India– An age old ritual says, when you visit the forest temple of Ulavi in Dandeli, you must carry back a piece of wood from the holy place (kshsetra). This ritual is increasingly becoming a nuisance for the Kali Tiger Reserve where post Sankranti, during the time of Ulavi Fair (Jaatre), thousands of trees are chopped by the devotees.
Nearly five lakh people are expected to visit the Ulavi temple in the next 20 days and its going to put tremendous pressure on the tiger area, fear the conservationists.
On Sunday, thousands of devotees started walking through the dense jungles of Dandeli which are home for tigers, leopards and sloth bears causing severe disturbance. The teams of devotees make loud noises, throw plastic, cook food and walk through the sensitive areas of Anshi where black panthers are found in good numbers.
As the Ulavi temple located inside the Kali Tiger Reserve attracts a large numbers of devotees all around the year, forest officials hesitate to take strict action against the unruly devotees who try to torch the forest or throw garbage in streams, as they don’t want to hurt religious sentiments. Conservationists say it is time that the government, Forest Department in particular, intervenes to minimise the damage.
Many decades ago, Ulavi jatra was a small affair where people used to come in bullock carts. They would leave their place several days before the fair which begins on the day of Ratasaptami. But in the last few years, the number of devotees has increased many fold. The age-old ritual here states that one must carry back a wood piece from Ulavi, which is termed as auspicious. To fulfil this wish of devotees, a certain group of people have made it their livelihood. They enter the thick wooded areas around Ulavi and collect wood pieces, says a nature conservationist from Uttara Kannada.
He said there have been many cases of timber smuggling through the bullock carts and tractors which come for the fair. The modus operandi is simple. They stuff the first layer of the cart with timber and put clothes on top. They make their women and girl children sit on it and they refuse to budge even if the forest officials halt them for checking. Such incidents must be regulated by force. Several forest fire incidents are reported during the fair where large patches of forest are gutted, killing several creatures such as reptiles and young ones of mammals. The Forest Department is checking the cars at the gate but that is not enough. They must increase the manpower and patrol the forest areas of Ulavi and Anashi forests so that the timber smuggling is minimised, the conservationist suggested.
The forests of Anshi and Dandeli are spread over 900 sq km, but when compared to other tiger areas of Karnataka the prey density is very poor.
Authorities Meet to Discuss Issues
A meeting of police, forest and temple authorities was held recently in Dandeli to discuss the smooth management of Ulavi fair where lakhs of devotees are expected to visit during the fortnight mela.
This is the first time that the officials at Kali Tiger Reserve are showing some organised effort to ensure both devotees and forests are not harmed during the mela.
The annual fair began on Sunday, but devotees started thronging the temple complex two days earlier.
People erect their shops along the road near the temple.
The devotees have to pass through dense forests of Dandeli and Anashi to reach Ulavi temple. Thousands of devotees reach Ulavi by walking or on bullock carts. Tractors are also used to bring large crowds from their villages.
We need to monitor these people and ensure that they are safe inside the forests, and dont disturb the forest. Tiger reserves in India witness a rush of devotees during special occasions but here the problem is unique as hundreds of bullock carts travel inside the forest areas, said a forest official.
-The devotees who travel by bullock carts and tractors stop on the road inside the forest to cook and eat. -Officials must create some designated places for this Plastic must be banned -There has to be a plan in place to ensure that solid waste management is in place and the leftovers are cleared soon after the fair -Avoiding music while travelling through the forest roads has to be regulated in the interest of wildlife -The forest officials must warn the devotees who might wander where animal movement is recorded at night -Teams of fire watchers must be ready at various points if there are any forest fires -Awareness and signage in local languages required to ensure devotees do not harm the pristine forests