More than 30 years ago, a teenager named Jadav “Molai” Payeng began planting seeds along a barren sandbar of River Brahmaputra, near his birthplace Jorhat in Assam to grow a refuge for wildlife single-handedly.
It was 1979 and floods had washed a great number of snakes onto the sandbar. When Payeng — then only 16 –found them, they had all died.
“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 told The Times of India newspaper.
It was then when, he decided to dedicate his life to this endeavor, so he moved to the site where he could work full-time creating a lush new forest ecosystem.
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 Mulai Reserve after its creator’s nickname, was planted and cultivated by one man — Payeng, who is now 47.
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.