It is four in the evening. It has been raining relentlessly and everything around is drenched. The black tar road is washed clean as it marks a serpentine route through the lush green surroundings. The fog adds a layer of mystery to the environment that is slowly getting darker.
This is a village perched atop 2,400 feet in the Sahyadri Mountains, the local name for one of the UNESCO decorated biodiversity hotspot Western Ghats. This is mid-July, which along with August receives the high rainfall. And it is indeed a high rainfall quantum — mean annual rainfall of 4,500 mm, ranging between 3,000 mm to 6,000 mm depending upon the altitude — that nourishes the rich biodiversity of the region.
A bunch of youths are on a mission in the pouring rains. Four of them have found a tree uprooted after a wall fell due to excessive rain over the past two days. One of them get a tempo van and the others lift the heavy, more than six feet long trunk of Nana tree (Lagerstroemia Microcarpa, a flowering tree endemic to India, native to Western Ghats). Villagers have already taken away branches and leaves.
The small truck reaches the perimeter of a sacred grove, devraai in Marathi. Named after the local deity Ambeshwar (its temple is in the center of the sacred grove), this Ambeshwar Devraai is a wonderful patch of thick forest bang in the middle of a sloping mountain plateau. Surrounded by farmland, the grove stands out with its wide variety of evergreen trees, shrubs, climbers, creepers and a diverse collection of moss and lichen.
Battling rain, the youth bring the tree to a designated spot where one of their colleagues has already dug a pit. As others struggle to hold the trunk straight into the pit, one of them deepens the pit further and other chops off some of the extra protruding roots. Finally, the wet trunk snugly fits into the pit and is covered with damp earth.
Even when drenched themselves, the youth, with a look of satisfaction at a job done well, pat the tree trunk and one of them, their leader Pramod Mali, says with a chuckle: “Please, do live.”
For almost five years now, this has become a weekly routine of sorts for the young men. On the lookout for any uprooted trees due to heavy rains in the mountains and on the highway, they quickly bring it to the sacred grove to transplant it. Mali and nine other youths from the village have formed a Vanrakshak Social Force that have been carrying out this transplantation exercise and other conservation work for the sacred grove and the surrounding forests.
“We have transplanted about 350 such trees in last five-six years. The nearest we brought was from about 1 km and the farthest is from the radius of 6 km. We brought one from almost 18 km away last year. The survival rate of these trees is 80%,” says Mali, as he and others proudly show other trees that they had replanted in the sacred grove in earlier years.
On the southern side of the sacred grove is a huge arch painted with the name of the deity. A bright shiny board besides it details the importance of the place with pictures of almost all elements of the biodiversity found there. As the group enters enter the brown stony upward path shining after cleansed fresh with water and dotted with greens here and there, it indeed feels as if they were are entering a cloudy abode of the deity.
The youth have divided the devraai in four parts. Three are already named and functional. Punarjanm Mohim (Transplantation Mission) is where they bring uprooted trees and replant them. Mangal Van is where people plant trees on the day when their near and dear ones get married. They inform the newly married couple about it and urge them to plant trees too. Fulora Van is where people plant native trees on their birthdays or that of near and dear ones. The fourth is a proposed Smruti Van, a place where people can plant trees in remembrance of their family members or friends.
“We get these plants from a nursery. And we have been getting good response to this. At times, even some visitors have evinced interest in this,” says Avinash Ghadge, 31.
The team has already started documentation of the rich biodiversity of the sacred grove. There are 86 trees, nine climbers, and 27 shrubs, apart from scores of herbs, algae, fungus and creepers. There are 18 species of birds and 23 species butterflies, not to mention the large number of insects and reptiles.
This area has mixed semi evergreen and moist mixed deciduous forests as part of the Western Ghats. The Working Plan for the Forests of Kolhapur Forest Division says that the sacred grove is spread over 4.25 Ha. The neighbouring reserved forest is 318.16 Ha.
This feature is taken from an article published in VillageSquare.in, by Nivedita Khandekar. Read the entire feature here. Photos by the author.
Nivedita Khandekar is a Delhi-based journalist. Views are personal.