Ever fancied climbing down sooty black tunnels with dank, dark walls flanking you on all sides? Well, face your fears, as ‘extreme tourism’ comes of age. From November 2016 onward, one can hop into a man riding system and travel down into live coalmines of Saoner, 500 m below the surface. Located near Nagpur, the mines can be accessed easily and can provide the most exhilarating experience of all times. The first official tour of the mine tourism initiative is being flagged off on the 28th of January.
The idea sprung upon Western Coalfields Limited (WCL) officials during their routine visit to the Saoner mines. Initially a proposal mooted to establish an eco-park, snowballed into the idea of starting mine tourism. Both the open cast mine at Gondegaon and the underground one, Saoner were to be showcased along with the eco-park, sweetening the thrill further. More than 20,000 tourists have already visited the eco-park.
“It was the brainchild of Rajiv R Mishra, the Chairman cum Managing Director of Nagpur based Miniratna Public Enterprise, WCL who felt that tourists could get an opportunity to see how the mines work”, said an official spokesperson of Western Coalfields. The Eco Park spread across an area of 15 hectares has a model mine where children can explore mine tourism by going down a tunnel especially made for them. “This a pioneering initiative in India and now other mining companies seem to be toying the idea of opening their mines to the public” added the official.
An MoU was signed in December last year between WCL and Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), and two mines of Western Coalfields Limited—both active have been thrown open to the public. In the first ever mine tourism experiment in the mining sector, both sectors merged beautifully to create what could be boasted as the first ever mine tourism project in the nation. Without hampering the work carried out by the miners, tourists can walk to the ‘view point’ and observe the open cast Gondegaon mine.
In conversation with G’nY, Shrikant Javkhedkar, manager of the tour division of MTDC said, “We are expecting a good response and are simultaneously trying to publicize mining tours. We have targeted students mostly as we would want them to research on various aspects of mining. It is usually difficult because you cannot enter mines easily but this is a golden opportunity for all,” he added.
Reportedly a lot of students have been showing interest in visiting the mines. The open cast mine may be observed from some distance but tourists can enter the shaft and engage in research. A unique man-riding system takes tourists deep down in the underground infotainment area at Saoner which is as huge as around 5 sq km. Batches of 35 can visit the mine area, although only 10 people can enter the mine at one time.
In addition the experience is further enriched by a jungle safari on a toy-train which passes through stations-cum-mining galleries give a first-hand idea of underground mining technology.
The underground mine tour is to remain closed during rainy season (from June to September). Also children below 18 years are not allowed inside the underground mine, and, entry to the mine will also be subject to health and fitness parameters set by WCL.
The Times of India. January 12 2017. Maharashtra now mining coal mines to add steam to tourism.