Published On : Sun, Nov 1st, 2015

Malhara Hills: An Agro-Tourism Initiative in Nature’s lap

Amid the rolling hills and cool breezes, Malhara Hills is an ideal place for the tourist, especially the young student, to get acquainted with nature in her true essence, an excellent site for such orientation. This place can have all that nature can offer in areas like agro-tourism, naturopathy, eco-tourism, a nature trail, a butterfly park and adventure sports. In Dec 2015 is the launch of Malhara Hills – the Agro-Tourism Initiative.

Way down to the valley
A mini hill-station with its undulating hills, 110 km. from Nagpur, 16 km short of Multai in Madhya Pradesh, is Malhara Hills. At 2400 feet above MSL, it is higher even than Lonavla, and a double engine has to be attached to all trains from Chichanda station here as the gradient is very steep. This place can be defined as an eco-friendly agro-tourism project, a tourist spot which people from all over the region can visit and stay in for short durations, overhauling and rejuvenating body and soul. A tourist is defined as one who travels for his own pleasure and this place is sure to attract him as do all hill-stations in a hot country like ours, especially the Nagpurian, considering that at any time of the year the Malhara temperature is 7 -10 degrees less than that of Nagpur.

The total area of 100 acres have been divided into areas for agriculture, parks, natural forests, water catchments, a naturopathy centre, a club-house, logistical infrastructure etc.


The Agro-tourism experiment

In agro-tourism, the creators of the project would like to introduce the younger generation to the various aspects of agriculture including grains, fruits, vegetables, poultry, fishing and dairy especially considering that they have no exposure to the ground level work that goes into the making of things like the bread they eat daily or the milk they drink!

They are using naturally grown manure from natural waste having developed a system of ‘jeevan-amrut’ which attracts earthworms. This is the zero-budget farming method which has been developed by organic farmer of Amravati, Subhash Palekar, where not a single teaspoon of fertilizer or a drop of pesticide is used. They have created their own nursery also through this method from where they give saplings free of cost to anyone who needs them.

Over 5 lakh trees have been planted and they will further propagate, naturally. This large number is necessary to combat greenhouse-gases especially as they would also have a dairy. Trees planted here are fruit-bearing ones like the mango, chiku, guava, cherry, bananas, papayas, custard-apple, coconut, figs, ber, lemon, pear, musambi, jamun, karaonda, aawala, walnut, grapes, supari cherry, kokum, avocado, kaju, leechees, dates, chakotara, mulberry, kavat etc. All this and more have been planted on an experimental basis in an effort to see what this soil will reject / retain so that eventually the local people could benefit from this experiment and take up planting such species individually and earn profits. Over 500 Mahua saplings have been planted as also sandalwood and teak, and everything is done the ‘natural’ way. Mahua being the Tree of Life of the tribal people, its numerous uses would also be looked into for local benefit.

Apart from agriculture, mainly horticulture at this point of time, they intend to work on dairying, not just as in milk production but in the production of manure and they already have a very huge bio-gas plant for which they need the dung from 50 cows. However, this project would take a little time as leaving the cows free could harm the trees planted here.

Soaking in nature

Once the fruiting trees bloom, several bird species would make this their home and the place will be replete with sightings and the calls, twittering and chirps of different avian species. The flowers are already inviting several species of insects hence, apart from being a bird-paradise, it would be of tremendous interest to the entomologist. There is already a designated butterfly park with specific plants to attract butterflies which would be a delight to the lepidopterist (one who studies butterflies). In time, this park is sure to increase footfalls; Nelson Roderigues, well-known lepidopterist from Mumbai, who visits here, vouches that the place has good potential

As for fauna, there are already 15-25 peacocks, wild boar, jackals, deer which are exciting chance sightings. Once the trees grow and the jungles become dense with undergrowth, more animals will come in, besides, the environment would become more conducive for the existing faunal populations to grow.

A nature trail walk-way of 7 km with breaks at every 500 meters can be an exciting walk amid the teak and other trees and fields with a colourful medley of flowers, and fields and fields of orange cosmos blossoms. They have planted over 15000 flowering plants this year itself.

To prevent rain-water run-off, 4 lakes i.e. catchment areas, have been created in the low-lying areas and a small dam would be constructed between two hillocks. These areas would be used to advantage for bird-watching, adventure sports, angling and could make excellent camping sites. Angling is already being done in a water-body here where Rohu fish have been left to spawn.

To start with, two Gypsies would take the tourists around this private jungle premises and on a downhill trek through the lovely natural winding road overlooking the valley with the river in the gorge, with a stopover at the butterfly park en route.

Machans over-looking the waterholes are already being constructed which may be very rewardingly used at dawn and dusk for sighting avian activity as well as sighting animals that would come there to quench their thirst like the deer, jackals, wild-boars, and other smaller animals, all of who have already made this their natural habitat. Malhara Hills particularly boasts of quails and partridges and as the fruiting trees come up other birds will become local residents.

Malhara Hills - A panoramic View
Enjoy Adventure Sports

This is an ideal plateau for aero-sports says Amol Khante, Head of CAC All-Rounder, the adventure- sports expert of the region. “We can have para-sailing, para-gliding, zorbing on the natural slopes, zip-line, segway track (two-wheeled, self-balancing, electric vehicle) here, and in the dams we can have kayaking, canoeing, rowing. We can have good camping here also as all the activities here are conducive to camping like nature trails, butterfly park etc. On 6th Dec. 2015 at the launching we intend to put up an artificial wall for climbing activities and also have zip-line and target sports like archery, target shooting.”

One of the lakes in Malhara Hills
The need of the hour –
Eco-friendly measures

One of the important ideas behind the creation of Malhara Hills was also to afforest this barren land and this has been adequately taken care of and water catchments have been created to prevent rain-water run-off. Water from one of these low-lying lakes is being raised to a tank through solar power from where it goes down by gravitational pull for use all over as well as for watering the plants.

While the resort could construct up to 150 units, they would like to keep it to less, starting with about 10 double-storeyed villas constructed of the stones excavated from the creation of the four lakes – a perfect example of reuse of material. Says Ashok Kalra, Project In-charge, “The land area is good for up to 150 villas but we are trying to keep it to a minimum, and will build in phases, according to the need. We would first try with 10 villas and then construct more on demand. Most of them would be double-storeyed structures made of the stones excavated from the sites here where the water-bodies were created. There are enough stones here for all the villas to be constructed. Of course, despite the fact that the stones give it that natural look, they would have to be painted with a special paint to keep them cool as one of the USPs of the resort is the cool atmosphere.”

Double-storeyed mud houses would do adequately for the naturopathy centre, which are to be built with guidance from an architect from Goa, winner of the “Earth Award” for ecological construction.

To keep the atmosphere pollution-free an effort is being made to fully develop the place in a manner conducive to the environment. In keeping with this view they would avoid the use of plastic and encourage the re-introduction of old-world eco-friendly things like the ‘kullhar’ for drinking cups as the soil here is very good. This would also give the villagers a profitable occupation. They would be using all recycled or reused materials.

Very importantly, they would concentrate on eco-friendly power supply – solar and gas (biogas) and they already have a huge biogas plant here and will also go in for hybrid wind-mills, a concept still to become popular in these regions.

Involving local communities

The crux of all eco-tourism initiatives is the involvement of the local communities and employment opportunities that can accrue to them from this initiative.

A boundary of bamboo is being created with a twofold purpose – one, to demarcate their land; two, so that the villagers can use the bamboo for crafts and sell them here and outside. They would keep these bamboo products low-cost so that they can find buyers easily. Even now, most of the workers are local with 40 % of them tribal people. They would get trainers from the Bamboo Research Institute in Bangalore to train the villagers here in the creation of artifacts from bamboo and sell these at reasonable prices. They could also use their agricultural produce in the resort. Once this place is fully functional, obviously a plethora of opportunities would open up for the local communities.

Back- waters of small dam on highway
Sites of Interest

On the left side of the highway is another 50 acres of their land including the backwater from a small dam, a very picturesque sight, indeed, where there would be some water-sports and also a singing garden (musical fountains etc).

On this side of the highway is also a Nakshatra -Vann with 27 trees related to the 27 nakshatras. Even just sitting under the tree of one’s own nakshatra, could help immensely due to the right vibes that the tree would be imparting to the person.

Extensive acres
The Genesis and Concept

Manohar Tarkunde of Nagpur’s only too well-known Khare & Tarkunde wanted to give the ever-hungry-for-travel middle-class a place to go to, an escape from the mundane urban world, on a reasonable and affordable budget and so he always looked for such a place. He took architects with him to recce around for such a dream place and finally struck gold in this undulating terrain off Malhara village about 110 km. from Nagpur, just 16 km short of Multai in Madhya Pradesh.

Says Tarkunde, “We chose the site as we, as builders, always need a land-bank. When I saw this land I realized this was it. In 5 minutes I said yes to this offer as I could see the potential and I could also visualize the impact it would have once the road would be made into a 4-laned highway which it now is. I also saw that this was an area with the possibility of creating good water catchments and that a small dam could be built here (without losing trees) between two hills.”

Sometimes a guilt trip can go a long way in creating a positive outcome in trips for tourists! Says Mr. Manohar Tarkunde whose baby this project is, “When we built the Irai dam in Chandrapur for MSEB, we had to clear-fell a lot of land and felling such a huge number of trees made me very sad. Therefore, I wanted to compensate for this loss by planting trees, so I kept on planting wherever I could, and also stopped people from felling trees by employing chowkidars to check such felling. I was very happy to finally find this land where my dream of planting trees on a large scale could be fulfilled. Here we have 100 acres of land with greenery through the survival of over 6 lakh trees. In the initial stages, I myself would water over 2 lakh saplings twice a week and did this for 4 years.”

Another inspiration for him was the Pondicherry Ashram where the Mother had undertaken intensive plantation turning barren lands into forests where suddenly one could see peacocks, deer and other small animals.

A welcome move in the right direction!

The moot point is, why would a Nagpurian who rushes to the nearest Tiger Reserves – three of them under 60 km from Nagpur, almost in his backyard – come to a place like this, double the distance? And, no tigers either!! Manohar Tarkunde continues, “Tiger Reserves are too costly and tiger sightings don’t happen all the time, but this mini hill-station is in the lap of nature with flora and fauna which will be abounding soon; this is a private forest resort with a good and affordable naturopathy centre for which people from Nagpur spend heavy amounts going to other states. There are no good naturopathy centres in this region. The lodging and boarding along with treatment would cost not over Rs. 1000 per day / per head for naturopathy, including yoga. The cottages for other activities too would cost Rs. 7000 for seven people which is also Rs. 1000 per day / per head, inclusive of meals, a cost that no jungle resort around Nagpur can compare or compete with. The idea is to get away from the urban environment into nature.”

Malhara can be developed as a substitute to Pachmarhi, in a smaller way, the advantage being the short distance from Nagpur, and on a buttery-smooth highway to boot. It could also draw tourists from Bhopal just 240 km away. Well-connected by road and rail, this project is 3 km off the highway and away from its associated pollution. In fact, MP Tourism is trying to create a special tourism zone in Multai of which Malhara Hills would be an integral part.

High Way
While the Malhara Agro-Tourism Project can easily be a stand-alone tourist destination, places of tourist interest abound around this place which could be added incentives for the tourist. Circuits could be built up around Multai within which is the origin of River Tapati, and River Wardha also originates from around here. Farther towards Chhindwara is the Deogarh fort where the whole history of the Gondi (Muslim) kings (the creators of Nagpur) unfolds and adds to the knowledge of the tourist. Deogarh is known as the place of 400 well and 900 bowdies; sure enough a place worth visiting. On the way to Malhara from Nagpur is Bad Chicholi village with its wonderful banyan tree spread over 4 acres; as can be usual of banyans, it is so widespread its actual original tree is left to conjecture. This is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site, hence this is the only part of the highway that has, appropriately, not been disturbed by four-laning.

Origin of River Tapati
This wonderful concept with its remarkable effort in afforesting a part of the earth could be an inspiration for others to take up such green projects for a greener planet.

Tapati River source, Moola Dai
By Anuradha Paul

Pics –  Prashant Bhoot