You’re not welcome at Gopalaswamy hill
After Skandagiri, Gopalaswamy Betta is now out of bounds for trekkers. Located in Chamarajanagar district at a height of 1,450m, the extensively wooded betta is the highest peak in Bandipur forest and a popular hiking spot for Bangaloreans, after Skandagiri.
The forests are home to wildlife such as tiger, leopard, wild dogs and herbivores like Indian gaur, chittal, sambar etc. Thousands of Bangaloreans, especially techies, would flock here till last week for animal sightings. But now, they are not allowed to go beyond the temple, not even for a walk.
Arjun Sharma, a trekker who was sent back recently, said, “I went to Gopalaswamy Betta with my friends thinking that I could trek. But, I was disappointed as I was not allowed. It is comparatively close to the city and I’ve heard the place is picturesque. We are nature-loving people and the trek was an escape from the city’s polluted air. What do authorities suggest nature lovers like us do?” According to the forest department, venturing beyond the temple premises is an offence as per the Wildlife Act 1972. Concerned by the increase in tourists, it has made trekking, picnicking, partying etc a punishable offence. In order to minimise disturbance to the animals, the timing for temple visits was changed to 8:30 am to 4:00 pm from February 2011. The permitted time to return back was 1 hour 30 minutes.
WHERE DO WE GO?
Techies are not convinced. One of them, Anita Vasu, said, “I do not understand the logic. If every place is barred for us, where do we go? Are the authorities suggesting we trekkers satisfy ourselves with Cubbon Park or Lalbagh? The solution to the problem is not in stopping trekking altogether, but in finding some feasible solutions. It’s like closing a well because the water is dirty rather than doing something to clean it. Earlier, people would wander into the forests, which were the starting point of the ghats, till Ooty and they would get good sightings.”
But a forest official said it was very difficult for them to manage the tourists. “Every week, thousands would venture into the forests. They would go deep inside and it was always a tough job for us to locate them. There are also instances where the entire place was made a dustbin by littering. Though we had asked them to keep the surroundings clean, they would pay no attention. Since it is an eco-sensitive area where forest fires can easily break out, we have decided to bar trekkers.”
Moreover, it was dangerous as people would be attacked by wild animals or even get lost. Initially, the department would insist that trekkers return before nightfall and fixed strict timings. But now, the rule has got tougher and no one can actually venture into the forests. The only consolation is that the tourists are allowed to visit the temple located here.