Kerala begins accessing tourist capacity of World Heritage Sites
The declaration of the Western Ghats as a World Heritage Site is another milestone achieved towards conservation of India’s vast bio-diversity. But along with world heritage tag comes the added responsibility of ensuring that this heritage is carefully preserved. In view of the expected increase in tourism activities at the heritage sites, the World Heritage Committee has therefore asked India to take proper measures to avoid any possibility of negative impacts.
While Karnataka government has not welcomed the title and given a written complaint to the centre asking it to re-think of this global heritage tag, Kerala has already began its efforts to ensure that the 19 sites that are in the state, continue to preserve their diversity and the probable added tourist visits do not disturb the natural treasure.
Currently ecotourism is allowed in 60 forest destinations of the Western Ghats including 12 of the selected sites in the state of Kerala. Now word is out that there will be a careful assessment of the capacity of the individual World Heritage sites of the Western Ghats, following which the Eco-tourism activities in these sites will be streamlined.
In the words of the World Heritage Committee,
India has to initiate “proactive responsible tourism management in anticipation of increased future visitation, and to ensure that visitation remains within the capacity of the property.”
Of the 39 sites included as a World Heritagge Site, the Silent Valley and the Eravikulam National parks and the Periyar Tiger Reserve are some of the most preferred eco-tourism destinations in Kerala.
The major attraction at Eravikulam is the beautiful expanse of Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana). This shrub flowers only once in twelve years and the last mass flowering in 2006 attracted over 5 lakhs visitors in a period of three months. Each day saw around 8000 footfalls. Owing to the strict vigilance and the implementation of visitor management measures, the large numbers did not have any adverse ecological impact but now that the attraction will be prominently placed in the world map, more tourists will surely wish to come here, and it is this high increase that has to be radically kept under control and checked.
Another attraction at Eravikulam is the possibility of watching an endangered ungulate, the Nilgiri Tahr. It is the state animal of Tamil Nadu and found in the southern portion of the Western Ghats.
During the last financial year, the Silent Valley recorded 23,241 visitors, 5000 of which comprised of Students. The ecotourism activities are restricted to around one sq km of the 89 sq km park.
Some of the other popular tourist sites are Shendurney, Neyyar, Peppara, Chinnar, and Aralam wildlife sanctuaries, the forest ranges of Kulathupuzha and Palode, and the forest divisions of Ranni, Konni, and Achencoil.
N.V. Trivedi Babu, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Eco Development and Tribal Welfare), said that the Kerala Forest Department was planning to assess the carrying capacity of the ecotourism sites in the State. All divisional forest officers of the State have been directed to carry out the assessment. The support of agencies such as the Kerala Forest Research Institute will be sought wherever required.
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