Fiona Fernandez: New heights, really?
Utmost care to the environment must be the catchword for existing and new hill stations across Maharashtra
Once upon a time, there were three hill stations that offered Mumbaikars respite from the heat, pollution and crowds. These clean, green and panoramic escapes that nestled in the Western Ghats, were within convenient reach too. But soon, the scenic trio — Matheran, Khandala and Lonavla — began to lose their charm.
Mindless, unplanned development and greedy commercial interests took over. Nobody seemed to care about this slide. Today, the hills that stand silent spectator to these one-time getaways are the lone constant of this transformation.
Ask any diehard tourist who frequents these destinations, and they’ll rue about the rapidly changing topography. The story gets played out everywhere. Last year, yours truly was on a road trip that included a pit stop in Dehradun. Up until then, one had imagined a different frame, based entirely on snapshots of this paradise in the lower Himalayas.
Alas! The real deal was a complete downer. Hoardings and billboards of residential schools and swish hotels was all that we could lay our eyes on. What about the hills? Well, we had to play hide-and-seek to spot them in the backdrop. The lesser said about the eyesores (read: litter, unappealing urban planning), the better.
Closer home, these three destinations haven’t been able to keep up with the pressures that come with burgeoning crowds, including saving its green cover and the need for basic public utility services like tourist safety. We all remember the tragic death of a Mumbai resident after a fall from a horse, earlier this year.
The lack of timely medical help highlighted the dire need for long-term solutions in crowded tourist zones.
Till now, we haven’t heard of concrete action to rectify this serious issue. Today, Lonavla and Khandala seem like higher-altitude mini replicas of Mumbai or Pune. Water parks have replaced waterfalls. Apparently, even the chikki is sourced from Mumbai.
Yesterday, we came across a tiny news input where the state urban development department announced that it would introduce two new hill stations, in the Mulshi taluka of Pune district. While this comes as great news to ease the load off the existing ones, what about the existing hill stations that are crying out loud for a 360-degree dekko?
With the new locales, we sincerely hope that careful, sensible planning coupled with strict controls over the environment are implemented. It will also be interesting to check the safety standards and accommodation options in the area, since the proposed sites will be in the catchment area of the Mulshi dam.
With the tourist season at its peak, now might be an opportune time for the state to set the ball rolling and take that leap of faith. After all, the greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.
mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org