Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Of bugyals

As the uttarakhandandies* were asking..

Bugyals are what high altitude (>3000 m above sea level) meadows are called in Uttarakhand, with the Valley of Flowers being the most famous one yet.
Think of a patch of flat land  nestled among the mountains. This patch has been carved by an old glacier. It covered a valley with the fine matter it scraped off the surrounding mountains and brought down smooth boulders to punctuate this land.

This left the mountains bare and polished; the ground received a thick layer of soil.

Over the years, plants grew and died and added to the organic content of that soil. This land is covered with snow for a large part of the year.But come summer the snow begins to melt, forming little rivulets and adding moisture to the combination of warmer temperatures, longer days, and rich soil.

Things begin to grow then.

This season is necessarily short, and the plants know it. There is a race in summer to grow! live! procreate! The plants here are uniquely situated to these harsh conditions. The two main strategies for survival are:
  •  Condensing life into one short glorious defiant burst before returning back under the soil as seed or bulb.

  • Hunkering down and surviving all that life throws at you; growing slowly, never rising high enough to challenge the wind, never attracting attention, but never giving up either.

Due to the abundance of food and the remote locations, bugyals are the home of many animals: the bharal, the thar, deer, leopards, bears, hyrax, hares, and also of birds. Even if the animals are elusive, they leave traces of their existence. The paths are marked with spoor and exposed earth where deer and bears have hunted for roots.

Recently-in glacial terms- humans came to know of bugyals. What a wonderful place to fatten sheep! And so there is a tradition- as there is in all mountain regions- of shepherds taking their herds up to the meadows for the summer. Normally, there is enough. But when have we been content with enough?

The herd size is increasing over the years, and now there is severe competition between the invading herds and resident animals. Meadows are regularly set fire to in order to promote the growth of grasses (like eulalyopsis, seen in the pics) favoured by sheep.
This practice does promote growth- but only of heat resistant species. The more delicate herbs and bulbs do not survive. Over the years, this leads to a change in the ecosystem composition from a mix of herbs and bulbs  to a grasses-dominated one. The lives of the shepherds are dependent on feeding their herds, and it is difficult to deny them their livelihood. I strongly agree. But I also believe that each ecosystem is as much a complex, living, sentient entity as a human is and deserves the fundamental right to life. It will be a sad day when there are no magical flower strewn meadows to dream about.

* Love that term!


दीपा पाठक said...

Hi Chiku, How are you?
Beautiful post. Don't know where this greed would take us. love your writing.

kavita said...

Wonderful post..thanks..

Anonymous said...

thank you

mabel said...

Wow that was like a geography-anthropology-sociology-and-other-relevant-ology classes all rolled up into one awesome blogpost!