Tourist hotspot Thekkady still shut, livelihoods hit


Thekkady (Kerala) : It’s been nearly two weeks since the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary shut down following the boat capsize in Thekkady lake that killed 45 people. Tour operators, hotel owners and locals are now urging that the popular tourist spot be reopened soon as their livelihoods are at stake.

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The dense forest and the pristine lake usually attracts around 2,500 tourists every day and it peaks on holidays but after the tragedy, not even 100 arrive and those who do come are not let into the famed wildlife sanctuary, the forest department said.

Shia Zakeer, president of the Kumily panchayat (village council), said the situation is bad and the longer it takes to open, the more difficult it will be for the thousands who eke out a living from tourism-related activities here.

“There are over 40 resorts and more than 10,000 people make a living out of tourism activities. We have already had a meeting (regarding our concerns) here and we are meeting (state) Tourism Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan on Wednesday. We have requested that barring boating, other activities like trekking and bamboo rafting be opened. We are hopeful that things will turn positive,” said Zakeer.

Sujatha Murali, an office bearer of the Home Stay Association here, said the tourist destination should be reopened as soon as possible as people like her have huge loans to pay.

“Most of the home stays here have taken huge bank loans and I myself have to pay around Rs.60,000 every quarter as instalment for the loan taken to convert my home into a home stay. It is now almost two weeks since the place has closed and we are urging authorities to at least open the wildlife sanctuary,” Murali told IANS.

Tragedy struck Thekkady when a double-decker boat, owned by the state-run Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC), capsized in the lake Sep 30, killing 45 tourists. The state government has requested the Kerala High Court for the services of a high court judge to conduct a judicial probe and the sanctuary has been closed since then.

State Forest Minister Binoy Viswam told IANS that while the government is aware of the situation, discussions are on at various levels about the matter.

“At this moment I am unable to commit a date when Thekkady would be opened or any other details on what is being planned. We are aware of the situation,” said Viswam.

Koshy John, who is leading a 20-member group of tourists from Britain, said the visitors were scheduled to arrive in Thekkady later this week but they had reduced their stay here from three days to two as the tourism-related activities had been suspended.

“One day we will just be in Thekkady and the next day we have decided to go to Lower Periyar area in Tamil Nadu bordering Thekkady. If authorities do not wake up Thekkady’s loss would be Lower Periyar’s gain because there are quite a number of farms there that have already started attracting tourists,” said John.

The Kerala government is expected to take a decision on the matter at the weekly cabinet meeting Wednesday.