The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 28, 2000

An inheritance of the natural world
By Vijay Bhushan

ON a quiet morning marked by the absence of a breeze, a Himalayan bushchat hopping off a branch is almost as silent and gentle as the fall of a pine needle on the same forest floor. There is, however, a soft discernible whirr of the wings of this little bird as it descends in its search for food. This is part of the stillness of the forest one encounters where the smaller varieties of life go about the business of existence in their characteristic unobtrusiveness.

The mountains abound with sights and sounds that never fail to arrest one’s attention. When the hill slopes are still a sombre brown, as an aftermath of the harsh frost of the just abated winter, a clear indication of the arrival of spring is the generous sprinkling of yellow jasmine all over the slopes. Between Tara Devi and Kasauli, there is a confetti-like celebration of this vivid yellow almost everywhere.

  As we ascend higher, there is a liberal appearance of the purple gentian and the pink wild begonias often along the shady rock faces. At the same time, at altitudes, which are home to the evergreen oak and blue pine the rhododendron blossom startles with its scarlet. This is especially in the Summer Hill area where the rhododendron is allowed to proliferate, remindling one of those seen in Chinese drawings.

Other sights and sounds mean rewards for the ornithologist as he waits in anticipation for the red-billed blue magpie. When the bird-watcher knows he is unerringly in magpie territory, his reward is the thrill of spotting the brilliant-hued bird with its splendid long tail in chir country.

I have often wondered at the extent of the dedication to environmental protection of the naturalist vis-a-vis the dweller in the lap of nature. Surely, the dweller of the mountains feel much more attachment to his home than does the person who has developed a commitment to a cause, but who, at any rate, remains an outsider. On the other hand, I am reminded of the depletion of the once magnificent forest cover around Kot Khai and Jubbal in recent years. Scars are visible on the hillsides, which had been dense with oak, spruce and yew. The finger of suspicion in this case points at timber thieves as well as greedy orchardists.

Wanton destruction of forests was evidence when the writ of British adventurer, Wilson, ran through the Garhwal Himalayas. Since then, the Garhwal Himalayas has been desecrated almost irrreparably, because along with the trees has gone precious layers of topsoil over the years. Therefore, all endeavours at reforestation shall, at best, stay limited.

While the debate between environmental protection on the one hand and development on the other continues, the needs of forest dwellers as far as firewood for fuel is concerned, cannot be wished away either. There has to be a harmonisation of various interests and ultimately what will prevail shall necessarily have an ingredient of the delicate ecological balancing that had been done very long before commercial innovation took over. What must finally prevail shall have to be a collective wisdom. This wisdom shall have to encompass a finely-tuned inheritance of understanding the natural world.