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The worrying decrease in Uttarakhand’s rhododendrons

| Updated on November 08, 2019 Published on November 08, 2019

The untimely and reduced bloom of rhododedron flowers in recent times is threatening local livelihoods in Uttarakhand

Trekking on the rugged mountains of Uttarakhand, the red bell-shaped rhododendron, locally called buransh, catches one’s attention. They can be found almost everywhere from March to May, either hanging above one’s head or lying in heaps at your feet.

Found in high altitudes above 1,200-2,400m, rhododendron is the state tree of Uttarakhand. The mountains usually turn red during the flowering season.

However, the bloom was significantly low this year. The changing weather pattern and reduced snowfall have led to early blooming — the flowers now appear two months ahead, during winter. The untimely bloom is a worry for the state’s residents, who value these fiery-red flowers (white in the upper reaches) for both cultural and economic reasons.

During the flowering season, local women trek deep into the jungles to collect the blossoms, which they use to make a juice for sale in the local markets. Prepared by boiling the flowers with sugar, the juice is said to be rich in anti-inflammatory properties, good for the heart and helps lower blood pressure.

Little known outside the hills, the juice is being popularised through a range of initiatives. Himalaya2home is an organisation that sells the juice online. Another local brand called Bakri Chhap launched Hearty Sip, a drink made with rhododendron flowers. Packaged in recycled alcohol bottles, it is available in an upscale hotel in Delhi. Plans are afoot to take it to other parts of the country.

Uttarakhand, also known as Devbhoomi (land of gods), is a destination for adventure seekers and pilgrims alike. However, tourism alone is not sufficient to stem the large-scale rural migration. Entire villages are being abandoned because of flash floods, unemployment and agriculture loss. The need for alternative means of income along with the responsible use of natural resources has never been more urgent. With the right kind of infrastructure and support, the rhododendron juice could serve as a sustainable source of income. However, with the supply of the flowers drying up, local women stand the risk of losing a reliable source of income.

Deepti Asthana is a Mumbai-based freelance photographer

Published on November 08, 2019