An official ban on night treks in the forests appears to make little difference to those venturing into the wild after sunset.
A group of nine Bengalureans, comprising students and working professionals, went night trekking and camped in the hillocks of Antharagange in Kolar district, just 70 km from the city. The group walked through the volcanic caves and climbed the steep hills of Antharagange Reserve Forest on Saturday night. It camped with bonfires, sleeping bags and tents.
The Forest Department learnt about the violation only on Monday following a tip-off. “Based on the photographic evidence, leads found on the ground and a thorough recce of the area by our staff, it is confirmed that a group of boys and girls ventured into the forest without permission,” Ramalingegowda, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Kolar (territorial division), said.
The department has now filed trespassing cases against the trekkers for walking through the volcanic caves, besides trekking and camping in the Antharagange hillocks without permission.
“This is a violation of the forest rules. We have shared the information with the deputy commissioner and the superintendent of police of Kolar to trace the trekkers and bring them to book. We also tracked them on social media where they have posted photographs,” he added.
Taking note of the matter, Tourism Minister Priyank Kharge said that the organisers and the trekkers would be dealt with sternly as night trek was banned in Karnataka.
Antharagange is a popular destination for adventure lovers. Its six hillocks and volcanic caves not only attract many but have also become a hub of illegal activities. The hillocks are criss-crossed by the Bengaluru-Tirupati national highway. The 4,226-acre reserve forest is surrounded by 3,891 acres of private and revenue land without any demarcation, causing confusion among visitors. The hillocks are home to leopards and sloth bears. There have been instances of villagers having close encounters with nocturnal animals.
Swamy, manager of Escape2Explore, the firm which organised the trek, admitted to taking the adventures on night trek to Antharagange but said he was unaware of the ban. “We organise it professionally where people do not smoke or drink. They spend the night on the hills, see the sunrise and return. There is no forest boundary or any demarcation there,” he said.