The Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Maharashtra has achieved the distinguished status of becoming India’s inaugural Dark Sky Park, marking it as the fifth such park in Asia dedicated to preserving the night sky and combating light pollution.
This designation makes PTR an ideal destination for astronomy enthusiasts seeking an unobstructed view of the cosmos.
Emphasizing the intrinsic value of the night sky asq a natural, cultural, and historical resource, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) underscores the significance of preserving natural darkness for nature conservation, ecological integrity in protected areas, and the well-being of communities in healthy cities.
Prabhu Nath Shukla, Deputy Director of PTR Maharashtra, highlights the escalating global threat of light pollution, emphasizing the substantial risk it poses to this invaluable resource.
The Dark and Quiet Skies for Science and Society Working Group, under the guidance of the International Astronomical Union, advocates for the creation of ‘Dark Sky Oases’ by national and local governments, as Shukla explains.
The Dark Sky Place certification, he mentions, centers on lighting policy, dark sky-friendly retrofits, outreach and education, and continuous monitoring of the night sky.
In an effort to enhance the stargazing experience, the reserve has established a night observatory funded by the district planning committee (DPC), with the area near Bagholi earmarked as a prime location for this celestial activity.
Taking proactive measures, more than 100 street and community lights in villages such as Wagholi, Sillari, Pipariya, and Khapa within the Paoni UC Range buffer area have been replaced, now facing the ground to mitigate light pollution.
Pench Tiger Reserve, spanning across Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, stands as one of India’s premier tiger reserves and holds the distinction of being the first to straddle two states. Rudyard Kipling’s iconic works, “The Jungle Book” and “The Second Jungle Book,” draw inspiration from this region, despite Kipling never personally visiting it.
Understanding the significance of preserving natural darkness, the reserve aligns with the concept of a dark-sky preserve, a vital aspect of the global dark-sky movement aimed at promoting astronomy.
Notably, the Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO) in Hanle, operated by the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, is another example of a dark-sky preserve. Situated in the Western Himalayas at an elevation of 4,500 meters, the IAO stands as one of the world’s highest sites for optical, infrared, and gamma-ray telescopes.