The Molai Forest – Kokilamukh, India - Atlas Obscura

The Molai Forest

Kokilamukh, India

An Indian forest is being single-handedly planted after its creator was inspired by a slither of dead snakes. 


For many people the sight of a dead snake would be an unpleasant but not tragic image, but for Indian activist Jadav “Molai” Payeng it was a call to action that inspired him to create an entire forest.

When Payeng was just a teenager in 1979 he came across a bed of dead snakes on the sun-baked shores of the Brahmaputra river. The limbless beasts had been stranded on the barren banks and perished in the unmitigated heat due to the lack of shade or tree cover. Payeng wept over the corpses but resolved to turn his sadness into action.

Like the Bruce Wayne of environmental preservation Payang abandoned his previous life and began living on the shore of the river to tend to a crop of bamboo that he planted by hand. As the hearty bamboo crop became a tall hedge he began planting larger plants and trees, doggedly and single-handedly transforming the fallow ground. Having found his life’s work, Payang continued to expand the forest over the ensuing decades, carefully cultivating the emerging biome into its current 1,300+ acre state one plant at a time.

With the healthy new forest that now exists along the banks of the Brahmaputra, wildlife started to return to the area as well and the wood is now home to rhinos, tigers, deer, and apes. Payeng also continues to live in the forest that now bears his name, forever caring for a piece of the world that he very literally changed. 

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