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Rishi Valley lies nestled amidst the boulder strewn rocky hills of the Eastern Ghats range in rural Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh; the Rayalaseema region, once part of the fabled medieval Vijayanagara empire, is known for its rugged landscape, austere beauty and at times for recurring droughts and ravaged lands.
Until the turn of the 20th century, the hills surrounding the Rishi Valley were known for their thick green forests full of perennial springs. The arrival of modernity and the eventual senseless felling of the trees to fuel the industrial progress left the hills barren and dried out the sweet water springs.
In the early 1930s a school was found in the Rishi Valley under the gentle guidance of one of India's original thinkers, Sri Jiddu Krishnamurti, whose teachings included care and love for environment as well as restoration of environment. Since its inception the progressive school's curriculum included the teaching of environmental restoration. Years of resulting efforts have turned the school campus into a lush green oasis.
During the eighties, a bold experiment began involving the regeneration of barren hills adjoining the school's premises. In the year 1980 the school leased 150 acres of adjoining hill side from the Government of Andhra Pradesh to begin reforestation. Thanks to the vision and efforts of all involved, Mr. Naidu and the school's children to name a few, the green canopy on the surrounding hills made a stunning and swift comeback against immense odds.
Soon the plentiful birds returned to make home in the new forest, including the rare yellow throated bulbul. The return of the yellow throated bulbul (Pycnonotus xantholaemus) earned Rishi Valley a place in the Biodiversity Map and Computerized Data Base maintained by the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP).
Sri Rangaswami, Bursar of the school in the 1970's, returned in 1990 when he assembled a group of naturalists and documented changes to the birdlife and other wildlife following the regeneration effort. This resulted in the most up-to-date survey of the birds and the publishing of the book, "Birds of Rishi Valley - And Renewal of Their Habitats" authored by Sri Rangaswami and Sri S. Sridhar, chronicling the regeneration success story.
The return of the birds signified the healing of the land; the most recent bird count conducted in December of 2001 revealed the recording of 201 different species of birds. The regeneration effort resulted in many other perceptible benefits such as the dramatic increase in the levels of water table and availability of plentiful fodder for the animals. Gone are the days of limitless over grazing and plundering of forests. A new respect for the infinite resilience of nature became the norm.
The Rishi Valley success story is one of wisdom, vision, local participation, perseverance, and triumph against immense odds. It offers more than a hope, a time tested successful model, for the regeneration of ecologically fragile areas into thriving healthy and sustainable forests.
It's an exemplar of what can be achieved even under the most trying of circumstances. It is a real life story of how sterile scrub lands were turned into soothing sacred forests.
"Education is a way of discovering our true relationship to things, to other human beings, and to nature. If you have lost your relationship with nature you will inevitably lose your relationship with human beings."