January 28, 2019

There's a little island in the Brahmaputra River in Assam, India that is home to an incredible feat thanks to one man. For decades, Jadav Payeng, also known as Molai, has planted trees and plants along the sandbar on Majuli Island which has turned the island into a beautiful and flourishing forest that is now called Molai Forest after its caretaker.

In 1979, Payeng, who was only 16 at the time, noticed a large number of snakes had perished from heat exhaustion on the sandbar. There was no cover and they had been stranded on the sandbar after floods. He wept and mourned the reptiles. Payeng reached out to the government to ask permission to plant some cover for the creatures. He was told nothing would grow on the sandbar but was encouraged to try planting bamboo. He planted around 20 bamboo seedlings and hoped to save any future creatures from the harsh conditions.

Molai forest was initially part of a project led by the social forestry division of Golaghat district who became planting in the area. Around 200 hectares had been planted but the project was abandoned in 1983. Payeng was part of the project but decided to stay on and tend to the area.

For over 30 years, Payeng continued to plant and tend to the area diligently. Every day he kept planting a collection of seeds, on his own, without any help from authorities. He wasn't deterred. And his hard work and dedication paid off.

Molai forest is now a flourishing forest that spans 550 hectares. It has several thousand trees including cotton trees, silk trees and, of course, bamboo. It is home to Bengal tigers, Indian rhinoceros, several types of deer and rabbits, as well as monkeys and vultures. Even more amazing is that a herd of over 100 elephants are regular visitors to the forest. In recent years, they have had calves in the forest.

Even with its success, Molai forest wasn't discovered until 2008 when forest officials were searching for a large herd of elephant that had caused some damage in a nearby village. The officials were shocked to see the forest so dense and large. The forest was named after Payeng and is now an official forest reserve in India.

Payeng still lives near Molai forest and regularly tends to it. He aims to spread the forest to another sandbar too. Payeng is subject to a number of documentaries and even children's books. He says he will continue to plant until his last breath!


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