The story of a tree lover who turned a deserted area into a thick forest

Sher Alam Shinwari

PESHAWAR: A social activist, naturalist and resident of Landikotal subdivision of the historic Khyber district has turned a desolate and dry terrain into a green mountain spread over 120 kanals having over 60,000 trees to materialize his dream of green and clean environment. Haji Mohammad Yousaf, a staunch lover of trees, has planted thousands of different trees on a wide tract of mountainous land he had purchased from his close relatives some 25 years ago.

Since then he had changed the landscape of the region because the saplings have grown into tall trees and has even motivated the local residents to plant trees for a safe environment. Mr. Yousaf, 65, in an informal chat with this scribe recalled that he had a dream since his childhood how he could bring greenery to the rugged mountainous region he had read in the history once it had but had no piece of wide tract required for his dreamland.

‘Range Yousaf’ as it named presently has over 50 different species of plants including flowers and fruit bearing trees and every year new generations of saplings are being added to the thick patch of trees overgrown the land presenting an eye-catching sight from distant and on which he had spent over Rs 100 m during the last over two decades.

“I literally talk to every single tree and encourage it to grow up because sometime it turns yellow and weak however; on my next visit the same tree respond me back with a fluttering smile. This forest is now my immediate family and I spend my retired life in its company. I am like Elzeard Bouffier, a fictional character in a celebrated short story, titled ‘The Man Who Planted Trees’ penned down by French author Jean Giono and in which a poor shepherd had turned a barren and abandoned village into a thick forest single handedly,” he observed.

“In 1991, I approached my maternal uncle to help me acquire the rugged and uneven mostly mountainous ridge and he agreed instantly and readily I started leveling the area and within a short span of time, I got it prepared for planting different saplings and also arranged water supply at four different places through deep drilling and built a protective wall around it,” he narrated.

About the reaction of the local residents on his dream project, he said that most had termed him crazy, others thought it was a mad man’s dream but he stood firm and steady and remained committed to the cause despite his hectic business and trade activities rumbling through Kabul and Peshawar.

“Within a few years, the rough and rugged ridge began yielding unbelievable results and the same local residents were convinced that they could also do it. This small township of Mukhtar Khel area is 400 ft above sea level and is located about 4 kms away from the main Landikotal Bazaar,” the tree lover informed.

Besides other social activities, Haji Mohammad Yousaf distributed thousands of saplings free of cost among the local residents and even helped them how to take care of them till they grew up into tall trees. 

The motive behind that entire dream was to bring back the romantic beauty that only ruffled through the poetry of poets-Khatir Afridi, Khyber Afridi, Hamza Baba and many others but not existed actually on the dry, the mountains and plains of Khyber and perhaps no one knew the significance of a single sapling that could help avert disaster of climate change, said Haji Yousaf while setting his chin against his walking stick.

About the future plans, he said that he would set up a small protective place where causal visitors, friends and family members could stay and it would serve as a picnic spot. He added that the spot would be built on the top of the forest from where the visitors would enjoy view of the entire forest. “I have planned to set up a small facility for my guests and family visitors so that they could make an enjoyable stay and could enjoy the forest view especially in the summer and spring seasons,” he said.

He told this scribe that animals and birds that had long disappeared from the area had once again been seen in the forest and the overall impact of the forest showed that about 1 to 2 ft snow fell on and about the forest during December and January.

“The temperature on the top of the forest varies about 3 to 4 degrees compared to the plain area of tehsil Landikotal and also the surrounding areas get more rains during the monsoon season. In the coming years, with more plantations, the landscape would give out more positive results,” he maintained.

“I have also set up a small public park opposite to my residence in Hayatabad, Peshawar and run a campaign during monsoon to plant, grow and save trees for beautiful environment and also distribute saplings to local residents in my neighborhood. I want a safe, healthy and pollution free environment and that is what I can contribute to my own land and people in my humble capacity,” Haji Mohammad Yousaf said with taking a deep sigh filled with a spiritual solace.

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