Closed for three months, Devkund waterfall located near Bhira village in Raigad district was thrown open for tourists last week. With its reopening coinciding with that of the ongoing Diwali vacations, tourists were back here in good numbers.
Located 70 km from Pune and about 50 km from Mumbai, the waterfall has been popular among young tourists and college students from the two cities. However, the authorities had to impose Section 144 for three months after two Pune trekkers, including an army officer from College of Military Engineering (CME), had drowned in July this year. The rescue teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Indian Army were initially called in to trace the bodies of the missing trekkers. However, the efforts bore fruits and their bodies were fished out only after the Indian Navy divers and local river rafters chipped in, 24 hours after the incident.
Earlier, in June, about 55 college students from Mumbai were stranded at Kundalika river located in the vicinity. Here, river rafting is a huge attraction among tourists. During certain weekends in June and July, the tourist footfall had crossed 5,000, making it difficult for locals to handle the visitor inflow.
While the villagers, a majority of whom are tribals, are relieved about the revoking of section 144, gram panchayat officials and locals only have stories of heavy losses to narrate. “The four monsoon between June to September is the peak season for tourism here. During these rainy days, we would earn anywhere around Rs 20,000 per week, from the vehicle entry tickets collected from the visitors,” said Rajesh Khaire, gramsevak of Patnoos panchayat, which is in-charge of the tourists visiting Devkund.
The tragic incidents also made the gram panchayat to ponder over the ways to improve its infrastructure. “Since the terrain is very risky, the need for local tourist guides was felt. We have roped in villagers to guide tourists. Every group of 15 visitors will have a guide accompanying them,” said Vijay Mhamunkar, sarpanch of Patnoos village.
In addition, the panchayat is also noting down the name, contact details and addresses of the visiting tourists so that they can act in the time of any emergency. “Special check points have been set up where vehicle and visitor details are sought. This will not only come handy in case of any emergency, but also help us track the visitors if they are lost,” added Mhamunkar.
Along the road leading to the waterfall, numerous banners and signboards have been put up, warning visitors of the basic safety precautions needed to be followed. The village is surrounded by mountains, it is extremely challenging to carry out any rescue and relief operations here. Villagers, too, are helpless in case of emergencies as no help can be sought without walking for more than three hours.
“The villagers have been informed to keep a vigil on the visitors. Often, tourists, who arrive in groups, do not follow the instructions. They do not realise how dangerous the spot is. There is no mobile connectivity available inside deep jungles which means that there is no way to inform or seek help,” the village sarpanch stated.