Life in Gurgaon

Tourism at Madhogarh Fort will accelerate Aravalli deforestation

Source: Hindustan Times

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I have lived in Gurugram for nearly a decade now, and I must confess that I have never really been enamoured by the region, save for those precious times I head out to the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, Mangar Bani, Sultanpur National Park. It always strikes me how underappreciated such green spaces are by citizens, who throng malls and multiplexes but fail to understand, or even acknowledge, the ecosystems that make their spaces livable.

I am equally guilty, unaware, unappreciative of the incredible natural beauty that this region has been blessed with. To understand the landscape, I made a few quick visits to parts of Aravallis, my first few being the Nangal Mala forest and the Madhogarh Fort in Mahendergarh.

Sand has stories to tell that we don’t hear, haven’t read. I muse as I gazed downward at the flowery imprints on the sand—animal paws, a claw clustered close to the heel. The story unfolded…one step at a time. The pugmarks were those of a hyena, sorry, hyenas, I thought with delight.

The striped hyena is a threatened and poorly understood species of carnivore.

We—I am accompanied by a friend and a forest ranger—gazed below at the deep, wooded valley, densely yet delicately green, lush, with vegetation. There is the feathery canopy of dhok, the flagship species of the Aravalis. Desi Keekar, Salai, whose fragrance we know from the incense we light at home. I also spot mahua, the flowers of which make, both, a tasty snack and a heady liquor. If the tree flowers luxuriantly, says our forester companion, it indicates good rains and a bountiful season ahead. We miss the chinkara, but delight in watching a jackal looping into the bush.

The silence, especially after the jarring sounds of a city, is music to my ears.

We trekked on, spring in our step, accompanied by the incessant, plaintive call of the peafowl. There’s also the racket of parakeets that arrow across the sky. We made our way to the top of the hill where lies the Madhogarh Fort. Among the few remaining hill forts in Haryana, the Madhogarh Fort was built in the first half of the 18th century. We entered from a ramp built for horses, and littered with porcupine quills. The white droppings on walls in one broken room indicate the presence of bats. The fort is in ruins, but beautiful, towering over lush green valleys.

Here, the story takes a tragic turns. From our vantage point we can see that the forest bleeds.

The muddy kutcha path is being paved over, broadened, the green hills diverted for the purpose. Trees have been cut, the undergrowth of shrubs and grasses—where mongoose, porcupine, hare, black francolin (Haryana’s state bird) and such like flourish—has been cleared. On our way down, all we can hear is the sound of earthmovers, tractors, and blasts that rip the mountains and the air.

The idea is to develop the fort as a tourism spot. While these seem as benign activities, the construction is already causing havoc.

The building of a pucca, blacktopped road will split the habitat, the edges along the road will degrade the forest. Such fragmented habitats lead to the isolation of animals, such as the hyena, in small patches that can lead to local extinction.

The easy access will lead to more traffic, and potentially more road kills of wildlife, and will open up the place to further development, shops, cafeteria, bars, who knows? The ground, now replete with pugmarks and other signs of wildlife, would then be littered with mineral water bottles and packets of chips.

This is the sad reality of misguided development activities and reckless tourism practices. We need tourism, but it should have a light footprint. Why not keep the kutcha road to encourage genuine trekkers and nature tourists, who watch and respect all life, and experience the last remnants of the ancient Aravalli mountains—instead of fuel-guzzling SUVs that destroy the very quietude and pristine valleys they seek to promote.

(Though she lives in Gurugram, the writer is at home in the forests she is committed to protect. Her book: The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis, was released in June 2017)