When Ram Bahadur Baniya, the current Mayor of Budhiganga Municipality in Bajura District, first visited Badimalika in the Bajura Highlands for the first time in 1995, he was delighted to see its lush grasslands and scenic beauty. This memory is still fresh in his mind.
Badimalika is between 2,000 and 4,200 meters above sea level and spans the municipalities of Triveni, Badimalika and Budhinanda, and the rural municipality of Jagannath in the district of Bajura; Rural Municipality of Sanni Triveni in Kalikot District; and Ramaroshan Rural Municipality in Achham District.
“I have never seen flowers like Badimalika anywhere else,” Baniya said. “Everywhere you looked there were flowers in full bloom. There was no place that wasn’t covered in flowers back then. I thought that was what heaven looked like.
When he first arrived in the areas of Sotapatan, Ghodapatan, Bhiti Chhirna, Budhimaikothan, Triveni and Lauri Binai in Badimalika region, every corner of the highlands was covered with thousands of flowers without seeing the bare ground, Baniya added. Since then, he has visited Badimalika six times.
“But the number of flowers has gone down lately,” Baniya lamented, after last visiting the Badimalika area in August. “Now there are less flowers than the first time I went. Weeds and other vegetation have moved them in places. I was heartbroken to see the Triveni, Daudailagne, Lauri temple areas Binai Patan and Badimalika which once looked like flower nurseries devoid of flowers.
A big fair is held every year in the Badimalika shrine during Janai Purnima, a Hindu festival that often falls in August. Visitors not only from Nepal but also from India come here in the belief that their wishes are fulfilled if they visit the shrine.
Representatives of the people like Baniya and other regular visitors to the shrine are concerned about the gradual degradation of this scenic area.
Jamuna Giri, a 69-year-old woman from Doti district, has visited Badimalika 13 times, her first being 50 years ago. “Half a century ago it was full of rare medicinal flowers and herbs,” she said. “Today he looks barren.”
Giri added that his chronic illness improved after consuming Madhujadi, a medicinal herb harvested in the Badimalika region. “But the grass is gone today,” she said. “Herbs like Madhujadi, Dhupjadi, Padchal, Biojadi, Ninaijadi, Bhutkesh and flowers like Bramhakamal, Jogiphool, Tukiphool, Bukiphool and Soonfool which were found in abundance in the highlands have stopped growing in the last 10 to 15 years.”
Locals blame overharvesting of the herbs for their demise.
“Currently, I can’t find any of these herbal flowers, but back then they were everywhere,” Giri said. “Over time, the beauty of the Badimalika region has markedly diminished.”
According to locals, in Badimalika area there are herbs such as Panchaunle, Sunpati, Chiraito, Pakhanbhed, Kaulo, Chutro and Pavan Kaulo. Dozens of precious herbs with high medicinal value such as Bishjara, Madhujadi, Dhupjadi, Banlasun, Biojadi and Ninaijadi are also found. At the same time, hundreds of other flower species such as Brahmakamal, Buki phool, Jai, Juhi, Chameli, Sun Jai, Indrakamal have become rare.
Badimalika is not only an important religious and cultural splendor of Sudurpaschim province. This area is also important and sensitive from a biodiversity point of view. However, there is a growing risk of extinction not only of valuable herbs and flowers. Biomes may have been affected due to the conservation failure of the Badimalika area.
There is almost no government presence in the Badimalika area, except during the Janai Purnima fair. Taking advantage of these security loopholes, residents of Bajura, Achham, Kalikot, Jumla and Mugu are illegally collecting medicinal herbs and poaching wild animals and birds. Various species of birds and animals are also on the brink of extinction, according to locals.
“If plants and animals keep disappearing like this, how will Badimalika retain its importance?” said Damma Thapa, a resident. “The illegal activities have been going on for years but there is no one to stop them.”
Sheep and mountain goats from various districts are brought to the Badimalika region for grazing from April to October. This harms the region’s biodiversity, experts say.
Thousands of sheep, mountain goats, horses and buffaloes from Achham, Bajura, Kalikot, Jumla, Humla and Mugu districts are brought to Badimalika to graze there for six months a year, said Devendra Shah, an assistant social also resident of the municipality of Budhiganga. in Bajura. “These animals are left free in the highlands,” Shah said. “On top of that, poaching and anarchic collection of herbs has destroyed the natural beauty of the area. Government presence is zero.
Environmentalists suggest giving high priority to the protection and conservation of these areas.
“Places like Badimalika with grasslands above 4,000 meters with hundreds of species of plants are a rarity not only in Nepal but also worldwide. The government has only prioritized forests and wetlands, but grasslands are equally important for protecting biodiversity. There is no time to waste if we want to preserve the ecosystems of these grasslands,” said Narayan Ghimire, Associate Professor of Botany at Tribhuvan University.
Even local agencies working in conservation seem not to have realized that biodiversity in the Badimalika region is in crisis.
According to Hari Yadav, acting head of the Bajura Division Forestry Office, there has not been a thorough study to determine which herbs, flowers and wild animals have reached the point of extinction.
“A lot of grasses and flowers have disappeared from the area. The office has also asked the federal government for funds for a study, but there has been no definitive response yet,” Yadav said.
He suspects that climate change is also responsible for the disappearance of valuable herbs. The collection of forbidden herbs such as Panchaunle and the theft of endangered wildlife such as lophophores and musk deer continues unchecked. “When someone complains about illegal activities, the office sends a ranger to investigate. But the area is very large for the office to monitor with its small workforce,” he said.
There are no official measurements of the total area of the Badimalika Highlands which spans several districts and municipalities. All of these municipalities invest huge sums of money each year in promoting tourism in the region, but none of them seem keen on stopping illegal activities there.
“Protecting the area is beyond the capabilities of local units, so the provincial and federal governments themselves should step in,” said Karna Bahadur Thapa, mayor of the Triveni municipality of Bajura.
Amar Khadka, the Mayor of Badimalika Municipality, agrees. “We also informed the president of the situation. Preparations are underway to draw the government’s attention to this issue by organizing a joint meeting of the bordering municipalities of the Badimalika region,” Khadka added.
The provincial government, meanwhile, remains on the sidelines. “There has been no study on the environmental degradation of the area. But we have promoted tourism in the area by building walking trails and homestays,” admits Man Bahadur Dhami, Minister of Industry, Tourism, Forestry and Environment of Sudurpaschim province. “But we will soon come up with an action plan to protect the area.”