International Forestry Day Special: 'To Forests, With Love'

Alka Jain
Alka Jain
Forests of Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh
Forests of Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh

Last year, amidst the COVID frenzy, the word 'isolation' got empowered with new definitions for several travel freaks. For innumerable unfortunate brethren, it meant loneliness and sorrow, and pain and loss, but to those who were saved the axe the word implied a journey into the wilderness, a foray into the world of tranquillity and peace. So, on this eve of International Forestry Day, 2022, I salute the wild and wealthy tresses of Mother Earth for sheltering me and my sanity for a few precious hours!

During the rainy season of the pandemic years, I visited the forests of Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh. My leisurely drive from Jhansi, my hometown, to Shivpuri was marked with heavily pregnant raindrops, ready to deliver the rain anytime. The earth was beautifully damp, and umpteen puddles of water lined the otherwise neatly washed roads. While driving, I saw a pack of sheep working busily at the grass edges, great teamwork under the soft skies. I crossed a beautifully bouncing river and a dam full up to the brim. The sun was playing with a palette of colours, brilliant hues that matched my mood. The car was washed anew with water pouring gently, and I savoured the fresh coconut milk that I had packed enthusiastically for a day full of green adventure!

As we reached Shivpuri, I pulled up my mask. The park charges a fee per vehicle, and it is compulsory to engage a guide. We were also told that getting down from the car was not allowed without the guide's permission. I was okay with this because though I love forests, I am afraid of even the tiniest of puppies. I philosophize that I better let them live in their abode undisturbed and be content with mine, to each his own. Perhaps, for this reason, I prefer forests over zoos. The zoos remind me of human exhibitionism and greed. And when I see life behind bars, I mourn the advancement of human lust.

But Jungles? They are, to the ears, a call for freedom, for everything original, natural and organic. So here was the masked guide leading us into the forests. My expectations were not too high, mind you, because I was told that there is not much to see in the woods of Shivpuri. The hot climate made the region dry and arid, and nature lived in misery. But you should visit Bundelkhand during the monsoon, friends! The Bundelkhandi green, as I call it, is quite ethereal and youthful. A few light showers are enough to transform the landscape into a bright parrot green shade. Leaves begin bursting into smiles from the most shrivelled bush, and the air starts humming a thousand notes.

The Shivpuri Forest was an ideal getaway during COVID. Enshrined in a secluded, sparsely populated region, this forest was a temple of peace. The best part was a mud trail, a kaccha road that bounced up and down throughout the enchanting forest. The trail was muddy and filled with an impressive amount of water at some places! We saw a hugely remarkable water body in the forest with crocodiles lazing on the sand. I was glad that we were not allowed to move out of the vehicle, for it was impossible to make out the difference between the boulders and the crocodiles back. Had it not been the insides of a forest, I would have rushed out to capture the lake through my camera lenses, and I am sure that the crocodile's back would have become the choicest chair.

For once, I was glad that I was caged in the world of these animals, and they were free. It was a place where they were not afraid of banging upon the iron grills now and then, and they were free to soak in the air and expand their lungs. The drive through the jungles bought me face to face with a beautiful bunch. Several monkeys sat on the branches of trees at synchronised distances, appearing philosophical and earthy at once. They reminded me of the term 'harmony', something that sounds so shallow in my world. They needed nothing and looked at me with disinterest, an unexpected guest in the house. Not one of them moved upon seeing our car, so completely were they absorbed in their dance of life. Unaware of the pandemic norms of social distancing and isolation, they seemed to bully me with their closeness and proximity to each other. What are they talking about? Well, that will remain a wild question forever.

The one thing that mattered the most that day was that I saw just a handful of animals. I also learned that people around the forest leave their cows to graze in the forests because of the scarcity of pasture grounds. In the evening, the cows go back home. Inbuilt GPS? I also saw a few deers, sambhars and Neel gais. But I did not regret that because I barely expected to see even these many varieties. Maybe years later, our generations will live with mere pictures of butterflies, bees, bears and boars.

The speed with which we turn our forests into tiny pockets while enlarging our houses and the roads running across through them in a maddening maze indicates enough. So many forests have been cut to welcome humankind to all the terrains of the world.

The happiness of Shivpuri was short-lived, and the desire to have more rendezvous at the forests were busted. It so happened that after a  few months, when I again visited it to relive the wonder, I was met with disappointment. The puddles were dry, the dry soil was mixing with the air and blinding me, the leaves were brown, and the waterbody was lacerated and weak. The pregnant raindrops had failed to deliver trees, birds, animals, and insects for the entire forest community. The water that fell from heaven was being easily pulled into the homes and industries of one species- The Man. The rest of nature's creations had to do with paucity and pain. Not a single deer was visible. The heatwave was in full swing, and everything was left to God's mercy. The man kept mum. To pretend that he had nothing to do with it.

Shamefacedly, we turned back swiftly and heaved a sigh of relief upon reaching the gates. I wanted to have tea and relax my throbbing heart. I also wanted to make my turning back a bit easier. I promised myself another visit and was determined to wait for the next flush of wetness, and its announcement by the petrichor, to turn my senses and desires for a patch of greenhood once again.

Recently, on a visit to the high altitudes of Natu La Pass, I was strangely reminded of the necessity of the birthing of thousands of Shivpuris on planet earth. At Natu La Pass, where we get to see the  Indo- China border, there was all snow and no vegetation. I was hammered intro accepting once again that trees are incredibly crucial for our survival through a minor incident. A friend collapsed on the way to the pass due to oxygen depletion. While we tried to do everything to help her out and finally managed to revive her, we got scared by the deathly paleness of her face. She could barely walk and was lost.

A few locals came to our rescue. They asked us to immediately drive down and reach a place with some trees and vegetation. They told us that the moment she is taken there, she will be fine because trees give oxygen, and her level will improve significantly. At Natu La Pass, there is little oxygen because there are no trees, so people have breathing difficulty. On our way back to the hotel, I shivered when I imagined what may happen one day when we eat up all our trees and jungles. It does not take high altitudes but ignorance and a self-centered attitude to eradicate all signs of life from our earth. 'Operation Cut Trees' will not only succeed in killing the wild inhabitants but also make zombies out of humans. The tower of civilization must be green or must go.  

Like cowards, we drove down the hilly road to greener pastures at full speed. 

Author Details

Alka Jain,

Assistant Professor of English, Rani Lakshmi Bai Central Agricultural University, Jhansi.

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