(By Prof. Mahendra Pratap Singh Bisht, HOD Geology, HNBG Central University)
In terms of geological wonders, the Himalayan region reveals an enthralling symphony of natural processes that have an impact on our daily lives. These episodes, which the general public frequently refers to as disasters, highlight an intriguing aspect of nature. Geologists refer to it as the “soil creep” phenomena, which gradually changes into “gully erosion” over time.
For a full year, the Indian subcontinent’s high Himalayan peaks are permanently covered in ice. Some flat or low-sloped rocks that have been nested at the foot of the ice sheet for millennia begin a slow voyage of degradation and metamorphosis in this frozen domain. The ice bed continues to assemble as a thin layer of soil in the meanwhile. These raised Himalayan plains undergo a transition when the snow melts, making way for the lush growth of high Himalayan plants. The sturdy buggy grass and healing herbs are part of this lush group; nonetheless, their presence is only a fleeting interlude in the year’s great tapestry. When winter comes, they are once more hidden by the snow and start a slow breakdown with the earth underneath.
On the even ground and sloping slopes of the high Himalayas, this process, which has been developing for millennia, continues its careful dance. The outcome? the development of the fertile soil and the gently escarpments adorned with magnificent green turf with valuable medicinal herbs, resembling a vibrant green carpet. In Uttarakhand, these vistas are affectionately known to as “Bugyal.” In Himachal and Kashmir, they go by the name “gulmarg,” whereas in Europe they are simply referred to as pastures or meadows. Shepherds can graze their flocks for three to four months a year thanks to the nourishing grass and herbs that support their livelihoods. These abundant plains are also used by the nomadic Gujar tribes for their horses, cows, and buffaloes.
But the future is uncertain for nature’s artistic creation. These beautiful gardens are being negatively impacted by the ongoing global changes in climate patterns. The steady drop of the priceless mature soil has been sparked by rising temperatures and excessive rains, creating intricate rivulets in its wake. Unfortunately, the people who live there unknowingly contribute to this occurrence by failing to realize that this special natural asset cannot last forever.
When I first visited Bedani Bugyal in Nanda Raj Jat in 1987 as a geology research student, it became clear to me that we are destroying this beautiful work of nature in the name of progress. The Honorable High Court was compelled to step in and protect these holy sites because it was such a heartbreaking sight. My dedication to protecting these magnificent features only grew during the years that I spent living in the Nanda Devi Biodiversity Area.
A group brainstorming session that took place while I was at the Uttarakhand Space Application Center produced results. Together with the director and his committed staff, we suggested using jute mesh technology in these vulnerable areas as a low-cost alternative that makes use of jute matting, pine leaves, and bamboo sticks. The government enthusiastically adopted our recommendation, and the first trial began in Dayara Bugyal, Uttarkashi district. The results far exceeded our expectations and showed that they were highly effective in halting soil erosion. The integrity of the jute meshes is threatened by the hooves of cows, buffaloes, and goats, showing that human negligence and oversight continue to be a challenge in this endeavor. Nevertheless, it has solidly defended against the erosive forces at work and has evolved as a powerful method in our toolbox.
The Himalayan landscape is a witness to the delicate ballet of soil creep and gully erosion in the vast tapestry of nature. It is a story about tenacity, resiliency, and the delicate equilibrium that preserves these revered landscapes. We have a responsibility to protect this priceless legacy from the dangers that a changing world poses as its custodians.