Solitude is the richness of self.
This one line describes the strength of Chatri Devi, an old woman who lives all alone in the Great Himalayan National Park, Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh. She is the only human who lives in this wildlife park that is spread over 754 square km — one of the richest biodiversity sites in the western Himalayas.
What keeps her so attached to this park?
The reason she gives for not moving out of the park is her emotional bond with her small wooden house and a piece of agricultural land. She told the IANS correspondent,
I have spent more than three decades here; why should I now move out from this park?
Her family comprises of three married sons and their wives, and nine grandchildren. They stay outside the park, a one-and-a-half hour trek from her house. Her husband, Chande Ram, died of lung cancer, leaving her in seclusion.
Remembering her husband, she says,
This house was built by my husband more than 20 years ago. This land where we used to grow wheat, barley, potato, corn, and rajma belonged to us. After his death, I stopped tilling the land.
Her hut is located on the southwestern side of the park and there is no electricity or mobile phone connectivity. She measures time without a clock and possesses an Aadhar number. She says that her family often visits her,
One of my family members normally comes daily these days before sunset to enquire about my well-being and goes back the next morning.
Birds and animals are her eternal friends. She continued,
These birds and animals are also part of my family. Every winter ‘jujuranas’ or western tragopans and gorillas here. So I enjoy watching them. Leopards and black bears do come near to my house, even with their cubs, but they never attacked me as I am not their prey. Why should I be afraid of them?
Sadly, the park authorities are forcing her to leave the park but she is too adamant. They even offered her a piece of land outside the park.
It’s really sad that the park officials are forcing me to move out of the place where I spent almost my entire life. If the park authorities want to relocate me, it will be possible only after my death.
Keeping her stand firm, she even constructed a toilet near her house with the permission of the park authorities. The only thing that bothers her is the pain in her knee joints, she added,
My only problem is pain in my knee joints. The pain will only go with my death, so I stopped taking painkillers.
Seeing her courage and passion, her landholding was declared as the World Heritage site by UNESCO in recognition of its outstanding significance for biodiversity conservation.