Riverside respite

An inspiring journey of transformation led by young forest officer Vikas Nayak is turning the barren ravines along the banks of the Yamuna in Firozabad into a thriving hub of ecotourism, writes Namita Bajpai
Riverside respite

UTTAR PRADESH: In an area once known for its difficult, deserted terrain and notorious for being a haven for outlaws and miscreants, a remarkable transformation has taken place. This barren land, now emerging as a ‘green oasis’, owes its revival to the diligence and vision of Vikas Nayak, an IFS officer of the 2019 batch.

Vikas Nayak, a dedicated Indian Forest Service officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre, saw potential in the ravines of Firozabad, a region along the banks of the Yamuna. These ravines, once a breeding ground for outlaws, are now being transformed into an ‘eco-hub’ featuring wood huts, geo treks, a butterfly park, and more.

“The motive was to offer immersive experiences to visitors who could appreciate nature and be inspired to conserve it as well,” says Nayak, who hails from neighboring Rajasthan.

Situated near Shikohabad in the Firozabad district, about 50-60 km from the Taj City of Agra, the land next to the Yamuna River was a rough, deserted patch with dying biodiversity. This spurred Nayak to conserve and rejuvenate it. He began working on his concept in 2023, and within 11 months, the barren land had transformed into the ‘Rapdi Ecotourism Centre.’

“The aim was not only to rescue the biodiversity of the place but also to promote ‘responsible’ or ‘conscious tourism’,” explains Nayak. The ecotourism facility now boasts hundreds of trees, wooden huts, boats, a butterfly park, and diverse bird species.

Nayak’s vision was to create a unique destination. “On getting posted as DFO in Firozabad, I realized that the locals were not very active in conservation. While patrolling one morning, I stumbled upon this piece of land with great potential. The land reminded me of the ravines depicted in the Bollywood biopic ‘Paan Singh Tomar.’ I decided to turn it into something worthwhile and different,” recalls Nayak.

The project, which began in March 2023, culminated in February 2024 and opened to the public in April 2024. “We are in touch with tour operators in Agra to extend tours to Firozabad. We also target foreign tourists visiting Agra,” shares Nayak.

The eco-tourism hub offers a variety of activities and attractions, including geo treks, wooden cottages, speed boating, bird watching spots, cave explorations, and a cafeteria. Nayak emphasizes that the project goes beyond his official duties, incorporating features resembling hillside terrain and establishing butterfly spots for educational purposes.

Community participation was crucial. Nayak set up a ‘Joint Forest Management Committee’ (JFMC) involving Rapdi village residents. “JFMC was essential for ensuring the project’s sustainability and management after completion. Engaging locals helps in better upkeep, wildlife rescue, and biodiversity conservation, while also supporting community growth,” he explains. Revenue from the project is shared equally between the State government and the JFMC.

“I think through this project, we have created a source of revenue not only for the state government but also for the local community. It has become a site of employment generation in the area,” he shares.

Specific habitats for birds and butterflies were established, and more trees were planted to create the hub without disrupting the existing biodiversity. Besides creating an attractive destination for tourists, Nayak aimed to raise awareness about ‘eco’ and ‘responsible tourism’ among the locals.

“The facility, now bustling with activity, saw a footfall of 1,100 on its first day. Local community participation has opened various opportunities such as running the canteen, cafeteria, parking facilities, and managing entry fees,” says Nayak.

Additionally, hospitality training was provided to local youth, including guidance on food service and interaction during nature treks to ensure quality visitor service.

The center is being developed as a 100% plastic-free zone. “We are also working with SHGs to source local art pieces like jute bags and wooden crafts to sell as souvenirs,” says Nayak.

“As a responsible tourist, one must recognise their carbon footprint and minimise environmental impact. Ecotourism is all about the sustainability and its amalgamation with nature,” he says.

Nayak plans to expand the existing facilities, introducing initiatives such as a plant library to provide information about various plant species, allowing visitors to deepen their botanical awareness.

Unique eco-hub

Humming with a plethora of activities besides the biodiversity and lush greenery, the eco-tourism hub boasts a ‘geo trek’, wooden cottages for visitors to stay, boat rides, bird watching haunts, and cave explorations tours. The ‘oasis’ incorporates elevated features resembling hillside terrain, and adventurous and serene trekking activities for exploring

the arid ravines in the region where visitors can learn about the forest

and river ecosystems.

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