We have never craved for the outdoors like we have in 2020. Between stringent lockdowns and fears of contracting Coronavirus, many of us have been walled in our little concrete bubbles. For those for whom nature is nothing but a bug-infested inconvenience, the outdoors have emerged like the mystical place they should have spent more time in. and for those lucky enough to have been surrounded by forests and beaches while living in pandemic times, nature has emerged as that eternal, flowing reservoir of warmth — a sign that the planet is still standing by in all its glory.
Whether you view the virus as the Earth’s way of telling us to stop messing with it, or an obstacle in the way of your hikes, treks and scuba diving explorations, it’s impossible to ignore the impact human life has had on Mother Earth. And it never hit me harder than on my recent trip to Dehradun. For me, Uttarkhand has always been a cloistered green fairyland. Well, until I saw the apartment complexes pile up like Jenga blocks en route to Mussoorie this November.
We’re slowly eating into the earth. And if we have any hope of showing our kids and grandkids plants and trees, rather than just photos of them, from our new homes in Mars, we must conserve and be kinder to the environment — that has been nothing but a steadfast support. Jabarkhet Nature Reserve is one such beacon of conversation, hidden up in the hills of Uttarkhand.
How Jabarkhet Nature Reserve was rescued
The first ever privately owned and operated wildlife sanctuary in Uttarakhand has a peculiar full-circle story. Conservation professional Dr Sejal Worah who spent her summers in a home in Mussoorie, explored this dense forest outside Mussoorie as a child and dreamed of it being hers one day. Haven’t we all ?
Cut to decades later, when as an adult working at WWF, she stumbled upon the shambles of the once gorgeous green forest. She shared “that years of neglect had meant that people used the place as a picnic, drinking and dumping ground and the hillsides were covered in broken glass, plastic, styrofoam, chip packets, cans and other detritus.
She entered into a partnership with the owner (Vipul Jain), and began the tedious journey to restore it to its former glory, with their conservation efforts beginning in 2013. She said in an article on wwfindia.org, “As part of the restoration process, we removed over 500 kg of rubbish from the trails and slopes. Today, nature walkers encounter zero trash and the trails are strewn with rhododendron flowers, pine cones, fallen leaves and other natural vegetation. We have also had no problem in convincing walkers to keep the trails clean and pristine.”
And I had the chance to see it in all its glory, on a walk with Sejal just last month.
A morning at Jabarkhet Nature Reserve
Set on about 110 acres of land, JNR has eight well-demarcated walking trails that you can explore and there are maps with describe each of the trails.(and the best season to visit them in!) The trails are linked to the field guides through colour coding and, depending on the season, you can look for specific trees, flowers or mushrooms on the different trails.
We started at the Ridge Trail with Sejal, which took us from Flag Hill Top, which is the highest point of the Jabarkhet Nature Reserve and from where you can see the snowclad Himalayan ridge; then down through the Wildflower trail, to the meadows for some chai, sharing nuggets of her journey — as she fought local poachers, and miscreants, ensuring they stayed off the property with hidden motion sensor cameras and more. We meandered through the Rhododendron Trail, and can only imagine how beautiful it would be with the flowers in full bloom.
And as she guided us from point to point, she told us about the local guides that she had handpicked and trained — guides who could barely muster the courage to talk to her at first, who’d never gone beyond their village, who were now transformed in to confident, educated change makers of the community. She pointed out the peaks we could see from trail — my favourite being the ‘Bandarpoonch’ — literally translating to “tail of the monkey”, the name inspired by the tale of Hanuman extinguishing his tail after it catches fire during the battle between King Rama and Ravana in Lanka, by going to the summit of the mountain and dousing it in snow. Home to more than 100 species of bird, and leopard, barking deer, goral, yellow throated marten, leopard cat, langur, black bear, porcupine, wild boar and even sambar, the only wildlife we saw on our winter morning walk was Sejal’s dog and a few gorgeous birds, but it was more than enough just being in the lap of nature.
Talking to Sejal was in an education in itself, on what it’s like giving back to the community, what it’s like to fight for what you believe in. Because as we found out, even two people can bring about a sustainable change — and light the spark of hope, in a world full of dying embers.
P:S: Here’s hoping we get to go back to see the reserve in Spring, for the fallen rhododendron flowers, Summer for the fragrance of Pine and Cedar, Autumn for the changing colours of the forest, and winter… for the blanket of snow of course. (We’ll skip the monsoon walk, cause we’re clumsy, and also leeches)
How to get to Jabarkhet Nature Reserve: Located on the Mussoorie-Dhanolti road, a few kilometres from the centre of Mussoorie. If you are staying in Musoorie, you can take a taxi or drive to the reserve.
*If you’re planning a trip to Uttarkhand, remember to add Landour to your itinerary — click here to read our complete guide.