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Maharashtra now mining coal mines to add steam to tourism

Times of India:  January, 2017

Mumbai: If you can touch the sky while parasailing in Kamshet or Panchgani, dive into the depths of the sea off the Tarkali coast, you can now also descend into a coalmine 500 metres below the surface near Nagpur to experience the hardship of miners and also learn about fantastic machines.

Two mines of Western Coalfields Limited—both active with their coal feeding power plants—about an hour's journey from Nagpur have been thrown open to the public by the state tourism authority, MTDC. The first is the open cast Gondegaon and the other is the underground Saoner.

"We are already taking tourists there. With growing popularity across the state, we expect a bigger crowd this season, which is between September and April," said director of tourism Satish Soni. The tours started after CM Fadnavis signed an MoU with WCL last month at Nagpur.

Tourism minister Jaykumar Rawal said it's the first such experiment in India since there was a huge demand from the younger crowd, especially students. "Initially the response was average, but now it is picking up with the Nagpur MTDC witnessing growing online and offline bookings," he said.

The underground infotainment area at Saoner is as huge as around 5 sq km (see box). "Here, a unique man-riding system takes you down deep," said an MTDC official from Nagpur. Since, Gondegaon is an open cast mine, it can be seen from above.

"To operate this tour, there should be at least 10 passengers. If there are fewer than 10, they will be accommodated in the next tour date as per their convenience. If a passenger is not willing, the booking amount will be refunded without any deduction," said a senior MTDC official. The tours can be booked on the MTDC website or offline.

The tour includes a trip to the mine, where visitors learn about the tough life of miners, the dangers they face and the huge machinery involved in mining. "Buses or private cars take the visitors 35 km from Nagpur to the Saoner mine. Prior to entering the mines, an undertaking will have to be given assuring the miners of no major health issues," said the official.

Visitors receive safety gear at the WCL guest house, and an eco-park nearby is open to them. "A jungle safari on a toy-train which passes through stations-cum-mining galleries give a first-hand idea of underground mining technology," he said. A visit to the famous Adasa Ganesh temple is also thrown in.

It was an eye-opener for Satish Mohite, a tourist from Kolhapur. "Miners who extract the black gold and other minerals have to conduct blasts, divert water and ensure state-of-the-art security measures while doing all that. Managing quakes, blast effects, floods and other threats is part of the routine here," he said.

The protection force at the mines as well as special safety officers assigned by the director-general of mine safety double as guides and instructors who are meticulous about keeping the visitors safe. As of now, minors are not allowed.