It was one sunny morning, while I was travelling to Dehradun via Mussoorie – Dehradun road and I was lost in the scenic beauty of the mountains. Every turn, every bend around the mountain road has its own surprise. Suddenly, just after crossing Kolhukhet checkpost my eyes fell on a small temple on the hill slope secured by ‘Bhimal’ tree roots. The temple on the hilly roadside was constructed on a boulder and the very foundation of which was supported / bulwarked by a Bhimal tree (Grewia optiva). I was intimidated by the sight, because it appeared to be geologically unstable.
The temple belongs to Goddess Durga, and the history of the temple can be traced back to the times when India was under British rule. During those times, Mussoorie – Dehradun road was a forest path and the hills were covered with thick forests with rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. People usually travelled by foot walking long distances and took rest under the shadow of the trees. Various water streams and rich biodiversity of flora and fauna flourished during those days. I thought, may be the forest dwellers constructed this temple to protect and safeguard of the commuters and travellers.
I was eager to know when the temple was constructed and enquired the adjacent tea stall owner. He said that the temple was established long back while the construction of Mussoorie – Dehradun road was underway. A Bhimal tree was standing alongside the temple. I observed that over the time, the tree roots have slowly penetrated the rock foundation over which the temple was made. The entire structure is now showcasing an example of biological weathering. I was surprised by the sight, how the temple is still holding on to it’s very foundation till today, as if nature wants the temple to be there.
It’s an usual sight to find Goddess or Shakti temples along roadside before entering major townships. I have also observed different temples alongside major highways before entering many cities. For instance famous Daat Kali temple (mandir) before entering Dehradun via Rajaji National park, a famous temple before entering Jorhat township (Assam) via Kaziranga National Park and many more. In other places, I have seen temples of Lord Ganesha, Shiva and Hanuman. It’s a belief that the presence of Gods and Goddess will avert accidents and disasters and ensure successful journey ahead.
These temples are surrounded by age old trees and thickets making the place naturally serene, mystic and spiritual. During my field study and travels I have come across many temples, dargahs and other religious places where Peepal tree (Ficus religiosa), Bargad tree (Ficus benghalensis L.), Neem tree (Azadirachta indica) etc. grow in the premises, but I have rarely come across a temple site where an entire temple construction is upheld and bulwarked by a Bhimal tree.
Bhimal tree (Grewia optiva) also known as bheku, beul or ‘todana’ in sanskrit is a medium sized deciduous tree species. This forest tree species has multipurpose medicinal and economic value. It is found up to altitude of 1800-2000 m in the north-west Himalayas. The tree has high endurance and can survive Himalayan frosts. It prefers growing on sandy loam soil with adequate moisture but habitation ecology varies too. Also, it’s an important forage tree species providing leaf fodder, fibre, and fuelwood. In Uttarakhand, besides Oak, it is one of the most preferred species to feed cattle. The wood is used in making various machinary tools.The fibrous woody material is used to make ropes, handicrafts and high quality paper. The branches of the tree were used as torches and firewood since earlier times. In agro-forestry systems in western Himalaya, Bhimal tree is a preferred species intercropped alongwith horticultural crops like taro (Colocasia esculenta) and turmeric (Curcuma longa) etc.
But, despite its importance I have come across very few Bhimal trees growing in natural habitat in Uttarakhand. It is a matter of grave concern that once fully flourished tree has now a very restricted population, specially in the urban areas due to urbanisation and expansion of cities. The Bhimal trees are now mainly restricted to rural areas, where people have limited knowledge about the multiple benefits of the tree. Slowly, the traditional knowledge of the trees and their associated properties are fading away as we are depending more and more on the commercially available products and relying on unsustainable ways of living.
Mussoorie – Dehradun road is a scenic delight and one can’t keep their eyes off the marvellous display of multitude coloured flowers on trees, herbs and shrubs and of course birds. But, this roadway is also prone to landslides and heavy traffic. I have witnessed many roadside constructions being washed away due to heavy rainfall and landslides. The Bhimal tree securing the temple is an exquisite example how trees and forests prevent erosion, mass wasting and anchor lithological features.
It’s an age old saying that old trees sometimes have spiritual values attached with them. The Bhimal tree bulwarking the temple is either a nature’s miracle or trees are the actual protectors of religious faith.
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