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Valparai remains out of focus for authorities

Local residents say the boathouse, developed by the previous AIADMK government was named as ‘Amma’ Boathouse and it could be one of the reasons behind lack of interest from the present government to throw it open to the public.

Valparai remains out of focus for authorities
The recently created Botanical Garden in shambles in Valparai

COIMBATORE: When popular hill stations in the state are bustling with tourists since the onset of summer, the Valparai Hill, which offers breathtaking views of beautiful tea gardens and unpolluted atmosphere, seems to be of least priority, due to its state of neglect.

“A boathouse developed at a huge investment is yet to be thrown open to the public even two years after its completion. Several new boats, which remained idle for long, have been damaged beyond repair and were removed from the spot. Even the water body has begun to stink due to mixing up of sewage,” said Shaji George, secretary of Valparai Merchants Association.

Local residents say the boathouse, developed by the previous AIADMK government was named as ‘Amma’ Boathouse and it could be one of the reasons behind lack of interest from the present government to throw it open to the public.

However, Valparai Municipal authorities reasoned that opening of the boathouse has been delayed due to legal issues raised by Kerala over diversion of flowing water to create an artificial water body.

“All options were being explored to reopen the boathouse after taking due permission from concerned departments. Also, concerted efforts were taken to build treatment plants and proposals sent to the state,” said Alagu Sundaravalli, chairperson of Valparai Municipality.

Even the Botanical Garden, which was thrown open in the fag end of the previous government, is in a pathetic condition. “Tourists were in fear as dense shrubs were grown all over in the garden and it looks like a perfect hideout for leopards and wild dogs straying out of the forest. There is nil maintenance and shops in the garden are not opened yet,” added Shaji George.

Alagu Sundaravalli also agreed that the garden lacks maintenance and children’s play equipment are already in bad condition. “It would also be set right at the earliest,” she added.

For those in the tourism sector, setting right the Botanical Garden and reopening the boathouse may turn out to be an added attraction to the hill, which was deprived of major tourism spots unlike Ooty or Kodaikanal.

“The tourism sector in Valparai may get a push if the state government’s plan to develop rope cars in the Sholayar Dam area materialises. Even eco-tourism activities like trekking and vehicle safaris could be introduced to woo tourists,” said R Thangadurai, a frequent visitor to Valparai.

Decline in the tourism sector and lack of job opportunities has snowballed into a social crisis with people migrating towards plains. “From around 1.3 lakh people in Valparai 10 years ago, the population had reduced drastically to less than 50,000,” said K Santhosh Kumar, president of Valparai Taxi Drivers and Owners Association.

Echoing a similar view, N Babuji, president of Valparai Cottage Owners Association said even though summer has set in, there is hardly any advance booking from tourists for cottages. “If the government doesn’t turn its focus to revive the tourism sector, then the situation may become a crisis. There are around 250 cottages and home stays in Valparai,” he added.

Closure of Chalakudi, Athirapally roads hits arrivals this summer

Lack of proper road infrastructure to Valparai seems to be turning away tourists towards other destinations.

It has been one of the long pending demands of the tourism sector to here to lay an alternative road to the hill. “Tourist arrivals on both ways from Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been hit severely due to closure of road from Chalakudi in Kerala for the ongoing tarring works since March 12.

Tourists from Kerala could not come to Valparai. Similarly, tourists from Tamil Nadu, who go to Athirapally falls after a halt in Valparai, couldn’t proceed to the falls due to the ongoing road works which is likely to continue for a few more days.

Most tourists prefer a drive through Chalakudi to Pollachi that presents scenic views with dense forest and waterfalls. Because of the closure of the roads, tourist arrivals have reduced significantly,” said Shaji George, secretary of Valparai Merchants Association.

Tourism activities may have remained smooth, if only there was an alternative road from the stretch between Chalakudi and Pollachi. It has also become a common phenomenon to block vehicle movement on the hill road even if there is a block caused by wild animal intrusion or vehicle breakdown. “Only during such emergencies, the need for an alternative road is felt. Already, tourist arrivals are meager and such roadblocks have further reduced arrivals to Valparai, despite the onset of summer. It has caused a huge setback for the tourism related business in Valparai and the town’s economy as a whole.

Drop in influx of tourists has in-turn resulted in cottages and resorts remaining empty. The normal occupancy rate, which was around 50 per cent, has reduced drastically to 10 and 15 per cent in cottages and stays,” said R Vinod, who runs a home stay in Valparai.

In fact, the demand for a new road through the hills is nothing new. “Already there exists a British era road called as ‘Kudirai pathai’ running through Villonie Estate settlement. It could even be repaired and few bridges could be built to put it into use.

Even Coimbatore district authorities inspected the route 10 years ago to establish an alternative road till Aliyar. However, the plan has been put on the back burner. If this road is laid, it will be of great convenience as distance of travel will get reduced with fewer hairpin bends,” said K Santhosh Kumar, president of Valparai Taxi Owners and Drivers Association.

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V Ashok Kumar
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