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In this village marked with pot-holed roads and low concrete houses, six people have come together to write a story of change. On the banks of Koyna river, now humming with the bells tolling in the village temple, Ganesh Utekar, 27, and five other young boys have come together to start Maharashtra's first agro-eco tourism company. Tents have been pitched on the concrete plinth and some vital ingredients of village lifestyle such as tree climbing, boating and fishing are being sold to the urban people in tour packages—an additional incentive is the lush green environs.
"We have been running this business for over a year and a half. Some 900 people have visited us in one year, and we have an annual revenue turnover of nearly Rs 9 lakh," says Ganesh. His partners have diverse backgrounds such as farming, retailing and gardening. Sandeep Utekar, who did his bachelor's degree in commerce, decided against going to Mumbai for a living. As he did not want to join his ancestral occupation of farming either, he arranged some money to start the eco-tourism business. "Each person contributed Rs 15 lakh to start the business. Now we earn handsomely," says Sandeep. "I didn't join the farming business as the returns were low. It is difficult to do farming here. It requires a dedicated irrigation supply which is not available in the village."
Their plan to expand the business by setting up a company is based on the fact that an increasing number of domestic tourists from Pune are scouting for new places to visit on weekends and in vacations. "Those who come to Mahabaleshwar are now finding Wanavali village irresistible," says Kanshi Ram Shinde, a local farmer.
G K Salvekar, Assistant General Manager, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), says they have given a nod to the Rs 35 lakh loan for expansion of 'Tapola Eco and Agro Tourism'.
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