“The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me.”
He was just 16 then. Payeng observed that the flow of migratory birds was also gradually declining to the forest areas and wetlands near his home. This disturbed him.
“I asked my elders, what would they do if all of us die one day, like these snakes. They just laughed and smirked but I knew I had to make the planet greener,” he says.
Now that once-barren sandbar is a sprawling 1,360 acre forest, home to several thousands of varieties of trees and an astounding diversity of wildlife — including birds, deer, apes, rhino, elephants and even tigers.
The forest, aptly called the “Molai woods” after its creator’s nickname, was single-handedly planted and cultivated by one man – Payeng, who is now 47.
“The education system should be like this, every kid should be asked to plant two trees,” Payeng says.
Payeng has dedicated his life to the upkeep and growth of the forest. Today, Payeng still lives in the forest. He shares a small hut with his wife and three children and makes a living selling cow and buffalo milk.