Art of Living Wisdom.

Himalayan Neighbour Bhutan

The people of Bhutan rate high in their happiness index in spite of their poverty as measured by the western yardstick. So happiness is something that is more than the comfort that comes from  economic wealth.

While in the Paro region of Thimpu, the capital city, most modern facilities are available, the basic structure of all the buildings follow the traditional norms because of which, even under heavy rains or seismological activities, the damages are mitigated. The traditional façade also adds to the beauty.

Himalayan cities Thimpu, Paro in Bhutan

No wonder the people here are high in the happiness index as they adhere to the basic principles of sustainable living based on time tested methods.

While Bhutan has maintained the core principals of traditional architecture, and still attracts tourists in large numbers and gives them all modern amenities, in  adjacent India, the facilities in the Himalayan circuits leave a lot to be desired. It is a stark contrast to see, for after all, Bhutan is a neighbour of India.

This perhaps stems from the fact that for Bhutan, Himalaya is their entire country and they have lived there all along. Whereas for India, Himalaya is at one end of the country. While majority people of India enjoy the benefits that the Himalaya provides such as perennial water supply, rich silt, protection from cold northern winds, to name a few obvious, they are far removed from the realities of what such a ecosystem really means.

The ones who know and value it, are the locals who have been living there all along. But they cannot do anything, for, even though they may live in the heights, they have been forced to bow down to the political and economic power in the plains.

Barren Without the Banj

The lower to middle Himalaya, has been home to varied species of flora and fauna. One among them has been the White Oak tree, called Banj by the locals. This Banj tree had been pivotal to the ecosystem of Himalaya so much so that the ecosystem of the Himalaya had grown around this tree. Lets look at some important functions of Banj

Himalaya flora banj tree white oak

Water retention – the broad leaves of Banj tree retain water and proliferation of this tree meant more water evaporation during summers and so more rain and snow in the upper reaches of the Himalaya and hence more river water flow during summer again.

Water percolation – the falling leaves of the Banj on mulching, created a thick carpet of Humus on the floor of the forests making it conducive for bushes, plants and other undergrowth under these trees, which again contributed to increasing the humus on the floor of the forest. This Humus absorbed the rain water falling and allowed it to percolate slowly into the ground rather than just get washed away down the slopes. This percolation led to increase in ground water and water springs at various places along the slopes.

Preventing Soil Erosion – The carpet of Humus held the soil firmly and prevented it from getting washed away down the slopes along with the waters. This prevented landslides and consequently breaches and flash floods.


Banj Tree with Undergrowth, Humus

Unfortunately from the times of the British, these massive oaks were felled and instead replaced with Chir Pine trees for their quick commercial value. Chir Pine was suitable for resins and timber and had a quick turn around.

Needle Pine, The Sharp Contrast

chir pine

Chir Pine

Water retention – Being fine and needle shaped, the leaves of the Chir Pine, did not absorb and retain water. Consequently they had nothing to offer by way of evaporation and hence did not help rains or snow.

Water Percolation – Being fine and needle shaped, the fallen leaves rolled away and did not mulch below the tree to form humus. Hence there was no undergrowth of bushes and other plants beneath the pine tree. The ground beneath the pine tree was barren without any undergrowth. Hence any rain water that fell on the ground just quickly rolled off down the slopes of the mountains as there was no carpet of humus to absorb the water and allow it to soak into the ground. Consequently there was no percolation of water underground and water springs and aquifers went dry soon.

Soil Erosion – As there was no undergrowth, the soil under the trees were exposed to the falling rains which would wash away the soil as it ran down the slopes. During torrential rains, which these regions are bound to experience, when these rain waters flowed unchecked down the slopes they started creating flashfloods and landslides.

This difference came to light when the local Pahadi, women of these hills started noticing reduction in fuel wood and ground water. Nobody had concerned themselves with the Banj trees and hence the women could use their lower branches as fuel wood.  Pruning the lower branches regularly also allowed more sunlight to reach the ground and aid more undergrowth and humus.

Whereas, the pine trees were part of plantations for commercial exploitation and access to their wood was barred to these women.

The search for the root of the problem subsequently led to the understanding of the pivotal role the Banj tree had played in maintaining the ecosystem of these hills.

Sadly, it was too late. Most of the Banj had gone. The local women who wanted to safeguard the few left behind rallied round under a movement called the Chipko movement during the 1970s. The Pahadi women formed human chains and hugged the Banj trees to prevent them from being felled. The word Chipko means to hug, to stick to.


Chipko Movement 1970s – Women Hugging Banj Tree

The barren landscape of the hills today tells us the remaining part of this story as to what happened to these women and their trees.



Art of Living Wisdom.

Himalaya: Small Yet Significant Benefactors

It has now come to be accepted in the scientific community that one of the key inducers of rainfall, snow is an insignificantly small organism – a  bacteria called pseudomonas Syringae”.

Rain falls when water molecules in the clouds gather around particles of dust that have risen into the atmosphere, to form ice crystals which then melt and fall to the ground as rain. It has been found that the bacteria pseudomonas Syringae, which are found on the green cover of forests, rise up into the air in large quantities. They act as nuclei around which the water molecules crystallize as ice and then condense into rain, snow.

The difference in crystallization by these bacteria versus dust is that the bacteria cause freezing of ice crystals at higher temperatures causing rains/snow to fall earlier than otherwise.

This singular ability of the bacteria is now being exploited by ski resorts to make snow at will.

These bacteria grow where there is healthy green cover and mulching leaves. In the case of the Himalaya, sadly, the disappearing Banj and consequently the disappeared undergrowth and Humus, have caused a fall in the population of these bacteria with the potential to make rain fall. Without a knowledge of their role in entirety, these bacteria, seen as pests, are also being destroyed by the heavy use of pesticides.

Significance of rain making bacteria for Uttarakhand 

Flashfloods occur commonly in the Himalaya due to cloudbursts which bring down torrential amounts of rain in a short span of time. Its like a tsunami from the sky. Being a hilly region, the voluminous amounts of rain waters from the cloudburst, cascade down the hills with tremendous force causing landslides and flashfloods.

The presence of the rain making bacteria in atmosphere causes early ice crystalization in the clouds and prevents huge build up of clouds, reducing the potential for formation of conditions that can lead to heavy cloudbursts. This decentralization of clouds distribute the rains rather than converging into a huge cloud slated to burst.

When the green cover in the Himalaya was more healthy and conducive for the bacteria due to the presence of the Banj trees, these rain makers were busy making rain and preventing cloudbursts. With the disappearance of the Banj, its undergrowth and the humus on the floor of the hills, we have driven the rain makers away and clouds are bursting uncontrolled.

The sheer fact that many of the old shrines and old settlements have survived so long in these hills in the same places that are reporting frequent landslides, flashfloods, cloudbursts and casualties today, is an indication that these hills were perhaps not so perilous even till a few centuries ago. Man, flora, fauna and the elements had struck a perfect chord and were in harmony with each other.

Power of Energy, Shakti

The guardian deity of the Uttarakhand region is Dhari Devi, a goddess, whose idols stood near the village Dhari on the banks of the Alakananda river.

This Dhari Devi temple was not some new temple that had come up in the last 50 to 100 years. It was a Shakti Sthal, one among the 108 Shakti Peeth, a seat of Shakti,  which means it has been there and venerated continuously by the majority people of the land for more than a couple of millennia. Shakti Sthal are places where the Shakti Tattva, subtle energies are considered to be manifest.

The Dhari Devi temple had a subtle connect with the temples of Kali Math and Kedarnath. These temples were designed and installed at specific angles with each other to balance the Shiva – Shakti energies. Shiva in Kedarnath and Shakti in Dhari Devi and Kali Math.

Dhari Devi

Dhari Devi

One day prior to the deluge, the idol of Dhari Devi was removed from its consecrated, long standing location to make way for a dam to be constructed there.

Angles were well known in this land for it was the ancient Indian science of Trikonamiti which gave rise Trigonometry, a branch of modern mathematics. Kona means corner, angle. Trikona is a triangle. The east coast town of Konarak, famed for its ancient Sun temple was also built in specific angle to the Sun, which is why it was aptly named as Konarak.

Without realizing the purpose of these angles and the precision with which these temples had been located, the Dhari Devi temple was shifted consequent to Supreme court order, disturbing the sutble energy balance.

While the Shakti Peeth has been there beyond human memory and would have continued to be there for many more millennia, the modern dams have a life of just 100 – 200 years. These dams can be built in this valley or the next.

“Can timeless structures integral to the heritage of the land, be moved in the name of short term development projects?” is a question to be pondered by the Supreme Court bench.

In Conclusion – Acts have their Impacts

Tampering with the Shakti Peeth could well have been the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back, inviting the wrath of Shakti, the power in the fury of Mother Nature, for the cumulative destruction that we have caused to her over the last 300 years.

That the shifting of the Dhari Devi temple could have invoked the wrath of Shakti to cause such a catastrophe, can be a faith-based conclusion, unacceptable to the modern rational mind. The underlying fact however is that the Chardham Yatra, the pilgrimage to all these temples, the entire trek and experience is founded on the same faith that has come down from eons and millennia.

Now we are left with the faith that perhaps at least this Uttarakhand disaster, even at the cost of so many lives and damage, will shake us out of our apathy towards environment and tendency for quick, ill-planned solutions.

It is a lesson to respect ancient traditions. It is not that they do not work, we do not understand them well enough to make them work.

It is a lesson on how not to tamper with Nature. It is easy to cut a tree, a forest even. But can a man or a machine or even another type of tree substitute for its function the same way, from the very next moment? Even if a sapling of the same type of tree is planted, who can perform the functions of that tree for the interim years till this sapling can grow into another tree?

It is a lesson to tell us how every being on this planet part of one single eco system with role to play, be it a human, a tree or a bacteria.

Acts of each, impact the others. It may not show in the short term but over time it will and when it does it will be too late, seeming like the hand of fate.


Authored by D.K.Hari and D.K.Hema Hari, Founders, Bharath Gyan


Art of Living Experiences.

It was Aug 2011. I was in Art of Living Bangalore Ashram to do the Advanced Meditation Program with Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji. The program was wonderful making me feel so serene & deep like never before. I was floating above the ground happy and fully in love with the Divine. The night before I had to leave the Ashram was filled with tears of sadness at having to go away so soon from this beautiful place.

Art of Living Ashram

During those few days, I met Sri Sri many times. At every glimpse of Sri Sri, time took a back seat, heart beat increased & mind was filled with immense joy. I never felt like asking any question to him. But there was a void inside. Amid such huge crowd He seemed so far away from me. I wondered does He even know me; am I of any significance to Him?

On the last day of my stay at Ashram, I was busy packing my bags. It was around 12 noon, Suddenly I got a call from one of my ashram friends that Gurudev would be coming in a few minutes to Vishalakshi Mantap to personally meet participants of another program. (Vishalakshi Mantap, the beautifully crafted mediation centre, is the focal point of the Art of Living Bangalore Ashram where all the spiritual enthusiasts come together to attend various yoga and meditation programs).

Sri Sri meeting people

My program was over & I had already met Sri Sri. So I hesitated to go, but my friend insisted that I should come and luckily I obliged!.

As I sat in one corner of Vishalakshi Mantap with bated breath, I started to wonder, ‘Do I really need to be here’? In no time, one of the participants came & gave a beautifully garlanded red rose to me to give it to Sri Sri. I could never give a flower to Gurudev in all these years. Many times I would take a flower to give HIM & then keep it in my bag. It is said that one should not meet his/her Guru empty handed, but I couldn’t find anything good enough to offer to HIM.

But that moment was different. I felt acknowledged and tears of gratitude came up. Finally, Gurudev made a grand entry, taking off his dark glasses in full style & making the whole crowd go crazy. He started giving darshan to every participant one by one. Finally my turn came. I offered the flower to HIM. He took it, smiled at me & then asked ‘Happy?’ I nodded without saying anything. Then came, “What is your name?” My voice almost choked, somehow I managed to reply. He kept smiling & blessed me a couple of more times with the flower.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar meets people

This was the first time I had spoken to my Master. Words cannot express how happy I was. Those few words from HIM meant the entire world to me. I was on top of the world. As He walked away every one of my problems washed away completely.

Shohini- Art of Living

After Darshan, Gurudev took a meditation for all of us. In the entire Advanced Meditation Program that I had just completed, I did not have such a blissful meditation as this one. There was nothing left inside me. I was totally hollow and empty. Since then, never have I felt myself away from Gurudev. He is inside Me as ME..

Jai Guru Dev!
Sohini Chakraborty, Kolkata