Sindhudurg: Bordered on the west by the bluish-green waters of the Arabian Sea and on the east by the lush green forests of the Western Ghats, Sindhudurg district in southwest coastal Maharashtra is a veritable tourist delight.
The district offers an equal measure of 30 sparkling beaches and big and small hill resorts -- including the famous Amboli -- scores of temples, festivals celebrated grandly, a salubrious climate virtually round-the-year, the typical Malvani style cuisine with emphasis on seafood, many "things to do" and friendly people.
Earlier this week, Sindhudurg suddenly shot into the national limelight after it was declared as "cleanest" district in the plains in the country, while Mandi in Himachal Pradesh claimed the honour in the hills section.
Though happy with the distinction achieved, the local administration shrugs at the honour almost nonchalantly.
"The people of the district have a very high civic sense and it has been historically doing well on the cleanliness front. There is good synergy between the people and the local government that has made cleanliness a habit rather than a compulsion," CEO of Sindhudurg Zilla Parishad Shekhar Singh, an IAS officer, told IANS.
He recalled how former CEO Anoop Kumar Yadav had first launched a mass movement on imbibing the spirit of cleanliness among the people way back in 2006.
Even earlier, in 2000, the then Rural Development Minister, the late R.R. Patil, had launched his pet scheme, the Sant Gadge Baba Village Sanitation Campaign (SGBVSC) -- later supported by Unicef -- in which Sindhudurg villages regularly come tops on several fronts, Singh said.
Sindhudurg Collector Uday Choudhary said it has been a long tough road and the success was not achieved overnight.
"Fortunately, the locals are highly tuned to hygiene and cleanliness and we were always leading in the SGBVSC. Of course, the real push came in the form of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Swachch Bharat mission that spurred us to clear the last lap successfully and catapulted us to the national level," Choudhary told IANS.
The duo explained that a survey under the Gramin Swachh Survekshan since May this year measured overall cleanliness in all places, sanitation, water supply, open-defecation-free (ODF) communities and solid-liquid waste management practices. Sindhudurg became the state's first ODF district in April 2016.
The district's picturesque beach town, Vengurla, has set a new trend in solid-liquid waste management technique, Chaudhary said with pride.
"Its unique technique generates power for the solid-liquid waste management unit, the plastic part of the solid is used to build roads and rest is utilised as manure. Thus, there is no wastage even from the waste," Chaudhary smiled.
Local Congress MLA Nitesh N. Rane said the achievement is the outcome of the steps initiated by his father, Narayan T. Rane, when he was Chief Minister in 1999 and, today, Sindhudurg has the third highest per capita income of Rs 1,04,000 in the state, next only to Mumbai and Pune.
"He had started these efforts way back in 1999, sensitised the public on cleanliness and taken steps to improve the tourist infrastructure, which has now resulted in Sindhudurg being declared as the state's first Tourist District," Nitesh Rane told IANS.
However, he cautioned that it was not the time to rest on laurels. The government must now target the next level to make it the most preferred tourist destination and the new distinction (as the cleanest in the country) will hugely help.
As a step towards this, Rane last week introduced water sports and scuba-diving activities on the Sindhudurg beaches, enabling tourists to experience the rich underwater beauty, marine flora and fauna in the clear, cool waters -- where dolphins also abound.
Choudhary said it is the natural beauty of Sindhudurg that draws toursists. The district has 48 per cent forest cover, 30 pristine white-sand beaches, several hill and sea forts, tiny picturesque villages, lush plains and the coast -- apart from scores of big and small temples and, of course, the famous Malvani cuisine.
"From September 17 to October 2, we conduct our new campaign for clean beaches, 14 of which are extremely popular among tourists, including the five-km-long Kunkeshwar Beach," the collector said.
But to attract more tourists, only natural beauty would not suffice and the state government must take steps on priority to improve connectivity to Sindhudurg, Rane averred.
"The existing Mumbai-Goa Highway is extremely congested and accident-prone due to its sad condition, the Coastal Highway plans are still on paper and the proposed new airport nearby is languishing for the past three years," Rane said.
Sindhudurg is the convergence point for the northern-southern branches of the Western Ghats, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and abounds in rich flora and fauna. Amboli is the last hill station in Maharashtra before the ghats give way to the rolling plains of adjoining Goa and Karnataka.
The distict has seven major forts, including the Sindhudurg Fort standing on a tiny isle off the Malvan beach, hill forts and other sea forts, mostly constructed during the rise of the Maratha Empire founded by Chhatrapati Shivaji as part of the fortification of the entire Konkan region.