This is not a place where you would expect to find a hero-a river island on the mighty Brahmaputra river where the only sounds you hear are water, wind and countless birds and animals. It is home to a unique forest that bears the name of our hero-the man who created it from nothing.
Meet Jadav Payeng, who has come to be known as the ‘forest man of India’. Working all by himself, over a period of 30 years, Payeng has been planting a unique forest that now stretches over 1300 acres. His work has utterly changed a corner of Majuli, the world’s largest river island, which is where the forest is located.
How did it all start?
It all started in 1979 when as a teenager, Payeng came upon a horrifying sight-hundreds of snakes that had been washed ashore during the yearly Brahmaputra floods which were dying in the heat of the sand. He wondered if the same would also happen to humans as the island was being eroded (worn away) by powerful flood waters year after year. In order to prevent the land from eroding, Payeng started planting trees.
He planted a lot of bamboo as it was hardy and then he started planting other trees. He collected seeds through the year and kept planting. After some time, Nature lent a helping hand-the wind, birds and even animals that began visiting helped disperse seeds and the forest just grew and grew. In Payeng’s own words, “It’s not as if I did it alone. You plant one or two trees, and they have to seed. And once they seed, the wind knows how to plant them, the birds here know how to sow them, cows know, elephants know, even the Brahmaputra river knows. The entire ecosystem knows.” Today this forest is visited by 120 species of birds, including migratory ones while elephants, rhinos, and tigers visit from Kaziranga National Park. The forest is called ‘Mulai’ forest after Payeng’s nickname.
Tigers roam the forest, sometimes killing the cows and buffalos that Payeng rears there but Payeng is not worried about them as he sees it as part of a natural cycle. He is more worried about humans who wish to cut down his trees or poach animals of the forest.
Payeng’s incredible feat has made him famous and earned awards including the ‘Padma Shri’ given by the Indian Government. But all this pales (becomes less important) beside the great joy that his forest gives him, day after day.