Badrivan: An Innovative Model in the Indian Central Himalaya for Restoration of Degraded Lands and Biodiversity Conservation

P.P. Dhyani[1]


An innovative programme under the name of “Badrivan (the ancient sacred forest of Badrinath Shrine) Restoration Programme” was launched at Badrinath, Chamoli Garhwal (Uttaranchal), India, in 1993. The methodology developed and tested, and the demonstration model established at Garhwal Scouts Camp and Parmarthlok have successfully inspired pilgrims and local people from all walks of life to restore the degraded lands in and around Badrinath, the major Hindu pilgrimage shrine in the Indian Central Himalaya. Successful tree planting by organising Ritual Distribution of Tree Seedlings and Plantation Ceremonies and Plant Distribution Ceremonies at Badrinath for the revival of Badrivan also demonstrates what kind of cultural approaches for reforesting degraded lands can work, and how science and religion can work together for the benefit of the environment and conservation and preservation of the spiritual and cultural values. This R & D effort provides an inspiring model for reforestation of degraded lands and biodiversity conservation and needs replication not only in the Himalayas/mountains but also in the other parts of the world where sacred sites and pilgrimages are important and the environment has been severely threatened.


Badrinath shrine has been perennial source of attraction to the inhabitants of Indian sub-continent from time immemorial. All Puranas speak highly of religious importance of this shrine. It is the major Hindu pilgrimage shrine in the Indian Central Himalaya and is one of the four Hindu shrines of the Country. More than 5 lakh pilgrims visit Badrinath shrine with deep religious feelings from all over India every year. Badrinath township is situated in the gorge of sacred Nar and Narayan hills at an elevation of 3,133m in Chamoli Garhwal, Uttaranchal, India. The mythological/cultural, historical and scientific evidences indicate that Badrinath shrine had dense vegetation/forest around it in the past. However, at present there is hardly any trace of forest around this shrine. In recent past, many organisations had attempted tree plantations with little success. The failure of earlier plantations in highly degraded Badrinath valley was due to improper selection of plant species, lower age of the seedlings at the time of plantation, non-hardening of seedlings before plantation, non-stabilisation of soil in the pits before plantation and lack of proper care of plants for harsh winter season when the shrine remains closed from the middle of November to middle of April/May due to heavy snow fall. In addition to the above, none of the earlier attempts utilised the religious authority of the Chief Priest of the shrine and involved pilgrims, local people, pandas (purohits) and Army personnel, etc. in afforestation programme on the basis of scientific and cultural/spiritual/religious values. Therefore, it was considered to initiate mass scale afforestation programme (with the involvement of the above) in and around Badrinath shrine.


In view of the above, an innovative R&D programme under the name of ‘Badrivan Restoration Programme’ was launched at Badrinath with effect from September 1993 with the main objective - to revive Badrivan [the ancient sacred forest of Badrinath; Adi Guru Shankaracharya named the forest of Badrinath as ‘Badrivan’ around 815-820 AD due to the predominance of two important trees viz. Bhojpatra (Betula utilis) and Badri (Juniperus macropoda) and shrubs of Badriphal (Hippophae salicifolia); this sacred forest, regretfully, disappeared due to a variety of reasons, particularly biotic/anthropogenic] in Badrinath valley.

The scientific work (i.e., identification of trees/shrubs for incorporation in Badrinath valley, development of high altitude plant nursery [it needs to be emphasised that for ensuring success of the programme and for making available planting material to other agencies, a high altitude plant nursery was established at an altitude of 2,500 m amsl in Hanumanchatti, 12 kms before Badrinath, and on an average 23,960 plants were raised through seeds/cuttings every year since its initiation in May 1995. These plants having been raised under the prevailing harsh climatic conditions suffer much less after transplantation mortality in comparison to the plants raised in other nurseries at lower altitudes], hardening of tree/shrub seedlings at the nursery, stabilisation of soil in the pits before plantation, and protection of seedlings for winter season etc.) carried out and the methodology/philosophy proposed, for the first time, [the pilgrims, local people and pandas will be provided tree seedlings/saplings (in the temple premises) in the form of ‘Briksha Prasada’ by the Chief Priest of Badrinath shrine (who belongs to the generation of Adi Guru Shankaracharya, a Hindu reformist, and hails from the Namoboodiri village of Kerala and bound not to marry) when devotees go for ‘darshana’ of lord Vishnu in Badrinath temple so that they could have sentimental attachment with the saplings and plant them in Badrinath valley for the revival of sacred Badrivan as well as for the benefit/protection of environment and biodiversity conservation as an act of devotion] for successful afforestation/reforestation and tested (w.e.f. September 1993 from time to time) under the above-mentioned programme have successfully inspired the pilgrims, pandas, Army personnel and local inhabitants to restore the degraded lands in and around the Badrinath shrine and also to initiate plantation in different parts of the country. The successful tree planting by way of organising Ritual Distribution of Tree Seedlings and Plantation Ceremonies (RDTSPCs) from time to time in and around Badrinath shrine clearly demonstrates the value of adopting “cultural approach” for reforesting degraded lands and also illustrates the importance of blending science and religion for the benefit/protection of environment and biodiversity conservation.

The R&D work carried out under the above-mentioned programme through implementation of its unique and pioneering philosophy by way of organising Ritual Distribution of Tree Seedlings and Plantation Ceremonies (in which the Chief Priest of Badrinath shrine used his religious authority and blessed tree seedlings as ‘Briksha Prasada’ and distributed them to the pilgrims, pandas and local people etc. in the temple premises for plantation in Badrinath valley especially for the revival of sacred Badrivan) has now resulted in the survival of approximately 21,670 tree/shrub saplings in the premises of Garhwal Scouts and Parmarthlok etc., which has now revived Badrivan in Badrinath valley [before the initiation of Badrivan restoration programme, not more than 100 robust trees were found growing in the whole of Badrinath valley, which is almost 4 kms in length and 1.5. kms in width]. However, the total plantation, inspired by the execution of Badrivan restoration programme, stands at approximately 50,060 saplings (i.e. 28,390 by the effort of other agencies including plantation carried out under Badrivan restoration programme at other sites; for details, see 1 to 5 below + 21,670 as mentioned above) of various trees/shrubs in and around Badrinath, Hanumanchatti and Govindghat. This applied scientific work (as carried out in the remote hilly areas of a difficult agroclimatic zone of Chamoli Garhwal, Uttaranchal, India, which remains snow bound for around 4-5 months per year) now provides an inspiring model for the restoration of degraded lands and conservation of biodiversity not only in other parts of Himalaya, but also elsewhere throughout the world where sacred/pilgrimage sites exist and are threatened. The above-mentioned applied work, as carried out w.e.f. September 1993 to November 2001, has set an example for other people, significantly created environmental awareness among the masses for afforestation/reforestation/eco-regeneration/biodiversity conservation, and advanced knowledge in the field of environmental science. It has also been duly recognized and acclaimed at local/regional, national (1-13) and international (14-20) levels.

Photo plate

Plate: A, View of Badrinath valley in Chamoli Garhwal, Uttaranchal;

Plate: B, Plant nursery developed at Hanumanchatti (12 kms before Badrinath);

Plate: C, Events of Ritual Distribution of Tree Seedlings an Plantation Ceremony held at Badrinath

Plate: D, Hanumanchatti

Plate: E, Govindghat [24 kms before Badrinath];

Plate: F, Trees growing and surviving happily in Badrinath valley (i.e., in Garhwal Scouts Camp).


Some of the highlights relating to the follow-up action on Badrivan restoration programme are as below:

1. Initiation of Badrivan restoration programme inspired the Govt. of U.P. for issuing instructions to the officials of the Forest Department (on 16.11.95) for mass scale afforestation in Badrinath valley. At present, approximately 8, 000 plants (planted by Forest Department) of various high altitude trees are surviving well at Deodarshini in Badrinath valley.

2. Inspired by the activities and philosophy of Badrivan restoration programme, the officials of Parmarthalok initiated the establishment of ‘Parmarthlokvan’ in 1994; Garhwal Scouts, Joshimath started development of ‘Manavan’ in 1995; SIKH Regiment, Rudraprayag initiated establishment of ‘Khalsavan’ in 1996; Garhwal Scouts, Joshimath started establishment of ‘Rakshavan’ in 1998; U.P. Police and PWD initiated establishment of ‘Policevan’ and ‘Lokvan’ respectively in 1999; and the villagers of Mana also started establishment of ‘Vyasvan’ in 1999 in Badrinath valley. In addition to the above, the saints and the locals of Badrinath shrine has also formulated a NGO (namely, Akhil Bhartiya Teerth Raksha Samman Samiti) in 2000 especially for initiating follow up action on Badrivan restotation programme. Around 7,000 plants of various high altitude trees/shrubs are now surviving at different sites in Badrinath valley.

3. Before the initiation of Badrivan restoration programme, majority of the local people and pandas were of opinion that trees can not grow in Badrinath shrine because none of the trees from earlier plantings had survived. However, after the initiation of this programme and subsequently based on the survival potential of tree seedlings in Badrinath valley (particularly in the premises of Garhwal Scouts Camp and Parmarthlok etc.) they reversed their opinion and started plantation of trees in and around their habitations. Now, almost 800 high altitude trees are surviving in and around their habitations in Badrinath shrine; care of these plants is taken up by them. The pandas of Badrinath shrine are also encouraging the pilgrims to plant trees for the benefit of environment when they return to their native place(s) from Badrinath shrine.

4. The approach/philosophy of Badrivan restoration programme that was tested in Badrinath shrine from time to time was replicated (in 1996) at another pilgrimage site in Garhwal Himalaya (i.e. at Hanumanchatti) by the villagers of Hanumanchatti and officials of Khiron Auth Van Panchayat, Chamoli Garhwal, U.P., India, by way of organizing a Ritual Distribution of Tree Seedlings and Plantation Ceremony [in which a well known saint, Sri Sri 1008 Nagababa Hanumangiri (Uche Hath Wale), used his religious authority on 19th September 1996 and distributed tree seedlings in the form of ‘Briksha Prasada’ for the development of sacred ‘Hanumanvan’ (a sacred forest for the villagers of Hanumanchatti) on a sacred mountain ‘Auth Doomka’ at Hanumanchatti in Chamoli Garhwal]. At present, almost 12,090 plants of various high altitude trees/shrubs are surviving well on Auth Doomka mountain at Hanumanchatti, Chamoli Garhwal.

5. The philosophy of Badrivan restoration programme was also replicated (in 1997) beyond the Hindu tradition by the Manager of Govindghat Gurudwara Management Committee at Govindghat in Chamoli Garhwal by way of organizing a Ritual Distribution of Tree Seedlings and Plantation Ceremony [in which the Chief Granthi of Govindghat Gurudwara (a sacred Sikh pilgrimage place en-route to Hemkund Sahib; one of the famous Sikh shrines in the country) used his religious authority on 3rd October 1997 and distributed tree seedlings in the form of ‘Briksha Prasada’ to the Sikh pilgrims for the development of sacred ‘Guruvan’ at Govindghat]. At present, around 500 trees/shrubs are growing well near Gurudwara at Govindghat in Chamoli Garhwal.

6. The philosophy proposed and tested under Badrivan restoration programme has been appreciated highly by The Mountain Institute, USA, and also by a number of international dignitaries. The approach of Badrivan restoration programme was also acclaimed highly in an International NGO Consultation meeting on the Mountain Agenda held in Lima, Peru from February 22 to 27, 1995; in a brainstorming meeting of UNESCO on “Sacred Sites: Cultural Integrity and Biological Diversity” (held at Paris on December 2-3, 1996); in a sub-regional Seminar of UNESCO on “Culture, Environment and Indigenous Knowledge” (held at Jomsom, Nepal from May 14 to 18, 1997); and also in a workshop on “Sacred mountains and environmental conservation” (held at Franklin, USA in 1998) etc.

7. The Mountain Institute, USA, made an independent assessment of Badrivan restoration programme in September 1996 and documented its philosophy and activities and distributed its report (via Mountain Forum) to various professionals, scientists and grass-roots people.

8. The Explorer Club, USA, included the description of Badrivan restoration programme on international worldwide web in 1997 (web site address: http://caldera.wr.usgs.gov./mdiggles/ec97.09.html). The Mountain Institute, USA, also included its description on international worldwide web in 1998 (web site address: http://www.mtnforum.org/mtnforum/whatsnew/whatsnew.html).

9. The scientific activities carried out and philosophy proposed and tested under Badrivan restoration programme have been documented by Dr. Edwin Bernbaum in 1997 in an important publication “Mountains of the world: A global priority (eds. B. Messerli and J.D. Ives), which was released during the UN General Assembly on 25 June 1997.

10. The UNESCO Office, New Delhi, in 1999 has strongly recommended (to the headquarters of UNESCO, Paris) inclusion of Badrinath and other shrines of Garhwal Himalaya under UNESCO Sacred Sites Programmes.


The author is thankful to Professor A.N. Purohit and Dr. L.M.S. Palni for providing valuable suggestions from time to time and to Mr. R.G. Singh for providing assistance both in the field and photography throughout the tenure of the programme.


(1). Umar Ujala (1993): Paryavaran santulan ko Badrivan ki sthapna jaroori. September 25, p. 11, Meerut.

(2). Umar Ujala (1995): Paryavaran sanrakshan ke liye samarpana bhav se karya karna jaroori - Mathur. June 8, Meerut.

(3). Dainik Jagaran (1997): Badrinath mein hariyali vikherane ka swapna. September 24, p. 1 (Dainik Jagaran - Sargam), Dehradun.

(4). Dainik Tribune (1997): Laut raha hai badrivan ka hariyala ateet. May 4, p. 1, Chandigarh.

(5). Dainik Jagaran (1998): Garhwal Scouts ka briksharopan karyakarm sampanna. September 27, Dehradun.

(6). Dhyani, P.P. (1998): Badrivan programme at Badrinath Dham: An innovative model for restoration of degraded lands and biodiversity conservation. In, Research for Mountain Development - Some Initiatives and Accomplishment, GBPIHED Himavikas Publ. No. 12, pp. 387-405.

(7). Hindustan (1998): Sena dwara seemant gram Mana mein briksharopan. September 29, p. 3, New Delhi.

(8). Umar Ujala (1998): Hariyali ke morche par Sena ka abhinav paryash. September 25, p. 13, Meerut.

(9). Hima-Paryavaran (1999): Badrivan restoration: An inspiring model. Vol. 11 (2), December, pp. 14.

(10). Umar Ujala (1999): Briksharopan kiya. August 3. Meerut.

(11). Hima-Paryavaran (2000): Badrivan restoration programme - Follow up. Vol. 12(2), in press.

(12). Navbharat Times (2001): Suprasidha teerth Badinath Dham mein ped ugane ka abhinav prayog. Yahan vanaye ja rahe Badrivan ke parinam aab dikhne lage hain. Badrivan mein taiyar ho raha vankshetra. January 22, p.II.

(13). Dhyani, P.P. (2001): Science and religion for the benefit of environment and biodiversity conservation: A case study from Indian Central Himalaya. Hima-Paryavaran 13(1&2): 9-13.

(14). Bernbaum, E. (1995): Tree planting by Himalayan pilgrims - A success story of culturally motivated conservation and restoration. Mountain Protected Areas Update, September, p. 3-4.

(15). Bernbaum, E. (1996a): Secrets of the sacred hills - Pilgrims plant a forest. People and the Planet 5(1): 11.

(16). Bernbaum, E. (1996b): Sacred trees, sacred mountains - Pilgrimage and conservation in the Himalaya. The Mountain Institute, USA, p. 1-3.

(17). Bernbaum, E. (1997a): Pilgrimage and conservation in the Himalayas - A model for environmental action based on cultural and spiritual values. The Mountain Institute, USA, p. 1-38.

(18). Bernbaum, E. (1997b): The spiritual and cultural significance of the mountains. In, Mountains of the World: A Global Priority (eds. Messerli, B. and Ives, J.D.), The Parthenon Publishing Group, New York-London, p. 39-60.

(19). Bernbaum, E. (1998): Restoring Shiva’s Hair. Natural History 2/98: 84.

(20). Bernabaum, E. (1999): Badrinath’s trees: Local forests being restored as pilgrims now plant trees as offering to God. Hinduism Today (published from Hawaii, USA) 21(5): 23-24.

[1] G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development, Kosi-Katarmal, Almora -263 643, Uttaranchal, India. Email: [email protected]