Gautala,72 kilometres from Aurangabad, is a bowl-shaped hilly terrain with sprawling deciduous forests, identified in 1986 as a protected area. The Maharashtra Government declared the region as Gautala, Autramghat wild life sanctuary. The ghat joining Chalisgaon and Kannad is known as Autramghat. The sanctuary spreads over 260 sq. kms. in Kannad and Chalisgaon tehsils of Aurangabad and Jalgaon district.
The name of the sanctuary is derived from the adjacent village of Gautala, which in turn was named after Gautam Rishi, a well known ascetic of the ancient ages, one among seven famous Rishis who dwelled and meditated in these tracts. There is a small cave which was his abode and exists to this day. Located on the Satmala hills, the sanctuary presents a picturesque panoramic view. The interiors of the jungles are impenetrable. On the outskirts there are sparkling waterfalls with soothing cool rivers and lakes.
Gautala's repute as one of the most enchanting picnic spots has grown over the last few years. An ever-increasing number of people from all over the neighbouring areas come here, attracted by the luxurious flora and rich fauna. For short spells of recreation and leisure, this sanctuary is simply intoxicating.
Gautala's rapid waterfalls are a special attraction. The jungles camouflage some of the most breath-taking spots for excursionist. Kedarkund is a natural spring. Sita Khori is a waterfall near Puranwadi which at present is being developed for tourists. Gautala Talab, a tank, has fine environs. Another natural spring situated amidst huge rocks, called Mahadeo Taka-Dhawal Teerth is yet another waterspot.
These densely forested hill tracts also harbour important historical and religious monuments. Patna Devi, a significant ancient temple attributed to Parvati, wife of Lord Shiva, attracts thousands of devotees the year round. The pilgrims throne in during Navratra and Chaitra festivals. The temple is now under the protection of the Archeological Survey of India. A garden and a children's park is being developed near the temple . A forest rest house at Patna Devi offers dormitory facilities for students. Shopkeepers are allowed to do business only during the day time.
The Gautala sanctuar also encompasses the celebrated ancient Buddhist cave temples. Hidden in the bowels of the Satmala ranges, the cave temples, popularly known as Pitalkhora, are the oldest examples of rock-cut caves in western India. The caves display the oldest paintings and rare winged birds, animals and large sculptures of Yakshas. It is a treasure of our ancient heritage. Antur Fort, another important monument, is also embraced within the sanctuary's environs The fort, created on the spur of a hill by a Maratha chief in the 15th century was named after him. It is situated at a natural height of about 700 feet.
Among the trees in the dry, deciduous and thorny forest, one can find varieties of Teak, Sandalwood, Bel, Awla, Biba, Moha etc. experts in botany have studied a large variety of these plants and have reported their medicinal value. There are wild animals too in the sanctuary. Mr Saraf, the forest officer, says, "Animals are identified through pug marks near water holes, brooks and lakes." The animals identified so far are leopards, hyenas, wolves, jackals, barking deer, porcupines, hare, jungle cats, etc. Bird watchers and nature lovers have recorded the presence of over 200 species of birds in and around the sanctuary. Some of the species of birds in and around the sanctuary include herons, egrets, storks, quails, partridges, falcons, etc.
This ecological gold mine inspired the State Government to establish a special wildlife department for the conservation and preservation of Gautala sanctuary and the Jayakwadi bird sanctuary. The department has been taking steps for developing the sanctuary for tourism purposes and as a picnic spot. Development of the entire region is being planned on scientific lines.
To start with, the forest has been divided into three zones—a buffer zone, a core zone and a tourism zone. The fringes of the jungles which contain most of the waterfalls, lakes and historical monuments, come under the tourism zone. The interiors support wild-life and hence it is declared as a restricted area. Only scientists and researches are permitted on special request permits.
In the tourism zone, Mr Dhondge, the forest conservation officer, is keen on encouraging adventure sports like trekking, rock-climbing and nature study camps. Jungle survival camps are also organised for students.
Certain rules have been laid down by the authorities for visitors to the forest. They have to take prior permission of forest officers and take assistance of a person who is familiar with the area and seek information from him. They are permitted only during the day time. Littering and lighting of camp fires is not allowed, nor are entertainment electronic gadgets. Cameras, however, are allowed. For night stays, special permission has to be sought.
Rest-houses for night halts are available for students and tourists near Kannad at Bhambarwadi and Puranwadi. While early morning shows up the hills draped in green through fog, the daytime offers unforgettable sights of cascading waterfalls, meandering streams, and clear natural springs. But a night amidst the wilds is rare experience.
Gautala is proud of its historical origin. Even during the period of Nizam and the British they used the area to inhabit the deers. During the early 20th century it is reported that one British hunter killed around twenty tigers from this forest. This forest is the original home of a number of rivers. Due to extensive water bodies the area is rich in agricultural products.
Problems : However one of the serious problems in the area is that a number of pathways to Kannad, Mahisighat, Sillod, Chalisgaon and Pishor are going through this forest thus disturbing the wild life bahitat. It is absolutely necessary that this extraordinary natural gift should be well protected.
The officials in charge of protection of the forest area should consider it their resonsibility to preserve its exclusive water bodies its fertile land. The locals around should be educated on the conservation of this rare jungle and maintain its forest life.
To reach Gautala, taxi and bus services are available. Accommodation is also available in the forest guest houses at Bhambarwadi and Puranvadi. The visitors can obtain reservations by dialling 2334701.
Preservation Steps :
1) Visitors to the forest should take the assistance of a person who is familiar with the area and seek information from him.
2) Follow the suggestions given by his helper.
3) Visitors are not allowed to throw plastics, waste paper or left overs and litter the forest.
4) Visitors during their visit should carry drinking water bags, a bag with all other accessories and wear shoes.
5) Camera and binocular will add to your enjoyment.
6) Visitors are not allowed to play radios, tape recorders or any musical instruments