Bhairabkunda in Assam’s Udalguri district is a picturesque triangular junction between Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan. It also attracts a lot of tourists each year owing to its vast greenery marked by tall rubber trees, innumerable plant species, and thriving wildlife of elephants, leopards, mongoose and several other animals and migratory bird species.

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Less than a couple of decades ago, however, the entire area had only sand, gravel and stumps of dead trees to offer after being hit by illegal logging and rampant deforestation.

Now, thanks to the work done by Naba Kumar Bordoloi, the then Forest Range Officer at the Bhairabkunda Reserve Forest, along with 35 locals from the area, reforestation efforts were initiated in 2006. A Joint Forest Management Committee was set up along with the area locals, who were struggling with their livelihood due to failed attempts at setting up farms since 2003.

Also read: Assam: Elephant dies after falling into ditch in Udalguri tea garden

“When we first came here, it was like a desert. There were no trees but only grass and rocks. We first started a multipurpose farm, where we reared cattle, ducks, pigs, etc. but could not succeed. The river current was so warm that it was not suitable to run a farm there. Then in 2006, Naba Kumar Bordoloi, the then Forest Range Officer from Darrang district convinced us to help begin reforestation in the area and set up a Joint Forest Management Committee,” Prinson Daimary, President of the Joint Forest Management Committee, told EastMojo.

Bordoloi, who was posted at Udalguri from 2004 to 2012, organised locals from six villages into six JFMCs under the Darrang Forest Development Authority, got them registered, and put up a micro-plan that was approved by the National Afforestation Programme (NAP). 

Soon, a team from Delhi visited the area. With Bordoloi’s persuasion, Rs 50 lakh was sanctioned by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, which helped the JFMC to begin the initiative. The group also set up a nursery that helped them with saplings. Over the years, six villages, including Sonaigaon, Bhairabpur, Goroimari, Sapangaon, Mazargaon-1, and Mazargaon-2 also joined hands in the initiative.

With forest officials providing constant guidance, the villagers planted over 14 lakh trees spread across 500 hectares of land. It is now popular as the Getsemani man-made forest, with timber species like gamari, sishu, khoyar, simalu, titachapa, segun, khokon and koroi, apart from several bamboo species.

Also read: 3 timber smugglers held in Assam’s Dulung reserve forest, elephant seized

The JFMC is now looking beyond forest resources and working towards achieving self-sustainability. Initiatives such as pepper cultivation, poultry farming and developing the Bhairabkunda Reserve Forest into a hotspot for eco-tourism are being taken up, which could also bring greater income for locals.

“We have already started the initiative to boost tourism in the area. So far, tourists from 13 countries have visited the area through the Balipara Foundation. Apart from tourists, students from Guwahati, Arunachal Pradesh, Tezpur, Mangaldai, etc. often visit us. People have also expressed a desire to stay in the area, although we do not have such a facility yet. We try to provide rented houses for them. People have enjoyed it so much that they do not wish to sleep. They step out to experience the sounds from the jungle, of the animals and the river,” Daimary said.

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