Badimalika grasslands are fast losing their unique biodiversityMany rare medicinal herbs and animal species have disappeared from the majestic fields.
Basanta Prasad Singh
When Ram Bahadur Baniya, the current mayor of Budhiganga Municipality in Bajura district, visited Badimalika in the uplands of Bajura for the first time in 1995, he was thrilled to see its lush grasslands and scenic beauty. That memory is still fresh in his mind.
Badimalika lies between 2,000–4,200 metres above the sea level and sprawls across Triveni, Badimalika and Budhinanda municipalities, and Jagannath Rural Municipality in Bajura district; Sanni Triveni Rural Municipality in Kalikot district; and Ramaroshan Rural Municipality in Achham district.
“I have never seen flowers like those in Badimalika anywhere else,” Baniya said. “Everywhere you looked, there were flowers in full bloom. There was no place that was not covered with flowers back then. I thought this is what heaven looks like.”
When he first arrived in the Sotapatan, Ghodapatan, Bhiti Chhirna, Budhimaikothan, Triveni and Lauri Binai in the Badimalika area, all the corners of the highlands were covered with thousands of flowers without a sight of naked soil, Baniya added. He has since visited Badimalika six times.
“But the number of flowers has been decreasing in recent times,” Baniya lamented, having last visited the Badimalika area in August. “Now there are fewer flowers compared to the first time I went there. Weeds and other vegetation have displaced them in places. I was heartbroken to see the Triveni, Daudailagne, Lauri Binai Patan and Badimalika temple areas that once looked like flower nurseries devoid of flowers.”
A grand fair is organised in the Badimalika shrine every year on Janai Purnima, a Hindu festival that often falls in the month of August. Visitors from not only Nepal but also India come here in the belief that one’s wishes are fulfilled if they visit the shrine.
People’s representatives like Baniya and other regular visitors to the shrine are concerned about the gradual degradation of this scenic area.
Jamuna Giri, a 69-year-old woman from Doti district, has visited Badimalika 13 times, her first being 50 years ago. “Half a century ago, it was full of flowers and rare medicinal herbs,” she said. “Today, it looks barren.”
Giri added that her chronic illness got better after consuming Madhujadi, a medicinal herb collected from the Badimalika area. “But the herb has disappeared today,” she said. “Herbs like Madhujadi, Dhupjadi, Padchal, Biojadi, Ninaijadi, Bhutkesh and flowers such as Bramhakamal, Jogiphool, Tukiphool, Bukiphool, and Soonfool that were found in abundance in the highlands have stopped growing for the past 10-15 years.”
Locals blame overharvesting of the herbs for their disappearance.
“Currently I cannot find any of those herbal flowers but back then they were all around,” Giri said. “Over time, the beauty of the Badimalika area has markedly declined.”
According to locals, in the Badimalika area, there are herbs such as Panchaunle, Sunpati, Chiraito, Pakhanbhed, Kaulo, Chutro and Pavan Kaulo. Dozens of precious herbs with high medicinal value such as Bishjara, Madhujadi, Dhupjadi, Banlasun, Biojadi and Ninaijadi are also found. At the same time, hundreds of other flower species such as Brahmakamal, Buki phool, Jai, Juhi, Chameli, Sun Jai, Indrakamal have become rare.
Badimalika is not just an important religious and cultural splendour of the Sudurpaschim Province. This area is also important and sensitive from the biodiversity viewpoint. However, there is an increasing risk of extinction of not only the precious herbs and flowers. The biomes may have been affected owing to the failure to conserve the Badimalika area.
There is almost no government presence in the Badimalika area except during the Janai Purnima fair. Taking advantage of such security lapses, people from Bajura, Achham, Kalikot, Jumla and Mugu collect the medicinal herbs illegally and poach wild animals and birds. Various species of birds and animals are also on the verge of extinction, according to locals.
“If the plants and animals keep disappearing like this, how will Badimalika retain its importance?” said Damma Thapa, a local. “Illegal activities have been continuing for years but there’s no one to stop them.”
Sheep and mountain goats from various districts are brought to the Badimalika area for grazing from April to October. This is harming the biodiversity of the area, according to experts.
Thousands of sheep, mountain goats, horses and buffaloes from Achham, Bajura, Kalikot, Jumla, Humla and Mugu districts are brought to Badimalika for grazing for six months a year, said Devendra Shah, a social worker who is also a resident of Budhiganga Municipality in Bajura. “These animals are left loose in the highlands,” Shah said. “Besides this, poaching and haphazard collection of herbs have destroyed the natural beauty of the area. The presence of the government is zero.”
Environmentalists suggest giving high priority to protection and conservation of such areas.
“Places like Badimalika with grasslands above 4,000 metres with hundreds of species of plants are a rarity not only in Nepal but also around the world. The government has prioritised only forests and wetlands, but grasslands are as important to protect biodiversity. There is no time to lose if we are to preserve the ecosystems of such grasslands,” said Narayan Ghimire, associate professor of botany at the Tribhuvan University.
Even the local agencies working in the field of conservation appear to have failed to realise that the biodiversity in the Badimalika area is in crisis.
According to Hari Yadav, the acting chief of the division forest office in Bajura, there has been no comprehensive study to determine which herbs, flowers and wild animals have reached the point of extinction.
“Many herbs and flowers have disappeared from the area. The office has also asked the federal government for funds for a study, but there has not been a definitive response yet,” said Yadav.
He suspects climate change is also responsible for the disappearance of valuable herbs. The collection of forbidden herbs such as Panchaunle and the theft of endangered wild animals such as lophophorus and musk deer continue unchecked. “When someone complains about any illegal activities, the office sends a forest guard for investigation. But the area is very big for the office to monitor with its small manpower,” he said.
There is no official measure of the total highland area in Badimalika that sprawls across several districts and municipalities. All these municipalities have been investing huge sums of money every year for the promotion of tourism in the area, yet none of them seems keen on stopping illegal activities there.
“Protecting the area is beyond the capacity of local units, so the provincial and federal governments themselves should step in,” said Karna Bahadur Thapa, mayor of the Triveni Municipality of Bajura.
Amar Khadka, the mayor of Badimalika Municipality, concurs. “We have also briefed the President on the situation. Preparations are being made to draw the government's attention to this issue by holding a joint meeting of municipalities bordering the Badimalika area,” Khadka added.
The provincial government, meanwhile, remains aloof. “There has not been any study on the environmental degradation of the area. But we have been promoting tourism in the area by building foot trails and homestays,” admits Man Bahadur Dhami, minister of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment of Sudurpaschim Province. “But we will soon come up with an action plan to protect the area.”