When a journalist named DM Mohite visited the Tadoba sanctuary in 1970, he was amazed by the way this forest was being nurtured and protected. At the time, he also remembered, how the rampant felling of trees and the insatiable grazing of cattle had destroyed another forest in his native village of Devrashtra in Sangli.
He was encouraged to transform those dry mountain slopes intro a green landscape. But it took him 15 tenacious years to convince the villagers and the powers-that-be to actually do it. This forest is called Sagareshwar Sanctuary, and it’s the only man-made sanctuary in India where all the animals have been re-introduced.
Operation rescue act
The first thing that Mohite did after he returned to his village was to get the villagers to agree to stop the grazing of cattle. Then, as a voluntary campaign, he joined hands with villagers who planted thousands of indigenous saplings across the length and breadth of this degraded forest. For years, they carried water from the nearby villages and tended to them with love and care. Once these saplings grew into trees, with help from the Forest Department, wild animals were introduced. Soon, Sambar, Spotted Deer, Blackbuck, fox, wild boar, species of snake, mongoose and porcupine had found their home, along with birds and butterflies.
This forest is also a rare example of continuous upgradation by the Forest Department for over three decades. First, it was declared a deer park, then a forest reserve, and later, a wildlife sanctuary. It is fenced from all sides, except for corridors required for animal migration. This was possible when Mohite was still alive.
We reached on a Tuesday, and fortunately, the park is closed to casual visitors on all Tuesdays. So, we had the entire guesthouse to ourselves, as also the forest. It is a great feeling when you have 10 square kms of forest all for yourselves.
Though there were over a 100 species of birds, the national bird was conspicuous by its presence. Its loud call welcomed us, finally. As we walked to the first waterhole, we spotted a muster of peacocks it in all their majestic glory. But Mohan Karnat, the Chief Conservator of Forests, Kolhapur, shared with us a stunning ecological truth: a spurt in the peacock numbers isn’t a good sign for the habitat! Being voracious eaters, they polish off copious quantities of newly sprouted grass, thereby destroying the grasslands. In the true wild, predators maintain this balance.
Safeguarding the green top
A walk in the forest will convince one that it is an ideal place for eco-tourism. It’s probably why Karnat and his team including S Zhure and S Naykal are now in the process of setting up a cluster of beautifully-designed cottages, a nature interpretation centre, and an amphitheatre to screen wildlife films so that visitors are sensitised to the forest and all that dwells in it.
Situated at 2,700 feet, Sagareshwar might probably be the only wildlife sanctuary with ‘Points’ similar to a hill-station. Ranshool Point, the Kirloskar Point and the Mahangund Point were some that we dropped by during our visit.
That evening, we drove down to Mohityanche Vadgaon, named after the progenitor of this sanctuary, Mohite. The idea was to spot blackbucks that had once migrated to this village through the gaps in the fence of the sanctuary! They had moved to these parts a few years ago. We were lucky to spot two groups of blackbucks on the fringes of the farmlands. It was a heartening moment as we signed off our visit to Sagareshwar, and witnessed its amazing
This forest is home to the Lingeshwar temple, which is supposed to be the twin-brother of the Sagareshwar temple outside the boundaries. So, any devotee who visits Sagareshwar feels compelled to visit Lingeshwar to complete their quest for blessings. This writer reached on the last Monday of the month of Shravan, and was shocked to read that the sanctuary log showed an entry of 28,963 visitors! Luckily, the dedicated forest guards and guides ensure the litter was removed in good time.
How to get there
>> BY ROAD: Sagareshwar is approximately 380 kms from Mumbai. Take the Mumbai-Kolhapur Highway and turn at Karad.
>> BY RAIL: Sangli is the nearest railway station at roughly 55 kms away.
Where to stay
The Forest Rest House: For bookings, EMAIL ccfwlkopstr@rediffmail. com CALL 02312542766.
When to go
Post monsoon till February when it is most picturesque.