Bittu Sahgal and Dachigam-a love story worth spreading!

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By: Nasir Ahmad Dar

Kashmir is one of the most beautiful places in the world, if not the most beautiful place. Among all the pristine tourist destinations in the world, Kashmir valley has a distinction of its own and ranks among the top. This is because this valley is a unique amalgamation of magnificent scenery and enchanting climate. This blend is usually very rare to find as beautiful destinations around the world are either too cold or too hot while Kashmir valley is an exception with temperate weather conditions. Kashmir is the only place in the world which has a habitable climate in both winters and summers. The temperature here remains moderate enough on the Celsius scale that people can actually survive without much difficulty. Besides, being a top tourist destination, Kashmir valley is considered to be a very sacred place as well though the life of the inhabitants of the valley has never been easy given the conflict and turmoil situation that have ruined peace of this land. The valley has always seen turbulence and this turbulence has increased manifolds in the last three decades. The unrest in the valley has stolen the charm of the valley. The people of this beautiful place are now searching for heroes who could take the valley out of the shackles of despair.

The unrest in the valley has had its serious impact on the environment of the valley also and an abrupt environmental degradation has been recorded here in the wake of the conflict. The forests have been destroyed, Dal Lake is polluted, Jehlum waters are polluted to the levels of poison, Wular Lake is dying, Hangul along with other wildlife species are running out of habitat and the entire pristine tourist destinations are on the brink of extinction. Everyone was so busy with the unrest that nobody bothered about the deteriorating natural beauty of the valley. There have been only a few people from the valley who were concerned about the conservation of the environment of the valley and if you try to find someone from outside the valley who was concerned with safety of wildlife and forests of the valley you would hardly find any.

Bittu Sahgal, a world renowned name in the field of wildlife conservation is one of those few people from outside of the valley who genuinely care for the safety of wildlife and forests of Kashmir. He not only cares for the environment of the valley but is also concerned about the people living here.

I once saw a picture online in which a person was sipping water from a stream directly without touching the water with his hands. I was absolutely mesmerized to see the love of that man for the nature. That man was Bittu Sahgal who was drinking from the stream running in the forests of Dachigam National Park. Dachigam is Bittu Sahgal’s favorite place in the entire valley. He visits Kashmir every season and spends quality time deep into the forests of Dachigam. This is, as he puts it, an activity which gives him solace from the busy life of Mumbai. He loves everything about Dachigam, especially, the magnificent Hangul. Mr. Sahgal is famous for his campaigns for saving Tiger populations but if there is any other animal which he loves equally, that would be Cervus Hanglu Hanglu (Hangul).

Mr. Sahgal is a dedicated man who makes sure that everything is done perfectly. So, when he entered Dachigam, a few years ago, the immense garbage of plastic and polythene waste inside this National Park made him sad. He took the initiative and sought the help of local people and organisations including his partner organisation in the valley ‘Wildlife Conservation Fund (WCF)’ and started cleaning Dachigam National Park. Now the situation in Dachigam is such that one finds it extremely difficult to find even a single bit of plastic or polythene. Not even a chewing gum wrapped is found inside the National Park now and the park looks truly transformed. It all happened due to his determination and love for Dachigam.

Mr.S ahgal has kept his date with his love i.e the valley of Kashmir, for more than 34 years now- a love story that began sometime in the year 1985. The unrest which started in 1989 did not stop him from exploring the valley and loving the place. His love extends from nature of the valley to the people. In one of his articles that he wrote for ‘Sanctuary Asia Magazine’ he said, “For decades now, the unrest in J&K has not dissuaded me from visiting this heaven. If anything, it has brought me closer to the beautiful, young people of Kashmir, who I am sworn to support”.

When you look at the beauty of the valley you feel like living in a paradise but when you look at the condition of the people you feel like you are living somewhere close to hell if not in the hell. Thus in such circumstances it becomes a responsibility for reputed people to come forward for the help of the innocent citizens and environment of the valley. But there are hardly any people living in India who carry empathy for the people of the valley. Bittu Sahgal is one of those rare Indian people who love the valley and the people.

Bittu Sahgal has done remarkable job in the field of conservation of wildlife, forests and the support for the common citizens of the valley. His prime focus in conservation in the valley is that of Hangul and he is doing everything he can do in his capacity to make sure that the dying beauty of the valley is kept preserved. His support is actually showing some good results. He along with his other partners and friends has actually contributed a lot for the safety of Hangul.
His love for the Hangul is so much that he collaborated with Wildlife Conservation Fund for the safety of Hangul and he changed this famous slogan “SAVE TIGER” to “SAVE HANGUL SAVE TIGER”. He provides all the possible support to the youth of the valley who are helping in the safety of environment of the valley. His organisation Sanctuary Nature Foundation started a campaign for including kids in the conservation of Tigers and it is known as, “KIDS FOR TIGERS”. He will soon launch a similar campaign for Hangul as well which will be called, “KIDS FOR HANGUL”.

The history of Kashmir has been shaped to its current form by many vital figures and almost all of these people belong to the state. But when the history of Kashmir is written Bittu Sahgal’s name needs to be written in the most magnificent words for his immense contribution to the environment of the state and the love for the people.

People of Kashmir need to recognize this man and appreciate him for whatever he has done for the valley because never in the history of Kashmir has there been any love story more pious than Bittu Sahgal and Dachigam National Park.

The writer is Secretary Director, Public Relations, at Wildlife Conservation Funds.

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