Forests

Silent saviour: This man is trying to save Kashmir’s majestic chinars, all on his own

For most of the last decade, Abdul Ahad Khan’s initiative has added much to the Band Wadar forest in Kupwara

 
By Mohsin Mushtaq
Published: Sunday 24 September 2023

For most of the last decade, Abdul Ahad Khan’s daily has remained the same. He leaves his house in Kashmir’s Nagri village well before dawn and goes to the common land in the Band Wader forest area, where he has planted several chinar twigs.

Till 9 am, he waters and tends to the cuttings and adds fertiliser to the soil, after which he returns to the village to find jobs as a daily-wage worker. In the evening, he checks on the saplings again before returning home. Through this routine, he has already seen some 1,500 chinar saplings grow into tall, healthy trees.

Chinar, also known as oriental plane or Platanus orientalis in scientific lexicon, is the official tree of Kashmir. Its trunk can grow as tall as 25 m, and its leaves turn from green to red and orange in autumn, marking the change in seasons.

The sight of the falling leaves draws in crowds from all over the state and beyond. Apart from its aesthetic value, the tree also provides shade and habitat for different species, filters pollutants from the air and has a deep root system that helps prevent soil erosion.

In recent years, however, there has been a decline in chinar trees across Kashmir, and the government has initiated a number of plantation drives to ensure they do not disappear.

Khan’s long chinar drive also began in a bid to preserve this species. In 2010, when visiting an elevated area with some friends, he noticed that the land was unusually bare and open.

“While I was sitting under the scorching sun in what was once a forest, I realised that someone had unnaturally intervened and plundered the trees. That day, I decided to dedicate my life to protecting nature,” he recalls.

Initially, Khan would travel to Srinagar to buy chinar twigs from nurseries and then plant them in open forest land near his house. Over time, he expanded his planting area and now collects chinar twigs from a tree near the grave of a Sufi saint, which is close to his village. He bears the whole cost of planting and nurturing the trees.

“Khan’s initiative has added much to the Band Wadar forest. Without any support, he has been able to develop something that our future generations will benefit from,” says Nuzhat Masoodi, a scholar from Kupwara.

In June this year, the deputy commissioner of Kupwara felicitated Khan for his initiative. He now seeks to expand it with help from other people and authorities. “If the administration and communities join me, we can ensure chinar does not disappear from Kashmir,” he says.

This was first published in the 16-31 August, 2023 print edition of Down To Earth

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