Siswan becomes eco-tourism hub

A local community transforms its area into an adventure hotspot, writes Harpreet Bajwa.
Siswan once off-limits and rich in natural beauty, is now a thriving recreational zone managed by the state forest and wildlife department
Siswan once off-limits and rich in natural beauty, is now a thriving recreational zone managed by the state forest and wildlife department

PUNJAB: In a pioneering initiative, Siswan and its surrounding forest areas, located at the foothills of the Shivalik range on the outskirts of Chandigarh, have been transformed into an eco-tourism hub. This picturesque area, once off-limits and rich in natural beauty, is now a thriving recreational zone managed by the state forest and wildlife department.

The local community is reaping the benefits of this transformation, with the village panchayat earning significant revenue through the project. Additionally, the tertiary economy has seen a boom, with numerous cafes and restaurants opening up, and Self-Help Groups (SHGs) selling locally made products such as face packs, bags, and pickles. The footfall at the Siswan Dam has increased five-fold in the last two years, showcasing the project’s success.

The eco-tourism project, which began in 2021, includes the creation of eco-huts, nature trails, and various recreational activities such as bird watching and rappelling at the Siswan Dam site and forest area. The goal is to make Siswan a ‘second sister site’ to Chandigarh’s Sukhna Lake, but on a much larger scale. Spanning 25,000 acres in the Majri block of SAS Nagar (Mohali) district in Punjab, Siswan has become a key destination for nature enthusiasts. The project is managed by the Joint Forest Management Committee, which includes the village panchayat.

The initiative features three eco-huts at the dam site, boating with fifteen boats, and a canteen-cum-cafeteria. Three trekking trails have been established: the 4-km Siswan to Planpur, the 5-km Siswan to Mirzapur, and the 4-km Siswan to Barol. According to a forest official, there are plans to extend these trails by an additional 3-kms each to further attract tourists.

The project generates over Rs 1 crore annually, with Rs 25 lakhs going to the JFMC, of which the village panchayat is a part. The JFMC’s executive committee oversees the day-to-day operations, while the forest department facilitates the project, including contracts for the canteen-café, boating, and hut rentals. Weekend footfall at Siswan Dam has surged to 1,500 visitors per day, up from just 200 in 2021, solidifying Siswan’s status as an eco-tourism hub. To enhance revenue and profits, the department plans to design comprehensive packages for visitors, including hut bookings, boating, and treks.

Divisional Forest Officer of Mohali, Kanwar Deep Singh, highlights the project’s success, attributing it to the sustained efforts of the JFMC and forest department officials. “We plan to make Siswan an alternative to Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh, the second sister site,” Singh says. Over the two years, partnerships with SHGs have allowed them to sell local products to visitors, benefiting both the SHGs and the village panchayat.

Phase two of the Siswan eco-awareness project will introduce more huts in the adjacent hills, a houseboat, and kayaking, aiming to make Siswan an adventure hotspot. The rich biodiversity and old fossil deposits offer unique attractions.

Panchayat head and JFMC chairman, Balwant Ram, notes that the revenue earned has been reinvested into the project to enhance visitor facilities. He emphasises the importance of prioritising local youth for jobs within the eco-tourism project and using funds for village improvements, including upgrading the local temple and village grounds.

The forest and wildlife department is also considering expanding eco-tourism initiatives to other locations, such as Harike Wetlands and Thana Dam in Hoshiarpur district.

“We are planning more eco-tourism projects in the state in the near future,” says RK Mishra, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Punjab.

Related Stories

No stories found.

The New Indian Express