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Walking through a ‘Ringaal’ Forest

Updated: Apr 15

While trekking in these parts, one often encounters entire mountainsides covered with the deep green of a 'Ringaal' forest, a dwarf (and slim) species of bamboo that grows wild in the forested hills of Kumaon and Garhwal.

Walking through it on a sunlit day is a surreal experience.

Growing to a maximum height of 4 to 5 meters, the branches on both sides of the trail meet overhead to form natural arched tunnels. Columns of jade support a low canopy of emerald leaves, all lit up, sometimes stretching unbroken for hundreds of yards. The sight is an impossible shade of green, evoking a momentary sense of wonder in wanderers.

Then, someone inevitably stumbles upon the ‘original’ idea of using Ringaal stalks to fashion excellent walking sticks, which are of just the right girth, better-looking, lighter, customizable, and free as compared to the fancy store-bought alloy variety.

Meanwhile, the versatile locals of Uttarakhand have been using it for ages to create a wide variety of utilitarian products, including fishing rods, agricultural implements, fans, hookahs, umbrellas, mats for earthen floors, baskets for carrying wood, grass or manure, and sometimes to carry the old and the infirm over short distances.

‘Dev Ringaal’, ‘Jumla Ringal’, ‘Tham Ringal’, or sometimes just “Ningaw” are local names for the various types of Ringaal that grow at different altitudes between 4,500 ft. to 10,000 ft.

This altitude range is beneficial for many bird species and mammals, who can find the temperature suited to their specific needs. For instance, the Himalayan black bear is often found in and around forests and meadows at an elevation of 10,000 to 12,000 feet, descending to 5,000-6,000 feet in winter months in search of food.

Incidentally, incidents of man-bear conflict in the state are reported more frequently in winters, across Uttarakhand.

Of late, Ringaal has become an important source of income for certain marginal groups in Garhwal.

Resourceful entrepreneurs have branched into other products like furniture, lamp shades, and dustbins, etc.

NGOs have mobilised communities and capitalized on the booming religious tourism to supply small ‘prasad’ baskets to pilgrims, replacing polythene bags.

There are rumors in the land of Oz that these emerald cities have been growing steadily.

“Even with the eyes protected by the green spectacles, Dorothy and her friends were at first dazzled by the brilliancy of the wonderful green city...studded everywhere with sparkling emeralds...Even the sky above the city had a greenish tint, and the rays of the sun were bright, blinding green with golden hues.”

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)


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