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Molai Forest: From A Barren Land To A Tropical Forest Reserve

Keep calm and plant a tree. Photo: Pinterest

The single most powerful thing one can do to combat climate change and promote peace is to plant a tree.

A man has been doing just that since 1979 on the once-barren sandbar on the banks of the Brahmaputra River in Assam, India, planting and tending trees and turning the wasteland into a forest reserve. 37 years later, the tropical forest he’s planted is now larger than New York City’s Central Park and is home to several thousand varieties of trees as well as an amazing diversity of wildlife, including rhinos, elephants, and even tigers. It encompasses an area of about 1,360 acres or 550 hectares.

Bengal Tiger in the Molai forest

Molai forest, as it is called, is a forest on Majuli Island in Kokilamukh, Jorhat district, Assam and is named after Padma Shri Jadav “Molai” Payeng, the man who created the forest.

Payeng grew up in Majuli Island in India, where there was once a flourishing oasis supporting wildlife. As people began cutting the trees making up the oasis, the land began to go barren. Payeng witnessed this transformation and decided to do something about it.

In 1979, he walked to a spot in the wasteland and planted a tree. People, at first, had no clue what he carried in his bag as he walked into the wasteland. He repeated this action for 37 years.

Payeng planting a tree. Photo: Nick Pritchard

Today, the wasteland, apart from housing large animals mentioned earlier, also plays a host to over a hundred deer and rabbits, apes and several varieties of birds, including a large number of vultures. There are several thousand trees, including valcol, arjun, Pride of India, royal poinciana, silk trees, moj and cotton trees.

Bamboo covers an area of over 300 hectares. A herd of about a hundred elephants regularly visits the forest every year and generally stays for around six months. Ten elephants have been birthed so far in the Molai forest.

One of the ten elephants that were birthed in the Molai forest. Photo: Nick Pritchard

Payeng’s efforts became known to the authorities in 2008 when forest department officials went to the area in search of a herd of 115 elephants that had retreated into the forest after damaging property in the village of Aruna Chapori, which is about 1.5 km from the forest. The officials were surprised to see such a large and dense forest and since then the department has regularly visited the site.

He has been the subject of a number of documentaries in the recent years: a locally made film documentary, produced by Jitu Kalita in 2012 titled The Molai Forest; Foresting life directed by Indian documentary filmmaker Aarti Shrivastava in 2013; and Forest Man, which was an award-winning 2013 film documentary by William Douglas McMaster. He has been honoured a number of times for his remarkable actions. Payeng was named “Forest Man of India”. Payeng is also the subject of the children’s book Jadav and the Tree-Place, written and illustrated by Vinayak Varma.

Payeng in the Molai forest

This goes a long way to show that our little actions can go a long way. It may not seem like much at first, but give it a little time and a little tendering and watch it grow into something big.

Molai is ready to manage the forest in a better way and to go to other places of the state to start a similar venture. Now his aim is to spread his forest to another sand bar inside of Brahmaputra.

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Majuli IslandMolai Forest
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