67-year-old single-handedly transforms a rubber plantation into a mini forest with thousands of trees

gopalakrishnan KR, a resident of Thrissur, Kerala, thinks we often forget that the products of nature are not just for humans. “It’s for all living creatures,” he notes.

Deeply rooted in this love of nature, he has maintained a mini fruit forest on a 1 acre plot of land in Mannamangalam for seven years. This green paradise is full of thousands of trees where birds and animals can rest or feed. “I don’t interfere with the forest and don’t harvest any of the fruits, because it’s set up for birds and animals,” he says. The best India.

As he retired from the SBI in 2014, Gopalakrishnan decided to purchase land that was once a rubber plantation. “The land was about 10 km from my house in Ponnukkara, and I bought it for Rs 15 lakh, which I had received as retirement benefits. It was the perfect land and shared a border with a forest,” explains the 67-year-old man.

After buying the land, Gopalakrishnan started by clearing all the rubber trees. Then, over time, he filled the space with different varieties of fruit trees, medicinal plants, etc. “There were some non-rubber trees and plants, which I left as they were,” adds Gopalakrishnan, who spent an additional Rs 10-15 lakh to turn the barren land into the forest it is today.

A man’s dream

The former computer scientist has single-handedly identified this green area, named “Pranah” (life), in recent years. “I started planting saplings across the country hoping that they would grow, thrive and bear fruit for birds and animals one day. I took no outside help,” he adds .

Gopalakrishnan says that Pranah has more than 500 types of trees, of which more than 200 are fruit trees. They were all allowed to grow and flourish in their natural way, he notes, except for the occasional watering he did, especially during the summer months.

He adds that creating this mini forest was not just about planting trees. It was also about leaving them unaltered or undisturbed. “If we plant a tree, we are supposed not to interfere with it by cutting its branches or removing dead leaves. Nature should be left to its own devices and that is where all my efforts have been directed,” he says.

Pranah is home to fruit trees such as jackfruit and mango of different varieties, as well as papaya, guava, sapote, water apple, gooseberry, fig and many others. “Several animals like wild boars, squirrels, monkeys and countless birds are regular visitors here,” he says.

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Apart from fruit trees, he says the forest is also home to around 1,000 medicinal plants like different varieties of tulsi, koduveli (Indian lead), sanjeevani, analivegam (venomous devil tree) and so on. “There were a lot of medicinal plants in the plot even when it was a rubber plantation. I kept them and planted more varieties too. Several medicinal plants that have not yet been identified,” he says, adding that he is trying to verify their identity with the help of his scientific friends and Google.

“I planted some vegetables at first, but they couldn’t survive the shade of the big trees,” he notes.

The forest is about 150 meters from the road and only has a narrow path to cross. “I intentionally kept the path narrow so vehicles wouldn’t enter. I want the forest to be undisturbed by the outside world,” says Gopalakrishnan, who visits Pranah to check on his work every other day. There is a small one-room house in the forest for him to rest and a well for watering.

Pranah
The small one-room house in the forest

Gopalakrishnan and “Pranah” have received several accolades including the 2021 Kerala Forest Department Vanamithra Award for Biodiversity Conservation. “I used the amount, Rs 50,000, to contribute to a drinking water project for the nearby SC-ST colony.”

Apart from maintaining a fruit forest, Gopalakrishnan also helps people set up home gardens for free, he says. “I help people who approach me. Otherwise, I will look for houses where there is enough space to plant more greenery. I collect young trees and plant them for free on their land. So far I have helped around 100 houses near Ponnukkara,” he says.

(Edited by Divya Sethu)

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