Celebrating India’s forests: The lungs of our land
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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.
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.
Through it all, one fact remains uncontested: At 21.5%, the country is still far short of its target of 33% forest cover.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.