Reflecting the rich fishing culture of the state, the Koli community worships and celebrates the sea but what makes this community truly different are the bold, confident and loquacious women who are leading their community and town towards entrepreneurial success. Apart from safeguarding their coastline from encroachers and wood thieves, they are turning Vengurla ( a small coastal town in the district of Sindhugarg) into a tourist hub with their Mangrove safaris.
While mangrove safaris are not new and have been a tourist attraction in states like Kerala, West Bengal, and Goa, what sets the Vengurla safari aside is their all women crew. The only all-women group in India engaged in mangrove tourism, Swamini began its journey in 2017. The venture took shape when Shweta Hule conveyed her idea to ferry tourists to the mangrove areas and show them the various species. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) turned this dream into reality by arranging two boats, 20 life jackets and one gazebo in collaboration with the Mangrove Cell, Maharashtra Department.
Trained by the forest department staff Swamini takes the 10 tourists per boat for an hour-long safari along the mangrove strip for just Rs.100. Apart from pointing out the various fauna, they also education the tourists about the properties of each tree species and the importance of mangroves in the ecosystem. While most of the women have not completed their school or college education, Mangrove cell has arranged two English lecturers from Balasaheb Khardekar College to help them converse with non-Marathi speaking tourists.
While running the boats proved to be a hurdle initially, it was taken care of when Satish Hule, a deep-sea fisherman, and husband of one the members taught them the various skills from navigation to rowing hence encouraging and supporting this unique venture. What’s even more impressive is that after a hard day’s work of helping tourists explore the mangroves, these women go back to selling fish in the evening. They also run a small restaurant offering homemade sea delicacies and other food items. Apart from this Swamini plans to expand the venture with a nature trail that will include bird watching and mangrove walks.