“Goruka, Goruko, Gorukana…Doddasampige O my Lord,
Take good care of us. Such a year will not come again
Every form of life in this forest belongs to you
Goruka, Goruko, Gorukana…”
The Soligas of the B R Hill forest area sing this song on all auspicious occasions in their mother tongue ‘Soliga nudi’. The mentor of these adivasis, Dr H Sudarshan has started a sustainable eco-tourism project, which has been functioning from November 1 last year.
Says Shilpa Sequeira, who is serving the Karuna Trust, an NGO started by Dr Sudarshan two decades ago, “This invocation says that like a spider weaves its web, God has woven the web of our life. Based on the theme of the song, Dr Sudarshan has named the eco-tourism project ‘Gorukana’. The big champaka tree is worshipped by them as the
Lord of the forest, along with the Temple God Biligiri Ranganatha Swamy!”
The tourist centre is situated about 170 km from Bangalore and is a three-and-a-half hour drive via the Kanakapura and Kollegal road.
According to Dr Sudarshan, who has been working towards moulding the Soligas to be self-reliant, “This 3.5-crore project is funded by NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development), Supraja Foundation of Hongkong and the Tourism Department of Karnataka.
The Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra has been functioning for the last three decades in the field of primary health care, education, conservation of forest and various tribal welfare activities. The ‘Vivek-Karuna Foundation’ has also been working towards health, education and other activities for the last two decades.
The Gorukana project aims to ensure that the welfare activities started by VGKK would go on, by making the tribal population self-reliant. At the same time, the Forest Department has ensured that no outside commercial hospitality ventures would invade BRT.”
Gorukana, Dr Sudarshan says, is a project where 100% of the benefits would go back to protect the site by funding research activities for conservation, protecting wildlife by reducing poaching activities and supporting local communities by providing employment and funding development programmes through VGKK.
Adds Shilpa, “This project seeks to minimise visitor impact on habitat, wildlife and native cultures by offering literature and guidance by a naturalist. The concept of tourism is not new to the tribals, for the Government of Karnataka already has an operational jungle lodge in K Gudi (Kyatadevara Gudi) range.”
“The local community has perceived the project as their ‘future’. This ‘nature experience project’ executed by award-winning Bangalore based architects Gayatri and Namith, boasts of 10 cottages, one tree house and one tent house,” she adds
There is a rainwater harvesting lake, apart from an organic farm. Also, vegetables and fruits from the organic farm and fresh milk from VGKK dairy farm are supplied. The project ensures that the local community is employed. Out of the 40 employees, 30 people are locals. A Soliga woman called Thara, who has completed her Pre-University, ably mans the reception counter, speaking fluently both in Kannada and English.
Also, the Soliga naturalists take visitors on jeep safaris to sight the tiger, majestic elephants and beautiful gaur! Along with trekking, guests can also visit the ‘podus’ (the tribal hamlets) to learn more about the Soliga culture.
“There is also ‘Voluntourism’ which combines the best of Volunteering and tourism. Guests can visit the school, hospital, take part in health camps. The first Soliga Ph D in agriculture, Jadegowda (Jadeya), who is working as a Professor in Ponnampet, Coorg University, has trained some students here, who can educate the visitors about organic farming,” says Shilpa. The security guards from Chamarajanagar district have trained the locals to provide security to Gorukana.
“We sincerely believe that biodiversity conservation and livelihood security of local people can go hand in hand. Tribals have perceived the project as being beneficial to them, due to the job opportunities available and there was no resistance from them because the project is eco-friendly. The Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra has also sponsored tribal youths to undergo training in different operational aspects of eco-tourism and hospitality,” says Dr Sudarshan.
As a young doctor who was arrested in the early Eighties because he fought for the rights of the adivasis and who was forest brigand Veerappan’s target, Dr Sudarshan’s crusade which tarted in 1979, seems to have reached its logical end in the form of Gorukana.