MTDC’s Mahabraman programme

If you are one of those who thinks, ‘Aati kya Khandala’ is way too passé now and the Mahableshwar-Matheran sisters just don’t sound inviting enough, then thank MTDC for pulling up its socks and trailing the public-private partnership success stories of the Rajasthan and Kerala tourism boards. After Bed and Breakfast, MTDC’s big idea is called the Mahabhraman, a scheme which allows private tour operators to tie up with it in a move to promote untapped destinations in Maharashtra. So soak up the Sahyadri sun this sweltering summer cause your State has a lot to offer.

Destination Koyna
The Koyna backwaters, located 24 kms from Mahableshwar, is one of the tourist destinations MTDC is promoting. Popularly known as mini-Kashmir, it has characteristic red soil and is an ideal place for bird watching and star gazing enthusiasts. What is cooler is that you can camp on the banks of the backwaters too.

The business of camping
Chinmay Divekar, director of Nature Trails, a private camping site, that is being promoted by MTDC wants to sell the concept of camping. He believes adventure tourism will gain popularity only when more private players enter the market. With camps at Dabhosa, Durshet, Vikramgadh, he intends to start para-gliding and other adventure sports too. At River Camp Tapole, on the banks of the Koyna backwaters, Divekar has set up 18 tents. He organizes sports like trekking, kayaking, valley crossing, mountain biking and bird watching. How’d he get the land? “I have taken the land on lease for 10 years from the villagers,” he says. So why not build a cozy hotel that can raise a steady income. “I didn’t want to spoil the charm of the village. The camping concept is popular as there are visitors who are ready to pay twice the price to live in a tent and eat barbeque chicken,” he says. “And visitors enjoy the place even more when they know that we avoid using electricity and mobile phones are not discoverable in the area,” he says.

The 300 feet deep Koyna backwaters are ideal for Kayaking during the summer. The Kayak is a light banana-shaped boat meant for a single rider. A two-minute training course can teach you how to maneuver the Kayak and you’ll love using the paddle to make your own course in the lake. A little wobbly even in still water, the Kayak can flip upside down but you don’t need to know swimming, as a life jacket will ensure you float. “It is more fun when the Kayak topples around and you get wet. That is the best part of it,” says 10-year-old Pune resident Siraaj Tamboli. He then challenges his friends to a quick Kayak race. Siraaj loves Kayaking so much that he even plans to go on the five-day Kayak expedition where participants carry their food on the boat and go island hopping to discover new places. His parents know that he is in safe hands because Divekar’s trainers ensure that children are in safe hands 24 hours.

Other activities
For 12-year old Shanaya Mistree, living in a tent and being independent is the best part of the camp. She misses her mom and dad but “nothing beats staying with friends and going for night trails,” she says. What she enjoyed most about camping outdoors was waking up to the sounds of the Purple Sunbird. “It was better than my persistent harsh sounding alarm clock,” she says. Her passion for bird watching made her come all the way from Aurangabad. She spotted warblers, a swift, a kingfisher, drongos and a red-vented bulbul. But Shanaya doesn’t want to go back home until she spots a hornbill.

Meet the villagers
Campers can visit the inhabitants of Ahir village to get a taste of the rustic, local culture. Villagers have a symbiotic relationship with the camp managers as many locals seek employment with them. 19-year old Rakesh Sankpal’s father is a rice farmer but Rakesh, unlike his father enjoys adventure. A trainer at the camp since two years, he muses about how the camp site has changed the lives of many youth in the village. “Our economy has enjoyed a boost and we are exposed to new people and new thinking.” Locals enjoy the attention they get when visitors pay them a visit. “We show them our rice and nachani farms,” says local farmer Subhash Sankpal.

The camp which is set up only during the summer season is ideal for a weekend summer holiday. So give Mahableshwar a skip this summer and go visit the Koyna backwaters.

A few helpful links

DNA story

Chinmay’s Nature Trails