Eco lessons: Turning barren dunes around Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort into green oasis

Since 1987, a retired govt school principal has been planting saplings around the barren area surrounding Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort, turning the 22 hectares into a green cover.
What used to be a barren expanse near Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort, now has over 50,000 trees thanks to the efforts of Prasannapuri Goswami. (Photo | Express)
What used to be a barren expanse near Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort, now has over 50,000 trees thanks to the efforts of Prasannapuri Goswami. (Photo | Express)

RAJASTHAN: A retired government school principal in Jodhpur has turned into a remarkable green warrior. In 35 years, Prasannapuri Goswami has been able to create a very special green cover around the majestic Mehrangarh Fort, the top touri s t dest inat ion of Jodhpur.

Hills and mounds adjacent to the medieval fort lying barren for decades have now acquired a touch of green. With the area around the fort transforming into a virtual green belt, it is now the favourite place for locals to come for their morning and evening walks amidst a variety of trees and plants.

The 75-year-old retired teacher recalls how he had since his childhood dreamt of turning this dry desert area into green cover. Goswami retired about 15 years ago and vividly remembers his childhood passion of watching the fort. “I would feel sad -- the hills around the fort were so lifeless, barren. I would conjure up dreams about trees around the Mehrangarh Fort, which would look even more beautiful and impressive.”

In 1987 he was posted to a Girls School close to the Mehrangarh area. And thus began Goswami’s mission. After the school hours in the afternoon, the determined teacher would plant a variety of saplings especially at a three-way junction between Mehrangarh and Jaswant- Thada area of Jodhpur. Goswami would walk long stretches to bring water in buckets from two ponds to plant the saplings. Many people laughed at his craziness, but gradually Goswami was able to inspire many of his students and some locals to help him in his noble mission.

With the passage of time and his persistence, not only the district administration but the former royal family of Jodhpur began to support Goswami’s green endeavour. The administrat ion provided him not only a water connection but also arranged a special tanker for him to store water and use at his convenience. The Jodhpur royals sent two of their staff members to help Goswami with his work.

By 1995, under a special scheme of ‘30 Districts, 30 Tasks’, the district administration ensured that over 22 hectares of land adjacent to Mehrangarh fort was fenced so that all trees and plants that Goswami was trying to grow in the area could be protected. In a few years, thousands of trees began to come up in the area of about 15 hectares close to the fort. With the trees providing much-needed shade and shelter for everyone and fruits and flowers coming up in the area, Goswami’s efforts soon began to be appreciated. Today, this vital ‘green lung’ of Jodhpur is hailed as an impressive feat.

Before he retired in 2006, Goswami also played a critical role in the creation of a herbal park in about 7 hectares of dry land near the walled city area. The park now has turned into a lush green area with over 1,200 different kinds of plants which include around 130 types of medicinal plants. “The area we turned into a herbal park was an entry point for land grabbers and encroachers. Today it is a well-protected green area which attracts over 150 species of birds in the winters,” says Goswami.

The transformed 22 hectares of the dry and barren area now has over 50,000 trees, a special attraction for tourists. “Some of the wildlife has also returned. Nearly 200 types of birds come here, offering a paradise for bird-lovers. We also have 70 types of grass and 130 types of medicinal plants,” says Goswami.

Goswami has paid a heavy price for his mission. Several years ago when he was transferred to Jalore district, he had given his elder son Pramod the duty to carry on with his mission. Sadly, while spraying pesticides, Pramod who was standing against the wind, ended up inhaling so much of the chemicals that he immediately collapsed and died.

“I was shattered and thought of giving up. But then I thought I have lost one son but what about the thousands of sons that I have planted and grown? So I decided that I must continue to take care of my plants. I see my son’s image in them. I will always protect them.”

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