The mountains in Uttarakhand hold a different meaning for the people who live there. After my mother's death, I had to move out of my village in the Nainital district for higher education and a job, but every summer, during the holidays, I used to come back home.
Belonging to a farmer's family, I was always taught the importance of the nature surrounding us and how it fed and kept us alive. Hence during those vacations, I used to participate in numerous nature conservation activities along with my family members and village heads.
The occurrence of forest fires in the state is not new and every time I participated in fire-dousing or plantation activities, I noticed the massive destruction that took place, destroying acres of natural habitat in one swing. I also understood that pine trees turned the forest extremely vulnerable to flames. Planting more oak and deodar trees which were not just native to the soil but also beneficial for water retention was the need of the hour.
In 2014, I completed my diploma in electronics engineering from Rudrapur, which is about 170 km from the village, and was working as a lecturer in the same college. Although I was involved in efforts to protect the environment, I knew that I could not ask people to invest time and resources to do the same until I moved to the village and started working from ground-zero.
If I had to bring a change, I had to take the leap of faith and act. I decided to quit my job and moved back to the village in 2016. As simple as it sounds, it is difficult to plant trees as well as to preserve them. Amid limited financial resources, procuring saplings from the forest department also proved to be a task.
So, I set up a nursery of over 6,000 square feet in my ancestral land that would help attain several objectives. First, it provided for the saplings and the seeds. Committing full-time to the cause and then the nursery helped me sharpen my knowledge in the domain and helped me spread the word across the village. Soon, as people started getting to know about the plantation activities, they started volunteering. Initially, teams were formed in different areas of the village which went on to inspire neighbouring villages like Almoda, Supi and Chakuta to do the same.
Over a period of seven years, I had planted as many as 12,000 trees to revive the forest areas. I, along with several volunteers, planted a mix of plant species including Deodar and Bharuch in areas allocated by schools, empty spaces and barren patches. To revive dried water bodies, we also created water ponds that would recharge groundwater, help in soil water retention and sustain wild animals. Occasionally, I visited schools to conduct sessions on environment conservation and to educate the young kids.
But this did not come easy. At times I was criticised for quitting a well-paying job and mocked for moving back to the village. The locals thought I was a crazy person, going around planting trees. Things did turn around and the same people joined hands to save our home. But, I believe dedication and sacrifice is important to achieve any goal. If we want to change society, we have to dedicate our lives to bring such a change and in the process, sacrifice a lot.