Kerala businessman Musthafa Parammel Ambadi has transformed a former laterite mining land into Green Ara, a dense bamboo and Miyawaki forest with tropical plants, fruit trees, ponds, and more.
Businessman Musthafa Parammel Ambadi grew up in a traditional Kerala house surrounded by trees, streams and a pond.
Over the years, his native place in a village in Malappuram saw many changes — new buildings, roads, shopping complexes, and expansion of residential areas. And while these were all part of development, Musthafa was anguished by the cutting down of trees to make space for such infrastructure.
“Kerala is called ‘God’s own country’ for a reason. The state has been gifted with a beautiful landscape, quality soil, and good weather conditions. But for the past 20-30 years, we have lost most of these precious possessions. It will take more than a lifetime to bring everything back,” he tells The Better India.
In a bid to return to the green and thriving Kerala he had grown up with, he decided to buy a few acres of barren land and turn it into a forest. It took him 10 years of eagerly searching to find the land, he says.
“Every property I visited was 30-40 km away from my native place. But I wanted it to be close to my home, so I could take care of the plants on a daily basis,” he says.
Finally in 2016, Musthafa was notified by a friend about a 5.5 acre former laterite mining land in Karipur.
“When I visited the land, there was not even a single plant on the property. Mining activity had almost taken away the life of the land, but I was confident to put together my dream space here. This is because I visited the place during the extreme summer, yet, I could spot the presence of water there,” says the 52-year-old.
Musthafa spent a year studying about building an ecosystem in a space like this. He referred to books and videos, and spoke to people who have done similar projects before.
“I travel to several countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and China as part of my business. These have many such private forest lands with vast varieties of flora and fauna. I took notes from there too,” he says.
He started by creating a big pond in the land and dividing them into streams. He says that water is the basis of all natural setup and in order to plant trees, availability of water had to be ensured.
“The idea was to recreate a running forest stream in which water is available all through the year. By interconnecting the main pond, I created six more inside the plot. Around the pond, I then planted saplings of trees as well as varieties of tropical plants I collected from different countries while travelling and trekking. I also purchased a few,” he explains.
The plot, named Green Ara (which means the best room in a house, usually where valuables are kept safe, in Malayalam), now has more than 2,000 trees, a bamboo forest, a Miyawaki forest, hundreds of fruit trees, thousands of tropical plants seen in evergreen rainforests, and other ornamental as well as medicinal plants, Musthafa says.
The area has also attracted over 250 varieties of butterflies. The Miyawaki forest is among the most visited spots on the campus, he adds.
“The actual forests of Kerala are tropical in nature and all I tried was to create a piece of rainforest in the city,” notes Musthafa.
He also says he did all the work himself.
“I didn’t take any external help because of two reasons. One, I had a clear picture of what to do with the land, every nook and corner of it. Two, not everyone can relate to this ‘madness’ of creating a forest inside a city where you can access an airport in 15 minutes,” he adds.
Restoring what was lost
A regular day — one that doesn’t involve travelling related to work — begins at 5 am. Musthafa spends the next six hours in Green Ara, touching each and every plant, making sure that water reaches everywhere, planting new crops, and swimming with the fishes in the large pond.
“The growth of plants has been unbelievable. Although, this is the place I have always dreamt about, I never thought it would be in this shape within a time period of five years. I strongly believe nature stood with my passion,” shares the businessman, who has been running a gift manufacturing company in Malappuram for the past 20 years.
Despite the fact that Musthafa wants like-minded people to come and get the feel of Green Ara, the entry is restricted and is open only upon request.
“In the beginning, the place was open for everyone to come and take a look or even bathe in the pond. But pollution became a problem. They started considering it the same as any regular tourist spot where they could dispose of plastic bottles and other items. Therefore, I limited the entry to those who really love such spaces or wish to create something similar on their own land,” says Musthafa.
He also adds that upon requests from several people who desire to create such spaces, he has started a consultancy called Green Ara Landscapers. “I have set up a team of a few members who have experience in this field, but we only take limited projects based on everyone’s availability.”
Musthafa is also a follower of a sustainable lifestyle. He lives with his family in a house made of wood and recycled materials. The house has a composter and rainwater harvesting system too.
“Ever since I moved from my ancestral home, I have missed every part of it, especially the surroundings. Green Ara is an attempt to console my mind. It has been a dream to swim in freshwater, just like the fishes, every morning. Today, I am living the dream and I can’t ask for more. Yet, I urge everyone to stop destroying the gifted land, and try in your own ways to restore it,” he says.
Edited by Divya Sethu; Photo credits Musthafa Parammel Ambadi