The Oak Connection!

by Jaya Upadhyay, India

It was in 2009, during my first trekking expedition to the famous Mussoorie hills in Western Himalayas, I encountered this magnificent, graceful and legendary beauty of the forest. Awestruck by its beauty, I looked up and found myself under the vast canopy of the legend. The hills slopes of Mussoorie were indeed the abode of such legends, commonly known as Oak forest (in English). Later during the trek I met a few Garhwali women on the way to their village, each one of them carrying a bundle of dry twigs and branches of the Oak trees. I greeted them and was responded by rather shy smiles but eventually one of them invited me to her house for a cup of tea. It was during the tea conversation I came to know about their dependence on the Oak forest for their survival besides their cultural and religious ties to manage the forest sustainably.

An Oak tree at ‘Isle of Vilm’ (Taken by Kebaabetswe Keoagile)

A few years later after completing my studies, I travelled to the remote locations in Eastern Himalayas and came across the Monpas, an agro-pastoral tribe of Arunachal Pradesh (India), who live amidst the diverse mountain landscape dominated by various species of Oak in the montane temperate forest. Their livelihood is also very much depended on this tree, from using the leaves for mulching in agrifields, young leaves are also used as fodder to the cattle, the wood as firewood and timber, the bark of some species as medicine etc. Some of the pure Oak stands are also kept as private property with strict rules and regulations against trespassing. It was fascinating to me how a single species could be so valuable and whether the species will be still available with the changing needs and values. I have spent a considerable amount of time conducting my research and working with the local communities to conserve the primary oak forest in the Himalayas.

Oak leave collected in agrifield to be used as mulch in Arunachal Pradesh, India (Photo by Jaya Upadhyay)

But today, I am far off from the Himalayas, in a very small island name the “Isle of Vilm” located in Central Europe. Hiking along the coast line of Baltic sea, in the famous beech forests of the island I was yet again awestruck by the magnificent and graceful legend of the Island- another living Oak tree.

Posing in front of the Oak tree during field work in the Eastern Himalayas ( Photo by P.J.Borah)
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