place,” the officer said.

Ushakothi is part of the Badarma wildlife division and has a well-furnished guesthouse nearby. Tourists from Gujarat, Bengal and other parts of the country used to visit the place before the Maoists became a major threat in the region, said some local residents.

The decreasing tourist count has affected the lives of those who depend, directly or indirectly, on the forest produce for survival.

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