Chugging along the winding road beyond Araku’s last market area where the weekly shandy is held, a neatly-laid pathway less than half a kilometre-long tucks in a surprise.
Ahead are rows of towering, gently swaying, pine trees veiled by a curtain of fog, lifting slowly. This is the Araku Pinery, a new eco-tourism initiative started by the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department in Anjoda. This new tourist destination, a one-of-its-kind government initiative at the region, is developed on a patch of pine plantation overlooking the valley and being managed by the Van Sanrakshan Samiti (VSS) of the local tribal community of Shantinagar village. Nestled in the lap of the valleys of Eastern Ghats, here you can escape the confines of a rushed city life. Here, the air is instantly cleaner and the surroundings, greener.
Wrapped in a blanket of mist, a tall wooden gate welcomes visitors. The sun’s soft rays spreading unevenly through the pine plantations and the icy cool breeze make it an immersive experience.
The Araku Pinery is one of the few places in the Agency Areas where tropical pine plantations were developed in the year 1975-76 on an experimental basis. “The plantations thrived over the years; however, during cyclone Hudhud in 2012 about 25% of pine trees were lost. Since then, the spot had lost its charm,” says K Vinod Kumar, Deputy Conservator of Forest, Paderu.
Last year in November, the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department inaugurated an eco-tourism project to revive the beauty of the location by developing it at a cost of ₹1.06 crore with the support of Central Warehousing Corporation’s CSR initiative. “The main idea of the project is to create awareness among the public about the region’s ecological diversity as well as to empower the local community and improve their socio-economic situation. The place is run by the Van Sanrakshan Samiti of Shantinagar village from where 10 members, a majority being women, have been engaged for the project,” adds Kumar.
The place is not exactly a dense thicket, but is enveloped in hues of green. Surrounded by valleys and farm fields, the only sound one hears is the rustle of leaves and the chirping of forest birds. Along the entrance is a small patch of greens which is the nursery section. Colourful butterflies flutter around on the pathway dotted with tall pine trees.
The camping area at Araku Pinery has 34 tents of three categories that can accommodate two, three and six members depending on the size. The bonfire place in the centre lights up every evening around which campers, snugged in layers of woollens, gather together to enjoy the warmth.
Within the short span of time since its opening, Araku Pinery has become a popular location for photography, pre-wedding shoots as well as film shootings. Sudhir K, an IT executive who was here from Hyderabad to capture the winter morning fog and tune into Nature, says this is an ideal location to experience the beauty of the region, observe the star-lit sky and understand the culture of the locals who manage the place.
The place has elevated view points that offer a panoramic vista of the valleys and farm fields surrounding it. There are many seating areas interspersed across the pine tree plantation to sit and soak in the silence. A cafeteria offers meals for campers; food orders need to be placed well ahead. With temperatures dropping to single digits in the recent past, Araku Pinery has been getting on an average 700 to 800 visitors during weekends and 500 during week days.
Plans are afoot to start an adventure zone in the place. “We are reaching out to some firms that can develop activities like zipline in tune with the concept of eco-tourism. By March end, the adventure activity project will be finalised and we hope to start the same by summer this year,” says Kumar. The forest department is also planning to give training to local villagers in making handicrafts and in hospitality management.
On similar lines, the department has renovated the forest guest houses in Araku and recently opened it for the public under the name Araku Forest Eco Park with stay facilities, walking tracks, children’s play arena, nursery, coffee plantation and tented accommodation.
Surrounded by tall trees which support a colony of bats and birds, the place gives you a feel of forest. There are two cottages, two suites and a dormitory for stay as well as tented accommodations. “We are developing a coffee plantation in a small patch. People can go around and enjoy a trek around the plantation,” adds Kumar. The food facility at the Eco Park is not yet operational. Food can be ordered from outside.
The forest department has also identified a place overlooking valleys in Anantagiri where a three-storied resort, a walking track leading to a natural stream and a coffee shop are coming up at a cost of ₹Rs 5.5 crore with funding from NTPC Simhadri under CSR initiative. Work on the coffee shop has already begun.
For bookings at Araku Forest Eco Park, contact 901453977