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AP shifts focus to eco-tourism

M. Somasekhar


An employee of the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department cleaning the lake at the Public Gardens in Hyderabad.

HYDERABAD, July 22

ANDHRA PRADESH has become synonymous with pilgrimage or temple tourism. Tirupathi attracts nearly three crore visitors annually, while Srisailam, Simhachalam and several others also draw lots of domestic tourists.

However, with the tourism sector being identified as one of the sunrise industries and the State Government liberalising its policy and encouraging private participation, Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department and Development Corporation have set themselves on an ambitious roll of diversifying avenues for tourists.

One of the promising areas that had emerged is eco-tourism. Interestingly, two State Government Corporations have set their eyes on developing this area — Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (APTDC) and Andhra Pradesh Forest Development Corporation (APFDC).

Both have adopted their own strategies and in select projects have shown inclination of collaborating.

While APTDC, buoyed by its recent spurt in development activity and response to some of its initiatives, has opted to take up eco-tourism projects on its own strengths, execute and manage them, APFDC has preferred to rope in private sector participation to develop facilities.

According to Mr T.V.N. Rao, in charge of eco-tourism at APTDC, "Our strategy is to develop eco-tourism in three aspects. These are important natural wonders such as waterfalls and caves, wilderness camping in the form of jungle camps, trekking etc and finally promote wild life tourism".

The Corporation had already spent nearly Rs 6 crore and had completed a couple of projects, he said.

The most promising being the 3.5 km-long Belum caves in Kurnool district. Similarly, the Burra caves in Visakhapatnam were being renovated, he told Business Line.

In addition to caves, waterfalls at Ethipothala near Nagarjuna Sagar and Thalakona in Chittoor district are also being spruced up as tourist destinations to `natural wonders'.

For the 70-feet Ethipothala fall, the Corporation has imported special lighting equipment at Rs 30 lakh, making it the first natural waterfall to be lit. Simultaneously, landscaping, guest houses and restaurant facilities are being readied.

At Thalakona, which is a 270-ft fall about 80 km from Tirupati on the Bangalore highway, the Corporation is developing `machan' type guest house and a restaurant on the two-acre land it owns, he said.

As for wilderness camping, two locales have been identified. At Farhabad near Srisailam and Tyda near Araku Valley, special facilities for the adventure tourists to stay in the jungles and undertake trekking are almost ready.

The famous Pulicat lake and Nelapattu bird sanctuary in coastal Andhra region are the focus for developing wildlife tourism.

"There has been good co-operation from the Forest Department in developing these spots," he said.

In all new ventures at different places, the Corporation will manage catering, transport and restaurant services, Mr Rao said.

APFDC, on the other hand, has decided to develop eco-tourism jointly with the private sector. Investments for developing infrastructure and tourist amenities at different eco-tourism project spots identified by the Corporation have been thrown open to private entrepreneurs, according to Mr P.K. Das. Chief Conservator of Forests and Vice-Chairman, Managing Director of the Corporation.

The Hyderabad Botanical Garden near the Hi-tech city is one of the first projects it has taken up.

Other major projects in the pipeline are the Chilkur national park, Vanasthalipuram park and the Nehru Zoological Park.

The Corporation has lined up projects such as night safari, Manjeera bird sanctuary, Nelapattu and Pulicat, Coringa and Kolleru for the coming year.

The State Government issued a Government Order in June 2001 to promote eco-tourism with private participation. APFDC was designated as the agency to implement the projects identified in 12 sanctuary areas and three zoological parks.

APFDC plans to focus on developing forest lodges, machans in forest areas and other natural settings to encourage the tourist to visit, stay and get a feel of the forest environment, Mr Das said.

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