Photos and write-up: D D Sharma
The social and cultural aspects of Himachal Pradesh – known as Dev Bhoomi (Land of Gods) – clearly demonstrate the reverence that people of the state have for the local deities. If we try to draw the historical relation of temples and deities on social norms, we find a very strong correlation between the two. People may dare to break the law of local rulers but dared not to challenge the authority of the local deities. This was one of the major reasons that ensured low crime and better social order in the society.
In our religion and culture there is a lot of emphasis on forests and their conservation. The local deities have also contributed to the conservation of forests and wildlife in a significant manner. There are still a number of sacred grooves in the Dodra village that is in the Rohru tehsil of Shimla district, bordering Uttaranchal. The local deity – Jakh Devta has a sacred groove wherein it is forbidden to fell a tree and to hunt a wild animal. As per the local belief anyone indulging in hunting and felling trees would have to face the wrath of the deity. The total area of the sacred groove is about 300 ha.
Because of the strict conservation measures by the deity and the local people, the area has a rich biodiversity in terms of fauna and flora. As the area is very remote and tough, the people in the area consume a lot of meat and also practice animal sacrifice to appease their deities.
The people in this area are largely agriculturalists, horticulturalists and goat/sheep rearers. Bears cause a lot of damage to sheep and goat in the area. One can easily view some of the wild animals like Monal, Western Tragopan, Musk deer, Ghoral etc in these forests. Western Tragopan here is considered as the ‘King of Birds’. According to one old man from the village, this bird has a unique habit of taking a bath early in the morning and then only goes out in search of food.
The vegetation in the lower altitude of Dodra Kawar valley comprises of broad leaf trees and conifers are found in higher altitudes. However, the Chanshal top has only pastures and is devoid of trees, as the area is above the tree line. Out of the total geographical area 36,697 ha of Dodra-Kawar, about 35,178 ha comprises of forests, of which 3,767 ha is DPF (demarcated protected forests) and 31,411 ha forest area falls under UPF (undemarcated protected forests). The forest area in this region is about 95 per cent. Limited population, lack of road facilities and slow rate of development are factors that are responsible for forest conservation in this area. Some forests in this area are considered as amongst the best forests in the state. Moru is the most favoured tree species in the area, as they have multiple uses in terms of fodder, fuel-wood. In addition to this, other tree species found in the area are Kimmu, Himbrane, Moldane, Pabun, Kunish, Safeda, etc. and there is a rich undergrowth in the form of shrubs and bushes that are indicative of a good forest type.
The local people are dependent on timber, fuel-wood, fodder etc. and at higher altitudes for grazing of sheep and goat. These pastures also are also used by buffaloes that are brought to these pastures by nomadic gujjars. Of late, people in the area, especially in Jiskun and Jakha wards, people have started rearing Jersey cows and have resorted to stall feeding, thereby reducing the grazing pressure on the nearby forests.
A road is being constructed by the forest department from Chanshal to Gosang, which will be passing through the sacred groove. For this, the permission of Jakh Devta was sought in order to construct the road through the forest area. The Devta has ordered to fence the road on both sides with barbed wires, so that no damage to the forest and wild animals is done. The forests in this area also yield large amounts of Guchchi (morel mushrooms) and its collection and selling is also a prominent livelihood activity before the rainy season.