Rashil Palanchoke: Let trees growFor many years now, a Banepa local has been planting trees around his hometown out of sheer love for nature.
As you step on the road to Banepa, Kavre, 25 km east from Kathmandu, surrounding green hills slowly fade into a town full of concrete houses, ruffle pitch roads and unmanaged garbage. Upfront, Banepa is the chaos that everyone wants to hurry out of. On the two sides of the main highway, there is an array of young trees that still haven’t taken to their full height and richness. Some are hardly surviving.
When the government will decide to widen the road, yet again, these trees will be the first to get bulldozed, says Rashil Palanchoke, a man who has spent a great part of the last decade planting thousands of trees in Banepa. “We had planted about 700 trees here three years back, but not all of them are standing now,” he says.
Palanchoke was one of the founding members of the Nepali instrumental folk band Kutumba. His sarangi serenaded many Nepali music lovers, but at the peak of the band’s gaining popularity, Palanchoke chose to step down and live a more quiet life in the more quaint parts of Banepa, tending to trees.
And till date, Palanchoke has planted nearly 4,000 trees in the area, 700 on the main highway, many in patches at the town’s Buspark, temples and the various inside lanes of the city. When he moved to this part of Kavre to oversee the construction of a new house in his ancestral land about 10 years ago, Palanchoke found himself wanting to stay back to grow trees around him.
There were fewer houses at the time, he says, and Banepa had not developed itself as big a town as it has now, despite it being a place of trade for many years. Away from the bustle, Palanchoke retreated back to his love for gardening and planting trees, leaving behind his journey as a musician. Today, he also runs a guest house, Banepa Stay.
Ten years back, when he shared his idea with his friends of growing trees around the area, they too were welcoming of it. In the spirit of doing something significant, they together started a small group called Banepa Green Initiatives. And almost every year they would pitch in money to the group to buy saplings and plant them around in the area. In recent years, their initiative received attention and donations through individuals and corporations but rarely any government bodies. Palanchoke himself contributed, and still contributes, about 50 to 60 thousand to the endeavour every year, and leads the tree plantations. And there is little that comes in return for him.
But Palanchoke is not doing this for something in return. “I plant trees for myself because I love trees and plants. It’s not for society or for anyone. This is not a philanthropic project. And I am not any humanist. That responsibility is too serious for me, one that requires a lot more effort than I am putting in now,” he says, chuckling at how many now see him as the “tree man”.
“I am also not a tree man. There’s a guy in India who has built a whole forest. That’s the tree man people are looking for,” he says.
Unlike the tree man, Gopal Mullaivanam, who planted trees near the river of the Brahmaputra turning the place into a forest reserve, Palanchoke’s work isn’t quite visible yet. His trees are still budding. And in many places, the trees he had planted have already died or have been destroyed. But every year he plants about two to three hundred trees. He has also hired two caretakers who have been helping him tend the trees.
“It’s for certain that not all trees will grow. It’s a ratio of 50:50. And so we make sure that we don’t plant small plants and only trees that are at least two to three years old and are about four feet because small plants die easily,” says Palanchoke.
The tree planter had first realised his love for planting after SLC (now SEE) when he participated in a tree plantation programme in Mata Tirtha with his friends. At the time, he had never thought that this was what he would eventually spend his time doing. But today, Palanchoke often walks with his pruning scissors, tending the branches of his trees and checking on his trees around Banepa. He drives around the area looking for new places to plant trees. And during the onset of monsoon, he leads the tree plantation with his group. But in places where his trees have fallen and not been taken care of, he withdraws from replacing the trees in the area.
And through the years, Palanchoke has also learned from his failures. “I have learnt a lot in these years. Like, sow trees where people care about their plants and where the government has finished making walls and roads. Always make fences for the plants and check them frequently until they are more than three years old, after which the trees will be able to survive on their own,” says Palanchoke.
Three years back Palanchoke had also worked with the Banepa Municipality to plant trees on the highway and some inside the city. With the budget he had received, he had also made parks and gardens outside Banepa’s bus park.
Today, the 39-year-old Palanchoke has a plan for his undertaking. He hopes to plant 5,000 trees along the highway road to Banepa and expand his planting project to Panauti, where he has already started planting trees. “Planting trees is a slow process; it takes time. And for a result-oriented system, people hardly will see the impact right away. Because what I am doing now doesn’t have a concrete demonstration; what I have done is in patches,” he says.
Palanchoke, however, also knows that trees are the last thing on anyone’s mind. Yet, in some places in Banepa, over the years, slowly and steadily, many have started to appreciate his work. And he’s hopeful a momentum to plant more trees builds soon.
But for that to happen, Palanchoke believes there needs to be a shift in perspective—among the people and the ruling government—which, currently, is not present.
At the Ugreshwor Ghat, where he has planted more than 50 trees with help from his friends, the river that resembles the size of a trench is filled with plastic bags. And the whole of the public field is scattered with garbage. Here too his budding trees are neglected.
But Palanchoke’s strength to continue planting trees despite the discouraging environment is inspiring. “Anyone can start planting, and if everyone does it, it’s even better because we will be protecting ourselves. But I can’t look after everything,” he says ruffling through his white peppered long hair.
“Trees don’t ask for much; they can survive on their own. And they are vital, yet no one really thinks of trees, rather we don’t even let them grow. But in time when these trees will start to bear its fruits and flowers, maybe some people will understand,” he says. “But for now, I wait.”