You can do it…

Dr K Haridasan

Do you, as a teacher, sometimes get lost in the strange jungle of thoughts, that all your struggles to educate your students is just a waste of energy? Yet, you have to plod on…

It was nearly 30 years ago. As a botanist in the State Forest Research Institute, Itanagar, where I was working, I often had to go on long treks across the steep Himalayan mountainous jungles of Arunachal Pradesh. Once we were to march to Hotspring in Lohit district. As always, I was accompanied by Kulbahadur, a young boy, my constant companion. Those days we had to walk through the foottracks from Hayuliang to Hawai, then to Walong further onto Kibithoo and finally to Hotspring. But, before taking this track I had to tread through yet another foottrack from Hayulinag to Metangliang, Mithumna, and Chaglagam and back to take the route to Hotspring in the second leg of my travel plan.

Being from south India, with a frail body and a strict vegetarian diet, everyone I met used to wonder whether I could actually do the walk for several kilometers! Then there was a need to observe the flora and vegetation, collect herbarium specimens, and get seeds for the arboretum from the unknown territory. Before leaving the headquarters, I had read Kingdon Ward’s travelogue (Pilgrimage for plants) and his vivid narration of the 1950 earthquake when he was camping near Kaho Village on the China border. This gave me a lot of inspiration.

We moved first to Chaglagam and returned with lots of information and new experiences. There were several interesting plant species along the route. Carrying one’s luggage while trekking was difficult. But, we made it!

The next phase to Walong was comparatively easy though the steep climb to Hawai was taxing. On the 6th day after leaving Hayuliang, before reaching Sarti near Walong we crossed a dense grove of subtropical forest, largely populated by the wild chestnut. Here, on a slope, I got attracted to big mushrooms growing below the trees on the ground. A closer look told me that they were not mushrooms, but flowering plants, which were shriveled. I collected the dry specimens and completed the journey to Hotspring. For someone like me it was a thrilling experience. But I was slightly disappointed for not getting the flowering specimen of the same unidentified species. I decided to go the following year again to the same locality with a mission to collect this specimen. Reaching the spot, I could see the wonderful flowers that lay strewn over the ground. As I had guessed, this species was a close relative of the Rafflesia – the world’s largest flower. This species was named Sapria himalayana. I took out my borrowed camera and took photographs until I exhausted the reel.

Tragedy struck when I had the film washed at a local studio. I was told that there was not a single photograph of the Sapria. I was devastated. I tried going there again the following year only to see that the location had been usurped by a GREF camp, which was responsible for making the Hayuliang – Walong road. There was no trace of the plant or its habitat. Yes, that was a practical lesson for me about the threat to plants and conservation needs.

Year after year, I undertook several explorations in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh, where I looked for the Sapria. Quite unexpectedly on one of the trips to west Kameng district, in western Arunachal, we stumbled upon the precious catch. Lo! Sapria was on ground in a small patch of the forest, which was almost similar looking to the one I found. My joy was boundless. This was possible only because of the persistent search and watchful eyes supported by an analytical mind. I believe that if our efforts are sincere and if we do not lose heart, one day we will achieve what we want to no matter how late. Had I thought it was possible only in Lohit, I might have missed Kameng and you would not see the photo below. I also believe that sitting on the treasure trove of biodiversity, the students of the region have a great scope to explore the Himalayan flora, which could be quite rewarding.

The author, an authority on the plants of the Himalayan forests of Arunachal Pradesh, is a greatly adored teacher. He is currently Jt. Director, Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), Bangalore. He can be reached at [email protected].

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