Google “India forest threats" and dozens of news stories pop up. These are reports on timber smuggling, animal poaching, wildfires and illegal mining. The biannual State Of The Forest 2017 report, released in February by the Forest Survey of India, celebrates a 1% increase in cover.

Large herds of elephants roam the Corbett National Park. They are frequently spotted in the grasslands of Dhikala.
Large herds of elephants roam the Corbett National Park. They are frequently spotted in the grasslands of Dhikala.

But the claim has been described as misleading by conservationists, who ascribe the small increase to plantations of a single or few varieties of trees that host very little biodiversity compared to natural forests.

During the monsoon, the diversity-rich forests of the Western Ghats swell with muddy red waterfalls. These are the Magod Falls on the Bedti river in Karnataka.
During the monsoon, the diversity-rich forests of the Western Ghats swell with muddy red waterfalls. These are the Magod Falls on the Bedti river in Karnataka.

Through it all, one fact remains uncontested: At 21.5%, the country is still far short of its target of 33% forest cover.

India’s forests harbour an immense variety of fauna, from big cats to fascinating creatures like this tarantula spider in the Kanger Ghati National Park in Chhattisgarh.
India’s forests harbour an immense variety of fauna, from big cats to fascinating creatures like this tarantula spider in the Kanger Ghati National Park in Chhattisgarh.

Other countries seem to be doing better. According to World Bank figures, India’s neighbour, Bhutan, has a forest cover of 72%. In Vietnam, where forest cover had depleted significantly in the 1980s, it is up to 47% now. Costa Rica has successfully stopped and reversed deforestation, upping its cover to over 54%.

Pastures of wildflowers carpet the hills of Zanskar, right up to the Drang-Drung Glacier.
Pastures of wildflowers carpet the hills of Zanskar, right up to the Drang-Drung Glacier.

With the International Day of Forests coming up on 21 March, there could be no better time to take a pledge to celebrate and protect India’s forests.

The Thane creek flows through a mangrove forest in Mumbai. It is among the city’s few remaining patches of mangroves, trapping silt and helping to maintain the city’s shoreline.
The Thane creek flows through a mangrove forest in Mumbai. It is among the city’s few remaining patches of mangroves, trapping silt and helping to maintain the city’s shoreline.

To tempt you to take that vow, Lounge asked photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee to put together a photo essay showcasing that diversity—from the pink and red hues of the rhododendron forests of West Bengal and Sikkim, to the muddy red waterfalls of the opulently green Western Ghats in the monsoon, and the rugged landscape of Rajasthan.

An Indian eagle owl at the Sailana Bird Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Sailana is one of two sanctuaries created in the state with the specific aim of protecting the rare Lesser Florican, also known as the ‘kharmor’.
An Indian eagle owl at the Sailana Bird Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Sailana is one of two sanctuaries created in the state with the specific aim of protecting the rare Lesser Florican, also known as the ‘kharmor’.

Mukherjee has travelled to the far corners of the world to photograph wild animals, birds and other creatures. He has trudged through the rainforests of the Congo, flown over the grasslands and golden dunes of Namibia that meld into the sea, sought out Birds of Paradise on the islands of Indonesia, and shivered in the frozen Arctic.

The Keoladeo National Park’s wetland ecosystem attracts a variety of life—from birds to insects, frogs, snails, dragonflies, and this beautiful Plain Tiger butterfly (‘Danaus chrysippus’).
The Keoladeo National Park’s wetland ecosystem attracts a variety of life—from birds to insects, frogs, snails, dragonflies, and this beautiful Plain Tiger butterfly (‘Danaus chrysippus’).

Travelling to these diverse forest landscapes, he says, he has realized that “India is a mini world". Every kind of forest ecosystem and habitat is represented within its borders.

The aerial roots of a mangrove tree in the Sundarbans. The mud that mangroves grow in is very poor in oxygen, so the trees grow roots that are exposed to the air and allow the plant to breathe.
The aerial roots of a mangrove tree in the Sundarbans. The mud that mangroves grow in is very poor in oxygen, so the trees grow roots that are exposed to the air and allow the plant to breathe.

Our challenge, he says, is not just to conserve our forests but also their diversity. “Understanding ecosystems is a must. Planting trees everywhere is not the solution, we have to protect the arid forests and grasslands because these harbour unique life forms as well," he adds.

The Kanger Ghati National Park, near Bastar in Chhattisgarh, is one of India’s densest, most beautiful, forests. In the weeks preceding the monsoon, thousands of fireflies swarm the trees.
The Kanger Ghati National Park, near Bastar in Chhattisgarh, is one of India’s densest, most beautiful, forests. In the weeks preceding the monsoon, thousands of fireflies swarm the trees.

Here’s a collection of his images from India, shot on long hikes, nights spent in hides, and at forest lodges without electricity, gas, or mobile signals, in the company of forests guards, naturalists, researchers and conservationists.

During the monsoon, the hills of the Western Ghats are covered in green, and there is something living, growing and thriving under every leaf. This includes about 190 species of land snails.
During the monsoon, the hills of the Western Ghats are covered in green, and there is something living, growing and thriving under every leaf. This includes about 190 species of land snails.
Snow covers the fir and pine trees of Kashmir’s Gurez Valley.
Snow covers the fir and pine trees of Kashmir’s Gurez Valley.
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