Travelling in the North-East in the summer of 2006
Guwahati >> Eaglenest >> Tawang >> Nameri >> Kaziranga >> Shillong >> Cherrapunjee
+Previous: About travelling in the north east
+Next: First Day at Eaglenest
+Go to the beginning of the series
On our way to Eaglenest, we journeyed through the plains of Assam, leaving Guwahati for Tezpur and then through Sonitpur district to enter Arunachal via Missimari. We returned on a different route, on the Bomdila-Tezpur highway passing through Balipara and Bhalukpong. During both the journeys we were all shocked to see miles and miles of Assam’s plains, which were once thick jungles, cut down into an ocean of no more than a feet high tree trunks! Although I could not figure out the reason for deforestation in such large scale, someone told me that it was intended to resettle the people in this area. I do not know the reasons behind this, but was surely awed by the destruction of a degree I have seen never before.
Assam has it’s share of problems when it comes to protecting it’s environment. The state has a good forest density and has many National Parks to boast of. But the man and nature conflict that we see everywhere else applies to Assam too. Increase in population due to large scale immigration and natural population growth are probably forcing people to make claims on forest land. Conflict with elephants has become a serious problem in Sonitpur district and also in the regions around Kaziranga. Overgrazing and degrading forests had resulted in near extinction of an endemic mammal – pygmy hog. Manas National Park was virtually in the control of militancy group until a few years ago.
But even in Assam, there are people working for conservation and there are some good stories to share. Kaziranga is one of the best protected parks in India and Rhino population has grown considerably in the last few decades, after it was freed from rampant poaching a decade ago. Manas is now returning to normalcy and hopefully the Golden Langurs endemic to the park will flourish in the days to come. In the days when I was in Guwahati, I read several reports in newspapers protesting against inconsiderate destruction of Assam’s wilderness.
There are also many people working in replenishing the environment. I met a conservationist and vet doctor when I was Nameri National Park. He worked for an NGO – Pygmy Hog Conservation Program – and spent his time in Nameri trying to rear nearly extinct pygmy hogs in captivity and release them into the wilderness. He was also working on a project to amicably resolve the conflict of elephants with people in Sonitpur district. Assam has many such NGOs who are the hope for the future of its wilderness.
Arunachal Pradesh has a completely different story to tell. My host in Eaglenest told us a story about its past –
“When we first came here more than a decade ago, we saw trucks loaded with timber rolling down the Tezpur highway one after other. There was no end to their continuous flow. They used to carry huge logs that were sometimes as thick as the truck itself. I once saw a huge tree that was cut down.. They were not able to load it to the truck because it was too big and would not fit into the truck..!”
Fortunately, all that is past. After a supreme court ban on felling timber in the state, Arunachal’s forests have been left alone and have stayed undisturbed. The state has an enviable record of more than three quarters of its area as forest cover.
But all is not well about its future. Tribes in Arunachal Pradesh practice a cultivation technique called Jhum, where they burn a stretch of forest for cultivation. They use it for a few years and abandon it after the land looses fertility, only to burn down another stretch of forest for fresh cultivation. Growing population is putting pressure on the natural resources. A typical family in the state has more than 10 members, and its population growth rate is one of the highest in the country, which may make things go worse in the coming days.
To be continued..