Because these mixed mountain forests play such a crucial role in the global water cycle and climate systems far beyond the Himalayas, it is worth giving this issue serious attention, regardless of where we live in the world.
‘Junglee Ji’, meaning ‘respected man of the trees’ is the honorary name, which was given to Mr Jagat Singh, for his exemplary work in restoring and preserving mixed forest in the mountain regions of India, throughout the last forty years. On a large piece of his family land; that was once barren and dry, Junglee Ji single-handedly created a mixed forest that has improved local springs, wildlife and inspired a great deal of environmental rehabilitation and conservation regionally and nationally.
Back in 2009, we had the wonderful opportunity of being taken to meet with Junglee in his sacred mixed forest in Uttarakhand in Northern India. From the moment that we met with him we were impressed by what a genuine, caring, hard working and knowledgeable person he was. The mixed forest, which he had created, was a breath of fresh air, after having driven for hours through the Himalayan foothills, which were largely covered in arid monoculture pine plantations. These plantations have been given precedence over natural mixed forests throughout the Himalayas and because they lack biodiversity, they are extremely detrimental to local ecosystems, watersheds and communities.
Junglee Ji’s mixed forest was moist, lush, green, cool and full of exotic birds and insects. This wonderful example of mixed biodiversity, using permaculture type techniques, was very similar to the Sacred Grove method that we had been proposing, for restoring mixed forests throughout the mountain regions of the world. We were therefore surprised to discover that Junglee Ji had never heard of Permaculture, even though he had created and effectively applied Permaculture-like methods that were specifically formulated for the Himalayas. Therefore we asked him if he would be an advisor to us and fortunately he agreed. Hence we have remained in communication and met with him on a number of occasions since 2009.
On the 9th and 10th of May 2017, we had the great good fortune of not only revisiting Junglee Ji’s sacred mixed forest but of also staying, with him and his family, in their beautiful home, in a remote village, nestled in the heart of the Himalayan foothills. From seeing the abundance of nature in his village and the surrounding areas and in meeting with fellow community members and hearing their stories, we could appreciate the positive ecological influence that he has been having upon the local village communities. He has encouraged and inspired many of these to plant and look after mixed broadleaf trees and companion plants. This has been done with the understanding of the major part that they play in regulating the quantity and quality of fresh water and oxygen, both locally and globally.
Junglee Ji’s family share in and support his love for the environment and inclination to aid environmental and social issues. His son Dev particularly shares in his father’s passion, has a degree in environmental science. and works very closely with his father. Together with other community members they work on propagating and caring for mixed forest throughout the region and the local women are particularly proactive in this. Junglee Ji and Dev are also interested and engaged in improving education, specifically regarding the need for and benefits of mixed forests throughout mountain regions and the wide range of beneficial plants that can be grown within them. This work ranges from having scientists and students from across India coming to study Junglee Ji’s mixed forest model, to him giving advice to the Indian government and lecturing at schools, university’s and conferences on the subject.
The local primary school has been influenced in an extremely positive manner by Junglee’s work and a particularly innovative head teacher called Mr Satendra Singh Bhandari, has established a green students initiative and along with the young children has set up a nursery and started a tree planting program. Unbeknown to us, Dev had arranged with Mr Satendra Singh Bhandari, for us visit the school, so it was a great delight for us to be taken there and be given a heart warming reception from the teachers, children and their mothers. After having garlands of flowers put around our necks by the children, they presented us with a Himalayan Oak sapling and a basket, which had been woven from a special grass from Junglee’s forest and made at the school. Because Mr Satendra Singh Bhandari is interested in setting up a sacred park on land adjoining the school, we requested that the oak sapling could be planted there.
We were touched to see the bright-eyed children gathered there to meet with us and to witness their enthusiasm for nature. It was also very moving when the female teachers and mothers sang a song for us in their local language, about trees being like ones children and the importance of protecting them and not cutting them down. After this and following speeches made by the head teacher and Junglee, Tara gave a short speech in Hindi thanking them all, encouraging their efforts and emphasising the importance of their mixed mountain forests for both local and global fresh water and climate.
Another factor that strongly influences the ecological inclinations of the local communities and which is of particular relevance to the work of Active Remedy is the close proximity of two ancient and well preserved sacred groves. These are within five kilometres and within sight of both Junglee Ji’s home and his mixed forest. The smaller of these groves is dedicated to Bheruji who is a devotee of Mother Nature and considered to be the protector of the entire area. It is an abundant patch of mixed forest with a small temple on the side of the road, which one must pass before reaching the second sacred grove and the small cluster of villages; one of which is where Junglee Ji and his family live. When entering this area, it is considered highly beneficial to pay ones respects at the Bheruji temple and along with Dev, we were able to do this on our way to his village.
The larger of the two groves is called Hariyali Devi and is a sacred forest temple dedicated to Hariyali Devi -the Goddess of Nature. This sacred grove is situated on a small mountain at an altitude of 1,400m and stands out prominently against the landscape because it is so abundantly and densely covered by mixed forest. There are two temples in the grove, one of these being at the top of the mountain and the other, on its lower slopes, close to the entrance. By special request from Junglee Ji and Dev we were given permission to visit the lower temple. We felt very privileged to be able to be there and to witness the strength in the tradition of sacred groves and see how peoples respect for the Goddess of Nature, has meant that in stark contrast to the arid monoculture lands nearby, it has remained well forested and cared for. The atmosphere inside the temple was old, yet fresh, enlivening and invigorating. Whilst there, we met the kind high priest and received a blessing, which felt like an empowerment, to help us to be more effective in our work for conserving nature.
Being amongst the warm hearted, good humoured and conscientious women and men of this mountain community, left us feeling very inspired. It also gave us greater confidence in the possibility of working with them in applying the sacred groves and green corridors model, as it fits in so harmoniously with a tradition, which they have been following since time immemorial. Being there also gave us a stronger awareness of what the mixed mountain forests of the Himalayas might have once looked like and with coordinated and concerted action, might yet look like again. However to realise such a vision support is needed, to empower mountain communities in restoring mixed forests throughout mountain regions.