| A child dressed as Mowgli at a Jungle Book fest
Bhopal, Sept. 29: Madhya Pradesh has decided to cash in on the son of the soil by hosting a Mowgli Festival for a month from today.
The famous boy-hero of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book will be the mascot of the state's promotion of eco-tourism at Pench Tiger Reserve in Seoni district.
'Not many are aware that Madhya Pradesh is a tiger state. In Pench National Park alone, there are 57 tigers who have been accounted for,' said Nitish Bhardwaj, the actor-turned-politician who is the state tourism corporation chairman.
Mowgli's association with the state can be traced to old tales that say a boy was raised by wolves around 1831 near Sant Bawdi village in Seoni, just like the Jungle Book character.
The tiger reserve, which runs contiguously with Pench National Park in Maharashtra, is called Mowgli Land and offers 'Mowgli cruise boating' and 'Mowgli pleasure boating' at Totladoh Lake.
With the Babulal Gaur regime keen on shifting focus from his predecessor Uma Bharti's political agenda of cows and temples, the boy-hero has come in handy to promote tourism.
Uma had tried to push heritage tourism by declaring the popular temple towns of Maheshwar, Amarkantak and part of Ujjain holy cities where meat, liquor and eggs were prohibited. This was said to have dissuaded foreign tourists.
Chief minister Gaur has now told each district to organise quiz competitions on environment and ecology, offering the top three winners an all-expenses-paid visit to Mowgli Land.
On offer are free trips, picnic and trekking for schoolchildren from across the state.
'There is a need for a holistic approach (to tourism) on the lines of South Africa, Kenya and closer home Kerala,' said Bhardwaj, who played Krishna in B.R. Chopra's TV serial Mahabharat.
The state's tourism potential, he added, has not been fully realised because of the lack of a comprehensive policy.
A team of forest officials, private entrepreneurs and government representatives would be formed to provide fresh impetus to tourism, Bhardwaj said.
A start has perhaps already been made by riding on the popularity of Mowgli, who become a household name after the book's Hindi adaptation appeared on TV bearing Gulzar's signature theme song.
Tales of Mowgli and his animal friends Baloo and Bagheera are still popular among the children of Seoni, Chhindwara and neighbouring districts.
With the country's highest density of herbivores at 50 animals per sq km, the Pench reserve threw open its doors today to Mowgli fans who are likely to number 500,000 by June 2005, when the park will be closed for the monsoons.