Monday, August 12, 2013

Brahmaputra and the temples of doom

The boat lurched dangerously. A sudden change in the water current slapped us around for a few minutes, and the river began rising rapidly, unexpectedly. There were no clouds in the sky, no signs of an impending storm, no radio reports of rains upcountry. In fact the weather forecast promised a clear and sunny day in the entire region when we began our journey upriver in the morning.

“These days the Brahmaputra needs no rain, rhyme or reason to swell suddenly like this,” says Jadav Payeng, aka Mulai, a Mishing cowherd now famous as the Forestman of Assam. “As if the deadly floods caused by the monsoon downpour between June and September every year are not enough, since the last few years we have seen floods in the  Brahmaputra, with or without rains -- in summer, monsoon, winter. It is like someone is controlling the water flow but is not very good at it. I am certain the dam-building activity upstream is responsible, either dams in Arunachal Pradesh or Tibet, with Indian or Chinese  control. Whoever is responsible is blind. They don't know what they are doing to the thousands-of-years-old civilisation and still undiscovered biodiversity wealth downstream.”

He exchanges a quick, decisive glance with the other oarsmen and changes the course of the boat to drift back to the northern bank where we will wait on higher land till this bout of unseasonal flood passes. Jadav Payeng has lived on the river all his life; he criss-crosses it every day to go to his home island Aruna Sapori, where he single-handedly planted a 1,360-acre forest over 30 years, now named the Mulai Kathoni after him. He has observed the cycle of floods and erosion of the tempestuous Brahmaputra from close quarters. His forest, like so many others along the river, has been sustained by these seasonal, life-giving floods of the river and its many tributaries.

Continue reading on Infochangeindia

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Troubled Dibru Saikhowa

Three of India’s eastern-most rivers, Siang, Dibang and Lohit, meet the mighty Brahmaputra river at a unique tri-junction near the borders of upper Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Located at this confluence, on an island about 12 km. from the tea town of Tinsukia, is the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Biosphere Reserve. Spread over 765 sq. km., of which 340 sq. km. form the core of this magical land, this park is a complex of wetlands, grasslands, littoral swamps and semi-evergreen forests, including the largest salix swamp forest in Northeast India.
Walking from Kundaghat to the Balijan forest check post inside the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park on a wet day in April 2013, I spotted Citrine Wagtail, Sultan Tit, Common Stonechat, Indian Roller, Yellow-bellied Prinia, a silhouette of a hornbill that swooped overhead and finally a Jerdon’s Bushchat, a black and white sparrow-sized bird that had not been seen in these parts for over two years. Winter, when the many rivulets and rivers crisscrossing the park have dried up, is the only time when the trek is possible. When the rains pour down, and even for several months after that, access is by boat alone.
In the distance I heard Hoolock gibbons singing their strange songs high up in the canopy of silk cotton, Indian lilac and red cedar trees. I also saw macaques scampering along the branches of a shisham tree and followed a wild hare through my field glasses as it made its way across a clearing in the grassland. Toward the edge of the grassland, a herd of elephants had rested the night before and I could see tell-tale evidence of their fruit-feast from the Outenga (elephant-apple) tree. Around me was a virtual wonderland. I saw willow trees… the ones that make such great cricket bats and hockey sticks. Also what locals call kappofool, the gorgeous pink orchid, in full bloom that heralded the Assamese spring festival of Bihu. 
On the boat back to the mainland, Gangetic river dolphins surfaced near us as they fed from waters that also supported Spot-billed Ducks, herons and an amazing diversity of other waterfowl. In the distance, on the banks of one of the chaporis, I spotted a herd of wild buffaloes retreating into their forest.
Dibru-Saikhowa in spring teems with life of all descriptions, like a virtual showcase of the incredible biodiversity that Northeast India harbours. In my book, Dibru-Saikhowa is up there with Khongchengdzonga and Kaziranga, but as I soon discovered, there is trouble brewing in paradise.
- for full story continue  reading on Sanctuary Asia

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The strange Obsession of Jadav Payeng

Jadav Payeng in his forest

In 1979, Jadav Payeng, a.k.a. Mulai, a cowherd, started planting trees on a desolate, barren island formed by the ever-shifting sands of the Brahmaputra river, near his island home of Aruna sapori in the Jorhat district of Assam.

Payeng of the Mising tribe of Northeast India, previously known as the Miris, the second largest ethnic group in Assam after the Bodos, was hired as a labourer for an afforestation project undertaken on 200 ha. of land on Aruna sapori by the Social Forestry Division of Golaghat district in 1979. The five-year project was abandoned in three years and while the rest of the workers packed up and disappeared into government files, Payeng, who had nowhere else to go, continued to plant more trees, while nurturing the existing vegetation, on his own.

For almost 30 years, off everyone’s radar, without support or subsidies, without fear or favour, without Forest Department or foreign hand, Payeng, almost obsessively, continued to expand the forest and the fruit of his labour is now being celebrated around the world.

Read the whole story online Sanctuary Asia