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PRESERVING THE PRISTINE BEAUTY OF OUR HILL STATIONS: THE MATHERAN MODEL
Opinion

PRESERVING THE PRISTINE BEAUTY OF OUR HILL STATIONS: THE MATHERAN MODEL

Lt Gen.Zameer Uddin Shah,PVSM,SM,VSM,Dep.Chief of Army Staff(RETD)

I pride myself as a person of the hills having spent 10 years of my life schooling in Naini Tal, then spending the bulk of my 40 years’ service in the hilly border regions and finally on retirement, settling down in Mussoorie (Uttar Khand). The Army gave me ample opportunities to visit most hilly regions in the country. I have over a period of 50 years seen them deteriorate and degenerate into nothing but noisy, overcrowded, difficult to reach and impossible to enjoy locales.

I was six years old when I entered the portals of St Mary’s Convent and then St Joseph’s College, Nainital. In 1954 the hills were thickly wooded and the Naini Lake had a plentiful supply of rain water brought in by the numerous ‘Nullahs’ that drained into the lake. These have now been filled up to make place for dwellings. The lake, devoid of its replenishment life lines, has shrunk in size and one no longer sees fishermen on the shores. The ‘Flats’, which were the sporting grounds where several prestigious tournaments were held, have become one gigantic parking lot for hundreds of vehicles brought in by tourists. In early 1950-60s the only cars saw seen were those of the Governor, High civil dignitaries, some army Jeeps and ambulances. The only beautiful place left is the forested area of the Raj Bhavan with its breathtaking beautiful golf course.

Mussoorie is no better. It takes hours of travel to reach from DehraDun, a distance of only 30 Kilometres. The hill sides have been disfigured by stone quarries. The contractors had attempted to paint the exposed lime faces green when an inspection was ordered by none other than PM Indira Gandhi. The beautiful Mall Road is perpetually clogged with vehicles and the view of the Doon valley has been obstructed by high rise buildings, which should never have been allowed. Our home is one of the oldest in Mussoorie, on a hilltop at the Library end of the town, but we have a line of cars parked bumper to bumper right up to our front gate making it a nightmare to reach home. Another hazard is the hordes of monkeys and apes making forays into homes. I don’t blame them. It is us humans who have intruded into their forest habitats.

Shimla is no better. It is over crowded with tourists from Punjab, flush with money and top end cars. There is always a shortage of water and tanker suppliers of this vital commodity are doing brisk business. Rainfall has become scarce. Snow fall, which was an annual occurrence, has become a rarity and is invariably welcomed by greater hordes of tourists, compounding the problem. Fortunately other hill stations in Himachal, because of difficult access to motorists have not been as adversely affected.

Mount Abu gets thousands of visitors from Rajasthan and Gujarat. The beautiful lake is a pale shadow of its former self. The hill stations in the North East have also not been spared. I visited Shillong in 1966 and later in 2006. The gap of 40 years had scarred this beautiful hill station. There were immense piles of garbage, left by ‘carpet bagger’ tourists who just visit the station to punch card their tourist itinerary. The air was thick with exhaust of the endless lines of cars.

A recent visit to Matheran, a hill station at a height of 800 meters, in Raigad district of Maharastra appeared the ideal solution to preserve the beauty of our hill stations and prevent irresponsible ‘carpet baggers’ from invading the town leaving behind mountains of garbage. One can reach it after a two hours ‘toy train’ journey from the rail head of Neral. This quaint railway was constructed in 1907 and is still operational. One can also opt for a pony ride or a rickshaw manually pulled. I preferred to walk. It just took 2 hours of an exhilarating climb which allowed me to savour the panoramic view of the Western Ghats. It was post monsoons and all the waterfalls were in full flow. The wild flowers were an added attraction. The town is noise and pollution free. One has to walk or take a rickshaw. The main attraction is the well-marked hiking trails leading to easily reachable destinations like ‘Charlotte Lake’ and ‘Louise point’. There are plenty of affordable hotels and guest houses and South Indian meals are a delight to savour. A striking feature of the town is life size stuffed tiger decoys at the entrances of most dwellings to frighten away marauding monkeys. I felt that that the simians had got so used to these ploys that they no longer remained a deterrent.

If we wish to preserve the beauty of our hill stations the Matheran Model needs to be implemented at all Hill stations. We need to have parking bays some distance from the towns and ban private motor vehicles. Limited Public transport can be permitted. There is also a need to ban multi-storeyed buildings obstructing the view of the hills. These measures will permit genuine tourists to enjoy our hill stations and it will be a unique method toward conservation and greening of our hills.

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The views the facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.