The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Thrill pill to revive forests from rebel spell

Jamshedpur, May 30: The bustling forests of Saranda could regain its stature as a nature lover’s paradise if the state forest department is able to unveil an array of exciting adventure tourism packages including treks, rock climbing and river rafting.

Scarred by its reputation of being a hotbed of Maoist activity till recently, Saranda, the forest department believed, was now ready for tourism if it was introduced in a planned manner to revive the old world charm of the forests, barely 100 km from the steel city.

“Saranda’s charm and potential to attract tourists has pushed us to plan adventure tourism with special travel packages,” said a forester.

Spread over 850sqkm, Saranda is a storehouse of plant and animal life, besides innumerable mountains and hills. Two rivers — Karo and Koina — snake through the jungle, making it an apt get-away destination for the city-bred tourist.

Speaking to The Telegraph over phone, divisional forest officer (DFO), S.R. Natesh said as of now they were planning to launch rafting and motor boating in Karo and Koina rivers. “As the two rivers pass through the dense jungle, the idea is sure to click among those who love the outdoors, especially those who are fond of adventure in the woods,” he added.

Other avenues for adventure would be rock-climbing at the various mountains in the forests of Saranda and nearby Kiriburu. “There are several rock formations in the vast Saranda forests, and rock-climbing is a viable plan to attract tourists,” said Natesh.

Long before it was virtually taken over by Maoists, Saranda — in West Singhbhum district — was home to a number of exquisite guest houses built by the British. But almost all of them were destroyed by the Maoists during anti-insurgency operations in 2002.

During the strike against Maoists, who had set foot in the tropical saal forests in the late ‘90s, police and paramilitary forces used to camp at the guest houses. Hence, these became targets of the Maoists.

“Those who are aware of these guest houses, for instance the one at Thalkobad, still call us only to be told that they don’t exist anymore,” said the DFO.

“Of late, we have been flooded with calls from within and outside the country. Eventually, we adopted a plan for adventure tourism,” he added.

But Natesh clarified they were not planning to rebuild Saranda as it used to be till the turn of the century. “We would like people to visit the jungle once again, but in a different way,” he said.

For example, since the forest department did not have boarding facilities as yet, visitors or tourists would be encouraged to opt for day tours to enjoy the adventure pursuits on offer.

But what about Maoists? Natesh and his department were hopeful they wouldn’t be a problem. Over the years, Naxalite activities had reduced to a large extent. But more importantly, the Centre had recently provided Rs 15 lakh each to the 10 revenue villages of the area.

“By the grace of the Union government, the life of people has changed immensely,” he said. “Things are gradually changing in Saranda. Naxalites no longer target forest officials as they used to.”

Superintendent of police, West Singhbhum, Sudhir Kumar Jha was sceptical about the forest department’s project, but agreed that if it were to be implemented, it would help in the development of the area immensely.

“It is necessary for the forest department to develop basic infrastructure like roads, a communication network and tubewells for drinking water,” he said.

But Natesh was hopeful. “The nitty-gritty of the adventure tourism plan was being worked out and we will send it to our authorities in Ranchi. Let’s hope for the best.”

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