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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  Should night treks be allowed in the forest?

Should night treks be allowed in the forest?

Wildlife activists and the Karnataka forest department have questioned the legality of outdoor activity firms allowing people to explore forests at night

Photo: AFPPremium
Photo: AFP

At least 40 websites across the state of Karnataka are offering travellers the chance to explore the forest at night, to scale a peak or enjoy the thrills of camping under a starlit sky. Websites such as Thrillophilia, Get Beyond Limits, Escape2explore, the Bangalore Mountaineering Club and Bangalore Trekking Club are just some adventure companies that are offering these tours that involve trekking up a rocky hill range in areas that are just an hour away from Bengaluru city.

What these companies seem to be taking advantage of is the fact that there is a huge clientele of city dwellers looking for quick getaways and an adrenaline high through such offbeat weekend activities.

The trekking companies promote these destinations as an “opportunity to trek through the largest monolith in Asia" or the chance to walk through the wilderness at night, attracting hundreds of rowdy revellers every weekend.

Wildlife activists and the state forest department have questioned the legality of such activities. Concerns have also been raised about the safety of the trekkers and whether activities such as playing loud music or carrying food items or lighting a bonfire may be causing problems in the forest areas frequented by the revellers and trekkers.

The travel companies, however, defend themselves arguing that they haven’t done anything wrong. On being contacted by this columnist, Thrillophilia, one of the websites promoting these tours, stated: “Thrillophilia is a marketplace where we have close to 3,000 operators who list activities and tours. We do not operate or organize any tour.

“We have warned a lot of operators to have valid permissions before they execute any of the treks. Based on this, we also disable a lot of listings and operators".

Another tour operator, Get Beyond Limits, in an email stated that it did not wish to comment on the subject.

So, while travel operators may claim they are not doing anything wrong, take a look at some of the areas which are being offered for night treks. Athargange is a rocky hill range in the Kolar district of Karnataka, approximately 70km from Bengaluru. It is named after a perennial spring found within the hilly range and is surrounded by forests. Travel operators offer tours over the weekend with at least 40 persons and include a packed dinner and a campfire on top of the hill.

Another tour being offered is to Savandurga, an area once again surrounded by forests. Another tour is to the Kavaledurga Fort; one of the sites for the night trek is located in Shimoga, offering breathtaking views of the Western Ghats. Hulukadi Betta is another site earmarked for night treks located 60km from Bengaluru near the town of Doddaballapur.

The tour being offered in this location includes night treks, “story telling, rest inside the cave and a lecture on the importance of wild animals". The Kunti Betta trek includes a walk up a picturesque hill in the quaint town of Pandavapura, and includes lighting a bonfire as well as water sports at midnight. Another travel operator is offering night walks close to the Moyar river near Bandipur National Park, an area that serves as a corridor for elephants.

You could argue that most of these activities are quite harmless and as long as they are done responsibly, why should there be a problem? The problem, argue environmentalists, is that many of these areas earmarked for night treks are also used by wild animals like leopards, smaller mammals and birds. Nearly 12 rocky outcrops around Bengaluru where these treks take place are not inhabited by humans: wild animals frequent them.

That’s why disturbance to wildlife must most certainly be taking place. In addition to the disturbance of the habitat, the lighting of campfires and the accompanying litter of bottles and plastic are just some of the problems that must be addressed.

On social media, one blogger proudly describes how they had a ‘picnic’ on top of the peak, danced to loud music to celebrate the end of their trek, along with sharing images of them dancing and cutting a cake as they sat around the campfire. All this is in complete contravention of the Karnataka Forest Act, 1963, that prohibit camping, lighting a fire or trespassing in areas designated as a Reserve Forest.

What is going undocumented in this roaring business is the impact it may be having on wildlife, especially species that tend to inhabit these rocky outcrops. Just recently, the National Green Tribunal had imposed a ban on river rafting companies from camping overnight on the banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh. The argument was that wild animals frequent these areas, the overnight camps were destroying the fragile beach ecology and organic waste was being dumped into the river. Should a similar initiative be taken in Karnataka? And is it time the trekking companies offering these tours regulate themselves, before the courts have to step in?

Bahar Dutt is a conservation biologist and author of Green Wars: Dispatches from a Vanishing World.

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Published: 12 Aug 2016, 01:04 AM IST
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