THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Ponmudi Hill Station, the idyllic eco-tourism destination, has been witnessing visitors like never before ever since the reopening of tourist spots after an aggressive second wave of the pandemic. The state has been witnessing revenge travel with all major tourist spots crammed with visitors, who are desperate for a getaway or vacation after the extended lockdown. Thugh the hill station is deared as a containment zone on Thursday, the authorities expect the crowding to continue after it opens up.
Ponmudi has turned out to be the favourite spot for revenge travellers in the district. Thousands of tourists are visiting the destination forcing the authorities to bring in more restrictions to manage the footfall. With visitors increasing manifold during weekends, the forest department is introducing online booking for visitors to restrict the hours being spent at the destination to resolve the parking crisis and manage crowding. Last Sunday, the destination welcomed more than 10,000 visitors which is the highest of all time.
According to officials, the authorities are planning to impose fines for visitors who stay for extended hours at the spot. Parking is becoming an issue at the destination. Currently, the spot can accommodate only 300 four-wheelers and 200 two-wheelers at a time. But during weekends, hundreds of vehicles arrive at the destination creating huge traffic snarls on the way leading up to the destination. Officials say the new online system is expected to help them manage the number of vehicles arriving at the location.
A forest department official said the new online system would be introduced from October 1. “We cannot accommodate more vehicles and we will be giving bookings for 200 two-wheelers and 300 four-wheelers at a time. They will be allotted three hours tospend time at the spot. After that, they should leave. It’s impossible to provide more parking facilities as the carrying capacity of the road is less,” said the official.
With the arrival of more visitors, the authorities are planning to renovate the existing toilet block at the hill station and install more CCTV cameras to ensure the safety of visitors. “The current toilet block is not disabled friendly and the renovated facility will have ramps so that disabled can also have access. The current facility is sufficient but the demand is likely to go up and hence we have decided to upgrade the toilet block,” said the official.
Integrated checkpost soon
The construction of the integrated check post `70 lakh at Kallar costing is under way. The project is funded by NABARD. The new check post would offer a slew of facilities for the visitors including an information centre, ticket counter and eco-shop.
According to officials, the new check post would help manage the visitors more effectively and entry can be managed in a more organised way. The project is expected to be completed in five-six months.
“The visitors would be able to visit the eco-shop and explore tribal products. The information centre would be able to guide the visitors from the entry point itself,” said the official.
Waste management an issue
Vithura panchayat authorities are unhappy with the way the forest department is managing the eco-tourism destination. “Waste management is going to be a serious issue at the location and the forest department is collecting money from the visitors but not doing much to improve the basic infrastructure for the visitors. They don’t remove the waste generated by the visitors and put the responsibility on us. We are fine with that. If the number of visitors go up, there must be a comprehensive plan for waste management,” said Vithura panchayat president V S Baburaj.
He said there needs to be a comprehensive eco-friendly plan for the hill station. “There is definitely a demand for more basic infrastructure, but that should be done without ruining the ecosystem and the forest which needs to be protected,” he added.
The state government had announced H200 crore in the last budget for the beautification of Ponmudi and to turn it into a world-class tourist destination. But the forest department is yet to come up with a comprehensive master plan. A forest department official said they are unaware of any plans under the project. The department had sanctioned H2.08 crore to give a facelift for the lower sanatorium. Former tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran had inaugurated it last year. But a slew of other projects planned with it are yet to be completed. “Many of the work has been completed and are coming near the KTDC Hill Resort. The plan is to hand over all these facilities to KTDC after completion,” said an official.