In recent years, there have been instances of people coming together for a common cause but such action is usually initiated by non profit organisations or by government schemes. Punshilok in Langol Hill Range, 6 km from India’s north east, Manipur’s capital Imphal, is a notable exception. In a little over a decade, Punshilok has transformed from a dry, barren hill into a verdant forest teeming with wildlife. And this has happened due to the tireless efforts of a group of youngsters who work determined to restore the ecological balance that originally existed in the region.
In 2003, Moirangthem Loiya Ngamba was scouting for land to create a green space for the local communities. When Moirangthem came upon Punshilok it was a rock-strewn patch of land with nothing growing on it except for some wild weeds. The gurgling stream flowing through it had plenty of water but was used mainly by herds of cattle and sheep.
With the help of a few friends, Moirangthem started by clearing the area of weeds. Next, they cleaned and de-silted the stream, making it a good source of drinking water for the people of the valley. This was followed by a major afforestation drive, with young boys and girls working towards greening Punshilok.
To ensure that the saplings were carefully nurtured and protected, Moirangthem decided to make Punshilok his home. He built a small hut for himself and lived on the hill, all alone, for the next six years. Under his careful attention, lush green vegetation spread over the land, breathing life into it.
Today, Punshilok is a thriving forest that is a home to several species of wild animals such as pangolins, barking deer, porcupine and several species of birds. There are over 200 species of plants, including orchids, herbs and medicinal varieties, and over 20 species of bamboo growing in the forest. It is an important source of minor forest produce for the local people.
Visitors from near and far also visit this scenic and serene place to bird watch, to meditate or to simply relax in the lap of nature. Lushly canopied mud paths, carpeted by fragrant blossoms, wind their way through the forest whose quiet environs is broken only by the chirping of birds and the distant beats of folk music, emanating up from the foothills below. Eco-friendly shelters, where visitors and volunteers can stay or rest after toiling in the forest and a small kitchen (run by the caretaker) at Punshilok is also available.
Moirangthem feels that Punshilok converted from a barren land into a thriving forest, inspires individuals, groups and organisations who visit the forest. So, he is now working to increase awareness about why a healthy, well-functioning ecosystem is important for the local economy.