Tuesday, September 1, 2015

tragic parisal accident at Hogenakal - the coracles !!

Most tourist places have something in common – lack of facilities for common man; absence of safety precautions !  - do you know what these are ?
photo credit : Dinamalar

Mettur Dam is one of the largest dams in India built in 1934. It provides irrigation facilities to parts of Salem, the length of Erode, Namakkal, Karur, Tiruchirappali and Thanjavur district for 271,000 acres of farm land. Upstream from the dam is Hogenakal Falls.  Hogenakal  is located in the Dharmapuri district about 180 km (110 mi) from Bangalore and 46 km (29 mi) from Dharmapuri town. Carbonatite rocks in this site are considered to be the oldest of its kind in South Asia.  The water falls here are difference than the one at Courtallam or elsewhere. 

River Cauvery [Kaveri] flows forcefully and in the vast expanse, tourists travel by boat [not exactly boat but contraptions called ‘parisal’] – people take ride on these parisals to go near and enjoy the sight of falls near gorges – some local children would jump off from the hill tops into the river for a small money.   Freshly caught fish ~many varieties are there on the river, are sold by the gorge. 

The parisal [coracle] - is a small, lightweight boat – not exclusive to Hogenakal -  used in Wales; also in parts of Western and South West England, Ireland and Scotland and in some other parts of the World too.  Oval in shape and very similar to half a walnut shell, the structure is made of a framework of split and interwoven willow rods, tied with willow bark.  The Indian Coracles are primitive, light, bowl-shaped boats with a frame of woven grasses, reeds, or saplings covered with hides.  It is stated that at Hogenakal there are two types – smaller ones used for fishing and larger ones, which measure up to 8.4 feet (2.6 metres) in diameter, are used for tourists.

Don’t ever imagine something of a boat [when you read larger !] – here is one when we travelled in 1989 ! – On that day, the oarsman asked us not to shift stating that the place is very deep; took us nearer the five falls – and in order to entertain, made the boat swirl around, using his oar dexterously. perhaps we may not venture to do that now [my Oriental friends in this photo will vouch for that !]…….    Understand that these parisals are waterproofed by hide of buffaloes; but plastic sheets are used these days. 

Sad news from Hogenakal is : in a tragic turn to a wedding anniversary celebration, six members of a Chennai family, including two children were drowned when their coracle capsized in Hogenakkal on Sunday [30.8.15].  According to the Hindu / TOI and Indian Express, among the  dead was a 10- month-old girl. Three others, including a six-andhalf- year-old boy, were dragged to safety. Collector K. Vivekanandan has banned coracle rides in Hogenakkal. The accident occurred at Dombachikkal in Hogenakkal when the victims who got down to view Five Falls from the view tower were climbing onto the coracle. One of them fell on the coracle, tipping it over. The victims were not wearing lifejackets and the coracle was overloaded.

Residents of Hogenakkal say Sunday’s coracle tragedy is not new. Often they hear incidents of drowning. In 2010, a similar accident involving a coracle ride ended in the drowning of four from Chennai. Lifejacket was made mandatory after the Pulicat lake boat tragedy in 2011. But in Hogenakkal, which witnesses several hundred tourists every weekend, the lifejacket norm is ignored. Often tourists are reluctant to don the lifejackets, citing the heightened humidity, says a former tourism manager of- Hogenakkal, requesting anonymity.

The occasional tourists, who do wear lifejackets before boarding a coracle at the boathouse, remove them after the coracle stops at two points for the tourists to climb out for closer view of Five Falls. They ignore the lifejacket after climbing onboard the second time, says a police source.

News reports  state  that the riders also flouted the passenger limit norm of six persons per coracle, says the former tourism manager.  On Sunday, 10 passengers were on board the ill-fated coracle. Overcrowding is linked to overpricing of the rides. The government has fixed the fare at Rs. 110 per person, but coracle drivers charge Rs.160. Sometime ago, the hanging bridge that renders a perfect view of Five Falls by foot was closed to prevent tourists from straying by foot up to the scenic falls. In the absence of access to a view of the falls, the only option left is a coracle ride that offers them a view. A local resident felt that posting of lifeguards along the hanging bridge would prove effective.

The coracles are operated by locals who also provide a little adventure by pushing the paddle to make the coracle swirl in the rapids, a common occurrence when the river is in spate. A tourist hotel official said, “With better travel facilities, people make the trip on their own and also opt for a ride in the coracle. Most of them make the trip on their own, often in the day. Of late, the tragedy has been compounded as youngsters consume alcohol and enter the water. Most visitors do not know to swim and are uncaring of their own safety – and any way, those who learnt swimming in pools would find it extremely tough to swim in running water. 

Sad, another accident – loss of lives – now for sometime people would debate on safety norms and in a few months, things would be forgotten – getting back to the usual ways !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

31st Aug 2015.

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