Forests are natural patterns of biodiversity. They can be found in every part of the world, even in the desert. Apart from works of nature, forests created by humans too are worth seen. One of the finest, sober example, amongst them is Sagareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra, west part of India.
Artificial in its real sense, the making of this spectacular man-made forest has been possible only due to the efforts of the famous freedom fighter and environment activist, D.M. Mohite, who worked day and night to raise it in all its glory. In the year 1975, the park was formed and every year, an increase in the number of plants, trees has led it become a tourist hub.
It all started when Mohite, while visiting the dry mountain slopes in his village saw a vision of lush green forest. To make his vision a reality, it took him 15 tenacious years to convince the villagers, forest officials, government officials and extensive hard work. The first thing Mohite did was to get the villagers to agree to stop the grazing of cattle. Then with the help of villagers he planted thousands of indigenous saplings across the length and breadth of this degraded forest.
For years, they carried water from the nearby villages and tended to them with love and care. Once these saplings grew up to be young trees, wild animals were brought in with the help of the forest department—sambar deer, spotted deer, blackbuck, fox, wild boar, snakes, mongoose and porcupine. Birds and butterflies though just breezed in.
This forest is called Sagareshwar Sanctuary, and is perhaps the first man-made sanctuary in India. This was distinct in its appearance as many animals were re-introduced. Located in Devrashtre village, the sanctuary now is the home to sambhar, blackbucks, wild boar, barking deer, chital, fox, hyena and porcupine.
Also in this 10.87 sq. km area, one can find many plants that have been planted by the forest department like Tamarind, Neem, Nilgiri, Acacia, Agave and Khair. The wildlife sanctuary is a treat for entomologists too as here exists, a good population of insects, birds and reptiles.
This forest is also a rare example of continuous upgradation by the forest department over the last three decades. First, it was declared a deer park, then a forest reserve, and then a wildlife sanctuary. It is fenced all around, except for the animal migration corridors. And all this happened when Mohite was alive.
A walk in the forest here is enough to see how suitable it is for eco-tourism. Probably that led Mohan Karnat, the then Chief Conservator of Forests, Kolhapur, and his dedicated team consisting of S. Zhure and S. Naykal to set up a cluster of beautifully designed cottages, a nature interpretation centre and an amphitheater to screen wildlife films so that visitors are sensitized to the forest and all that dwells in it.
Situated at a height of 2700 feet, the scenic Sagareshwar is probably the only wildlife sanctuary that has viewing areas ‘Points’ as one gets to see in a hill station. Ranshool Point, the Kirloskar Point and the Mahangund Point are the most popular.
Inside the forest is the Lingeshwar temple that’s twin to the Sagareshwar temple outside. The popular temple idol Sagareshwar lent its name to the forest. Devotees normally visit both temples.
If tourists want to extend their holiday in Sagareshwar sanctuary than they should visit Sangli, where a whiff of turmeric welcomes everyone. Sangli has many fields of turmeric plantation. This place also boasts visit of exceptional chess masters as many chess events have been organized here. India’s finest wine is also produced in Sangli. Touring the vineyards is also very popular. A group of 51 ancient temples belonging to Shilahara (c. 765 and 1029) or Yadava (c. 850–1334) period, around 1.5 kms from the sanctuary, are a must visit. Also here, one finds many stone sculptures of sages, women and elephants.
The other well known attractions nearby are Gokak Water Falls, Dandoba Hill Station, Chandoli Forests and Audumbar. A hike to the topmost hill of the sanctuary can give a spectacular view of Krishna river; zigzagging and making its way through fields of sugarcane and grapevines.
How to Reach
By Roadways: Tourists can easily reach Sagareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary by state transport buses. If traveling by private transport, all that tourists need to do is take National Highway No. 4 (Mumbai-Bengaluru Highway) and then turn in at Sangli.
By Railways: Sangli Railway Station, 2 km from Sagareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, is the closest railway station. Local passenger trains and a few express trains do stop at Kirloskarvadi and Takari; thereupon tourists can take a rickshaw or can walk.
By Airways: Kolhapur Airport, approximately 36 km from Sagareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, is the nearest airport. Since Kolhapur airport doesn’t have daily flight connectivity from all the major metropolitan cities, tourists can take a flight from Pune, which is 232 km from Sangli.
Where to stay: The Forest Rest House.