A newspaper article suddenly caught my attention on the World environment day. A story of raw grit and determination which was nothing but the ‘phoenix rising from the ashes’. Written by a local eco-activist Nabajyoti Baruah, it was about a man-made forest in Bhairabkunda in the state of Assam. Situated at 135 kms from the state capital, the area is spread across 2440 hectares near the border of Arunachal, Assam and Bhutan.
It is also the place of confluence of two rivers, the Jampani River, originating from Bhutan, and the Bhairabi River from Arunachal which merge to form River Dhansri.In 1979, and again ten years later in ‘89, the region experienced unprecedented downpour, especially in the mountains of Bhutan. This caused the rivers to swell to such dangerous levels that when they finally discharged into the plains, they brought along not just water and silt, but rocks, stones, and coarse sand as well. As a result, the vegetation of the whole area was nearly wiped out and for the next couple of decades, the whole area resembled nothing more than a wide sheet of Himalayan rocks. For an area that was already suffering from massive deforestation; this was the proverbial last nail.
Fortunately, resurrection was not distant. In 2003 a group of 35 unemployed youths took matters into their own hands to make a change. They first formed the ‘Sonai Anchalik Multi-Purpose Farm” to help the youth make a living by converting 100 bighas of this land into a poultry and cattle farm as they pursued afforestation in the same area. The next impetus came in 2007 when the then Forest Range Officer, Naba K. Bordoloi, supported the cause and helped create the Joint Forest Management Committees (JFMC) to take up afforestation on a massive scale under a central government scheme. The going was tough. The ground had to be prepared by removing layers of rocks before reaching the soil required for plantations. However, hard work eventually paid off. By 2013, the area under the program rose to 550 hectares which, as per Mr. Ismail Daimary, the former secretary of the JFMC, is soon going to touch 750 hectares. Named after the biblical garden in Jerusalem from where Christ was arrested, the forest currently has around 18 lakh trees.
For those seeking tranquillity, this, should be the go to holiday location. The only sounds that one hears are those of the diverse birds, insects and of water gushing in the numerous rivulets that form the lifeline of this forest. The forest is lush with local timber species like gamari (teak), sishu, khoyar, simalu (Cottonwood), titachapa, Segun (teak), khokon and koroi, apart from several bamboo species. Many fruit trees also adorn the place. Gradually, it has started attracting local species of birds, animals, insects, and butterflies. However, Mr Baruah quickly pointed out that an artificial forest like this needs at least 25 years or more before wild animals are confident enough in accepting the forest as their home. We stayed there for a couple of hours, roaming around the small dusty forest path, wetting our feet in rivulets and feeling lucky just to have witnessed its aura. Only after we returned did we realise that it was also a place which we had completely to ourselves, undisturbed by a crowd. That was bliss.
Easily reachable by train and cabs, the place is ideal for hiking, cycling and nature walks as well as organising get-togethers. One can also have a real machan experience by booking the tree-top cottages. The place had a lot to offer but what struck us most was its serenity. However, not everything is rosy on the ground. The project is now staring at another challenge. The central scheme, along with the funding, has come to an end and as a result several village JFMCs have been dissolved. However, for many who have spent so much time and effort in this endeavour, abandoning is just not an option. Some of them have decided to continue doing what they love most and, in the process, help the planet heal. They are the real rainmakers everyone should be proud of. I think at this time of the hour, it is important that concerned citizens come forward and help them in every possible way. The minimum we can do is to support such groups in their eco-tourism initiatives, simultaneously being mindful of the fact that an overflow of tourists may deprive the place of its very essence. Tourism with responsibility is the key.