Pachamalai Hills in Tiruchi district. File photo | Photo Credit: B. Velankanni Raj

The activity was part of an eco-tourism package

The forest fire in Theni district, which claimed the lives of 11 trekkers, prompted the district forest authorities to temporarily suspend trekking in Pachamalai hills in Tiruchi district on Monday.

Instructions were issued to field-level forest department officials to stop trekking, which forms part of an eco-tourism package put in place at Pachamalai bordering Tiruchi, Salem and Perambalur.

Endowed with valleys, thick forests, waterfalls and ridges, the lush green and serene Pachamalai hills is a preferred weekend getaway for tourists and nature lovers ever since it was developed as a eco-tourism spot by the Forest Department.

The department had earmarked specified routes atop the hills — Maamarathusolai to Keezhakarai; Maamarathusolai to Moolakaadu; and near Kaliammankoil — exclusively for trekking. The distance of the trekking tracks ranged from three-and-half km to six km.

Trekking was allowed only for groups with field-level officials accompanying the trekkers and a guide until it was suspended on Monday by the forest department.

The eco-tourism package at Pachamalai involved local tribals, who were made members of the joint forest management committee. The revenue generated was being used to improve their socio-economic lot.

A senior forest department official said although trekking was a key component of the package to attract visitors, it was stopped as a precautionary measure in the wake of the Theni tragedy.

Visitors making online booking for weekend tour to Pachamalai under the eco-tourism package were being informed about the suspension of trekking activity, said another official.

Trekking was allowed at Pachamalai only after obtaining prior permission from the Forest Department, said the official adding that the hilly terrain witnessed movement of visitors mostly during the weekend. It had also been stopped because of the onset of summer season when chances of forest fire were more. Small fires in the past were doused with the help of locals.

Forest officials said visitors would continue to be allowed to stay under the eco-tourism package in the dormitory, tree top huts and renovated guesthouses constructed atop the hills without trekking for the time being.