Number of tourists is reaching pre-COVID-19 levels, say officials who have extended timings to accommodate the visitors
Thousands of tourists are flocking to Nandi Hills on weekends ever since the popular attraction was reopened to the public on September 7. According to officials in the Horticulture Department, which manages the area, the number of visitors on Saturdays and Sundays is over 8,000, almost back to pre-COVID-19 levels.
“In the initial days after re-opening, the hill was open between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. But due to the increase in visitors, which was resulting in traffic jams, we were forced to extend the timing from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” said Gopal N., special officer at Nandi Hills.
Before the pandemic, over 10,000 people would visit Nandi Hills every weekend. ““Now that it’s the festive season and there are more holidays, we are expecting the number to increase,” he added.
To manage the crowd and ensure that precautionary measures are being followed, the Horticulture Department, along with the police, have assigned more personnel on the ground. “Five home guards, our staff, people from the gram panchayat and police personnel are involved in collecting fines from those who are not wearing masks or following social distancing norms,” said another official.
Pollution and plastic
Locals claim that the influx of tourists has resulted in an increase in pollution levels as well as garbage over the last few weeks.
Nandi Hills was free from waste during the lockdown. But now, people leave behind plastic all over the pristine hills,” said an official, who said that even though vehicles are checked, it is not feasible to monitor thousands of people daily.
To tackle the plastic menace, India Plog Run and the Horticulture Department along with a local resort have started organising awareness programmes and plog runs with the message ‘serenity with responsibility’.
Ramakrishna Ganesh of India Plog Run, who resides near Nandi Hills, said their aim is to create awareness on proper and effective disposal of waste. “When the hills were closed to the public, we collected around 2.5 tonnes of waste, mainly plastic. We want to maintain cleanliness, but it is not possible without community participation. Hence, for the past three weeks, we have been conducting frequent plog runs,” he said.
D.S. Kiran Kumar, a volunteer, said that many people have started bringing their own food after COVID-19. “Many tourists discard bottles and disposable boxes carelessly,” he said.
The Horticulture Department has decided to procure eco-friendly vehicles that can be used by the public at the hills.
Rajendra Kumar Kataria, Secretary, Agriculture, Horticulture and Sericulture, said a tender will be called soon. “We had trial runs with such vehicles and the results were positive,” he said.
Mr. Kataria said that once enough eco-friendly vehicles are on board, one of the two parking lots atop the hills will be closed. “The big parking venue will remain while the one located further up will be closed. We are in talks with the departments concerned to start shuttle services from the foothill to the top. We are getting a few acres of land at the foothill to be be developed as a parking lot so that the vehicle load on the hill can be reduced,” he said.