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  • Writer's pictureColin Phelan

The Local School - Teaser Location Number Two

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

The Local School

Teaser Location Number Two

During my time in India I researched in the National Archives of India, patching together the environmental history of the Garhwal and the creation of Jim Corbett National Park. The Local School is constantly equipped with a historical lens and aided with some delicate primary sources spanning several centuries -- all in an effort to make sense of the subcontinent's history, and primarily, to better understand, contextualize, and compare seemingly disparate regions of India such as metropolis of Kolkata and the Garhwal Himalaya, the two regions which The Local School's main character's come from.

While the British harvested timber from most forests within India, Bajju’s region of the Garhwal was believed to have the best wood within the whole colony. At an 1863 forest conference in Nainital, a city in present day Uttarakhand, forest officials and the leader of the Forest Service Dietrich Brandis drew up a memorandum concerning these forests. When discussing the trees within these forests — especially the Garhwali teak trees — the committee pointedly regarded them as the “best ones we have.” In other clauses of this memorandum, the committee emphasized the enormity of these forests and continued to laud the trees as “magnificent.” Even though the forests had already been exploited without regulation for several decades, in scale and density the Garhwal forests were still impressive. For the next several decades, these forests of the Garhwal and the neighboring Kumaon region continued to be logged vigorously, and the reverence continued, most notably when a newly appointed, well-traveled veteran forest official of the 1860s referred to these forests as ones which “will yield a good revenue,” and of which “there is no State forest in India to be compared to this one for extent or compactness.”

Despite the Forest Service’s intervention in the Garhwal Himalaya, the region resisted total British colonization. While it is true that the British exploited this region with intensity, and even institutionalized their forestry monopoly through the 1878 founding of the Forest Research Institute in the city of Dehradun, the further north one travels from Dehradun, or from Uttarakhand’s “Gateway to the Himalaya,” Rishikesh, the more difficult the terrain is to navigate, the more remote life and society really is. It is therefore of no surprise that the Beatles did not venture north of Rishikesh for their storied Indian ashram retreat and intensive sitar studies. Even into the third decade of the 21st century the roads are for the most part unpaved, still being carved through the valleys and along the natural topography lines of the mountains. Although British forestry officials reaped natural resources until the end of colonial rule in 1947, for the most part trees were extracted by only a few colonial agents actually living in the region and then shipped downstream along those glacial-melt, life-bearing rivers.

As goes the address-problems-as-they-created-them approach of the British imperialists, eventually the exact space with the most lucrative trees became a National Park, the first of its kind within India. After the region had been commercialized and depleted for decades, the Forest Service searched for alternatives to address rampant deforestation. Gradually, British forestry administrators began viewing forest spaces with altered ambitions. What had once been an area solely viewed from an extraction lens shifted, beginning in 1936, to a space benefiting from tourism and preservation; evidently, the British had joined in on the worldwide ethic toward championing natural spaces. Simultaneously, the unrestrained exploitation of big game within India, especially tigers, served as a subsidiary motivation driving the creation of the park; to save the few tigers they had spared, the British demarcated and so instituted Uttarakhand’s own Jim Corbett National Park, a space ironically named after a hunter.

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