I love this quote by one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen. Billions of years ago, the Earth had only two things — forests and water. Over time, as civilization expanded, forests diminished. A 500-year-old banyan tree with deep roots had to probably give way to a skyscraper. The growth and expansion of civilization are not bad things but we have reached boiling point. We are finally bearing the brunt of nature’s wrath for years and years of deforestation, mining, poaching, urbanization, and several other aggravations against nature.
Forests are like bountiful treasuries from which we have looted too much, too soon. Forests are home to about 80% of terrestrial biodiversity. Around 1.6 billion people depend directly on forests for food, shelter, energy, medicines, and a source of income. Each year, Earth loses approximately 10 million hectares of forest, which is about the size of Iceland. Today on International Forest Day, we aim to ponder how we can reduce if not reverse the ecological damage that we have caused and how to better preserve the forests that remain. In light of that let’s explore some of the most beautiful forests that call our country home.
I. Gir Forest, Gujarat
A gorgeous forest in western India, the Gir Forest is home to the majestic and endangered Asiatic lion. The forest spans 1,412 sq km in the Junagadh district of Gujarat. It was the hunting grounds of the erstwhile nawab of Junagadh. In 1965, it was set up as a national park to protect the dwindling population of lions. Apart from the Asiatic lions, the dry deciduous forest houses a variety of leopards which include jungle cats, desert cats, and rusty-spotted cats. You will also find vultures, sloth bears, Indian cobras, pythons, striped hyenas, golden jackals, Indian mongoose, crocodiles, Indian palm civets, ratels, chital, nilgai, sambar, four-horned antelopes, chinkaras and wild boars. The forest remains closed to tourists during the monsoon season from June to October.
II. Mawphlang Sacred Forest, Khasi Hills, Meghalaya
For centuries the religious traditions and lifestyle of the Khasi are interwoven into the forests of Meghalaya. The most famous sacred forest is the Mawphlang Sacred Forest, located about 25 kilometers from Shillong. The sacred grove has versatile flora and fauna, including flowering trees, mushrooms, orchids, and butterflies. The forest also has distinct echoes of the past and that is symbolized by old coronation and sacrificial sites. Khasi kings and ceremonial leaders (Ki Lyngdoh) had their meetings and new chiefs were anointed there. Mawphlang is the perfect destination for nature lovers. There is, however, one rule when visiting the forest – you are welcome to explore but not take anything out of the forest. Once you finish soaking in the greenery and exploring the forest, head over to the Khasi Heritage Village where you can admire the different styles of indigenous architecture and design.
III. Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand
The Jim Corbett National Park is a part of the largest Corbett Tiger Reserve. The Tiger Reserve is located in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand. It was established in 1936 as Hailey National Park and is known for its tiger richness. Corbett is India’s oldest and most prestigious National Park and the father of the Tiger project, which was set up to safeguard the endangered tiger species of India. The Corbett National Park has been divided into six major different tourism zones. These are the manifested core or buffer areas of the park where visitors can enjoy wildlife safaris and witness the wild animals thriving in their natural habitat. Other than tigers, the national park is home to elephants and leopards, along with hundreds of species of birds. The best time to visit is from April to June. Even though it is hot, it’s the best time to spot animals. You can book a resort inside the national park.
IV. Vandalur Reserve Forest
This is the most underrated forest in our curation but a hidden gem in southern India. It is situated in the suburb of Vandalur in the southwestern part of Chennai, about 30 kilometers from the main city. It also includes the Arignar Anna Zoological Park a.k.a. Vandalur zoo, a popular tourist attraction. You can climb up the Vandalur hills and get a magnificent view of the scenic surroundings. The protected forest area and the zoo houses mammals such as the White Tiger And Himalayan Black Bear, birds (the flightless bird from Australia – Rhea), reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects.
V. Sundarbans, West Bengal
Last but definitely not least, are the breathtaking Sunderbans of West Bengal. It is unlike anything you have ever seen. It is one of the largest active deltas in the world. The deltas are formed from the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal. The Sundarbans derive their name from the Sundari Mangrove trees, which are spread across India and Bangladesh. It is a unique coastal mangrove forest spanning 40,000 sq. km. With over 260 species of birds and the majestic black-striped Royal Bengal tiger, the forest has 102 islands with 54 among them inhabited. In the lush mangrove forest and bio reserve you can also spot crocodiles, fishing cats, leopard cats, macaques, wild boars, Indian grey mongooses, foxes, jungle cats, flying foxes, and pangolins. You can book river cruises that will journey you through the forest. It is an experience of a lifetime. With climate change, comes rising water levels. That may, unfortunately, result in the Sunderbands being completely submerged in the near future.
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