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Jabarkhet | The U-Turn Forest

Virendra Singh has paused on a walking trail. “Do you hear that?” he says. The source of sound, ironically enough, does not matter. It could be a magpie, a thrush or the wind rustling past a shock of rhododendrons. What matters is that Viru is alive to the little things, to the beating heart of Jabarkhet.

It wasn’t always the case. Growing up in a Garhwali village, Viru walked 15 Km through the forest to go to school and college. The trees were trees. The birds were birds. The journey, an unremarkable trek through the wilderness to access the tools that would build his future.

That future, to Viru and his contemporaries, lay in the cities. Their present was littered with telltale signs. Just as rusted padlocks hanging on empty houses lamented human absence, the forest bore the scars of their encroachment. Indiscriminate lopping of trees, unchecked grazing and irresponsible tourism were slowly destroying Jabarkhet, replacing its lush green with thickets of weeds and piles of trash.

Viru was about to become yet another nameless number in this saga of displacement when an encounter with Dr. Sejal Vohra stopped him in his tracks. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – India conservator had an audacious plan to save the dwindling forest, and she needed groundswell support.

As Viru looked at the fading forest through her eyes, he felt the floodgates of his mind swing open. His curiosity was piqued. His awareness heightened. The familiar forest came alive in a burst of colour and sound. Every bird call was a new language to learn. Every season a canopy of mysterious flowers and shrubs. Most importantly, it dawned on him that he – and others like him – could save this precious inheritance.

Virendra Singh then made a U-turn.

Soon, he was roping more youngsters from the local community into the conservation effort. Their indifference had given way to something that was bigger than them all, a whole that was exponentially greater than the sum of its parts.

Over ten years, their efforts yielded rich dividends. The big results were obvious. Barking deer and leopards sashayed in front of their Infrared camera traps, announcing to the world that yes, they were back, indeed. But every ladybug crawling up a bark, every peacock flower, every Himalayan Griffon soaring over the tree cover was a triumph.

It wasn’t just ornithologists and wildlife photographers who benefited. The restored forest became a locus point for a cascade of positive changes. It revitalized the local economy and reversed urban migration, rejuvenating the entire community.

For his part, Viru found, quite like the adventurer who seeks treasure in foreign lands, that it was right in front of him. What use of grand, expensive houses, he says, when you can fit everything you need in a backpack? Backpack loaded and binoculars slung around his neck, Viru today walks the forest as a part of its ecosystem. Living in harmony with the birds he had hurried past. Co-existing with the playful bear cubs that come to the artificial water holes he helped build.

In a world rattled by climate change, Jabarkhet offers an astounding story of revival, of hope that with a little concerted effort and a lot of heart, anything can be rejuvenated.


Associate Director:
Yashasvi Juyal
Writer & Researcher:
Soity Banerjee
Director of Photography:
Sudeep Elamon
Second Unit Cinematographers:
Vinayak Gopal, Sumit Maurya
Sayan Debnath
Mixing & Mastering Engineer:
P.A. Deepak
Yash Khaire
Assistant Director:
Tenvi Anand
Production Supervisor:
Viraj Sikand
Sound Recordist:
Ankit Thapa
Praveen Raj
Virendra Singh Panwar, Dr. Sejal Worah
Associate Cinematographer:
Sreekesh Chandrabhanu
Camera Crew:
Yash Khaire, Prakash Bamne, Daerah Brahmos, Dinesh Kumar
Production Crew:
Ayush Sindhwal, Anubhav Negi
Production Manager:
Rajat Gautam
Executive Producer:
Lynette Dmello
For Studio Virtual Bharat
Jawahar Sharma
Abhijeet Deolekar
Soity Banerjee
Shreeppriya Gopalakrishnan
Sayan Debnath
Yash Khaire
Dilgrace Kaur
Anagha Acharekar
Rohit More
Prakash Bamne
Kiran Santra
Krishika Gandhi
Darshit Dalvi
Shamika Vedak
Trupti Amrite
Kannan Rajaram
A. Murugesan
Ghanshyam Patil
Production House: Bharatbala Productions

Behind The Scenes