A casual Google search for Dehradun portrays it mainly a rich historical tourist place which provides the weather and humdrum relief of NCR. Though for the crown of the undisputed queen of tourism most people will nominate the neighboring Mussoorie. I was born and brought up in plains of Uttar Pradesh, so was totally oblivion of the fact how the hill stations would be. Dehradun does not qualify to be one of those, but the valley was known for its pleasant weather and hence a choice for Britishers. My impression in 2007 of this exotic location was quite opposite. My aunt who had been in the city for long, used to say that hardly people here have fan in rooms forget about AC & coolers. But now the humidity prevails mostly with extreme of hot summer and cold winter. There were floods on the main road and somewhat an awed me was mostly drenched by the sporadic water which danced at the tune of passing vehicles. Probably I arrived at wrong time, and by time I meant of “time machine” time.
“Dronagiri” or “Dera-Dun” attained an iconic position through times of Ramayan, Mahabharat, Sikh, Mughals, British and Gurkhas. The evidence of it seeing all these eras can be found in texts as well as in the city. Apart from annexation and subtraction of political boundary and crowns, a very significant role Dehradun was playing in Forestry and Environment. The national heritage building Forest Institute of India was established as British Imperial Forest School 1878, by Dietrich Brandis and was very crucial in the initiation of forestry practices in India. Brandis not only formulated the forest legislation but played a crucial role in forming a link between forest protection and local people. The other famous personalities from FRI were R.S. Troup and J.S.Gamble but both these inspirational personalities did not gain much popularity with laymen. Though their works on timber and practices are still much well read and referred works by researchers and scientists. It was because of these visionaries who came to know about “sustainable” use of forest and forest products which provided the next step, of conserving the most charismatic fauna (inhabitants of these forests). Guess if these people had not done the future thinking, then the forests “which has always been there” in Uttarakhand would be crucified on settlements bar. The famous Corbett and Rajaji national park can provide a perfect habitat for tigers and elephants, thanks to the early managers of forests. Few years down these “forest management” alleys, a more significant need arose of ecological study and involving the participation of people for conservation rather than being sole custodian of forests. Hence, the set-up of Wildlife Institute of India came up in 1982 which was a part of FRI main building but then shifted to chandrabani. Starting a novice but establishing its mark in reintroduction programs (rhinoceros, crocodile) to embarking on esteem projects like monitoring and census of tigers in whole India, WII has carved its own niche. The place not only trains various foresters with newest techniques of managing their area, but provides innovative research on environment, wildlife, co-existence of people and wildlife.
Sadly the institutes provide champions of conservation for a world but fail to sustain and revive the essence of “green doon”. First time when I heard autowallahs referring Wildlife Institute of India as “chidiyaghar” and FRI as honeymoon spot, I was bemused. But afterwards realized it’s not fault of people who are expecting to see animals in cages as in Malsi deer park (a zoo on Dehradun –Mussorie road) to be ignorant of the joy of “free animals” and how they, a non-researcher can be part of their freedom. The charity begins at home, but somehow we are missing out on it and guess science outreach is at fault. “People protect what they love” and if they are ignorant about the joys of wilderness and consequence of losing it, we conservationists know which direction to move.
But being part of the perfect environment legacy, aren’t the denizens of this city realizing the vicissitude of exploratory concrete developments? It is said that the elephants visited “bindal pul” a place which now witnesses the slums with a flooring of sewage and ceiling of black kites. Tapkeshwar within few years changed from a serene stalactites area to tiles and cemented structure. Sahastradhara famous for its sulfur springs now gets more popularity when changed from freely available sulfur-rich water to paid container water. Robber’s cave also quite serene once upon a time and relaxing in laps of nature, now has all the commodities of cemented parapets and snacking party. These small snacking corners not only promote the tourist to drop the plastics randomly but attract another problem of monkey menace. The conservation reserve, Assan Barrage is quite popular amongst birds enthusiasts. Earlier it is said, the locals used to have a picnic on either side of the road with family bathing in this flowing river next to diving ducks. Pallas’s fish eagle had a nest whose sighting was accessible to all. The encroachment and sand mining at the Himachal border has changed the scenario considerably. Dakpatthar and Asoka edict fame Kalsi is also suffering from encroachment. Another problem is also a lack of security as these places are predominated by beer can and people who leave it behind. The widening of streets demanded the trees to be cut down which provided not only shade to footpath walkers but also braked flow to the flood on streets. Not much sparrows in backyards, no Dehradun basmati to buy, no clear sight of green hills from roof of buildings, erratic rains, smoke filled streets, doesn’t alarm us then what will? Beautiful Yamuna loses its essence while passing through Delhi and is retrograded to title of drain. The Doon valley is surrounded by Ganga and Yamuna and tributaries which intersperse the city used to attract trekkers, poets, naturalists and wildlife. Now what remains is just sad saga of those river experiences and in the fine print.
Being a part of one of the campaigns of environment awareness, I happened to meet budding youth of the city. While some elite was aware of Yellowstone national park but ignorant of backyard Rajaji and Assan barrage, some knew a lot about the background of conservation practices in Dehradun but never visited them. These young lots are deprived of the privilege which outsiders who anchored for a part of their life to this city earned. Chasing the clouds or the birds, dancing in rains and splashing in streams, surprise wildlife encounters and discovering nests, meeting friends and families (as mostly from plains used to visit relatives in Dehradun) and celebrating festivals are now mostly in stories.
If we prefer wider roads for driving vehicles to walking casually under umbrella of greenery, swimming pools to natural streams and AC chambers to fresh healthy air, we will be pushing authorities to develop a concrete jungle. As Gary Snyder had said “Nature is not a place to visit, it is home” and if we who reside in this wonderful city do not start taking action, we will be also visiting somebody else’s home to enjoy nature. But fast losing race of nature to concrete, we will surely be running short of such places. Not to be negative but I intend to highlight the high time of taking actions because “Whilst we deliberate how to begin a thing, it grows too late to begin it”. We should step up to intact nature tag to Doon and not let it be lost in developmental and tourism maze and this can happen only by people who love this city.